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Law Office of Michael D. DellaMonaca

Have a Plan for Life

Your Most Important Asset Is Not Your Bank Account

It’s hard to think about getting older. When something is challenging, the usual human response is to procrastinate. We can’t slow down the aging process, but we can prepare for it. One of the things that needs to be done to prepare for aging, is discussed in the article from The Mercury titled “REINVENTING RETIREMENT: Your most important asset—it’s not what you think.” Good health is definitely important, but there’s something else to consider: your independence.

We hate to think about becoming dependent upon others, but that is often what occurs with aging. This is an asset that needs to be planned for and managed, like any other. Here are some tips for each decade:

Health Care Directives in Your 50s. You need to have a will and you need to have it updated, as the years go by. However, in mid-life you need to make sure to have a living will and power of attorney. Estate planning is a tool used to protect your independence and your wishes as you grow older. These two documents are a critical part of your estate plan. A health crisis or an accident can happen to anyone, but planning can ensure that your wishes are followed. Put your wishes on paper, with an attorney, so that they are enforceable. Just telling someone what you want, is not going to do it.

Home and Belongings in Your 60s. The kids are out of college and have their own careers and families. Do you still need that big house? Downsizing could bring you tremendous freedom now. Yes, you have to go through all of your belongings which is a lot of work. However, consider how your life would change if you had less stuff, a smaller home and lower bills? This one move could change how your retirement succeeds—or fails.

Stay Connected in your 70s and 80s. Connecting with your community is critical at this time of life. When you are actively engaged with your community, you’ll be busy with activities that you enjoy. You will hopefully be making contributions that draw on your years of experience and knowledge. Hope and having a purpose in life is not just for the young. The healthiest and most independent lives, are lived when people are engaged with other people, with a life that has meaning and purpose.

Planning for your retirement is about much more than your bank account. Speak with an estate planning attorney to make sure that your estate plan protects your independence, conveys your wishes and plans the coming stages of your life to be as rewarding—or maybe more fulfilling—than the past.

Reference: The Mercury (Feb. 10, 2019) “REINVENTING RETIREMENT: Your most important asset—it’s not what you think”

 

When Was the Last Time You Talked with Your Estate Planning Attorney?

If you haven’t had a talk with your estate planning attorney since before the TCJA act went into effect, now would be a good time to do so, says The Kansas City Star in the article “Talk to estate attorney about impacts of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.” While most of the news about the act centered on the increased exemptions for estate taxes, there are a number of other changes that may have a direct impact on your taxes.

Start by looking at any wills or trusts that were created before the tax act went into effect. If any of the trusts use formulas that are tied to the federal estate tax exemption, there could be unintended consequences because of the higher exemption amounts.

The federal estate tax exemption doubled from $5.49 million per person in 2017 to $11.18 million per person in 2018 (or $22.36 million per couple). It is now $11.2 million per person in 2019 (or $22.4 million per couple).

Let’s say that your trust was created in 2001, when the estate tax exemption was a mere $675,000. Your trust may have stipulated that your children receive the amount of assets that could be passed free from federal estate tax, and the remainder, which exceeded the federal estate tax exemption, goes to your spouse. At the time, this was a perfectly good strategy. However, if it hasn’t been updated since then, your children will receive $11.4 million and your spouse could be disinherited.

Trusts drafted prior to 2011, when portability was introduced, require particular attention.

Two other important factors to consider are portability and step-up of cost basis. In the past, many couples relied on the use of bypass or credit shelter trusts that pay income to the surviving spouse and then eventually pass trust assets on to the children, upon the death of the surviving spouse. This scenario made sure to use the first deceased spouse’s estate exemption.

However, new legislation passed in 2011 allowed for portability of the deceased spouse’s unused estate exemption. The surviving spouse’s estate can now use any exemption that wasn’t used by the first spouse to die.

A step-up in basis was not changed by the TCJA law, but this has more significance now. When a person dies, their heir’s cost basis of many assets becomes the value of the asset on the date that the person died. Highly appreciated assets that avoided income taxes to the decedent, could avoid or minimize income taxes to the heirs. Maintaining the ability for assets to receive a step-up in basis is more important now, because of the size of the federal estate tax exemption.

Beneficiaries who inherit assets from a bypass or credit shelter trust upon the surviving spouse’s death, no longer benefit from a “second” step-up in basis. The basis of the inheritance is the original basis from the first spouse’s death. Therefore, bypass trusts are less useful than in the past, and could actually have negative income tax consequences for heirs.

If your current estate plan has not been amended for these or other changes, make an appointment soon to speak with a qualified estate planning attorney. It may not take a huge overhaul of the entire estate plan, but these changes could have a negative impact on your family and their future.

Reference: The Kansas City Star (Feb. 7, 2019) “Talk to estate attorney about impacts of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”

Time to Review Your Charitable Giving

What’s is great news for the wealthy may not be such great news for charities, if the only reason for giving is a tax benefit. Fortunately for the charities, most wealthy people give because they feel it is their responsibility to have a positive impact on their communities or to support causes that have meaning to them. For those who don’t care, the U.S. Tax Cuts and Jobs act may cause them to review their charitable giving, says Barron’s Penta in the article “How to Leave Assets—With an Immediate Tax Write-Off.”

The charitable deduction for gifts given through wills, loses any tax benefit for families whose assets fall under the exemption limits. The loss of a deduction when there’s no tax benefit isn’t a major problem. However, it does lead families to wonder if there is any way that their charitable giving can still generate a tax benefit. The answer is yes. There are several ways for this to happen.

One way is making donations during your lifetime. This means that the donor qualifies to take a deduction against taxable income, instead of the estate after death. However, there is also the option of the charitable remainder trust. This allows assets to be left to a charity upon death, without leaving them in a will, which provides an immediate deduction against income.

This is done with an irrevocable trust that is funded with assets that then become the source of a lifelong income stream for the donor and spouse or beneficiaries. When the donor dies, the assets left in the trust are donated to the named charity. At least 10% of the original value of the trust must go to charity. In the year the trust is set up, the donor also gets an income tax deduction for the future gift.

How is the value of that deduction calculated? There is a formula that involves life expectancy, interest rates and several other factors. As you might expect, lower interest rates mean a lower deduction. However, if rates continue to rise, this type of trust and charitable giving is likely to become more attractive.

If markets stop being volatile and stays at elevated levels (as of this writing), then the trust looks especially favorable from a tax planning viewpoint. By transferring assets with large gains into the trust, the capital gains tax burden can be lightened. Once they are transferred into the trust, these assets are usually sold, with no capital gain taxes. They are shifted into income producing investments to ensure that the trust remains robust.

Other appreciated assets, like property or a business, can be transferred into a charitable remainder trust. However, this must be done with great care. The IRS may look askance at a move that appears to be solely about tax-avoidance.

Reference: Barron’s Penta (Dec. 14, 2018) “How to Leave Assets—With an Immediate Tax Write-Off”

Suggested Key Terms: Charitable Remainder Trusts, U.S. Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Estate-Tax, Revocable Trust, Appreciated Assets, Estate Planning Attorney

Does Anyone Really Need a Trust?

The simplest definition of a trust is a three-party fiduciary relationship between the person who created the trust and the fiduciary for the benefit of a third party. The person who created the trust is known as the “Settlor” or “Trustor.” The fiduciary, known as the “Trustee,” is the person or organization with the authority to handle the asset(s). The trustee owes the duty of good faith and trust to the third party, known as the “Beneficiary.”

That is accurately described by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in the article titled “Do I need a trust?”

Trusts are created by the preparation of a trust document by an estate planning attorney. The trust can be made to take effect while the Trustor is alive — referred to as inter vivos or after the person’s death — testamentary.

The document can be irrevocable, meaning it can never be changed, or revocable, which means it can change from one type of trust to another, under certain circumstances.

Whether you even need a trust, has nothing to do with your level of assets. People work with estate planning attorneys to create trusts for many different reasons. Here are a few:

  • Consolidating assets during lifetime and for ease of management upon disability or death.
  • Avoiding probate so assets can be transferred with privacy.
  • Protecting a beneficiary with cognitive or physical disabilities.
  • Setting forth the rules of use for a jointly shared asset, like a family vacation home.
  • Tax planning reasons, especially when IRAs valued at more than $250,000 are being transferred to the next generation.
  • Planning for death, disability, divorce or bankruptcy.

There is considerable misinformation about trusts and how they are used. Let’s debunk a few myths:

An irrevocable trust means I can’t ever change anything. Ever. Even with an irrevocable trust, the settlor typically reserves options to control trust assets. It depends upon how the trust is prepared. That may include, depending upon the state, the right to receive distributions of principal and income, the right to distribute money from the trust to third parties at any time and the right to buy and sell real estate owned by the trust, among others. Depending upon where you live, you may be able to “decant” a trust into another trust. Ask your estate planning attorney, if this is an option.

I don’t have enough assets to need a trust. This is not necessarily so. Many of today’s retirees have six figure retirement accounts, while their parents and grandparents didn’t usually have that much saved. They had pensions, which were controlled by their employers. Today’s worker owns more assets with complex tax issues.

You don’t have to be a descendent of an ancient Roman family to need a trust. You must just have enough factors that makes it worthwhile doing. Talk with your estate planning attorney to find out if you need a trust. While you’re at it, make sure your estate plan is up to date. If you don’t have an estate plan, there’s no time like the present to tackle this necessary personal responsibility.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Jan. 28, 2019) “Do I need a trust?”

Suggested Key Terms: Will, Trust, Assets, Irrevocable Trust, Trustee, Fiduciary, Trustor, Beneficiary, Inter Vivos, Testamentary

This is the Year to Complete Your Estate Plan!

Your estate plan is an essential part of preparing for the future. It can have a dramatic effect on your family’s future financial situation. Estate planning can also have a significant impact on your tax liability immediately. Utah Business’s article, “5 Estate Planning Tips For 2019,” helps us with some tips.

Your Will. If you have a will, you’re ahead of more than half of the people in the U.S. Remember, however, that estate planning isn’t a one-time thing. It’s an ongoing process that requires making sure your plan reflects your current wishes and financial situation. You should review your will at least every few years. However, there are also some life events that should trigger a review, regardless of when the last review occurred. These include marriage, divorce, the birth or adoption of a child or grandchild, an inheritance, a large financial loss and the loss of a spouse.

A Trust. Anyone can create a trust, and it has real estate planning advantages. You can use a trust to pass assets to heirs and other beneficiaries, just like you could with a will. However, assets passed through a trust don’t need to go through probate. Using a trust to transfer assets provides privacy.

The Current Tax Breaks. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act gives us some significant tax cuts in 2019, such as a temporary doubled lifetime exclusion for the gift and estate tax, temporary exemptions from the generation-skipping transfer tax, higher annual gift limits and charitable contribution deductions. To see if you can use of any of these tax benefits, speak to an experienced estate planning attorney.

Talk to an Attorney for a Review of Your Estate Plan. It’s important to remember that estate planning is complicated. You should, therefore, develop a comprehensive estate plan with the help of an experienced attorney. Don’t be tempted to use an online legal do-it-yourself service to save a few dollars, because any mistakes you make could have a big impact on you and your family’s financial future.

Every state has its own laws regarding the formalities required to create a valid will. If you fail to follow any of these, a court may declare your will invalid during probate. Your entire estate will then be distributed according to the laws of intestate succession. These laws may not reflect your wishes for the distribution of your estate. Meeting with an attorney will make certain that your estate planning documents are in order. It will also help you to identify your goals and ensure that your assets are protected and transferred in the most efficient way possible.

Reference: Utah Business (February 5, 2019) “5 Estate Planning Tips For 2019”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Wills, Trusts, Probate Court, Inheritance, Intestacy, Tax Planning

How Do We Live Our Lives When A Loved One Has Alzheimer’s?

How Do We Live Our Lives When A Loved One Has Alzheimer’s?

How Do We Live Our Lives When A Loved One Has Alzheimer’s?

How Do We Live Our Lives When A Loved One Has Alzheimer’s?

The scenario is worrisome, as no one can be sure that this is something B. Smith would have wanted, if she had been asked before the disease had progressed. However, one good thing has come out of it, according to the article “B. Smith’s Alzheimer’s raises question: How to protect your wishes when incapacitated” from USA Today. There are more discussions about expressing people’s wishes, before they become incapacitated from Alzheimer’s.

More families are experiencing this very same dilemma because of the increasing number of Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. More than 5.7 million in this country are suffering from this disease, which currently has no cure and is most likely to impact seniors, women and African Americans, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Without advance planning, it’s impossible to know what someone would want to happen. Discussing this is critical, while a patient is still relatively healthy and able to communicate her wishes to family members and to an estate planning attorney.

People who work in this area say there are two areas that must be addressed. One is drafting legal documents with an experienced estate attorney to determine who should be entrusted with health care and financial decisions. There is also a need for document known as a “statement of values” that will help family members understand goals and wishes and not be left guessing.

These decisions are not easy to consider when a person is still well. However, thinking about them and putting them down on paper, and then having the necessary documents prepared to formalize them and make them enforceable are important.

Here are the documents needed:

Durable power of attorney: This lets a trusted family or friend make financial decisions, in the event of incapacity.

Power of attorney for health care: This document permits a family member or friend to make decisions about health care decisions.

A will. The will is for the disposition of assets after your death. It also names the person who will be in charge, the executor.

A revocable trust. This is one of many documents that can be used to allow you to set conditions and directions about assets, while you are still living but when you have become incapacitated. It can be changed at your direction. Hence, the term revocable. An estate planning attorney will know what type of trust should be used for your situation.

Only four out of 10 Americans have wills, with many hesitating to have them created because they think that only rich people need a will. However, without a will, or the other documents described above, the family is left in a terrible situation, where there will be additional costs, if and when decisions need to be made but no one has been legally empowered to make the decisions.

The revocable trust could bypass many unpleasant situations, like instructing a power of attorney to place your assets in a trust that was set up specifically to pay for your care in a skilled nursing facility of your choice, or to describe with great specificity who was allowed to live in your home, if you became incapacitated.

Another missing step: the family discussion. Getting everyone together to discuss planning for the future, isn’t as fun as going on a family vacation, but it is important. If someone is starting to have the effects of dementia, they may not remember what they told another family member. With everyone in the same room, there will be a better chance that their wishes will be clear.

The moment someone learns that they have dementia, is the time to put all these elements into place, before it is too late.

Reference: USA Today (Jan. 31, 2019) “B. Smith’s Alzheimer’s raises question: How to protect your wishes when incapacitated”

Suggested Key Terms: Incapacitated, Alzheimer’s, Revocable Trust, Will, Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney, Dementia, Statement of Values

Will Stepmother Take Dad’s Money When He Dies?

Here’s a savvy and responsible stepmother—she called for a meeting with the estate planning attorney. At age 57, married to a 72-year old man with three kids from his first marriage and two kids from their marriage, she wanted to make sure that his wealth didn’t become a source of agitation for the family, when he passed. That, says Forbes, typifies how the “new” American family has changed, in the article “How Long Will Stepmom Live? And Other Vexing Estate Planning Questions for Modern Families.”

The stepmother did not want to be seen as rapacious or coming between the kids and their inheritance.

The solution was as follows: money for the stepmother was left to a marital trust with provisions for her benefit, while the children received accelerated inheritances through a series of Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs), a qualified personal residence trust for a vacation compound and annual exclusion gifts.

Here’s another example: a male descendent of a wealthy family acknowledged that he had fathered a child without being married to the child’s mother. He had to seek legal determination to ensure that the child would be cared for.

Welcome to today’s new family. They include three-parent families, artificial reproductive heirs and blended families. These are all hot issues in the world of estate planning and attorneys are now addressing these new dynamics.

There are five basic questions that must be addressed when creating an estate plan today:

Who? Who gets your money and your stuff?

How much? How will it be divided among heirs?

When? Will it be at a specific age, or just when you die?

Outright versus in trust? With a trustee, you name a person who will control your assets.

Who represents you? An agent and a fiduciary, with a power of attorney who acts on your behalf, if you become incapacitated, an executor who is in charge of administering your estate, and a trustee who manages any trusts created.

Modern families don’t want old-school estate planning solutions. They want to know that their estate plan will work for their situation, which may not match the old “Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, Brother” construct. So, how should you handle the distribution of wealth for non-traditional families? If a child dies, and a live-in partner is rearing the children, should there be money for the children in a trust? What about taking care of the surviving partner, even if they were not married?

What about late-in-life marriages? If there’s a huge gap in years between grandparents and grandchildren, how will family wealth be passed down? Funding 529 trusts is one answer, and trusts are another. If the age gap is so big that grandparents never meet their grandchildren, a statement of intent in documents can be used to convey the goals and wishes the grandparents have for their grandchildren.

Providing for all children equally isn’t always the goal of the modern family. Some might think their ex-spouse will provide for children and leave them fewer assets than they would have, if that were not a factor. However, don’t assume that, even if you can’t have that conversation with your ex. If your intention is to distribute assets in unequal portions, you may save your loved ones a lot of pain and fighting, by either talking with them about it while you are still living or leaving a letter behind explaining your decision-making process.

It’s hard to tell what changes will come to families in the future, but one thing will remain the same: the need for an estate plan, done with the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney, is essential.

Reference: Forbes (Jan. 29, 2019) “How Long Will Stepmom Live? And Other Vexing Estate Planning Questions for Modern Families”

Suggested Key Terms: Wills, Trusts, Beneficiaries, Marital Trust, Inheritances, Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts, Blended Families, Estate Planning