Category: Probate

Best Uses of Life Insurance Benefits

Best Uses of Life Insurance Benefits

The loss of a spouse is an extremely stressful event. It comes with many emotions that can be overwhelming for the bereaved. Hopefully, life insurance is one thing that was put in place to allow those remaining to process their loss without fretting over their finances. But what are the best uses of life insurance benefits, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “What Is the Best Way for a Widow to Use Life Insurance Proceeds?”

Life insurance death benefits can be paid within 30 days after you submit a claim. To do this, you need a certified death certificate, which is generally issued in less than a week by the funeral home. You should also order plenty of copies (about 15) for closing accounts.

The best use of the money is different for each widow and her unique situation.

Funeral Costs. Use life insurance money to cover these costs to decrease your financial strain.

Ongoing Expenses. When your spouse dies, living expenses do not stop. Your income is frequently reduced. In fact, after the death of a spouse, household income generally declines by about 40% due to changes in Social Security benefits, spouse’s retirement income and earnings. The death benefit from a life insurance policy can help provide the funds you need to help cover your mortgage, car payment, utilities, food, clothing and health care premiums.

Debts. You are generally not personally responsible for paying off the debts of your husband, provided they are in his name alone. When an estate does not have enough funds to pay all the debts, any gifts that were supposed to be paid out to beneficiaries will most likely be reduced. Note that you may be responsible for certain types of debt, such as debt that is jointly owned or a loan that you have co-signed. Talk to an experienced elder law attorney to understand the laws of your state, so that you know where you stand concerning all debts.

Create an Emergency Fund. Life insurance can help build a liquid emergency fund, which should cover three to six months of expenses.

Supplement Your Retirement. When a woman loses her spouse, she becomes much more vulnerable to poverty. To retire, a person typically needs 80% of their preretirement income to live comfortably.

Education. If you are a young widow, the life insurance proceeds can be used to pay for going back to school to augment your earning abilities. These funds could also cover the cost of college for your children. However, you should only save for college educational costs after your retirement savings is secure.

It is up to beneficiary to decide the best uses of life insurance benefits going forward. It is a good idea to consult an estate planning and probate attorney to make sure you have a full grasp of the benefits provided. If you would like to learn more about life insurance and estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 17, 2021) “What Is the Best Way for a Widow to Use Life Insurance Proceeds?”

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Maximize the Benefits of a Trust Fund

Maximize the Benefits of a Trust Fund

To maximize the benefits of a trust fund, you’ll need to understand how trusts funds work and how to create a trust fund the right way, advises this recent article from Yahoo! Money titled “How to Start a Trust Fund the Easy Way.” You don’t have to be a millionaire to start a trust fund, by the way. “Regular” people benefit just as much as millionaires from using trusts to protect assets and minimize taxes.

A trust fund is an independent legal entity created to own assets and ensure money and property are used to benefit loved ones. They are commonly used to transfer assets to family members.

Trust funds are created by grantors, the person who sets up the trust and transfers money or assets into it. An experienced estate planning attorney will be essential, since creating a trust is not like going to the bank and opening an account. You need the assistance of a professional who can create a trust to reflect your wishes and comply with your state’s laws.

When assets are moved into a trust, the trust becomes the legal owner of the property. Part of creating the trust is naming a trustee, who manages the trust and is legally bound to follow the wishes of the trust following the grantor’s wishes. A successor trustee should always be named, in case the primary trustee becomes unwilling to serve or dies.

Subject to compliance with specific requirements, assets owned by an irrevocable trust are not countable towards Medicaid, if someone in the family needs long-term care and is concerned about qualifying. Any transfer must be done at least five years in advance of applying for Medicaid. An elder law attorney can help in preparation for this application and to ensure eligibility. This is a very complex area of law. Do not attempt it alone without the assistance of an elder law attorney.

Trusts can have a long or short life. Some trusts are held for a child until the child reaches age 25, while others are structured to distribute a portion of the assets throughout the beneficiary’s lifetime or when the beneficiary reaches certain milestones, such as finishing college, starting a family, etc.

A revocable trust allows the grantor to have the most control over the assets in the trust, but at a cost. The revocable trust may be changed at any time, and property can be moved in and out of it. However, the assets are available to creditors and are countable towards long-term care because they are in the control of the grantor.

The irrevocable trust requires the grantor to give up control, in exchange for the benefits the trust provides.

There are as many types of trusts as there are situations for trusts. Charitable Remainder Trusts reduce estate taxes and allow beneficiaries to receive an income stream for a designated period of time, at the end of which the remainder of the trust’s assets go to the charity. Special Needs Trusts are created for disabled persons who are receiving means-tested government benefits. There are strict rules about SNTs, so speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that your loved one continues to be eligible, if you want them to receive assets from you.

Trusts are often used so assets will pass through the trust and not through the probate process. Assets owned by a trust pass directly to beneficiaries and information about the assets does not become part of the public record, which is part of what occurs during the probate process.

Your estate planning attorney will help you maximize the benefits of a trust fund, achieve your specific wishes and are in compliance with your state’s laws. A boilerplate template could present more problems than it solves. For trusts, the experienced professional is the best option. If you would like to learn more about the benefits of a trust, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Yahoo! Money (March 18, 2022) “How to Start a Trust Fund the Easy Way”

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There are the New IRA Distribution Rules

There are the New IRA Distribution Rules

The IRS recently announced there are new IRA distribution rules in the works. Many of the proposed distribution rules, which will be subject to further action in late spring, depend upon whether or not the original IRA owner died before or after the applicable required beginning date for distributions. As explained in the article “The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Issues Proposed Minimum Distribution Rules” from The National Law Review, the age changed as a result of the SECURE Act, to 72.

Spousal Beneficiaries. If the spouse of the deceased IRA owner is the sole designated beneficiary and elects not to rollover the distribution, the surviving spouse may take RMDs over the deceased’s life expectancy. However, if the owner died before their required beginning date and the spouse is the sole beneficiary, the spouse may opt to delay distributions until the end of the calendar year in which the owner would have turned 72.

If the decedent died after turning 72, the annual distributions are required for all subsequent years and the spouse may take distributions over the longer remaining life expectancy.

Minor Children Beneficiaries. If the beneficiary of the IRA is a minor child, under age 21, annual distributions are required using the minor child’s life expectancy. When the minor turns 21, they must take annual distributions and the account must be fully distributed ten years after the child’s 21st birthday.

Adult Children Beneficiaries. If the account owner dies after their required beginning date (age 72), an adult child who is a beneficiary must take annual distributions based on the beneficiary’s life expectancy. The account must be completely emptied within ten years of the original IRA owner’s death.

This applies only to adult children who are beneficiaries and are not disabled or chronically ill. Disabled or chronically ill adult children fall into a different category under the SECURE Act, with different distribution rules.

Special Rules for Roth IRAs. The benefits of Roth IRA accounts remain. There are no minimum distributions from a Roth IRA while the account owner is still living. After the death of the Roth IRA owner, the required minimum distribution rules apply to the Roth IRA, as if the Roth IRA owner died before their required beginning date.

If the sole beneficiary is the Roth IRA owner’s surviving spouse, the surviving spouse may delay distribution until the decedent would have attained their beginning distribution date.

Now that there are new IRA distribution rules to consider, speak with your estate planning attorney to determine if you need to update your estate plan. There are strategies to protect heirs from the significant tax liabilities these changes may create. If you would like to read more about IRAs and other retirement accounts, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The National Law Review (March 25, 2022) “The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Issues Proposed Minimum Distribution Rules”

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Several Ways to Avoid Probate

Several Ways to Avoid Probate

Probate can tie up the estate for months and be an added expense. It can be a financial and emotional nightmare if you have not planned ahead. Some states have a streamlined process for less valuable estates, but probate still has delays, extra expense and work for the estate administrator. A probated estate is also a public record anyone can review. There are, however, several ways to avoid probate.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “7 Ways To Avoid Probate Without A Living Trust” says that avoiding probate often is a big estate planning goal. You can structure the estate so that all or most of it passes to your loved ones without this process.

A living trust is the most well-known way to avoid probate. However, retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, avoid probate. The beneficiary designation on file with the account administrator or trustee determines who inherits them. Likewise, life insurance benefits and annuities are distributed to the beneficiaries named in the contract.

Joint accounts and joint title are ways to avoid probate. Married couples can own real estate or financial accounts through joint tenancy with right of survivorship. The surviving spouse automatically takes full title after the other spouse passes away. Non-spouses also can establish joint title, like when a senior creates a joint account with an adult child at a financial institution. The child will automatically inherit the account when the parent passes away without probate. If the parent cannot manage his or her affairs at some point, the child can manage the finances without the need for a power of attorney.

Note that all joint owners have equal rights to the property. A joint owner can take withdrawals without the consent of the other. Once joint title is established you cannot sell, give or dispose of the property without the consent of the other joint owner.

A transfer on death provision (TOD) is another vehicle to avoid probate. You might come across the traditional term Totten trust, which is another name for a TOD or POD account (but there is no trust involved). After the original owner passes away, the TOD account is transferred to the beneficiary or changed to his or her name, once the financial institution gets the death certificate.

You can name multiple beneficiaries and specify the percentage of the account each will inherit. However, beneficiaries under a TOD have no rights in or access to the account while the owner is alive. An estate planning attorney will be able to identify several ways for you to avoid a costly probate. If you would like to read more about probate, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Forbes (March 28, 2022) “7 Ways To Avoid Probate Without A Living Trust”

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Keeping the Vacation Home for Generations

Keeping the Vacation Home for Generations

Many family traditions include gatherings at vacation homes. However, leaving these properties to the next generation is not always in the best interest of the family. Some people try to make a simple solution work for a complex problem, leading to more challenges, as explained in the article “Succession planning for the family lakehouse” from NH Business Review. Keeping the vacation home in the family for generations requires solid planning.

Joint ownership among siblings can lead to disputes about how the home is used, operated and maintained. Some children want to continue using the house, while others may see it as an income stream for a rental property. There may be siblings who cannot afford to participate in the house’s upkeep and need the cash more than the tradition. When joint ownership is presented as a surprise in a will, the adult children may find themselves fighting about the vacation home, with no parent around to tell them to knock it off.

Making matters more complicated, if the siblings live in different states and the house is in a neighboring state, ownership of the real estate at death may subject the decedent’s estate to estate taxes where the property is located. As a result, the property may need to go through probate in an additional state. Every state has its own tax rules, so the transfer of joint property will have to be analyzed by an estate planning attorney knowledgeable about the laws in each state involved.

A sensible alternative is creating a Limited Liability Corporation, ideally while the original owners—the parents—are still living. The organizational documents include a certificate of organization to file with the Secretary of State and an operating agreement. The LLC will need its own taxpayer identification number, or EIN.

The operating agreement governs the management of the property and addresses the operating expenses and maintenance of the property. It should also address the process for a child to cash in on their ownership to other children. LLC operating agreements often include these items:

  • Responsibilities for operating expenses
  • Process to transfer member units or interests
  • Duties for regular maintenance, budgeting and approval of property improvements
  • Development of a property use schedule
  • Establishing rules for the home’s use

There are some costs associated with creating an LLC, including annual filing requirements. However, these will be small, when compared to the cost of family fights and untangling joint ownership.

An LLC can also offer personal liability protection from lawsuits brought by renters, creditors, or any litigants. If there is an accident resulting from work being done on the property, the owners may be shielded from the liability because they do not personally own the property, the LLC does.

In the case of divorce, bankruptcy filing, or a large judgement being filed against one of the children, the LLC will protect their interest in the property.

The real estate owned by the LLC is not part of the owner’s probate estate. This avoids the need for a second probate in the state where the property is located. Some states have adopted the Uniform Transfer on Death Security Registration Act, and the LLC membership interest can be assigned along to the terms of the beneficiary designation.

Keeping the vacation home for generations to come provides peace of mind for all in the family. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that the property and the family’s peace is preserved. If you would like to learn more about including property in your estate planning, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: NH Business Review (March 23, 2022) “Succession planning for the family lakehouse”

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Things You should Leave Out of a Will

Things You should Leave Out of a Will

We have written many blog posts over the years about ensuring sure certain things are included in your will. Yet, there are things you should leave out of a will. Let’s look at what shouldn’t be in a will, according to Best Life’s recent article titled “Never Include These 2 Things in Your Will, Experts Warn.”

  1. Never include a conditional gift in your will. A conditional gift is when money or property is given only when and if a specific event takes place. For instance, grandpa might leave a conditional gift for his grandchild, if she graduates college or gets married. These provisions are often drafted in the hopes of encouraging or discouraging certain behaviors and have a tendency to get messy.

Even the seemingly basic condition of graduating from college can turn into a major issue, if the beneficiary decides to pursue the trades or accelerates in college and is offered an excellent job before earning her degree.

Similar obstacles—and, frequently, creative workarounds from beneficiaries who want to unlock their inheritance—will also be encountered with other conditional gifts. However, there are still ways to achieve the spirit of the conditional gift without it getting complicated. Instead, give the bequest outright without any conditions but include the encouragement that the beneficiary does something specific.

Another option is to hold the gift in a trust for a beneficiary. With a trust you can designate a trustee to be in control of the assets in the trust after your death. The trustee will have discretion as to the timing and amount of distributions. You can also detail how narrow or broad that discretion should be.

  1. Be careful with dollar amount bequests. The second thing you should never include in your will is a dollar amount bequest.

While this might seem common, it’s not recommended. This also has the potential to create major conflict within a family.

A better option is to use percentages. In this way, your estate will self-correct for size and each beneficiary will get their proper share.

Every will is specific to the person who creates it. In order to ensure that you are not including things you should leave out of a will, meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to create a will that benefits you and your loved ones—without any unexpected problems. If you would like to learn more about drafting a will, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Best Life (March 20, 2022) “Never Include These 2 Things in Your Will, Experts Warn”

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Estate Planning complicated by Property in Two States

Estate Planning complicated by Property in Two States

Estate planning can be complicated by property in two states. Cleveland Jewish News’ recent article titled “Use attorney when considering multi-state estate plan says that if a person owns real estate or other tangible property (like a boat) in another state, they should think about creating a trust that can hold all their real estate. You don’t need one for each state. You can assign or deed their property to the trust, no matter where the property is located.

Some inherited assets require taxes be paid by the inheritors. Those taxes are determined by the laws of the state in which the asset is located.

A big mistake that people frequently make is not creating a trust. When a person fails to do this, their assets will go to probate. Some other common errors include improperly titling the property in their trust or failing to fund the trust. When those things occur, ancillary probate is required.  This means a probate estate needs to be opened in the other state. As a result, there may be two probate estates going on in two different states, which can mean twice the work and expense, as well as twice the stress.

Having two estates going through probate simultaneously in two different states can delay the time it takes to close the probate estate.

There are some other options besides using a trust to avoid filing an ancillary estate. Most states let an estate holder file a “transfer on death affidavit,” also known as a “transfer on death deed” or “beneficiary deed” when the asset is real estate. This permits property to go directly to a beneficiary without needing to go through probate.

A real estate owner may also avoid probate by appointing a co-owner with survivorship rights on the deed. Do not attempt this without consulting an attorney.

If you have real estate, like a second home, in another state (and) you die owning that individually, you’re going to have to probate that in the state where it’s located. It is usually best to avoid probate in multiple jurisdictions, and also to avoid probate altogether.

A co-owner with survivorship is an option for avoiding probate. If there’s no surviving spouse, or after the first one dies, you could transfer the estate to their revocable trust.

Estate planning can be complicated by property in two states. Each state has different requirements. If you’re going to move to another state or have property in another state, you should consult with a local estate planning attorney. If you would like to learn more about managing real estate in your estate planning, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (March 21, 2022) “Use attorney when considering multi-state estate plan”

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Several Advantages in a Discretionary Trust

Several Advantages in a Discretionary Trust

There are several advantages in establishing a discretionary trust. The trustee who oversees a discretionary trust can use their discretion in determining when and how trust assets should be distributed to beneficiaries. The Facts’ recent article entitled “Your Estate Plan Could Improve with This Type of Trust” explains that a trust is a legal arrangement in which assets are managed by a trustee on behalf of one or more beneficiaries. In a typical trust arrangement, assets are managed according to the directions and wishes of the grantor (also known as the trustmaker, settlor, or trustor).

However, with a discretionary trust, the trust lets the trustee have full discretion when overseeing the distribution of trust assets to beneficiaries. This is a type of irrevocable trust, which means that the transfer of assets is permanent. The grantor can provide direction about when trust assets should be distributed and how much each trust beneficiary should receive. However, it is up to the trustee to decide what choices are made with regard to distributions of principal and interest from trust assets.

A discretionary trust can help to prevent mismanagement of assets on the part of beneficiaries. It can also offer protection against creditor lawsuits. The assets in a discretionary trust are protected because the trustee technically owns those assets, not the trust beneficiaries.

A discretionary trust can also be used in other situations where you may have concerns over how trust assets will be used, such as in the event a beneficiary divorces.

An experienced estate planning attorney can create a discretionary trust. When establishing the trust, you’ll need to decide:

  • Who to name as trustee and successor trustees
  • Which assets will be transferred to the trust
  • Who to name as trust beneficiaries; and
  • Under what situations you’d like assets to be distributed to beneficiaries.

It is an irrevocable trust. As a result, the transfer of assets is permanent. Therefore, be sure beforehand that this type of trust is appropriate for your estate planning needs.

One of several advantages in a discretionary trust is the ability to protect your beneficiaries from their own poor money habits, while preserving a legacy of wealth for future generations.

A properly structured discretionary trust can also have some estate tax planning benefits. Ask your attorney to explain this to you when you meet. If you would like to read more about discretionary trusts, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Facts (March 7, 2022) “Your Estate Plan Could Improve with This Type of Trust”

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Gifting to your Loved Ones can reduce Taxes

Gifting to your Loved Ones can reduce Taxes

For wealthier Americans, gifting to your loved ones now can help you reduce or even avoid estate taxes when you die, say Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Give Cash Now, Cut Your Estate Tax Later.”

Any gift may be subject to the federal gift tax, but you can give up to $16,000 per person during the year without having to file a gift tax return. If you are married, your spouse can also give $16,000 to the same people, upping the annual tax-free gift up to $32,000 per person.

Whatever you give away this year, up to the $16,000-per-recipient limit, will not be counted for estate tax purposes when you die.

If the current value of your estate is above the federal estate tax exclusion amount ($12.06 million for 2022), giving away money now could drop the value below the exclusion amount. The result would be no federal estate tax when you pass away.

There could also be state estate taxes to worry about. A dozen states and the District of Columbia have their own estate tax. Each currently has an exclusion amount that is far below the current federal standard (like just $1 million in Massachusetts and Oregon).

What happens if you are feeling extra generous and want to give more than $16,000 (or $32,000 per couple) to your fantastic 30-year-old niece this year?

You will be required to file a gift tax return (IRS Form 709), and the amount over $16,000 is potentially a taxable gift.

However, gifting to your loved ones can still reduce gift and estate taxes, if the total amount of taxable gifts so far over your lifetime is less than $12.06 million.

Therefore, if you are thinking of dropping a very large amount of cash in the hands of your niece (or whomever), it does not necessarily mean you will have to pay taxes on the gift.

For strategies about gift giving, speak with an experienced estate planning attorney. If you would like to learn more about reducing your tax burden, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 2, 2021) “Give Cash Now, Cut Your Estate Tax Later”

 

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Bypass Trust gives Flexibility in managing Taxes

Bypass Trust gives Flexibility in managing Taxes

A bypass trust gives more flexibility in managing taxes. A bypass trust removes a designated portion of an IRA or 401(k) proceeds from the surviving spouse’s taxable estate, while also achieving several tax benefits, according to a recent article titled “New Purposes for ‘Bypass’ Trusts in Estate Planning” from Financial Advisor.

Portability became law in 2013, when Congress permanently passed the portability election for assets passing outright to the surviving spouse when the first spouse dies. This allows the survivor to benefit from the unused federal estate tax exemption of the deceased spouse, thereby claiming two estate tax exemptions. Why would a couple need a bypass trust in their estate plan?

  • The portability election does not remove appreciation in the value of the ported assets from the surviving spouse’s taxable estate. A bypass trust removes all appreciation.
  • The portability election does not apply if the surviving spouse remarries, and the new spouse predeceases the surviving spouse. Remarriage does not impact a bypass trust.
  • The portability election does not apply to federal generation skipping transfer taxes. The amount could be subject to a federal transfer tax in the heir’s estates, including any appreciation in value.
  • If the decedent had debts or liability issues, ported assets do not have the protection against claims and lawsuits offered by a bypass trust.
  • The first spouse to die loses the ability to determine where the ported assets go after the death of the surviving spouse. This is particularly important when there are children from multiple marriages and parents want to ensure their children receive an inheritance.

This strategy should be reviewed in light of the SECURE Act 10-year maximum payout rule, since the outright payment of IRA and 401(k) plan proceeds to a surviving spouse is entitled to spousal rollover treatment and generally a greater income tax deferral.

Bypass trusts are also subject to the highest federal income tax rate at levels of gross income of as low as $13,550, and they do not qualify for income tax basis step-up at the death of the surviving spouse.

However, the use of IRC Section 678 in creating the bypass trust can eliminate the high trust income tax rates and the minimum exemption, also under Section 678, so the trust is not taxed the way a surviving spouse would be. There is also the potential to include a conditional general testamentary power of appointment in the trust, which can sometimes result in income tax basis step-up for all or a portion of the appreciated assets in the trust upon the death of the surviving spouse.

A bypass trust gives more flexibility in managing taxes. Every estate planning situation is unique, and these decisions should only be made after consideration of the size of the IRA or 401(k) plan, the tax situation of the surviving spouse and the tax situation of the heirs. An experienced estate planning attorney is needed to review each situation to determine whether or not a bypass trust is the best option for the couple and the family. If you would like to learn more about bypass trusts, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Financial Advisor (Feb. 1, 2022) “New Purposes for ‘Bypass’ Trusts in Estate Planning”

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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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