No Will? Don’t Count on a Happy Ending for Your Family

The gentleman at the heart of this article isn’t the first, and sadly he won’t be the last, to start and not finish the process of preparing a will and all of the other documents that go into having an estate plan. People say they don’t need to do this just yet, or they are having trouble deciding who should be their executor, etc. Regardless of the reason, the end result of an unfinished estate plan is almost always a disaster for the family. It certainly is in the article “Thy will be done (and you really should get it drawn up right now)” from the San Antonio Express-News.

One week after a woman spoke to her dad about his estate plan, he became ill and was hospitalized. The man’s girlfriend became verbally abusive to family members. The sisters of the man had previously sued him, accusing him, as trustee of the father’s trust, of taking more than his fair share of the family money. The daughter was trying to pay for his care during a two-month stay in the hospital. However, without a power of attorney and in the middle of a costly lawsuit from the man’s sisters, the only way forward was declaring a “conservatorship” of her father’s assets. The father died, with no will, and with his estate under attack from his sisters.

It took two years to settle the probate case and the lawsuit between the sisters and the estate of their brother. That’s a long time to mix mourning, family strife and court actions.

The value of the father’s estate was drained by the long litigation and probate process. The daughter estimates that her father’s estate paid 13 times more than necessary, because there was no power of attorney and three times more than necessary because of the lack of a will. And making matters worse, more than 30 percent of the estate vanished because of the unfinished estate plan and poor communication between family members.

More than $500,000 remained in probate, and then was drained by a third over the course of the two years.

However, the worst part can’t be measured in money. It is the emotional cost of siblings who grew to hate other. The sisters didn’t say goodbye to their brother, or even attend his funeral.

A Gallup poll in 2016 found that only 44% of Americans have a will. Thirty-two percent of Americans over age 65 still don’t have a will. What are they waiting for? Some think they are saving their families money by not having a will, but the above example is clear proof of how wrong that thinking is.  Doing an online will isn’t much better. One attorney said it best: when wills are not prepared by estate planning attorneys and they go wrong, they go very wrong.

Speak with an estate planning attorney and make sure that your family is protected from the fights, the costs and the lost time that can’t be regained.

Reference: San Antonio Express-News (March 9, 2020) “Thy will be done (and you really should get it drawn up right now)”

 

Should You Name a Trust as an IRA Beneficiary?

An IRA may not be placed into a trust while the account owner is alive. An IRA also may not be owned by more than one person. The IRA owner can name a trust as a beneficiary of an IRA. Just because you can do this, does not mean it is a good idea, says the article “Naming Your Trust as an IRA Beneficiary” from The Press of Atlantic City. The IRA owner could also take all of the funds and deposit them into a trust, but that would be another bad idea. Why? It is because all of the funds withdrawn would be subject to income tax.

Therefore, why would anyone want to name a trust as the beneficiary for an IRA?

  • If you want an heir, like a second spouse, to inherit the income but not the balance of the principal after you have died. This is done so the second spouse cannot name their children as the beneficiary, instead of the original account owner’s children.
  • If you are concerned with the ability of heirs to manage your IRA funds wisely, a trust can be the beneficiary and you can set the terms with which the heirs can have access to the funds.
  • Minor children cannot be direct beneficiaries of an IRA, and a disabled child may become ineligible for government benefits, if he or she receives an inheritance directly.
  • If you want your IRA funds to be inherited by grandchildren instead of children, a trust is the way to go.
  • If creditor protection is a concern under the laws of your state, a trust would keep the IRA funds from being tapped by claims of creditors.

Here is why you would NOT want to name a trust as the beneficiary of your IRA:

  • There are no tax benefits to having the trust inherit your IRA.
  • Trusts have expenses. Trustee fees and tax rates on funds left inside the trust, but not in the IRA, may be substantially higher than personal income tax rates, depending on the beneficiary.
  • The trust will have to keep going long after your own death. That means tax returns must be filed, fees paid, and the trustee must maintain the trust.
  • Some companies that hold IRAs do not allow trusts to be beneficiaries of IRAs. Before you get into figuring out if this is the right route for you, find out first if your custodian will permit it.

There are many other facts to consider before deciding to name a trust as the beneficiary of an IRA. Speak with your estate planning attorney to see if it is a suitable solution for you and your family.

Reference: The Press of Atlantic City (February 13, 2020) “Naming Your Trust as an IRA Beneficiary”

 

Avoiding Probate with a Trust

Privacy is just one of the benefits of having a trust created as part of an estate plan. That’s because assets that are placed in a trust are no longer in the person’s name, and as a result do not need to go through probate when the person dies. An article from The Daily Sentinel asks, “When is a trust worth the cost and effort?” The article explains why a trust can be so advantageous, even when the assets are not necessarily large.

Let’s say a person owns a piece of property. They can put the property in a trust, by signing a deed that will transfer the title to the trust. That property is now owned by the trust and can only be transferred when the trustee signs a deed. Because the trust is the owner of the property, there’s no need to involve probate or the court when the original owner dies.

Establishing a trust is even more useful for those who own property in more than one state. If you own property in a state, the property must go through probate to be distributed from your estate to another person’s ownership. Therefore, if you own property in three states, your executor will need to manage three probate processes.

Privacy is often a problem when estates pass from one generation to the next. In most states, heirs and family members must be notified that you have died and that your estate is being probated. The probate process often requires the executor, or personal representative, to create a list of assets that are shared with certain family members. When the will is probated, that information is available to the public through the courts.

Family members who were not included in the will but were close enough kin to be notified of your death and your assets, may not respond well to being left out. This can create problems for the executor and heirs.

Having greater control over how and when assets are distributed is another benefit of using a trust rather than a will. Not all young adults are prepared or capable of managing large inheritances. With a trust, the inheritance can be distributed in portions: a third at age 28, a third at age 38, and a fourth at age 45, for instance. This kind of control is not always necessary, but when it is, a trust can provide the comfort of knowing that your children are less likely to be irresponsible about an inheritance.

There are other circumstances when a trust is necessary. If the family includes a member who has special needs and is receiving government benefits, an inheritance could make them ineligible for those benefits. In this circumstance, a special needs trust is created to serve their needs.

Another type of trust growing in popularity is the pet trust. Check with a local estate planning lawyer to learn if your state allows this type of trust. A pet trust allows you to set aside a certain amount of money that is only to be used for your pet’s care, by a person you name to be their caretaker. In many instances, any money left in the trust after the pet passes can be donated to a charitable organization, usually one that cares for animals.

Finally, trusts can be drafted that are permanent, or “irrevocable,” or that can be changed by the person who wants to create it, a “revocable” trust. Once an irrevocable trust is created, it cannot be changed. Trusts should be created with the help of an experienced trusts and estate planning attorney, who will know how to create the trust and what type of trust will best suit your needs.

Reference: The Daily Sentinel (Jan. 23, 2020) “When is a trust worth the cost and effort?”