Joint Tenancy

A Will is an Essential Component of Estate Planning

Drafting a will is a fundamental and essential component of estate planning.

Drafting a will with an experienced estate planning attorney helps avoid unnecessary work and perhaps some stress, when a family member passes away. A will permits the heirs to act with the decedent’s wishes in mind and can make certain that assets and possessions are passed to the correct individuals or organizations.

The Delaware County Daily Times’ recent article, “Senior Life: Things people should know about creating wills,” says that estate planning can be complicated. That’s the reason why many people use an experienced attorney to get the job done right. Attorneys who specialize in estate planning will typically discuss the following topics with their clients.

  • Assets: Create a list of known assets and determine which of those are covered by the will and which have to be passed on according to other estate laws, such as through joint tenancy or a beneficiary designation, like life insurance policies or retirement plan proceeds. A will also can dispose of other assets, such as photographs, mementos and jewelry.
  • Guardianship: Parents with minor children should include a clause regarding whom they want to become the guardians for their underage children or dependents. (For more about this, download Mastry Law’s FREE report A Parent’s Guide to Protecting Your Children Through Estate Planning.
  • Pets: Some people use their will to instruct the guardianship of pets and to leave assets for their care. However, remember that pets don’t have the legal capacity to own property, so don’t give money directly to pets in a will.
  • Funeral instructions: Finalizing probate won’t occur until after the funeral, so wishes may go unheeded.
  • Executor: This individual is a trusted person who will carry out the terms of the will. She should be willing to serve and be capable of executing the will.

Those who die without a valid will become intestate. This results in the estate being settled based upon the laws where that person lived. A court-appointed administrator will serve in the capacity to transfer property. This administrator will be bound by the laws of the state and may make decisions that go against the decedent’s wishes.

To avoid this, a will and other estate planning documents are critical. Talk to an estate planning attorney or download a FREE copy of our estate planning book, Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail.

Reference: The Delaware County Daily Times (January 7, 2019) “Senior Life: Things people should know about creating wills”

Do I Have All the Beneficiaries Set Up Correctly on My Assets?

The typical example is an ex-spouse getting all your retirement savings. However, what if you have a child with an opioid addition, you die, and he or she inherits hundreds of thousands of dollars—that vanish in less than a year?

The assets that you own can be passed to your family members in three basic ways: title of ownership is transferred, you name them to inherit assets in your will, or they are the designated beneficiaries named on your various banking and investment accounts and insurance policies.

Many of our assets are transferred through this beneficiary designation, yet we don’t spend enough time tracking and updating these names.

When’s the last time you’ve reviewed your beneficiaries? This question was explored in a recent InsideNoVa article, “Naming Beneficiaries: A Quick Tip to Reduce the Surprise Factor.”

For example, if your checking account is titled in your spouse’s and your name “with rights of survivorship” (WROS), you effectively co-own the account. That one should be all set, at least until the surviving spouse dies.

Your will instructs your executor on the transfer of any assets that aren’t transferred by title or contract. That’s probably at least some of your estate. Therefore, if you don’t have a will, make an appointment with an estate planning attorney to make sure you have this important document.

Next, the beneficiary designation contacts for assets like your retirement accounts, pension plans and insurance policies should be reviewed whenever there’s a major life event, like a birth or adoption of a child, a divorce, or a marriage.

Bigstock-Financial-consultant-presents--14508974Start the process by identifying all the accounts you own, including life insurance policies, annuities, investments, etc. that will pass by beneficiary designation. You should then see who the primary and secondary beneficiaries are for each. You can usually assign percentages to your beneficiaries. Therefore, you could name your spouse as primary beneficiary, 100%. Your children could then be secondary beneficiaries in equal shares.

Some contracts allow you to have your funds be distributed “per stirpes.” In that case, if you name your three children as primary beneficiaries, they each would receive a third. However, if your eldest son dies with you, with per stirpes, his share will go to his children.

In addition, there may be situations when you might designate a trust as a beneficiary. This can get complicated, so work with an experienced trust and estate attorney.

Don’t overlook this detail, as it can have a very big impact, and not always for the good, on your family and loved ones.

Reference: InsideNoVa (October 26, 2018) “Naming Beneficiaries: A Quick Tip to Reduce the Surprise Factor”

Now That Same-Sex Marriages are Legal, Do They Make Financial Sense?

Every couple’s situation is different, and there are pluses and minuses for couples considering whether or not to tie the knot.

Every couple’s situation is different, and there are pluses and minuses for couples considering whether or not to tie the knot.

Bigstock-Smiling-Gay-Couple-44953600In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples had the right to marry. A 2017 Gallup poll, reported in a recent WTOParticle, “Gay and Getting Married? Financial Advantages and Disadvantages,”found that only 10.2 percent of gay couples in America have wed.

Financial implications may not be at the top of the list for gay couples deciding to marry, but, there are several to consider. Some may not be beneficial, but some are. The most significant issues for married gay couples, like married straight couples, should be retirement planning, estate planning and tax planning.

The major benefit for gay couples marrying is the survivor’s Social Security benefits. If you’re lucky enough to have a retirement plan where there is a pension benefit, it can be transferred from spouse to spouse. The other big issue is gifting: spouses can leave an unlimited amount of money between spouses. But if you’re not married, that doesn’t happen.

A major difference in what each partner makes can gum up the works, especially with the IRS. Consider the marriage penalty tax and figure out if you’re better off being married or not being married. You could be subject to not getting some of the tax exclusions that would’ve worked to your advantage, if you weren’t married. This is especially true, if there is a wide variance in income between both partners. You should also think about loss-limit deductions on things such as investment property, IRA and retirement account deductions, and other tax planning situations that can become significant considerations when one partner earns much more than the other.

When combining the income of the two spouses, it may put them both into a higher tax bracket. This will add more tax liabilities. You should also think about homeownership and retirement. For unmarried gay couples with a big variance in incomes, who own their home as joint tenants with right of survivorship, the surviving individual will get the house, when the first one passes away.  However, there could be some gift consequences, depending on how the money went into paying for the house and who put more money into it versus who didn’t.

There are also retirement accounts to look at. Married couples can pass IRAs or 401(k)s to one another at death, without triggering taxes. If you die with money in your retirement accounts, the IRS starts taxing that money as soon as your beneficiaries withdraw the money.  It also forces a withdrawal within a certain amount of time. However, there’s an exception for distributions to spouses, allowing the money to keep growing tax deferred.

You should also analyze health care. Many businesses offer health care coverage to their employees’ domestic partners. Depending on company policy for family coverage, legal marriage ensures it. There’s also a financial benefit for surviving spouses in a health saving account because that money can be transferred to the surviving spouse. Likewise, a married couple in a joint health savings account can contribute more pretax dollars.

All married couples also legally speak for each other in terms of medical decisions. Unmarried couples, either straight or gay, don’t automatically have that legal representation. For gay couples who opt not to marry, that can be solved with a medical power of attorney,an advanced medical directiveor health care proxy. These legally binding documents should be drafted, certified and available, in the event of an emergency. A power of attorney can cover both health care and financial decisions, if one unmarried partner becomes incapacitated.

When it comes to the legal and financial matters of marriage, it’s wise for all couples to meet with an estate planning attorney before walking down the aisle. You should know what rights and responsibilities come with marriage, and prepare the correct legal documents, so that you are both able to care for each other in every sense of the word, in good times and bad, in sickness and health.

Reference: WTOP (May 30, 2018) “Gay and Getting Married? Financial Advantages and Disadvantages”

The Most Common Estate Planning Mistakes

After years of practicing estate planning law, attorneys are all too familiar with some of these mistakes, and can help you avoid them, if you are smart enough to get help from a professional.

After years of practicing estate planning law, attorneys are all too familiar with some of these mistakes, and can help you avoid them, if you are smart enough to get help from a professional.

MP900400332Some people like to think they know everything, and that often applies to estate planning. The problem is, they don’t learn about the mistake—their heirs do! By working with an estate planning attorney, you can avoid making these mistakes and spare your family the stress and expense.

The Hockessin (DE) Community Newsreports in a recent article, “The dumbest estate planning moves,”that the misuse of joint ownershipis extremely frequent.

You probably know that settling an estate without a will,can be very time consuming and expensive. One way that people try to avoid probate, is with property owned jointly with rights of survivorship.

That’s because the joint owner becomes the exclusive owner of that property, when the other owner passes away. This is the case for a bank account or a family home.

Many seniors say their joint owner, usually a son or a daughter, will gladly share the account with their siblings after the parent passes. But will the joint owner then tell their siblings that’s how Mom wanted it?

More often than we’d like to believe, the result is that the other siblings may get a lot less than Mom wanted—or nothing at all. If the surviving owner does follow through with Mom’s instructions and does truly square up with his brothers and sister, there may be other tax consequences.

That’s because the process of squaring up may be considered a gift for tax purposes.

In real estate, there’s a chance the remaining owner will be burdened with a low-cost basis. As a result, she will be hit with capital gains taxes, when later selling the asset. Mom’s effort to simplify things may have actually caused a lifetime of family conflict.

Instead, avoid these troubles with a transfer on death account or the use of a revocable living trust.

A real estate attorney can handle the title change.  However, before you start dealing with the deed, sit down with an estate planning attorney. He or she will be able to explain how this may impact your tax liability and the conflict it may spark within the family.

A better option is to create an estate plan, properly prepared with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney. This will guide the distribution of assets and prevent or at least mitigate the possibility of siblings battling over the estate.

Reference: Hockessin (DE) Community News (April 24, 2018)“The dumbest estate planning moves”

Does Your Estate Plan Match Your Life Right Now?

If you love your family, you’ll keep them in mind when considering whether to make an appointment to update your estate

Remember to update your estate plan, especially if your life includes events like new kids, a new marriage or the death of a loved one.

Bigstock-Extended-Family-Outside-Modern-13915094If you love your family, you’ll keep them in mind when considering whether to make an appointment to update your estate, as you go through the inevitable changes of life. Not doing so can create financial and emotional burdens. That’s probably not how you want to be remembered.

According to a recent Newsday article, “Make sure your estate plan keeps up with life changes, experts say,” estate planning may seem overwhelming and depressing because it deals with issues of aging.  Some people believe that estate planning is just for the very rich.

That’s not right. Estate planning is for everybody. Make a plan to do it now, in order to avoid consequential fumbles.

Let’s look at what you need to do.

Estate planning is a set of legal documents that state who will receive your assets and property when you pass away.  It also specifies who you want to make medical decisions, and who should make financial decisions, if you are unable to do so yourself.

This should make everything easier for your heirs at this stressful time, when they most need it.

Remember that estate planning isn’t a one-and-done proposition. It’s wonderful that you finally got your will finished and signed, and you have your medical directives in place along with a designated individual to have your authority via power of attorney.

However, that’s not the end of it. Your estate planning documents must keep pace with change.

It’s critical that you update the contingent (secondary) beneficiaries on life insurance policies after the first spouse dies.

The birth or adoption of a child and divorce are similarly important life events that will require you to review and update your estate planning documents.

Don’t assume that establishing joint tenancy (sharing ownership in personal property, like your family home) or joint ownership over financial accounts is enough to protect your assets.

Finally, be certain to work with an experienced estate planning attorney who has the insights and legal knowledge to create a plan that aligns with your goals. An online will has the potential to create more problems than it solves. You might save some money, only to cost your heirs thousands of dollars to undo the damage.

Reference: Newsday (March 4, 2018) “Make sure your estate plan keeps up with life changes, experts say”

Scroll to Top