Category: Spouse

A Joint and Survivor Annuity is an Option

A Joint and Survivor Annuity is an Option

A joint and survivor annuity is an option to consider for some spouses. An annuity is a contract between an investor and a life insurance company. The purchaser of an annuity pays a lump-sum or several installments to the insurer, which then provides a guaranteed income for a certain period—or until their death.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “What Is A Joint And Survivor Annuity?” says that understanding an “annuitant” is key to understanding how a joint and survivor annuity works. An annuitant may be either the buyer or owner of an annuity or someone who’s been selected to get the annuity payouts. A joint and survivor annuity typically benefits joint annuitants: a primary annuitant and a secondary annuitant. Under this policy, both get income payments during the lifetimes of both the annuity owner and their survivor.

With joint life annuity, you can expect payments throughout the lifetime of the primary annuitant. If that person passes away, the survivor—the other annuitant—receives payouts that are the same as or less than what the original annuitant received. However, if the secondary annuitant dies ahead of the primary annuitant, survivor benefits aren’t paid when the primary annuity dies. The annuity buyer can designate themselves and another person, like their spouse, as joint annuitants.

A joint and survivor annuity differs from a single life annuity in a few ways:

  • A single-life annuity benefits only the annuity owner, so income payouts cease when that person dies; and
  • A single-life annuity usually pays out less than a joint and survivor annuity, since a single-life annuity covers just one life, while a joint and survivor covers two.

Under some joint and survivor annuities, the amount of the payout is decreased after the death of the primary annuitant. The terms of any decrease are set out in the annuity contract.

The payout to a surviving secondary annuitant, generally a spouse or domestic partner, ranges from 50% to 100% of the amount paid during the primary annuitant’s life, if the annuity was bought through certain tax-qualified retirement plans.

A joint and survivor annuity is an option to consider, but you need to ask these three questions before setting one up:

  • How much in payout is needed for both annuitants to support themselves?
  • Do you have other assets (like a life insurance policy) to help the surviving joint annuitant after one of the annuitants dies?
  • How much would the payouts be lessened after the death of a joint annuitant?

Remember that you usually can’t change the survivor named in a joint and survivor annuity. If you are interested in learning more about annuities in estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (Dec. 19, 2022) “What Is A Joint And Survivor Annuity?”

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Estate Planning is a Personal Process

Estate Planning is a Personal Process

It’s a question that some couples should ask. For many, their estate is their estate together, right? Not always. There are benefits to using the same estate planning attorney. However, there may be reasons to use different attorneys, as discussed in the article “Should My Spouse and I Hire the Same Estate Lawyer?” from The Street. When it comes down to it, estate planning is a personal process.

If your estates are relatively simple and your interests are the same, it does make sense to use the same estate planning attorney. If there’s no need for sophisticated tax planning, yours is a first marriage with no children, or you own one piece of property, one attorney can represent both partners.

It’s important to understand joint representation. This means both partners and the attorney agree to share all information learned from one spouse with the other spouse. These terms are often outlined in the engagement letter signed when the attorney is retained.

However, life and marriages are not always so simple. Let’s say that one spouse owns property or a share of property in another state purchased before the marriage and not co-owned with the spouse. This often occurs when property is owned by members of the spouse’s immediate family, like a business property or a vacation home they own jointly with siblings or parents. It may also be property one spouse is likely to inherit with the expectation the property ownership remains solely with bloodline family members.

Note that owning property in another state will likely also require the services of another estate planning attorney who is familiar with the local laws. The out-of-state attorney can advise if there are any special planning considerations needed, such as placing property in a family-controlled entity, like a limited liability company or other family partnership.

Coordinating communication between the out-of-state attorney and the primary in-state attorney will be important, since there may be interrelated planning considerations to be addressed in wills or trusts.

What if you and your spouse have different communication styles? One wants a talkative attorney who wants to dive into long-term planning goals, engaging in discussions about building a legacy, while the other wants documents prepared, signed and executed, minus any big picture conversations.

A simple solution would be for each spouse to identify an attorney at the same firm who matches their personal style.

Another reason for using different estate planning attorneys is if one wants to use a “floating spouse” provision, which can cause some feelings to arise. This is a provision defining a “spouse” as the person you are married to at the time of death. If there’s a divorce and the prior spouse would have had a vested interest in property, the floating spouse provision affords another layer of protection to keep assets to the spouse at the time of death.

There are non-divorce related reasons for the floating spouse provision. If an irrevocable trust is created to benefit the spouse, the ability to make changes to the trust can be challenging, time consuming and costly. With a floating spouse provision, the prior spouse is removed as a beneficiary and the new spouse could be easily substituted. In this case, independent counsel is advised, as interests are considered legally adverse.

Estate planning is a personal process and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. If any part of the estate creates adverse interests, joint representation may not work. However, when the estate is relatively simple and the couple’s goals are the same, having a spouse by your side during the planning process could give each of you the incentive to take care of this very important task. If you would like to learn more about estate planning, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The Street (Nov. 30, 2022) “Should My Spouse and I Hire the Same Estate Lawyer?”

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SLAT is Increasingly Popular for Married Couples

SLAT is Increasingly Popular for Married Couples

The most common estate planning technique used in 2020-2021, according to a recent article from Think Advisor, was the Spousal Lifetime Access Trust (SLAT). The SLAT has become increasingly popular for married couples at or above the current estate planning exemption level, as described in the article “9 Reasons This Popular Trust Isn’t Just for the Super-Wealthy.”

SLATs allow couples to move assets out of their estates and, in most cases, out of the reach of both creditors and claimants. Each spouse can still access the assets, making the SLAT a valuable tool for retirement.

In the past, SLATs were not used as often for clients with $1 million to $10 million in net worth. However, the SLAT accomplishes several objectives: optimizing taxes, protecting assets from creditors and addressing concerns related to aging.

Lock in Estate Tax Exemptions Among Uncertainty. SLATs are a good way to secure estate tax exemptions. Various proposals to slash the current estate tax exemptions before the sunset date (see below) makes SLATs an attractive solution.

Potential Restrictions to Grantor Trusts. There has been some talk in Washington and the Treasury about restricting Grantor Trusts. The SLAT eliminates concern about any future changes to these trusts.

Upcoming Change in Estate, Gift and GST Exemptions. When the 2017 tax overhaul expires in 2026, the gift, estate and generation skipping trust exemption will be cut in half. Now is the time to maximize those exemptions.

A Possible Planning Tidal Wave. There may be a big movement to act as 2026 draws closer and SLATs become a tool of choice. Before the wave hits and Congress reacts, it would be better to have assets protected in advance.

SLATs Work Well for Married Couples. Each spouse contributes assets to a SLAT. The other spouse is named as a beneficiary. The assets are removed from the taxable estate, securing the exemption before 2026 and assets are protected from claimants and creditors.

You Might Meet the Estate Tax Threshold in the Future. Even if your current estate doesn’t meet the high threshold of today, if it might reach $6 million in 2026, having a SLAT will add protection for the future.

Income Tax Benefits. A trustee can distribute funds and income to a beneficiary in a no-tax state, saving state tax income tax, or if the trust may be formed in a no-tax state and possibly avoid the grantor’s high home state income tax.

Asset Protection Planning. Many people don’t think about asset protection until it’s too late. By starting now, when assets are below $10 million, the asset protection can grow as wealth grows.

Shrinking the Need for Other Trusts. Depending on their financial situation, a couple may be able to use a SLAT trust and avoid the need for other trusts requiring annual gifts and Crummey powers. The SLAT may also eliminate the need to have a trust for their children.

While SLATs are becoming increasingly popular for married couples, it is important that you speak with your estate planning attorney to learn if a SLAT is appropriate for your family, now and in the near and distant future. These are complex legal instruments, requiring skilled professional help in assessing their value to your estate. If you would like to learn more about SLATs, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Think Advisor (Nov. 16, 2022) “9 Reasons This Popular Trust Isn’t Just for the Super-Wealthy”

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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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Estate Planning is critical for Blended Families

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Protecting the Community Spouse is Necessary

Protecting the Community Spouse is Necessary

Despite the intent of the law, allowing one spouse to remain in the family home and having enough income to live on when the other spouse needs Medicaid to pay for nursing home care does not happen automatically. According to the article “What a ‘Community’ spouse can keep” from The Bristol Press, protecting the community spouse is necessary if they are to maintain their prior standard of living.

The community spouse is entitled to have a minimum monthly maintenance needs allowance (MMNA), which changes every year. If the MMNA is $2,288.00, and the healthy spouse has an income of $1,000.00, Medicaid allows a diversion of the sick spouse’s income of the difference, or $1,288.00 per month to the healthy spouse. In most situations, this is not enough to maintain a home, pay bills and enjoy a well-deserved retirement.

An elder law lawyer can help protect assets for the community spouse. The family home is exempt, if it is in the name of the healthy spouse, although most states have a limit to the allowed value. If the sick spouse is approved for Medicaid, the healthy spouse may choose to sell the home and keep the proceeds or downsize to a smaller home.

The community spouse may keep up to $137,400.00 in investment assets in 2022. That’s considered one half of the couple’s total “countable” assets. If the couple’s investment exceeds this amount, there are a number of strategies used to protect the life savings, as long as they stay within the “spend down” rules. Money may be spent on house expenses or improvements. A new car could replace an old model.

Another method is the use of a Single Premium Immediate Annuity, sometimes referred to as a Medicaid Annuity Trust. The well spouse can purchase this and protect their life savings. However, if the well spouse dies before the sick spouse, the balance of the annuity will need to be paid to Medicaid to reimburse it for expenses paid for the care of the sick spouse.

One positive note: personal property is not considered a countable asset. Things like home furnishings, decorations, jewelry, etc., and any personal property will not be counted. Embarking on a spending spree with an eye to reselling personal property to raise cash is not a good idea, since few items maintain their value after the initial purchase.

Planning should be done in advance, when both spouses are well and healthy, because Medicaid strictly enforces the five-year look back rule. Protecting the community spouse is necessary if they are to maintain their prior standard of living. Any assets transferred within five years of a Medicaid application will make the sick spouse ineligible for Medicaid coverage, and healthcare expenses will have to be paid out of pocket. If you would like to learn more about Medicaid planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Bristol Press (July 29, 2022) “What a ‘Community’ spouse can keep”

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How to Separate Business and Marital Assets

How to Separate Business and Marital Assets

High-profile cases like the Bezos or the Gates should cause many people to consider how to separate their business and marital assets that are tied together. You need to have plans in place from the beginning. No one thinks their partnership will end. However, it’s necessary to have a plan in place, just in case.

The Dallas Business Journal’s recent article entitled “Does your business need a prenup?” explains that there are three typical outcomes when married couples working as business partners decide to end their relationship:

  • One individual buys out the other partner’s shares and continues running the business;
  • The partners sell the business and divide the proceeds; or
  • The couple continues working as partners after the divorce.

Safeguards can be put in place on the first day of the relationship to protect your personal and business assets in the event of a divorce. A way to do this is through a prenuptial agreement, which states what will happen if a split happens. A pre-nup should:

  • Establish the value of the business as of the date of marriage or the date the agreement is signed;
  • Detail a course of action with the appreciation or depreciation of the business from the date of the marriage;
  • Say how business value will be measured; and
  • Specify the allocation of business interests to be awarded to each spouse in the event of a divorce.

In addition to a prenuptial agreement, any privately held company should have a shareholder agreement (or “operating agreement” for non-corporations). The shareholder agreement is one of the most important documents owners of a closely held business will ever sign.

It controls the transfer of ownership when certain events occur, like divorce and states the following:

  • Which party will buy out the other’s shares of the company if a buyout occurs; or
  • If either party has the right to sell, how the ownership interest will be valued and the terms and conditions concerning the acquisition.

Because there are some tax implications involved in a buyout, it’s best to bring in experienced estate planning attorney for this process. In addition, life events like divorce or changes in a business partnership are an appropriate time to update your will, estate plans and any necessary insurance policies. Remember, it is important to consider how to separate business and marital assets before there is conflict. If you would like to learn more about pre-nups and other business and marital agreements, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Dallas Business Journal (Aug. 1, 2022) “Does your business need a prenup?”

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IRS Extending Time to File Portability Exemption

IRS Extending Time to File Portability Exemption

When a spouse dies, the surviving spouse has the option of taking the unused federal estate tax exclusion and applying it to their own estate. This is known as electing portability for the DSUE, Deceased Spousal Unused Exemption, according to a recent article “Estates can now request late portability election relief for 5 years” from the Journal of Accountancy. The IRS is extending the time it takes to file a portability exemption.

The portability exemption has grown in use, and the scheduled decrease in the estate tax exemption starting on January 1, 2026, will no doubt dramatically expand the number of people who will be even more eager to adopt this process.

The IRS has extended the amount of time a surviving spouse may elect to take the Deceased Spousal Unused Exclusion (DSUE) from two to five years. The expanded timeframe is a reflection of the number of requests for letter rulings from estates missing the deadline for what had been a two-year relief period. The overly burdened and underfunded agency needed to find a solution to an avalanche of estates seeking this relief. Most of the requests were from estates missing the deadline between two years and under five years from the decedent’s date of death.

To reduce the number of letter ruling requests, the IRS has updated the requirement by extending the period within which the estate of a decedent may make the portability election under the simplified method to on or before the fifth anniversary of the decedent’s death.

There are some requirements to use the simplified method. The decedent must have been a citizen or U.S. resident at the date of death and the executor must not have been otherwise required to file an estate tax return based on the value of the gross estate and any adjusted taxable gifts. The executor must also not have timely filed the estate’s tax return within nine months after the date of death or date of extended file deadline.

If it is determined later that the estate was in fact required to file an estate tax return, the grant of relief will be voided.

Note that this change doesn’t extend the period during which the surviving spouse can claim a credit or a refund of any overpaid gift or estate taxes on the surviving spouse’s own gift or estate return.

The decision by the IRS extending the time to file a portability exemption will become even more popular after December 31, 2025, when the federal exemption changes from $12.6 million per person to $5 million (adjusted for inflation). Given the rise in housing prices, even people with modest estates may find themselves coming close or exceeding the federal estate tax level. If you would like to learn more about the portability exemption, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Journal of Accountancy (July 11, 2022) “Estates can now request late portability election relief for 5 years”

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Marital Trusts have multiple Benefits

Marital Trusts have multiple Benefits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Managing Finances in a Blended Family

Managing Finances in a Blended Family

Family finances can be a big issue in any circumstances. Managing finances in a blended family is even more significant, where two sets of often well-established financial histories and philosophies try to merge into one.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Yours, Mine and Ours: A Checklist for Blended Family Finances” says that a blended family is one where people have remarried, either after a divorce or the death of a spouse. Sometimes it’s older couples already in retirement. In other cases, it’s a younger couple still trying to raise children.

However, regardless of the specifics of any individual situation, when families blend, so do their finances. That is when things can get problematic, if careful planning and communication don’t occur.

Here are a few things to consider:

Money habits. People are raised with different ideas about financial issues. They’re influenced by their parents or by the circumstances of their formative years. Some people are exceptionally frugal and save every penny and seldom, if ever, splurge on something just for fun. Others spend with reckless abandon, unconcerned about the unexpected expenses that life can throw at them at any moment.

Many people are somewhere in between these extremes. If you are entering a serious relationship, you should speak to your new partner about how each of you approaches spending money.

Financial accounts and bills. Once you learn each other’s financial philosophy, you will have decisions to make. These include whether to blend your financial accounts or keep them separate. If the two of you are closely aligned with your finances and how you approach spending, you may want to simply combine everything. If you’re older, have adult children from prior relationships and are more financially established, you may decide to keep things separate.

For many, a hybrid approach may be best — keep some things separate, but have common savings, investments and household accounts to reach your blended goals.

Family. When there are children from a prior marriage — especially young children — additional financial situations will need to be addressed. Issues of child support and how it fits into the overall budget is one concern, as is the status of college funding for the children.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney to make sure you managing the finances of your blended family the way you wish. If you would like to learn more about blended families and estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (June 27, 2022) “Yours, Mine and Ours: A Checklist for Blended Family Finances”

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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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