POD (Payable on Death)

Common Mistakes with Beneficiary Designations

Questions about beneficiary designations are among the most common we hear from new clients in our law practice.  This is a topic that should be among those discussed by an estate planning attorney during your first meeting.

Many people don’t understand that their will doesn’t control who inherits all of their assets when they pass away. Some of a person’s assets pass by beneficiary designation. That’s accomplished by completing a form with the company that holds the asset and naming who will inherit the asset, upon your death.

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Assets with a beneficiary designation will not be distributed according to your will.

Kiplinger’s recent article, “Beneficiary Designations: 5 Critical Mistakes to Avoid,” explains that assets including life insurance, annuities and retirement accounts (think 401(k)s, IRAs, 403bs and similar accounts) all pass by beneficiary designation. Many financial companies also let you name beneficiaries on non-retirement accounts, known as TOD (transfer on death) or POD (pay on death) accounts.

Naming a beneficiary can be a good way to make certain your family will get assets directly. However, these beneficiary designations can also cause a host of problems. Make sure that your beneficiary designations are properly completed and given to the financial company, because mistakes can be costly. The article looks at five critical mistakes to avoid when dealing with your beneficiary designations:

  1. Failing to name a beneficiary. Many people never name a beneficiary for their retirement accounts. If you don’t name a beneficiary for retirement accounts, the financial company has it owns rules about where the assets will go after you die. For retirement benefits, if you’re married, your spouse will most likely get the assets. If you’re single, the retirement account will likely be paid to your estate, which has negative tax ramifications and may need to be handled through the costly and time-consuming probate courts. When an estate is the beneficiary of a retirement account, the assets must be paid out of the retirement account within five years of death. This means an acceleration of the deferred income tax—which must be paid earlier, than would have otherwise been necessary.
  2. Failing to consider special circumstances. Not every person should receive an asset directly. These are people like minors, those with specials needs, or people who can’t manage assets or who have creditor issues. Minor children aren’t legally competent, so they can’t claim the assets. A court-appointed conservator will claim and manage the money, until the minor turns 18. Those with special needs who get assets directly, will lose government benefits because once they receive the inheritance directly, they’ll own too many assets to qualify. People with financial issues or creditor problems can lose the asset through mismanagement or debts. Ask your estate planning attorney about creating a trust to be named as the beneficiary.
  3. Designating the wrong beneficiary. Sometimes a person will complete beneficiary designation forms incorrectly. For example, there can be multiple people in a family with similar names, and the beneficiary designation form may not be specific. People also change their names in marriage or divorce. Assets owners can also assume a person’s legal name that can later be incorrect. These mistakes can result in delays in payouts, and in a worst-case scenario of two people with similar names, can mean litigation.
  4. Failing to update your beneficiaries. Since there are life changes (like marriage and divorce for example), make sure your beneficiary designations are updated on a regular basis.
  5. Failing to review beneficiary designations with your estate planning attorney. Beneficiary designations are part of your overall financial and estate plan. Speak with your estate planning attorney to determine the best approach for your specific situation.

Beneficiary designations are designed to make certain that you have the final say over who will get your assets when you die. Take the time to carefully and correctly choose your beneficiaries and periodically review those choices and make the necessary updates to stay in control of your money.

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

Here’s More Insight into Why Estate Planning is Critical

Fox 5 NY says in the article “Why estate planning is important regardless of your age or wealth” that this is great time to begin talking to your loved ones about estate planning, especially older relatives and parents.

The key to a successful discussion depends upon the right approach.

Try to always make suggestions, rather than demands. One great way to start the conversation with family members, is to mention what you’re doing. You might say something like, “I just took care of my own estate planning. Have you done anything? Maybe we should talk about it.” That might get the conversation rolling.

Many people believe that, as they get older, they need a will. However, that’s just one piece of the puzzle: core estate planning includes a will, power of attorney, health care surrogate and asset protection.

For most of us, the asset we most want to protect is our home. One of the best ways to do that is through a trust. Depending upon the type of trust you use, it may also have tax advantages, could protect your home during a healthcare crisis and protect your home from your children’s creditors.

You also need to find people you trust to help with finances and health care. A power of attorney is a legal document in which you grant a person the authority to handle finances on your behalf.

Similarly, a healthcare surrogate is an individual who makes healthcare decisions, if you get sick or are in an accident and can’t make decisions for yourself.

You can use one person to do both or separate individuals for each role. You can opt for a family member or a trusted friend. However, either way it should probably be a younger person, who won’t be dealing with the same aging issues as you.

You should also note that your will doesn’t cover everything. Make certain that any beneficiaries designated in your retirement plans or life insurance and any additional names on joint bank accounts are current. The beneficiaries you appointed by a designation form will get the money in those accounts, no matter what it says in your will.

If all of this sounds a bit complex, don’t worry because an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney can help you with all of the forms and all of your questions. Just understand these three things before you visit an elder law firm: your assets, whose names are on the accounts and your wishes.

Reference: Fox 5 NY (December 12, 2018) “Why estate planning is important regardless of your age or wealth”

Trust Declared Owner of Funds in POD Decision by Kentucky Appellate Court

Known as a POD or a Totten trust, a Payable on Death account is a way to own accounts, usually in a bank, that is not subject to probate.

Kentucky law affirmed that money remaining in a POD account after one of the owners died, belongs to the survivor. That’s the whole point of a Payable On Death account.

TrustKnown as a POD or a Totten trust, a Payable on Death account is a way to own accounts, usually in a bank, that is not subject to probate and is considered to be an arrangement between a bank and a customer. When one of the owner(s) dies, the ownership of the account and the assets automatically transfers to the beneficiary or beneficiaries. As a result, they are the new owners. This is a fairly commonly used method of transferring assets at death.

Justia reported in the recent Kentucky case, “Coe v. Schick,”that the use of a Pay on Death (“POD”) beneficiary designation was at issue.  It shows the dangers of using the POD beneficiary designation, without consulting with a qualified estate planning attorney.

The bank account and a Certificate of Deposit (CD) were purchased by William in the name of his Trust.  However, the problem was that his granddaughter Jennie was a named as the POD beneficiary. William’s pour-over will and trust left all of his assets to his two children Bill and Bonnie. The bank named as trustee at William’s death negotiated the CD and moved its proceeds along with the checking account funds into a new, single trust account after his death.

However, Jennie asserted her rights to the CD and the bank account in William’s probate proceeding. The estate disallowed her claim and ultimately made final settlement and distribution.

After more than eight years of litigation, the Court of Appeals heard the case.

The Court held that a trust can’t have a POD beneficiary designation because a trust can’t die. The Court of Appeals found that the CD was a joint account. State statute defines an "account" as "a contract of deposit of funds between a depositor and a financial institution, and includes a checking account, savings account, certificate of deposit, share account and other like arrangement."  A "joint account" is also "an account payable on request to one (1) or more of two (2) or more parties whether or not mention is made of any right of survivorship[.]"

Because the CD was issued to the Trust orJennie alternatively, it was payable on request to either of them, the Court said. As a result, the CD satisfied the statutory definition of a joint account.The Court went on to explain that joint accounts payable in the alternative, like a CD, give the party who has possession the freedom to negotiate them, even to the detriment of the other party.

In this situation, the bank, as successor trustee, negotiated the CD and placed the funds in a separate account for the benefit of the Trust and its beneficiaries. The Court of Appeals found it proper for the trustee to dispose of the CD in this manner, even without Jennie's authorization or knowledge. The funds from the negotiation of the CD were the sole property of the trust and were to be distributed by the trust's terms.

This case is an example of what happens when assets in an estate are not properly aligned with the estate plan. The family could have been spared the $75,000 in legal fees, not to mention the acrimony within the family, by working with an experienced estate planning attorney to resolve all of these matters well in advance.

Reference:Justia(June 29, 2018) “Coe v. Schick”

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”

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