Category: Probate

What is an enhanced life estate?

What’s an Enhanced Life Estate?

What’s an enhanced life estate? This topic comes up from time to time with older couples of retirement age. First Coast News’ recent article entitled “Deed named for former first lady could be key to planning your estate” explains that a strategy that’s available in Florida and a few other states is called an enhanced life estate or a “Lady Bird” deed, named after former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson.

This deed states that when I die, you get the property, but until then, I reserve all rights to do whatever I want with it. That contrasts with a traditional life estate where a property owner can plan for one or more others to inherit their house.

Typically, the person with a life estate has a lot less control over what happens in the future, including potentially being thwarted by the very person you’re tapping to receive your property at your death, in case you decide you no longer want the house while you’re still alive.

The problem is, now you want to sell the property, but since they are a co-owner, they can refuse. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Enhanced life estates are also about protecting property and its eventual recipient from creditors after the death of the owner. That’s the benefit of avoiding probate. Medicaid or any other creditor may become a creditor in probate.

A Lady Bird deed supersedes a will.

But there are downsides to the Lady Bird deed. A big drawback is if you change your mind. You have to now record another deed in the public record to remove that, and every deed that you record creates one thing that could go wrong.

However, this can be true of any change made in hope of overriding an earlier estate decision, and Lady Bird deeds are fairly straightforward. Understanding what an enhanced life estate does will help avoid any pitfalls.  Ask an experienced estate planning attorney if this type of arrangement is available in your state.

If you would like to read more about enhanced life estates, or other types of deeds for property, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: First Coast News (July 19, 2021) “Deed named for former first lady could be key to planning your estate”

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pot trust gives you added flexibility

Pot Trust gives you added Flexibility

A pot trust gives you added flexibility as to the way in which the trust assets are used, if you plan to leave your entire estate to your children, says Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “How Does a Pot Trust Work?” It’s also called a discretionary, sprinkling or common pot trust and is a type of trust that can be used by families to pass on assets. Minor children serve as beneficiaries with a trustee overseeing the management of trust assets. The trustee has discretionary power to decide how the trust funds are used to pay for the care and needs of beneficiaries.

Flexibility is key in family pot trusts, since the assets are distributed based on the children’s needs, rather than setting specific distribution rules as to who gets what. You might consider this type of trust over other types of trusts if: (i) you have two or more children; and (ii) at least one of those children is a minor. As long as the trust is in place, the trustee determines how trust assets may be used to provide for the beneficiaries’ well-being. This trust is designed to address the financial needs of individual children as they arise, and there’s no requirement for trust assets to be divided equally among them.

Pot trusts can give flexibility to parents who want to make certain the needs of their children will be met in the event something happens to them. If both parents were to die, a pot trust could provide money to cover basic living expenses, as well as other costs that might arise. You can decide when the trust should end, based on the ages of your children, if ever. Children can also still get distributions from the trust once it terminates, if all trust assets haven’t been used.

However, pot trusts don’t ensure an equal distribution of assets among multiple children. A family pot trust can also put an increased burden on the trustee because the trustee must in effect assume a parental role when it comes to financial decision-making. There’s no predetermined set of instructions left behind by the trust grantor.

However, if you’re worried about issues of fairness or older children having to wait to receive trust assets, ask an experienced estate planning attorney about creating individual trusts instead, so that you can designate specific assets to be added to each trust and provide instructions to the trustee on how those assets should be managed. An individual trust gives you more control over what happens with the trust assets. You can also say what portion of your estate each child should receive.

A pot trust will provide the flexibility you want, but still requires careful consideration as you distribute assets amongst your family. Work with you estate planning attorney to ensure this type of trust is the right option for you. If you would like to learn more about different types of trusts, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Aug. 31, 2021) “How Does a Pot Trust Work?”

 

Using Cryptocurrency in your Estate Planning

Cryptocurrency is a digital currency that can be used to buy online goods and services, explains Forbes’ recent article entitled “Cryptocurrency And Estate Planning: What Digital Investors Should Know.” Part of cryptocurrency’s appeal is the technology that backs it. Blockchain is a decentralized system that records and manages transactions across many computers and is very secure. If you are intent on using cryptocurrency in your estate planning, there are things you need to know.

As of June 24, the total value of all cryptocurrencies was $1.35 trillion, according to CoinMarketCap. There are many available cryptocurrencies. However, the most popular ones include Bitcoin, Ethereum, Binance Coin and Dogecoin. Many believe cryptocurrency will be a main currency in the future, and they’re opting to buy it now. They also like the fact that central banks are not involved in the process, so they can’t interfere with its value.

In addition, NFTs or non-fungible tokens, are also gaining in popularity. Each token is one of a kind and they’re also supported by blockchain technology. They can be anything digital, such as artwork or music files. NFTs are currently being used primarily as a way to buy and sell digital art. An artist could sell their original digital artwork to a buyer. The buyer is the owner of the exclusive original, but the artist might retain proprietary rights to feature the artwork or make copies of it. The popularity of NFTs is centered around the social value of fine art collecting in the digital space.

Here are three reasons to have an estate plan, if you buy bitcoin:

  1. No probate. Even if your loved ones knew you were using cryptocurrency, and even if they knew where you stored your password, that wouldn’t be enough for them to get access to it. Without proper estate planning, your cryptocurrency assets may be put through a lengthy and expensive probate process.
  2. Blockchain technology. You must have a private key to access each of your assets. It’s usually a long passcode. A comprehensive estate plan that includes this can help you have peace of mind knowing that your investments can be passed on to loved ones’ if anything were to happen to you unexpectedly.
  3. Again, central banks don’t play any part in the process, and it’s secure because its processing and recording are spread across many different computers. However, there’s no governing body overseeing the affairs of cryptocurrency.

Using cryptocurrency in your estate planning could have benefits and consequences. Speak with your estate planning attorney to make sure you have a full grasp on how it works.

If you would like to read more about cryptocurrency and other digital assets, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (July 21, 2021) “Cryptocurrency And Estate Planning: What Digital Investors Should Know”

The Estate of The Union Episode 9 out now

 

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benefits of a charitable lead trust

Which Trust Is Right for You?

Everyone wins when estate planning attorneys, financial advisors and accounting professionals work together on a comprehensive estate plan. Each of these professionals can provide their insights when helping you make decisions in their area. Guiding you to the best possible options tends to happen when everyone is on the same page, says a recent article “Choosing Between Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts” from U.S. News & World Report. Which trust is right for you?

What is a trust and what do trusts accomplish? Trusts are not just for the wealthy. Many families use trusts to serve different goals, from controlling distributions of assets over generations to protecting family wealth from estate and inheritance taxes.

There are two basic kinds of trust. It can be difficult to know which trust is right for you and your family situation. There are also many specialized trusts in each of the two categories: the revocable trust and the irrevocable trust. The first can be revoked or changed by the trust’s creator, known as the “grantor.” The second is difficult and in some instances and impossible to change, without the complete consent of the trust’s beneficiaries.

There are pros and cons for each type of trust.

Let’s start with the revocable trust, which is also referred to as a living trust. The grantor can make changes to the trust at any time, from removing assets or beneficiaries to shutting down the trust entirely. When the grantor dies, the trust becomes irrevocable. Revocable trusts are often used to pass assets to adult children, with a trustee named to manage the trust’s assets until the trust documents direct the trustee to distribute assets. Some people use a revocable trust to prevent their children from accessing wealth too early in their lives, or to protect assets from spendthrift children with creditor problems.

Irrevocable trusts are just as they sound: they can’t be amended once established. The terms of the trust cannot be changed, and the grantor gives up any control or legal right to the assets, which are owned by the trust.

Giving up control comes with the benefit that assets placed in the trust are no longer part of the grantor’s estate and are not subject to estate taxes. Creditors, including nursing homes and Medicaid, are also prevented from accessing assets in an irrevocable trust.

Irrevocable trusts were once used by people in high-risk professions to protect their assets from lawsuits. Irrevocable trusts are used to divest assets from estates, so people can become eligible for Medicaid or veteran benefits.

The revocable trust protects the grantor’s wishes, if the grantor becomes incapacitated. It also avoids probate, since the trust becomes irrevocable upon death and assets are outside of the probated estate. The revocable trust may include qualified assets, like IRAs, 401(k)s and 403(b)s.

However, there are drawbacks. The revocable trust does not provide tax benefits or creditor protection while the grantor is living.

Your estate planning attorney will know which trust is right for your situation, and working with your financial advisor and accountant, will be able to create the plan that minimizes taxes and maximizes wealth transfers for your heirs. If you would like to learn more about the different types of trusts available, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Aug. 26, 2021) “Choosing Between Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts”

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failures of do-it-yourself estate planning

Failures of Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning

US News & World Report’s recent article entitled “6 Common Myths About Estate Planning explains that the coronavirus pandemic has made many people face decisions about estate planning. Many will use a do-it-yourself solution. Internet DIY websites make it easy to download forms. However, there are mistakes people make when they try do-it-yourself estate planning. There are ways to avoid the failures of do-it-yourself estate planning.

Here are some issues with do-it-yourself that estate planning attorneys regularly see:

You need to know what to ask. If you’re trying to complete a specific form, you may be able to do it on your own. However, the challenge is sometimes not knowing what to ask. If you want a more comprehensive end-of-life plan and aren’t sure about what you need in addition to a will, work with an experienced estate planning attorney. If you want to cover everything, and are not sure what everything is, that’s why you see them.

More complex issues require professional help. Take a more holistic look at your estate plan and look at estate planning, tax planning and financial planning together, since they’re all interrelated. If you only look at one of these areas at a time, you may create complications in another. This could unintentionally increase your expenses or taxes. Your situation might also include special issues or circumstances. A do-it-yourself website might not be able to tell you how to account for your specific situation in the best possible way. It will just give you a blanket list, and it will all be cookie cutter. You won’t have the individual attention to your goals and priorities you get by sitting down and talking to an experienced estate planning attorney.

Estate laws vary from state to state. Every state may have different rules for estate planning, such as for powers of attorney or a health care proxy. There are also 17 states and the District of Columbia that tax your estate, inheritance, or both. These tax laws can impact your estate planning. Eleven states and DC only have an estate tax (CT, HI, IL, ME, MA, MN, NY, OR, RI, VT and WA). Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have only an inheritance tax. Maryland has both an inheritance tax and an estate tax.

Setting up health care directives and making end-of-life decisions can be very involved. Avoid the failures of do-it-yourself estate planning. It’s too important to try to do it yourself. If you make a mistake, it could impact the ability of your family to take care of financial expenses or manage health care issues. Don’t do it yourself.

If you would like more information on crating an estate plan, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: US News & World Report (July 5, 2021) “6 Common Myths About Estate Planning”

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Estate planning for same-sex couples

Estate Planning for Same-Sex Couples

Proper estate planning can help ensure that your wishes are carried out exactly as intended in the event of a death or a serious illness, says Insurance Net News’ recent article entitled “What Same-Sex Partners Need to Know About Estate Planning.” Having a clearly stated plan in place can give clear instructions and potentially avoid any fights that otherwise might occur. With estate planning for same-sex couples, this may be even more crucial.

Your estate plan should include a will or trust, beneficiary forms, powers of attorney, a living will and a letter of intent. It’s also smart to include a secure document with a list of your accounts, debts, assets and contact info for any key people involved in those accounts. This list should contain passwords for locked accounts and any other relevant information.

A will is a central component of an estate plan which ensures that your wishes are followed after you pass away. This alleviates your family from the responsibility of determining how to divide your property and takes the guessing and stress out of how to pass along belongings. A will or trust might also state the way in which to transfer your financial assets to your children. You should also make sure your beneficiary forms are up to date with your spouse for life insurance policies, bank accounts and retirement accounts.

For same-sex couples, it is particularly important to create a clear medical power of attorney and create a living will that states your medical directives, if you aren’t able to make those decisions on your own. If you aren’t married, this will give your partner the legal protection he or she needs to make those decisions. It is important for you to take time to have those conversations with your partner, so the plans and directives are clear. You can also draft a letter of intent, which is a written, personal note that can be included to help detail your wishes and provide reasoning for the decisions.

Protecting Your Minor Children. Name a legal guardian for them in your will, in the event both parents die. Same-sex couples must make sure that both parents have equal rights, especially in a case where one parent is the biological parent. If the surviving spouse or partner isn’t the biological parent and hasn’t legally adopted the children, don’t assume they’ll automatically be named guardian.  These laws vary from state to state.

Dissolve Old Unions. There could be challenges, if you entered into a civil union or domestic partnership before your marriage was legalized. Prior to the 2015 marriage equality ruling, some same-sex couples married in states where it was legal but resided in states where the marriage wasn’t recognized. If you and your partner broke up, but didn’t legally dissolve the union, it may still be legally binding. Moreover, some states converted civil unions and domestic partnerships to legal marriages, so you and a former partner could be legally married without knowing it. If a former union wasn’t with your current partner, make certain that you legally unbind yourself to avoid any future disputes on your estate.

Review Your Real Estate Documents. Check your real estate documents to confirm that both partners are listed and have equal rights to home ownership, especially if the home was purchased prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage or if you aren’t married. There are a few ways to split ownership of their property. This includes tenants in common, where both partners share ownership of the property, but allows each individual to leave their shares to another person in their will. There’s also joint tenants with rights to survivorship. This is when both partners are property owners but if one dies, the remaining partner retains sole ownership.

Estate planning for same-sex couples can be a complex process, and they may have more stress to make certain that they have a legally binding plan. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about the estate planning process to put a solid plan to help provide peace of mind knowing your family is protected.

If you would like to read more about planning for same sex couples, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Insurance Net News (June 30, 2021) “What Same-Sex Partners Need to Know About Estate Planning”

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Difference between Conservatorship and Guardianship

Difference between Conservatorship and Guardianship

It is common for people to misunderstand and confuse the difference between a conservatorship and a guardianship. A conservatorship is created to let one person manage another’s finances. The conservator is court- appointed and may be responsible for financial decisions, such as retirement planning, the purchase or sale of property and the transfer of other financial assets.

The laws for conservatorships and guardianships can vary widely in different states. A conservatorship or guardianship is typically necessitated by a disability or injury that prevents a person from caring for themselves.

US News & World Report’s recent article entitled “How Conservatorships Can Prop Up or Tear Down a Loved One” explains that once you have a conservator in place, the burden is on you to prove you no longer need it. The biggest issue in most cases is abuse of power or neglect. Either (the conservator) is doing something self-serving, such as spending money on something other than the senior’s care, or they’re not helping the conservatee, or providing the care they need.

Estate planning attorneys may recommend a conservatorship or guardianship in standard estate planning documents, like a power of attorney. A conservator can be any adult, possibly a family member, who is tasked with the responsibility of managing the person’s finances.

Because a conservator would be in charge of a person’s assets, it’s common for the same person to be named to serve as attorney-in-fact or agent with a power of attorney. However, because a guardian is in charge of the person themselves, it’s wise to nominate the same people who are named to serve as health care agents in the client’s health care proxy. Sometimes, these are the same, but if they’re different, it is important for that difference to be stated.

A guardianship is created in cases when a person can’t take care of themselves and requires another person to make some or all of their personal decisions. This might include decisions about his or her medical care, support services, housing, or finances. While a court appoints both a conservator and a guardian, a conservatorship is generally limited to financial decisions. In contrast, a guardianship deals with personal decisions, like medical care, and may, in some instances, also cover financial decisions.

Just about every state has laws designed to protect those placed in a conservatorship or guardianship. For example, in New York, individuals must satisfy medical requirements to be determined unable to care for oneself. The burden of proof to meet such restrictions is high.

In addition, individuals can seek professional help in preparing for future circumstances that may prevent them from managing their finances and personal affairs. This includes estate planning documents, such as wills, powers of attorney, beneficiary forms and health care proxies. An estate planning attorney can help you better understand the difference between a conservatorship and a guardianship, and advise you which is the best option for you and your family.

If you would like to learn more about conservatorship and guardianship, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: US News & World Report (Aug. 19, 2021) “How Conservatorships Can Prop Up or Tear Down a Loved One”

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The purpose of a credit shelter trust

The Purpose of a Credit Shelter Trust

The purpose of a credit shelter trust is for protecting assets from creditors, moving assets out of the estate to avoid probate and adding another layer of protection to a deceased spouse’s wishes. Only married couples can use credit shelter trusts, according to a recent article explaining it all: “How Does a Credit Shelter Trust Work?” from Yahoo! Finance.

The main reason to use a credit shelter trust is to minimize federal estate taxes on assets in the estate. Also known as “wealth transfer taxes,” the federal estate tax has been around since 1916. Estate tax rates are very high. Wealth more than $1 million over the exemption rate is taxed at 40%. While today’s federal estate tax exemption is very high—$11.7 million for individuals and $23.4 million for couples—it is generally understood that these numbers are not likely to remain at these historic levels. The current estate tax exemption expires in 2025, unless Congress acts to reduce it earlier.

Estate tax law changes often both at the federal and the state level, so estate planning attorneys continually track these changes to protect their clients.

The credit shelter trust, also known as a bypass trust, B trust, exemption trust or a family trust, is an irrevocable trust. As with all trusts, it is a contract between the trustor—the person who creates and funds the trust—and the trustee—the person in charge of the trust. The trust may contain any type of property, from cash, stocks, bonds and real estate to collectibles and artwork.

The credit shelter trust becomes effective upon the death of one of the spouses. Assets in the trust are not included in the estate of the surviving spouse. Depending upon the terms of the trust, these assets may pass to beneficiaries after the first spouse passes without incurring any tax liabilities. Alternatively, as long as the surviving spouse lives, they may receive income from assets in the trust.

Another purpose of a credit shelter trust is to protect the wishes of the decedent spouse. The trust document can be used to direct that some or all of the assets of the first spouse to die shall pass to the children of a first marriage or other specific beneficiaries.

Credit shelter trusts are one of many tools that can be used for estate planning. They have the added benefit of protecting assets from creditors and maintaining the family’s privacy, since assets in trust do not go through probate. Your estate planning attorney will know which kind of trust is best for your unique situation.

If you would like to read more about various types of trusts, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Yahoo! Finance (Aug. 16, 2021) “How Does a Credit Shelter Trust Work?”

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selling a home in an irrevocable trust

Selling a Home in an Irrevocable Trust

A trustee should be aware that selling a home in an irrevocable trust for a parent who died means that generally, assets transferred to an irrevocable trust will be deemed a completed gift and will not be included in an estate for estate tax purposes.

Lehigh Valley Live’s recent article entitled “What happens to tax on a home sold from a trust?” explains that this means there wouldn’t be a step-up in basis to the fair market value upon the decedent’s death.

Remember that an irrevocable trust is a type of trust in which its terms can’t be modified, amended, or terminated without the permission of the grantor’s named beneficiary or beneficiaries.

Irrevocable trusts have tax-shelter benefits that revocable trusts to don’t.

However, an irrevocable trust can be created so that the settlor (the creator) of the trust keeps certain rights and powers, so that gifts to the trust are incomplete.

In that instance, the assets are included in the settlor’s estate upon death and obtain a step-up in basis upon the decedent’s death.

If the trust sells the asset in the trust, the trust may need to file Form 1041, U.S. Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts, and the trust may be required to pay a tax.

If the trust distributes any income to the beneficiaries in the same tax year it receives that income, the income is passed through to the beneficiaries, and the beneficiaries must report it on the beneficiaries’ individual tax returns (Form 1040) and pay any tax due.

It’s generally a good idea to report and pay tax at the individual rate instead of at the trust or estate level.

That’s because the trust or estate will begin to pay tax at the highest rate at only $13,150. In comparison, an individual doesn’t pay tax at the highest rate until his or her income exceeds over $440,000.

Note that an irrevocable trust is a more complex legal arrangement than a revocable trust. Selling a home in an irrevocable trust can be a headache. As a result, there might be current income tax and future estate tax implications when using this type of trust. It’s wise to seek the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Lehigh Valley Live (Aug. 16, 2021) “What happens to tax on a home sold from a trust?”

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New Installment of The Estate of The Union Podcast

 

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The Estate of The Union Episode 10 out now

New Installment of The Estate of The Union Podcast

In this new installment of The Estate of The Union Podcast, Brad Wiewel is joined by Ann Lumley, JD, the Director of After Life Services and Trust Administration for Texas Trust Law to discuss celebrity estate planning screw ups.

The size and scope of the mistakes made by celebrities may be enormous, but many of the mistakes are common for, well, us common people. Ann and Brad discuss the havoc created by celebrities when they died with no planning or inadequate planning. It’s a fun, fast moving discussion on What-Not-To-Do. Learning lessons from celebrity estate planning mistakes is a good way to prevent yourself from making those same errors. If you don’t have an estate plan, get it started. If you haven’t looked at your estate plan in a while, have it reviewed.

In each episode of The Estate of The Union podcast, host and lawyer Brad Wiewel will give valuable insight into estate planning, making an often daunting subject easier to understand.

It is Estate Planning Made Simple!

The Estate of The Union 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. We hope you enjoy it.

Episode 8 of The Estate of The Union podcast is out now

The Wiewel Law Firm 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. 

Information in our blogs is very general in nature and should not be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Please feel free to contact The Wiewel Law Firm to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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