Category: 401(k)

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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Strategies to Reduce Taxes

Strategies to Reduce Taxes

With numerous bills still being considered by Congress, people are increasingly aware of the need to explore options for tax planning, charitable giving, estate planning and inheritances. Tax sensitive strategies for the near future are on everyone’s mind right now, according to the article “Inheritance, estate planning and charitable giving: 4 strategies to reduce taxes now” from Market Watch. These are the strategies to reduce taxes that you should be aware of.

Offsetting capital gains. Capital gains are the profits made from selling an asset which has appreciated in value since it was first acquired. These gains are taxed, although the tax rates on capital gains are lower than ordinary income taxes if the asset is owned for more than a year. Losses on assets reduce tax liability. This is why investors “harvest” their tax losses, to offset gains. The goal is to sell the depreciated asset and at the same time, to sell an appreciated asset.

Consider Roth IRA conversions. People used to assume they would be in a lower tax bracket upon retirement, providing an advantage for taking money from a traditional IRA or other retirement accounts. Income taxes are due on the withdrawals for traditional IRAs. However, if you retire and receive Social Security, pension income, dividends and interest payments, you may find yourself in the enviable position of having a similar income to when you were working. Good for the income, bad for the tax bite.

Converting an IRA into a Roth IRA is increasingly popular for people in this situation. Taxes must be paid, but they are paid when the funds are moved into a Roth IRA. Once in the Roth IRA account, the converted funds grow tax free and there are no further taxes on withdrawals after the IRA has been open for five years. You must be at least 59½ to do the conversion, and you do not have to do it all at once. However, in many cases, this makes the most sense.

Charitable giving has always been a good tax strategy. In the past, people would simply write a check to the organization they wished to support. Today, there are many different ways to support nonprofits, allowing for better tax advantages.

One of the most popular ways to give today is a DAF—Donor Advised Fund. These are third-party funds created for supporting charity. They work in a few different ways. Let’s say you have sold a business or inherited money and have a significant tax bill coming. By contributing funds to a DAF, you will get a tax break when you put the funds into a DAF. The DAF can hold the funds—they do not have to be contributed to charity, but as long as they are in the DAF account, you receive the tax benefit.

Another way to give to charity is through your IRA’s Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) by giving the minimum amount you are required to take from your IRA every year to the charity. Otherwise, your RMD is taxable as income. If you make a charitable donation using the RMD, you get the tax deduction, and the nonprofit gets a donation.

Giving while living is growing in popularity, as parents and grandparents can have pleasure of watching loved ones benefit from the impact of a gift. A person can give up to $16,000 to any other person every year, with no taxes due on the gift. The money is then out of the estate and the recipient receives the full amount of the gift.

All of these strategies to reduce taxes should be reviewed with your estate planning attorney with an eye to your overall estate plan, to ensure they work seamlessly to achieve your overall goals. If you would like to learn more about tax planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Market Watch (Feb. 18, 2022) “Inheritance, estate planning and charitable giving: 4 strategies to reduce taxes now”

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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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moving to a new state impacts estate planning

Moving to a New State Impacts Estate Planning

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., baby boomers have been speeding up their retirement plans. Many Americans have also been moving to new states. For retirees, the non-financial considerations often revolve around weather, proximity to grandchildren and access to quality healthcare and other services. It is important to understand how moving to a new state impacts estate planning.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Thinking of Retiring and Moving? Consider the Financial Implications First” provides some considerations for retirees who may set off on a move.

  1. Income tax rates. Before moving to a new state, you should know how much income you’re likely to be generating in retirement. It’s equally essential to understand what type of income you’re going to generate. Your income as well as the type of income you receive could significantly influence your economic health as a retiree, after you make your move. Before moving to a new state, look into the tax code of your prospective new state. Many states have flat income tax rates, such as Massachusetts at 5%. The states that have no income tax include Alaska, Florida, Nevada, Texas, Washington, South Dakota and Wyoming. Other states that don’t have flat income tax rates may be attractive or unattractive, based on your level of income. Another important consideration is the tax treatment of Social Security income, pension income and retirement plan income. Some states treat this income just like any other source of income, while others offer preferential treatment to the income that retirees typically enjoy.
  2. Housing costs. The cost of housing varies dramatically from state to state and from city to city, so understand how your housing costs are likely to change. You should also consider the cost of buying a home, maintenance costs, insurance and property taxes. Property taxes may vary by state and also by county. Insurance costs can also vary.
  3. Sales taxes. Some states (New Hampshire, Oregon, Montana, Delaware and Alaska) have no sales taxes. However, most states have a sales tax of some kind, which generally adds to the cost of living. California has the highest sales tax, currently at 7.5%, then comes Tennessee, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Mississippi and Indiana, each with a sales tax of 7%. Many other places also have a county sales tax and a city sales tax. You should also research those taxes.
  4. The state’s financial health. Examine the health of the state pension systems where you are thinking about moving. The states with the highest level of unfunded pension debts include Connecticut, Illinois, Alaska, New Jersey and Hawaii. They each have unfunded state pensions at a level of more than 20% of their state GDP. If you’re thinking about moving to one of those states, you’re more apt to see tax increases in the future because of the huge financial obligations of these states.
  5. The overall cost of living. Examine your budget to see the extent to which your annual living expenses might increase or decrease in your new location because food, healthcare and transportation costs can vary by location. If your costs are going to go up, that should be all right, provided you have the financial resources to fund a larger expense budget. Be sure that you’ve accounted for the differences before you move.
  6. Estate planning considerations. If this is going to be your last move, it’s likely that the laws of your new state will apply to your estate after you die. Many states don’t have an estate or gift tax, which means your estate and gifts will only be subject to federal tax laws. However, a number of states, such as Maryland and Iowa, have a state estate tax.

You should talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about how moving to a new state impacts your estate and tax planning. If you would like to learn more about estate planning after a move, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Forbes (Nov. 30, 2021) “Thinking of Retiring and Moving? Consider the Financial Implications First”

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

 

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holidays are a good time to have a family meeting

Holidays are a good time for a Family Meeting

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Someone Needs to Know Where Your Money Is” recommends that families talk about money with an elderly parent. The holidays are a good time for a family meeting. If it’s really too late, you should know where to find the following:

Get the most recent tax return. This will have the name and contact information of the accountant who prepared the tax return. The tax return will also document income. If you find the income, you can find the assets. The reason is that earned interest, dividends, pension income and withdrawals from retirement accounts will be reported on the tax return. You should also call his or her employer’s human resources department to see if there’s a company life insurance benefit or 401(k) balance.

When a senior is admitted to the hospital, their health can sometimes deteriorate quickly. It’s one example of how everyone needs to have their estate plan updated and make sure their financial affairs are in order at all times. Someone must know all of the financial details and how to access the money, life insurance and other important documents. Here are some actions to consider taking now to ensure this situation doesn’t occur with you or a family member.

Collect key financial documents. During the family meeting, ask your parents to collect copies of the following documents:

  • Their wills;
  • Any trusts;
  • Their financial power of attorney;
  • All bank and brokerage account information;
  • Social Security statements;
  • Their website log-ins for any financial assets and insurance policies;
  • A list of beneficiaries for IRAs, annuities and life insurance policies;
  • A list of any other assets and debts; and
  • Their most recent tax returns.

As you begin gathering these documents, the most crucial one to help uncover current assets is the tax return. It can help describe the parent’s assets and the income they have from pensions, annuities, real estate investments, business interests and Social Security. A Schedule B is filed to report the interest and dividends received each tax year. If you’re unable to locate any paper statements or log-in information to financial websites to track down an asset, ask the tax preparer for a copy of the 1099 form for each asset, so you will know which company to contact.

Make certain key documents are signed. These are a will, financial power of attorney, health care power of attorney and any trust documents. Put these in a safe place, along with a copy of the Social Security card, birth and marriage certificates. You should also provide copies and access to files to people who serve as professional advisers, such as attorneys, accountants, financial planners and insurance agents. In addition, share contents of this collection with your parent’s executor, financial and health care agent and/or another relative who lives nearby. With everyone gathered together, the holidays are a good time to have a family meeting and make sure everyone is on the same page. If you would like to learn more about planning for elderly loved ones, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 1, 2021) “Someone Needs to Know Where Your Money Is”

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Estate of The Union Episode 12 is out now!

 

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how to file taxes after your spouse dies

How to file Taxes after your Spouse Dies

Losing a spouse is crushing blow for anyone. A question that quickly comes up is how to file taxes after your spouse dies? About two-thirds of surviving spouses are women. While some are able to avoid major mistakes, taxes are a source of frustration, rife with potential problems. Deadlines are especially challenging, according to the article “The Death of a Spouse is Hard. Taxes Makes It Harder” from The Wall Street Journal.

The combination of emotional upheaval and needing to make complex decisions is overwhelming. Some widows need cash and are forced to sell the family home within two years to get an exemption of $500,000 on the sale proceeds. If you miss the deadline, the exemption shrinks to $250,000.

Others will convert traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs in the year their spouse dies, to capture lowered taxes on the conversion.

However, in all cases, spouses need to check withholding or estimated taxes, especially if the spouse who died was the one who made payments to the IRS. Underpayment penalties add up fast.

Here are some key things to watch for:

Filing an estate tax return. The current estate and gift-tax exemption is $11.7 million per person, so most people don’t need to pay federal estate tax. Executors don’t need to file a return if the decedent’s estate is below exemption levels. However, they should. Here’s why: filing an estate tax return will allow the surviving spouse to have the partner’s unused exemption and add it to their own. Claiming the unused exemption could have larger implications in the future when exemptions change.

Estate taxes are normally due nine months after the date of death. The IRS allows executors to claim the unused exemption for the spouse up to two years after the date of death, but the estate tax must be filed within the time period.

The year a spouse dies is the last year a couple may file jointly. Afterwards, the survivor files as a single person or if there are dependent children, as a surviving widow or widower. Be careful about the shift from joint to single filer. The surviving spouse’s tax rate may stay the same or rise when their income drops. There’s an expression for this, as it occurs so often: the widow’s penalty.

Surviving spouses may roll over inherited retirement accounts into their own names. However, if there is a significant age difference, this may not be the best strategy. New widows and widowers should consider their options carefully.

Filers must send the IRS 90% of their total tax for the year by December 31. This amount is often divided unequally between spouses. If the partner who died paid most of the withholding for estimated taxes, the survivor may need to make changes or risk underpayment penalties when taxes are paid in April. This is especially likely to occur if the spouse died early in the year. Sit down with an experienced estate planning attorney who can help you file taxes after your spouse dies. If you would like to learn more about probate, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 29, 2021) “The Death of a Spouse is Hard. Taxes Makes It Harder”

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What a will can and cannot do

What a Will Can and Cannot Do

Everyone needs a will. A last will and testament is how an executor is named to manage your estate, how a guardian is named to care for any minor children and how you give directions for distribution of property. However, not all property passes via your will. You’ll want to know what a will can and cannot do, as well as how assets are distributed outside of a will. This was the topic of “The Legal Limits of Your Will” from AARP Magazine.

Retirement and Pension Accounts

The beneficiaries named on retirement accounts, including 401(k)s, pensions, and IRAs, receive these assets directly. Some states have laws about requiring spouses to receive some or all assets. However, if you don’t keep these beneficiary names updated, the wrong person may receive the asset, like it or not. Don’t expect anyone to willingly give up a surprise windfall. If a primary beneficiary has died and no contingency beneficiary was named, the recipient may also be determined by default terms, which may not be what you have in mind.

Life Insurance Policies.

The beneficiary designations on an insurance policy determine who will receive proceeds upon your death. Laws vary by state, so check with an estate planning attorney to learn what would happen if you died without updating life insurance policies. A simpler strategy is to create a list of all of your financial accounts, determine how they are distributed and update names as necessary.

Note there are exceptions to all rules. If your divorce agreement includes a provision naming your ex as the sole beneficiary, you may not have an option to make a change.

Financial Accounts

Adding another person to your bank account through various means—Payable on Death (POD), Transfer on Death (TOD), or Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship (JTWROS)—may generally override a will, but may not be acceptable for all accounts, or to all financial institutions. There are unanticipated consequences of transferring assets this way, including the simplest: once transferred, assets are immediately vulnerable to creditors, divorce proceedings, etc.

Trusts

Trusts are used in estate planning to remove assets from a personal estate and place them in safekeeping for beneficiaries. Once the assets are properly transferred into the trust, their distribution and use are defined by the trust document. The flexibility and variety of trusts makes this a key estate planning tool, regardless of the value of the assets in the estate.

Take the time to sit down with an experienced estate planning attorney who help you understand the limitations of what a will can and cannot do. If you would like to read more about wills and how they are structured, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: AARP Magazine (Sep. 29, 2021) “The Legal Limits of Your Will”

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update estate plan after divorce

Update Estate Plan after Divorce

Don’t forget to update your estate plan after a divorce, or you risk your assets being distributed to your ex-spouse when you pass away.

Investopedia’s recent article “Here’s what you need to remove and add to your will when your marriage is over,” says that many states have laws that, after a divorce, automatically revoke gifts to a former spouse listed in a will. There are states that also revoke gifts to family members of a former spouse. If you’re in a state that has such a law, gifts to former stepchildren would also be revoked after your divorce.

Most married people leave everything in their will to their surviving spouse. If that’s the way that your will currently reads, be certain that you change your ex as a beneficiary and add a new beneficiary. Remember that many types of assets are passed outside of a will, such as life insurance, 401k’s and other investments. Therefore, you must change the beneficiary designation on those documents.

Property Transfers. Update your will for any property gained or lost during the divorce. If you have assets that are specifically identified in your will, be sure to update them for any changes that may have happened because of the divorce.

The Executor of your Will. If your ex-spouse is named in your will as your executor, you should change this.

A Guardian for Minor Children. If you have children with your ex-spouse, you will want to update your will to appoint a guardian, if you and your ex-spouse pass suddenly at the same time. If you die, your children will likely be raised by your ex-spouse.

The Best Way to Change Your Will After Divorce. It’s easy: tear up your old will (literally) and begin again because you probably left everything or almost everything to your spouse in your original will. Just because you’re legally married until a judge signs a divorce decree, you can still modify your will or estate plan at any time. Ask an estate planning attorney because there some actions you can’t take until the divorce is final.

Can an Ex Challenge Your Will? An ex-spouse or even ex-de facto partner can challenge the will of a former spouse or partner. Whether the challenge will be successful will depend on the court’s interpretation of a number of factors.

A divorce is one of those times in life when you cannot forget to update your estate plan. There could be significant consequences to your inaction. Sit down with an estate planning attorney right away to review your plans. If you would like to learn more about estate planning and divorce, please visit our previous posts.  

Reference: Investopedia (Sep. 14, 2021) “Here’s what you need to remove and add to your will when your marriage is over”

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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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