Do You have an Estate Plan Blueprint?

Your assets can go to one of four places: family, friends, charity or the government. You should work with a qualified estate planning attorney to make certain that you have the instructions set up correctly in your will and perhaps a trust and create an estate plan for yourself.

Forbes’s recent article entitled “How To Create An Estate Planning Blueprint” emphasizes that you need to make sure your plan is optimized, so your beneficiaries can sidestep the pain of probate and you can be certain that you make the most of the gifts you plan to leave them.

Let’s look at some tips on how to make sure your estate is as planned as best as it possibly can be.

Conduct Regular Check-ups. You should review your estate plan every few years. Things change, like laws and regulations, family situations, wealth and more. This needs to be reflected in your planning.

Think of the Future. Failing to plan now, can mean headaches in the future for your family after you’re gone.

Look at Your Options. If you and your estate planning attorney decide to set up a trust, know your options and discuss them, along with their tax implications.

Plan Your Charitable Gifts. Ask your estate planning attorney whether lifetime gifting makes sense. The unified exemption amount is at $23.16 million per couple, when it comes to lifetime and at-death gifts. If you have an estate valued in excess of that per-couple threshold, consider making lifetime gifts now before the possible future decrease in this exemption!

Inform Your Beneficiaries of Your Wishes. Let you family know what you’re planning to do with your estate to avoid hurt feelings and fighting after you’re gone. That way, there will be no surprises. You do not need to spell out all the financial details. However, you should provide a general summary of what you anticipate, as well as details about who will be the trustees and executors of your estate.

When planning your estate plan strategy, paying for the services of a legal professional now can help you avoid problems in the future. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Forbes (April 1, 2020) “How To Create An Estate Planning Blueprint”

 

What Do I Need to Know about a Family Trust?

A family trust is a trust you create to directly benefit your family members financially, explains Yahoo Finance in its article “What Is a Family Trust and How Do You Set One Up?”

The three parties involved in a trust arrangement are the grantor, the trustee and the beneficiaries. The grantor is the person who creates the trust and transfers her assets into it. The trustee manages the assets in the trust for the beneficiaries. The beneficiaries get some type of financial benefit from the trust. With a family trust, it’s just your family members who are beneficiaries.

This is a kind of living trust and can be revocable or irrevocable. It takes effect during your lifetime. A revocable trust can be changed or terminated at any time, but an irrevocable trust is permanent. With a revocable family trust, you can be your own trustee and name successor trustees to take control, in the event you become incapacitated or pass away. If it’s an irrevocable trust, you must designate another person to act as the trustee.

A family trust makes certain that your property is managed according to your instructions for your beneficiaries. You can add a condition that a child can’t use the money until they complete college or reach a certain age. You might also create a family trust if you have a child who needs specialized medical care.

A family trust can also be useful in estate planning if you want to avoid probate. Transferring the title of assets to a family trust means that they’re no longer subject to probate. You can also use an irrevocable family trust to protect assets from creditors if you’re sued.   Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to make certain that this type of trust is right for you.

There are several types of trust options you can use in estate planning. Some of these trusts have extremely specific purposes, while others are more general. An estate planning attorney can help you compare different trust options to help you determine if a family trust is right for your estate plan.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (March 17, 2020) “What Is a Family Trust and How Do You Set One Up?”

 

What Happens If I Don’t Have an Estate Plan?

It’s so much better to have a will than not to. With a will, you can direct your assets to those whom you wish to receive a legacy, rather than the default rules of the State. This is according to a recent article in the Houston Chronicle’s entitled “Elder Law: Will you plan now or pay later?”

You should also designate an independent executor. You may want to have an estate planning attorney create a special trust to provide for family members who are disabled, along with trusts for minors and even adult children.

Here are three major items about which you may not have considered that may require changes to your estate plan or motivate you to get one. Years ago, the amount a person could leave to beneficiaries (the tax-free exemption equivalent) was much lower. You were also required to either use it or lose it.

For example, back in 1987 when the exemption equivalent was $600,000 per taxpayer, a couple had to create a by-pass trust to protect the first $600,000 upon the first to die to take advantage of the exemption. The exemption is $11.58 million in 2020, and the “portability” law has changed the “use it or lose it” requirement. There may still be good reasons to use a forced by-pass trust in your will, but in some cases, it may be time to get rid of it.

Next, think about implementing planning to have some control over your assets after you die.

You could have a heart attack, a stroke, or an unfortunate accident. These types of events can happen quickly with no warning. You were healthy and then suddenly a sickness or injury leaves you severely disabled. You should plan in the event this happen to you.

Why would a person not take the opportunity to prepare documents such as powers of attorney for property, powers of attorney for health care, living wills and medical privacy documents?

It’s good to know that becoming the subject of a court supervised guardianship proceeding is a matter of public record for everyone to see. There is also the unnecessary expense and frustration of a guardianship that could’ve been avoided, if you’d taken the time to prepare the appropriate documents with an estate planning or elder law attorney.

Why would you want to procrastinate making a will and then die suddenly without ever taking the time to make your will? Without a valid will, your family will have to pay more for a costly probate proceeding.

Reference: Houston Chronicle (Jan. 16, 2020) “Elder Law: Will you plan now or pay later?”

 

A 2020 Checklist for an Estate Plan

The beginning of a new year is a perfect time for those who haven’t started the process of getting an estate plan started. For those who already have a plan in place, now is a great time to review these documents to make changes that will reflect the changes in one’s life or family dynamics, as well as changes to state and federal law.

Houston Business Journal’s recent article entitled “An estate planning checklist should be a top New Year’s resolution” says that by partnering with a trusted estate planning attorney, you can check off these four boxes on your list to be certain your current estate plan is optimized for the future.

  1. Compute your financial situation. No matter what your net worth is, nearly everyone has an estate that’s worth protecting. An estate plan formalizes an individual’s wishes and decreases the chances of family fighting and stress.
  2. Get your affairs in order. A will is the heart of the estate plan, and the document that designates beneficiaries beyond the property and accounts that already name them, like life insurance. A will details who gets what and can help simplify the probate process, when the will is administered after your death. Medical questions, provisions for incapacity and end-of-life decisions can also be memorialized in a living will and a medical power of attorney. A financial power of attorney also gives a trusted person the legal authority to act on your behalf, if you become incapacitated.
  3. Know the 2020 estate and gift tax exemptions. The exemption for 2020 is $11.58 million, an increase from $11.4 million in 2019. The exemption eliminates federal estate taxes on amounts under that limit gifted to family members during a person’s lifetime or left to them upon a person’s passing.
  4. Understand when the exemption may decrease. The exemption amount will go up each year until 2025. There was a bit of uncertainty about what would happen to someone who uses the $11.58 million exemption in 2020 and then dies in 2026—when the exemption reverts to the $5 million range. However, the IRS has issued final regulations that will protect individuals who take advantage of the exemption limits through 2025. Gifts will be sheltered by the increased exemption limits, when the gifts are actually made.

It’s a great idea to have a resolution every January to check in with your estate planning attorney to be certain that your plan is set for the year ahead.

Reference: Houston Business Journal (Jan. 1, 2020) “An estate planning checklist should be a top New Year’s resolution”

 

How Can Life Insurance Help My Estate Plan?

In the 1990s, it wasn’t unusual for people to buy second-to-die life insurance policies to help pay federal estate taxes. However, in 2019, with estate tax exclusions up to $11,400,000 (and rising with the cost-of-living adjustments), fewer people would owe much for estate taxes.  However, IRAs, 401(k)s, and other accounts are still 100% taxable to the individuals, spouses and their children. The stretch IRA options still exist, but they may go away, as Congress may limit stretch IRAs to a maximum of 10 years.

Forbes’ recent article, “3 Ways Life Insurance Can Help Your Estate Plan,” explains that as the IRA is giving income from the RMDs, it may also be added, after tax, to the life insurance policy. If this occurs, it’s even possible that the death benefits could grow in the future, giving a cost-of-living benefit to children. This is one way how life insurance can be used creatively to help your estate plan.

For married couples, one strategy is to consider how life insurance on one individual could be used to pay “conversion tax” at death, using tax-free benefits. When the retiree dies, the spouse beneficiary can then convert all the IRA (taxable money) to a Roth IRA, which is tax-exempt with new, lower income tax rates (37% in 2018-2025 versus 39.6% in 2017 or earlier).

This tax-free death benefit money can be used to pay the taxes on the conversion, letting the surviving beneficiary have a lifetime of tax-exempt income without RMD issues from the Roth IRA. The Social Security income could also be tax-exempt, because Roth withdrawals don’t count as “income” in the calculation to see how much of your Social Security is taxed. However, you’d have to be within the threshold for any other combined income.

Life insurance for both individuals (if married) may also be a good idea. If the spouse of the IRA owner dies, the money from the life insurance can be used once again. If this is done in the tax year of the death for married individuals, the tax conversion could be done under “married filing status” before the next year, when the individual must use single tax filing status.

Another benefit of the IRA-to-Roth conversion is the passing of Roth IRAs to heirs, which could create a lasting legacy, if planned well. New life insurance policies that add long-term care features with chronic care and critical care benefits can also provide an extra degree of benefits, if one of the insureds has health issues prior to death.

Be sure to watch the tax rates and possible changes. With today’s lower tax rates, this could be very beneficial. Remember that there are usually individual state taxes as well. However, considering all the tax-optimized benefits to spouses and beneficiaries, the long-term tax benefits outweigh the lifetime tax liabilities, especially when you also consider SSI tax benefits for the surviving spouse and no RMD issues.

Life insurance in retirement can help protect, build and transfer wealth in one of the easiest ways possible. If you’re not certain about where to start with your life insurance needs, speak with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Forbes (November 15, 2019) “3 Ways Life Insurance Can Help Your Estate Plan”

 

Why Shouldn’t I Delay Making Big Gifts?

The unified federal estate and gift tax exemption for 2020 will jump up to $11.58 million or effectively $23.160 million for married couples.

Market Watch’s recent article, “Get your estate plan in order (this means you),”says that, despite these huge big exemptions and the fact you’re not currently exposed to the federal estate tax, your estate plan may still need updating to reflect the current tax rules.

You may be exposed to the federal estate tax in the future, even though you’re okay right now.

Let’s look at some issues, regardless of whether or you’re “rich” enough to be worried about exposure to the federal estate tax. Year-end is a good time to conduct your estate planning self-check, so let’s get started.

Update beneficiary designations. A will or living trust doesn’t override the beneficiary designations for life insurance policies, retirement accounts and other types of investment accounts. This includes accounts, such as life insurance policies, annuities, IRAs, other tax-favored retirement accounts and employer-sponsored benefit plans. The person(s) named on the most-recent beneficiary form will get the money automatically if you die, regardless of what your will or living trust document might state.

Designate secondary beneficiaries. Designate one or more secondary (contingent) beneficiaries to inherit, if the primary beneficiary dies before you do. Consider this possibility.

Update property titles. If you’re married and own property with your spouse as joint tenants with right of survivorship (JTWROS), the surviving spouse will automatically get sole ownership of the property when the other spouse dies. The major advantage of JTWROS ownership is that it avoids probate. The property automatically goes to the surviving joint tenant.

Name guardians. One of the main purposes of a will, is to designate a guardian for your minor children (if any). The guardians must care for your children, until they reach adulthood.

Any life event could require changes in your estate plan. In addition, the federal and estate and gift tax rules have been unpredictable in the past, along with the state death tax rules. Talk with your estate planning attorney today.

Reference: Market Watch (November 11, 2019) “Get your estate plan in order (this means you)”

 

How Can I Upgrade My Estate Plan?

Forbes’ recent article, “4 Ways To Improve Your Estate Plan,” suggests that since most people want to plan for a good life and a good retirement, why not plan for a good end of life, too? Here are four ways you can refine your estate plan, protect your assets and create a degree of control and certainty for your family.

  1. Beneficiary Designations. Many types of accounts go directly to heirs, without going through the probate process. This includes life insurance contracts, 401(k)s and IRAs. These accounts can be transferred through beneficiary designations. You should update and review these forms and designations every few years, especially after major life events like divorce, marriage or the birth or adoption of children or grandchildren.
  2. Life Insurance. A main objective of life insurance is to protect against the loss of income, in the event of an individual’s untimely death. The most important time to have life insurance is while you’re working and supporting a family with your income. Life insurance can provide much needed cash flow and liquidity for estates that might be subject to estate taxes or that have lots of non-liquid assets, like family businesses, farms, artwork or collectibles.
  3. Consider a Trust. In some situations, creating a trust to shelter or control assets is a good idea. There are two main types of trusts: revocable and irrevocable. You can fund revocable trusts with assets and still use the assets now, without changing their income tax nature. This can be an effective way to pass on assets outside of probate and allow a trustee to manage assets for their beneficiaries. An irrevocable trust can be a way to provide protection from creditors, separate assets from the annual tax liability of the original owner and even help reduce estate taxes in some situations. Contact an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss options.
  4. Charitable Giving. With charitable giving as part of an estate plan, you can make outright gifts to charities or set up a charitable remainder annuity trust (CRAT) to provide income to a surviving spouse, with the remainder going to the charity.

Your estate planning attorney will tell you that your estate plan is unique to your situation. A big part of an estate plan is about protecting your family, making sure assets pass smoothly to your designated heirs and eliminating stress for your loved ones.

Reference: Forbes (November 6, 2019) “4 Ways To Improve Your Estate Plan”

 

Will We Have to Pay Gift Taxes if We Give a Rental Property to Our Son?

Older couples frequently invest in real estate. Many manage rental properties as an income stream.

Let’s say that a couple jointly bought a rental property worth $120,000 this year with their adult son. The son started his own limited liability company (LLC) and is a single owner. The parents plan to transfer the property to him so he can use the rental income from the business for college expenses.

A common question is whether there will be any tax implication for the parents, if they move the property to their son’s LLC. The Washington Post’s recent article, “How to avoid gift taxes when shifting ownership of rental property to offspring,” answers that question by first assuming that the parents and the son purchased the rental property together in their own names. The son recently set up the LLC to use as the holding company for this rental property and other real estate properties he may own.

As far as gift tax implications, the couple have the ability to give their son $30,000 this year without having to file any federal gift tax forms or having any effect on their federal income taxes. Each person has the ability to gift another individual up to $15,000 a year without any IRS issues or the filing of forms. If each parent gave their son $30,000 this year and $30,000 next year, then that would effectively transfer their share of the property to him.

We’ll also assume that when they purchased the property, the parents paid closing costs and may have had other expenses while they’ve owned the property. Those expenses would play a part when calculating the tax basis of the property.

Assuming that the parents and their son each paid $60,000 for the property, when the son transfers the property from all the owners’ names into the LLC, the parents may have a taxable event for IRS purposes. That’s because the parents are effectively giving away ownership of their share of the property to their son. He’ll now own the property on his own. If the son signs a promissory note to the parents for $60,000 at the time of the transfer to the LLC, he’ll have an obligation to repay them the money for their share over the next six months. They could forgive $30,000 of the debt immediately and then they could forgive the other $30,000 in the new year. Their son would probably owe a little interest, but he could probably pay that from the income he receives from the rent.

This is just one solution to the transfer. There are many others, and some are much more complicated. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to review these issues and explore some other ideas that could work to everyone’s benefit.

Reference: The Washington Post (November 11, 2019) “How to avoid gift taxes when shifting ownership of rental property to offspring”

 

Why Should I Pair my Business Succession and Estate Planning?

A successful business exit plan can accomplish three important objectives for a business owner: (i) financial security, because the business sale or transfer provides income that the owner and owner’s family will need after the owner’s exit; (ii) the right person where the business owner names his or her successor; and (iii) income-tax minimization.

Likewise, a successful estate plan achieves three important personal goals: (i) financial security for the decedent’s heirs; (ii) the decedent (not the state) chooses who receives his or her estate assets; and (iii) estate-tax minimization.

Business owners will realize that the two processes have the same goals, therefore, they can leverage their time and money and develop their exit plans into the design of their estate plans. The Phoenix Business Journal’s recent article “Which comes first for Arizona business owners: estate planning or exit planning?” explains that considering exit and estate planning together, lets a business owner ask questions to bring their entire picture into focus. Here are some questions to consider:

  1. If a business owner doesn’t leave her business on the planned business exit date, how will she provide her family with the same income stream they would’ve enjoyed if she had?
  2. How can a business owner be certain that her business retains its previously determined value?
  3. Regardless of whether an owner’s exit plan involves transferring part of the business to her children, does her estate plan reflect and implement her wishes, if she doesn’t survive?
  4. If an owner dies before leaving the business, can she be certain that her family will still get the full value of the business?

Another goal of the exit planning process is to protect assets from creditors during an owner’s lifetime and to minimize tax consequences upon a transfer of ownership.

Because planning exits from both business and life are based on the same premises, it can be relatively easy to develop a consistent outcome. There isn’t only one correct answer to the “estate or exit planning” question. A business owner must act on both fronts, since a failure to act in either case creates ongoing issues for owners and for their businesses and families. Consider speaking with an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss your exit planning.

Reference: Phoenix Business Journal (October 8, 2019) “Which comes first for Arizona business owners: estate planning or exit planning?”