The Wiewel Law Firm, an estate planning law firm in Austin, Texas
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Category: Trusts

What needs to happen after a spouse dies?

What Needs to Happen after a Spouse Dies?

What needs to happen after a spouse dies? Making funeral arrangements, paying medical bills and closing down accounts are just the start of the tasks that a surviving spouse must take charge of, advises the recent article “Checklist for Handling the Death of a Spouse” from U.S. News & World Report. It can be overwhelming, especially with the intense emotions that come with such a large loss.

Having a checklist of specific tasks after a spouse dies may make this difficult time less stressful. This is because you will be able to see what has been accomplished, and what is yet to come.

Start by getting organized. Make a list of what you need to do and add to it as you think of new tasks. You should also track what you are doing, using a notebook to keep a record of who you spoke with and when. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask a family member or trusted friend. Being organized is a big help, when there are so many things that need to be done during such a hard time.

Review your spouse’s will and estate plan. Gather all the documents, from their last will and testament to insurance policies, trust paperwork and related documents. Call your estate planning attorney, since she can help you with settling the estate.

Identify the executor. If you are the executor, then you are the person in charge of managing the estate, including distributing assets. If someone else has been named, contact the person and be sure they are still willing and able to undertake the responsibilities.

Obtain original death certificates. All of the financial, legal and property matters will require an original death certificate, with a raised seal. It’s easier to have more than you need, so order ten to fifteen.

Talk with other professionals. The financial advisor, CP, and insurance broker, in addition to the estate planning attorney, will need to know that your spouse has passed. You will also need to notify the Social Security Administration. If your spouse was receiving benefits, depending upon when in the month they died, you may need to return money.

Avoid any big decisions. This is not the time to sell the house, move to another state or make any other large decisions, unless you must for financial reasons.

Carry out your spouse’s wishes. There is comfort in carrying out your loved one’s wishes. Giving money to a charity as per the will’s direction or handing a prized possession to a family member who will treasure it can be heartwarming, since it reminds you of the values that your spouse held dear.

Take time for yourself and your loved ones. Mourning and healing from loss are not easy times. Take the time to process the loss and grieve with other family members. Find comfort from those you love.

If you would like to learn more about how to handle an estate after a loved one dies, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Aug. 28, 2020) “Checklist for Handling the Death of a Spouse”

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What needs to happen after a spouse dies?

How Do I Handle My Inheritance?

How do I handle my inheritance? The loss of a close loved one can make it very hard to think clearly and function effectively. Add to that the fact that you may have to make important decisions about an inheritance, and it can be an overwhelming time.

Motley Fool’s recent article entitled “5 Considerations for Managing an Inheritance” discusses some ways to be a responsible steward of the money you’ve received and how to handle your inheritance and integrate it into your larger financial plan.

  1. Stop and organize your thoughts. After the funeral or memorial service, take time to grieve and reflect on the loss of your loved one. You should also not make any sudden, large changes to your life, if you’ve inherited a considerable amount of money or a valuable asset. After some time has passed, you should speak with the estate’s executor or court-appointed administrator about next steps.
  2. Create a plan and act on it. While the executor is tasked with winding up the deceased’s affairs, you might ask if you can help with an inventory of his or her assets in the estate. This should include both probate (assets without a named beneficiary) and non-probate (assets with a named beneficiary). It’s helpful to make sure that you verify and then cancel your loved one’s subscription services and recurring household expenses (i.e., cable and electric). The executor will make that decision, but you may be able to help with some phone calls or emails to these companies. After the estate’s final expenses are paid, you should create an action plan and assign responsibilities. You’ll then be ready when the executor distributes the estate assets to heirs.
  3. Integrate to avoid mental accounting. After time has passed and you’ve received your inheritance, any new funds should be integrated into your own financial plan, as if it were earned income. If you don’t yet have a written financial plan, talk to a fee-only financial planner who charges by the hour or on a fixed-rate.
  4. Make certain that your financial priorities are met. Your inheritance creates a critical chance to possibly change the trajectory of your net worth. You might use it to pay off or reduce long-standing debts, like student loans. Build your emergency fund — at least six months’ worth of living expenses — that will cushion you from unforeseen circumstances (like this pandemic!). You should also make sure that Roth contributions are made for the year.
  5. Get creative! If you’ve inherited non-financial assets, like a car, artwork or antiques, you should make sure you know their value and decide whether you’ll keep or sell them. You might also swap an item with another heir, or if you aren’t ready to absolutely part with an inherited item, you might offer them to other family or friends. It can be nice to know that an unused item is being put to good use by people you know. Another option is to repurpose the item or donate it.

Losing a close loved one is difficult enough, but the need to properly handle your inheritance will be a big task. Follow these steps to help with that process. If you would like to learn more about the various roles involved in administering an estate, please read our previous posts.

Reference: Motley Fool (Aug. 8, 20020) “5 Considerations for Managing an Inheritance”

 

What needs to happen after a spouse dies?

What Is Involved with Serving as an Executor?

What is involved with serving as an executor? Serving as the executor of a relative’s estate may seem like an honor, but it can also be a lot of work, says The (Fostoria, OH) Review Times’ recent article entitled “An executor’s guide to settling a loved one’s estate.”

As an executor of a will, you’re tasked with settling her affairs after she dies. This may sound rather easy, but you should be aware that the job can be time consuming and difficult, depending on the complexity of the decedent’s financial and family situation. Here are some of the required duties:

  • Filing court papers to initiate the probate process
  • Taking inventory of the decedent’s estate
  • Using the decedent’s estate funds to pay bills, taxes, and funeral costs
  • Taking care of canceling her credit cards and informing banks and government offices like Social Security and the post office of her death
  • Readying and filing her final income tax returns; and
  • Distributing assets to the beneficiaries named in the decedent’s will.

Every state has specific laws and deadlines for an executor’s responsibilities. To help you better understand what is involved with serving as an executor, work with an experienced estate planning attorney and take note of these reminders:

Get organized. Make certain that the decedent has an updated will and locate all her important documents and financial information. Quickly having access to her deeds, brokerage statements and insurance policies after she dies, will save you a lot of time and effort. With a complex estate, you may want to hire an experienced estate planning attorney to help you through the process. The estate will pay that expense.

Avoid conflicts. Investigate to see if there are any conflicts between the beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate. If there are some potential issues, you can make your job as executor much easier, if everyone knows in advance who’s getting what, and the decedent’s rationale for making those decisions. Ask your aunt to tell her beneficiaries what they can expect, even with her personal items because last wills often leave it up to the executor to distribute heirlooms. If there’s no distribution plan for personal property, she should write one.

Executor fees. You’re entitled to an executor’s fees paid by the estate. In most states, executors are allowed to take a percentage of the estate’s value, which can be from 1-5%, depending on the size of the estate. However, if you’re a beneficiary, it may make sense for you to forgo the fee because fees are taxable, and it could cause rancor among the other beneficiaries.

If you are interested in learning about the role of a beneficiary in an estate plan, please view our previous posts.

Reference: The (Fostoria, OH) Review Times (Aug. 19, 2020) “An executor’s guide to settling a loved one’s estate”

 

What needs to happen after a spouse dies?

Keeping The Family Farm In The Family

Most American farms or ranches are family businesses, started by one generation with the hope that the business will be transferred to the next generation. Keeping the family farm in the family matters. However, surveys show that only 20% of farm and ranch owners are confident they have a good plan in place for the transition, reports High Plains Journal in the article “Don’t wait to secure the future of your farm or ranch.” A common reason is that owners just aren’t ready, or they don’t have the time, or the right advice. They could also be put off by the complexity of the process.

Transition planning is possible. There are solutions for every farm, ranch or business, whether the goal is to ensure that your legacy continues, minimize taxes or provide for heirs who are and who are not involved with the business.

Understand that the process can take at least a year. A good estate planning attorney who is familiar with family businesses like yours will be an important help. The process will include both estate and succession planning. Here are some basic steps to help:

Reaching consensus. You’ll need to have discussions to clarify what the senior generation wants, and what their heirs want. Discuss how management and task-focused work is currently divided and who is going to step to up take what tasks.

Keeping the family farm in the family requires developing a plan. How will the operation go forward, and how will assets be distributed? What kind of coaching will be needed to ensure that the next generation has the tools and knowledge to succeed?

Estate planning is the paper and financial part of the process that will provide ways for the operation to mitigate estate taxes and prepare for wealth and asset management.

The succession plan involves the “people” side of the business, including developing vital business management and leadership skills, passing down the values of the founding owners and providing clarity for the family throughout this process.

Implementing the plan. This will be different for every scenario, but might include:

  • Splitting the operation into two entities: one that will operate ranch operations, another that will own the land.
  • Stipulating the owners with two types of ownership: voting and non-voting.
  • Voting ownership—deciding if it is to be retained individually or controlled by a trust.
  • Should non-voting ownership be transferred to trusts to reduce estate taxes?
  • Transfer strategies must be evaluated: gift, sale or stock options.

Here’s the most important concept: start now. Waiting to talk with an estate planning attorney could leave heirs in a situation where they can’t continue the family legacy. A failure to plan could mean they are forced to sell the land that’s been in the family for generations. If you would like to learn more about succession planning, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: High Plains Journal (Aug. 14, 2020) “Don’t wait to secure the future of your farm or ranch”

 

What needs to happen after a spouse dies?

What Happens If You Don’t Fund Your Trust?

What happens if you don’t fund your trust? Trust funding is a crucial step in estate planning that many people forget to do. However, if it’s done properly, funding will avoid probate, provide for you in the event of your incapacity and save on estate taxes.

Forbes’s recent article entitled “Don’t Overlook Your Trust Funding” looks at some of the benefits of trusts.

Avoiding probate and problems with your estate. If you’ve created a revocable trust, you have control over the trust and can modify it during your lifetime. You are also able to fund it, while you are alive. You can fund the trust now or on your death. If you don’t transfer assets to the trust during your lifetime, then your last will must be probated, and an executor of your estate should be appointed. The executor will then have the authority to transfer the assets to your trust. This may take time and will involve court. You can avoid this by transferring assets to your trust now, saving your family time and aggravation after your death.

Protecting you and your family in the event that you become incapacitated. Funding the trust now will let the successor trustee manage the assets for you and your family, if your become incapacitated. If a successor trustee doesn’t have access to the assets to manage on your behalf, a conservator may need to be appointed by the court to oversee your assets, which can be expensive and time consuming.

Taking advantage of estate tax savings. If you’re married, you may have created a trust that contains terms for estate tax savings. This will often delay estate taxes until the death of the second spouse, by providing income to the surviving spouse and access to principal during his or her lifetime while the ultimate beneficiaries are your children. Depending where you live, the trust can also reduce state estate taxes. You must fund your trust to make certain that these estate tax provisions work properly.

Remember that any asset transfer will need to be consistent with your estate plan. Your beneficiary designations on life insurance policies should be examined to determine if the beneficiary can be updated to the trust.

You may also want to move tangible items to the trust, as well as any closely held business interests, such as stock in a family business or an interest in a limited liability company (LLC). Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about the assets to transfer to your trust.

Fund your trust now to maximize your updated estate planning documents. To learn more about trusts, how they work, and if they are right for you, please read our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (July 13, 2020) “Don’t Overlook Your Trust Funding”

 

What needs to happen after a spouse dies?

What Is a Testamentary Trust?

What is a testamentary trust? It is a legal document that’s part of your will. It goes into effect after your death. This trust holds property for your heirs’ benefit and comes into effect when three criteria are met:

  • the testator has died
  • the will goes through probate; and
  • and the terms of the trust are still relevant.

US News and World Report’s recent article entitled How Do I Create A Testamentary Trust? explains that a frequent reason to create a testamentary trust, is to provide for your children after your death.

Testamentary trusts are not the same as living trusts. Those trusts become effective while you’re still alive. The main purpose of a living trust is to allow assets within the trust to avoid the legal proceedings associated with administering the will in the probate process.

With a testamentary trust, assets are transferred to the trust at your death through your will. As a result, they’re subject to probate proceedings.

A living trust can be revocable. That means it can be modified at any time. There’s also an irrevocable trust, which means that it can’t be changed once it’s finalized. A testamentary trust can be changed up, until the creator’s death.

A testamentary trust is often used when the creator has minor children and wants to provide some financial control over the assets, if both parents die while the children are minors. It can arrange management of those assets by a trustee.

You can also employ a testamentary trust for Medicaid planning. State law has a lot to do with how this works, so it is best to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney or elder law attorney.

Generally speaking, if you have a beneficiary who needs Medicaid government benefits, a supplemental needs trust or Medicaid trust can help the beneficiary afford needed expenses, without disqualifying them from the program’s benefits.

Note that Medicaid benefits are available to people who own few assets and eligibility is income-based.

If you would like to learn more about the different types of trusts, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: US News and World Report (Aug. 6, 20201) “How Do I Create A Testamentary Trust?”

 

What needs to happen after a spouse dies?

What Is a Qualified Personal Residence Trust?

What is a Qualified Personal Residence Trust? It takes your personal residence out of your estate, and has some advantages, especially when it comes to taxes. The QPRT is a type of irrevocable trust, so once it is created, it is permanent and cannot be reversed. The QPRT is also a type of grantor trust, meaning that the trust creator or grantor may take advantage of gift tax exemptions for property placed in the trust, explains the article “Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT)” from yahoo! finance.com.

As a grantor, you can live in the home for a period of time, with a retained interest in the property. Once the QPRT term ends, ownership of the property gets transferred to the beneficiaries of the trust.

When you establish a QPRT, you take your personal residence, a primary or secondary home, out of your estate and place it in the trust. While the trust is in place, you and your family may live in the home, and you continue to be responsible for maintaining the property’s upkeep. You also still have to pay property taxes.

Any appreciation that occurs after the transfer takes place is also removed from your estate. Because you retain an interest in the residence, you can reduce the amount of property’s value that is subject to estate and gift taxes from your estate.

However, there is one rule you need to know before setting up the QPRT—you must outlive the term of the trust. If you don’t, the entire value of the residence may be included in your estate, which destroys the key reason for setting up the trust.

This is a complex tool for estate planning, and it isn’t for everyone. A QPRT can be good for creating a financial legacy for beneficiaries, helps your estate avoid taxes after your death and if you are paying rent to trust beneficiaries, creates another path to minimize estate taxes.

On the other hand, a QPRT is irrevocable. Therefore, if your circumstances change, it may not be useful for you but you won’t be able to undo it. If you die before the end of the term, any benefits for gift or estate taxes are lost. If there is a mortgage on the property, mortgage payments might be counted against gift tax exemptions.

Attempting to refinance a home that’s owned by a QPRT is difficult, and in many circumstances, not even possible. You don’t own the home, the trust does. Therefore, the property cannot be used as collateral. Selling a home that is owned by a QPRT is also far more complicated than selling the property if you owned it outright.

An estate planning attorney will analyze your estate and tax situation to determine if a QPRT is a useful tool for you and your family. To learn more about QPRTs and other types of trusts, please read our previous posts.

Reference: yahoo! finance.com (July 29, 2020) “Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT)”

 

What needs to happen after a spouse dies?

Different Trusts for Different Estate Planning Needs

There are a few things all trusts have in common, explains the article “All trusts are not alike,” from the Times Herald-Record. They all have a “grantor,” the person who creates the trust, a “trustee,” the person who is in charge of the trust, and “beneficiaries,” the people who receive trust income or assets. There are different trusts for different estate planning needs. Here’s an overview of the different types of trusts and how they are used in estate planning.

“Revocable Living Trust” is a trust created while the grantor is still alive, when assets are transferred into the trust. The trustee transfers assets to beneficiaries, when the grantor dies. The trustee does not have to be appointed by the court, so there’s no need for the assets in the trust to go through probate. Living trusts are used to save time and money, when settling estates and to avoid will contests.

A “Medicaid Asset Protection Trust” (MAPT) is an irrevocable trust created during the lifetime of the grantor. It is used to shield assets from the grantor’s nursing home costs but is only effective five years after assets have been placed in the trust. The assets are also shielded from home care costs after assets are in the trust for two and a half years. Assets in the MAPT trust do not go through probate.

The Supplemental or Special Needs Trust (SNT) is used to hold assets for a disabled person who receives means-tested government benefits, like Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid. The trustee is permitted to use the trust assets to benefit the individual but may not give trust assets directly to the individual. The SNT lets the beneficiary have access to assets, without jeopardizing their government benefits.

An “Inheritance Trust” is created by the grantor for a beneficiary and leaves the inheritance in trust for the beneficiary on the death of the trust’s creator. Assets do not go directly to the beneficiary. If the beneficiary dies, the remaining assets in the trust go to the beneficiary’s children, and not to the spouse. This is a means of keeping assets in the bloodline and protected from the beneficiary’s divorces, creditors and lawsuits.

An “Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust” (ILIT) owns life insurance to pay for the grantor’s estate taxes and keeps the value of the life insurance policy out of the grantor’s estate, minimizing estate taxes. As of this writing, the federal estate tax exemption is $11.58 million per person.

A “Pet Trust” holds assets to be used to care for the grantor’s surviving pets. There is a trustee who is charge of the assets, and usually a caretaker is tasked to care for the pets. There are instances where the same person serves as the trustee and the caretaker. When the pets die, remaining trust assets go to named contingent beneficiaries.

A “Testamentary Trust” is created by a will, and assets held in a Testamentary Trust do not avoid probate and do not help to minimize estate taxes.

An estate planning attorney in your area will know which of these trusts will best benefit your situation.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (August 1,2020) “All trusts are not alike”

 

What needs to happen after a spouse dies?

Take Advantage of Tax Laws Now

The pundits are saying that the if Democrats win the White House and possibly Congress, expect changes to income, gift generation skipping transfer and estate taxes. This recent article from Forbes says that you should take advantage of tax laws now.

Since 2000, the estate and gift tax exemption has taken a leap from $675,000 and a top marginal rate of 55% to an exemption of $11.58 million and a top marginal rate of 40%. However, it’s not permanent. If Congress does nothing, the tax laws go back in 2026 to a $5.6 million exemption and a top marginal rate of 55%. The expectation is that if Biden wins in November, and if Congress enacts the changes published in his tax plan, the exemption will fall to $3.5 million, and the top marginal rate will jump to 70%.

The current exemption and tax rate may be as good as it gets.

If you make a taxable gift today, you can effectively make the current tax laws permanent for you and your family. The gift will be reported in the year it is made, and the tax laws that are in effect when the gift is made will permanently applicable. Even if the tax laws change in the future, which is always a possibility, there have been proposed regulations published by the IRS that say the new tax laws will not be imposed on taxable gifts made in prior years.

Let’s say you make an outright taxable gift today of $11.58 million, or $23.16 million for a married couple. That gift amount, and any income and appreciation from the date of the gift to the date of death will not be taxed later in your estate. The higher $11.58 million exemption from the Generation Skipping Transfer Tax (GSTT) can also be applied to these gifts.

Of course, you’ll need to have enough assets to make a gift and still be financially secure. Don’t give a gift, if it means you won’t be able to support your spouse and family. To take advantage of the current tax laws now, you’ll need to make a gift that exceeds the reversionary exemption of $3.5 million. One way to do this is to have each spouse make a gift of the exemption amount to a Spousal Lifetime Access Trust (SLAT), a trust for the benefit of the other spouse for that spouse’s lifetime.

Be mindful that such a trust may draw attention from the IRS, because when two people make gifts to trusts for each other, which leaves each of them in the same economic position, the gifts are ignored and the assets in the trusts are included in their estate. The courts have ruled, however, that if the trusts are different from each other, based on the provisions in the trusts, state laws and even the timing of the creation and funding of the trusts may be acceptable.

These types of trusts need to be properly administered and aligned with the overall estate plan. Who will inherit the assets, and under what terms?

A word of caution: these are complex trusts and take time to create. Time may be running out. Take advantage of the tax laws now and speak with a skilled estate planning attorney. To learn more about the effects of tax law on estate planning, please view our previous posts here.

Reference: Forbes (July 17, 2020) “Use It Or Lose It: Locking In the $11.58 Million Unified Credit”

 

What needs to happen after a spouse dies?

Planning An Estate After A Divorce

Planning an estate after a divorce involves adopting a different type of arithmetic. Without a spouse to anchor an estate plan, the executors, trustees, guardians or agents under a power of attorney and health care proxies will have to be chosen from a more diverse pool of those that are connected to you.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “How to Revise Your Estate Plan After Divorce” explains that beneficiary forms tied to an IRA, 401(k), 403(b) and life insurance will need to be updated to show the dissolution of the marriage.

There are usually estate planning terms that are included in agreements created during the separation and divorce. These may call for the removal of both spouses from each other’s estate planning documents and retirement accounts. For example, in New York, bequests to an ex-spouse in a will prepared during the marriage are voided after the divorce. Even though the old will is still valid, a new will has the benefit of realigning the estate assets with the intended recipients.

However, any trust created while married is treated differently. Revocable trusts can be revoked, and the assets held by those trusts can be part of the divorce. Irrevocable trusts involving marital property are less likely to be dissolved, and after the death of the grantor, distributions may be made to an ex-spouse as directed by the trust.

A big task in the post-divorce estate planning process is changing beneficiaries. Ask for a change of beneficiary forms for all retirement accounts. Without a stipulation in the divorce decree ending their interest, an ex-spouse still listed as beneficiary of an IRA or life insurance policy may still receive the proceeds at your death.

Divorce makes children assume responsibility at an earlier age. Adult children in their 20s or early 30s typically assume the place of the ex-spouse as fiduciaries and health care proxies, as well as agents under powers of attorney, executors and trustees.

If the divorcing parents have minor children, they must choose a guardian in their wills to care for the children, in the event that both parents pass away.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help you with the issues that are involved in planning an estate after a divorce. There are other important times in your life when you should review your planning.  To learn more, please read our previous posts.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (July 7, 2020) “How to Revise Your Estate Plan After Divorce”