There are financial planners out there who hold themselves as VA planners offering “free” VA benefit advice, but their “free” advice often comes with a hidden price.
Non-attorney Planning Tactics Can Backfire
David and Chris were in Atlanta a few months ago at the Academy of VA Pension Planners. It’s one of many professional organizations that David belongs to in order to make sure the firm serves our clients better than anyone else. The AVAPP solely focuses on helping Veterans, and their families, get the benefits they earned in service to their country.
Did you know that only 28% of Veterans who qualify use their benefits? And as one of the only law firms in Central Illinois to be accredited by the VA, we want to make sure that everyone who has served our country gets to age with dignity and receive the best care possible.
There are some financial planners who hold themselves out as VA planners offering “free” VA benefit advice. Some are very knowledgeable, but there are some problems with the “free” advice that you need to watch out for.
5 Tactics that Non-attorney VA Planners Use
1. Transferring the house to the kids
Maximizing VA benefits sometimes means rearranging assets. One mistake we have seen is transferring a house to the children. While this will help work for VA benefits (allowing the house to be sold without messing up benefits), there are problems with this strategy. One problem is when the house is later sold, the kids will pay capital gains taxes that could have been avoided. By putting the house in a Veterans Asset Protection Trust, we could get the VA benefits but also avoid the capital gains tax later.
2. IRAs and taxes
Because the VA has asset limits, sometimes IRA accounts must be moved to qualify for benefits. Without proper tax planning, some families incur a huge tax bill that could have been avoided. Instead, working with an experienced attorney can help you consider all the planning options and the tax impact.
3. Annuities with long surrender charges
Often, the “free” VA advice comes with a recommendation to tie up assets in an annuity with long surrender periods. Is anything really “free” in this world? Unfortunately, some families do not realize that the VA financial planner they are relying on is ultimately trying to sell them costly and expensive annuities that tie up their assets far into the future. (This is how the financial planner makes his living.) Instead, a Veterans Asset Protection Trust can help you protect and arrange assets, while allowing your family free access to the investments held in the trust. You need to consider all of the legal and financial tools to see which is best. Unfortunately, non-attorneys often ignore legal tools, such as trusts, even though they may be the best option to help qualify for benefits.
4. Transferring assets to children
Some non-attorney planners transfer assets to the kids so the client can get VA benefits. So, what is the problem with that? If the client needs more care down the road, the funds may have already been spent by the kids. Plus, the gift could keep them from qualifying for Medicaid. (And 70% of nursing home residents use Medicaid to pay for their care.) Transfers of assets must consider both the current goal (VA benefits) and future needs (such as Medicaid benefits to pay for nursing care). By working with an attorney experienced in both VA and Medicaid planning, you can have a flexible plan that considers future health needs.
5. Messing up wishes
Another strategy that non-attorney planners use that can backfire is to transfer the parent’s money to one child in order to qualify for VA benefits. However, that strategy then changes the entire estate plan because one child legally ends up with all the money (unless they voluntarily share it with their siblings, and sadly, we’re experienced enough to know this happens much less often than you think). Instead, once again, the Veterans Asset Protection Trust is a great tool to preserve your wishes after death, but still help you qualify for VA benefits now.
Most of these issues (and more) are discussed in our Elder Law Packet, on pages 7-9: 12 Reasons Not to Give Your Property to Your Kids Now.
To request your free Elder Law Packet, call 217-726-9200. And, as always, if you have any questions at all, please feel free to give our office a call. We will be more than happy to talk with you.