Is the Pandemic Motivating People to Do Estate Planning?

A survey from Policygenius, an online insurance marketplace, found that most people (60.4%) didn’t have a will, but that may be about to change. Nearly 40% of survey respondents (39.7%) said they feel it’s more important to get a will because of the pandemic.

PR Newswire’s recent article entitled “Policygenius survey finds Americans with misconceptions about estate planning” reports that many respondents also held misconceptions about the estate planning process, which may a reason they avoid it.

The survey found that more than one in five respondents (22.8%) who think getting a will is too expensive overestimated the cost by hundreds or even thousands of dollars.  A total of 48.2% incorrectly thought that their possessions would automatically pass to their spouse, if they died without a will. That may suggest that people may not be creating wills because they think they don’t need them. Contact a local estate planning attorney to assist you in preparing an estate planning.

There were 24.1% respondents who said that they don’t have a will because they haven’t had time to put one together, and more than half of those respondents (62%) were parents.  The survey also found that respondents prioritized family, with more than a third of them (35.9%) saying that having a child is the most important life event for someone, if they want to create a will. About two-thirds (65.5%) said that making the process of inheritance as easy as possible is one of their top three important issues, when getting a will.

Just 39.3% knew that if someone passes away without a will, a court will determine who gets their assets.

The Policygenius survey is based on responses from a nationally representative sample of 2,689 Americans ages 25 and over. It was conducted by SurveyMonkey from July 16 through July 17, 2020.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about a will and a comprehensive estate plan.

Reference: PR Newswire (Dec. 2, 2020) “Policygenius survey finds Americans with misconceptions about estate planning”

 

What Do I Need to Know about Creating a Will?

A simple or basic will allows you to specifically say the way in which you want your assets to be distributed among your beneficiaries after your death. This can be a good starting point for creating a comprehensive estate plan because you may need more than just a basic will.

KAKE’s recent article entitled “What Is a Simple Will and How Do You Make One?” explains that a last will and testament is a legal document that states what you want to happen to your property and “worldly goods” when you die. A simple will can be used to designate an executor for the will and a legal guardian for minor children and specify who (or which organizations) should inherit your assets when you die. You should contact an estate planning  attorney to assist you.

A will must be approved in the probate process when you pass away. After the probate court reviews the will to make sure it’s valid, your executor will take care of the collection and distribution of assets listed in the will. Your executor would also be responsible for paying any debts owed by your estate.  Whether you need a basic will or something more complex, usually depends on a few factors, including your age, the size of your estate and if you have children (and their ages).

Having a will in place can be a good starting point for estate planning. However, deciding if it should be simple or complex can depend on a number of factors, such as:

  • The size of your estate
  • The amount of estate tax you expect to owe
  • The type of assets and property you own
  • Whether you own a business
  • The number of beneficiaries you want to name
  • Whether the beneficiaries are individuals or organizations (like charities)
  • Any significant life changes you anticipate, like marriages, divorces, or having more children; and
  • Whether any of your children or beneficiaries have special needs.

With these situations, you may need a more detailed will to plan how you want your assets to be distributed. In any event, work with an experienced estate planning attorney. With life or financial changes, you may need to create a more complex will or consider a trust. It is smart to speak with an estate planning attorney, who can help you determine which components to include in your plan and help you keep it updated.

Reference: KAKE (Nov. 23, 2020) “What Is a Simple Will and How Do You Make One?”

 

What Should I Know about a Living Trust?

A will and a living trust both can be very important in your estate plan. However, a living trust doesn’t require probate to transfer your assets.

KYT24’s recent article entitled “Fundamentals Of A Living Trust” explains that everyone who owns a home and/or other assets should have a will or a living trust. Proper estate planning can protect your family from unnecessary court costs and delay, if you become incapacitated, disabled, or die.

With a living trust, you can avoid all probate delays and related costs and make life much simpler for your family in a crisis. If you pass away, your spouse will be able to automatically and immediately continue without any delay or unnecessary expense.When you and your spouse both die, your assets will also transfer directly to your beneficiaries.

Living trusts can save time, expense and stress for your loved ones. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about creating a living trust.

A trust agreement, being a legal document, must be written by an experienced estate planning attorney who has the knowledge and experience to prepare such a legal document to cover all of your needs and desires. If not properly and completely drafted, you run the risk of issues after you’re gone for your family.

After your attorney drafts your living trust, you must fund the trust, by titling or adding assets to it. If assets aren’t titled to or otherwise connected to your trust agreement, they won’t be legally part of the trust.  This totally defeats the purpose of drafting your living trust agreement in the first place.

It’s a common mistake to fail to fund a trust, which can happen as a result of poor follow through after signing the trust.

Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to complete a living trust and your entire estate plan. This includes a thorough review of your goals and objectives, as well as reviewing all estate assets to complete the funding of your trust, by transferring assets into the name of the living trust.

Reference: KYT24 (Nov. 14, 2020) “Fundamentals Of A Living Trust”

 

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”

 

Do I Really Need a Will?

No one enjoys pondering their own mortality, but we can all help unburden our loved ones after we’ve gone, by creating a will.

Bankrate’s recent article entitled “Why it’s important for every adult to get a will” explains why you need a will and how to protect what you most cherish after you pass away.

Many people think that a will must be a complicated document full of confusing legal jargon. However, the purpose of a will is really very simple despite its importance. A will is a legal document that disposes of your property at your death. In addition, wills address several issues required to be resolved after death, such as who will care for your children, who will make decisions about your estate and who will receive your assets? Every adult should have a will that speaks to these issues.

There are several types of wills which are customized based on your property and assets. Some people have specific instructions regarding special bequests at their death, and others pass everything to a surviving spouse and children.

Testamentary will. This will is prepared in advance and is signed in front of witnesses. This is the most common type of will.

Holographic will. This is a will that is written by hand and is frequently a last resort in emergency situations. It is not valid in all states.

Oral will. This is a verbal will that’s spoken in front of witnesses. However, most courts prefer instructions in writing. As a result, an oral will isn’t a form that is widely recognized or recommended.

Mutual will. A couple can create a joint will, so that when one spouse dies, the other remains bound by the existing will’s terms.

Pour-over will. This type of will is used when you plan to “pour” your assets into a previously established trust at your death.

There are many reasons why you should have a will. A will can:

  • Clearly identify ownership of your property
  • Name a legal guardian for your children
  • Shorten the legal process of assigning your assets
  • Make donations of assets to charitable organizations
  • Make specific gifts; and
  • Save on estate tax.

Speak to an experienced estate planning attorney about the right will for your situation.

Reference: Bankrate (Nov. 6, 2020) “Why it’s important for every adult to get a will”

 

What Trusts are Available for Estate Planning?

A trust is a legal agreement that has at least three parties. The same person(a) can be in more than one of these roles at the same time. The terms of the trust usually are embodied in a legal document called a trust agreement. Forbes’s recent article entitled “Here’s What You Need To Know About The Most-Popular Estate Planning Trusts” explains that the first party is the person who creates the trust, known as a trustor, grantor, settlor, or creator.

The trustee is the second party to the agreement. This person has legal title to the property in the trust and manages the property, according to the instructions in the trust and state law. The third party is the beneficiary who benefits from the trust. There can be multiple beneficiaries at the same time and there also can be different beneficiaries over time.  The trustee is a fiduciary who must manage the trust property only for the interests of the beneficiaries and consistent with the trust agreement and the law. Although a trust is created when the trust agreement is signed and executed, it isn’t really operational until it’s funded by transferring property to it. An estate planning attorney would be a good trustee as they understand the trusts.

A living trust, also called an inter vivos trust, is a trust that’s created during the trustor’s lifetime. A testamentary trust is created in the trustor’s last will and testament. A trust can be revocable, which means that the trustor can revoke it or modify the terms at any time. An irrevocable trust can’t be changed or revoked.

Assets that are owned by a trust avoid the cost, delay and publicity of probate. However, there are no tax benefits to a revocable living trust. The settlors-trustees are taxed as though they still own the assets. The trust assets are also included in their estates under the federal estate tax.

An irrevocable trust typically is created to reduce income and/or estate taxes. This type of trust can also protect assets from creditors. When assets are transferred to an irrevocable trust, the income and gains are taxed to the trust when they are retained by the trust and taxed to the beneficiaries when distributed to them.

Under the federal estate tax and most state estate taxes, assets that are retitled to an irrevocable trust aren’t part of the grantor’s estate. Transfers to the trust are gifts to the beneficiaries. The grantor’s gift tax annual exclusion and lifetime exemption can be used to avoid gift taxes, until gifts exceed the exclusion and exemption limit.

An irrevocable trust typically is created to reduce income and/or estate taxes. This type of trust can also protect assets from creditors. When assets are transferred to an irrevocable trust, the income and gains are taxed to the trust when they are retained by the trust and taxed to the beneficiaries when distributed to them.

A grantor trust is an income tax term that describes a trust where the grantor is taxed on the income. That’s because he or she retained rights to or benefits of the property. The revocable living trust is an example of a grantor trust.

A trust can be discretionary or nondiscretionary. A trustee of a discretionary trust has the power to make or withhold distributions to beneficiaries as the trustee deems appropriate or in their best interests. In a nondiscretionary trust, the trustee makes distributions according to the directions in the trust agreement.

Another type of trust is a spendthrift trust. This is an irrevocable trust that can be either living or testamentary. The key term restricts limits the beneficiary’s access to the trust principal, and the beneficiary and the beneficiary’s creditors can’t force distributions. The spendthrift provision is used when the settlor is worried that a beneficiary might waste the money or have trouble with creditors. Many states permit spendthrift trusts, but some limit the amount of principal that can be protected, and some do not recognize spendthrift provisions.

Finally, a special needs trust can be used to provide for a person who needs assistance for life. In many cases, it’s a child or sibling of the trust settlor. It can be either living or testamentary. Critical to a special needs trust is it has provisions that make certain the beneficiary can receive financial support from the trust, without being disqualified from federal and state support programs for those with special needs.

For more about trusts and how one may fit into your estate planning, contact an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 26, 2020) “Here’s What You Need To Know About The Most-Popular Estate Planning Trusts”

 

What Key Estate Planning Terms Should I Know?

Estate planning can help you accomplish several objectives including naming guardians for minor children, choosing healthcare agents to make decisions for you should you become ill, minimizing taxes so you can give more wealth to your heirs and saying how and who would like to pass your estate at death.

Emmett Messenger Index’s recent article entitled “13 Estate Planning Terms You Need to Know” provides some important terms to understand as you consider your own estate plan.

Assets: This is anything a person owns. It can include a home and other real estate, bank accounts, life insurance, investments, furniture, jewelry, collectibles, art, and clothing.

Beneficiary: This is an individual or entity (like a charity) that gets a beneficial interest in an asset, such as an estate, trust, account, or insurance policy.

Distribution: A payment in cash or asset(s) to the beneficiary who’s designated to receive it.

Estate: All of the assets and debts left by a person at death.

Fiduciary: An individual with a legal obligation or duty to act primarily for another person’s benefit, such as a trustee or agent under a power of attorney. An attorney or estate planning attorney can also hold this position.

Funding: The process of transferring or retitling assets to a trust. Note that a living trust will only avoid probate at the trustmaker’s death if it’s fully funded. A trustmaker also may be known as a grantor, settlor, or trustor.

Incapacitated or Incompetent: The situation when a person is unable to manage her own affairs, either temporarily or permanently, and often involves a lack of mental capacity.

Inheritance: These are assets received from someone who has died.

Probate: This is the orderly court-supervised process of distributing the assets of a person who has died.

Trust: This is a fiduciary relationship where a trustmaker gives a trustee the right to hold property or assets for the benefit of another party, known as the beneficiary. The trust is a written trust agreement that directs how the trust assets will be distributed to the beneficiary.

Will: A written document with directions for disposing of a person’s assets after their death. A will is enforced by a probate court. A will can provide for the nomination of a guardian for minor children.

Contact a local experienced estate planning attorney for assistance in preparing your estate planning.

Reference: Emmett Messenger Index (Oct. 28, 2020) “13 Estate Planning Terms You Need to Know”

 

What Do I Need to Do after the Death of My Spouse?

It probably is the last thing on your mind, but there are tasks that must be accomplished after the death of a spouse. You might want to ask for help and advice from a trusted family member, friend, or adviser to sort things out and provide you with emotional guidance.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Checklist: Steps to Take after Your Spouse Dies” provides a checklist to help guide you through the most important tasks you need to complete:

Don’t make any big decisions. It’s not a good time to make any consequential financial decisions. You may wish to sell a home or other property that reminds you of your spouse, but you should wait. You should also refrain from making any additional investments or large purchases—especially if you weren’t actively involved in your family’s finances before the death. Contact your estate planning attorney.

Get certified copies of the death certificate. You’ll need certified copies of your spouse’s death certificate for any benefit claims or to switch over accounts into your name. Ask the funeral home for no fewer than 12 copies. You also may need certified marriage certificates to prove you were married to your late spouse.

Talk to your spouse’s employer. If your spouse was working when he or she passed, contact the employer to see if there are any benefits to which you are entitled, such as a 401(k) or employer-based insurance policy. If you and your dependents’ medical insurance was through your spouse’s job, find out how long the coverage will be in effect and begin making other arrangements.

Contact your spouse’s insurance company and file a claim. Get the documentation in order prior to contacting the insurance company and make certain that you understand the benefit options to claim a life insurance benefit.

Probate the estate. Get a hold of the will. Contact the attorney for help in settling the estate. If your spouse didn’t have a will, it will be more complicated. Reach out to an experienced estate planning attorney or elder law attorney for advice in this situation.

Collect all financial records. Begin collecting financial records, including bank records, bills, credit card statements, tax returns, insurance policies, mortgages, loans and retirement accounts. If your spouse wasn’t organized, this might take some time. You may be required to contact companies directly and provide proof of your spouse passing, before being able to gain access to the accounts.

Transfer accounts and cancel credit cards. If your spouse was the only name on an account, like a utility, change the name if you want to keep the service or close the account. Get a copy of your spouse’s credit reports, so you’ll know of any debts in your spouse’s name. Request to have a notification in the credit report that says “Deceased — do not issue credit.” That way new credit won’t be taken out in the spouse’s name.

Contact government offices. Have your spouse’s Social Security number available and call the Social Security Administration office to determine what’s required to get survivor benefits. Do this as soon as possible to avoid long delays before you get your next Social Security payment. You may also qualify for a one-time death benefit of $255. If your spouse served in the armed forces, you may be eligible for additional benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Therefore, contact your local office.

Change your emergency contact information. Change any of your or your family members’ emergency contact info that had your spouse’s name or number listed as someone else’s primary point of contact.

This checklist is a good way to help with the pressing tasks. You can also contact an estate planning attorney or elder law attorney for help.

Reference: Kiplinger (Aug. 27, 2020) “Checklist: Steps to Take after Your Spouse Dies”

 

How Much Power Does an Executor Have?

The Pauls Valley Daily Democrat’s recent article entitled “It doesn’t end with the will” explains that there’s constant confusion about wills. This misunderstanding involves the scope of power of those named in the will as the personal representative (or executor) of the decedent’s estate. Let’s try to straighten out some of these myths or pieces of bad information about wills and probate.

The Executor Doesn’t Need Court Permission. False. An estate executor or personal representative can’t distribute a decedent’s assets to themselves or to any heirs until the court has approved it. Many people think that a will provides immediate authorization to distribute the assets of an estate.

If He had a Will, We Don’t need Probate. Another incorrect belief is that if a person dies with a will, probate isn’t needed or required. If a person has a will, the will and the distributions named in it can only be made valid by the probate court. There are ways to avoid the probate process. However, the fact that a person had a will doesn’t do it.

The Executor Can Start Giving Away Stuff ASAP. This is also false. Some people think that as soon as a person receives appointment as the personal representative or executor from the probate court, they can begin distributing assets from the decedent’s estate. Nope. If this were true, it would defeat the objectives of probate which is court oversight and control.

The Court Doesn’t Monitor the Executor’s Actions. This statement is also incorrect. The entire probate process is structured to provide a court monitored coordination of a decedent’s estate to make certain that his or her wishes are followed. This also helps to prevent unauthorized distributions or “raids” on a decedent’s assets by improper persons.  Remember, the executor’s Letters Testamentary authorize that person to act for the estate—they don’t permit any distributions before court approval or final probate court order.

What Does Probate Do? Probate fulfills these purposes:

  • At death, the deceased’s property is subject to control and monitoring by the court.
  • The court then starts to see what the decedent’s wishes were for distribution and who was named to administer the estate.
  • The court must also review the scope of the estate, define all assets in the estate and determine all debts of the estate.
  • Probate requires a notice to creditors, so the executor has a complete list of debts of the estate and to give each creditor the opportunity to be paid.
  • The court watches any transfers, sales of assets or payments during probate.
  • The executor is authorized to receive money and manage the assets of the estate, but he can’t withdraw or transfer assets from the estate.
  • At a final hearing and after notice to interested parties, the court determines who should get distributions.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about the probate process and how to devise a complete estate plan.

Reference: Pauls Valley Daily Democrat (Oct. 1, 2020) “It doesn’t end with the will”

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What Estate Planning Documents Do I Need for a Happy Retirement?

Estate planning documents are made to help you and your family, in the event of your untimely demise or incapacitation.  These documents will give your family specific instructions on how to proceed.

The Winston-Salem Journal’s recent article entitled “4 Must-Have Documents for a Peaceful Retirement” looks at these critical documents in constructing an effective estate plan.

  1. Power of Attorney (POA). If you become incapacitated or become unable to make your own financial decisions, a POA will permit a trusted agent to manage your affairs. Have an estate planning attorney review your POA before it’s executed. You can give someone a limited POA that restricts their authority to specific transactions. You can also create a springing POA, which takes effect only at the time of your incapacitation.
  2. Will. About 40% of Americans actually have a will. Creating a valid will prevents you from leaving a mess for your heirs to address after you die. A will appoints an executor who will manage your affairs in a fiduciary manner. The will also details your plan for the distribution of your property. Make certain that your will is also in agreement with other documents you’ve set up, so it doesn’t create any questions.
  3. TOD/POD Designation Forms. A Transfer-on-Death (TOD) or Payable-on-Death (POD) designation lets you to assign your investment accounts to a named beneficiary. The big benefit here is that accounts with a named TOD/POD beneficiary pass directly to that person when you die. Any accounts without a TOD/POD beneficiary will be subject to the terms of your will and will be required to go through the probate process.
  4. Healthcare POA/Advance Directives. These are significant health-related documents. A healthcare POA allows your named agent to communicate your wishes to medical professionals, if you are unable. They also include instructions as to whether you want to have life-saving measures performed, if you have a cardiac or respiratory arrest. These healthcare documents also remove the need for your family to make difficult decisions for you.  Contact an experienced estate planning attorney to get your affairs in order.

Reference: Winston-Salem Journal (Sep. 20, 2020) “4 Must-Have Documents for a Peaceful Retirement”