Are People Avoiding Estate Planning in the Pandemic?

A survey by Quest Research Group in the wake of COVID-19 wanted to see how prepared people would be if something were to happen to them. They asked 1,000 people how much planning they’d done in the past and if the pandemic encouraged them to start planning now.

Forbes’ June article entitled “The Three Reasons People Avoid Estate Planning” says that with all the uncertainty in the world, the study reveals that people are taking action even though it’s something people typically try to avoid. Why do people avoid it? The article narrows it down to the three most common excuses:

  • I’m much too busy. I can barely keep up with my life as it is.
  • It’s complicated and/or expensive.
  • I’m just too superstitious. I’ll just jinx my life by thinking about death.

All of these excuses are followed by a sentiment such as “I know it’s something I should do” and “I’ll get around to it one day.” No matter how it’s said, people just don’t feel that it is urgent.

First, are those who are superstitious and think doing this somehow curse their life. However, people buy car seats for their children, and no one refuses to buy a car seat because they think it would make them more susceptible to an accident. Instead, you buy one, because you’re a responsible adult who cares for your child.  The other two excuses are similar, because when people say that planning is a time consuming or expensive task, they’re automatically too busy or frugal to even consider taking on such a task. Then we do all that we can to procrastinate.

To address these excuses, here are some things you can do right now at little or no expense that can help your family, if there’s an emergency. It will also make you feel more responsible for your life in the same way parents do when they purchase car seats.

Password Sharing. Passwords are the keys to modern estate planning. To have access to your accounts in the event of an emergency, someone you trust should have access to your passwords. There are password managers, like Dashlane or LastPass, which coordinate all your passwords, so you only have to remember one. You can later share it.

Draft a Medical Directive. This document instructs your family what you want done in a medical emergency (Living Will) and who should speak on your behalf, if you’re unable to communicate (Health Care Proxy). These make up an Advance Directive.

Create a Will and a Power of Attorney. A will is the document that instructs your executor how to distribute your assets. A will also names a guardian for any minor children. A Power of Attorney (POA) is like a Health Care Proxy for your money and lets an agent make financial and legal decisions on your behalf when you are unable.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help you create these to avoid any issues down the road.

Reference: Forbes (June 24, 2020) “The Three Reasons People Avoid Estate Planning”

 

How Can We Do Estate Planning in the Pandemic?

We can see the devastating impact the coronavirus has had on families and the country. However, if we let ourselves dwell on only a few areas of our lives that we can control, the pandemic has given us some estate and financial planning opportunities worth evaluating, says The New Hampshire Business Review’s recent article entitled “Estate planning in a crisis.”

Unified Credit. The unified credit against estate and gift tax is still a valuable estate-reduction tool that will probably be phased out. This credit is the amount that a person can pass to others during life or at death, without generating any estate or gift tax. It is currently $11,580,000 per person. Unless it’s extended, on January 1, 2026, this credit will be reduced to about 50% of what it is today (with adjustments for inflation). It may be wise for a married couple to use at least one available unified credit for a current gift. By leveraging a unified credit with advanced planning discount techniques and potentially reduced asset values, it may provide a very valuable “once in a lifetime” opportunity to reduce future estate tax.

Reduced Valuations. For owners of closely-held companies who’d like to pass their business to the next generation, there’s an opportunity to gift all or part of your business now at a value much less than what it would’ve been before the pandemic. A lower valuation is a big plus when trying to transfer a business to the next generation with the minimum gift and estate taxes.

Taking Advantage of Low Interest Rates. Today’s low rates make several advanced estate planning “discount” techniques more attractive. This includes grantor retained annuity trusts, charitable lead annuity trusts, intra-family loans and intentionally defective grantor trusts. The discount element that many of these techniques use, is tied to the government’s § 7520 rate, which is linked to the one-month average of the market yields from marketable obligations, like T-bills with maturities of three to nine years. For many of these, the lower the Sect. 7520 rate, the better the discount the technique provides.

Estate Planning. Now is the time to contact an experienced estate planning attorney to get your affairs organized

Bargain Price Transfers. The reduced value of stock portfolios and other assets, like real estate, may give you a chance to give at reduced value. Gifting at today’s lower values does present an opportunity to efficiently transfer assets from your estate, and also preserve estate tax credits and exclusions.

 

Reference: New Hampshire Business Review (May 21, 2020) “Estate planning in a crisis”

 

How Do I Include Care for My Children in Estate Planning?

To make certain that parents’ wishes are followed, they should create a will that designates a guardian and a conservator in case both parents die, counsels The Choteau (MT) Acantha article entitled “Plan for children’s future when making out a will.” 

A guardianship provides for the care of the children until they reach adulthood (usually age 18) and gives the guardian the authority and responsibility of a parent. A guardian makes decisions about a child’s well-being, education and health. A conservatorship is designed to manage and distribute funds and assets left to children until they’re age 18. A single individual can be appointed to do both roles or separate people can be designated as guardian and conservator.

Frequently, the toughest decisions parents have is agreeing who they want to have the responsibility of raising their children and managing their money. Usually they select a person with similar values, lifestyle and child rearing beliefs.  It can be important to talk about the issue with older children, because some states (like Montana) permit children ages 14 and older to ask a court to appoint a guardian other than the person named in parents’ wills. You should also name a backup guardian and conservator in case their first choices aren’t up to the task and review your choices periodically.

In many states, the law stipulates that when children attain the age of 18, they are able to get the property that was in the care of a conservator, no matter what their capability to manage it. Another option is to leave the assets in a trust rather than a conservatorship.  Parents can provide in their wills the property that they want to pass directly to the trust, which is also called a testamentary trust. These assets can include life insurance payments, funds from checking accounts, stocks, bonds, or other funds. Parents can create a trust agreement with an experienced estate planning attorney that provides their named trustee with the power to manage the trust assets and use the income for their children’s benefit.

The trust agreement goes into effect at the death of both parents. It says the way in which the parents want the money to be spent, who the trustee should be and when the trust ends. The trustee must follow the parents’ instructions for the children.

Reference: Choteau (MT) Acantha (May 13, 2020) “Plan for children’s future when making out a will”

 

Should I Create an LLC for Estate Planning?

If you want to transfer assets to your children, grandchildren or other family members but are worried about gift taxes or the weight of estate taxes your beneficiaries will owe upon your death, a LLC can help you control and protect assets during your lifetime, keep assets in the family and lessen taxes owed by you or your family members. Should you create an LLC for estate planning and what is an LLC?

Investopedia’s article entitled “Using an LLC for Estate Planning” explains that a LLC is a legal entity in which its owners (called members) are protected from personal liability in case of debt, lawsuit or other claims. This shields a member’s personal assets, like a home, automobile, personal bank account or investments.

Creating a family LLC with your children lets you effectively reduce the estate taxes your children would be required to pay on their inheritance. A LLC also lets you distribute that inheritance to your children during your lifetime, without as much in gift taxes. You can also have the ability to maintain control over your assets.

In a family LLC, the parents maintain management of the LLC, and the children or grandchildren hold shares in the LLC’s assets. However, they don’t have management or voting rights. This lets the parents purchase, sell, trade, or distribute the LLC’s assets while the other members are restricted in their ability to sell their LLC shares, withdraw from the company, or transfer their membership in the company. Therefore, the parents keep control over the assets and can protect them from financial decisions made by younger members. Gifts of shares to younger members do come with gift taxes. However, there are significant tax benefits that let you give more and lower the value of your estate.

As far as tax benefits, if you’re the manager of the LLC, and your children are non-managing members, the value of units transferred to them can be discounted quite steeply—frequently up to 40% of their market value—based on the fact that without management rights, LLC units become less marketable.

Your children can now get an advance on their inheritance but at a lower tax burden than they otherwise would’ve had to pay on their personal income taxes. The overall value of your estate is reduced which means that there is an eventual lower estate tax when you die. The ability to discount the value of units transferred to your children also permits you to give them gifts of discounted LLC units. That lets you to gift beyond the current $15,000 gift limit without having to pay a gift tax.

You can give significant gifts without gift taxes and at the same time reduce the value of your estate and lower the eventual estate tax your heirs will face.

Speak to an experienced estate planning attorney about a family LLC, since estate planning is already complex. LLC planning can be even more complex and subject you to heightened IRS scrutiny. The regulations governing LLCs vary from state to state and evolve over time. In short, a family LLC is certainly not for everyone and it appropriately should be vetted thoroughly before creating one.

Reference: Investopedia (Oct. 25, 2019) “Using an LLC for Estate Planning”

 

Should I Write My Will During the Pandemic?

Writing a will allows you to instruct your executor how you want your property to be distributed when you die. If you have minor children, your will says who will raise them if you die and their other parent is deceased.

The Oakland Press’s article entitled Writing a will today is more important than ever” says that if you pass away without a will, the state will make these critical decisions for you. What the state decides may not reflect your wishes. This may create conflict and stress within your family and cause financial troubles for those you leave behind. In addition, none of your assets will go to your favorite charities.

A will, and other estate planning documents, are critical because this gives you control over how your affairs are handled when you die. This includes the way in which your assets are distributed and who will take care of your children, if they’re minors. When you draft your will, it’s important that it’s legally valid. There’s no guarantee that a will prepared without an estate planning lawyer will meet the criteria. If the probate judge doesn’t accept your will, it’s as if you died without one.

As a result, it’s very important that you work with a qualified estate planning attorney to prepare your estate plan. If you don’t, it is possible that your will or other estate documents you purchased online might not meet the state requirements.

Therefore, you’ve wasted money, and your instructions may not be followed. This can mean uncertainty in how your estate is eventually administered, and it can make an already stressful situation even worse for your family. An experienced estate planning attorney can make sure your will meets the state’s requirements, decreases hard feelings within your family and keeps your family from challenging its validity in court.

If you have a will, consider updating it especially if a beneficiary listed on the document has died, if you’ve sold your home and bought another, given away some of your possessions, your financial circumstances or the value of your property has changed or your charity relationships have changed.

You may want to change your estate plan, when your children become adults or if others that were provided for in the estate plan are no longer living.

Reference: Oakland Press (May 16, 2020) Writing a will today is more important than ever”

 

Your Estate Plan Needs to Be Customized

The only thing worse than having no estate plan, is an estate plan created from a ‘fill-in-the-blank’ form, according to the recent article “Don’t settle for a generic estate plan” from The News-Enterprise. Your estate plan needs to be customized. Compare having an estate plan created to buying a home. Before you start packing, you think about the kind of house you want and how much you can spend. You also talk with real estate agents and mortgage brokers to get ready.

Even when you find a house you love, you don’t write a check right away. You hire an engineer to inspect the property. You might even bring in contractors for repair estimates. At some point, you contact an insurance agent to learn how much it will cost to protect the house. You rely on professionals, because buying a home is an expensive proposition and you want to be sure it will suit your needs and be a sound investment.

The same process goes for your estate plan. You need the advice of a skilled professional–the estate planning lawyer. Sometimes you want input from trusted family members or friends. There other times when you need the estate planning lawyer to help you get past the emotions that can tangle up an estate plan and anticipate any family dynamics that could become a problem in the future.

An estate planning attorney will also help you to avoid problems you may not anticipate. If the family includes a special needs individual, leaving money to that person could result in their losing government benefits. Giving property to an adult child to try to avoid nursing home costs could backfire, making you ineligible for Medicaid coverage and cause your offspring to have an unexpected tax bill.

Your estate planning lawyer should work with your team of professional advisors, including your financial advisor, accountant and, if you own a business, your business advisor. Think of it this way—you wouldn’t ask your real estate agent to do a termite inspection or repair a faulty chimney. Your estate plan needs to be created and updated by a skilled professional: the estate planning lawyer.

Once your estate plan is completed, it’s not done yet. Make sure that the people who need to have original documents—like a power of attorney—have original documents or tell them where they can be found when needed. Keep in mind that many financial institutions will only accept their own power of attorney forms, so you may need to include those in your estate plan.

Medical documents, like advance directives and healthcare powers of attorney, should be given to the people you selected to make decisions on your behalf. Make a list of the documents in your estate plan and where they can be found.

Preparing an estate plan is not just signing a series of fill-in-the-blank forms. It is a means of protecting and passing down the estate that you have devoted a lifetime to creating, no matter its size.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (June 23, 2020) “Don’t settle for a generic estate plan”

 

What are the Most Important Items in an Estate Plan During the Pandemic?

KCRA’s article entitled“5 things to know about estate planning” says that estate planning is a topic that people frequently don’t like to think about. However, more people now want to create a will or revise one that’s already in existence, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

You should have a will. You can find forms online, or you can (in some states) use a holographic will, which is handwritten. However, a holographic will can be incomplete and unclear. Do It Yourself estate planning isn’t a good idea if you have any property, minor children, or want to save on taxes for your family. Use an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that you are covering all of your bases.

Without a will, your “state” makes one for you. If you die intestate, state law will dictate how your probate estate will be distributed at your death. However, this makes it take longer to administer your estate, which extends the grieving process for family members.  It is also more expensive, more time-consuming and more work for those you leave behind. Lastly, you have no say in how you want your property distributed.

Why do I need a will? Everyone should think about estate planning and have an estate plan in place. This should include what would happen, if you’re incapacitated. With the coronavirus pandemic, this might mean contracting the disease and being in a hospital on a ventilator for weeks and unable to care for your children.

How long does a will take? Drafting your will is a very personal and customized process that usually happens over several meetings with a qualified estate planning attorney. It could be weeks or months, but the average length of time it takes to create a will is 30 to 60 days. However, in the midst of the pandemic, estate planning attorneys are able to get these completed much more quickly, when necessary.

What about COVID-19? When your will is complete, there’s usually a signing meeting set with the attorney, witnesses, a notary and the person creating the will. However, now there’s no way to safely gather to sign these critical documents. Many states have made exceptions to the witness rule or are allowing processes using technology, known as remote notarization.

Reference: KCRA (April 16, 2020). “5 things to know about estate planning”

 

What If Grandma Didn’t Have a Will and Died from COVID-19?

The latest report shows about 1.87 million reported cases and at least 108,000 COVID-19-related deaths were reported in the U.S., according to data released by Johns Hopkins University and Medicine.

Here’s a question that is being asked a lot these days: What happens if someone dies “intestate,” or without having established a will or estate plans?

If you die without a will in California and many other states, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state “intestate succession” statutes.

Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “My loved one died without a will – now what?” explains that there are laws in each state that will dictate what happens, if you die without a will.

In Pennsylvania, the laws list the order of who receives upon your death, if you die without a will: your spouse, your children, and then your parents (if still alive), your siblings, and then on down the line to cousins, aunts and uncles, and the like. Typically, first on every state’s list is the spouse and the children.

You may also have some valuable assets that will not pass via your will and aren’t affected by your state’s intestate succession laws. Here are some of the common ones:

  • Any property that you’ve transferred to a living trust
  • Your life insurance proceeds
  • Funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement accounts
  • Any securities held in a transfer-on-death account
  • A payable-on-death bank account
  • Your vehicles held by transfer-on-death registration; or
  • Property you own with someone else in joint tenancy or as community property with the right of survivorship.

These types of assets will pass to the surviving co-owner or to the beneficiary you named, whether or not you have a will.

It’s quite unusual for the government to claim a deceased person’s estate. While it might be allowed in some states, it’s considered a last resort. Typically, we all have some relatives.

If you have a loved one who has died without a will, speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about your next steps.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (June 1, 2020) “My loved one died without a will – now what?”

What You Need to Do after a Loved One Dies

The Dallas Morning News’ recent article entitled “Three things to do on the death of a loved one” explains the steps you should take if you are responsible for a family member’s assets after they die.

Be sure the property is secured. A deceased person’s property becomes a risk in some instances. Friends and family will help themselves to what they think they should get, including the deceased’s personal property. Once it is gone, it is hard to get it back and into the hands of the individual who’s legally entitled to receive it.

Criminals also look at the obituaries and while everyone is at the funeral or otherwise unoccupied, burglars can break into the house and steal property. Assign security or ask someone to stay at the house to protect the property. You can also change the locks. Credit cards, debit cards, and checks need to be protected. The deceased’s mail must be collected, and cars should be locked up.

Make funeral plans. If you’re lucky, the deceased left a written Appointment of Burial Agent with detailed instructions, which can make your job much easier.

For example, Texas law lets a person appoint an agent to be in charge of funeral arrangements and to describe the arrangements. An estate planning attorney can  draft this document as part of an estate plan. You should see if this document was included. If you’re listed as the agent, present the paper to the funeral home and follow the instructions. If there are no written instructions, the law will say who has the authority to make arrangements for the disposition of the body and to plan the funeral.

Talk to an experienced attorney. When a person dies, there is often a lapse in authority. The decedent’s power of attorney is no longer in effect, and the executor designated in the will doesn’t have any authority to act, until the will is admitted to probate and the executor is appointed by the probate judge and qualifies by taking the oath of office and filing a bond, if required. Direction is needed earlier rather than later, on what you’re permitted to do. The probate of a will takes time.

It is best to get started promptly, so that there’s an executor in place with power to handle the affairs of the decedent.

Reference: Dallas Morning News (April 10, 2020) “Three things to do on the death of a loved one”

 

What’s the Difference between Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts?

A trust is an estate planning tool that you might discuss with an experienced estate planning attorney.  Beyond drafting a last will and testament and to your benefit, you may want to find want to ask about the difference between a Revocable and Irrevocable Trust. KAKE.com’s recent article entitled “Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts” explains that a living trust can be revocable or irrevocable.  You can act as your own trustee or designate another person. The trustee has the fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interests of the trust beneficiaries. These are the people you name to benefit from the trust.

There are three main benefits to including a trust as part of an estate plan.

  1. Avoiding probate. Assets held in a trust can avoid probate. This can save your heirs both time and money.
  2. Creditor protection. Creditors can try to attach assets held outside an irrevocable trust to satisfy a debt. However, those assets titled in the name of the irrevocable trust may avoid being accessed to pay outstanding debts.
  3. Minimize estate taxes. Estate taxes can take a large portion from the wealth you may be planning to leave to others. Placing assets in a trust may help to lessen the effect of estate and inheritance taxes, preserving more of your wealth for future generations.

What’s the Difference Between Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts?

A revocable trust is a trust that can be changed or terminated at any time during the lifetime of the person making the trust. When the grantor dies, a revocable trust automatically becomes irrevocable, so no other changes can be made to its terms.

An irrevocable trust is essentially permanent. Therefore, if you create an irrevocable trust during your lifetime, any assets you place in the trust must stay in the trust. That’s a big difference from a revocable trust: flexibility.

Whether a trust is right for your estate plan, depends on your situation. Discuss this with a qualified estate planning attorney. This has been a very simple introduction to a very complex subject.

Reference: KAKE.com (March 31, 2020) “Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts”