Category: Community Property

Steps to Ensure a Smooth Probate

Steps to Ensure a Smooth Probate

What can you do to help heirs have a smooth transition when settling your estate? Probate can be a costly and time consuming process. There are steps you can take to ensure a smooth probate. A recent article from The Community Voice, “Managing probate when setting up your estate,” provides some recommendations.

Joint accounts. Married couples can own property as joint tenancy, which includes a right of survivorship. When one of the spouses dies, the other becomes the owner and the asset doesn’t have to go through probate. In some states, this is called tenancy by the entirety, in which married spouses each own an undivided interest in the whole property with the right of survivorship. They need content from the other spouse to transfer their ownership interest in the property. Some states allow community property with right of survivorship.

There are some vulnerabilities to joint ownership. A potential heir could claim the account is not a “true” joint account, but a “convenience” account whereby the second account owner was added solely for financial expediency. The joint account arrangement with right of survivorship may also not align with the estate plan.

Payment on Death (POD) and Transfer on Death (TOD) accounts. These types of accounts allow for easy transfer of bank accounts and securities. If the original owner lives, the named beneficiary has no right to claim account funds. When the original owner dies, all the named beneficiary need do is bring proper identification and proof of the owner’s death to claim the assets. This also needs to align with the estate plan to ensure that it achieves the testator’s wishes.

Gifting strategies. In 2022, taxpayers may gift up to $16,000 to as many people as you wish before owing taxes. This is a straight-forward way to reduce the taxable estate. Gifts over $ 16,000 may be subject to federal gift tax and count against your lifetime gift tax exclusion. The lifetime individual gift tax exemption is currently at $12.06 million, although few Americans need worry about this level.

Revocable living trusts. Trusts are used to take assets out of the taxable estate and place them in a separate legal entity having specific directions for asset distributions. A living trust, established during your lifetime, can hold whatever assets you want. A “pour-over will” may be used to add additional assets to the trust at death, although the assets “poured over” into the trust at death are still subject to probate.

The trust owns the assets. However, with a revocable living trust, the grantor (the person who created the trust) has full control of the assets. When the grantor dies, the trust becomes an irrevocable trust and assets are distributed by a successor trustee without being probated. This provides privacy for the beneficiary and saves on court costs.

Trusts are not for do-it-yourselfers. An experienced estate planning attorney is needed to create the trust and ensure that it follows complex tax rules and regulations. Taking the steps needed to ensure you have a smooth probate process will give you peace of mind. If you would like to learn more about the probate process, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Community Voice (Nov. 11, 2022) “Managing probate when setting up your estate”

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya

 

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Community Property Trust is Potential Tool

Community Property Trust is Potential Tool

Where you live matters for estate planning, since laws regarding estate planning are state specific. The same is true for taxes, especially for married couples, says a recent article “How Community Property Trusts Can Benefit Married Couples” from Kiplinger. A community property trust is a potential tool to consider in your planning.

There are two different types of basic ownership law for married couples: common law and community property law. Variances can be found across states, but some general rules apply to all. If a state is not a community property state, it’s a common-law state.

Community property states have a tax advantage for assets when one spouse dies. But if you live in a common-law state, don’t worry: several states have now passed statutes allowing married couples living in a common-law state to establish a community property trust with a qualified trustee. They can gain a step-up in cost basis at each death, which previously was not allowed in common-law states.

First, let’s explain what community property means. Each member of the married couple owns one half of all the property of the couple, with full rights of ownership. All property acquired during a marriage is usually community property, with the exception of property from an inheritance or received as a gift. However, laws vary in the community property states regarding some ownership matters. For example, a spouse can identify some property as community property without the consent of the other spouse.

Under federal law, all community property (which includes both the decedent’s one-half interest in the community property and the surviving spouse’s one-half interest in the community property) gets a new basis at the death of the first spouse equal to its fair market value. The cost basis is stepped up, and assets can be sold without recognizing a capital gain.

Property in the name of the surviving spouse can receive a second step-up in basis. However, there’s no second step-up for assets placed into irrevocable trusts before the second death. This includes a trust set up to shelter assets under the lifetime estate tax exemption or to qualify assets for the unlimited marital deduction. This is often called “A-B” trust planning.

Under common law, married couples own assets together or individually. When the first spouse dies, assets in the decedent spouse’s name or in the name of a revocable trust are stepped-up. Assets owned jointly at death receive a step-up in basis on only half of the property. Assets in the surviving spouse’s name only are not stepped-up. However, when the surviving spouse dies, assets held in their name get another step-up in basis.

To date, five common-law states have passed community property trust statutes to empower a married couple to convert common-law property into community property. They include Alaska, Florida, Kentucky, South Dakota and Tennessee.

The community property trust allows married couples living in the resident state and others living in common-law states to obtain a stepped-up basis for all assets they own at the first death. Those who live in common-law states not permitting this trust solution can still execute a community property trust in a community property state. However, they will first need to appoint a qualified trustee in the state.

For this potential tool to work, a community property trust needs to be prepared properly by an experienced estate planning attorney, who will also be able to advise the couple whether there are any other means of achieving these and other tax planning goals. If you would like to learn more about community property, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (Sep. 18, 2022) “How Community Property Trusts Can Benefit Married Couples”

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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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