Category: Inheritance

Options in Managing Unequal Inheritances

Options in Managing Unequal Inheritances

Estate planning attorneys aren’t often asked to create estate plans treating heirs unfairly. However, when they do it usually is because a parent is estranged from one child and wishes to leave him or her nothing. When it comes to estate planning, equal isn’t the same as fair, explains the article “Are Unequal Inheritances Fair?” from Advisor Perspectives. There are options in managing unequal inheritances in your estate planning.

An example of this can be seen in the case of a widow with four adult children who asked an estate planning attorney how to approach distributing her assets. Three of her children were high-income earners, already building substantial net worth. A fourth child had mental health issues, limited education, had been in and out of jail and was unable to hold a job.

She understood that her fourth child needed the financial stability the others did not. She wanted to provide some support for him, but knew any money left directly to him would be gone quickly. She was considering leaving money for him in a trust to provide a monthly income stream, but also wanted to be fair to the other three children.

The trust would be the best option. However, there were problems to consider. If the estate were to be divided in four equal parts, the fourth child’s share of the estate would be small, so trustee fees would take a significant amount of the trust. If she left her entire estate for him, it would be more likely he’d have funding for most, if not all, of his adult life.

The worst thing the mother could do was to leave all the funds for the fourth child in a trust without discussing it with the other three siblings. Unequal inheritances can lead to battles between siblings, sometimes bad enough to lead them into a court battle. This is often the case where one child is believed by others to have unduly influenced a parent, when they have inherited all or the lion’s share of the estate.

Sibling fights can occur even when the children know about and understand the need for the unequal distribution. The children may suppress their emotions while the parent is living. However, after the parent dies and the reality sets in, emotions may fire at full throttle. Logically, in this case the three successful siblings may well understand why their troubled sibling needs the funds. However, grief is a powerful emotion and can lead to illogical responses.

In this case, the woman made the decision to leave her estate in equal shares to each child and giving the three successful siblings the options to share part of their inheritance with their brother. She did this by having her estate planning attorney add language in the will stating if any child wanted to disclaim or refuse any of their inheritance, it would pass to a trust set up for the troubled sibling. This gave each child the opportunity to help or not.

Was it a perfect solution? Perhaps not, but it was the best possible solution given the specific circumstances for this family. Speak with your estate planning attorney about your options in managing unequal inheritances. If you would like to learn more about inheritances, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Advisor Perspectives (Aug. 22, 2022) “Are Unequal Inheritances Fair?”

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Estate Planning is critical for Blended Families

Today, a blended family is more common than ever, with stepfamily members, half-siblings, former spouses, new spouses and every combination of parents, children and partners imaginable. Traditional estate planning, including wills and non-probate tools like transfer on death (TOD) documents, as valuable as they are, may not be enough for the blended family, advises a recent article titled “Legal-Ease: Hers, his and ours—blended family estate planning” from limaohio.com. Estate planning is critical for blended families.

Not too long ago, when most people didn’t take advantage of the power of trusts, couples often went for estate plans with “mirror” wills, even those with children from prior marriages. Their wills basically said each spouse would leave the other spouse everything. This will would be accompanied by a contract stating neither would change their will for the rest of their lives. If there was a subsequent marriage after one spouse passed, this led to problems for the new couple, since the surviving spouse was legally bound not to change their will.

As an illustration, Bob has three children from his first marriage and Sue has two kids from her first marriage. They marry and have two children of their own. Their wills stipulate they’ll leave each other everything when the first one dies. There may have been some specific language about what would happen to the children from the first marriages, but just as likely this would not have been addressed.

It sounds practical enough, but in this situation, the children from the first spouse to die were at risk of being disinherited, unless plans were made for them to inherit from their biological parent.

Todays’ blended family benefits from the use of trusts, which are designed to protect each spouse, their children and any child or children they have together. There are a number of different kinds of trusts for use by spouses only to protect children and surviving spouses.

Trust law requires the trustee—the person who is in charge of administering the trust—to give a copy of the trust to each beneficiary. The trustee is also required to provide updates to beneficiaries about the assets in the trust.

A surviving spouse will most likely serve as the trustee when the first spouse passes and will have a legal responsibility to honor the shared wishes of the first spouse to pass.

If you and your new spouse have created a blended family, it is critical to evaluate your estate planning. Your estate planning attorney will be able to explain the many different types of spousal trusts, and which is best for your situation. If you would like to learn more about estate planning for blended families, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: limaohio.com (Aug. 20, 2022) “Legal-Ease: Hers, his and ours—blended family estate planning”

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The Risks of Creating Your Own Estate Plan

The Risks of Creating Your Own Estate Plan

Everyone should have an estate plan and it is wise to consult an estate planning attorney to create your plan. But not everyone wants to take the time. Some even feel they can do it just fine themselves. We call it the brother-in-law syndrome: your brother-in-law knows everything, even though he doesn’t. He tells anyone who’ll listen how much money he’s saved by doing things himself. Sadly, it’s the family who has to make things right after the do-it-yourself estate plan fails. This is the message from a recent article titled “Dangers of Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning” from Coastal Breeze News. It is vital that you understand the risks of creating your own estate plan.

Online estate planning documents are dangerous for what they leave out. An estate plan prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney takes care of the individual while they are living, as well as taking care of distributing assets after they die. Many online forms are available. However, they are often limited to wills, and an estate plan is far more than a last will and testament.

An estate planning attorney knows you need a will, power of attorney, health care power of attorney, a living will and possibly trusts. These are essential protections needed but often overlooked by the do-it-yourselfer.

A Power of Attorney allows you to name a person to manage your personal affairs, if you are incapacitated. It allows your agent to handle your banking, investments, pay bills and take care of your property. There is no one-size-fits-all Power of Attorney. You may wish to give a spouse the power to take over most of your accounts. However, you might also want someone else to be in charge of selling your shares in a business. A Power of Attorney drafted by an estate planning attorney will be created to suit your unique needs. POAs also vary by state, so one purchased online may not be valid in your jurisdiction.

You also need a Health Care Power of Attorney or a Health Care Surrogate. This is a person named to make medical decisions for you, if you are too sick or injured to do so. These documents also vary by state,. There’s no guarantee that a general form will be accepted by a healthcare provider. An estate planning attorney will create a valid document.

A Living Will is, and should be, a very personalized document to reflect your wishes for end-of-life care. Some people don’t want any measures taken to keep them alive if they are in a vegetative state, for instance, while others want to be kept alive as long as there is evidence of brain activity. Using a standard form negates your ability to make your wishes known.

If the Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney or Living Will documents are not prepared properly, declared invalid or are missing, the family will need to go to court to obtain a guardianship, which is the legal right to make decisions on your behalf. Guardianships are expensive and intrusive. If your incapacity is temporary, you’ll need to undo the guardianship when you are recovered. Otherwise, you have no legal rights to conduct your own life.

DIYers are also fond of setting up property and accounts so they are Payable on Death (POD) or Transfer on Death (TOD) accounts. This only works if the beneficiaries outlive the original owner. If the beneficiary dies first, then the asset goes to the beneficiary’s children. Many financial institutions won’t actually allow certain accounts to be set up this way.

Another risk of creating your own estate plan: real estate. Putting children on the title as owners with rights of survivorship sounds like a reasonable solution. However, if the children predecease the original owner, their children will be rightful owners. If one grandchild doesn’t want to sell the property and another grandchild does, things can turn ugly and expensive. If heirs of any generation have creditors, liens may be placed on the property and no sale can happen until the liens are satisfied.

With all of these sleight of hand attempts at DIY estate planning comes the end all of all problems: taxes.

When children are added to a title, it is considered a gift and the children’s ownership interest is taxed as if they bought into the property for what the parent spent. When the parent dies and the estate is settled, the children have to pay income taxes on the difference between their basis and what the property sells for. It is better if the children inherit the property, as they’d get a step-up in basis and avoid the income tax problem.

Finally, there’s the business of putting all the assets into one child’s name, with the handshake agreement they’ll do the right thing when the time comes. There’s no legal recourse if the child decides not to share according to the parent’s verbal agreement.

Don’t take the risk of creating your own estate plan. A far easier, less complicated answer is to make an appointment with an estate planning attorney, have the correct documents created properly and walk away when your brother-in-law starts talking. If you would like to learn more about the risks of DIY planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Coastal Breeze News (Aug. 4, 2022) “Dangers of Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning”

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Key Documents Every College Kid Needs

Key Documents Every College Kid Needs

In the United States, as soon as a minor turns 18, they’re typically considered a legal adult. As a result, parents no longer have any authority to make decisions for their child, including financial and health care decisions. That is why there are key documents every college kid needs.

Yahoo’s recent article entitled “Don’t Let Your Child Leave for College Without Signing Three Critical Documents” asks what if your adult child becomes sick or is in an accident and ends up hospitalized?

Because of privacy laws, known as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), you wouldn’t have any rights to get any information from the hospital regarding your child’s condition. Yes, we know you’re her mother. However, that’s the law!

You also wouldn’t have the ability to access his or her medical records or intercede on your child’s behalf regarding medical treatment and care.

If your child’s unable to communicate with doctors, you’d also have to ask a judge to appoint you as your child’s guardian before being able to be told of his or her condition and to make any healthcare decisions for them.

While this is hard when your child is still living at home, it’s a huge headache if your child is attending college away from home.

However, there’s a relatively easy fix to address this issue:

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about drafting three legal documents for your child to sign:

  • A Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) for Health Care. This document designates the parent as your child’s patient advocate.
  • A HIPAA Authorization gives you access to your child’s medical records and lets you to discuss his or her health condition with doctors.
  • A DPOA for Financial Matters, designates the parent as your child’s agent, so that you can manage your child’s financial affairs, including things like banking and bill paying, in case your child becomes sick or injured, or is unable to act for any reason.

If you are a parent, it is imperative that you consider these key documents that every college kid needs. If you would like to read more about estate planning for young adults, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference:  Yahoo (Aug. 2, 2022) “Don’t Let Your Child Leave for College Without Signing Three Critical Documents”

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Estate Planning should include Consideration of Income Tax

Estate Planning should include Consideration of Income Tax

While estate taxes may only be of concern for mega-rich Americans now, in a relatively short time, the federal exemption rate is scheduled to drop precipitously. Estate planning underway now should include consideration of income tax issues, especially basis, according to a recent article titled “Be Mindful of Income Tax in Estate Planning, Particularly Basis” from National Law Journal.

Because of these upcoming changes, plans and trusts put into effect under current law may no longer efficiently work for income tax and tax basis issues.

Planning to avoid taxes has become less critical in recent years, when the federal estate tax exemption is $10 million per taxpayer indexed to inflation. However, the new tax laws have changed the focus from estate tax planning to coming tax planning and more specifically, to “basis” planning. Ignore this at your peril—or your heirs may inherit a tax disaster.

“Basis” is an oft-misunderstood concept used to determine the amount of taxable income resulting when an asset is sold. The amount of taxable income realized is equal to the difference between the value you received at the sale of the asset minus your basis in the asset.

There are three key rules for how basis is determined:

Purchased assets: the buyer’s basis is the investment in the asset—the amount paid at the time of purchase. Here’s where the term “cost basis” comes from

Gifts: The recipient’s basis in the gift property is generally equal to the donor’s basis in the property. The giver’s basis is viewed as carrying over to the recipient. This is where the term “carry over basis” comes from, when referring to the basis of an asset received by gift.

Inherited Assets: The basis in inherited property is usually set to the fair market value of the asset on the date of the decedent’s death. Any gains or losses after this date are not realized. The heir could conceivably sell the asset immediately and not pay income taxes on the sale.

The adjustment to basis for inherited assets is usually called “stepped up basis.”

Basis planning requires you to review each asset on its own, to consider the expected future appreciation of the asset and anticipated timeline for disposing the asset. Tax rates imposed on income realized when an asset is sold vary based on the type of asset. There is an easy one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to basis planning.

Estate planning requires adjustments over time, especially in light of tax law changes. This is why estate planning should include consideration of income tax issues. Speak with your estate planning attorney, if your estate plan was created more than five years ago. Many of those strategies and tools may or may not work in light of the current and near-future tax environment. If you would like to learn more about tax issues related to estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: National Law Review (July 22, 2022) “Be Mindful of Income Tax in Estate Planning, Particularly Basis”

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Grounds for Contesting a Will

Grounds for Contesting a Will

As a beneficiary of a will, if you don’t agree with how the assets are being distributed, you may have grounds for contesting the will. MSN’s recent article entitled “Contesting a Will? You Might Not Need a Lawyer” says to do this you must have a legitimate legal reason to challenge the will, such as one of the most common arguments:

  • Lack of mental capacity. If the person making the will (the “testator”) wasn’t “of sound mind,” he or she may not understand their decisions. The testator must be able to understand what they own, who their natural heirs are and what they are giving and to whom.
  • Fraud, undue influence, or forgery. Some people are tricked into signing a will, are forced to create a will under duress, or have their signature forged.
  • Multiple wills. In this situation, the one that was made most recently is often the one that the courts will decide is valid. However, wills created immediately before death may be contested due to undue influence, lack of mental capacity, or other reasons.
  • The state requirements aren’t met. Every state has specific requirements as to what must be in a will, the way in which it’s signed and the number of witnesses required. If these elements aren’t met, then the will may not be valid.
  • Location. Some states may not recognize wills created in another state.

To contest the will, you must have grounds, or legal standing, which means you must meet one of these requirements:

  • A prior will designates you as a beneficiary;
  • The current will designates you as a beneficiary;
  • You’re the beneficiary of a more recent will made after the one in question; or
  • You would be an heir if there was no will, and the state’s laws of intestacy were applied.

Your attorney will next file a petition in the state probate court where the estate is under probate. This tells the probate court that you are a beneficiary and the estate that you are contesting the will. If your case is not settled, it goes to court where you’ll make your argument as to why the will should be changed. The court will decide the outcome of your case.

A way to keep family members  from fighting over an estate is add a no-contest clause into the will. This disinherits any beneficiary who challenges a will, if their challenge fails. In order words, if you don’t win your challenge, you get nothing from the estate. If you would like to read more about wills and probate, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: MSN (May 30, 2022) “Contesting a Will? You Might Not Need a Lawyer”

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Spendthrift Trust has Restrictions to protect Heirs

Spendthrift Trust has Restrictions to protect Heirs

There are situations when you want to care for your children in your will. However, you know they’d just blow their inheritance in just a few years. That’s when a spendthrift trust is useful. A spendthrift trust is a type of trust that has restrictions to protect immature heirs from both themselves and potential creditors.

US News’ recent article entitled “What Is a Spendthrift Trust?” explains that a spendthrift trust lets you  leave funds to a beneficiary, without giving them full control over those funds. Instead, a trustee is given the authority to distribute funds for the benefit of a beneficiary.

This type of trust is created to protect a beneficiary from squandering the wealth bequeathed to them or was left to them

Speak with an estate attorney and talk in detail about your concerns. Ask the attorney to draft this document for you.

The attorney can write into the trust certain rules, such as that an heir may be required to reach a certain age before they start receiving payments, or that the heir receives installments at certain life stages.

If you have an heir or someone you want to leave an inheritance who is immature, irresponsible, or underage, a spendthrift trust can give you some control and power over how and when the money is spent.

A spendthrift trust can also try to limit access to the funds by creditors. The objective is to keep other people from accessing the funds set aside for the beneficiary.

It’s the goal of the original trust creator to protect their beneficiary’s assets from other people. This might be a creditor or even an ex-spouse.

Note that the laws regarding spendthrift trusts vary from state to state, so work with a local estate planning attorney.

The ability of a creditor to access assets in the trust will to depend on state law. Every state has different rules regarding their respect for the spendthrift trust.

A spendthrift trust that has restrictions to protect heirs can be a critical component in your heirs future success. One of the critical tasks in setting up a successful spendthrift trust is the person who is named as the trustee of the funds. That person can have some discretion when distributing the funds, so it needs to be an individual you can trust over the long term. That’s why partnering with an experienced estate planning attorney who’s truly an expert in that field is so important. If you would like to read more about these types of trusts, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: US News (June 28, 2022) “What Is a Spendthrift Trust?”

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Marital Trusts have multiple Benefits

Marital Trusts have multiple Benefits

Marital trusts have multiple benefits for beneficiaries, including asset allocation and tax benefits.  They are worth looking at in your estate plan.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Guide To Marital Trusts” says that a marital trust is an irrevocable trust that allows you to transfer a deceased spouse’s assets to the surviving spouse without paying any taxes. The trust also protects assets from creditors and future spouses that the surviving spouse may encounter.

When the surviving spouse dies, the assets in the trust aren’t included as part of their estate. That will keep the taxes on their estate lower.

There are three parties involved in setting up, maintaining and ultimately passing along the trust, including a grantor, who is the person who establishes the trust; the trustee, who’s the person or organization that manages the trust and its assets; and the beneficiary. That’s the person who will eventually receive the assets in the trust, once the grantor dies.

A marital trust also involves the principal, which are assets initially put into the trust.

A marital trust doubles the couple’s estate tax exemption limit, especially when almost all assets are owned by one spouse. Estate tax refers to the federal tax that must be paid on someone’s estate after they die. The estate tax limit is how much of an estate will be tax-free. In 2022, the estate tax limit is $12.06 million, which means utilizing a marital trust would essentially double that amount to $24.12 million. Therefore, about $24 million of a couple’s net worth would be shielded from estate taxes by taking advantage of a marital trust.

A marital trust is also beneficial because it can provide income to the surviving spouse, tax-free.

Only a surviving spouse can be a beneficiary of a marital trust. When the surviving spouse dies, the trust will then be passed on to whomever the first spouse’s will or trust governs.

If keeping wealth within your family after you die is important, then a marital trust is an estate planning tool that will make certain that individuals outside of your family don’t have access to the wealth. You can put a variety of assets into a marital trust, including property, retirement accounts and investment accounts.

Marital trusts have multiple benefits for your heirs and is a legal tool to consider using when planning for a blended family. If you would like to learn more about marital trusts, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (June 30, 2022) “Guide To Marital Trusts”

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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 Texas Trust Law to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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