When Should You Have Your Estate Plan Done?

But don’t pat yourself too much — you’re not done yet. A will is not a static instrument, says The Item in its recent article “Don’t wait until high noon.” If laws change, which happens regularly, or your life changes, you need to review your will and be aware of any significant changes that may have an impact on your will and its goals.

Marriage, divorce, birth, adoption and death are some of the key trigger events in life that call for a review of your will. Some of these events seem very obvious, but others aren’t. That is when problems can arise. For instance, if a widow or widower remarries, the will needs to be updated to clarify how the new spouse and the children from prior marriages are to be provided for.

Welcoming a new child into the family is an event to celebrate, whether by birth or adoption. The will needs to add the new child. However, there’s another step that may be even more important. A will is used to name a guardian for the child, so the parents may name a person to rear their child in their absence. If a guardian is not named, then the court will select someone who might have not been the parent’s first (or even second) choice.

The death of an executor, beneficiary, guardian or trustee named in the will also means that the will needs to be updated. If the person who has died is a beneficiary, their name needs to be removed.  You may want to reconsider how assets are distributed. For executors, guardians or trustees, remember to add a secondary person for each role.

What if you inherit an unexpected fortune? You’ll definitely need to review your will, since your estate tax liability may have changed. Even if you don’t owe federal estate taxes, there may be state estate taxes to plan for. If you suffer a large financial loss, you’ll need to review your will, since the generous gift you had planned on leaving to a nonprofit. may no longer be available.

Some changes to wills occur because people change their minds about how they want to distribute their assets, or who they want to handle their post-mortem responsibilities. If you have a falling out with an executor, for instance, that change needs to be made in a timely manner.

If you have not reviewed the beneficiaries who are named on your life insurance policies and retirement accounts, and any other accounts where beneficiaries are named, you’ll want to do that too. If your will says cousin Andrew gets your life insurance policy proceeds, but his sister Stella is the one named as the beneficiary, then only Stella receives the proceeds. The named beneficiary is a contract that cannot be challenged or changed, regardless of what your will says.

If you don’t yet have a will, now is the time to make an appointment to meet with an estate planning attorney in your community. Remember that estate laws are set by the state of your residence, so an experienced estate planning attorney in your area is your best source.

Reference: The Item (Feb. 15, 2019) “Don’t wait until high noon”

 

Why Is a Revocable Trust So Valuable in Estate Planning?

There’s quite a bit that a trust can do to solve big estate planning and tax problems for many families.

As Forbes explains in its recent article, “Revocable Trusts: The Swiss Army Knife Of Financial Planning,” trusts are a critical component of a proper estate plan. There are three parties to a trust: the owner of some property (settler or grantor) turns it over to a trusted person or organization (trustee) under a trust arrangement to hold and manage for the benefit of someone (the beneficiary). A written trust document will spell out the terms of the arrangement.

One of the most useful trusts is a revocable trust (inter vivos) where the grantor creates a trust, funds it, manages it by herself, and has unrestricted rights to the trust assets (corpus). The grantor has the right at any point to revoke the trust, by simply tearing up the document and reclaiming the assets, or perhaps modifying the trust to accomplish other estate planning goals.

After discussing trusts with your attorney, he or she will draft the trust document and re-title property to the trust. The assets transferred to a revocable trust can be reclaimed at any time. The grantor has unrestricted rights to the property. During the life of the grantor, the trust provides protection and management, if and when it’s needed.

Let’s examine the potential lifetime and estate planning benefits that can be incorporated into the trust:

  • Lifetime Benefits. If the grantor is unable or uninterested in managing the trust, the grantor can hire an investment advisor to manage the account in one of the major discount brokerages, or he can appoint a trust company to act for him.
  • Incapacity. A trusted spouse, child, or friend can be named to care for and represent the needs of the grantor/beneficiary. She will manage the assets during incapacity, without having to declare the grantor incompetent and petitioning for a guardianship. After the grantor has recovered, she can resume the duties as trustee.
  • This can be a stressful legal proceeding that makes the grantor a ward of the state. This proceeding can be expensive, public, humiliating, restrictive and burdensome. However, a well-drafted trust (along with powers of attorney) avoids this.

The revocable trust is a great tool for estate planning because it bypasses probate, which can mean considerably less expense, stress and time.

In addition to a trust, ask your attorney about the rest of your estate plan: a will, powers of attorney, medical directives and other considerations.

Any trust should be created by a very competent trust attorney, after a discussion about what you want to accomplish.

Reference: Forbes (February 20, 2019) “Revocable Trusts: The Swiss Army Knife Of Financial Planning”

 

What Do I Do First After the Death of My Spouse?

There is no doubt that the stress can be all-consuming, when a spouse passes away. It’s not a good time to make financial decisions. You should also avoid making any major changes for at least a year, if you’re able. Allow your emotions to settle, prior to doing anything that could drastically impact your taxes and finances.

U.S. News & World Report recently published an article, “Don’t Make These Mistakes When Your Spouse Passes Away,” that warns us to take care to avoid these mistakes after the death of a spouse:

Taxes. Your tax-filing status will change after a spouse passes away. That could move you into a higher tax bracket or cause you to lose tax breaks. You can’t file married filing jointly and no longer have two exemptions.

Social Security and Annuity Income. You may also lose your deceased partner’s Social Security income. Widows and widowers can claim a Social Security survivor’s payment that’s equal to the amount the higher earning spouse received. However, there will now be just one Social Security check coming in, not two. In some instances, pension or annuity payments might also cease. You may see significant changes to income.

Unplanned Withdrawals from Tax-Deferred Accounts. Many people seek to make up lost income, by taking retirement account withdrawals. However, a mistake can trigger both taxes and penalties. Income tax is due on each traditional 401(k) or IRA withdrawal, because when you withdraw tax-deferred money, there are tax consequences. When you make a withdrawal from a spouse’s IRA, taxes are due. If you’re not 59½ or older, you could also pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty. Surviving spouses should try to minimize taxes on retirement account withdrawals to help the money last as long as possible.

Paying Taxes on Retirement Account Withdrawals Too Early. A surviving spouse can transfer tax-deferred retirement account assets into his or her name. That frequently lets a person further delay taxation. If you are under 70½, you can defer taxes into the future.

Paying a 10% Early Withdrawal Penalty. If the surviving spouse isn’t yet 59½ and needs some of the money in a retirement account, you can transfer the money into an inherited spousal IRA. If you need money, the IRS will let you take distributions. You’ll have to pay taxes, but you avoid the 10% penalty.

Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). Distributions from retirement accounts are required after age 70½—even in the year when the spouse passes away. If the decedent was in payout mode and past 70½, make certain that between the decedent and beneficiary, you still take the required minimum distribution. If you forget, there’s a possible penalty of up to 50% of what you should have taken.

Advice. It’s not easy or practical to delve into your finances, right after losing a loved one. Don’t make any big money moves without advice. Remember to also incorporate tax planning with your estate planning, and work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (February 15, 2019) “Don’t Make These Mistakes When Your Spouse Passes Away”

 

What are the “Must Have” Estate Planning Documents?

What do Aretha Franklin, Kurt Cobain, and Prince have in common? Aside from being famous and talented, each of these stars passed away without a will. All three had the money and attorneys to draft a proper estate plan, but for whatever reason, they didn’t draft one. It’s a good lesson to not neglect your estate plan.

Motley Fool reports in the article, “3 Must-Have Estate Planning Documents To Get Done This Year,” that dying without a will creates numerous problems for your family. If there are no legal instructions in place, probate law dictates the distribution of your assets and selection of guardians for your minor children, which can cause problems. Regardless of your personal situation, you should think about creating these three important estate planning documents.

Will. A will is used to distribute your estate, according to your instructions. A will can say how much and what type of asset each heir will receive, to minimize family fighting after your death. If you have young children, you can designate guardians in your will to be in charge of their care. If you die without a will, the probate judge will order who becomes their guardian.

You also need a will to make charitable bequests, to expedite the probate court process and to reduce or eliminate estate taxes. When you draft your will, you’ll appoint trusted people to serve as the executor and the trustee.

Living will. A living will can take effect while you are still alive. This is a legal document that sets out your instructions for medical treatment, if you become unable to communicate, such as whether or not you want to be placed on life support. A living will can relieve the emotional burden from your family of having to make difficult decisions.

Power of attorney. This legal document helps in the event you’re incapacitated or in the hospital in an unresponsive state. A power of attorney gives the individual you designate the authority to transact financial and legal matters on your behalf. Set up a power of attorney, before you need it. If you don’t and you’re unable to make decisions, your family may have to petition the court to get those powers, which costs time and money.

Estate planning is a huge favor that you’re doing for your family. Get these three legal documents in place.

Reference: Motley Fool (February 18, 2019) “3 Must-Have Estate Planning Documents To Get Done This Year”

 

When Was the Last Time You Talked with Your Estate Planning Attorney?

If you haven’t had a talk with your estate planning attorney since before the TCJA act went into effect, now would be a good time to do so, says The Kansas City Star in the article “Talk to estate attorney about impacts of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.” While most of the news about the act centered on the increased exemptions for estate taxes, there are a number of other changes that may have a direct impact on your taxes.

Start by looking at any wills or trusts that were created before the tax act went into effect. If any of the trusts use formulas that are tied to the federal estate tax exemption, there could be unintended consequences because of the higher exemption amounts.

The federal estate tax exemption doubled from $5.49 million per person in 2017 to $11.18 million per person in 2018 (or $22.36 million per couple). It is now $11.2 million per person in 2019 (or $22.4 million per couple).

Let’s say that your trust was created in 2001, when the estate tax exemption was a mere $675,000. Your trust may have stipulated that your children receive the amount of assets that could be passed free from federal estate tax, and the remainder, which exceeded the federal estate tax exemption, goes to your spouse. At the time, this was a perfectly good strategy. However, if it hasn’t been updated since then, your children will receive $11.4 million and your spouse could be disinherited.

Trusts drafted prior to 2011, when portability was introduced, require particular attention.

Two other important factors to consider are portability and step-up of cost basis. In the past, many couples relied on the use of bypass or credit shelter trusts that pay income to the surviving spouse and then eventually pass trust assets on to the children, upon the death of the surviving spouse. This scenario made sure to use the first deceased spouse’s estate exemption.

However, new legislation passed in 2011 allowed for portability of the deceased spouse’s unused estate exemption. The surviving spouse’s estate can now use any exemption that wasn’t used by the first spouse to die.

A step-up in basis was not changed by the TCJA law, but this has more significance now. When a person dies, their heir’s cost basis of many assets becomes the value of the asset on the date that the person died. Highly appreciated assets that avoided income taxes to the decedent, could avoid or minimize income taxes to the heirs. Maintaining the ability for assets to receive a step-up in basis is more important now, because of the size of the federal estate tax exemption.

Beneficiaries who inherit assets from a bypass or credit shelter trust upon the surviving spouse’s death, no longer benefit from a “second” step-up in basis. The basis of the inheritance is the original basis from the first spouse’s death. Therefore, bypass trusts are less useful than in the past, and could actually have negative income tax consequences for heirs.

If your current estate plan has not been amended for these or other changes, make an appointment soon to speak with a qualified estate planning attorney. It may not take a huge overhaul of the entire estate plan, but these changes could have a negative impact on your family and their future.

Reference: The Kansas City Star (Feb. 7, 2019) “Talk to estate attorney about impacts of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”

 

Using Trusts to Maintain Control of Inheritances

Trusts, like estate plans, are not just for the wealthy. They are used to provide control, in how assets of any size are passed to another person. Leaving an inheritance to a beneficiary in a trust, according to the article from Times Herald-Record titled “Leaving inheritances to trusts puts you in control,” can protect the inheritance and the asset from being mishandled.

For many parents, the inheritance equation is simple. They leave their estate to their children “per stirpes,” which in Latin translates to “by roots.” In other words, the assets are left to children according to the roots of the family tree. The assets go to the children, but if they predecease you, the assets go to their children. The assets remain in the family. If the child dies after the parent, they leave the inheritance to their spouse.

An alternative is to create inheritance trusts for children. They may spend the money as they wish, but any remaining assets goes to their children (your grandchildren) and not to the surviving spouse of your child. The grandchildren won’t gain access to the money, until you so provide. However, someone older, a trustee, may spend the money on them for their health, education and general welfare. The inheritance trust also protects the assets from any divorces, lawsuits or creditors.

This is also a good way for parents, who are concerned about the impact of their wealth on their children, to maintain some degree of control. One strategy is a graduated payment plan. A certain amount of money is given to the child at certain ages, often 20% when they reach 35, half of the remainder at age 40 and the balance at age 45. Until distributions are made to the heirs, a trustee may use the money for the person’s benefit at the trustee’s discretion.

The main concern is that money not be wasted by spendthrift heirs. In that situation, a spendthrift trust restricts payments to or for the beneficiary and may only be used at the trustee’s discretion. A lavish lifestyle won’t be funded by the trust.

If money is being left to a disabled individual who receives government benefits, like Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you may need a Special Needs Trust. The trustee can pay for services or items for the beneficiary directly, without affecting government benefits. The beneficiary may not receive any money directly.

If an older person is a beneficiary, you also have the option to leave them an “income only trust.” They have no right to receive any of the trust’s principal. If the beneficiary requires nursing home care and must apply for Medicaid, the principal is protected from nursing home costs.

An estate planning attorney will be able to review your family’s situation and determine which type of trust would be best for your family.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (Feb. 16, 2019) “Leaving inheritances to trusts puts you in control”

 

Spare Your Family From a Feud: Make Sure You Have a Will

If for no other reason than to avoid fracturing the family, as they squabble over who gets Aunt Nina’s sideboard or Uncle Bruno’s collection of baseball cards, everyone needs a will. It is true that having an estate plan created does require us to consider what we want to happen after we have died, which most of us would rather not think about.

However, whether we want to think about it or not, having an estate plan in place, and that includes a will, is a gift of peace we give to our loved ones and ourselves. It’s peace of mind that our family is being told exactly what we want them to do after we pass, and peace of mind to ourselves that we’ve put our plan into place.

A recent article from Fatherly, “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know,” starts with the basic premise that a will prevents family squabbles. Families fight, when they don’t have clear direction of what the deceased wanted. That’s just one reason to have a last will and testament. However, there are other reasons.

A will is one way to ensure that your property is eventually distributed as you wish. Without a will, your estate is administered as an “intestate estate,” which means the state’s laws will determine who receives your assets after you pass. In some states, that means your spouse gets half of your estate, with your parents getting the rest (if there are no children). If the parents have died and there are no children, the rest of the estate may go to your siblings.

Most people—some studies say as many as 60% of Americans—don’t have a will. It’s hard to say why they don’t: maybe they don’t want to accept their own mortality, maybe they don’t understand what will happen when they die without a will, or perhaps they want to wreak havoc on their families. However, having a will is essential.

Don’t delay. If you don’t have a will in place, stop putting it off. Creating a will gives you the opportunity to effectuate your wishes, not that of the state. What if you don’t want your long-lost brother showing up just to receive a portion of your estate? If you don’t want someone to receive any of your assets, you need to have a will. Otherwise, there’s no way to know how the distribution will play out.

Be thoughtful about how you distribute your assets. If you have children and your will gives them your assets when they reach 18, will they be prepared to manage without blowing their inheritance in a month? A qualified estate planning attorney will be able to help you create a plan for distributing your wealth to children or other heirs in a sequence that will match their financial abilities. You may want to create a trust that will hold the assets, with a trustee who can ensure that assets are distributed in a wise and timely manner.

Every family is different, and today’s families, which often include children from prior marriages, require special planning. If you have remarried and have not legally adopted your spouse’s children from a previous marriage, they are not your legal heirs. If you want to make sure they inherit money or a specific asset, you’ll need to state that clearly in your will. If you are not married to your partner, they will not have any rights to your estate, unless a will is created that directs the assets you want them to inherit.

Parents of young children absolutely need a will. If you do not, and both parents pass away at the same time, their future will be determined by the court. They could end up in foster care, while awaiting a court decision. Battling grandparents may create a tumultuous situation. The court could also name a guardian who you would never have chosen. A will lets you decide.

Speak with an estate planning attorney to make sure you have a will that is properly prepared and follows the laws of your state. You also want to have a power of attorney and a health care agent named. Having these plans made before you need them, gives you the ability to express your wishes in a way that can be legally enforced.

Reference: Fatherly (Feb. 6, 2019) “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know”

Moving to a Care Community? Check the Fine Print

Reading the fine print when purchasing a home in a retirement community or a care community is intimidating. The typeface is tiny, you’ve got boxes to pack and movers to schedule and, well, you know the rest. What most people do, is hope for the best and sign. However, that can lead to trouble, advises Delco Times in the article “Planning Ahead: Moving to a care community? Read the agreement.”

If you don’t want to read the fine print or can’t make head or tails of what you are reading, one option is to ask your estate planning attorney to do so. Without someone reading through and understanding the contract, you and your family may be in for some unpleasant surprises. Here are some things to consider.

What kind of a community are you moving into? If you are moving to a Continuing Care or Life Care Community, your documents will probably have provisions regarding health insurance, entry fees, deposits, a schedule of costs, if you need additional services, fees for moving to a higher level of care and provisions for refunds and estate planning.

When you enter an Assisted Living facility, which is referred to as “Personal Care” in Pennsylvania, you may find yourself signing documents regarding everything from laundry policies, pharmacy choices, financial disclosures and statements of your rights as a resident. Not every document you sign will be critical, but you should understand everything you sign.

If moving into a nursing home that accepts Medicaid, you and your family need to know that nursing homes that accept Medicaid are not permitted to demand payment on admission from either an adult child or a power of attorney from their own funds. However, Pennsylvania does have support provisions regarding children, that are called “filial responsibility.” This should not be a problem, as long as you speak with an elder law attorney who can make sure you have completed the Medicaid application correctly and are in full compliance with all of the requirements.

If your adult children ask you to sign documents and “don’t worry” about what documents are, you may want to sit down with an attorney to review the documents. When someone is not trained to review these documents, they won’t know what red flags to look for.

If someone signs the document who is not the applicant/future resident, that person may become responsible for the costs, depending upon what role you have when you sign: are you a guarantor or indemnitor? That person typically agrees to pay after the applicant/resident’s funds are exhausted. The payments may have to come from their own funds. Sometimes the “responsible party” is simply the person who handles business matters on the applicant’s behalf. You’ll want to be sure that the person signing the papers understands what they are agreeing to.

Almost all agreements will say that the applicant, or the person receiving services, is responsible for payment from their own assets. However, if someone signing the documents is power of attorney, they need to be mindful of what they are signing up for.

If possible, the person who will receive services should be the one who signs any paperwork, but only after a thorough review from an experienced attorney.

Reference: Delco Times (Feb. 5, 20-19) “Planning Ahead: Moving to a care community? Read the agreement”