Helping Families Navigate the Financial Challenges of Age Transitions

Category: Tax

Supreme Court hears case of 94 year old’s home foreclosure by the state.

The US Supreme Court heard arguments in a case involving a 94-year-old woman who lost her home over unpaid property taxes. While the woman, Geraldine Tyler, does not dispute that Hennepin County had the right to foreclose on the $40,000 property, she argued that the county had violated the Constitution’s takings clause by keeping the $25,000 left over after the property was sold. Tyler’s attorney argued that the county should have taken Tyler’s condo, sold it to pay her debts and then refunded the remainder to her. The Biden administration filed a “friend of the court” brief in which it agreed with Tyler that the county’s actions violated the takings clause.

Whether the Court sides with Tyler or not (although it does appear that it will), it highlights the importance of having a trained and attentive financial caregiver who can pay any property taxes or other obligations that, if unpaid, can severely impact the older individual.

Source: Justices appear likely to side with homeowner in foreclosure dispute – SCOTUSblog

Free Booklet on Understanding Annuities

Annuities were once simpler financial instruments than they are today. Issued by insurance companies, annuities offered savers a guaranteed interest that compounded tax free until the funds were needed at a later date. Now, they are highly complex financial instruments with a variety of features, interest options, charges, and penalties.

Many financial caregivers will discover that their parents own one or several annuity contracts and it will be incumbent on them to understand these complex financial contracts in order to best serve their parents in a fiduciary capacity. The flip-booklet below, Understanding Annuities, is one of several publications free to Wealth and Honor subscribers. It is written to help financial caregivers understand how annuities are structured, how they work, how they grow, and how they are taxed. Hopefully it will also foster a more constructive conversation with other professionals who are part of your team.

  • Immediate annuities
  • Deferred annuities
  • Index annuities
  • Variable annuities
  • How annuities are taxed and more.

Agency Care vs Private Employment

According to research from the AARP[1], a clear majority of people would like to stay in their own home as they age – even if they require day-to-day assistance with activities of daily living. With a rapidly increasing senior population, demand for quality in-home care is beginning to skyrocket.

Most at home care has traditionally been provided by care agencies that provide basic custodial care to individuals needing assistance with activities of daily living (ADL) or who have cognitive impairment. However, recent regulations are changing the cost structure for home care agencies, especially for certain types of cases where care is needed full-time such as with Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions involving cognitive decline.

It is not unusual for care to be provided 24/7 to people with these conditions and the expenses can quickly become unmanageable, especially due to new regulations that can trigger overtime pay requirements for home care agencies who employ the same caregiver for more than 40 hours a week. At the end of 2015, the Department of Labor (DOL) repealed two Wage & Hour Law exemptions that had been in place since 1974 – the Companion Care exemption and the Live-In exemption. The repeals impacted only third-party employers of direct care workers (i.e. staffing agencies), no longer allowing them to pay workers less than minimum wage and forcing them to adhere to overtime standards.

As a result, many home care agencies now handle high-hour cases differently. They either get the family to accept a rotation of many different caregivers or pay for the associated overtime with a major increase in their hourly rate. In most states, families are exempt from overtime requirements if the caregiver is a live-in employee or qualifies as a companion. This allows care recipients to get the care continuity they need without the additional cost. For 24/7 type care, this overtime exemption can reduce the cost by as much as 50%, or tens of thousands of dollars per year.

Household Employment Basics

Hiring a senior caregiver privately means the worker is now a household employee. And just like any other employment situation, payroll, tax and labor laws must be followed. There are three primary wage reporting responsibilities families have for their caregiver:

  1. Withhold payroll taxes from the caregiver each pay period. Normally, this includes Social Security & Medicare (FICA) taxes, as well as federal and state income taxes. Some states are different and you can consult this state-by-state guide for more information.
  2. Remit household employment taxes. These generally consist of FICA taxes as well as federal and state unemployment insurance taxes. Again, some states have additional taxes, so it’s important to consult the state-by-state guide beforehand.
  3. File federal and state employment tax returns. These are due throughout the year – rather than just at tax time – and go to the IRS and state tax agencies.

In addition, there are several employment law matters that need to be considered at the time of hire. Depending on the state, a family may be responsible for providing things like a written employment agreement/contract, detailed pay stubs, paid time off/paid sick leave, workers’ comp insurance, etc. Be sure to consult with an employment law attorney in your state to learn what your state requires.

Even after adding in payroll taxes, insurance and all other employer-related expenses, the savings can be staggering. The figure below compares the cost of Agency Care vs Private Employment. Hourly agency costs start at $20/hour for less than full time but increase to $22/hour for full-time and $25/hour for high-hour care (80 hours or more per week) due to the pass-through of overtime wage costs.

privately employment vs staffing agency cost comparison[2]

The good news is there are household employment specialists that take full accountability for all or most of the employer responsibilities so families are free of paperwork and risk – enabling them to focus on caring for their loved one. If funds for the care of a loved one are held in a trust, Argent can serve as trustee and handle these requirements as part of its role as trustee.

There is no one size fits all solution to caring for our older adult population. Home care agencies, assisted living facilities, independent living facilities and skilled nursing facilities all have a role to play. And, now with the recent regulatory changes, so does privately-employed in-home care – especially for those patients suffering from cognitive conditions who need many hours of consistent care.


Thanks to Tom Breedlove, Director of HomePay for this information. Tom brings more than 30 years of business experience, including more than a decade as Director at Breedlove & Associates – now known as HomePay – the nation’s leading household employment specialist. Co-author of The Household Employer’s Financial, Legal & HR Guide, Tom has led the firm’s education and outreach efforts on this complex topic. His work has helped HomePay become the featured expert on dozens of TV and radio shows as well as countless business, consumer and trade publications. Learn more at

[1]The United States of Aging Survey” 2012, AARP.

[2] Source: “Cost of Care Survey 2016”

Seniors will soon have their own IRS tax form – CBS News

If you are one of the millions of procrastinating filers whose 2018 federal income tax return is due today and you happen to be over 65, you may welcome a new tax form being introduced by the IRS for 2019.

The new Form 1040-SR should allow seniors to file taxes without benefit of an accountant.A published draft of the new form has lines for specific retirement income streams, such as Social Security benefits, IRA distributions, pensions and annuities.It also uses large print and removes shading around boxes that some older tax filers complained about.

Source: Seniors will soon have their own IRS tax form – CBS News

Dying with Debt

At some point in our lives we may ask ourselves: “If I die and have debt, who or what will be responsible for paying back those I owe?”

One survey from Experian found that 73% of Americans are likely to die with debt. Another from found that 73% of people who died between October and December of 2016 had outstanding debt. The average bill they left on the table was $61,554.

The laws regarding debt after death are defined by each state so there isn’t a single answer to the question above for everyone. On most occasions, the only time a family member would be responsible for your debt is if they cosigned a loan with you. People generally do not inherit another person’s debt. When we die, a new entity emerges, called our estate. An “Estate” represents your assets and your liabilities. Upon death, a legal process called “Probate” (which is the first step of administering the estate of a deceased person), will resolve your debts and distribute your remaining assets to your heir(s). Creditors may legally seize assets within your estate (money or property) in order to cure a debt owed to them. If you have no assets, your creditors may have to take a loss on your debts. Depending on the state you live in, a creditor has a fixed amount of time to make a claim against your estate for payment.

There is a legal pecking order as to who is allowed first claim to retrieve money from your estate. The higher priority goes to funeral expenses, administrative expenses, and federal taxes. The estate may then pay off expenses from the last illness and state taxes. At the bottom of the barrel are unsecured creditors, like credit card companies. Generally, all debts must first be paid by the estate before any remaining assets are distributed to an heir. An outstanding credit card balance, for example, must be paid before any money or gifts can be distributed to an heir. If there are not enough assets to pay the debts, then all assets and property will be sold to pay down as much of the debt as possible and the heir will inherit nothing.

In the case of secured debts (e.g. home mortgage or auto loans), property (which is collateral) may be distributed with its debt. For example, you own a car worth $15,000 and the loan on the car is $7,500. If you die and leave that car to someone, it will become that person’s obligation to pay off the loan. Except for certain situations (which include joint property or joint debt), creditors are unlikely to go after surviving family members when a debt cannot be paid by your estate money. The majority of married couples have joint accounts and joint debt. In these situations, a surviving spouse will be held legally responsible for the debt of their deceased spouse even if they did not generate the debt themselves. This is something that will often cause problems for surviving spouses who financially cannot pay off old debt and meet their everyday needs.

If a creditor contacts a surviving family member about a debt of a relative who has died, the family member should give the creditor the contact information of the decedent’s representative. The representative is responsible for paying any outstanding debts from the estate. If a will exists, the representative is known as the executor; if there is no will, the representative is known as the administrator.

In community property states (where married couples are considered to own their property, assets, and income jointly) credit accounts opened during marriage are automatically considered to be joint accounts. This could affect what your spouse will have to pay, depending on the debt that you incurred. The following states are community property states:
• Arizona
• California
• Idaho
• Louisiana
• Nevada
• New Mexico
• Texas
• Washington
• Wisconsin

One important exception to these general rules is if there is unpaid Federal Estate Tax. In a recent Nebraska case, a beneficiary who received property from his mother by gift and at the mother’s death was personally liable for the unpaid estate and gift tax. The beneficiary received four parcels of real estate from his mother by gift or at death. Gift and estate tax returns were not filed by the decedent or her estate. The IRS determined that the estate owed gift and estate taxes, plus penalties and interest, so the court ordered the sale of two properties owned by the beneficiary to satisfy the estate and gift tax liabilities.

To conclude, when you pass away, your estate is responsible for paying off any balances owed by you, not your family. If your estate goes through probate, your administrator (or executor) will look at your debts and assets and, guided by the laws of your state, determine in what order your bills should be paid. The remaining assets will be distributed to your heirs according to your will or state law.


Sullivan, B. 2018, January 11. State of Credit: 2017. Retrieved from

DiGangi, C. 2017, March 31. Americans Are Dying With an Average of 62K of Debt. Retrieved from

Saret, L. 2019, September 23. Widtfeldt v. Commissioner, U.S. Dist. Court, D. Nebraska: Beneficiary Personally Liable for Unpaid Estate + Gift Taxes. Retrieved from .

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