Category: Family Farm

Understanding Your Options and Responsibilities when Inheriting a House

Understanding Your Options and Responsibilities when Inheriting a House

Understanding your options and responsibilities is critical when inheriting a house, whether you sell it, keep it, or rent it out. Insights from LendingTree show you how to make the most of your inheritance. Inheriting a house can be a life-changing event with emotional and financial implications.

When inheriting a house, you don’t immediately receive the title in your name. The inheritance process involves probate, where a judge reviews the will and appoints an executor to carry out the deceased’s will. The executor handles responsibilities like insurance, identifying debts or liens and paying utilities. They also distribute belongings and manage property taxes. This ensures that the estate’s assets settle any outstanding debts before you receive ownership.

When you’re in line to inherit a home, there are five steps you should take immediately.

  1. Communicate with the Executor: Establish a clear line of communication with the executor. This will help you learn the necessary information and simplify the transfer process.
  2. Coordinate with Co-Heirs: Work with the others if you are one of several heirs. Avoid costly disputes by deciding whether to sell, keep, or rent the property.
  3. Get an Appraisal: An appraisal calculates the property’s value. This informs your decision to keep, sell, or rent the home while informing you of tax liabilities.
  4. Evaluate Debts: Identify any liens or debts tied to the property and compare them against the house’s value. Understand the financial implications and incorporate that into your decision.
  5. Seek Professional Advice: Consult estate planning attorneys, accountants and financial advisors. These professionals can clarify ownership-related problems, such as debt obligations and inheritance taxes.

Moving into the inherited house can provide a new residence or vacation home. However, this option can be costly due to mortgages, taxes, repairs and insurance. Renting out the property can provide passive income, while keeping it in the family. Buy out other heirs or work with them to share costs and rental income. Selling the house is a straightforward way to obtain immediate cash. The proceeds can help pay off debts tied to the house, and the remaining proceeds will go to the heirs.

If debts and taxes are associated with the house, that doesn’t mean you need to sell. There are many ways to finance the home and keep your inheritance.

  • Mortgage Assumption: Take over the existing mortgage if its terms are better than what you’d get with a new loan. The lender must approve the assumption.
  • New Purchase or Refinance Mortgage: You can obtain a new mortgage or refinance to put the house in your name. This option is particularly useful when the property has a reverse mortgage.Prop
  • Cash-Out Refinance: Refinance the mortgage with a cash-out option to tap into the home’s equity to cover expenses, like buying out heirs or making repairs.
  • Investment Property Loan: Mortgage an investment property if you plan to rent the house.

Key Takeaways:

  • Inheriting a House: The probate court oversees the inheritance process, and the executor handles legal and financial responsibilities.
  • Options: Move in, rent out, or sell the property based on financial goals and agreements with co-heirs.
  • Financing: Explore mortgage assumptions, new or refinanced mortgages and other financing options.

Understanding your options and responsibilities when inheriting a house requires legal, financial and practical knowledge. Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney as soon as you can. If you would like to learn more about inheriting property, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: LendingTree (Nov. 16, 2021) “Inheriting a House? Here’s What to Expect”

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Consider Portability as a Solution for your Surviving Spouse

Consider Portability as a Solution for your Surviving Spouse

If you expect to have a large portion of your unused estate tax exemption remaining, you might consider portability as a solution for your surviving spouse. Portability is a process in which any unused estate tax exemption can be transferred from the deceased spouse to the surviving spouse, according to a recent article from Ag Web, “Use Portability to Avoid a Potential Multi-Million Dollar Estate Mistake.”

What portability helps the surviving spouse to achieve is to put their assets in the best position to be transferred upon their death, to the next generation, with little or no estate taxes being owed.

In 2023, each spouse has a $12.92 million exemption from federal gift and estate taxes, but this high amount is set to drop about $6.6 million per person in 2026. Electing portability now will lock in the high exemption if a spouse dies before December 31, 2025, when the high exemption level ends.

The portability election does not happen automatically, and its critical to take this action, even if all assets were jointly owned and no taxes are owed when the first spouse dies. To elect portability, the surviving spouse must file form 706 Federal Estate Tax Return with the IRS.

Many financial advisors may not believe electing portability is necessary. However, it is. One estate planning attorney advises financial advisors and CPAs to obtain a written document affirming their decision from surviving spouses, if they decline to elect portability.

Portability is relatively recent to married farming couples. This is why many people in the agricultural sector may not be aware of it. An estate planning attorney can help the surviving spouse to file a Form 706. The value of assets may be estimated to the nearest quarter million dollars of value at the first spouse’s death.

Form 706 must be submitted to the IRS within nine months of the first spouses’ death. The deadline can be extended with the use of Form 4768 for an additional six months. However, if the surviving spouse misses the initial deadlines for filing, they can still elect portability up to five years from the date of their spouse’s death, by invoking “Relief under Revenue Procedure 2022-32.”

There were so many applications for extensions made to the IRS that in 2022, the change was made to give surviving spouses more flexibility in applying for portability.

Talk with your estate planning attorney to consider portability as a solution for your surviving spouse. If you would like to learn more about portability, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Ag Web (Jan. 30, 2023) “Use Portability to Avoid a Potential Multi-Million Dollar Estate Mistake.”

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Ideas to improve Business Succession Planning

Ideas to improve Business Succession Planning

Winter is a slower season for farmers and ranchers. It offers family business leaders time to plan for the future. A recent article from Progressive Farmer, “Family Business Matters: Eight Practical Succession Ideas,” lists ideas to improve business succession and estate planning efforts.

Update balance sheets. Families who own land passed through generations don’t always like to show the land at its current fair market value. Even if you intend to never sell the land, creating an estate plan requires an accurate valuation of all assets to minimize the consequences of estate and income taxes.

Chart ownership for the future. Family members often have no understanding of how they will achieve ownership of the business and its assets. Will it be a gift? Will there be taxes to pay? Or will it be a sale? Will they need to buy out non-farming family members? Without clear answers to these and related questions, people may find themselves operating on assumptions, which almost always leads to conflict or family fractures.

Start handing off management tasks sooner, not later. Plan for the transition by starting with discrete business functions. This could be as straightforward as making decisions about equipment, purchasing crop insurance, or enrolling in a Farm Service Agency. This gives the senior generation the ability to delegate and observe, while empowering and more fully engaging the next generation.

Refresh estate planning documents. People often neglect to update estate documents. Review wills, trusts, trustees, beneficiary designations, advance medical directives and power of attorney documents. Are the people named in various roles still appropriate? Does your estate still work, in light of changing tax laws? This should happen at least every three to five years.

Assess tax consequences of exiting the business. Part of retirement funding is the tax liability of leaving the family business. Deferred income, prepaid expenses and fully depreciated equipment can lead to significant tax exposure. Three to five years ahead of your departure, start mapping out a plan with your accountant, estate planning attorney and financial advisor.

Create a relationship between family members and landowners. If you rent property from an absentee landowner, those relationships will be vital to continuing the business. You may not be able to influence the landowner at the time of transition to the next generation. However, establishing relationships with family members who will take over for you can reduce friction.

Communicate the benefits family members will get from working together to maintain the business. Passing land from one generation to the next often means siblings or cousins become business partners, with undivided interests in the land or as shareholders or members of some legal entity. Family members who may not get along will benefit from having a “buy-sell agreement” in place. This spells out how partners can buy out each other’s interest if one or more family members want to sell. Talk with your estate planning attorney to establish an agreement in advance of anyone leaving the business to reduce the potential of family conflict.

These are just a few ideas to improve business succession planning. Discuss your goals with your family and your estate planning attorney so a solid plan is in place. If you are interested in reading more about succession planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Progressive Farmer (Jan. 1, 2023) “Family Business Matters: Eight Practical Succession Ideas”

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Portability can be used to Protect Farm

Portability can be used to Protect Farm

When one of the spouses dies, the surviving spouse can make what is known as a portability election. This means that any unused federal gift or estate tax exemption can be transferred from the deceased spouse to the surviving spouse. Portability can be used to protect the family farm.

Ag Web’s recent article entitled “It’s So Important to Elect ‘Portability’ for Your Farm Estate” explains that this is an election that has to be made proactively, after the death of the first spouse.

You’ll have to file a Form 706 federal estate tax return within two years of death at the latest, even though there’s no tax owed. Under current federal law, portability is available for farm couples to implement through the end of 2025. This the opportunity then “sunsets,” and the provision will no longer be available.

This could really be a multi-million-dollar mistake, if it’s not elected.

Even after two years, the surviving spouse can elect portability (through the end of 2025). However, he or she will incur considerable expense in the process.

You can still file for it, but you’ll pay a user fee that costs about $12,000. You’ll then have to pay an attorney to prepare the paperwork, and that’s probably another $10,000 to $15,000.

As a result, you’re going to pay between $25,000 and $50,000. However, if you’d just filed it within two years of your spouse’s death, you could have avoided those expenses.

Before portability was an option, it was common for husbands and wives to each own about the same amount of assets, or at least the amount of assets that could fully soak up and use each person’s exemption.

Therefore, many farm families are used to seeing farms titled one-half with the husband, one-half to the wife – as tenants in common not husband and wife jointly. That is because in the old days, if you didn’t use the wife’s exemption to cover her assets (if she died first), it would just expire.

Now, with portability, all the assets can flow through to the surviving spouse.

At the first spouse’s death, the survivor files that portability election and then has two exemptions to cover assets. Speak with an estate planning attorney to decide if portability can be used by your family to protect the farm for generations. If you would like to learn more about portability, and other strategies to protect the family farm or ranch, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Ag Web (April 18, 2022) “It’s So Important to Elect ‘Portability’ for Your Farm Estate”

 

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Succession planning for family farm

Succession Planning for Family Farm

If you think it’s bad that 60% of farmers don’t have a will, here’s what’s even worse: 89% don’t have a farm transfer plan, as reported in the recent article “10 Farm Transition and Estate Planning Mistakes from Farm Journal’s Pork Business. Succession planning for the family farm is just as vital as any other business. Here are the ten most commonly made mistakes farmers make. Substitute the word “family-owned business” for farm and the problems created are identical.

Procrastination. Just as production methods have to be updated, so does estate planning. People wait until the perfect time to create the perfect plan, but life doesn’t work that way. Having a plan of some kind is better than none at all. If you die with no plan, your family gets to clean up the mess.

Failing to plan for substitute decision-making and health care directives. Everyone should have power of attorney and health care directive planning. A business or farm that requires your day-in-day-out supervision and decision making could die with you. Name a power of attorney, name an alternate POA and have every detail of operations spelled out. You can have a different person to act as your agent for running the farm and another to make health care decisions, or the same person can take on these responsibilities. Consult with an estate planning attorney to be sure your documents reflect your wishes and speak with family members.

Failing to communicate, early and often. There’s no room for secrecy, if you want your farm or family business to transfer successfully to the next generation. Schedule family meetings on a regular basis, establish agendas, take minutes and consider having an outsider serve as a meeting facilitator.

Treating everyone equally does not fit every situation. If some family members work and live on the farm and others work and live elsewhere, their roles in the future of the farm will be different. An estate planning attorney familiar with farm families will be able to give you suggestions on how to address this.

Not inventorying assets and liabilities. Real property includes land, buildings, fencing, livestock, equipment and bank accounts. Succession planning requires a complete inventory and valuation of all assets. Check on how property is titled to be sure land you intend to leave to children is not owned by someone else. Don’t neglect liabilities. When you pass down the farm, will your children also inherit debt? Everyone needs to know what is owned and what is owed.

Making decisions based on incorrect information. If you aren’t familiar with your state’s estate tax laws, you might be handing down a different sized estate than you think. Here’s an example: in Iowa, there is no inheritance tax due on shares left to a surviving spouse, lineal descendants or charitable, religious, or educational institutions. If you live in Iowa, do you have an estate plan that takes this into consideration? Do you know what taxes will be owed, and how they will be paid?

Lack of liquidity. Death is expensive. Cash may be needed to keep the family farm going between the date of death and the settling of the estate. It is also important to consider who will pay for the funeral, and how? Life insurance is one option.

Disorganization. Making your loved ones go through a post-mortem scavenger hunt is unkind. Business records should be well-organized. Tell the appropriate people where important records can be found. Walk them through everything, including online accounts. Consider using an old-fashioned three-ring binder system. In times of great stress, organization is appreciated.

No team of professionals to provide experience and expertise. The saying “it takes a village” applies to estate planning and farm succession. An accountant, estate planning attorney and financial advisor will more than pay for their services. Without them, your family may be left guessing about the future of the farm and the family.

Thinking your plan is done at any point in time. Like estate planning, succession planning for the family farm is never really finished. Laws change, relationships change and family farms go through changes. An estate plan is not a one-and-done event. It needs to be reviewed and refreshed every few years.

If you are interested in reading more about succession planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Farm Journal’s Pork Business (June 28, 2021) “10 Farm Transition and Estate Planning Mistakes

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Family Farm Requires Complex Planning

The family is at the center of most farms and agricultural businesses. Each family has its own history, values and goals. The family farm requires complex planning. A good place to start the planning process is to take the time to reflect on the family and the farm history, says Ohio County Journal in the recent article “Whole Farm Planning.”

There are lessons to be learned from all generations, both from their successes and disappointments. The underlying values and goals for the entire family and each individual member need to be articulated. They usually remain unspoken and are evident only in how family members treat each other and make business decisions. Articulating and discussing values and goals makes the planning process far more efficient and effective.

An analysis of the current state of the farm needs to be done to determine the financial, physical and personnel status of the business. Is the family farm being managed efficiently? Are there resources not being used? Is the farm profitable and are the employees contributing or creating losses? It is also wise to consider external influences, including environmental, technological, political, and governmental matters.

Five plans are needed. Once the family understands the business from the inside, it’s time to create five plans for the family: business, retirement, estate, transition and investment plans. Note that none of these five stands alone. They must work in harmony to maintain the long-term life of the farm, and one bad plan will impact the others.

Most planning in farms concerns production processes, but more is needed. A comprehensive business plan helps create an action plan for production and operation practices, as well as the financial, marketing, personnel, and risk-management. One method is to conduct a SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats in each of the areas mentioned in the preceding sentence. Create a realistic picture of the entire farm, where it is going and how to get there.

Retirement planning is a missing ingredient for many farm families. There needs to be a strategy in place for the owners, usually the parents, so they can retire at a reasonable point. This includes determining how much money each family member needs for retirement, and the farm’s obligation to retirees. Retirement age, housing and retirement accounts, if any, need to be considered. The goal is to have the farm run profitably by the next generation, so the parent’s retirement will not adversely impact the farm.

Transition planning looks at how the business can continue for many generations. This planning requires the family to look at its current situation, consider the future and create a plan to transfer the farm to the next generation. This includes not only transferring assets, but also transferring control. Those who are retiring in the future must hand over not just the farm, but their knowledge and experience to the next generation.

Estate planning is determining and putting down on paper how the farm assets, from land and buildings to livestock, equipment and debts owed to or by the farm, will be distributed. The complexity of an agricultural business requires the help of a skilled estate planning attorney who has experience working with farm families. The estate plan must work with the transition plan. Family members who are not involved with the farm also need to be addressed: how will they be treated fairly without putting the farm operation in jeopardy?

Investment planning for farm families usually takes the shape of land, machinery and livestock. Some off-farm investments may be wise, if the families wish to save for future education or retirement needs and achieve investment diversification. These instruments may include stocks, bonds, life insurance or retirement accounts. Farmers need to consider their personal risk tolerance, tax considerations and time horizons for their investments.

The family farm requires complex planning, but coordinating your retirement, estate, business and transition goals will give you peace of mind.

If you would like to read more about planning for farm families, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Ohio County Journal (Feb. 11, 2021) “Whole Farm Planning”

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why you need an estate plan

Why You Need an Estate Plan

Here’s why you need an estate plan. It’s always the right time to do your estate planning, but it’s most critical when you have beneficiaries who are minors or with special needs, says the Capital Press in the recent article, “Ag Finance: Why you need to do estate planning.”

While it’s likely that most adult children can work things out, even if it’s costly and time-consuming in probate, minor young children must have protections in place. Wills are frequently written, so the estate goes to the child when he reaches age 18. However, few teens can manage big property at that age. A trust can help, by directing that the property will be held for him by a trustee or executor until a set age, like 25 or 30.

Probate is the default process to administer an estate after someone’s death, when a will or other documents are presented in court and an executor is appointed to manage it. It also gives creditors a chance to present claims for money owed to them. Distribution of assets will occur only after all proper notices have been issued, and all outstanding bills have been paid.

Probate can be expensive. However, wise estate planning can help most families avoid this and ensure the transition of wealth and property in a smooth manner. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about establishing a trust. Farmers can name themselves as the beneficiaries during their lifetime, and instruct to whom it will pass after their death. A living trust can be amended or revoked at any time, if circumstances change.

The title of the farm is transferred to the trust with the farm’s former owner as trustee. With a trust, it makes it easier to avoid probate because nothing’s in his name, and the property can transition to the beneficiaries without having to go to court. Living trusts also help in the event of incapacity or a disease, like Alzheimer’s, to avoid conservatorship (guardianship of an adult who loses capacity). It can also help to decrease capital gains taxes, since the property transfers before their death.

If you have several children, but only two work with you on the farm, an attorney can help you with how to divide an estate that is land rich and cash poor.

If you are interested in learning more about estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Capital Press (December 20, 2018) “Ag Finance: Why you need to do estate planning”

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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