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.

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.

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”

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Will I Owe Taxes on My Life Insurance Benefit?

MoneyWise’s recent article entitled “Are Life Insurance Benefits Taxable?” explains that, although the proceeds from a life insurance policy are usually tax-free, there are some exceptions. Life insurance payouts may be subject to taxes in the following situations:

A high-value estate. The federal estate tax exemption is $11.58 million this year, so if you leave an estate worth more than that, the IRS will charge a tax of 18% to 40% on the excess amount. It’s possible that life insurance proceeds could get taxed, if they’re part of a high-dollar estate. To avoid this, you could create an irrevocable living trust to shield your assets from taxation. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney for help.

State inheritance or estate tax. Estate and inheritance tax laws are different in every state, so your estate or heirs may have to pay taxes on the death benefit, depending on where you reside. There are six states that have inheritance taxes (IA, KY, MD, NE, NJ, and PA). There are also a dozen states and the District of Columbia that have their own estate taxes (CT, HI, IL, ME, MD, MA, MN, NY, OR, RI, VT and WA).

Gifts. You can also avoid estate or inheritance taxes by transferring your life insurance policy to a beneficiary, while you’re still around. You may have to pay a federal gift tax on the value of the policy when you do it, but the policy will be worth far less than the eventual death benefit. You can gift up to $15,000 a year to an individual without any tax. Remember that the policy’s new owner will still have to make the payments.

The death benefit skips a generation. If you decide to skip your child and give the death benefit to your grandchild, the money would be considered taxable income by the IRS. That’s due to the “generation skipping transfer tax,” which applies if you give any gift or inheritance to a family member who’s more than one generation younger than you — or to a nonrelative who’s more than 37½ years younger.

Life insurance installment pay-out. While life insurance benefits are typically paid out in a lump sum, some people opt to have their benefits paid out over time. I you do this, tell your heirs that they’ll have taxes on any interest that’s added to the benefits, while they’re being kept by the insurance company.

Withdrawal from your cash value of life insurance. With permanent life insurance policies that cover you for life (as opposed to time term life), there’s a savings component called “cash value.” During the life of the policy, some of your paid premiums funds the cash value account. You can make a withdrawal from this amount, provided you make a withdrawal that’s less than the amount you’ve paid into the policy. Otherwise, it’s taxed.

Group life insurance policies. Many companies offer life insurance as a benefit to their employees. If you have a policy at your job, the premiums won’t be taxable income unless the promised life insurance payout is more than $50,000.

Selling your life insurance policy. If you sell your life insurance policy for cash to a buyer or investor who will continue to make the payments and will receive the death benefit when you die, you’ll have taxes on any income from the sale.

If you still have questions about how insurance contracts work, speak to an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: MoneyWise (Oct. 12, 2020) “Are Life Insurance Benefits Taxable?”

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Protect Your Estate with Five Facts

It is true that a single person who dies in 2020 could have up to $11.58 million in personal assets and their heirs would not have to pay any federal estate tax. However, that doesn’t mean that regular people don’t need to worry about estate taxes—their heirs might have to pay state estate taxes, inheritance taxes or the estate may shrink because of other tax issues. That’s why U.S. News & World Report’s recent article “5 Estate Planning Tips to Keep Your Money in the Family” is worth reading.

Without proper planning, any number of factors could take a bite out of your children’s inheritance. They may be responsible for paying federal income taxes on retirement accounts, for instance. You want to be sure that a lifetime of hard work and savings doesn’t end up going to the wrong people.

The best way to protect your family and your legacy, is by meeting with an estate planning attorney and sorting through all of the complex issues of estate planning. Here are five areas you definitely need to address:

  1. Creating a last will and testament
  2. Checking that beneficiaries are correct
  3. Creating a trust
  4. Converting traditional IRA accounts to Roth accounts
  5. Giving assets while you are living

A last will and testament. Only 32% of Americans have a will, according to a survey that asked 2,400 Americans that question. Of those who don’t have a will, 30% says they don’t think they have enough assets to warrant having a will. However, not having a will means that your entire estate goes through probate, which could become very expensive for your heirs. Having no will also makes it more likely that your family will challenge the distribution of assets. As a result, someone you may have never met could inherit your money and your home. It happens more often than you can imagine.

Checking beneficiaries. Once you die, beneficiaries cannot be changed. That could mean an ex-spouse gets the proceeds of your life insurance policy, retirement funds or any other account that has a named beneficiary. Over time, relationships change—make sure to check the beneficiaries named on any of your documents to ensure that your wishes are fulfilled. Your will does not control this distribution and is superseded by the named beneficiaries.

Set up a trust. Trusts are used to accomplish different goals. If a child is unable to manage money, for instance, a trust can be created, a trustee named and the account funded. The trust will include specific directions as to when the child receives funds or if any benchmarks need to be met, like completing college or staying sober. With an irrevocable trust, the money is taken out of your estate and cannot be subject to estate taxes. Money in a trust does not pass through probate, which is another benefit.

Convert traditional IRAs to Roth retirement accounts. When children inherit traditional IRAs, they come with many restrictions and heirs get the income tax liability of the IRA. Regular income tax must be paid on all distributions, and the account has to be emptied within ten years of the owner’s death, with limited exceptions. If the account balance is large, it could be consumed by taxes. By gradually converting traditional retirement accounts to Roth accounts, you pay the taxes as the accounts are converted. You want to do this in a controlled fashion, so as not to burden yourself. However, this means your heirs receive the accounts tax-free.

Gift with warm hands, wisely. Perhaps the best way to ensure that money stays in the family, is to give it to heirs while you are living. As of 2020, you may gift up to $15,000 per person, per year in gifts. The money is tax free for recipients. Just be careful when gifting assets that appreciate in value, like stocks or a house. When appreciating assets are inherited, the heirs receive a step-up in basis, meaning that the taxable amount of the assets are adjusted upon death, so some assets should only be passed down after you pass.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Sep. 30, 2020) “5 Estate Planning Tips to Keep Your Money in the Family”