Category: Spouse

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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how divorcing over fifty effects estate planning

How Divorcing over Fifty effects Estate Planning

If you are and older couple considering a divorce, take care to consider how divorcing over fifty effects estate planning. According to the Pew Research Center, the divorce rate has more than doubled for people over 50 since the 1990s. The Pandemic is also adding to the uptick, says AARP’s recent article entitled “Getting Divorced? It’s Time to Update Your Caregiving Plan.”

A divorce can be financially draining. Moreover, later-in-life divorces frequently impact women’s finances more than men’s. That is because in addition to depressed earnings from time spent out of the workforce raising children, women find themselves more financially vulnerable post-divorce and more likely to serve as caregivers again in the future. Even so, for partners of all genders, it is important to consider the longer-term financial outlook, not just the financial situation you’re in when you are actually dissolving the marriage.

You and your spouse will be dividing assets and liabilities and the responsibilities regarding spousal support. How one of you will live if the other gets sick or passes away should also be part of this conversation.

Consider where you’ll need to make changes. One may be removing your spouse from beneficiary designations on all your accounts. (In some states, this is automatic.) Your divorce agreement may also include buying life insurance or maintaining a trust or beneficiary designations for one another.

Create or update your estate plan immediately. You should also ask your estate planning attorney to review your marital agreement. They will have suggestions about how to align your estate plan with your divorce obligations. If you and your ex are co-parenting children, your estate plan should address who their guardians will be, if both biological parents pass away. It is also important to address who will manage any inheritance, if you don’t want your ex-spouse handling assets you may leave to your children.

Create your life care plan, which means naming health care proxies or surrogates (who will take care of your medical affairs, if you’re in need of caregiving), designating a financial power of attorney (who will take care of your finances and legal affairs), and naming a guardian for yourself if you’re incapacitated.

Consider the way in which your divorce will impact your children and extended family if you need caregiving. At a minimum, agree between yourselves what level of contact you can manage and, if you share children and loved ones, know that your lives will cross along the way.

While your marriage may not last, the connections will, so make a wise plan. Your estate planning attorney will help advise you on how divorcing over fifty effects your estate planning. If you would like to learn more about estate planning and divorce, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: AARP (Jan. 25, 2022) “Getting Divorced? It’s Time to Update Your Caregiving Plan”

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Addressing Financial Issues in a Remarriage

Addressing Financial Issues in a Remarriage

When it comes to addressing financial issues in a remarriage, couples should look at the past.  This should include the way in which each person handled finances, and their pre-marital liabilities and assets, along with the present (e.g., new benefit options) and the future. This means how they’ll handle finances as a unit or protect themselves and loved ones in case of death or divorce.

CNBC’s recent article entitled “Remarrying? Here are financial considerations to keep in mind before saying ‘I do’” says that it’s important to release any financial skeletons from the closet. Here are some smart financial moves for new parents:

It’s critical that blended families have similar talks with their children. The children were most likely brought up in different financial circumstances, so it’s important to talk as a family about new financial expectations.

After the prospective spouses identify their collective financial situation, there are a few topics to consider. For instance, if you were previously married for more than 10 years and collecting Social Security benefits on your ex-spouse’s account, you may forfeit those payments if you remarry.  Your new combined income may also result in a higher tax bill. This is sometimes called a “marriage penalty.”

Moreover, financial communication is a crucial best practice to achieve financial success in a relationship. After you remarry, look at the impact on benefits.

Marriage is a recognized life event, so you may be allowed to change your insurance options outside the regular autumn time window.

You should also be aware that if you were previously divorced and getting substantially discounted insurance via the healthcare.gov exchange, when you remarry, your insurance costs may go up if your joint income goes up.

It’s also smart to consider protecting pre-marital assets that were in your name only. You should consult an experienced estate planning attorney prior to addressing financial issues in a remarriage. They may advise against commingling some or all assets, and suggest a trust, segregating pre-marital assets from marital assets, to protect you in the event of divorce.

Estate planning is vitally important, if you have a new family with children. These are the documents that will take care of the people you love. If you would like to learn more about remarriage issues in estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: CNBC (March 7, 2022) “Remarrying? Here are financial considerations to keep in mind before saying ‘I do’”

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Filing taxes when a loved one passes

Filing Taxes when a Loved One passes

Filing taxes when a loved one passes is difficult. If you are preparing a 1040 federal income tax form for a spouse or parent, you are grieving while also gathering tax records. If you are the executor for an estate, you may not know the history of the decedent’s tax situation nor have the access you need to important documents. To help alleviate the problems, AARP’s January 27th article entitled, “How to File a Tax Return for a Deceased Taxpayer,” gives some guidance on how a decedent’s tax return might be different from the usual 1040 form, as well as the pitfalls to avoid as you prepare to file.

  1. Marital filing status. A surviving spouse should file a joint return for the year of death and write in the signature area “filing as surviving spouse.” The spouse also can file jointly for the next two tax years if he or she has dependents and has not remarried. This special provision gives the surviving spouse benefit from the advantages of a joint return, such as the higher standard deduction.
  2. Get authorization to file. If there is no surviving spouse, someone must be chosen to file the tax return. This could be the estate’s executor if there was a will, the estate administrator if there is not a will, or anyone responsible for managing the decedent’s property. To prepare the return — or provide necessary information to an accountant — you will need to access the decedent’s financial records, and financial institutions usually want to see a copy of the certified death certificate before releasing information.
  3. Locate last year’s return. That is your starting point. Returns filed electronically must have the password to sign into the software program that was used. A major step in estate planning is, therefore, to give passwords to a trusted person or instructions about how to access that information after your death. However, if you cannot find last year’s return, submit Form 4506-T to the IRS to request a transcript of the previous tax return. This shows what was on the return, including filing status, taxable income, tax payments and more. The IRS also can provide source documents, such as a W-2 or a 1099-INT from a bank or a 1099-R for a pension distribution from a union — all the documents sent to the IRS on your behalf — which can help you know what documents to collect now.
  4. Update the address on the return. If you are not a surviving spouse or did not live with the decedent, be sure to update the tax return to list your address as an “in care of” address, so anything from the IRS will come directly to you.
  5. Review medical costs. The deduction for medical expenses is the amount that exceeds 7.5% of adjusted gross income. If the decedent was chronically ill, medical expenses can add up. Hospital stays, nursing homes, prescriptions and care from aides can add up and hit that threshold.
  6. Get extra time to file and/or make payments. The executor or surviving spouse can request an extension and estimate what any tax liability might be. The IRS may also give you a break on penalties for not filing because you were dealing with funeral arrangements, for example, but you have to cite a reasonable cause.
  7. Cut down the IRS’ time to assess taxes. The IRS has three years to decide if you have paid the right amount for that tax year. You can cut that to 18 months, by filing Form 4810. That is a request for a prompt assessment of tax. As you prepare the return, you may miss a 1099 or other document, unintentionally understating income. If you skip filing Form 4810, the IRS could notify you of taxes owed up to three years later, likely after you have distributed the estate’s funds.
  8. You may be filing multiple returns. If a loved one passes in January or February, you may be responsible for filing taxes for last year and this year. There might be a filing obligation for that brief period of time that the person was alive in this year. The other situation is that the decedent failed to file a previous year’s return, perhaps because he or she was very ill. A notice will be sent from the IRS stating that they do not have a copy of the decedent’s return. This is another reason it is important to file Form 4810, requesting that the IRS has only 18 months to assess tax. You do not want any surprises. A tax return, or Form 1041, also may need to be filed for the estate, if it has earned more than $600. Since it can take a long time to wind down an estate and pay heirs, a Form 1041 may need to be filed the following year, too — a healthy brokerage account could generate more than $600 income for the year. It may also take a long time to distribute the estate.
  9. Estate taxes. An estate tax return, Form 706, must be filed if the gross estate of the decedent is valued at more than $12.06 million for 2022 or $11.7 million for 2021. However, that is a high threshold.
  10. Consider hiring an attorney. If filing taxes when a loved one passes away sounds like it is too much to handle, ask an attorney for help. A legal professional will know what information is required.

If you would like to learn more about estate and tax planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: AARP (Jan. 27, 2022) “How to File a Tax Return for a Deceased Taxpayer”

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The Estate of The Union Episode 13: Collision Course – Family Law & Estate Planning

The Estate of The Union Episode 13: Collision Course – Family Law & Estate Planning is out now!

There is a dangerous intersection at the corner of Estate Planning and Divorce. In this podcast of the Estate of the Union, Brad Wiewel interviews Jimmy Vaught, a Board certified Family Lawyer with over 40 years of experience, about how to avoid a potential devastating disaster at that corner. Blended families are very common now. With them comes the often complicated situation between loved ones when someone dies. Brad and Jimmy discuss the common pitfalls and share some tips on how to avoid a collision.

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!

To learn more about Jimmy Vaught and the Vaught Law Firm, PC, please visit his website:

 

https://austindivorcelawyer.com/

 

The Estate of The Union episode 13: Collision Course – Family Law & Estate Planning can be found on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or anywhere you get your podcasts. Please click on the link below to listen to the new installment of The Estate of The Union podcast. You can also view this podcast on our YouTube page. The Estate of The Union Episode 13 out now. We hope you enjoy it.

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Texas Trust Law/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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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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