What Happens If Trust Not Funded

Revocable trusts can be an effective way to avoid probate and provide for asset management, in case you become incapacitated. These revocable trusts — also known as “living” trusts — are very flexible and can achieve many other goals.

Point Verda Recorder’s recent article entitled “Don’t forget to fund your revocable trust” explains that you cannot take advantage of what the trust has to offer, if you do not place assets in it. Failing to fund the trust means that your assets may be required to go through a costly probate proceeding or be distributed to unintended recipients. This mistake can ruin your entire estate plan.

Transferring assets to the trust—which can be anything like real estate, bank accounts, or investment accounts—requires you to retitle the assets in the name of the trust.

If you place bank and investment accounts into your trust, you need to retitle them with words similar to the following: “[your name and co-trustee’s name] as Trustees of [trust name] Revocable Trust created by agreement dated [date].” An experienced estate planning attorney should be consulted.

Depending on the institution, you might be able to change the name on an existing account. If not, you’ll need to create a new account in the name of the trust, and then transfer the funds. The financial institution will probably require a copy of the trust, or at least of the first page and the signature page, as well as the signatures of all the trustees.

Provided you’re serving as your own trustee or co-trustee, you can use your Social Security number for the trust. If you’re not a trustee, the trust will have to obtain a separate tax identification number and file a separate 1041 tax return each year. You will still be taxed on all of the income, and the trust will pay no separate tax.

If you’re placing real estate in a trust, ask an experienced estate planning attorney to make certain this is done correctly.

You should also consult with an attorney before placing life insurance or annuities into a revocable trust and talk with an experienced estate planning attorney, before naming the trust as the beneficiary of your IRAs or 401(k). This may impact your taxes.

Reference: Point Verda Recorder (Nov. 19, 2020) “Don’t forget to fund your revocable trust”


Will I Get A Bill as My Inheritance?

When someone dies and leaves debts, you may ask if you have any personal liability to pay them. The answer is typically no, even though those debts don’t automatically disappear. However, there are situations in which you may have to address issues with a loved one’s creditors after they are gone, says KAKE’s recent article entitled “Can I Inherit Debt?”

The responsibility for ensuring the estate’s debts are paid, is typically that of the executor. An executor performs several tasks to wrap up a person’s estate after death. They include:

  • Obtaining a copy of the deceased’s will, if they had one, and filing it with the probate court
  • Notifying creditors and other entities of the person’s death (like the Social Security Administration to stop benefits)
  • Creating an inventory of the deceased’s assets and their value
  • Liquidating assets to pay off any debts owed by the estate; and
  • Distributing the remaining property to the individuals or organizations named in the deceased’s will (if they had one) or according to inheritance laws, if they didn’t.

In terms of debt repayment, executors must notify creditors who may have a claim against the estate. Creditors are given a set period of time to make a financial claim against the estate’s assets for repayment of debts. It’s not that uncommon for a disreputable creditor to attempt to get paid by the deceased’s relatives.

Any assets in the estate that have a named beneficiary, such as a life insurance policy, a 401(k), individual retirement account, payable on death accounts or annuity, would be transferred to that beneficiary automatically and cannot be touched by creditors.

You typically don’t inherit debts of another like you might inherit property or other assets from them. Thus, if a debt collector tries get money from you, you’re under no legal obligation to pay.

However, if you cosigned a loan with the deceased or opened a joint credit card account or line of credit, those debts are legally yours, just as much as they are the person who died. If they pass away, you’d be solely responsible for repaying them.

You should also know that you may be liable for long-term care costs incurred by your parents, while they were alive. Many states require children to cover nursing home bills, although they aren’t always enforced.

As for spouses, the same rules of debt responsibility apply. However, for debts that are in one spouse’s name only, it’s important to understand how living in a community property state can impact your liability for marital debts. If you live in a community property state (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin), debts incurred after the marriage by one spouse can be treated as a shared financial obligation.

Reference: KAKE (December 2, 2020) “Can I Inherit Debt?”


Incorporating Gifting with an Estate Plan

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Gifting sounds pretty simple, but there are many ways to do it, and several tax ramifications to be aware of as well” explains that no matter if a gift is made this year or in future years, there are some important questions to consider.

Increased exemption. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act significantly upped the lifetime gift, estate and generation-skipping tax exemption to $11.58 million per individual ($23.16 million per couple). It’s set to expire at the end of 2025. Thus, there’s the prospect of possibly losing an opportunity to transfer wealth out of your estate and save on future estate taxes earlier than anticipated.

When to Give. A big question is whether a person should give away assets during their lifetime or at their death. Those who opt to gift while they’re alive often do so to reduce their estate and to share in the joy of seeing the effect it makes in the lives of the recipients. Others decide to gift after death for the security of having the assets on hand, if they’re needed. Gifting after death also gives recipients time to prepare for the responsibility that comes along with inheriting wealth.

Unified Federal Estate & Gift Tax Exemption. There are many ways to distribute assets. What works for one family isn’t necessarily the wisest strategy for another. Note that any transfer is gift tax-free up to the annual exclusion amount ($15,000 per person per donor in 2020). Any gift over this amount will count against the donor’s lifetime exemption amount. After that lifetime exemption is used, the gift will be subject to gift tax.

Outright cash gifts. This appears to be the most uncomplicated way of gifting. However, for those with significant wealth, this approach could have some drawbacks. These concern the ability and experience gift recipients have to manage money, outside risks, such as a spouse or high-risk professions, and demotivating recipients to live off their inheritance, instead of becoming productive on their own. Therefore, distributing large amounts of money—particularly at a young age—is generally discouraged.

Trusts. These are used frequently for larger gifts to provide for beneficiaries, while using controls by the grantor. These parameters can include things like distributing trust assets in stages (when the beneficiary reaches a certain age or achieves a specific goal). You can also leave assets in a discretionary lifetime trust, which would maintain the assets in a trust for the beneficiary’s entire lifetime. When set up by an experienced estate planning attorney, this offers a high level of protection from divorcing spouses, lawsuits, poor financial decisions and outside influences. It can also let the grantor create a lasting family legacy for many generations.

Gifts for education or medical expenses. Direct payments for college tuition or for medical expenses have no gift tax consequences. Educational gifts can also be made by funding a 529 educational savings plan. While there are no contribution limits for a 529 plan, gifts over the annual exclusion amount can have gift tax consequences or count against the lifetime exemption. You can also pre-fund an account up to $75,000 and it will receive the same tax treatment, as if it were gifted in $15,000 increments over five years.

Uniform Trust to Minors Act (UTMA) and Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA). These custodial accounts are generally less restrictive than trusts and let minor beneficiaries access funds at age a specific age depending on state of residence.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 30, 2020) “Gifting sounds pretty simple, but there are many ways to do it, and several tax ramifications to be aware of as well.”