Beneficiaries

How Should Couples Begin the Process of Estate Planning?

About 17% of adults don’t think they need a will, believing that estate planning is only for the very wealthy. However, no matter how few assets it seems someone owns, completing a few documents can make a huge difference in the future.  Here’s how couples can begin the process of estate planning.

What should couples know about the estate planning process
Often, just getting started with the estate planning process is the most difficult part.

valuewalk.com’s recent article, “Couples: Here’s How To Start The Estate Planning Process” notes that although estate planning can seem overwhelming, taking inventory of assets is a great place to start.

Make a list of all your belongings valued at $100 or more, both inside and outside of the home. After that, think about how these assets should be divided among family, friends, churches or charities.

Drafting a will may be the most critical step in the estate planning process. A will serves as the directions for how assets are to be distributed, which can avoid unpleasant disputes.

A will can simplify the distribution of assets at your death, and it also provides instructions to your family and heirs.

A will can also set out directions for childcare, pet care, or any additional instructions or specifications.

Without a will in place, your assets will be distributed according to state law, rather than according to your wishes. Creating a will keeps the state from making decisions about how your estate is divided up—decisions you may not have intended.

Once you have your assets and beneficiaries set, see an experienced estate planning attorney and have your will drafted immediately. Hey, life is unpredictable.

Another important part of the process is to have a discussion with everyone involved to prevent any legal or familial disputes regarding the estate.

Failure of couples to start the estate planning process can lead to family fighting, misappropriated assets, court litigation and unneeded expenses. Get going!

Reference: valuewalk.com (July 22, 2019) “Couples: Here’s How To Start The Estate Planning Process”

How Do Transfer on Death Accounts Work?

Almost all estates with wills go to probate court. This is not a major issue in some states and an expensive headache in others. By learning how Transfer on Death accounts work, and using them as an additional estate planning tool, you can avoid some assets going through probate, says Yahoo! Finance in the article “Transfer on Death (TOD) Accounts for Estate Planning.”  

How Do Transfer on Death Accounts Work
Assets in a Transfer on Death account avoid probate court in Florida.

So, how do Transfer on Death accounts work?

A TOD account automatically transfers the assets to a named beneficiary, when the account holder dies. Let’s say you have a savings account with $100,000 in it. Your son is the beneficiary for the TOD account. When you die, the account’s assets are transferred directly to him without having to go through probate.

A more formal definition: a TOD is a provision of an account that allows the assets to pass directly to an intended beneficiary.  This is the equivalent of a beneficiary designation. (Note that the laws that govern estate planning vary from state to state, but most banks, investment accounts and even real estate deeds can become TOD accounts.)  If you own part of a TOD property, only your ownership share will be transferred.

TOD account holders can name multiple beneficiaries and split up assets any way they wish. You can open a TOD account to be split between two children, for instance, and they’ll each receive 50% of the holdings, when you pass away.

A couple of additional benefits to keep in mind: the beneficiaries have no right or access to the TOD account, while the owner is living. And the beneficiaries can be changed at any time, as long as the TOD account owner is mentally competent. Just as assets in a will can’t be accessed by heirs until you die, beneficiaries on a TOD account have no rights or access to a TOD account, until the original owner dies.

Simplicity is one reason why people like to use the TOD account. When you have a properly prepared will and estate plan, the process is far easier for your family members and beneficiaries. The will includes an executor, who is the person who takes care of distributing your assets and a guardian to take care of any minor children. Absent a will, the probate court will determine who the next of kin is and distribute your property, according to the laws of your state.

A TOD account usually requires only that a death certificate be sent to an agent at the account’s bank or brokerage house. The account is then re-registered in the beneficiary’s name.

Whatever is in your will does not impact how the Transfer on Death account works. If your will instructs your executor to give all of your money to your sister, but the TOD account names your brother as a beneficiary, any money in that account is going to your brother. Your sister will get any other assets.

Speak with an estate planning attorney about how a Transfer on Death account works and whether one might be useful for your purposes.

Reference: Yahoo! Finance (June 26, 2019) “Transfer on Death (TOD) Accounts for Estate Planning”

Are Inheritances Taxable?

Inheritances come in all sizes and shapes. People inherit financial accounts, real estate, jewelry and personal items. However, whatever kind of inheritance you have, you’ll want to understand exactly what, if any, taxes might be due, advises the article “Will I Pay Taxes on My Inheritance” from Orange Town News. An inheritance might have an impact on Medicare premiums, or financial aid eligibility for a college age child. Let’s look at the different assets and how they may impact a family’s tax liability.

Bank Savings Accounts or CDs. As long as the cash inherited is not from a retirement account, there are no federal taxes due. The IRS does not impose a federal inheritance tax. However, there are some states, including Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, that do have an inheritance tax. Speak with an estate planning attorney about this tax.

Primary Residence or Other Real Estate. Inheriting a home is not a taxable event. However, once you take ownership and sell the home or other property, there will be taxes due on any gains. The value of the home or property is established on the day of death. If you inherit a home valued at death at $250,000 and you sell it a year later for $275,000, you’ll have to declare a long-term capital gain and pay taxes on the $25,000 gain. The cost-basis is determined, when you take ownership.

Life Insurance Proceeds. Life insurance proceeds are not taxable, nor are they reported as income by the beneficiaries. There are exceptions: if interest is earned, which can happen when receipt of the proceeds is delayed, that is reportable. The beneficiary will receive a Form 1099-INT and that interest is taxable by the state and federal tax agencies. If the proceeds from the life insurance policy are transferred to an individual as part of an arrangement before the insured’s death, they are also fully taxable.

Retirement Accounts: 401(k) and IRA. Distributions from an inherited traditional IRA are taxable, just as they are for non-inherited IRAs. Distributions from an inherited Roth IRA are not taxable, unless the Roth was established within the past five years.

There are some changes coming to retirement accounts because of pending legislation, so it will be important to check on this with your estate planning attorney. Inherited 401(k) plans are or eventually will be taxable, but the tax rate depends upon the rules of the 401(k) plan. Many 401(k) plans require a lump-sum distribution upon the death of the owner. The surviving spouse is permitted to roll the 401(k) into an IRA, but if the beneficiary is not a spouse, they may have to take the lump-sum payment and pay the resulting taxes.

Stocks. Generally, when stocks or funds are sold, capital gains taxes are paid on any gains that occurred during the period of ownership. When stock is inherited, the cost basis is based on the fair market value of the stock or fund at the date of death.

Artwork and Jewelry. Collectibles, artwork, or jewelry that is inherited and sold, will incur a tax on the net gain of the sale. There is a 28% capital gains tax rate, compared to a 15% to 20% capital gains tax rate that applies to most capital assets. The value is based on the value at the date of death or the alternate valuation date. This asset class includes anything that is considered an item worth collecting: rare stamps, books, fine art, antiques and coin collections fall into this category.

Speak with an estate planning attorney before signing and accepting an inheritance, so you’ll know what kind of tax liability comes with the inheritance. Take your time. Most people are advised to wait about a year before making any big financial decisions after a loss.

Reference: Orange Town News (May 29, 2019) “Will I Pay Taxes on My Inheritance”

What Do I Tell My Kids About Their Inheritance?

knowing whether to tell your kids about their inheritance can be tough decision

For some parents, it can be difficult to discuss family wealth with their children and knowing whether to tell your kids about their inheritance can be tough decision. You may worry that when your kid learns they’re going to inherit a chunk of money, they’ll drop out of college and devote all their time to their tan.

Kiplinger’s recent article, “To Prepare Your Heirs for Future Wealth, Don’t Hide the Truth,” says that some parents have lived through many obstacles themselves. Therefore, they may try to find a middle road between keeping their children in the dark and telling them too early and without the proper planning. However, this is missing one critical element, which is the role their children want to play in creating their own futures.

In addition to the finer points of estate planning and tax planning, another crucial part of successfully transferring wealth is honest communication between parents and their children. This can be valuable on many levels, including having heirs see the family vision and bolstering personal relationships between parents and children through trust, honesty and vulnerability.

For example, if the parents had inherited a $25 million estate and their children would be the primary beneficiaries, transparency would be of the utmost importance. That can create some expectations of money to burn for the kids. However, that might not be the case, if the parents worked with an experienced estate planning attorney to lessen estate taxes for a more successful transfer of wealth.

Without having conversations with parents about the family’s wealth and how it will be distributed, the support a child gets now and what she may receive in the future, may be far different than what she originally thought. With this information, the child could make informed decisions about her future education and how she would live.

Heirs can have a wide variety of motivations to understand their family’s wealth and what they stand to inherit. However, most concern planning for their future. As a child matures and begins to assume greater responsibility, parents should identify opportunities to keep them informed and to learn about their children’s aspirations, and what they want to accomplish.

The best way to find out about an heir’s motivation, is simply to talk to talk to your kids about their inheritance.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 22, 2019) “To Prepare Your Heirs for Future Wealth, Don’t Hide the Truth”

What You Need to Know about Trusts for Estate Planning

There are many different kinds of trusts used to accomplish a wide variety of purposes in creating an estate plan. Some are created by the operation of a will, and they are known as testamentary trusts—meaning that they came to be via the last will and testament. That’s just the start of a thorough look at trusts for estate planning offered in the article “ON THE MONEY: A look at different types of trusts” from the Aiken Standard.

trusts for estate planning
The two most common types of trusts for estate planning are revocable trusts and irrevocable trusts.

Another way to view trusts for estate planning is in two categories: revocable or irrevocable. As the names imply, the revocable trust can be changed, amended or revoked entirely, and the irrevocable trust usually cannot be changed.

A testamentary trust is a type of revocable trust, since it may be changed during the life of the testator. However, upon the death of the testator, it becomes irrevocable.

In most instances, a revocable trust is managed for the benefit of the grantor, although the grantor also retains important rights over the trust during her or his lifetime. The rights of the grantor include the ability to instruct the trustee to distribute any of the assets in the trust to someone, the right to make changes to the trust and the right to terminate the trust at any time.

If the grantor becomes incapacitated, however, and cannot manage her or his finances, then the provisions in the trust document usually give the trustee the power to make discretionary distributions of income and principal to the grantor and, depending upon how the trust is created, to the grantor’s family.

Note that distributions from a revocable trust to a beneficiary other than the grantor, may be subject to gift taxes. Those are paid by the grantor. In 2019, the annual gift tax exclusion is $15,000. Therefore, if the distribution is under that level, no gift taxes need to be filed or paid.

When the grantor dies, the trust property is distributed to beneficiaries, as directed by the trust agreement.

Irrevocable trusts are established by a grantor and cannot be amended without the approval of the trustee and the beneficiaries of the trust. The major reason for creating such a trust in the past was to create estate and income tax advantages. However, the increase in the federal estate tax exemption means that a single individual’s estate won’t have to pay taxes, if the value of their assets is less than $11.4 million ($22.8 million for a married couple).

Once an irrevocable trust is established and assets are placed in it, those assets are not part of the grantor’s taxable estate, and trust earnings are not reported as income to the grantor.

The downside of using irrevocable trusts for estate planning is that the transfer of assets into the trust may be subject to gift taxes, if the amount that is transferred is greater than $15,000 multiplied by the number of trust beneficiaries. However, depending upon the size of the grantor’s estate, larger amounts may be transferred into an irrevocable trust without any gift tax liability to the grantor, if the synchronization between gift taxes and estate taxes is properly done. This is a complex strategy that requires an experienced trust and estate attorney.

Trusts for estate planning are also used to address charitable giving and generating current income. These trusts are known as Charitable Remainder Trusts and are irrevocable in nature. In this type of trust there is a current beneficiary who is either the donor or another named individual and a remainder beneficiary, which is a qualified charitable organization. The trust document provides that the named beneficiary receives an income stream from the income produced by the trust assets during the grantor’s lifetime, and when the grantor dies, the remaining assets of the trust pass to the charity.

Speak with your estate planning attorney about how trusts might be a valuable part of your estate plan. If your estate plan has not been reviewed since the new tax law was passed, there may be certain opportunities that you are missing.

Reference: Aiken Standard (May 17, 2019) “ON THE MONEY: A look at different types of trusts”

Should My Estate Plan Include a Trust?

There are as many types of trusts, as there are reasons to have trusts. They all have benefits and drawbacks. What type of trust is best for you? The answer is best discussed in person with an estate planning attorney. However, an article from U.S. News & World Report titled “8 Things to Know About Trusts,” gives a good overview.

Estate Plan
Determining whether your estate plan should include a trust is best done by consulting with an estate planning attorney.

Revocable or Irrevocable? Revocable trusts are usually established for a person (the grantor) during their lifetime, and then pass assets to the named beneficiaries, when the grantor dies. The revocable trust allows for a fair amount of flexibility during the grantor’s lifetime. An irrevocable trust is harder to change, and in some cases cannot be changed or amended. Some states do allow the option of “decanting” trusts, that is, pouring over assets from one trust to another. You’ll want to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to be sure trusts are set up correctly and achieve the goals you want.

Trusts can protect assets. Irrevocable trusts are often used, when a grantor must go into a nursing home and the goal is to protect assets. However, this means that the grantor no longer has access to the money and has fundamentally given it away to the trust. Putting assets into an irrevocable trust is commonly done to preserve assets, when a person will need to become eligible for Medicaid.  The trust must be created and funded five years before applying for benefits. Irrevocable trusts can also be used to obtain veteran’s benefits, if they are asset-based. VA benefits have a three-year look-back period, as compared to Medicaid’s five-year look-back period.

Trusts can’t own retirement accounts. Trusts can own non-retirement bank accounts, life insurance policies, property and securities. However, retirement accounts become taxable immediately, if they are owned by a trust.

Trusts help avoid probate after the grantor’s death. Most people think of trusts for this purpose. Assets in a trust do not pass through probate, which is the process of settling an estate through the courts. Having someone named as a trustee, a trusted family member, friend or a financial institution, means that the assets can be managed for the beneficiaries, if they are not deemed able to manage the assets. Another good part about trusts: you can direct how and when the funds are to be distributed.

Trusts offer privacy. When a will is filed in the courthouse, it becomes part of the public record. Trusts are not, and that keeps assets and distribution plans private. A grantor could put real estate and other personal property into a trust and title of ownership would remain private.

Tax savings. Before the federal estate tax exemptions became so high, people would put assets into trusts to avoid taxation. However, state taxes may still be avoided, if the assets don’t reach state tax levels. You can also transfer funds into an irrevocable trust to transfer it to others, without making it become part of a taxable estate. This is something to discuss in detail with an estate planning attorney.

Irrevocable Trusts can be expensive. If you are considering an irrevocable trust as a means of controlling the cost of an estate, this is not the solution you are looking for. Trusts require careful administration, annual tax filings and other fees. You may also lose the advantage of long-term capital gains by putting assets into trusts, since they are taxed upon withdrawal, and usually based upon current market value. The marginal rates for trust income of all kinds apply at much lower levels, so that the highest marginal taxes will be paid on very low levels of income.

Work with an experienced trusts and estates lawyer. Trusts and their administration can be complex. Seek the help of a trusts and estates attorney, who will be able to factor in tax liability and the impact of the trusts on the rest of your estate plan. Remember that every state has its own laws about trusts. Finally, an estate plan needs to be updated every few years. For example, trusts that were set up for a far lower federal estate tax exemption several years ago are now out of date, and may not work to achieve their intended goal. The laws changes, and the role of trusts also changes.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (March 29, 2019) “8 Things to Know About Trusts”

Market Volatility Got You Worried? Here’s Something You Can Control

When investors are faced with turbulent markets, there’s a human response to want to do something—sometimes, anything. We’re hardwired to try to take control. That doesn’t always help us make the best investment decisions. However, as reported in this Daily Camera’s article, there is something that you can do that may make you feel better: “Freaked out about the market? Resolve to get your estate in order.”

If you care about your health care, financial affairs, minor children and even your beloved pets, this is an important task to take care of. An estate plan includes legal documents that help you, when you are living and helps your heirs, when you die. In addition to a will, powers of attorney that will give your loved ones the ability to manage your affairs, if you become incapacitated. An updated will ensures that your assets go to the inheritors you chose. Don’t forget your beneficiaries.

Your beneficiaries are the people who are named on several accounts and life insurance policies. You may have named people on investment accounts, life insurance policies, IRAs, bank accounts, annuities and other assets. If you have not done a full review of those documents in a while, you want to take care of this right away. Life and relationships change over time, and the people you originally named as your beneficiaries, may no longer be the ones you would select today. Note that any changes must be made while you are living—when you are passed, the beneficiaries receive the asset, regardless of what is written in your will.

If you’re not sufficiently motivated to make an appointment with an estate planning attorney, you should be aware that if you don’t have a will, the laws of your state will determine who gets your assets and even, lacking a will that names a guardian, who rears your minor children. You may or may not be a fan of court proceedings, but if you don’t have a properly prepared will, the court is going to be making a lot of decisions on your behalf.

Contact an estate planning attorney to begin the process of putting your affairs in order. An attorney whose practice focuses in this area of the law, is most likely a better choice than one who does wills on the side. There are many complex laws in estate planning, and there are many opportunities available to make the most out of your assets and grow your legacy. An estate planning attorney will know what will work best for you and your family.

Reference: Daily Camera (Jan. 6, 2019) “Freaked out about the market? Resolve to get your estate in order”

Common Estate Planning Mistakes That You Can Avoid

The number one estate planning mistake is failing to have or to update an estate plan, says the Times Herald in the article “Top six estate planning mistakes.” Therefore, start by working with an estate planning attorney to create an estate plan, and you’ll be way ahead of most Americans. Why does this matter?

An estate plan allows you to stay in control of your assets while you are alive, provide for your loved ones and for yourself in the event you become mentally or physically incapacitated, and when you die, give what you have worked to achieve to those you wish. It costs far less to take care of all of this while you are alive. It’s a gift to those you love, who are spared a lot of stress and costs if it must be figured out after you have passed.

Once you have a plan in place, you have to keep it updated. An estate plan is like a car: it needs gas, oil changes, and regular maintenance. If your family experiences significant changes, then your estate plan needs to be reviewed. If you change jobs, have a change in your financial status, or if you receive an inheritance, it’s time for a review. When there are changes to the law, regarding taxes or non-tax matters, you’ll want to make sure your plan still works.

The second biggest mistake we make is failing to plan for retirement. If you start thinking about retirement when it is five or 10 years away, you’re probably going to be working for a long time. When you are in your twenties, it is the ideal time to start saving for retirement. Most people don’t start thinking about retirement until their thirties, and many don’t plan at all.

There are many different “rules” for how to save for retirement and how to calculate how much income you’ll need to live during retirement. However, not all of them work for every situation. Advisors are now telling Americans they need to plan for living until and past their ninetieth birthday. That means you could be living in retirement for four decades.

Mistake number three—failing to fund trusts. Trust funding is completely and correctly aligning your assets with your trust. If you don’t fund the trust, which means putting assets into the trust by retitling assets that include bank accounts, investment accounts, real estate, insurance policies and other assets, adding the trust as an additional insured to home and auto insurance policies and have every change verified, you have an incomplete estate plan. Your heirs will have to clean up the mess left behind.

Fourth, failing to communicate your estate plan to your executor, beneficiaries and heirs is a common and easily avoidable mistake. Talk with everyone who is a part of your estate plan and explain what their roles are. Speak with the person you have named as Power of Attorney and Healthcare Proxy on a regular basis. Make sure they continue to be willing and able to perform the tasks you need them to do on your behalf. Make sure they know where your documents are.

Fifth, don’t neglect to make arrangements for bills to be paid and financial matters to be handled, when you are not able to do so. There are many studies which show that after age 60, our financial abilities decrease about 1% per year. Expect to need help at some point during your later years and put a plan in place to protect yourself and your spouse. If you are the main bill-payer, make sure your spouse can take care of everything as well as you, before any emergency strikes.

Finally, talk with your successors about what you would like to happen if and when you become mentally unable to make good decisions, including caregiving options. As we age, the likelihood of needing to be in a nursing home or other care facility increases. You can’t necessarily rely on your spouse living long enough to take care of you. Make sure that your financial power of attorney contains the appropriate gifting language, your assets are titled properly, and your successor financial agents know about the plan you have created. If you don’t have a long-term care policy now, try to buy one. They are less expensive than having to pay for care.

Protect yourself, your family and your loved ones by addressing these steps. You’ll be giving yourself, your spouse and your loved ones peace of mind.

Reference: Times Herald (Dec. 14, 2018) “Top six estate planning mistakes”

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