If I’m 35, Do I Need a Will?

Estate planning is a crucial process for everyone, no matter what assets you have now. If you want your family to be able to deal with your affairs, debts included, drafting an estate plan is critical, says Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Estate planning for those 40 and under.”

If you have young children, or other dependents, planning is vitally important. The less you have, the more important your plan is, so it can provide as long as possible and in the best way for those most important to you. You can’t afford to make a mistake.

Talk to your family about various “what if” situations. It is important that you’ve discussed your wishes with your family and that you’ve considered the many contingencies that can happen, like a serious illness or injury, incapacity, or death. This also gives you the chance to explain your rationale for making a larger gift to someone, rather than another or an equal division. This can be especially significant, if there’s a second marriage with children from different relationships and a wide range of ages. An open conversation can help avoid hard feelings later.

You should have the basic estate plan components, which include a will, a living will, advance directive, powers of attorney, and a designation of agent to control disposition of remains. These are all important components of an estate plan that should be created at the beginning of the planning process. A guardian should also be named for any minor children.

In addition, a life insurance policy can give your family the needed funds in the event of an untimely death and loss of income—especially for young parents. The loss of one or both spouses’ income can have a drastic impact.

Remember that your estate plan shouldn’t be a “one and done thing.” You need to review your estate plan every few years. This gives you the opportunity to make changes based on significant life events, tax law changes, the addition of more children, or their changing needs. You should also monitor your insurance policies and investments, because they dovetail into your estate plan and can fluctuate based on the economic environment.

When you draft these documents, you should work with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Jan. 21, 2020) “Estate planning for those 40 and under”

 

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”

 

From Gentle Persuasion to a No-Nonsense Approach, Talking About Estate Plans

Sometimes the first attempt is a flop. Imaging this exchange: “So do you want to talk about what happens when you die?” Answer: “Nope.” That’s what can happen but it doesn’t have to, says The Wall Street Journal’s recent article “Readers Offer Their Advice on Talking to Aging Parents About Estate Plans.”

Many people have successfully begun this conversation with their aging parents. The gentle persuasion method is deemed to be the most successful. Treating elderly parents as adults which they are and asking about their fears and concerns is one way to start. Educating, not lecturing, is a respectful way to move the conversation forward.

Instead of asking a series of rapid-fire questions, provide information. One family assembled a notebook with articles about how to find an estate planning attorney, when people might need a trust or why naming someone as power of attorney is so important.

Others begin by first talking about less important matters than bank accounts and bequests. Asking a parent for a list of utility companies with the account number, phone number and if they are paying bills online, their password, is an easy entry to thinking about next steps. Sometimes a gentle nudge, is all it takes to unlock the doors.

For some families, a more direct less gentle approach gets the job done. That includes being willing to tell parents that not having an estate plan or not being willing to talk about their estate plan is going to lead to disaster for everyone. Warn them about taxes or remind them that the state will disburse all of their hard-earned assets, if they don’t have a plan in place.

One son tapped into his father’s strong dislike of paying taxes. He asked a tax attorney to figure out how much the family would have to pay in estate taxes, if there were no estate plan in place. It was an eye-opener, and the father became immediately receptive to sitting down with an estate planning attorney.

A daughter had tried repeatedly to get her father to speak with an estate planning attorney. His response was the same for several decades: he didn’t believe that his estate was big enough to warrant doing any kind of planning. One evening the daughter simply threw up her hands in frustration and told him, “Fine, if your favorite charity is the federal government, do nothing…but if you’d rather benefit the church or a university, do something and make your desires known.”

For months after seeing an estate attorney and putting a plan in place, he repeated the same phrase to her: “I had no idea we were worth so much.”

Between the extremes is a third option: letting someone else handle the conversation. Aging parents may be more receptive to listening to a trusted individual, who is of their same generation. One adult daughter contacted her wealthy mother’s estate planning attorney and financial advisor. The mother would not listen to the daughter but she did listen to her estate planning attorney and her financial advisor when they both reminded her that her estate plan had not been reviewed in years.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (December 16, 2019) “Readers Offer Their Advice on Talking to Aging Parents About Estate Plans”

 

Can I Place My IRA in a Trust?

Unfortunately, you can’t place an individual retirement account (IRA) in a trust while you’re alive. This rule applies to all types of IRAs including traditional, Roth, SEP, and SIMPLE IRAs says Investopedia’s article, “How Can I Put My IRA In a Trust?”

However, if you establish a trust as part of your estate plan and want to include your IRA assets, you need to look at the characteristics of an IRA and tax consequences concerning certain transactions.

IRA accounts were designed to achieve two goals. First, they provided tax-deferred retirement savings for individuals not covered under an employer-sponsored plan. For those who were covered, IRAs provided a spot for retirement-plan assets to continue to grow, when and if the account holder changed jobs via an IRA rollover.

IRA accounts can only be owned by an individual. They can’t be held in joint name and can’t be titled to an entity, like a trust or small business. Contributions can also only be made, if certain criteria are met, such as the owner must have taxable earned income to support the contributions. A non-working spouse can own an IRA but must receive contributions from the working spouse and the working spouse’s income must satisfy the criteria.

No matter the source of the contributions, the IRA owner must remain constant. Only certain ownership transfers are permitted to avoid being categorized as a taxable distribution. If transferred to a trust, IRA assets become taxable, because this transfer is seen as a distribution by the IRS. In addition, if the owner is under age 59½ at the time of distribution, there’s an early withdrawal penalty. The trust can accept IRA assets of a deceased owner, however, and establish an inherited IRA.

Naming a trust as the beneficiary to an IRA can be a good idea, because owners can instruct the beneficiaries on how to use their savings. A trust can be created, so that special provisions for inheritance apply to specific beneficiaries. This can be a helpful option, if the beneficiaries vary greatly in age, or if some of them have special needs to be addressed.

Planning should consider how beneficiaries will take possession of IRA assets and over what time period. Get professional advice from a trust and estate planning lawyer. Ask the attorney about getting the maximum stretch option for the distribution of the account. The trust will need to have specific terms, such as “pass-through” and “designated beneficiary.” If it doesn’t have terms for inheriting an IRA, it should be rewritten, or specific people should instead be named as beneficiaries.

While moving all assets into the name of a trust and designating it as the beneficiary on retirement accounts is common, it is not always a good decision. Trusts, like other non-individuals that inherit IRA assets, are subject to accelerated withdrawal requirements. Most of the time, these must take place within five years from the original IRA owner’s death. Without the proper “pass-through” terms, stretching the withdrawals over a lifetime isn’t an option. Depending on the size of the account, this could place a major burden on the beneficiaries. It’s especially detrimental to eliminate the spousal inheritance provisions by designating a trust, instead of a spouse as the beneficiary.

Reference: Investopedia (November 26, 2019) “How Can I Put My IRA In a Trust?”

 

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”

 

What’s Everything I Need to Know About Wills?

Writing a will is a critical part of estate planning. A will contains your legally binding directions for the distribution of your property and responsibilities, when you pass away.

Like the title says, Money Check’s recent article, “Guide to Writing a Will: Everything You Need to Consider,” sets it all out—from soup to nuts.

Do it myself or hire an experienced estate planning attorney? It’s wiser to hire a qualified estate planning attorney to help you draft your will. There are many heartbreaking stories of people who decided to do it by themselves and missed important steps. If that’s the case, the probate judge will not recognize the will and will take control of the estate. Don’t let this happen to your family. Use a legal professional.

Name Your Heirs. List all of the people you want to include in your will. You can omit or include anyone you want. If you do want to leave out a certain family member, be sure you clearly indicate that in the will. You don’t have to explain why you decided to include or exclude family members from your will.

Name an Executor.  Select your attorney or a close family member as the executor.

Select a Guardian for your Children. Name a responsible and willing guardian for your minor children. You should also be sure to discuss your decision with the potential guardian.

Be Clear on the Assets Beneficiaries are to Receive. Avoid vagueness or questions in your will. Clearly explain who gets what. This will help avoid confusion and disputes among family. A thoroughly crafted will prevents stressful and upsetting situations from happening to your family, after your passing.

Include Your Final Wishes with the Will. You can leave your will and a final letter to your family with your executor. This is also called a letter of last instruction.

Get Your Witnesses. When you’re ready to sign your will, be sure to sign it in the presence of a notary public (your estate planning attorney). get a witness (or two depending on your state’s laws) of legal age, over 18-years old and not a family member or relative, to sign the documents.

Keep Your Will Somewhere Safe and Accessible. Store your will in a safe place, where your family can get to it when you die.

Reference: Money Check (October 23, 2019) “Guide to Writing a Will: Everything You Need to Consider”

 

What Do I Need in My Estate Plan in Addition to a Will?

American Legion’s recent article, “Planning beyond the will” says that it’s important that your estate planning papers are synced with your wishes and the current law, but you should also look at some items outside of the fundamental documents:

Beneficiary designations. This includes life insurance policies, IRAs, current and former employer retirement plans and annuities. A beneficiary designation supersedes any instructions in a will or trust. As a result, it’s important that your designations reflect your current wishes and are synced with the rest of your estate plan.

Property title. Be sure that you know how your property is titled. If the family home is titled as joint tenants with rights of survivorship then it will pass seamlessly to the surviving owner. There are also potential income-tax implications. Ask your estate planning attorney about this and the best way to address title concerns.

Personal property plans. This could be as simple as giving your trustee or executor the authority to make decisions designating instructions with respect to specific property in your will or trust, or incorporating a personal property memo into your plan. The guidance you give can alleviate major problems when you’re no longer around to settle disputes.

A continuity book. In the military, it’s common that just as you’re getting used to your responsibilities, it’s time to PCS (Permanent Change of Station) or switch jobs. Many leaders require a continuity book that helps bridge that knowledge gap so your successor has an idea of what to do. You can adopt this practice in your personal affairs. This can include an inventory of your assets, liabilities and insurance policies. This “continuity book” should also include your social media account passwords, key contacts, funeral wishes and the location of your key estate planning documents and list your estate planning attorney. This is an important resource for trustees and executors as they assume their duties.

Enjoy the holidays and this year work on making sure that your family spends many more happy holidays together.

Reference: American Legion (October 18, 2019) “Planning beyond the will”

 

Should I Use a Trust to Protect My Children’s Inheritance?

Parents with savings have several options for their children’s future inheritances.

nj.com’s recent article answers this question: “We have $1.5 million. Should we get a trust for our children’s inheritance?” According to the article, parents could create lifetime trusts or trusts in their wills for the benefit of the surviving spouse during the spouse’s lifetime.  After that they can have the remainder of the assets pass in trusts for each of the children until they reach a certain age or ages.

A lifetime trust or living trust is a type of trust that’s created during an individual’s lifetime. This is different from a testamentary trust which is a trust created after a person’s lifetime through the operation of that person’s will.

Usually the individual who settles the trust (the “Grantor”) will retain control over the assets in the trust, including the right to revoke the assets during his or her lifetime. These forms of lifetime trusts are known as grantor trusts.

Another option is to have these types of trusts continue for the benefit of the grandchildren. The grandchildren’s trusts can have instructions that the assets and income are to be used for the health, maintenance, education and support of the child.  The parents would need to name a trustee or co-trustee. This is the person who’s responsible for investing the assets, filing tax returns and paying taxes (if necessary). He or she will also distribute the assets according to the terms of the trust.

Trusts are complicated business, so meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to determine the best strategies based on your circumstances and goals.

Reference: nj.com (October 16, 2019) “We have $1.5 million. Should we get a trust for our children’s inheritance?”

 

The Downside of an Inheritance

As many as 1.7 million American households inherit assets every year. However, almost seventy-five percent of those heirs lose their inheritance within a few years and more than a third see no change or even a decline in their economic standing, says Canyon News in the article “Three Setbacks Associated With Receiving An Inheritance.” Receiving an inheritance should be a positive event, but that’s often not the case. What goes wrong?

Family battles. A survey of lawyers, trust officers, and accountants conducted by TD Wealth found that at 44 percent of family conflicts are the biggest cause for inheritance setbacks. Conflicts often arise when individuals die without a properly executed estate plan. Without a will, asset distributions are left to the law of the state and the probate court.

However, there are also times when even the best of plans are created and problems occur. This can happen when there are issues with trustees. Trusts are commonly used estate planning tools, a legal device that includes directions on how and when assets are to be distributed to beneficiaries. Many people use them to shield assets from estate taxes which is all well and good. However, if a trustee is named who is adverse to the interests of the family members or not capable of properly managing the trust, lengthy and expensive estate battles can occur. Filing a claim against an adversarial trustee can lead to divisions among beneficiaries and take a bite out of the inheritance. Contact an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss creating documents to avoid issues such as above.

Poor tax planning. Depending upon the inheritance and the beneficiaries there could be tax consequences including:

  • Estate Taxes. This is the tax applied to the value of a decedent’s assets, properties and financial accounts. The federal estate tax exemption as of this writing is very high—$11.4 million per individual—but there are also state estate taxes. Although the executor of the estate and not the beneficiary is typically responsible for the estate taxes, it may also impact the beneficiaries.
  • Inheritance Taxes. Some states have inheritance taxes which are based upon the kinship between the decedent and the heir, their state of residence and the value of the inheritance. These are paid by the beneficiary and not the estate. Six states collect inheritance taxes: Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Spouses do not pay inheritance taxes when their spouse’s die. Beneficiaries who are not related to decedents will usually pay higher inheritance taxes.
  • Capital Gains Tax. In certain circumstances, heirs pay capital gains taxes. Recipients may be subject to capital gains taxes if they make a profit selling the assets that they inherited. For instance, if someone inherits $300,000 in stocks and the beneficiary sells them a few years later for $500,000, the beneficiary may have to pay capital gains taxes on the $200,000 profit.

Impacts on Government Benefits. If an heir is receiving government benefits like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Social Security (SSS) or Medicaid, receiving an inheritance could make them ineligible for the government benefit. These programs are generally needs-based and recipients are bound to strict income and asset levels. An estate planning attorney will usually plan for this with the use of a Special Needs Trust, where the trust inherits the assets, which can then be used by the heir without losing their eligibility. A trustee is in charge of the assets and their distributions.

An experienced estate planning attorney can work with the entire family planning for the transfer of wealth and helping educate the family so that the efforts of a lifetime of work are not lost in a few years’ time.

Reference: Canyon News (October 15, 2019) “Three Setbacks Associated With Receiving An Inheritance”

 

What are the Biggest Estate Planning Errors to Avoid?

Nobody likes to plan for events like aging, incapacity, or death. However, failing to do so can cause families burdens and grief, thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours.

Fox Business’ recent article, “Here are the top estate planning mistakes to avoid,” says that planning for life’s unexpected events is critical. However, it can often be a hard process to navigate. Let’s look at the top estate planning mistakes to avoid, according to industry experts:

  1. Failing to sign a will (or one that can be located). The biggest mistake is simply not having a will. Estate planning is critically important to protect you, your family and your hard-earned assets—during your lifetime, in the event of your incapacity, and upon your death. We all need estate planning, no matter the amount of assets you have. In addition to having a will it needs to be findable. The Wall Street Journal says that the biggest estate planning error is simply losing a will. Make sure your family has access to your estate planning documents and you name the estate planning attorney who prepared the documents for you. The attorney may have more information on your loved one that you think.
  2. Failing to name and update beneficiaries. An asset with a beneficiary designation supersedes any terms in a will. Review your 401(k), IRA, life insurance, and any other accounts with beneficiaries after any significant life event. If you don’t have the proper beneficiary designations, income tax on retirement accounts may have to be paid sooner. This may lead to increased income tax liability and the designation of a beneficiary on a life insurance policy can affect whether the proceeds are subject to creditors’ claims.

There’s another mistake that impacts people with minor children which is naming a guardian for minor children and then naming that person as beneficiary of their life insurance instead of leaving it to a trust for the child. A minor child can’t receive that money. It also exposes the money to the beneficiary’s creditors and spouse.

  1. Failing to consider powers of attorney for adult children. When your children reach age 18, they are adults in the eyes of the law. If something unfortunate happens to them, you may be left without any say in their treatment. In the event that an 18-year-old becomes ill or has an accident, a hospital won’t consult with their parents if a power of attorney for health care isn’t in place. Unless a power of attorney for property is signed, a parent may not be able to take care of bills, make investment decisions and pay taxes without the child’s signature. This could create an issue when your child is in college—especially if he or she is attending school abroad. It is very important that when your child turns 18 that you have powers of attorney put into place. Contact an experienced estate planning attorney and get a power of attorney prepared.

Reference: Fox Business (October 15, 2019) “Here are the top estate planning mistakes to avoid”