Articles Posted in Real Estate

Do you own real property in multiple states? Perhaps you are a snowbird or own investment properties such as rentals in more than one state. If you do, your estate will likely be required to go through probate in each state where you own real property at the time of your death. Probate isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is often very time consuming and can quickly become expensive with court costs and lawyer’s fees. In cases where real property is owned in multiple states, that would mean going through probates in each of those states.

However, there are a number of methods that can be used to try to avoid probate:

One method is to add the intended heirs to the title of the real estate while the primary owners are still alive. However, this is not often advised. If any of the intended heirs (who then become co-owners of the real estate) get into financial trouble – such as bankruptcy, divorce, being sued, creditor issues, etc. – the primary owners of the real estate also become involved in their financial trouble. Parents shouldn’t lose their home or other properties because their child was sued by another person.

At our office we are frequently approached by elderly clients who are considering a second marriage later in life. A new romantic relationship can mean new friends, new experiences, increased happiness and an overall better quality of life. That being said, older couples do have some important issues to consider when deciding whether or not to take the plunge. Adult children, retirement plans, long-term care consideration and government benefits are all topics that should be discussed thoroughly before an elderly couple decides to marry.

A particularly sensitive issue is what happens to the family home. Whether the couple decides to remarry, or decides that they would prefer to just live together, it is important to plan for what will happen to the home they decide to cohabit. Seniors in this situation are faced with the competing goals of wanting to keep the equity of the home in their family, while wanting to provide a place for their significant other to live should the owner predecease. Through the use of proper estate planning such as a life estate or properly drafted land trust, this can be achieved. Care should be taken to ensure that assets are available to maintain the home and that the owner’s family understands their wishes.

Another sticky topic, is how to pay for long-term care and what happens if one spouse requires Medicaid benefits. Long-term care can be very expensive and the Illinois Department of Human Services will require that a spouse’s assets be taken into consideration even in the face of trust and prenuptial agreements when reviewing an application for Medicaid benefits. One spouse’s refusal to make their assets available for the care of another can have a significant negative impact on Medicaid eligibility. We strongly advise against later in life marriages when the need for Medicaid benefits to pay for long-term care is relatively foreseeable.

No area of our practice causes more confusion and angst for seniors and their families as the question of how to pay for nursing home care. Within that practice area, no topic causes more problems for seniors as asset protection planning. Myths abound about how to protect assets prior to applying for Medicaid. Some of the most common are: 1) that a Medicaid applicant can transfer $14,000 per child per year; 2) that the kids can be added to financial accounts to shield assets; or 3) that investing in annuities will solve all their problems. In fact all of these theories about asset protection are wrong. Worst of all, engaging in these activities can leave the senior in an incredibly precarious position.

The $14,000 per child myth is based on IRS gifting rules which have no relationship to Medicaid eligibility or planning; adding your children to your account will have no effect on how Medicaid counts the assets when determining your eligibility for benefits; and the rules concerning Medicaid and annuities has changed dramatically over the years to that point that only one, very specific type of annuity will help a Medicaid applicant qualify for benefits while preserving assets.

Even playing by all the rules can created problems. For example, current Medicaid rules will not take into account any transaction that occurred more than five years before the application for benefits. This leads many seniors to transfer their assets to children well in advance of applying for Medicaid benefits.  Unfortunately this creates a whole new set of problems. Assets transferred to children are now vulnerable to the creditors and spouses of the kids. There can also be serious capital gains and real estate tax implications for transferring property to children that must be taken into account.

Many clients ask, ” Do we have to sell their loved one’s house when she enters a nursing home?”  Our response is usually, “Not necessarily”.

One of the ways to avoid a sale, is to use the Five Year Plan when doing Medicaid Planning.  This strategy entails the transfer of the house at least 5 years before the loved one files for Medicaid. The transfer does not need to be disclosed since it was transferred before the Medicaid look back period of 5 years begins.  For example, if the parent’s house is transferred to the kids or other transferee on September 1, 2017 and that parent does not file a Medicaid application until October 1, 2022, then the house is clear of any Medicaid forced sale.

Another strategy is to transfer the house to a person with a disability or that person’s Special Needs Trust.  This can be done at any time-even within the 5 year look back period.  The person with a disability is usually someone who has been declared disabled under the Social Security regulations.

Like all other unique forms of real estate ownership, Co-Op Housing presents some interesting difficulties for those in the real estate market.

The end of World War II marked the beginning of an acute housing shortage in the United States. Returning servicemen and woman, many of whom had lived with their parents before the war, returned home looking to live independently and to begin raising families. Unfortunately, major cities like Chicago, had little to offer.

The Federal Government recognized the need and opportunity to provide service members with affordable housing while stimulating the building trades. As part of the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, federally approved builders were given the green light to construct 4-unit apartment style buildings to house veterans and their families. The veterans would obtain a mortgage subsidized by the Veteran’s Administration and enter into an agreement to manage the property.

The Reverse Mortgage has gotten a bad reputation in the time since it was first created by the Federal Housing Administration in 1988. The mere mention of the Reverse Mortgage usually brings to mind foreclosed homes and declining financial health. In fact a Reverse Mortgage is simply an equity loan secured by someone’s home with a deferred payment plan. Unlike a traditional home equity line of credit, no reverse mortgage interest or principal is due until the loan reaches maturity. As long as the homeowner resides in the property and stays current on property tax and insurance payments, they can reside in the home without making any payments on the money they have borrowed.

In order to qualify for a reverse mortgage, a homeowner must be age 62 or older with substantial equity in their home. There are no income or credit score requirements. Typically, the older the homeowner, the more they can borrow. A homeowner has the option of taking out a lump sum amount or establishing a line of credit that grows over time if money is not withdrawn.

A homeowner does have the option to pay down the balance of a reverse mortgage over time. Interest paid on the loan can be taken as a tax deduction. If no payments are made, the reverse mortgage is still not due until the last surviving borrower passes away or fails to occupy the home as their primary residence. Reverse mortgage lenders will give the heirs of an estate up to 12 months to complete the sale of the home or refinance the balance of the reverse mortgage. It is VERY important that the heirs of a deceased home owner contact the mortgage lender as soon as possible to inform them of the passing and the heirs’ plans for the property.

A Home Equity Line of Credit allows you to get cash from the equity you have in your home. Most lenders look for a cushion of 30% equity already in the home before they will consider allowing the homeowner to borrow against the home’s equity. With house values only beginning to rebound, some homeowners can’t meet this 30% requirement. Other homeowners find they have little in excess of this 30% requirement available to borrow against.

The rates offered by lenders for Home Equity Lines of Credit are close to those offered to home buyers.

Home equity is a consideration for estate planning. It is a major asset and in many cases the largest asset in an estate. Careful consideration needs to be given before a decision is made which will affect home equity in the short term and the long term.
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If you live in Illinois, you are married and you own your home, it is worth becoming familiar with the meaning of holding title to your home in the form of a tenancy by the entirety.

A tenancy by the entirety differs in several important ways from the other two ways title to real estate may be held by two or more people (tenancy in common and joint tenancy with rights of survivorship).

First, only married couples may hold title as tenants by the entirety. There is no marriage requirement to hold title as tenants in common or as joint tenants with rights of survivorship.

Second, the property must be a primary personal residence. No restriction exists regarding the type of property which can be held by tenants in common or joint tenants with rights of survivorship.

Third, there must be agreement between the tenants by the entirety if the tenancy is to be broken by them. No such agreement is required if fewer than all tenants in common or all joint tenants want to change how they hold title.

Fourth, only joint creditors (creditors of both the husband and the wife) may reach the home of the husband and wife where the home is held in tenancy by the entirety. If a creditor has a claim against only the husband or only the wife, the home held in tenancy by the entirety cannot be partitioned, sold or encumbered without the permission of both spouses.

Fifth, specific terminology must be used to create a tenancy by the entirety. In Illinois, the deed language must indicate that the parties are married and must use specific words creating the tenancy by the entirety. The following language is commonly used to create a tenancy by the entirety between Sam and Sally Smith: “to Sam Smith and Sally Smith, husband and wife, not as tenants in common nor as joint tenants with rights of survivorship but at tenants by the entirety”.

As stated earlier, a tenancy by the entirety may be terminated by agreement of the tenants. It may also be terminated by a court ordered sale to satisfy a joint debt of the husband and the wife, by a divorce or by the death of either the husband or the wife.

One last point, in many states, a husband and wife who take title jointly will automatically take title to their home as tenants by the entirety. Illinois is not one of those states. The specific language referenced earlier must be used for a tenancy by the entirety to be created in Illinois.
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When real estate is held by two individuals as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, the surviving joint tenant will not receive the full step-up in cost basis he would have received if he had inherited the real estate.

For example, Sue and her son, Sam, purchased a house as joint tenants twenty years ago for $50,000 and today it is worth $550,000. After Sue dies, only half of the real estate receives a step up in cost basis for tax purposes. If Sam sells the property for $550,000, Sam has a $250,000 gain on the sale which is subject to capital gains tax.

If Sue had kept title to the real estate in her name alone and left the real estate to Sam in her Will or in her revocable living trust, upon Sue’s death the real estate would receive the full step up in cost basis. Sam would have no gain on the sale subject to capital gains tax.
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When a Seller assures a Buyer that he will stand behind the title to the property he is conveying, the Seller executes a Warranty Deed. With a Warranty Deed, the Seller discloses to the Buyer all of the encumbrances on the property and certifies to the Buyer that no other outstanding claims against title to the property exist. The Seller stands behind this certification by guaranteeing that if there is a problem with the title, the Seller will compensate the Buyer for any loss.

When a Seller does not assure the Buyer that he will stand behind the title he is conveying, the Seller executes a Quitclaim Deed. With a Quitclaim Deed, the Seller conveys to the buyer only the right, title and interest that he has, whatever that may be. The Seller does not guarantee that other parties do not have an interest in the property, and the Seller does not agree to compensate the Buyer for any loss because of these outstanding interests.

Both Warranty Deeds and Quitclaim Deeds have there useful place when parties are interested in transferring title to property.
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