Category: Coronavirus

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Tax Liabilities when a Loved One Dies

Sooner or later, someone has to resolve the tax liabilities when a loved one dies. It is usually a family member who faces this task. For one woman, the unexpected passing of her father in early 2018 left her the task of filing his 2017 return and the family’s estate planning attorney filed the 2018 return through the father’s estate. The family is still waiting for the 2017 tax refund from the IRS, and needs to resolve a stimulus check for $1,200 her family received last spring that had to be sent back.

Many families are facing similar situations, as reported in this recent article “Death and taxes: Americans grapple with filing the final tax return for deceased relatives in a pandemic year” from USA Today. Survivors are anxious about complex tax issues at the same time they are in mourning for a loved one.

The final tax return uses IRS Form 1040, the same one that would have been used if the taxpayer were living. The major difference: the word “deceased” is written after the taxpayer’s name.

If the taxpayer was married, the surviving spouse may file a joint return for the year of death. For two years after the taxpayer’s death, the surviving spouse may file as a qualifying widow or widower, which lets them continue to use the same tax brackets that apply to married-filing-jointly returns.

The larger the estate and income for a loved one, the more complicated taxes after death can become. Estate planning attorneys recommend naming an executor in the will and tasking them with taking care of final taxes.

The estate tax is paid on assets owned at the time of death. As of this writing, estates valued at more than $11.7 million (or $23.4 million per married couple), pay a 40% federal tax, in addition to state estate or inheritance taxes, if there are any. It is generally expected that the coming months will see a large reduction in the federal estate tax exemption.

The deadline to file a final return is the tax filing deadline of the year following the loved one’s death. The executor or administrator is usually the person who signs the tax return, although a surviving spouse signs the joint return. If there is no executor, whoever is responsible for filing the return signs it and should note that they are signing on behalf of the decedent. For a joint return, the spouse signs the return and writes “filing as surviving spouse” in the space for the other spouse’s signature.

There’s one more step if a return is due. If the deceased is owed money, the IRS Form 1310 should be used. That’s the Statement of a Person Claiming Refund Due a Deceased Taxpayer. The IRS says that surviving spouses signing a joint return don’t have to file this form, but tax experts think it’s a good idea to try to proactively prevent any delays.

If there are tax liabilities when a loved one dies, the tax bill is to be settled by the estate’s executor. If there are insufficient funds to pay the federal income and estate taxes, relatives are not responsible for the remaining balance.

Note that the executor may be held liable if the assets are distributed before paying the taxes, or if the debts of the estate are paid before taxes are paid. The same is true if the executor is aware of the insufficient funds and inability to pay the taxes but spends assets anyway.

Talk with an estate planning attorney about the taxes that will need to be paid from an estate. You don’t want to leave a legacy of tax pain for the family. If you would like to learn more about tasks to complete when a loved one dies, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: USA Today (April 22, 2021) “Death and taxes: Americans grapple with filing the final tax return for deceased relatives in a pandemic year”

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Can You Revoke a Power of Attorney?

Can you revoke a Power of Attorney? That is a question that come up often with estate planning attorneys. Spouses and partners chosen as POA by adult children often lead to estate planning challenges. In one case, a parent worries that a second husband may be a poor influence and wants to revoke the power of attorney originally granted to a daughter. How to do that legally and without any hurt feelings is examined in the article Estate Planning: Revoking a power of attorney” from nwi.com.

A Power of Attorney is a document that allows another person to act on your behalf. The person designated is referred to as the “Attorney in Fact” or the “Agent.”

The problem this family faces, is that any revocation of a POA must be in writing, must identify the person who is to be revoked as the POA and must be signed by the person who is revoking the POA. Here’s where the hurt feelings come in: the revocation is not legal, until and unless the agent has actual knowledge of the revocation.

You can’t slip off to your estate planning lawyer’s office, revoke the POA and hope the family member will never know.

Another way to revoke a POA is to execute a new one. In most states, most durable POAs include a provision that the new POA revokes any prior POAs. By executing a new POA that revokes the prior ones, you have a valid revocation that is in writing and signed by the principal.

However, a daughter who is duly appointed must be notified. If she is currently acting under the POA and has a copy of it, there’s no way to avoid her learning of the parent’s decision.

If, however, the daughter has never seen a copy of the POA and she is not currently acting on it, then you may be able to make a new POA without notifying her. However, it may create a sticky situation in the future. Notification may be your only option.

If the POA has been recorded for any reason, the revocation must reference the book, page and instrument number assigned by the recorder’s office and be recorded. If the POA has been provided to any individuals or financial institutions, such as banks, life insurance companies, financial advisors, etc., they will need to be properly notified that it has been revoked or replaced.

Two cautions: not telling the daughter and having her find out after the parent has passed or is incapacitated might be a painful blow, with no resolution. Telling the daughter while the parent can discuss the change may be challenging but reaching an understanding will at least be possible. A diplomatic approach is best: the parent wishes to adjust her estate plan and the attorney made some recommendations, this revocation among them, should suffice.

Not revoking the power of attorney correctly could also lead to an estate planning disaster, with the daughter challenging whoever was named as the POA without her knowledge.

So the answer to the original question: Can you revoke a Power of Attorney, is yes, carefully. Talk with your estate planning lawyer to ensure that the POA is changed properly, and that all POAs have been updated. If you would like to learn more about Powers of Attorney, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: nwi.com (March 7, 2021) “Estate Planning: Revoking a power of attorney”

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A Life Settlement Might Be an Option

Even in this volatile environment, many seniors may have an option for more retirement income available in the sale of their life insurance policy. A life settlement might be an option. It could provide them with an average of four or more times the cash surrender value of their policy.

The Street’s recent article entitled “Is Your Life Insurance Policy Worth More Than Its Cash Surrender Value?” explains that anytime a senior isn’t going to keep a life insurance policy, they should look into a life settlement to bring them the most money when they terminate the policy.

When a policy is lapsed, the policy owner gets nothing. When a policy is surrendered back to the insurance company, the policyowner receives little, if any, cash surrender value. So, in instances where a policy is being lapsed or surrendered, a life settlement might be an option that makes financial sense.

According to 2019 life insurance industry data, over 90% of life insurance policies (by face amount) that terminated in 2018 were lapsed or surrendered. In 80% of those cases, the policyowners received nothing in return for years of premium payments to the insurance company, because they lapsed their policies.

Over the next decade, more than $2 trillion in life insurance policy death benefits that could qualify for a life settlement is anticipated to be lapsed or surrendered—about $850 billon is projected to be policies between $100,000 and $1 million.

So is a life settlement an option for you? To qualify for a life settlement, an individual must usually be at least 70 years old and own a whole life, universal life, or convertible term insurance life insurance policy, with a death benefit of $100,000 or more.

Traditionally, life settlements have been available only where the insured has developed a significant health impairment since the policy was started, but now even those insureds without a change in health can qualify for a life settlement, depending on their age and the type and size of the policy.

Some life settlement companies take several months to make an offer to purchase a policy, asking for full medical records and independent underwriting. However, recently, life settlement companies have shortened the time in evaluating a policy and making an offer. Depending on your age and health, a life settlement might be an option for you and your family.

If you are interested in learning more about how life insurance can play a role in your planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Street (Dec. 22, 2020) “Is Your Life Insurance Policy Worth More Than Its Cash Surrender Value?”

 

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Do You Need a DNR in Your Estate Plan?

The rise of COVID 19 has caused many people to consider estate planning, and that is a good thing. When the discussion arrives at end of life decisions, the subject of a DNR comes up. Do you need a DNR in your estate plan? Forbes’s article entitled “Should “Do Not Resuscitate” Be Part Of Your Estate Plan?” explains the difference between a health care proxy and a DNR.

A health care proxy is a legal document that lets you name an agent to make health care decisions for you. It is used if you’re unable to make those decisions for yourself. When you were again able to communicate, you’d go back to making your decisions for yourself. The ability to create a health care proxy is governed by your state’s laws. Every state’s laws are different.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about a DNR and how to comply with your state’s law in creating these directives. He or she will know about health care institutions and whether they will give authority to the documents you created. If they won’t, your named agent would have to go to court to enforce them.

You can also supplement your state’s directives with additional guidance.

Some states’ directives require a set series of instructions for your agent in your estate plan regarding your DNR. For instance, it may include questions as to whether you want life sustaining treatment and medically administered nutrition and hydration. Other states contain language that is broader. They allow the agent more latitude to decide end-of-life decisions. This language usually includes the intention that you want to be taken off life support, if you have a terminal illness or injury and your death is imminent.

A DNR is a medical order informing health care workers that they are not to revive you. It is a document that you put in place with your physician. Some states have also adopted MOLST forms (Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment) to address other situations, like intubation, ventilation and dialysis. These documents require a thorough discussion between the patient and the health care provider. They are typically part of end of life care, when a person has an advanced stage terminal illness.

If you’re relatively healthy, you want to be treated – and resuscitated – if you have a heart attack. There may be a time when you need a DNR, but most likely it’s not now. If and when that time comes, you’ll need to have a talk with your doctor and estate planning attorney about a DNR, and whether you should include it in your estate plan.

However, you should speak with your estate planning attorney about your health care proxy, especially if you don’t have one. Whether it’s during the coronavirus pandemic or not, a health care proxy is a critical part of a complete estate plan. To learn more about other important documents to include in your planning, such as a Power of Attorney or Guardianship, please read our previous posts.

Reference: Forbes (May 28, 2020) “Should “Do Not Resuscitate” Be Part Of Your Estate Plan?”

 

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Perfect Storm for the Financial Abuse of Seniors

The extended isolation and loneliness during the coronavirus pandemic is creating the perfect storm for the financial abuse of seniors, who are unable to visit with family members and friends, reports Fredericksburg Today in the article “SCC urges awareness of investment fraud among seniors due to increased pandemic isolation.” The unprecedented need to forgo socializing makes seniors who are already at risk, even more vulnerable.

In the past, scammers would deliberately strike during a health crisis or after the death of a loved one. By gathering data from obituaries and social media, even establishing relationships with support and social groups, scammers can work their way into seniors’ lives.

Social distancing and the isolation necessary to protect against the spread of the coronavirus has left many seniors vulnerable to people posing as their new friends. The perpetrators may not just be strangers: family members are often the ones who exploit the elderly. The pandemic has also led to changes in procedures in care facilities, which can lead to increased confusion and dependence for the elderly, who do not always do well with changes.

Here are a few key markers for senior financial abuse:

  • A new friend or caregiver who is overly protective and has gotten the person to surrender control of various aspects of their life, including but not limited to finances.
  • Fear or a sudden change in how they feel towards family members and/or friends.
  • A reluctance to discuss financial matters, especially if they say the new friend told them not to talk about their money with others.
  • Sudden changes in spending habits, or unexplained changes to wills, new trustees, or changes to beneficiary designations.
  • Large checks made out to cash, or the disappearance of assets.
  • Signatures on checks or estate planning documents that appear different than past signatures.

Not being able to visit in person makes it harder for family members to discern what is happening.  However, there are a few steps that can be taken by concerned family members. Stay in touch with the family member, by phone, video calls, texts or any means possible. Remind loved ones that scammers are always looking for an opportunity and may try to exploit them during the pandemic.

Every community has resources that can help, if senior financial abuse is a concern. An elder law estate planning attorney will be able to direct concerned family members or friends to local resources to protect their loved ones.

Reference: Fredericksburg Today (June 20, 2020) “SCC urges awareness of investment fraud among seniors due to increased pandemic isolation”

 

 

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Why You Need an Advance Directive Right Now

The number of Americans who have died in the last few months because of COVID-19 is staggering, reports Inside Indiana Business in an article that advises readers to “Get Your Advance Directives in Place Now.”  This is why you need an advance directive right now. Just talking with family members about your wishes is not enough. You’ll need to put the proper legal documents in place. It’s not that hard, and it is necessary.

Only one in three Americans has completed any kind of advance directive. Many younger adults don’t feel the need to complete these documents, but there have been many examples that prove this is the wrong approach. Both Terri Schiavo and Karen Ann Quinlan were only in their twenties when they were not able to make their wishes known. Family members fought in and out of court for years.

The clinical realities of COVID-19 make it hard for healthcare workers to determine their patient’s wishes. Visitors are not permitted, and staff members are overwhelmed with patients. COVID-19 respiratory symptoms come on rapidly in many cases, making it impossible to convey end-of-life wishes.

Advance directives are the written instructions regarding health care decisions, if you are not able to communicate your wishes. They must be in compliance with your state’s laws. The most common types of advance care directives are the durable power of attorney for health care and the living will.

A durable power of attorney for health care names a person, usually a spouse or family member, to be a health care agent. You may also name alternative agents. This person will be able to make decisions about your health care on your behalf, so be sure they know what your wishes are.

A living will is the document that states your wishes about the type of care you do or don’t want to receive. Living wills typically concern treatments like CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), breathing machines (ventilators), dialysis, feeding tubes and certain treatments, like the use of an IV (intravenous, meaning medicine delivered directly into the bloodstream).

Studies show that people who have properly executed advance directives are more likely to get care that reflects their stated preferences.

Traditional documents will cover most health situations. However, the specific symptoms of COVID-19 may require you to reconsider opinions on certain treatments. Many COVID-19 patients need ventilators to breathe and do subsequently recover. If in the past you wanted to refuse being put on a ventilator, this may cause you to reconsider.

Almost all states require notarization and/or witnesses for advance directives and other estate planning documents to be valid. Many states, including Indiana and New York, now allow for remote notarization.

Talk with your estate planning attorney about putting all of your estate planning documents in order.

Reference: Inside Indiana Business (June 8, 2020) “Get Your Advance Directives in Place Now”

 

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Using Retirement Funds in a Financial Crisis

For generations, the tax code has been a public policy tool, used to encourage people to save for retirement and what used to be called “old age.” However, the coronavirus pandemic has caused many households to begin using retirement funds in a financial crisis. Lawmakers have responded by making it easier to tap these accounts. The article “Should You Tap Retirement Funds in a Crisis? Increasingly, People Say Yes” from The Wall Street Journal asks if this is really a good idea.

This shift in thinking actually coincides with trends that began to emerge before the last recession. People were living and working longer. Unemployment and career changes later in life were becoming more commonplace, and fewer and fewer people devoted four decades to working for a single employer, before retiring with an employer-funded pension.

For those who have been affected by the economic downturns of the coronavirus, withdrawals up to $100,000 from retirement savings accounts are now allowed, with no early-withdrawal penalty. That includes IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts) or employment-linked 401(k) plans. In addition, $100,000 may be borrowed from 401(k) plans.

Americans are not alone in this. Australia and Malaysia are also allowing citizens to take money from retirement accounts.

Lawmakers are hoping that by using retirement funds now, it may help households prevent foreclosures, evictions and bankruptcies, with less of an impact on government spending. With trillions in retirement accounts in the U.S., these accounts are where legislators frequently look when resources are threatened.

However, there’s a tradeoff. If you take out money from accounts that have lost value because of the market’s volatility, those losses are not likely to be recouped. And if money is taken out and not replaced when the world returns to work, there will be less money during retirement. Not only will you miss out on the money you took out, but on the return, it might have made through years of tax-advantaged investments.

The danger of using retirement funds in a financial crisis is that if these accounts are widely seen as accessible and necessary now, a return to saving for retirement or the possibility of putting money back into these accounts when the economy returns to normal may not happen.

IRA and 401(k) accounts began to supplant pensions in the 1970s as a way to encourage people to save for retirement, by deferring income tax on money that was saved. By the end of 2019, IRAs and 401(k) types of accounts held about $20 trillion in the US.

Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research has estimated that even before the coronavirus, early withdrawals were reducing retirement accounts by a quarter over 30 years, taking into account the lost returns on savings that were no longer in the accounts. For many people, taking retirement funds now may be their only choice, but the risk to their financial future and retirement is very real.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (June 4, 2020) “Should You Tap Retirement Funds in a Crisis? Increasingly, People Say Yes”

 

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What You Need to Know about Drafting Your Will

A last will and testament is just one of the legal documents that you should have in place to help your loved ones know what your wishes are, if you can’t say so yourself, advises CNBC’s recent article entitled, “Here’s what you need to know about creating a will.” In this pandemic, the coronavirus may have you thinking more about your mortality. Here’s what you need to know about drafting your will.

Despite COVID-19, it’s important to ponder what would happen to your bank accounts, your home, your belongings or even your minor children, if you’re no longer here. You should prepare a will, if you don’t already have one. It is also important to update your will, if it’s been written.

If you don’t have a valid will, your property will pass on to your heirs by law. These individuals may or may not be who you would have provided for in a will. If you pass away with no will —dying intestate — a state court decides who gets your assets and, if you have children, a judge says who will care for them. As a result, if you have an unmarried partner or a favorite charity but have no estate plan, your assets may not go to them.

The courts will typically pass on assets to your closest blood relatives, despite the fact that it wouldn’t have been your first choice.

Your will is just one part of a complete estate plan. Putting a plan in place for your assets helps ensure that at your death, your wishes will be carried out and that family fights and hurt feelings don’t make for destroyed relationships.

There are some assets that pass outside of the will, such as retirement accounts, 401(k) plans, pensions, IRAs and life insurance policies.

Therefore, the individual designated as beneficiary on those accounts will receive the money, despite any directions to the contrary in your will. If there’s no beneficiary is listed on those accounts, or the beneficiary has already passed away, the assets automatically go into probate—the process by which all of your debt is paid off and then the remaining assets are distributed to heirs.

If you own a home, be certain that you know the way in which it should be titled. This will help it end up with those you intend, since laws vary from state to state.

Ask an estate planning attorney in your area — to ensure familiarity with state laws—for help learning what you need to know about drafting your will and the rest of your estate plan.

Reference: CNBC (June 1, 2020) “Here’s what you need to know about creating a will”

 

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Utilizing the SECURE and CARES Acts?

Are you utilizing the SECURE and CARES Acts in the best way possible? The SECURE Act made a number of changes to IRAs, effective January 1, 2020. It was followed by the CARES Act, effective March 27, 2020, which brought even more changes. A recent article from the Milwaukee Business Journal, titled “IRA planning tips for changes associated with the SECURE and CARES acts,” explains what account owners need to know.

Setting Every Community Up for Retirement (SECURE) Act

The age when you have to take your RMD increased from 70½ to 72, if you turned 70½ on or before December 31, 2019. Younger than 70½ before 2020? You still must take your RMDs. But, if you can, consider deferring any distributions from your RMD, until you must. This gives your IRA a chance to rebound, rather than locking in any losses from the current market.

Beneficiary rules changed. The “stretch” feature of the IRA was eliminated. Any non-spousal beneficiary of an IRA owner who dies after Dec. 31, 2019, must take the entire amount of the IRA within 10 years after the date of death. The exceptions are those who fall into the “Eligible Designated Beneficiary” category. That includes the surviving spouse, a child under age 18, a disabled or chronically ill beneficiary, or a beneficiary who is not more than ten years younger than the IRA owner. The Eligible Designated Beneficiary can take distributions over their life expectancy, starting in the year after the death of the IRA holder. If your estate plan intended any IRA to be paid to a trust, the trust may include a “conduit IRA” provision. This may not work under the new rules. Talk with your estate planning attorney.

IRA contributions can be made at any age, as long as there is earned income. If you have earned income and are 70 or 71, consider continuing to contribute to a Roth IRA. These assets grow tax free and qualified withdrawals are also tax free. If you plan on making Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCD), you’ll be able to use that contribution (up to $100,000 per year) from the IRA to offset any RMDs for the year and not be treated as a taxable distribution.

Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act

The deadline for contributions for traditional or Roth IRAs this year is July 15, 2020. The 2019 limit is $6,000 if you are younger than 50 and $7,000 if you are 50 and older.

RMDs have been waived for 2020. This applies to life expectancy payments. It may be possible to “undo” an RMD, if it meets these qualifications:

  • The RMD must have been taken between February 1—May 15 and must be recontributed or rolled over prior to July 15.
  • RMDs taken in January or after May 15 are not eligible.
  • Only one rollover per person is permitted within the last 12 months.
  • Life expectancy payments may not be rolled over.

Individuals impacted by coronavirus may be permitted to take out $100,000 from an IRA with no penalties. They are eligible if they have:

  • Been diagnosed with SARS-Cov-2 or COVID-19
  • A spouse or dependent has been diagnosed
  • Have experienced adverse consequences as a result of being quarantined, furloughed or laid off or having work hours reduced due to the virus, are unable to work because of a lack of child care, closed or reduced hours of a business owned or operated by the individual or due to other factors, as determined by the Secretary of the Treasury.
  • Note that these distributions are still taxable, but the income taxes can be spread ratably over a three-year period and are not subject to the 10% early distribution penalty.

Keep careful records, as it is not yet known how any of these distributions/redistributions will be accounted for through tax reporting. All of these tips will allow you to utilize the SECURE and CARE Acts effectively.

Reference: Milwaukee Business Journal (June 1, 2020) “IRA planning tips for changes associated with the SECURE and CARES acts”

 

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Would an Early Retirement and Early Social Security Be Smart?

For older employees who are laid off as a result of the pandemic, the idea of an early retirement and taking Social Security benefits early may seem like the best or only way forward. However, cautions Forbes in the article “Should You Take Social Security Earlier Than Planned If You’re Laid Off Due to COVID-19?,” this could be a big mistake with long-term repercussions.

In the recession that began in 2008, there were very few jobs for older workers. As a result, many had no choice but to take Social Security early. The problem is that taking benefits early means a smaller benefit.

In 2009, one year after the market took a nosedive, as many as 42.4 percent of 62-year-olds signed up for Social Security benefits. By comparison, in 2008, the number of 62-year-olds who took Social Security benefits was 37.6 percent.

You can start taking Social Security early and then stop it later. However, there are other options for those who are strapped for cash.

There is a new tool from the IRS that allows taxpayers to update their direct deposit information to get their stimulus payment faster and track when to expect it. There is also a separate tool for non-tax filers.

Apply for unemployment insurance. Yes, the online system is coping with huge demand, so it is going to take more than a little effort and patience. However, unemployment insurance is there for this very same purpose. Part of the economic stimulus package extends benefits to gig workers, freelancers and the self-employed, who are not usually eligible for unemployment.

Consider asking a family member for a loan, or a gift. Any individual is allowed to give someone else up to $15,000 a year with no tax consequences. Gifts that are larger require a gift tax return, but no tax is due. The amount is simply counted against the amount that any one person can give tax free during their lifetime. That amount is now over $11 million. By law, you can accept a loan from a family member up to $10,000 with no paperwork. After that amount, you’ll need a written loan agreement that states that interest will be charged – at least the minimum AFR—Applicable Federal Rate. An estate planning attorney can help you with this.

Tap retirement accounts—gently. The stimulus package eases the rules around retirement account loans and withdrawals for people who have been impacted by the COVID-19 downturn. The 10% penalty for early withdrawals before age 59½ has been waived for 2020.

If you must take Social Security, you can do so starting at age 62. In normal times, the advice is to tap retirement accounts before taking Social Security, so that your benefits can continue to grow. The return on Social Security continues to be higher than equities, so this is still good advice.

Reference: Forbes (April 15, 2020) “Should You Take Social Security Earlier Than Planned If You’re Laid Off Due to COVID-19?”

 

Information in our blogs is very general in nature and should not be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Please feel free to contact The Wiewel Law Firm to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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