It ain't a Personal Flotation Device

When I was a kid, I lived for a while in a town near Brazil. Not the big country down in South America, but the small town of Brazil, Indiana. What was strange about the place was that they pronounced it BRAY-zill. I thought that was really odd, until I got back home to Alaska and learned that most of the world pronounces Valdez and Cordova differently from what I grew up with.

Yes, we do it differently in Alaska. It’s a snowmachine, not a snowmobile. We don’t refer to our highways by route number. We don’t have counties. And we don’t give a hoot how they do it Outside.

And even though a lot of Alaskans go out on boats and wear personal flotation devices, that’s not what PFD means in Alaska.

We like us our Permanent Fund Dividends. For anyone reading this Outside (and the capitalization is not a typo) the PFD is the annual payout from oil revenues to each Alaska resident. It varies from year to year but is generally over $1,000. But if you’re an Alaskan, you already know all that.

Here are a few details you might not know.

A lot of people who are in assisted living, or nursing homes, need Medicaid to pay for their long-term care. Even some people who can live in their own homes need “long-term care Medicaid” to pay for caregivers to come into the home. Getting Medicaid means they have to live on a very tight budget. Both their income, and their assets, are limited by law if they want to stay on the program.

But if they get the PFD, and they keep it in a separate account, it doesn’t count as income or as a disqualifying asset.

You read that right. You are only allowed to have a certain amount of assets, and a limited amount of income (perhaps run through a Miller Trust), but the PFD doesn’t count as income, nor as an asset, as long as you keep it separate. You have to keep that money in a separate account, though, segregated from any other income or assets. If you mix it in with other assets in an account, it can disqualify you and then you lose Medicaid.

That’s a nice little benefit. If you are trying to live on a budget of, say, $1,500 per month, you really have to count your pennies. Having an extra $100 or so each month, coming out of the separate PFD account, can make it a little easier to get by.

Here’s another one: You can still get a PFD after you die.

If you received a PFD for the year before you died, were still an Alaska resident when you died, and died in the second half of the year, your executor can apply for the dividend for you. Or, if you did not receive the PFD that prior year, but were an Alaska resident and survived until the following year (the year the dividend would be paid), your executor can still apply for the dividend.

But, you might ask, don’t you have to be appointed executor by the court before you can apply? What if there is no need for a probate case, so you don’t have an order from a judge appointing you as executor?

In that case, the person who would normally be the executor can sign a court form called an Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property, and use that to apply for the PFD. This works as long as there is no real estate in the estate (the person might have owned real estate, but maybe it was in a living trust, or their spouse was a joint owner on the title, or they recorded a transfer-on-death deed), their vehicles total less than $100,000, and all other personal property is worth less than $50,000. If the person was over any of those limits, there is going to have to be a probate case opened. But in that case, you would have had to do that anyway, regardless of the PFD.

Incidentally, if you try to apply online as an executor, you won’t be able to. You have to print out the form, fill it out and file it. Why do you have to do it the old-fashioned way? Because they need an original death certificate to be filed with it.

One more important detail: The deadline for applying for the PFD is March 31. You don’t want to miss that. I don’t like to take chances, so I apply on New Year’s Day, which is the earliest you can do it. I mean, what else am I going to do on New Year’s Day? I don’t care whether Georgia beats Alabama. Why is it Cornell never makes these big bowl games?

Kenneth Kirk is an Anchorage estate planning lawyer. Nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice for a specific situation; for specific advice you should consult a professional who can take all the facts into account. Go Big Red!

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