Category: Family

not everyone can contest a will

Not Everyone can Contest a Will

Estate planning documents, like wills and trusts, are enforceable legal documents, but when the grantor who created them passes, they can’t speak for themselves. When a loved one dies is often when the family first learns what the estate plans contain. That is a terrible time for everyone. It can lead to people contesting a will. However, not everyone can contest a will, explains the article “Challenges to wills and trusts” from The Record Courier.

A person must have what is called “standing,” or the legal right to challenge an estate planning document. A person who receives property from the decedent, and was designated in their will as a beneficiary, may file a written opposition to the probate of the will at any time before the hearing of the petition for probate. An “interested person” may also contest the will, including an heir, child, spouse, creditor, settlor, beneficiary, or any person who has a legal property right in or a claim against the estate of the decedent.

Wills and trusts can be challenged by making a claim that the person lacked mental capacity to make the document. If they were sick or so impaired that they did not know what they were signing, or they did not fully understand the contents of the documents, they may be considered incapacitated, and the will or trust may be successfully contested.

Fraud is also used as a reason to challenge a will or trust. Fraud occurs when the person signs a document that didn’t express their wishes, or if they were fooled into signing a document and were deceived as to what the document was. Fraud is also when the document is destroyed by someone other than the decedent once it has been created, or if someone other than the creator adds pages to the document or forges the person’s signature.

Alleging undue influence is another reason to challenge a will. This is considered to have occurred if one person overpowers the free will of the document creator, so the document creator does what the other person wants, instead of what the document creator wants. Putting a gun to the head of a person to demand that they sign a will is a dramatic example. Coercion, threats to other family members and threats of physical harm to the person are more common occurrences.

It is also possible for the personal representative or trustee’s administration of a will or trust to be contested. If the personal representative or trustee fails to follow the instructions in the will or the trust, or does not report their actions as required, the court may invalidate some of the actions. In extreme cases, a personal representative or a trustee can be removed from their position by the court.

An estate plan created by an experienced estate planning lawyer should be prepared with an eye to the family situation. If there are individuals who are likely to challenge the will, a “no-contest” clause may be necessary. Not every family member can contest a will, but it only takes one to make a headache for everyone. Open and candid conversations with family members about the estate plan may head off any surprises that could lead to the estate plan being challenged.

One last note: just because a family member is dissatisfied with their inheritance does not give them the right to bring a frivolous claim, and the court may not look kindly on such a case.

If you would like to learn more about challenging a Will, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The Record-Courier (May 16, 2021) “Challenges to wills and trusts”

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What are the early signs of dementia?

What are the Early Signs of Dementia?

Many adult children are finally seeing their parents in person for the first time since the beginning of the COVID crisis. While it is a comfort to spend time together, you might notice changes in a parent’s behavior that was not apparent on the phone or Zoom. Could this be a sign of cognitive decline? What are the early signs of dementia?

Dementia can diminish focus, the ability to pay attention, language skills, problem-solving and visual perception. It can make it hard for a senior to control his or her emotions and lead to personality changes, says AARP’s recent article entitled “7 Early Warning Signs of Dementia You Shouldn’t Ignore.”

The article provides some of the warning signs identified by dementia experts and mental health organizations:

  • Difficulty with everyday tasks. Those with dementia may find it increasingly tough to do things, like keep track of monthly bills or follow a recipe while cooking. They also may find it hard to concentrate on tasks, take much longer to do them, or have difficulty completing them.
  • Repetition. Asking a question, hearing the answer, then repeating the same question a few minutes later, or telling the same story about a recent event multiple times, are causes for concern.
  • Communication issues. See if a senior has trouble joining in conversations or following along with them, stops abruptly in the middle of a thought, or struggles to think of words or the name of objects.
  • Getting lost. Those with dementia may have difficulty with visual and spatial abilities.
  • Changes in personality. A senior who starts acting unusually anxious, confused, fearful or suspicious; becomes upset easily; or loses interest in activities and appears depressed is cause for concern.
  • Confusion about time and place. Those who forget where they are or can’t remember how they got there should raise a red flag. You should also be concerned if a person becomes disoriented about time (asking on a Friday if it is Monday or Tuesday).
  • Troubling behavior. If a senior appears to have greater poor judgment when handling money or neglects grooming and cleanliness, it’s a concern.

Here are some of the methods that doctors use to diagnose early signs of dementia:

  • Cognitive and neuropsychological tests assess language and math skills, memory, problem-solving and other kinds of mental functioning.
  • Lab tests can help rule out non-dementia causes for the symptoms.
  • Brain scans like a CT, MRI, or PET imaging can detect changes in brain structure and function. They can identify strokes, tumors and other problems that can cause dementia.
  • Psychiatric evaluation can determine if a mental health condition is causing or impacting symptoms.
  • Genetic tests are critical, especially if someone is showing symptoms before age 60. The early onset form of Alzheimer’s is strongly associated with a person’s genes.

Stay aware of these early signs of dementia and make a plan for addressing your parent’s needs as they decline. Work with an Elder Law attorney to learn what you can do to ensure your loved ones are cared for in their later years.

If you would like to learn more about dementia and other cognitive issues, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: AARP (May 4, 2021) “7 Early Warning Signs of Dementia You Shouldn’t Ignore”

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Blended Families

Consider a QTIP trust for your Blended Family

Many people have so-called “blended” families, where one or both spouses have children from a previous marriage. Estate planning can be hard for a spouse in a blended family who wants to provide for a surviving spouse and for children from an ex-spouse. Consider a QTIP trust for your blended family.

Fed Week’s recent article entitled “‘Blended’ Families Raise Special Estate Planning Considerations” suggests that one option may be a qualified terminable interest property or “QTIP” trust.

This kind of irrevocable trust is frequently used by those with children from another marriage.

A QTIP trust allows the grantor of the blended family to provide for a surviving spouse and maintain control of how the trust’s assets are distributed, once the surviving spouse dies.

Income (and sometimes the principal) generated from the trust is given to the surviving spouse to ensure that the spouse is cared for during the rest of his or her life. Therefore, with a QTIP:

  • At the death of the first spouse, the assets pass to a trust for the survivor. No one else can receive distributions from the trust; then
  • At the death of the second spouse, any assets left in the QTIP trust are passed to beneficiaries named by the first spouse to die. This is usually the children of the first spouse to die.

With a QTIP trust, estate tax is not imposed when the first spouse’s dies. Rather, estate tax is determined after the second spouse has died. Moreover, the property within the QTIP providing funds to a surviving spouse qualifies for marital deductions. As such, the value of the trust isn’t taxable after the first spouse’s death.

While this arrangement may appear to address the needs of both sides, in many remarriages the surviving spouse is much younger than the one who died.

In many cases, the surviving spouse may be close to the age of the children of the spouse who died. As a consequence, those children may have to wait a number of years for their inheritance.

To avoid this, a better approach would be to provide for biological children as well as for a surviving spouse at the first death. It might be time to consider a QTIP trust for your blended family. Assets can be divided at that time. If an asset division is impractical, the proceeds of a life insurance policy may help to provide some inheritance for all parties.

If you would like to learn more about estate planning for blended families, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Fed Week (May 7, 2021) “‘Blended’ Families Raise Special Estate Planning Considerations”

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When should children receive an inheritance?

When Should Children Receive an Inheritance?

Should an inheritance remain an inheritance, given to children only after their parents die, or should parents use some of the money to help their kids out while they are still living? When should children receive an inheritance? That’s a question that many families grapple with, reports a recent article “When to Give Inheritance Money to Your Kids,” from The Wall Street Journal.

Not every family can afford to give their children an advance on their inheritance, but for those who can, there are some things to consider:

Some financial advisors believe that “gifting with warm hands” is a better way to go. Parents can enjoy seeing their children and grandchildren benefit from having the help, based on when it is needed. Decoupling an inheritance children receive from parental death is a happier scenario than the alternative.

Others believe that current financial needs, taxes and the tax situations of the parents and children ought to be the deciding factor. First, is there enough money for the parents to live comfortably in retirement? That includes being prepared for the cost of an unexpected health crisis that might lead them to need short- and long-term care. Follow that by understanding the tax situation of both parents and heirs. Once those answers are fully formed, then a discussion about gifting can move forward.

Another school of thought is to stop saving every penny and enjoy life to its fullest right here, right now. Some people are more concerned with maxing out their 401(k) plans than enjoying their lives. A healthy balance between protecting assets for later years, creating wealth for the next generation and having some fun too is the goal for many families.

Regardless of how you see your situation, one thing is sure: if you have any concerns about how your children will handle an inheritance, make a gift while you are living. You’ll get to see how they handle it, responsibility or recklessly. This may inform your planning for the future, including the use of spendthrift trusts.

The pandemic has forced many people to confront their own mortality and consider how they really want to spend the rest of their lives, as well as their assets. Many parents are preparing to make changes in their estate and gifting plans to accommodate needs that have arisen as a result of COVID’s economic impact.

Talk with your children about finances—yours and theirs. Discuss their needs, especially if they have been unemployed for an extended period of time. If they need money for something critical, like paying for health insurance or catching up on student loans, the gift should be made with a clear understanding of its intended purpose.

When should children receive an inheritance? It is really determined by what you think is right. Your estate planning attorney can help create a plan that works while you are living and after you have passed. Trusts may be a strategic plan for sharing assets while you are alive, with some tax advantages.

If you would like to read more about inheritance, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (April 30, 2021) “When to Give Inheritance Money to Your Kids”

 

The Monthly Two Minutes - Blended Families

The Monthly Two Minutes – Blended Families

The Monthly Two Minutes – Blended Families

We’ve started a new monthly video series that we are calling the The Monthly Two Minutes and are excited to share the latest edition – Blended Families. The second episode deals with the complexity of blended families. Second marriages and step-children can make investment and estate planning more difficult. We discuss what financial advisors need to know.

As a reminder, we now have a our own Podcast, The Estate of the Union! It’s “Estate Planning Made Simple” and we tackle all kinds of topics relating to the board spectrum of estate planning. We’ve got four already posted and more to come. We hope you will enjoy them enough to share it with others. It’s available on Apple, Spotify and other podcast outlets.

Brad Wiewel is a Board Certified Texas estate planning attorney with a state-wide practice. Mr. Wiewel is an AV Rated attorney, which is the highest distinction for practicing attorneys in the legal world. Brad is licensed by both the Supreme Court of the United States and the Supreme Court of Texas. He received a B.A. from the University of Illinois, and graduated from St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio with distinction (Top 10%).

benefits of a charitable lead trust

A SLAT allows You to Protect Assets

Interest in SLATs, or Spousal Lifetime Access Trusts, has picked up as the new administration eyes possible revenue sources from estate and gift taxes. According to a recent article titled “What Advisors Should Know About SLATs” from U.S. News & World Report, even if no changes to exemption levels happen now, the current federal lifetime gift and estate tax exclusion of $11.7 million will expire in 2026. When that happens, the exemption will revert to the pre-2018 level of about $6 million, adjusted for inflation. First, what is a SLAT? It’s an estate planning strategy where one spouse gifts assets to an irrevocable trust for the benefit of the other spouse. A SLAT allows you to protect assets by removing them from a joint estate, but the donor spouse may still indirectly retain access to the assets. The SLAT typically also benefits a secondary recipient, usually the couple’s children.

It’s important to work with an estate planning attorney who is knowledgeable about this type of planning and tax law to ensure that the SLAT follows all of the rules. It is possible for a SLAT that is poorly created to be rejected by the IRS, so experienced counsel is a must.

The attorney and the couple need to look at how much wealth the family has and how much the family members will need to enjoy their quality of life for the rest of their lives. The funds placed in the SLAT are, ideally, funds that neither of the couple will need to access.

If a donor spouse can be approved for life insurance, that’s a good asset to place inside a SLAT. Tax-deferred assets are also good assets for SLATs. Trust tax rates can be very high. If securities are placed into the trust and they pay dividends, taxes must be paid. When life insurance pays out, the proceeds are estate-tax and income-tax free.

SLATs also protect assets from creditors.

There are pitfalls to SLATs, which is why an experienced estate planning attorney is so important. Married couples with large estates may set up separate SLATs for each other, but they must take into consideration the “reciprocal trust doctrine.” SLATs cannot be funded with identical assets and they cannot be set up at the same time. The IRS will collapse trusts that violate this rule. One SLAT can be done one year, and the second SLAT done the following year, and they should be funded with different assets.

There’s also a trade-off: while the SLAT gets assets out of the estate, they will not receive a step-up in basis at the time of the donor spouse’s death. Basis step-ups occur when the deceased spouse’s share in the cost basis of assets is stepped up to their value on the date of death.

Divorce or the death of the recipient spouse means the donor spouse loses access to the SLAT’s assets.

The SLAT requires coordination between the estate planning attorney and the financial advisor, so anyone considering this strategy should act now so their attorney has enough time to take the family’s entire estate plan into account. There also needs to be a third-party trustee, someone who is not the recipient and not related or subordinate to the recipient.

Assets don’t have to be placed into the SLATs immediately after they are created, so there is time to figure out what the couple wants to put into the SLAT. A SLAT can be beneficial because it allows you to protect assets, however, forgetting to fund the SLAT, like neglecting to fund any other trust, defeats the purpose of the trust.

If you would like to read more about SLATs and other types of tools to protect assets, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (May 3, 2021) “What Advisors Should Know About SLATs”

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when mom refuses to get an Estate Plan

Including a POD Account in your Estate Plan

Also called a “POD” account, a payable on death account can be created at a bank or credit union and is transferrable without probate at your death to the person you name. Sports Grind Entertainment’s recent article entitled “Payable on Death (POD) Accounts” explains that there are different reasons for including a POD account in your estate plan. You should know how they work, when deciding whether to create one. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney who can help you coordinate your investment goals with your end-of-life wishes.

The difference between a traditional bank account and a POD account is that a POD account has a designated beneficiary. This person is someone you want to receive any assets held in the account when you die. A POD account is really any bank account that has a named beneficiary.

There are several benefits with POD accounts to transfer assets. Assets that are passed to someone else through a POD account are not subject to probate. This is an advantage if you want to make certain your beneficiary can access cash quickly after you die. Even if you have a will and a life insurance policy in place, those do not necessarily guarantee a quick payout to handle things like burial or funeral expenses or any outstanding debts that need to be paid. A POD account could help with these expenses.

Know that POD account beneficiaries cannot access any of the money in the account while you are alive. That could be an issue if you become incapacitated, and your loved ones need money to help pay for medical care. In that situation, having assets in a trust or a jointly owned bank account could be an advantage. You should also ask your estate planning attorney about a financial power of attorney, which would allow you to designate an agent to pay bills and the like in your place.

If you are interested in including a payable on death account in your estate plan, the first step is to talk to your bank to see if it is possible to add a beneficiary designation to any existing accounts you have, or if you need to create a new account. Next, decide who you want to add as a beneficiary.

If you would like to learn more about POD accounts and other banking issues related to estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Sports Grind Entertainment (May 2, 2021) “Payable on Death (POD) Accounts”

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take care when transferring house to children

Take Care when Transferring House to Children

It seems natural to want to protect your home in the event that you are unable to maintain it. A logical thought is to give it to your kids. You need to take care when transferring your house to children. Let us say the parent is 90 and has a will bequeathing a home to a child, a son. The house was purchased 20 years ago for $300,000 and is now worth about $400,000. The child stays there occasionally to help care for the parent, but he doesn’t live there. The parents’ estate is otherwise worth less than $1 million. Nj.com’s recent article entitled “What are the pros and cons of transferring a home’s title?” explains that there are two primary reasons why parents want to transfer their home to their children.

First, they think they will be able to protect the house, in the event the parent needs to move to a nursing home. Second, they want to avoid probate.

Because many states now have a simple probate process for smaller estates, probate avoidance alone isn’t a worthwhile rationale to transfer the house to a child.

The transfer of the house to a child who doesn’t live there will be subject to the look-back rule for Medicaid, which in most states is now five years. As a result, if a parent transfers the house to the child within five years of applying for Medicaid, the transfer will trigger a penalty which will begin when the Medicaid application is submitted. The length of the penalty period depends on the value of the house. Therefore, if the parent might require nursing home care in the next five years, the parent should have enough other assets to cover the penalty period or wait five years before applying for Medicaid.

In addition, the transfer of the house may also cause a significant capital gains tax liability to the child when the house is sold. That’s because the child will receive the house with the carryover basis of the parent. However, if the child inherits the house, the child will get a step-up in basis—the basis will be the value of the house at the date of the parent’s death.

If the parent transferring the house retains a life estate—the right to live in the house until he or she passes away—the property will get a step-up in basis to the value of the house at the date of death.  In the event that the house is sold while the parent is still alive, the value of the life estate interest will be excluded from income tax but the value of the child’s remainder interest in the house may be subject to capital gain taxes.

Last, if the house is transferred to a child who has financial troubles, the child’s creditors may be able to force the child to sell the house to pay his debts. Take care when transferring your house to children. Work with an estate planning attorney to ensure you have considered all the factors before you make a change in home ownership.

If you would like to learn more about gifting real property, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: nj.com (April 20, 2021) “What are the pros and cons of transferring a home’s title?”

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Estate planning is a lot more than simply a tax strategy

Estate Planning is more than a Tax Strategy

Estate planning is more than a tax strategy. It’s about creating a legacy and protecting your family for the short and long term, explains the article Create A Holistic Estate Plan Now For Bigger Payoffs In The Future” from Forbes. The process begins with as much disclosure as possible. That means talking with your estate planning attorney about the challenges your family faces, as well as the assets to be left for loved ones.

One change to the tax code can disrupt decades of careful planning and leave people scrambling to protect loved ones. Market tumult can require assets to be sold to meet cash flow needs. Charitable contributions may also need to be reviewed and possibly changed, if the family’s asset level changes.

There are three aspects to consider when creating an estate plan: a lifetime spending strategy, a charitable legacy and bequests. All of these are impacted by taxes and need to be reviewed as a whole.

Lifetime spending strategy. These questions are centered on your goals and plans. Where do you want to live during retirement and how do you wish to live, travel and entertain? Will you stay in place and focus on charitable organizations, or travel throughout the year? It’s good to set a budget and stress-test it to see what different outcomes may arise.

A family that owns businesses or large real estate holdings may benefit from strategies, like family limited partnerships. A sale of the business to an outsider or a family member could create many different options, and all should be considered.

Charitable gift planning. Estate planning offers a way to clarify charitable giving goals and create a road map for how gifting can be transformed into a legacy. A well-planned charitable gift strategy can also minimize estate taxes and maximize the future of the gift, for both the family and the charities you favor.

A Charitable Remainder Trust is used to provide an income stream during your lifetime and reach gifting goals at the same time. One way to accomplish this is to transfer an asset, like highly appreciated stocks or bonds, into an irrevocable trust, thereby removing the asset from your taxable estate. The trustee may then sell the asset at market value and reinvest, creating a lifelong income stream for you or a beneficiary.

Leaving assets, not estate tax bills, for heirs. Families who own multiple properties in their own names or in a single LLC can lead to a lot of administrative headaches when the owners die. One simple fix is to place each property into a separate LLC, which increases the availability of strategic tax savings.

Another way to minimize estate taxes is through the use of life insurance. This is a strategy to do while you are still relatively healthy, as it becomes increasing difficult to obtain once you turn 60 or 70.

Estate planning is a lot more than simply a tax strategy. All of these planning tools take knowledge and time to set up, so creating an estate plan and working through the many different strategies is best done with an experienced estate planning attorney and before any trigger events occur.

If you would like to learn more about strategies to ensure your wealth goes where you want it, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Forbes (April 6, 2021) Create A Holistic Estate Plan Now For Bigger Payoffs In The Future”

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Roth IRAs are an ideal planning tool

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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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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