Category: Couples

Updating Beneficiaries after Gray Divorce

Updating Beneficiaries after Gray Divorce

Navigating the complexities of estate planning after a mid- to late-life divorce, or “gray divorce,” requires meticulous attention to detail and proactive measures, according to Kiplinger’s article, Don’t Forget to Update Beneficiaries After a Gray Divorce. Updating beneficiaries after a gray divorce is critical to estate planning. This article explores essential considerations for those undergoing a gray divorce, emphasizing the importance of reevaluating estate plans to reflect current intentions and relationships.

While family law attorneys primarily focus on asset division during divorce proceedings, it’s imperative to consider the fate of these assets post-divorce, particularly concerning beneficiaries. Updating beneficiaries on investment accounts, retirement funds and life insurance policies is paramount. Failure to do so could result in unintended consequences, potentially leaving assets to a former spouse.

Many states have statutes that automatically revoke a former spouse as a beneficiary post-divorce. However, these laws vary, and some exceptions exist, notably under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) plans. Understanding the nuances of state laws and ERISA regulations is vital to ensure compliance and avoid costly mistakes.

In some divorces, waivers might be used in decrees to address survivorship benefits related to retirement plans. The effectiveness of these waivers relies on adherence to plan documents and detailed planning. Consulting with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney and incorporating specific language in property settlement agreements can mitigate risks and ensure comprehensive protection of assets.

Key Takeaways:

  • Proactive Approach: Do not wait until after your divorce is finalized to update your beneficiaries. Proactively review and revise beneficiary designations on all relevant accounts.
  • Understanding State Laws: Familiarize yourself with your state’s automatic revocation laws and how they affect beneficiary designations. Ensure that these laws align with your post-divorce intentions.
  • Consulting with Professionals: Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to navigate the complexities of beneficiary updates and ensure compliance with state laws and ERISA regulations.
  • Detailed Planning: Use specific language in property settlement agreements to address survivorship benefits associated with retirement plans and other assets. Attention to detail is essential to avoid potential conflicts and ensure that your wishes are upheld.

In conclusion, updating beneficiaries after a gray divorce is critical to estate planning. By taking proactive measures, understanding relevant laws and seeking professional guidance, you can protect your assets and secure the financial future of your loved ones. Ready to embark on your post-divorce estate planning journey? Schedule a consultation today and gain peace of mind knowing that your assets are in trusted hands. If you would like to learn more about divorce and reevaluating your estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (April 15, 2024) Don’t Forget to Update Beneficiaries After a Gray Divorce

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Topics You need to Address before a Mid-Life Marriage

Topics You need to Address before a Mid-Life Marriage

Today’s wedding couple is as likely to be 30 or 50 years old as they are to be in their twenties. This trend underscores the importance of having open discussions about finances and retirement before exchanging vows. A recent article from Next Avenue, “The Talk Over-50s Should Have Before Tying the Knot.” Whether you’re getting married for the first time or the second, being closer to retirement has major financial implications. There are topics you need to address before a mid-life marriage.

The most important thing is to disclose each person’s financial situation completely. For some people, this includes their retirement goals and lifestyle choices. What are the potential healthcare issues? Is there debt to be considered? How are each managing their investments?

If both people own homes, a plan for going forward needs to ask a simple question: where will the couple live? Will one sell their home or turn it into a rental property? If it is sold, will the seller retain all the income, or will they buy into ownership of the joint residence? Emotional attachments to homes can make this a difficult discussion, but it needs to be addressed.

Getting married changes each spouse’s legal status, meaning estate plans must be updated. If both have an existing estate plan, it needs to be reviewed. Powers of Attorney, Healthcare Proxy, and other estate planning documents must also be updated.

While reviewing and revising estate plans, don’t neglect to check on any accounts with named beneficiaries. More than a few ex-spouses have received insurance proceeds or accounts because someone neglected to update these accounts. The named beneficiary overrides anything in your will, which is critical to updating the estate plan.

If you both have children from prior marriages, meeting with an estate planning attorney to determine how to manage property distribution is another critical step before getting married. You may wish to create and fund trusts before marriage, so assets remain separate property. There are as many different types of trusts as there are family situations, from keeping assets separate to providing for a surviving spouse while ensuring biological children receive their inheritance (SLAT), or family trusts where assets are moved into the trust for the surviving spouse to allocate assets to heirs based on their needs.

Social Security planning should also be part of the discussion. If one spouse is a widow who was receiving survivor benefits, they could lose those benefits when they get married.

Talk with an estate planning attorney to address these topics before a mid-life marriage. That way you fully understand your situation and ensure you and your spouse are ready for the changes and challenges of your senior years together. If you would like to learn more about mid-life or second marriages and estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Next Avenue (March 14, 2024) “The Talk Over-50s Should Have Before Tying the Knot”

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Senior Property Tax Exemption can provide Relief

Senior Property Tax Exemption can provide Relief

Estate planning and elder law attorneys often help retirees face unique challenges, such as how to afford their property’s rising values and real estate taxes on a fixed income. However, there’s good news: several states offer a senior property tax exemption, which can provide much-needed relief. Based on The Mortgage Reports’ article, “Property Tax Exemption for Seniors: What Is It and How to Claim It,” we look closely at the exemption and if it might work for you.

Only proactive seniors who ask their state, county, or city agency about tax breaks know if their state has a property tax exemption and if they qualify. The states with tax exemptions for homeowners ages 65 and older, like New York or Washington, likely won’t tell you if you qualify. If your state offers this tax break, claiming it is simpler than you might think.

What exactly are senior property tax exemptions? These exemptions are a lifeline for individuals aged 65 or older, reducing the burden of property taxes on their wallets. While property taxes are notoriously unpopular, especially among retirees on fixed incomes, these exemptions offer hope. The exemption helps seniors on fixed incomes by reducing the property value on which homeowners at least 65 years of age pay taxes. The tax rate remains the same for everyone: the reduced taxable value of property or properties. In some states, your tax exemption increases as you age.

States that offer a property exemption can reduce taxes based on a percentage or dollar amount. The amount seniors save varies by location, what they qualify for and their property value.

Senior property tax exemptions vary by state. In most states, you must meet minimum age requirements and prove that you occupy the home as your primary residence. The minimum age threshold varies from state to state, ranging from 61 to 65.  Income limit requirements also often exist. A higher income might disqualify you or reduce your exemption.

To claim your exemption, you must apply with your local tax office. Deadlines vary, so make sure to check your state’s requirements. Most states have websites where you can find the necessary forms and instructions.

Each state has its own set of rules and benefits regarding senior property tax exemptions. Some counties offer additional tax savings. By working with a local estate planning or elder law attorney, you can incorporate additional tax-saving strategies into your estate plan. Understanding your local rules and taking advantage of any available exemptions is essential.

The senior property tax exemption can provide much-needed tax relief for fixed-income budgets. By understanding the eligibility criteria, filing on time, and exploring state-specific benefits, you can lighten the burden of property taxes and enjoy a more financially secure retirement. If you would like to learn more about property taxes and estate planning, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The Mortgage Reports (Jan 29, 2024) “Property Tax Exemption for Seniors: What It Is and How to Claim It.

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The Estate of The Union Season 3|Episode 6

The Estate of The Union Season 3|Episode 3 is out now!

The Estate of The Union Season 3|Episode 3 is out now! Taxes come in all favors. Sales taxes, excise taxes, capital gains taxes, etc. We are all concerned about our income taxes as we approach April 15th. Many of us will believe we pay way too much, and nobody will feel like they should pay more! But there’s another tax to be concerned about: The Death Tax.

 In this edition of The Estate of the Union, Brad Wiewel dissects the Death tax and it’s first cousin, the Gift Tax and explains them in a way that everyone can understand. He also sheds like on what is going to happen on January 1, 2026 – unless Congress changes the law; so, stand by!

 

In each episode of The Estate of The Union podcast, host and lawyer Brad Wiewel will give valuable insights into the confusing world of estate planning, making an often daunting subject easier to understand. It is Estate Planning Made Simple! The Estate of The Union Season 3|Episode 3 is out now! The episode can be found on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or anywhere you get your podcasts. If you would prefer to watch the video version, please visit our YouTube page. Please click on the links to listen to or watch the new installment of The Estate of The Union podcast. We hope you enjoy it.

The Estate of The Union Season |Episode 3

 

Texas Trust Law focuses its practice exclusively in the area of wills, probate, estate planning, asset protection, and special needs planning. Brad Wiewel is Board Certified in Estate Planning and Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. We provide estate planning services, asset protection planning, business planning, and retirement exit strategies.

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Bypass Trust is a pivotal Estate Planning Tool

Bypass Trust is a pivotal Estate Planning Tool

A bypass trust, also known as a credit shelter trust or B trust, is a pivotal estate planning tool. It’s designed to help minimize estate taxes and ensure that a larger portion of your assets reaches your intended beneficiaries. A bypass trust works by allowing a surviving spouse to benefit from the trust assets during their lifetime, while preserving the trust principal for the next generation.

One of the primary benefits of a bypass trust is its ability to shield assets from estate taxes. This trust type strategically utilizes the federal estate tax exemption, allowing couples to effectively double the amount exempted from estate taxes. When one spouse passes away, the assets up to the estate tax exemption amount can be transferred into the bypass trust, thus reducing the taxable estate of the surviving spouse.

In the bypass trust arrangement, the trust is split into two separate trusts when the first spouse dies. The survivor’s trust is revocable and contains the surviving spouse’s share of the estate, while the deceased spouse’s share is transferred into the bypass trust, which becomes irrevocable. This separation allows for efficient estate tax management.

The surviving spouse plays a crucial role in a bypass trust. They have access to the trust income and, in some cases, the principal for certain needs. However, the trust assets remain in the trust and are not considered part of the surviving spouse’s estate, thus avoiding estate taxes upon their death.

Selecting a trustee for a bypass trust is an essential decision. The trustee manages the trust assets and ensures that they are used according to the terms of the trust. It’s essential to choose someone who is trustworthy and understands the financial and legal responsibilities involved.

Setting up a bypass trust requires careful planning and drafting by an experienced estate planning attorney. The trust document must outline the terms of the trust, including how the assets will be managed and distributed. This process also involves making decisions about beneficiaries and trustees.

Bypass trusts are closely tied to tax law, particularly federal estate tax laws. How a bypass trust is structured can significantly impact the estate taxes owed. Understanding current tax laws and how they affect your estate plan is crucial.

A bypass trust is most beneficial for couples with substantial assets that exceed the federal estate tax exemption amount. It’s an effective way to reduce estate taxes and ensure that more of your estate goes to your beneficiaries rather than to tax payments.

The landscape of estate planning and tax law is constantly evolving. It’s important to stay informed about changes in the law and how they may impact your estate plan. A bypass trust remains a relevant and pivotal tool in many estate planning strategies.

If you’re considering a bypass trust as part of your estate plan, consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney is essential. They can help you understand if a bypass trust is the right option for your situation and guide you through the process of setting one up. If you would like to learn more about bypass trusts and estate taxes, please visit our previous posts. 

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Divorce Impacts your Estate Plan

Divorce Impacts your Estate Plan

Divorce is a life-altering event that significantly impacts various aspects of life, including your estate plan. Clients either going through a divorce or have recently finalized one often feel uncertain about how the divorce will affect their estate. This article shares crucial aspects of revising your estate plan after a divorce, ensuring that your assets and loved ones are protected according to your current wishes.

When you get divorced, updating your estate plan is imperative, as your ex-spouse may still be entitled to certain benefits. Your estate, which includes all assets owned, might still be accessible to your ex-spouse unless changes are made. Revising your estate plan ensures that your assets are distributed according to your updated preferences. Updating your will is essential after a divorce. Your ex-spouse may still be named as the executor or beneficiary. By revising your will, you can ensure that your estate is administered by someone you trust and that your assets are distributed according to your latest intentions.

Revoking your power of attorney is a critical step post-divorce. Your ex-spouse may be able to make financial and care decisions on your behalf. It’s advisable to appoint someone you trust to handle these matters, ensuring that your affairs are managed according to your current preferences.

Beneficiary designations are often overlooked during estate planning after divorce. It’s crucial to revise these as your ex-spouse might still be listed as a beneficiary on life insurance policies, retirement accounts and other financial instruments. Updating these designations is a simple yet essential step in ensuring that your estate is distributed according to your current wishes. Your ex-spouse is likely named as a trustee or beneficiary if you have a living trust. Post-divorce, you need to revise this document to reflect your current wishes. This might include appointing a new trustee or changing the beneficiaries.

If you have minor children, your estate plan probably includes guardianship designations. Post-divorce, reassess these choices. You might want to name someone other than your ex-spouse as the guardian, ensuring that your children’s care aligns with your current wishes.

State law and the terms of your divorce decree can impact your estate plan. Understanding these implications and ensuring that your estate plan complies with legal requirements is important. An experienced estate planning attorney can provide valuable insights and guidance.

Don’t wait until the divorce is finalized. Start updating your estate plan as soon as the divorce is pending. This proactive approach ensures that your interests are protected throughout the divorce process.

Divorce significantly affects your estate plan, and it’s crucial to take timely action to revise it. Remember, updating your estate plan post-divorce is not just a legal necessity; ensuring that your assets and loved ones are protected according to your current wishes is crucial. Don’t hesitate to seek professional assistance to navigate this complex process. If you would like to read more about estate planning post divorce, please visit our previous posts. 

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Understanding how the Retirement Earnings Test works

Understanding how the Retirement Earnings Test works

It’s tempting to increase income once a wage earner is eligible for Social Security—at age 62—by taking benefits early. However, those benefits are likely to be temporarily reduced because of earned income. The “retirement earnings test” is poorly understood by the public, as reported in an article from CNBC, “Social Security rule for beneficiaries who keep working is ‘poorly understood,’ report finds. This is from a study conducted by the Social Security Advisory Board, a bipartisan, independent federal agency. It helps provide an understanding of how the retirement earnings test works.

According to the study, between 20% and 50% of pre-retirees don’t know their monthly benefits may be lowered if they claim Social Security and keep working.

Even wage earners who know their benefits might be reduced don’t know this is a temporary reduction. As few as 30% to 40% understand the reductions will eventually be added back to their benefits when they reach their full retirement age (FRA).

Here’s how the retirement earnings test works. It applies to Social Security beneficiaries under FRA, generally between ages 66 and 67, depending on their date of birth. A beneficiary under FRA who continues to work will have their benefits cut by $1 for every $2 earned in 2024. The rule applies to income over $22,320.

The rule differs for the year a beneficiary reaches their full retirement age when $1 is deducted for every $3 earned over a separate limit. In 2024, this applies to earnings over $59,520 only for the months before a beneficiary reaches full retirement age.

Today’s wage earners are more likely to remain in or move in and out of the workforce before fully retiring, so this rule will likely impact more people.

The Social Security Administration’s policy directs the field office staff to discuss the retirement earnings test with all applicants. However, this doesn’t always happen, according to the Society Security Advisory Board. These conversations also don’t always happen with prospective beneficiaries who have stopped working.

The report recommends making the information on the Social Security website more accessible and doing the same for related tools on the website.

Misunderstanding the retirement earnings test often influences workers to delay claiming benefits until full retirement age. Waiting to claim at full retirement age means workers receive all the benefits they earned, while those who claim earlier have permanently reduced benefits.

For most people affected by the retirement earnings test, there’s no effect on the amount of their lifetime benefits, but not understanding the rules may keep them from enjoying more income in their senior years.

As beneficiaries continue to work, they also pay Social Security payroll taxes. This could increase their benefits if the earnings fall within their highest earnings years.

Beneficiaries must properly report wages, as the IRS reports wages to the SSA. If it is determined benefits have been overpaid, the SSA will withhold benefits until the sum is recouped. This is a situation to avoid. If you are nearing retirement age, or are considering taking social security early, understanding how the retirement earnings test works can be the difference between paying the bills and being in debt. If you would like to learn more about retirement planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: CNBC (Dec. 20, 2023) “Social Security rule for beneficiaries who keep working is ‘poorly understood,’ report finds

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Estate Planning for Unmarried Senior Couples

Estate Planning for Unmarried Senior Couples

An increasing number of couples at various stages of life are choosing to live together without marrying, making estate planning a bit more challenging. This is especially true when considering estate planning for unmarried senior couples, according to a recent article from Kiplinger, “Estate Planning and the Legal Quirks of Retiree Cohabitation.”

From one perspective, living together without being legally married provides an advantage: you have your own estate plan. You may distribute assets after death with no obligation to leave anything to a partner or their biological children. In many jurisdictions, the law requires spouses to leave a significant portion to their surviving spouse. This doesn’t apply if you’re cohabitating.

However, there are downsides. For example, a surviving unmarried partner doesn’t benefit from inheriting assets without estate taxes. A non-spouse transferring assets may find themselves generating sizable estate or income taxes. To avoid this, your estate planning attorney will discuss tax liability strategies.

Owning real property together can get complicated. Consider an unmarried couple buying a property solely in one person’s name, excluding the partner to sidestep any possible gift taxes. If the sole owner dies, the partner has no claim to the property. The solution could be planning for property rights in the estate plan, possibly leaving the property outright to the partner or in trust for the partner’s use throughout their lifetime. It still has to be planned for in advance of incapacity or, of course, death.

Regarding healthcare communication and directives, special care must be taken to ensure that the couple can be involved in each other’s care and decision-making. By law, decision-making might default to the married spouse or kin. Without a designated healthcare proxy, a cohabitating partner has no legal authority to obtain medical information, make medical decisions, or, in some cases, won’t even have the ability to have access to a hospitalized partner. A healthcare power of attorney is essential for unmarried couples.

For senior couples living together, blending families can be challenging. However, blending finances can be even more complex. Living together later in life can create many concerns if there are former spouses or children from a prior relationship. If a senior decides to marry, they are advised to have a prenuptial agreement so children from previous unions are not disinherited. If a potential spouse has big issues signing such a document, it should raise a red flag to their motivation to marry.

Living together without the legal protection of marriage is an individual decision and may be seen as a means of avoiding legalities. However, it needs to be examined from the perspective of estate planning for the unmarried senior couple, to protect both parties and their families. Couples must prepare for the future, for better or worse, in sickness and health. If you would like to learn more about estate planning for unmarried couples, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 6, 2023) “Estate Planning and the Legal Quirks of Retiree Cohabitation”

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Seniors are missing out on Tax Deductions

Seniors are missing out on Tax Deductions

Many seniors are missing out on tax deductions and tax savings, according to a recent article from The Wall Street Journal, “Four Lucrative Tax Deductions That Seniors Often Overlook.” The tax code is complicated, and changes are frequent.

Since 2017, there have been several major tax changes, including the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the pandemic-era Cares Act and the climate and healthcare package known as the Inflation Reduction Act. Those are just three—there’s been more. Unless you’re a tax expert, chances are you won’t know about the possibilities. However, these four could be very helpful for seniors, especially those living on fixed incomes.

The IRS does offer a community-based program, Tax Counseling for the Elderly. This community-based program includes free tax return preparation for seniors aged 60 and over in low to moderate-income brackets. However, not everyone knows about this program or feels comfortable with an IRS-run tax program.

Here are four overlooked tax deductions for seniors:

Extra standard deduction. Millions of Americans take the standard deduction—a flat dollar amount determined by the IRS, which reduces taxable income—instead of itemizing deductions like mortgage interest and charitable deductions on the 1040 tax form.

In the 2023 tax year, seniors who are 65 or over or blind and meet certain qualifications are eligible for an extra standard deduction in addition to the regular deduction.

The extra standard deduction for seniors for 2023 is $1,850 for single filers or those who file as head of household and $3,000 for married couples, if each spouse is 65 or over filing jointly. This boosts the total standard deduction for single filers and married filing jointly to $15,700 and $30,700, respectively.

IRA contributions by a spouse. Did you know you can contribute earned income to a nonworking or low-earning spouse’s IRA if you file a joint tax return as a married couple? These are known as spousal IRAs and are treated just like traditional IRAs, reducing pretax income. They are not joint accounts—the individual spouse owns each IRA, and you can’t do this with a Roth IRA. There are specific guidelines, such as the working spouse must earn at least as much money as they contributed to both of the couple’s IRAs.

Qualified charitable distributions. Seniors who make charitable donations by taking money from their bank account or traditional IRA and then writing a check from their bank account is a common tax mistake. It is better to use a qualified charitable deduction, or QCD, which lets seniors age 70 ½ and older transfer up to $100,000 directly from a traditional IRA to a charity tax-free. Married couples filing jointly can donate $200,000 annually, and neither can contribute more than $100,000.

The contributions must be made to a qualified 501(c)(3) charity. The donation can’t be from Donor-Advised Funds. This is a great option when you need to take the annual withdrawal, known as a Required Minimum Distribution or RMD, and don’t need the money.

Medicare premium deduction. A self-employed retiree can deduct Medicare premiums even if they don’t itemize. This includes Medicare Part B and D, plus the cost of supplemental Medigap policies or a Medicare Advantage plan. The IRS considers self-employed people who own a business as a sole proprietor (Schedule C), partner (Schedule E), limited liability company member, or S corporation shareholder with at least 2% of the company stock.

Remember, you must have business income to qualify, since you can deduct premiums by only as much as you earn from your business. You also can’t claim the deduction if your health insurance is covered by a retiree medical plan hosted by a former employer or your spouse’s employer’s medical plan.

Seniors should consult with an estate planning attorney make sure they are not missing out on possible tax deductions. If you would like to learn more about tax planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (Nov. 29, 2023) “Four Lucrative Tax Deductions That Seniors Often Overlook”

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RLT can Help with Planning for Incapacity

RLT can Help with Planning for Incapacity

Planning for potential disability and mental incapacity is part of a comprehensive estate plan. Women, in particular, are at a higher risk of becoming disabled, with 44% of women 65 and older having a disability. Most people understand the value of an estate plan. Nevertheless, few know how to that a Revocable Living Trust, or RLT, can help with planning for incapacity, as explained in the article “Incapacity Planning: The Hidden Power Of A Revocable Trust” from Financial Advisor.

Revocable Living Trusts are highly effective tools to protect assets against failing capacity. Although everyone should have both, they can be more powerful and efficient than a financial Power of Attorney. An RLT offers the freedom and flexibility to manage your assets while you can and provides a safety net if you lose capacity by naming a co-trustee who can immediately and easily step in and manage the assets.

Cognitive decline manifests in various ways. Incapacity is not always readily determined, so the trust must include a strong provision detailing when the co-trustee is empowered to take over. It’s common to require a medical professional to determine incapacity. However, what happens if a person suffering cognitive decline resists seeing a doctor, especially if they feel their autonomy is at risk?

Do you need an RLT if you already have a financial Power of Attorney? Yes, for several reasons.

You can express your intentions regarding the management and use of trust assets through the trust. A POA typically authorizes the agent to act on your behalf without specific direction or guidance. A POA authorizes someone to act on your behalf with financial transactions, such as selling a home, representing you and signing documents. The co-trustee is the only one with access to assets owned by the trust, while the POA can manage assets outside of the trust. Having both the POA and RLT is the best option.

Trustees are often viewed as more credible than a POA because RLTs are created with attorney involvement. POAs are often involved in lawsuits for fraud and elder abuse.

Suppose there is an instance of fraud or identity theft. In that case, RLTs provide another layer of protection, since the trust has its own taxpayer ID independent of your taxpayer ID and Social Security number.

Your co-trustee can be the same person as your POA.

Adding a trusted family member as a joint owner to accounts and property provides some protection without the expense of creating a trust. However, it does not create a fiduciary obligation, enforceable by law, for the joint owner to act in the original owner’s best interest. Only POAs or trustees are bound by this requirement.

Once a POA is in place, it is wise to share it with all institutions holding accounts. Most of them require a review and approval process before accepting a POA. Don’t wait until it’s needed, when it will be too late because of incapacity, to have a new one created.

If you know that planning for incapacity is in your family’s future, consider how an RLT can help. Talk with your estate planning attorney about planning to create an RLT and POA to ensure that your assets will be protected in case of incapacity. If you would like to learn more about incapacity planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Financial Advisor (Oct. 18, 2023) “Incapacity Planning: The Hidden Power Of A Revocable Trust”

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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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