What are the Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes?

One of the largest wealth transfers our nation has ever seen is about to occur, in the next 25 years, roughly $68 trillion of wealth will be passed to succeeding generations. This event has unique planning opportunities for those who are prepared, and also big challenges due to the ever-changing legal and tax world of estate planning.

Fox Business’ article “5 estate planning disasters you’ll want to avoid,” discusses the biggest estate planning errors to avoid.

Failing to properly name beneficiaries. This common estate planning mistake is easily overlooked, when setting up a retirement plan for the first time or when switching investment companies. A big advantage of adding a beneficiary to your account, is that the account will avoid probate and pass directly to your beneficiaries.

Any account with a properly listed beneficiary designation will override what is written in your will or revocable living trust. Therefore, you should review your investment and bank accounts to make certain that your beneficiaries are accurate and match your intentions.

Naming a minor as a beneficiary. This can be a problem, if they are still minors when you die. A minor won’t have the legal authority to take control of inheritance or investment accounts until they reach the age of 18 or 21 (depending on state law). When a minor receives an asset as a beneficiary, a court-appointed guardianship will be created to supervise and manage the assets on behalf of the minor. To avoid this mistake, you can name a guardian for the minor child in your will.

Forgetting to fund a trust. Creating a trust is the first step, but many people don’t properly fund their trust after it’s established. Contact an estate planning attorney to assist you with this.

Making a tax mess for your heirs. A significant advantages of passing on real estate or other highly appreciated investments or property, is that your beneficiaries receive what is known as a “step-up” in basis, so that they aren’t responsible for any income taxes on the appreciated assets when they are received. The exception is when inheriting retirement accounts, such as 401k’s and traditional IRAs. Except for a surviving spouse, inheriting a traditional IRA or 401k means that you are now responsible for the taxes owed. With the recent passage of the SECURE Act, most non-spouse beneficiaries must totally withdraw a 401k or IRA within 10 years. It is deemed to be ordinary income for beneficiaries, which could result in a huge tax bill for your heirs. To avoid this, you can convert some or all of your retirement account assets to a Roth IRA during your lifetime, which lets you to pay the conversion taxes at your current income tax rate—a rate that may be much lower than your children or grandchildren’s tax rate. When you pass away, any money that is passed inside a Roth IRA goes tax-free to your heirs.

Failing to create a comprehensive estate plan. Properly establishing your estate plan now, will care for your loved ones financially, and can also save them a lot of emotional stress after you’re gone.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about planning now. It can really affect your family for generations. It is one of the best gifts that you can leave your family.

Reference: Fox Business (Nov. 12, 2020) “5 estate planning disasters you’ll want to avoid”

 

When Exactly Do I Need to Update My Will?

Many people say that they’ve been meaning to update their last will and testament for years but never got around to doing it.

Kiplinger’s article entitled “12 Different Times When You Should Update Your Will” gives us a dozen times you should think about changing your last will:

  1. You’re expecting your first child. The birth or adoption of a first child is typically when many people draft their first last will. Designate a guardian for your child and who will be the trustee for any trust created for that child by the last will.
  2. You may divorce. Update your last will before you file for divorce because once you file for divorce, you may not be permitted to modify your last will until the divorce is finalized. Doing this before you file for divorce ensures that your spouse won’t get all of your money, if you die before the divorce is final.
  3. You just divorced. After your divorce, your ex no longer has any rights to your estate (unless it’s part of the terms of the divorce). However, even if you don’t change your last will, most states have laws that invalidate any distributive provisions to your ex-spouse in that old last will. Nonetheless, update your last will as soon as you can so your new beneficiaries are clearly identified.
  4. Your child gets married. Your current last will may speak to issues that applied when your child was a minor so it may not address your child’s possible divorce. You may be able to ease the lack of a prenuptial agreement, by creating a trust in your last will and including post-nuptial requirements before you child can receive any estate assets.
  5. A beneficiary has issues. Last wills frequently leave money directly to a beneficiary. However, if that person has an addiction or credit issues, update your last will to include a trust that allows a trustee to only distribute funds under specific circumstances.
  6. Your executor or a beneficiary die. If your estate plan named individuals to manage your estate or receive any remaining funds, but they’re no longer alive, you should update your last will.
  7. Your child turns 18. Your current last will may designate your spouse or a parent as your executor, but years later, these people may be gone. Consider naming a younger family member to handle your estate affairs.
  8. A new tax or probate law is enacted. Congress may pass a bill that wrecks your estate plan. Review your plan with an experienced estate planning attorney every few years to see if there have been any new laws relevant to your estate planning.
  9. You come into a chunk of change. If you finally get a big lottery win or inherit money from a distant relative update your last will so you can address the right tax planning. You also may want to change when and the amount of money you leave to certain individuals or charities.
  10. You can’t find your original last will. If you can’t locate your last will, be sure that you replace the last will with a new, original one that explicitly states it invalidated all prior last wills. Contact an experienced estate planning attorney to assist you.
  11. You purchase property in another country or move overseas. Many countries have treaties with the U.S. that permit reciprocity of last wills. However, transferring property in one country may be delayed, if the last will must be probated in the other country first. Ask your estate planning attorney about having a different last will for each country in which you own property.
  12. Your feelings change for a family member. If there’s animosity between people named in your last will, you may want to disinherit someone. You might ask your estate planning attorney about a No Contest Clause that will disinherit the aggressive family member, if he or she attempts to question your intentions in the last will.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 26, 2020) “12 Different Times When You Should Update Your Will”

 

Should Nursing Homes Plan for Future Pandemics?

Roughly 6,000 nursing home residents have died during the pandemic in New York State.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities for one of the country’s most high-risk populations: our senior citizens.

Spectrum News reports in the article “Nursing Homes Could Be Required to Have Pandemic Plan” reports that a proposed bill in that state would require nursing homes to have plans for future pandemics, make those plans readily available on websites, provide regular updates on the status of patients and establish protection plans for staff and residents.

In addition, communication via videoconferencing must be made available for residents.

The bill would also mandate that a pandemic plan preserve a resident’s place in a nursing home after hospitalization is through. It would also include provisions for the facilities to have a minimum two-month supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The New York State Department of Health will be required to audit facilities annually for compliance.

“The nature of COVID19 exposed a tragic vulnerability among one of our most high-risk populations: our elderly,” said Assemblyman Joe Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat. “The rapid spread of the virus in nursing homes exposed a fatal flaw in pandemic planning and it is clear that more has to be done to protect nursing home residents and its healthcare workers.”

New York’s response to nursing homes during the crisis has come under some scrutiny. Part of that has been a March 25 order that required the facilities to take in COVID-positive patients.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has partially reversed that directive, by banning hospitals from discharging people to nursing homes who are still positive for the virus.

Cuomo has also placed some of the blame on the CDC guidelines for permitting nursing homes to take COVID residents. However, he didn’t raise the issue in a recent meeting with President Trump.

Twice weekly testing of nursing home and adult care facility staff is now underway. The testing capacity and supply has increased in New York over the past month.

The bill must still be considered by Governor Cuomo for approval.

If you have questions about a loved one who is being transferred to a nursing home, make sure you speak with your estate planning attorney.

Reference: Spectrum News (May 28, 2020) “Nursing Homes Could Be Required to Have Pandemic Plan”

Am I Making One of the Five Common Estate Planning Mistakes?

You don’t have to be super-wealthy to see the benefits from a well-prepared estate plan. However, you must make sure the plan is updated regularly so these kinds of mistakes don’t occur and hurt the people you love most, reports Kiplinger in its article entitled “Is Anything Wrong with Your Estate Plan? Here are 5 Common Mistakes.”

An estate plan contains legal documents that will provide clarity about how you’d like your wishes executed both during your life and after you die. There are three key documents:

  • A will
  • A durable power of attorney for financial matters
  • A health care power of attorney or similar document

In the last two of these documents, you appoint someone you trust to help make decisions involving your finances or health, in case you can’t while you’re still living. Let’s look at five common mistakes in estate planning:

# 1: No Estate Plan Whatsoever. A will has specific information about who will receive your money, property and other property. It’s important for people, even with minimal assets. If you don’t have a will, state law will determine who will receive your assets. Dying without a will (or “intestate”) entails your family going through a time-consuming and expensive process that can be avoided by simply having a will.  A will can also include several other important pieces of information that can have a significant impact on your heirs, such as naming a guardian for your minor children and an executor to carry out the business of closing your estate and distributing your assets. Without a will, these decisions will be made by a probate court.

# 2: Forgetting to Name or Naming the Wrong Beneficiaries. Some of your assets, like retirement accounts and life insurance policies, aren’t normally controlled by your will. They pass directly without probate to the beneficiaries you designate. To ensure that the intended person inherits these assets, a specific person or trust must be designated as the beneficiary for each account.

# 3: Wrong Joint Title. Married couples can own assets jointly, but they may not know that there are different types of joint ownership, such as the following:

  • Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship (JTWROS) means that, if one joint owner passes away, then the surviving joint owners (their spouse or partner) automatically inherits the deceased owner’s part of the asset. This transfer of ownership bypasses a will entirely.
  • Tenancy in Common (TIC) means that each joint owner has a separately transferrable share of the asset. Each owner’s will says who gets the share at their death.

# 4: Not Funding a Revocable Living Trust. A living trust lets you put assets in a trust with the ability to freely move assets in and out of it, while you’re alive. At death, assets continue to be held in trust or are distributed to beneficiaries, which is set by the terms of the trust. The most common error made with a revocable living trust is failure to retitle or transfer ownership of assets to the trust. This is where you need the direction of an experienced estate planning attorney as this critical task is often overlooked after the effort of drafting the trust document is done. A trust is of no use if it doesn’t own any assets.

# 5: The Right Time to Name a Trust as a Beneficiary of an IRA. The new SECURE Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2020 gets rid of what’s known as the stretch IRA. This allowed non-spouses who inherited retirement accounts to stretch out disbursements over their lifetimes. It let assets in retirement accounts continue their tax-deferred growth over many years. However, the new Act requires a full payout from the inherited IRA within 10 years of the death of the original account holder, in most cases, when a non-spouse individual is the beneficiary. Therefore, it may not be a good idea to name a trust as the beneficiary of a retirement account. It’s possible that either distributions from the IRA may not be allowed when a beneficiary would like to take one, or distributions will be forced to take place at a bad time and the beneficiary will be hit with unnecessary taxes.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney and review your estate plans to make certain that the new SECURE Act provisions don’t create unintended consequences.

Reference: Kiplinger (Feb. 20, 2020) “Is Anything Wrong with Your Estate Plan? Here are 5 Common Mistakes”

 

How Will Changes in the Law Impact my Estate Plan?

Wealth Advisor recently published an article—“Tune-Up Your Estate Plan in Light of Changing Conditions”—that asks if your estate plan is still appropriate, in light of several changes in the law.

The federal estate tax gift and estate tax exemption amount is now $11.4 million, indexed for inflation, which is an all-time high. A married couple can transfer twice that amount to children or others, or $22.8 million, without any federal gift and estate tax. The federal exemption amount is also now “portable” between spouses. It means that the first spouse to die, can transfer any unused exemption to the surviving spouse, without the need of a “credit shelter trust.”

Note that the enhanced federal exemption amount is scheduled to “sunset” in 2026, returning back down to $5.6 million (indexed for inflation).

As far as state law changes, the New York estate tax exemption amount is $5.74 million. However, that exemption isn’t portable. The estate tax exemption is also phased out, if your taxable estate is 5% more than that amount. For a New York taxable estate of about $6 million, there’s no exemption and the New York estate tax is about $500,000. The New York estate tax on a $10 million taxable estate is more than $1 million. Since New York has no gift tax, lifetime gifts don’t decrease the estate tax exemption for state tax purposes. However, gifts made within three years of death, would be clawed back under a pending bill.

In New Jersey, they’ve repealed the estate tax but kept the inheritance tax. Connecticut raised its estate and gift tax exemption amount. In the state of Illinois, the estate tax exemption amount is only $4 million and isn’t portable. This makes flexibility in your estate plan very desirable. For residents in the Land of Lincoln (that’s Illinois), the estate tax savings are less dramatic, since the exemption is smaller than in New York, but the potential savings through proper planning are still major.

Another consideration to note includes the fact that surrogate’s courts and probate courts—which have always moved at a snail’s pace—have become even slower.

Some of these changes may impact your current estate plan. You may want to take advantage of the enhanced federal exemption amount, before it goes away.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney to see how you can shelter your savings from a state estate tax, if you are married and live in a state with an estate tax like New York, Connecticut, or Illinois. This could save you a lot of money that you can then pass on to your heirs.

Reference: The Wealth Advisor (June 17, 2019) “Tune-Up Your Estate Plan in Light of Changing Conditions”

 

Virginia Passes New Law to Thwart Elder Abuse

“Elder abuse is a growing epidemic in our Commonwealth, yet these cases are under-reported and remain very difficult to prosecute for various reasons,” says Chuck Slemp III, commonwealth’s attorney for Wise County and the City of Norton.

The Southwest Times’ recent article, “Law boosts tools to fight elder abuse,” reports that Slemp requested the new legislation. This law goes into effect July 1 and will help protect adults age 60 and older and physically or mentally incapacitated adults age 18 and older. The legislation provides a framework for local departments of social service and commonwealth attorneys to create one or separate multidisciplinary teams to review cases at all stages of investigation and prosecution. The teams would be made up of professionals from diverse disciplines. The team goals would be as follows:

  • To help identify abused, neglected and exploited individuals;
  • To coordinate medical, social and legal services for these people and their families;
  • To develop programs to detect and prevent abuse, neglect and exploitation; and
  • To promote community awareness of the problem, and educate them on ways to prevent it.

Slemp said that he was thrilled that the bill will become law to give the state additional tools in the effort to fight elder crimes and to establish a framework for a team-approach to review these situations. The Commonwealth’s attorney for Wise County and the City of Norton added that he was grateful to Senator Chafin and 4th District Delegate Todd Pillion (R-Abingdon), who introduced the House version of the legislation.

“Every day the elderly are taken advantage of financially and abused. It is our responsibility in the General Assembly to help protect the most vulnerable of our citizens. Commonwealth Attorneys and law enforcement need all of the tools available to effectively prosecute elder abuse and financial exploitation,” said Chafin. “Multidisciplinary response teams will aid in the prosecution of these crimes and will bring these criminals to justice.”

Pillion added, “With an aging population, particularly in rural areas, it’s critical we form the systems and processes needed to help safeguard people who may find themselves in abusive situations.” You may also seek help from a local attorney.

Slemp believes that the new bill will help localities to concentrate additional resources on the “epidemic” of elder abuse.

Reference: The Southwest Times (March 13, 2018) “Law boosts tools to fight elder abuse”