Category: Probate

Avoid leaving Co-op Ownership to Heirs

Avoid leaving Co-op Ownership to Heirs

If you own a co-op you might be tempted to include it in your planning. It is wise to avoid leaving your co-op ownership to your heirs. Here is a cautionary tale.

Parents bought a studio apartment in a New York City co-op for their adult son with special needs. He’s able to live independently with the support of an agency.

The couple asked the co-op board to let them transfer the property to an irrevocable trust, so when they die, the son will still have a place to live. However, the board denied their request.

An individual with special needs can’t inherit property directly, or he’ll no longer be able to receive the government benefits that support him. What should the parents do?

The New York Times’ recent article entitled “Can I Leave My Co-op to My Heirs?” explains that parents can leave a co-op apartment to their children in their will or in a trust. However, that doesn’t mean their heirs will necessarily wind up with the right to own or live in that apartment.

In most cases, a co-op board has wide discretion to approve or deny the transfer of the shares and the proprietary lease.

If the board denied the request, the apartment will be sold and the children receive the equity. Just because the will says, ‘I’m leaving it to my children,’ that doesn’t give the children the absolute right to acquire the shares or live there.

In some instances, the lease says a board won’t unreasonably withhold consent to transfer the apartment to a financially responsible family member. However, few, if any, leases extend that concept to include trusts.

The parents here could wait to have the situation resolved after their deaths, leaving clear directives to the executor of their estate about what to do should the board reject a request to transfer the property into a trust for their son. However, that leaves everyone in a precarious position, with years of uncertainty.

It is safer to avoid leaving your co-op ownership to your heirs. Another option is to sell the co-op apartment now, put the proceeds in a special-needs trust and buy a condo through that trust. The son would then live there.

Unlike co-ops, condos generally allow transfers within estate planning, without requiring approval.

While this route would involve significant upheaval, the parents would have more peace of mind.

However, before buying the condo, an experienced estate planning attorney should review the building’s rules on transferring the unit. If you would like to read more about leaving real property to your heirs, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: New York Times (Oct. 1, 2022) “Can I Leave My Co-op to My Heirs?”

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Prevent some Common Beneficiary Errors

Prevent some Common Beneficiary Errors

Planning for one’s eventual death can be a somber task. However, consider what would occur if you failed to plan: loved ones trying to figure out your intentions, a long and expensive legal battle with unintended heirs and instead of grieving your loss, wondering why you didn’t take care of business while you were living. Planning suddenly becomes far more appealing, doesn’t it? There are ways to prevent some common beneficiary errors.

A recent article from yahoo! finance, “5 Retirement Plan Beneficiary Mistakes to Avoid,” explains how to avoid some of the issues regarding beneficiaries.

You haven’t named a beneficiary for your retirement accounts. This is a common estate planning mistake, even though it seems so obvious. A beneficiary can be a person, a charity, a trust, or your estate. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help you identify likely beneficiaries and ensure they are eligible.

You forgot to review your beneficiary designations for many years. Most people have changes in relationships as they move through the stages of life. The same person who was your best friend in your twenties might not even be in your life in your sixties. However, if you don’t check on beneficiary designations on a regular basis, you may be leaving your retirement accounts to people who haven’t heard from you in decades and disinheriting loved ones. Every time you update your estate plan, which should be every three to five years, check your beneficiary designations.

You didn’t name your spouse as a primary beneficiary for a retirement account. When Congress passed the 2019 SECURE Act, the bill removed a provision allowing non-spousal beneficiaries to stretch out disbursements from IRAs over their lifetimes, also known as the “Stretch IRA.” A non-spouse beneficiary must empty any inherited IRA within ten years from the death of the account holder. If a minor child is the beneficiary, once they reach the age of legal majority, they are required to follow the rules of a Required Minimum Distribution. Having a spouse named as beneficiary allows them to move the inherited IRA funds into their own IRA and take out assets as they wish.

You named an estate as a beneficiary. You can name your estate as a beneficiary. However, it creates a significant tangle for the family who has to set things right. For instance, if you have any debt, your estate could be attached by creditors. Your estate may also go through probate court, a court-supervised process to validate your will, have your final assets identified and have debts paid before any remaining assets are distributed to heirs.

You didn’t create a retirement plan until late in your career. Retirement seems very far away during your twenties, thirties and even forties. However, the years pass and suddenly you’re looking at retirement without enough money set aside. Creating an estate plan early in your working life shifts your focus, so you understand how important it is to have a retirement plan.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you prevent some common beneficiary errors as part of your overall estate plan. The best time to start? How about today? If you would like to learn more about beneficiary designations, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: yahoo! finance (Dec. 19, 2022) “5 Retirement Plan Beneficiary Mistakes to Avoid”

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Secure 2.0 Act has new features

SECURE 2.0 Act has New Features

SECURE 2.0 Act of 2022 is an extension of the original SECURE Act, which was enacted in 2019, reports Forbes’ recent article, entitled “SECURE 2.0 Passes—Here’s What It Means To Your Retirement.” An American Retirement Association press release notes the Secure 2.0 Act has new features including:

  • A Starter 401(k)—that could provide more than 19 million new American workers with access to the workplace-based retirement system through a brand new super simple, safe harbor 401(k) plan
  • A 100% tax credit for new plans to incentivize the creation of new workplace retirement programs by small businesses; and
  • A Saver’s Match Program that would incentivize retirement savings by giving a 50% match on up to $2,000 in retirement savings annually for lower- and middle-income Americans.

About 108 million Americans would be eligible for the Saver’s Match that would be directly deposited into their retirement account—upping the savings of moderate-income earners.

“We are grateful to the many members of Congress and staff who worked tirelessly to get SECURE 2.0 included in the omnibus legislation enacted this week,” noted Brian Graff, CEO of the American Retirement Association in Washington, DC.

“This important legislation will enhance the retirement security of tens of millions of American workers—and for many of them, give them the opportunity for the first time to begin saving.”

The Pension Protection Act of 2006 first introduced the concept of automatic 401(k) enrollment. This shifted the then-current 401(k) practice of requiring workers to opt-in before being allowed to participate in their company’s 401(k) plan to requiring them to opt-out only if they did not want to participate.

The new legislation now has a number of provisions meant to encourage companies to create retirement savings plans for their workers.

For older workers who find themselves behind in their savings, SECURE 2.0 grants them higher “catch-up” provisions. The new features in the Secure 2.0 Act may be a benefit to you or your loved ones. If you would like to learn more about the SECURE Act, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (Dec. 23, 2022) “SECURE 2.0 Passes—Here’s What It Means To Your Retirement”

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The Estate of The Union Season 2|Episode 5 - Bad Moon Rising: The Corporate Transparency Act

The Estate of The Union Season 2|Episode 5 is out now!

The Estate of The Union Season 2|Episode 5 is out now!

Happy New Year! To kick off the first episode of 2023, host Brad Wiewel, sits down to discuss the Corporate Transparency Act and how it relates to trusts.

There is a Bad Moon Rising (to quote Creedence Clearwater Revival). The bad moon is the Corporate Transparency Act which is going to REQUIRE all LLCs, corporations and Limited Partnerships to register with the federal government! The law becomes effective January 1, 2024.

This podcast focuses on some of the provisions of the new law and the consequences and penalties for failure to comply. It is a MUST LISTEN if you or someone you know or work with has an entity, because this is SERIOUS STUFF!

In the podcast we mention that we have a new service we are providing called Business Shield . It is designed to maintain entities and keep them in compliance with both state, and now federal law. Simply click on Business Shield™ to be taken to the page on our website. Please let us know if you would like to discuss Business Shield™ with us and we’ll be happy to schedule a complimentary phone consultation with one of our attorneys.

In each episode of The Estate of The Union podcast, host and lawyer Brad Wiewel will give valuable insights into the confusing world of estate planning, making an often daunting subject easier to understand. It is Estate Planning Made Simple! The Estate of The Union Season 2|Episode 5 is out now! The episode can be found on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or anywhere you get your podcasts. If you would prefer to watch the video version, please visit our YouTube page. Please click on the link below to listen to the new installment of The Estate of The Union podcast. We hope you enjoy it.

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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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Digital Assets need to be Included in Planning

Digital Assets need to be Included in Planning

Most of us don’t even realize just how much of our life is lived online, from streaming services and banking to apps to monitor our front door. All of these online accounts are digital assets and need to be included in estate planning says a recent article, “Estate planning and online accounts,” from American Legion.

Start by making a complete list of all of your online accounts, together with information about each account. Your list should include username, password, account number and a description of what each account includes. If you change passwords frequently, as recommended by cybersecurity experts, you’ll need to update your inventory every time.

Digital assets fall into four major types: personal, business, financial and social media. Personal accounts including emails, photos, videos, music and apps used on smart phones or tablets. This information is typically backed up on a computer hard drive or cloud-based storage account.

Financial assets include savings and checking accounts, retirement accounts, investment accounts, utility accounts and shopping and frequent flyer accounts. If you do banking or investing online, or if you own cryptocurrency, you’ll want to include these accounts.

Business related accounts include intellectual property, websites or blogs, written work, photos, videos, musical compositions and software. If your side gig includes selling items on eBay or Esty or similar websites, this information also needs to be included in your digital asset inventory.

Social media accounts include well-known platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp and any other platform where you are actively engaged. Gaming sites, e-sports and gambling sites should also be included.

Storage and protection is the second part of a digital estate plan. This involves saving the list and backing up important files and account information. The inventory itself needs to be secured, as it could easily be used to access your identity and steal your entire online life. The inventory can be as simple as a list on a pad of paper, stored in a secure location. If it is stored in a digital manner, make sure it is encrypted. There are programs to store and encrypt passwords. However, they are only as good as the software used to create them.

Saving the information on a desktop, laptop or tablet is risky, since these devices are hacked and contents are compromised fairly often. An external thumb drive might work. However, what if it was lost?

Select a digital executor and discuss your digital assets with them. Many states have now passed laws governing digital assets. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to learn if yours is among them. On some platforms, the executor needs to have been named in advance as a legacy contact before they are legally permitted to access the digital asset. In many cases, having the user’s name and password doesn’t give the executor a legal right to access the accounts according to the Terms of Service Agreement (TOSA) between the user and the platform.

Your estate plan should include a letter of instruction to the digital executor to tell them specifically what you wish to happen to your online accounts and digital assets. It should include recommendations for the distribution of various accounts, assets, files and information to heirs. It may be needed to prove your wishes or directives for digital assets, if there should be a challenge to the executor.

Managing digital assets is a new and changing area of the law and need to be included in your estate planning. Making provisions for your digital estate will make it possible for your executor to protect your digital assets, as much as a traditional estate plan protects traditional, tangible property. If you would like to learn more about managing digital assets, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: American Legion (Dec. 13, 2022) “Estate planning and online accounts”

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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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Preparing an estate inventory is critical

Preparing an Estate Inventory is Critical

The executor’s job includes gathering all of the assets, determining the value and ownership of real estate, securities, bank accounts and any other assets and filing a formal inventory with the probate court. Preparing an estate inventory is critical to having a smooth probate. Every state has its own rules, forms and deadline for the process, says a recent article from yahoo! Finance titled “What Do I Need to Do to Prepare an Estate Inventory for Probate,” which recommends contacting a local estate planning attorney to get it right.

The inventory is used to determine the overall value of the estate. It’s also used to determine whether the estate is solvent, when compared to any claims of creditors for taxes, mortgages, or other debts. The inventory will also be used to calculate any estate or inheritance taxes owed by the estate to the state or federal government.

What is an estate asset? Anything anyone owned at the time of their death is the short answer. This includes:

  • Real estate: houses, condos, apartments, investment properties
  • Financial accounts: checking, savings, money market accounts
  • Investments: brokerage accounts, certificates of deposits, stocks, bonds
  • Retirement accounts: 401(k)s, HSAs, traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, pensions
  • Wages: Unpaid wages, unpaid commissions, un-exercised stock options
  • Insurance policies: life insurance or annuities
  • Vehicles: cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats
  • Business interests: any business holdings or partnerships
  • Debts/judgments: any personal loans to people or money received through court judgments

Preparing an estate inventory is critical for probate, but it may take some time. If the decedent hasn’t created an inventory and shared it with the executor, which would be the ideal situation, the executor may spend a great deal of time searching through desk drawers and filing cabinets and going through the mail for paper financial statements, if they exist.

If the estate includes real property owned in several states, this process becomes even more complex, as each state will require a separate probate process.

The court will not accept a simple list of items. For example, an inventory entry for real property will need to include the address, legal description of the property, copy of the deed and a fair market appraisal of the property by a professional appraiser.

Once all the assets are identified, the executor may need to use a state-specific inventory form for probate inventories. When completed, the executor files it with the probate court. An experienced estate planning attorney will be familiar with the process and be able to speed the process along without the learning curve needed by an inexperienced layperson.

Deadlines for filing the inventory also vary by state. Some probate judges may allow extensions, while other may not.

The executor has a fiduciary responsibility to the beneficiaries of the estate to file the inventory without delay. The executor is also responsible for paying off any debts or taxes and overseeing the distribution of any remaining assets to beneficiaries. It’s a large task, and one that will benefit from the help of an experienced estate planning attorney. If you would like to learn more about probate, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: yahoo! finance (Dec. 3, 2022) “What Do I Need to Do to Prepare an Estate Inventory for Probate”

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Avoid Leaving Residual Assets Behind

Avoid Leaving Residual Assets Behind

This is also known as estate residue or residual estate. It simply means the assets left over after a will has been read, assets have been distributed to heirs and any final expenses have been paid. An estate planning attorney can help avoid leaving residual assets behind, with a comprehensive estate plan, reports a recent article titled “How to Write a Residuary Estate Clause in a Will” from yahoo!

A will is a legal document used to name guardians for minor children and providing directions for how you want assets to be distributed when you pass. Any assets not included in your will or distributed through a trust automatically become part of the residuary estate on your death.

This can happen deliberately or unintentionally. For example, your will can state your wishes to have certain assets left to certain people. However, your will could also include a residual estate clause explaining what should happen to any assets not already named in the will. In this case, you’re intentionally creating a residual estate, and planning for it at the time of the will’s creation.

Some residual estates are created without advance planning. Here’s how that happens:

  • If you forget to include assets in your will.
  • If you acquired new assets after drafting a will and do not add a codicil making provision for the distribution of the assets.
  • Someone named in the will dies before you or is unable to receive the inheritance you left for them.

This can also happen if you set up a Payable On Death (POD) account but neglect to add a beneficiary to the account. Any funds in the account would be lumped into the residual estate.

What happens if you draft a will and don’t have a residuary estate clause? Any unclaimed or overlooked assets will be distributed, according to your state’s inheritance guidelines. However, this is only done after any estate taxes, outstanding debts or final expenses have been paid. Assets would be distributed as if you did not have a will. Heirs at law would receive assets according to kinship, including spouse, children, parents, siblings and other relatives.

How does a trust work in relation to a residual estate? Trusts are legal entities allowing you to transfer assets to a trustee. The trustee is responsible for managing assets on behalf of the trust for beneficiaries according to your wishes. You may want to establish a trust if you have a substantial estate, want to plan for a family member with special needs or if you wish to create a charitable giving legacy.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to avoid leaving residual assets behind. Your attorney will determine whether your will should have a residual clause and what assets should be included. They will also be able to determine whether you need additional estate planning strategies, including a revocable living trust. If you would like to learn more about drafting a Will or Trust, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: yahoo! (Dec. 4, 2022) “How to Write a Residuary Estate Clause in a Will”

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Young Professionals Need Estate Planning

Young Professionals Need Estate Planning

Even those whose daily tasks bring them close to death on a daily basis can be reluctant to consider having an estate plan done. However, young professionals, or high-income earners, needs estate planning to protect assets and prepare for incapacity. Estate planning also makes matters easier for loved ones, explains a recent article titled “Physician estate planning guide” from Medical Economics. An estate plan gets your wishes honored, minimizes court expenses and maintains family harmony.

Having an estate plan is needed by anyone, at any age or stage of life. A younger professional may be less inclined to consider estate planning. However, it’s a mistake to put it off.

Start by meeting with an experienced estate planning attorney in your home state. Have a power of attorney drafted to give a trusted person the ability to make decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. Not having this legal relationship leads to big problems. Your family will need to go to court to have a conservatorship or guardianship established to do something as simple as make a mortgage payment. Having a POA is a far better solution.

Next, talk with your estate planning attorney about a last will and testament and any trusts you might need. A will is a simpler method. However, if you have substantial assets, you may benefit from the protection a trust affords.

A will names your executor and expresses your wishes for property distribution. The will doesn’t become effective until after death when it’s reviewed by the court and verified during probate. The executor named in the will is then appointed to act on the directions in the will.

Most states don’t require an executor to be notified in advance. However, people should discuss this role with the person who they want to appoint. It’s not always a welcome surprise, and there’s no requirement for the named person to serve.

A trust is created to own property outside of the estate. It’s created and becomes effective while the person is still living and is often described as “kinder” to beneficiaries, especially if the grantor owns their practice and has complex business arrangements.

Trusts are useful for people who own assets in more than one state. In some cases, deeds to properties can be added into one trust, streamlining and consolidating assets and making it simpler to redirect after death.

Irrevocable trusts are especially useful to any doctor concerned about being sued for malpractice. An irrevocable trust helps protect assets from creditors seeking to recover assets.

Young professionals need estate planning because not being prepared with an estate plan addressing incapacity and death leads to a huge burden for loved ones. Once the plan is created, it should be updated every three to five years. Updating the plan is far easier than the initial creation and reflects changes in one’s life and in the law. If you would like to read more about estate planning for business owners, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Medical Economics (Nov. 30, 2022) “Physician estate planning guide”

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Add Safeguards to Protect Heirs

Add Safeguards to Protect Heirs

What if your executor or trustee decides to run off to the Bahamas with all your assets, leaving heirs with nothing? Ohio Farmer’s recent article entitled “What if trustee runs off with assets?” says that you should add safeguards to protect the heirs of an estate.

The most common way to protect against this possibility is a fiduciary bond. An executor, trustee, or guardian would get a bond early in a probate case and file it with the court. The bond would remain in place while the fiduciary is serving his or her role. If the fiduciary absconds with estate assets, the bond is there to help the beneficiaries.

This expense would be covered by the fiduciary, who would need to find a bond company willing to issue it. The bond amount is connected to the value of personal property, such as financial accounts, vehicles and personal effects.

Do you need a bond to cover the value of land? No. The primary difference is that land can’t be picked up easily and moved, making a bond unnecessary. It’s also very hard to transfer land without extensive safeguards. In some cases, court permission is required for a transfer. To sell a farm or ranch, a title company might raise suspicion. Real estate-related actions are also often public record. In some cases, a court action can correct issues or order damages.

It’s possible to waive the requirement of a bond. That’s a default setting for bonds with estates, trusts, or guardianships. Most estate planning documents waive the bond requirement, because family members often serve as fiduciaries.

State law may also describe several situations where a bond isn’t required. However, if a party motions the court, and the judge thinks there’s good cause for a bond, one can be required for a fiduciary.

While a bond can provide some important protections for heirs, the likelihood of a fiduciary running off with assets is low. As a result, most administrations view the bond as an unnecessary step and expense.

However, if a family is concerned about the trustworthiness of a fiduciary and want to add safeguards to protect your heirs, the bond requirement should be reinstated.

If an administration is pending, the family can petition the court to require a bond. Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to determine the role of bonds for your estate plan. if you would like to learn more about the responsibilities of a trustee, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Ohio Farmer (Nov. 22, 2022) “What if trustee runs off with assets?”

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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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