Estate Planning

Estate Planning Basics Everyone Should Know

The discomfort most people have with the knowledge of their own mortality makes it challenging for some people to do the estate planning that needs to take place before an emergency occurs. However, according to the Gettysburg Times’ recent article “Essentials necessary for estate planning,” the best course of action is to take care of the estate planning basics now, when there is no urgency. Having detailed plans in place to protect loved ones from possible complications, costs and added stress in the future, is a gift you can give to those you love.

Estate Planning Basics
Taking care of the estate planning basics is a simple but important step for everyone to take.

There are any number of legal documents and strategies used to accommodate the varied situations of life, including family dynamics and asset levels. An estate planning attorney licensed in your state will have the ability to create a plan and the documents that suit your personal situation. The three documents discussed in the following section are generally considered to be the most important for anyone to have.

Power of Attorney or POA—This document gives legal authority to another person or entity, referred to as your “Agent”, to perform certain acts on your behalf, when you cannot do so because of illness, injury or incapacity. There are many different types of POA, from a “full” POA with no limitations, to a “limited” POA that is created solely for a specific purpose. This document comes into action, when you are incapacitated and becomes void upon your death.

Living Will—This is a detailed health care directive that allows you to list your wishes regarding several medical procedures and life-sustaining treatments. These treatments include resuscitations, breathing assistance, feeding tubes and similar medical matters. You want to have this in place to spare your loved ones the emotional anguish of trying to decide what you would have wanted. They’ll know, because you specifically told them in this document.

Last Will and Testament—When prepared correctly, and that includes signed, witnessed, and notarized, a will is used by the “testator” (the person making the will) to provide the legal wishes regarding what should happen to their minor children (if any) and assets upon death.

What happens if you don’t have these documents? It is likely that your loved ones will need to go to court to have someone named as your agent or executor, which is the person who is in charge of your estate. Depending upon the laws of your state, that person may be a family member, or it may end up being a family member who you haven’t spoken to in decades. It is far better to take the time to have these estate planning basics taken care of by an estate planning attorney, so your family is protected, and your wishes are fulfilled.

The best time to do this, is when there is no crisis. Estate plans also require regular monitoring and updating. Life circumstances change, estate and tax laws change, and new opportunities may present themselves. Speak with your estate planning attorney now and create your plan for the future.

Reference: Gettysburg Times (July 27, 2019) “Essentials necessary for estate planning”

Estate Planning is a Necessity for Small Business Owners

Just as the small business owner must plan for their own personal estate to be passed onto the next generation, they must also plan for the future of their business. This is why your estate plan needs to comprehensively address both you personal life and your business, says grbj.com’s recent article “Estate planning for small businesses.”  

Estate Planning for Business Owners
A succession plan for your business should be included in your estate plan.

Here are the basic estate planning strategies you’ll need as a small business owner:

A will. A last will and testament allows you to name someone who will receive your assets, including your business, when you die. If you don’t have a will, you leave your heirs a series of problems, expenses and stress. In the absence of a will, everything you’ve worked to attain will be distributed depending on the laws of the state. That includes your assets as well as your business. It’s far better to have a will, so you make these decisions instead of leaving it to the state laws.

A Living Trust. A living trust is similar to a will in that it allows you to name who will receive your assets when you die. However, there are certain advantages to having a trust. For one thing, a trust is a private document, and assets controlled by the trust can bypass probate. Assets controlled by a will must first go through probate, which is a public proceeding. If you’ve ever had a family member die and wonder why all those companies seemed to know that your loved one had passed, it’s because they get the information that is available to the public.

If your business is owned by a trust, the transition of ownership to your intended beneficiaries can be a much smoother process.

A financial durable power of attorney. This document lets you appoint an agent to act on your behalf, if you are incapacitated by illness or injury. This is a powerful legal document, so take the time to consider who you want to give this power to. Your agent can manage your finances, pay your bills and manage the day-to-day operations of your business.

A succession plan. Here is where many small business owners fall short in their planning. It takes a long time to create a succession plan for a business. Sometimes a buy-out agreement is part of a succession plan, or a partner in the business or key employee wishes to become the new owner. If a family member wishes to take over the business, will they inherit your entire ownership interest, or will there be a payment required? Will more than one family member take over the business? If a non-family member is going to take over the business, you’ll need an agreement documenting the obligation to purchase the business and the terms of the purchase.

If you would prefer to have the business sold upon your death, you’ll need to plan for that in advance so that family members will be able to receive the best possible price.

A buy-sell agreement. If you are not the sole owner, it’s important that you have a buy-sell agreement with your partners. This agreement requires your ownership interest to be purchased by the business or other owners, if and when a triggering event occurs, like death or disability. This document must set forth how the value of ownership interest is to be determined and how it is to be paid to your family. Without this kind of document, your ownership interest in the business will pass to your spouse or other family members. If that is not your intention, you’ll need to do prior planning.

The right type of life insurance. This is an important part of planning for the future for the small business owner. The death benefit may be needed to provide income to the family, until a business is sold, if that is the ultimate goal. If a family member takes over the business, proceeds from the life insurance policy may be needed to cover payroll or other expenses, until the business gets going under new leadership. Life insurance proceeds may also be used to buy out the other partners in the business.

Failing to plan through the use of basic estate planning and succession planning can create significant costs and stress for a small business owner. An experienced estate planning attorney can review the strategies and documents that are appropriate for your situation. You’ll want to ensure a smooth transition for your business and your family, as that too will be part of your legacy.

Reference: grbj.com (Grand Rapids Business Journal) (July 19, 2019) “Estate planning for small businesses”

What Will Anderson Cooper Inherit From his Mother Gloria Vanderbilt?

The 95-year-old Gloria Vanderbilt was “a vestige of another era, reminiscent of Brooke Astor in her longevity and tangible connection to the Gilded Age of railroad and oil barons, who left their mark on New York society,” said Trust Advisor in its recent article, “Does A Long Island Landscaper (And Not Anderson Cooper) Inherit Gloria Vanderbilt’s Fortune?”  

However, unlike Brooke Astor, Vanderbilt was born in the limelight. Her long life started in the center of dynastic politics that got both messy and public. She and her trust fund became commodities in her parents’ divorce.

It’s reported that she had to sell off a few houses to pay the tax bills. Anything left behind is well-hidden in some estate planning documents. With her family fortune dwindling over time, Vanderbilt’s fashion empire came and went. However, the distributions kept coming to fill the holes. The old Vanderbilt fortune may be gone.

Her children and grandchildren built the careers they wanted, investing their inheritances into passion projects, with little or no immediate payday. Some are novelists, filmmakers and TV journalists. Gloria built a fashion empire of her own.

As the baby, Anderson was closest to his mother. He has probably accumulated the most personal wealth after years on CNN, so he doesn’t need his mom’s money. Her oldest son Stan probably doesn’t need the money either.

Stan has a successful landscaping business in Long Island. Any Vanderbilt money he inherited along the way, is probably well invested.

There’s also a third son, Stan’s brother Chris. He walked out years ago and never really came back, at least publicly. It’s assumed that he was disinherited at the time. Now, no one is sure if Gloria wrote him out of the will. She may have written him back in. There was allegedly a bit of a thaw in the last few years.

Reference: Trust Advisor (June 17, 2019) “Does A Long Island Landscaper (And Not Anderson Cooper) Inherit Gloria Vanderbilt’s Fortune?”

What Does an Elder Law Attorney Really Do?

A knowledgeable elder law attorney will make certain that he represents the best interests of his senior client in a variety of situations that usually occur in an elderly person’s life.

An elder care attorney will also be very knowledgeable about several different areas of the law.

The Idaho Falls Spokesperson’s recent article, “What is an Elder Law Attorney and What Can They Do for You?” looks at some of the things an elder care attorney can do.

Elder care attorneys address long-term care issues, housing, quality of life, independence and autonomy—which are all critical issues concerning seniors.

Your elder law attorney knows that one of the main issues senior citizens face is sound estate planning. This may include planning for a minor or adult child, as well as probate proceedings, which is a process where a deceased person’s assets are collected and distributed to the heirs and creditors.

The probate process may also involve the Uniform Probate Code (UPC). The UPC is a set of inheritance rules written by national experts. A major responsibility of the probate process is to fully administer the entire estate, including appointing executors and ensuring that all assets are disbursed properly.

An experienced elder law attorney can also assist your family to make sure that your senior receives the best possible care arrangement, which may become more important as his or her medical needs increase.

An elder care law attorney also helps clients find the best nursing home to fully satisfy all their needs. Finally, they often will also work to safeguard assets to prevent spousal impoverishment, when one spouse must go to a nursing home.

A qualified elder care attorney can be a big asset to your family, as you journey through the elder care planning process. Working with an attorney to set up contingency plans can provide peace of mind and relief to you and your loved ones.

Reference: Idaho Falls Spokesperson (May 20, 2019) “What is an Elder Law Attorney and What Can They Do for You?”

Estate Planning Hacks Create More Problems

“My idea: put our accounts in my wife’s name and put the land in our children’s names. The way I figure it, when something happens to me, they won’t need to do any of that courtroom mumbo jumbo that costs a few thousand dollars.”

The estate planning attorney in this gentleman’s neighborhood isn’t worried about this man’s plan to avoid the “courtroom mumbo jumbo.” It’s not the first time someone thought they could make a short-cut work, and it won’t be the last. However, as described in the article “Estate planning workaround idea needs work” from My San Antonio, the problems this rancher will create for himself, his wife, and his children, will easily eclipse any savings in time or fees he thinks he may have avoided.

Estate Planning Hacks
Estate planning hacks, or “work-arounds” almost always end up costing the family more time and money in the end.

Let’s start with the idea of putting all the man’s assets in his wife’s name. For starters, that means she has complete control and access to all the accounts. Even if the accounts began as community property, once they are in her name only, she is the sole manager of these accounts.

If the husband dies first, she will not have to go into probate court. That is true. However, if she dies first, the husband will need to go to probate court to access and claim the accounts. If the marriage goes sour, it’s not likely that she’ll be in a big hurry to return access to everything.

Another solution: set the accounts up as joint accounts with right of survivorship. The bank would have to specify that when spouse dies, the other owns the accounts. However, that’s just one facet of this estate planning hack.

The next proposal is to put the land into the adult children’s names. Gifting the property to children has a number of irreversible consequences.

First, the children will all be co-owners. Each one of them will have full legal control. What if they don’t agree on something? How will they break an impasse? Will they own the property by majority rule? What if they don’t want to honor any of the parent’s requests?  In addition, if one of them dies, their spouse or their child will inherit their share. If they divorce, will their future ex-spouse retain ownership of their shares of the property?

Second, you can’t gift the property and still be an owner. The husband and wife will no longer own the property. If they don’t agree with the kid’s plans for the property, they can be evicted. After all, the parents gave them the entire property.

Third, the transfer to the children is a gift. There will be a federal gift tax return form to be filed. Depending on the value of the property, the parents may have to pay gift tax to the IRS.  Because the children have become owners of the property by virtue of a gift, they receive the tax-saving “free step-up in basis.” If they sell (and they have that right), they will get hit with capital gains taxes that will cost a lot more than the cost of an estate plan with an estate planning attorney and the “courtroom mumbo jumbo.”

Finally, the property is not the children’s homestead. If it has been gifted it to them, it’s not the parent’s homestead either. Therefore, they can expect an increase in the local property taxes. Those taxes will also be due every year for the rest of the parent’s life and again, will cost more over time than the cost of creating a proper estate plan. Since the property is not a homestead, it is subject to a creditor’s claim, if any of the new owners—those children —have a financial problem.

Estate plans exist to protect the current owners and their heirs. If the goal is to keep the property in the family and have the next generation take over, everyone concerned will be better served by sitting down with an estate planning attorney and discussing the many different ways to make this happen.

Reference: My San Antonio (April 29, 2019) “Estate planning workaround idea needs work”

What Are the Six Most Frequent Estate Planning Mistakes?

It’s a grim topic, but it is an important one. Without a legal will in place, your loved ones may spend years stuck in court proceedings and spend a lot on legal fees and court costs to settle your estate.

The San Diego Tribune writes in its recent article, 6 estate-planning mistakes to avoid, that without a plan, everything is more stressful and expensive. Let’s look at the top six estate-planning mistakes that people need to avoid:

Estate Planning Mistakes
Estate planning is tricky to get right without the help of a trained professional.

No Plan. Regardless of your age or financial status, it’s critical to have a basic estate plan. This includes crafting powers of attorney for both healthcare and finances and a living will.

No Discussion. Once you create your plan, tell your family. Those you’ve named to take care of you, need to know what you’ve decided and where to find your plan.

Focusing Only on Taxes. Estate planning can be much more than just about tax avoidance. There are many other reasons to create an estate plan that have nothing to do with taxes, like charitable giving, special needs planning for a family member, succession planning in the event of incapacity and planning for children of a prior marriage, to name just a few.

Leaving Assets Directly to Children. If you leave assets directly to your children or grandchildren under age 18, it can cause unintended custodian or guardianship issues. Minors can’t own legal property, so a guardian will be appointed by the court to manage the property for them, until they reach age 18. If you don’t name a guardian, the court will appoint one for you and that person may have very different ideas about how your children should be raised.

Making Mistakes with Ownership and Property Titles. With many blended families, you may want to preserve assets from an inheritance as your own separate property or from a prior marriage for your children. There are many tax consequences and control issues in blended families about which you may not be aware.

Messing Up Your Trust. Many people don’t properly fund or update their trusts. An unfunded trust doesn’t do anyone any good. Assets that aren’t titled in the name of the trust don’t avoid probate.

Finally, the easiest way to avoid these frequent estate planning mistakes is by reviewing your estate plan regularly, as your circumstances change.

Reference: San Diego Tribune (April 18, 2019) “6 estate-planning mistakes to avoid”

Forgot to Update Your Beneficiary Designations? Your Ex Will be Delighted

Your will does not control who inherits all your assets when you die. This is an aspect of estate planning that many people do not know. Instead, many of your assets will pass by beneficiary designations, says Kiplinger in the article “Beneficiary Designations: 5 Critical Mistakes to Avoid.”

The beneficiary designation is the form that you fill out, when opening many different types of financial accounts. You select a primary beneficiary and, in most cases, a contingency beneficiary, who will inherit the asset when you die.

estate planning beneficiary
If you don’t update your beneficiaries after a divorce your ex will receive some of your assets.

Typical accounts with beneficiary designations are retirement accounts, including 401(k)s, 403(b)s, IRAs, SEPs, life insurance, annuities and investment accounts. Many financial institutions allow beneficiaries to be named on non-retirement accounts, which are most commonly set up as Transfer on Death (TOD) or Pay on Death (POD) accounts.

It’s easy to name a beneficiary and be confident that your loved one will receive the asset, without having to wait for probate or estate administration to be completed. However, there are some problems that occur and mistakes get expensive.

Here are mistakes you don’t want to make:

Failing to name a beneficiary. It’s hard to say whether people just forget to fill out the forms or they don’t know that they have the option to name a beneficiary. However, either way, not naming a beneficiary becomes a problem for your survivors. Each company will have its own rules about what happens to the assets when you die. Life insurance proceeds are typically paid to your probate estate, if there is no named beneficiary. Your family will need to go to court and probate your estate.

When it comes to retirement benefits, your spouse will most likely receive the assets. However, if you are not married, the retirement account will be paid to your probate estate. Not only does that mean your family will need to go to court to probate your estate, but taxes could be levied on the asset. When an estate is the beneficiary of a retirement account, all the assets must be paid out of the account within five years from the date of death. This acceleration of what would otherwise be a deferred income tax, must be paid much sooner.

Neglecting special family considerations. There may be members of your family who are not well-equipped to receive or manage an inheritance. A family member with special needs who receives an inheritance, is likely to lose government benefits. Therefore, your planning needs to include a SNT — Special Needs Trust. Minors may not legally claim an inheritance, so a court-appointed person will claim and manage their money until they turn 18. This is known as a conservatorship. Conservatorships are costly to set up. They must also make an annual accounting to the court. Conservators may need to file a bond with the court, which is usually bought from an insurance company. This is another expensive cost.

If you follow this course of action, at age 18 your heir may have access to a large sum of money. That may not be a good idea, regardless of how responsible they might be. A better way to prepare for this situation is to have a trust created.  The trustee would be in charge of the money for a period of time that is determined by the personality and situation of your heirs.

Using an incorrect beneficiary name. This happens quite frequently. There may be several people in a family with the same name. However, one is Senior and another is Junior. The person might also change their name through marriage, divorce, etc. Not only can using the wrong name cause delays, but it could lead to litigation, especially if both people believe they were the intended recipient.

Failing to update beneficiaries. Just as your will must change when life changes occur, so must your beneficiaries. It’s that simple, unless you really wanted to give your ex a windfall.

Failing to review beneficiaries with your estate planning attorney. Beneficiary designations are part of your overall estate plan and financial plan. For instance, if you are leaving a large insurance policy to one family member, it may impact how the rest of your assets are distributed.

Take the time to review your beneficiary designations, just as you review your estate plan. You have the power to determine how your assets are distributed, so don’t leave that to someone else.

Reference: Kiplinger (April 5, 2019) “Beneficiary Designations: 5 Critical Mistakes to Avoid”

Federal Estate Taxes of Little Worry for Most

If you are worried about the federal estate tax (more commonly referred to as the “death tax”), it is a good problem to have. It means that your asset level is above the limits brought about by the new tax laws. That wasn’t the way things were 10 or 20 years ago, when federal estate tax limits were much lower. As a result, many middle-class families found themselves with big estate tax issues, when estates were settled. A recent article in the Rome Sentinel addresses the estate tax from an historical perspective and what you need to know about it today. The article is titled “2019 update: Should you be concerned about the estate tax?”

For starters, there are many loopholes and nuances in the tax laws. Therefore, every situation is different. Your estate planning attorney will be able to review your individual situation and work with the laws of your state to make sure that your estate plan works for your family and minimizes your estate tax liability.

Estate Tax
Most of us will never have to worry about paying estate taxes.

The estate tax concept is based on laws from past centuries, when the goal was to limit the amount of property that individuals could pass from one generation to the next. The death tax is now government’s way of saying you had too many assets, or assets that could not be fully valued or taxed, except upon your death. After death, the net worth of your estate is calculated by valuing your assets minus any liabilities.

Assets are counted as anything of value. However, they include: cash, insurance policies, stocks, bonds, real estate, annuities, brokerage accounts, business interests and today, digital assets. They are brought to present market value to create the “gross estate.” Liabilities are counted as debts, mortgages, assets, funeral and estate expenses, and any assets lawfully passing to a surviving spouse. The liabilities are deducted from the assets to get to the “net estate” value.

Federal limits to the estate tax deduction were doubled, and today very few estates in the US are subject to the federal estate tax. Here’s a comparison: in 2000, the federal estate tax exemption was $675,00 and an estimated 52,000 estates had to pay taxes. The top 10% of income earners paid almost 90% of the tax, with more than a quarter of that paid by the wealthiest 0.1%. Even those percentages have decreased since 2017.

When the new Tax Cut and Jobs Act became effective, the exclusion for federal estate tax increased from $5.49 million per person to $11.18 million per person. In 2019, there has been a further increase, to $11.4 million per person. That remains in effect until 2025.

Many states impose their own estate taxes. In New York State, the Basic Exclusion Amount for New York State Tax for estates for people who died on or after Jan. 1, 2019, and before Jan. 1, 2020, has increased from $5.49 million per person to $5.74 million per person. These amounts will increase in 2020 and will be adjusted for inflation in the future.  Florida imposes no estate tax.

However, even without the federal death tax, people still need estate plans to protect themselves and their families. A will ensures that your assets are distributed to the people you want to receive your assets. An estate plan includes Power of Attorney, to name the person you want to make financial decisions in the event you are incapacitated. You also want to have a Health Care Power of Attorney, so someone can make decisions about your health care, if you cannot speak on your own behalf. Talk with an estate planning attorney to make sure that your plan will work as intended to protect you and your family.

Reference: Rome Sentinel (Jan. 22, 2019) “2019 update: Should you be concerned about the estate tax?”

When Do I Need a Power of Attorney?

Estate planning is important. Signing a power of attorney can be essential for those seeking to safeguard their financial resources and other assets.

Power of Attorney
A power of attorney is an essential estate planning document that lets an agent assist you with financial items such as paying your bills and maintaining your property.

The Tri-County Times explains in its article, “Power of attorney protects loved ones,” that a POA is granted to an “attorney-in-fact” or “agent.” It gives that individual the legal authority to make decisions for the “principal.” The laws for creating a POA vary based on the state.  However, there are some general similarities.

Many people think their families will be able to intercede, if an event occurs that leaves them incapacitated or unable to make decisions for themselves. That’s not always true. If a person isn’t named as an agent or granted legal access to financial, medica, and other information, family members may be left out. Further, the government may appoint someone to make certain decisions for an individual, if no agent is named in a POA.

Almost everyone can benefit from establishing a power of attorney.

A signed POA will remove the legal obstacles that may arise in the event that a person is no longer physically or mentally capable of managing certain tasks.

A power of attorney is a broad term that covers a wide range of decision-making. The main types are a general POA, health care POA, and durable POA.

The responsibilities of some of these overlap, but there are some legal differences. For instance, a durable POA relates to all the appointments involved in general, special and health care powers of attorney being made “durable”—meaning that the document will remain in effect or take effect if a person becomes mentally incompetent.

Certain POA’s may expire within a certain time period.

An agent appointed through POA may be able to handle many tasks, depending on what powers are granted in the document. They include banking transactions, filing tax returns, managing government-supplied benefits, deciding on medical treatments and executing advanced health care directives.

Although a power of attorney document can be completed on your own, sitting down with an experienced estate planning attorney who understands the nuances of your state’s laws is preferred to better understand the intricacies of this vital document and ensuring that it will be legally binding and properly prepared.

If you’d like to schedule a complementary consultation to discuss completing a POA or any other estate planning documents, contact Mastry Law.

Reference: Tri-County (MI) Times (January 24, 2019) “Power of attorney protects loved ones”

How Will My IRA Be Taxed?

The most common of IRA tax traps results in tax bills through Unrelated Business Taxable Income (UBTI). The sources of business income from stocks, bonds, and funds like interest income, capital gains, and dividends are exempt from UBTI and the corresponding tax.

Careful consideration of your IRA’s tax treatment is necessary to avoid high taxes.

Fox Business’s recent article, “Your IRA and taxes: Don’t get a surprise tax bill” explains that IRAs that operate a business, have certain types of rental income, or receive income through certain partnerships will be taxed, when the total UBTI exceeds $1,000. This is to prevent tax-exempt entities from gaining an unfair advantage on regularly taxed business entities.

UBIT can take a chunk from an IRA, and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 replaced the tiered corporate tax structure with a flat 21% tax rate. That begins in tax year 2018 (this tax season). These tax bills often have penalties, because IRA owners aren’t even aware that the bill exists.

Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) held within IRAs are a good example of how UBTI can catch investors by surprise. MLPs are fairly popular investments, but when they’re held within an IRA, they’re subject to UBIT. When the tax is due, the IRA custodian must get a special tax ID number and file Form 990-T to report the income to the IRS. That owner must pay the tax, and is typically unaware of the bill, until it arrives as a completed form to be submitted to the IRS (completed and signed on behalf of the owner). In some instances, the owner may have to pay estimated taxes throughout the year. This can mean a significant underpayment penalty.

Working with prohibited investments will also result in a tax bill. Self-directed IRAs can violate the rules. Alternative investments such as artwork, antiques, and precious metals (with some exceptions) are generally considered as distributions and are subject to taxes.

Prohibited transactions are a step above prohibited investments and can result in the loss of tax-deferred status for the entire IRA. This includes using an IRA as security to obtain a loan, using IRA funds to purchase personal property, or paying yourself an unreasonable compensation for managing your own self-directed IRA. Executing a prohibited transaction can result in the entire IRA being treated as a taxable distribution to you.

Therefore, like fund holdings, and other investments, it’s critical to understand exactly what you own and how to deal with the tax liabilities.

Reference: Fox Business (March 6, 2019) “Your IRA and taxes: Don’t get a surprise tax bill”

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