The Estate of The Union Season 2|Episode 8 is out now!
Homelessness is not going away. How we manage it can be frustrating and sometimes seems futile. It’s not. In Homeless But Not Hopeless, Brad and Alan Graham, the founder and CEO of Mobile Loaves and Fishes have a lively conversation on what he, Mobile Loaves and Fishes, and their Community First! Village program are doing to improve the lives of the homeless, and improve our city too.
If you’ve ever wondered about what to do when approached by a homeless person at an intersection, Alan has an answer for that too!
If you would like to learn more about how to volunteer or donate to Mobile Loaves and Fishes or Community First! Village, please visit mlf.org
In each episode of The Estate of The Union podcast, host and lawyer Brad Wiewel will give valuable insights into the confusing world of estate planning, making an often daunting subject easier to understand. It is Estate Planning Made Simple! The Estate of The Union Season 2|Episode 8 is out now! The episode can be found on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or anywhere you get your podcasts. If you would prefer to watch the video version, please visit our YouTube page. Please click on the links below to listen to or watch the new installment of The Estate of The Union podcast. We hope you enjoy it.
Texas Trust Law focuses its practice exclusively in the area of wills, probate, estate planning, asset protection, and special needs planning. Brad Wiewel is Board Certified in Estate Planning and Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. We provide estate planning services, asset protection planning, business planning, and retirement exit strategies.
Part of estate planning is considering how future repayment of debts, both owed to the person and debts they are responsible for, will impact inheritances received by beneficiaries. A recent article from Lake County News, “Estate Planning: Debts and Estate Planning,” explains how the process works. Managing debt after death can be a challenge for heirs.
Assets passing to a beneficiary directly, outside of probate, are not typically subject to paying a decedent’s debts. These are life insurance proceeds, joint tenancy assets, Payable on Death (POD) and Transfer on Death (TOD), to name a few.
The estate plan must consider how much debt exists and how it might be paid. One approach is to purchase life insurance made payable to the trust estate.
A person may specifically gift real property, which would be subject to repaying an outstanding debt, like a mortgage.
If the beneficiary who would otherwise receive the residence takes it subject to repaying the secured debt, other assets in the estate would need to be reduced to pay the debt.
This should be addressed when the estate plan is created and must be expressly documented. If not addressed, the default rule is that any secured debt goes with the gift. It’s not likely to have been the plan. However, this is how the law works.
Third, parents and children may loan money between themselves. This is usually between parent and child.
Such family debts merit attention during estate planning. For example, parents may wish to loan money to a child to pay higher education costs, to buy a home, or to launch a business.
Upon the death of the parent, should any unpaid balance be repaid by the child to the parent’s estate, or should the child’s debt be forgiven? This must also be clearly stated in the will or trust, whatever is relevant.
If the parent wishes the child to pay the unpaid balance, the debt obligation and its payment history must be in writing and updated. The debt may be assigned to the parent’s trust and enforced by the successor trustee.
At death, the unpaid balance would need to be added back into the estate’s value to arrive at the correct gross value necessary to assess each share of the total estate.
The unpaid balance is usually subtracted from the debtor’s share.
Children might also be owed money from a parent. For example, the adult child might provide at-home personal care services to their parent, or money may be lent to help with the parent’s cost of living. The debt and repayment history also needs to be in writing and updated regularly.
Debt must be acknowledged, and the means of repaying the debt must be made clear. Managing debt after death can be a challenge for heirs. An estate planning attorney will help document and build repayment into the estate plan. If you would like to learn more about probate and trust administration, please visit our previous posts.
If you are a wealthy family looking into estate planning, beware of tax scams involving Charitable Remainder Annuity Trusts. The IRS has issued a warning about promoters aiming specifically at wealthy taxpayers, advises a recent article, “IRS Warns Of Tax Scams That Target Wealthy,” from Financial Advisor. Charitable Remainder Annuity Trusts (CRATs) are irrevocable trusts that allow individuals to donate assets to charity and draw annual income for life or for a fixed period. A CRAT pays a dollar amount each year, and the IRS examines these trusts to ensure they correctly report trust income and distributions to beneficiaries. Of course, tax documents must also be filed properly.
Some sophisticated scammers boast of the benefits of using CRATs to eliminate ordinary income or capital gain on the sale of the property. However, property with a fair market value over its basis is transferred to the CRAT, the IRS explains, and taxpayers may wrongly claim the transfer of the property to the CRAT, resulting in an increase in basis to fair market value, as if the property had been sold to the trust.
The CRAT then sells the property but needs to recognize the gain due to the claimed step-up in basis. The CRAT then purchases a single premium immediate annuity with the proceeds from the property sale. This is a misapplication of tax rules. The taxpayer or beneficiary may not treat the remaining portion as an excluding portion representing a return of investment for which no tax is due.
In another scam, abusive monetized installment sales, thieves find taxpayers seeking to defer the recognition of gain at the sale of appreciated property. They facilitate a purported monetized installment sale for the taxpayer for a fee. These sales occur when an intermediary purchase appreciated property from a seller in exchange for an installment note, which typically provides interest payments only, with the principal paid at the end of the term.
The seller gets the larger share of the proceeds but improperly delays recognition of gain on the appreciated property until the final payment on the installment note, often years later.
Anyone who pressures an investor to invest quickly, guarantees high returns or tax-free income, or says they can eliminate taxes using installment sales, trusts, or other means, should be dismissed immediately. Beware of tax scams involving Charitable Remainder Annuity Trusts. Your estate planning attorney is well-versed in how CRATs, LLCs, S Corps, trusts, or charitable donations are used and will steer you and your assets into legal, proper investment strategies. If you would like to learn more about charitable giving, please visit our previous posts.
Estate planning starts with a will. Naming an impartial executor may require more consideration than in traditional families where the eldest child is the likely candidate. The will also needs to nominate a guardian for minor children and appoint a power of attorney and healthcare proxy in case of incapacity. Traditional wills used to provide instructions for asset distribution may have limitations regarding blended families. Trusts may provide more control for asset distribution.
Wills don’t dictate beneficiaries for life insurance policies, retirement plans, or jointly owned property. However, wills are also subject to probate, which can become a long and costly process that opens the door for wills to be challenged in court.
Wills also become public documents once they are entered into probate. Any interested party may request access to the will, which may contain information the family would prefer to have private.
Trusts allow greater control over how assets are managed and distributed. Their contents remain private. There are many different types of trusts used to accomplish specific goals. For instance, a Qualified Terminal Interest Property Trust (QTIP) can provide income for a surviving spouse, while passing the rest of the assets to a client’s children or grandchildren.
Another type of trust is designed to skip a generation and distribute trust assets to grandchildren or those at least 37.5 years younger than the grantor. Some may choose to use this Generation-Skipping Trust (GST) to keep wealth in the family, by bypassing children who have married.
An IRA legacy trust can be the beneficiary of an IRA instead of family members. This option lets owners maintain creditor protection only sometimes afforded to one who inherits an IRA. The account owner may also want to use an IRA’s required minimum distributions (RMDs) to benefit a second spouse during their lifetime and leave the remainder to their children.
Couples entering a second or third marriage need to be transparent about their expectations of what each spouse will receive upon their death or in the event of divorce and whether or not they agree to waive their right to contest these commitments. A prenuptial agreement is a legal contract spelling out the terms before marriage. For example, in some instances, the prenup requires each spouse to maintain life insurance on the other to ensure liquidity, either from the policy’s death benefit or its cash value.
A final consideration is ensuring that all documentation created is easy to understand, clear and concise. Blended families face unique estate planning decisions. Make sure to spell out the full names of beneficiaries for wills, trusts and life insurance, and include their birthdates, so it is easy to identify them and they cannot be confused with someone else. Estate planning is an ongoing process requiring review regularly to keep the estate plan consistent with the family’s evolving needs and goals. If you would like to learn more about planning for blended families, please visit our previous posts.
Estate planning is even more critical for singles than married couples—and it has nothing to do with whom you’ll leave assets to when you die. A recent article from AARP,“6 Estate Planning Tips for Singles,” explains how estate planning addresses support during challenging life events. Singles need estate planning during their lifetime for issues such as incapacity.
Estate planning addresses medical and financial decisions for an incapacitated person. For singles, these may be more complex questions to answer.
Whether someone has never married or is divorced or widowed, these are challenging questions to answer. However, they must be documented. In addition, singles with minor children need to nominate a trusted person who can care for their children if they cannot. Estate planning addresses all of these issues.
To be sure you complete this process, start with a conversation with an experienced estate planning attorney. This will help with accountability, ensuring that you start and finish the process.
Here are some pointers for singles who keep putting this vital task off:
What would happen if you don’t leave clear instructions about who will make medical decisions in case of incapacity? A doctor who doesn’t know your wishes will decide for you. If you don’t want to be placed on a ventilator for artificial breathing or fed by a stomach tube while in a coma, the decision will be made regardless of your wishes.
Dying without a will is known as dying “intestate.” All of your assets will be distributed according to the intestate succession laws in your state. If no relatives come forward to claim your property, the state receives your assets. This is not what most people want.
Part of your estate plan includes naming a personal representative—an executor—who will oversee your affairs after your death. You’ll want to designate someone who is organized, has good judgment and can handle financial matters. You should also name a backup, so that if the first person cannot or does not wish to serve, there will be someone else to take control. Otherwise, the court will name someone who doesn’t even know you to take on this task. It’s better to designate someone than leave this to the state.
Your estate plan includes the following:
Last will and testament. This is where you nominate your executor, heirs and how your assets will be distributed. You can also appoint a guardian for minor children. Note that anyone named as a beneficiary on a retirement, insurance policy, or investment account supersedes any instructions in your will, so be sure to update those and check on them every few years to be sure they are still aligned with your wishes.
Living trust. This is a legal entity owning assets to be given to beneficiaries, managed by a trustee of your choosing, and avoids the delays and costs of probate.
Financial Power of Attorney (FPOA). This document authorizes someone you name to act as your agent and make financial decisions if you cannot. An FPOA can prevent delays in accessing bank and investment accounts and paying your bills. The FPOA ends upon your death.
Living will, durable medical power of attorney, or advance health care directive. These documents allow you to designate someone to communicate your health care wishes when you cannot. For example, you can include instructions on pain management, organ donation and your wishes for life support measures.
Health care power of attorney (HPOA). Like the living will, which is more associated with end-of-life care, the HPOA lets someone make medical treatment decisions on their behalf.
Singles need estate planning to protect themselves for incapacity. Be sure to communicate your wishes with family and friends. Tell your executor where your documents may be found and provide them with the information they’ll need so they may act on your behalf. If you would like to learn more about planning for incapacity or disability, please visit our previous posts.
The mistake can be as simple as signing a document without understanding its potential impact on property distribution, failing to have a last will and testament properly executed, or expecting a result different from what the will directs. Unfortunately, these unintended consequences are relatively common, says the article “Advice for avoiding unintended issues in estate planning” from The News-Enterprise. You can avoid unintended consequences with your planning by working with an estate planning attorney.
The most common mistake that leads to unintended consequences is leaving everything to a spouse in a blended family. Even if children don’t have a close relationship with their stepparent, they’re willing to get along for the sake of their biological parent. However, when the first spouse dies, the decedent’s beneficiaries are generally disinherited if the surviving spouse receives the entire estate.
If the family truly has blended and maintains close relationships, the surviving spouse may ensure that the decedent’s children receive a fair share of the estate. However, if the relationships are tenuous at best, and the surviving spouse changes their will so their biological children receive everything, the family is likely to fracture.
Using a revocable living trust as the primary planning tool is a safer option. An experienced estate planning attorney can create the trust to allow full flexibility during the lifetime of both spouses. Upon the first spouse’s death, part of the estate is still protected for the decedent’s intended beneficiaries.
This way, the surviving spouse has full use of marital assets but can only change beneficiaries for his or her portion of the estate, protecting both the surviving spouse and the decedent’s intended beneficiaries.
Another common mistake occurs when married couples execute their last will and testaments with different beneficiaries. For example, if they’ve named each other as the primary beneficiary, only the survivor will have property to leave to loved ones.
An alternative is to decide what the couple wants to happen to the estate as a whole, then include fractional shares to all beneficiaries, not just the one spouse’s beneficiaries. This protects everyone.
Many people assume that if they die without a will, their spouse will inherit everything. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and a local estate planning attorney will be able to explain how your state’s laws work when there is no will. Children or other family members are often entitled to a share of the estate. This may not be terrible if the family is close. However, if there are estranged relationships, it can lead to the wrong people inheriting more than you’d want.
Failing to plan in case an heir becomes disabled can cause life-altering problems. If an heir develops a disability and receives government benefits, an inheritance could make them ineligible. The problem is that we don’t know what state of health and abilities our heirs will be in when we die, and few will want their estate to be used to reimburse the state for the cost of care. A few extra provisions in a professionally prepared estate plan can result in significant savings for all concerned.
Estate planning is about more than signing off on a handful of documents. It requires thoughtful consideration of goals and potential consequences. Can every single outcome be anticipated? Not every single one, but certainly enough to be worth the effort. You can avoid unintended consequences with your planning by working with an experienced estate planning attorney. If you would like to learn more about mistakes in your estate planning, please visit our previous posts.
While trusts and Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) are very different legal vehicles, they are both used by business owners to protect assets. Understanding their differences, strengths and weaknesses will help determine whether protecting assets with a trust vs a LLC is best for your situation, as explained by the article “Trust Vs. LLC 2023: What Is The Difference?” from Business Report.
A trust is a fiduciary agreement placing assets under the control of a third-party trustee to manage assets, so they may be managed and passed to beneficiaries. Trusts are commonly used when transferring family assets to avoid probate.
A family home could be placed in a trust to avoid estate taxes on the owner’s death, if the goal is to pass the home on to the children. The trustee manages the home as an asset until the transfer takes place.
There are several different types of trusts:
A revocable trust is controlled by the grantor, the person setting up the trust, as long as they are mentally competent. This flexibility allows the grantor to hold ownership interest, including real estate, in a separate vehicle without committing to the trust permanently.
The grantor cannot change an irrevocable trust, nor can the grantor be a trustee. Once the assets are placed in the irrevocable trust, the terms of the trust may not be changed, with extremely limited exceptions.
A testamentary trust is created after probate under the provisions of a last will and testament to protect business assets, rental property and other personal and business assets. Nevertheless, it only becomes active when the trust’s creator dies.
There are several roles in trusts. The grantor or settlor is the person who creates the trust. The trustee is the person who manages the assets in the trust and is in charge of any distribution. A successor trustee is a backup to the original trustee who manages assets, if the original trustee dies or becomes incapacitated. Finally, the beneficiaries are the people who receive assets when the terms of the trust are satisfied.
An LLC is a business entity commonly used for personal asset protection and business purposes. A multi-or single-member LLC could be created to own your home or business, to separate your personal property and business property, reduce potential legal liability and achieve a simplified management structure with liability protection.
The most significant advantage of a trust is avoiding the time-consuming process of probate, so beneficiaries may receive their inheritance faster. Assets in a trust may also prevent or reduce estate taxes. Trusts also keep your assets and filing documents private. Unlike a will, which becomes part of the public record and is available for anyone who asks, trust documents remain private.
LLCs and trusts are created on the state level. While LLCs are business entities designed for actively run businesses, trusts are essentially pass-through entities for inheritances and to pass dividends directly to beneficiaries while retaining control.
Your estate planning attorney will be able to judge whether protecting your assets with a trust vs an LLC is the best option for you. If you own a small business, it may already be an LLC. However, there are likely other asset protection vehicles your estate planning attorney can discuss with you. If you would like to learn more about business planning, please visit our previous posts.
Revocable assets simplify asset management during life and facilitate private asset transfers at death. Therefore, you might think your estate planning is done when you sign the revocable trust agreement. Nevertheless, it’s not done until you fund the trust, advises a recent article, “’It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over’ – Use of a Funded Revocable Trust in Estate Planning” from The National Law Review. Remember, revocable trusts must be funded to be effective.
A trust is a legal agreement allowing one person—the trustee—to hold and manage property to benefit one or more beneficiaries. The person who creates the trust—the grantor—can create a trust during their lifetime and modify or terminate the agreement at any time. The grantor is the initial trustee and the initial beneficiary. These dual roles allow the grantor to control the trust assets during their lifetime.
Upon death, the revocable trust becomes irrevocable. The trust agreement directs the distribution of assets and appoints the trustee to manage and distribute assets. Unlike a will, the revocable trust works during your lifetime to hold assets.
Funding the trust is critical for it to perform. Assets must be transferred, with an asset-by-asset review conducted to determine which assets should go into the trust. The assets should then be transferred—usually by title or deed changes—which your estate planning attorney can help with.
A funded revocable trust avoids having the assets go through probate. State statutes and regulations require several steps to be completed, adding time, effort and cost to estate administration. Suppose that the revocable trust at death owns the assets. In that case, the trust owns the legal title to the assets, and assets can be distributed to beneficiaries without court intervention.
Avoiding probate also reduces expenses. The expense of probate administration arises from two sources: probate fees and attorney fees. These vary by state and jurisdiction. However, they can add up quickly. A funded revocable trust minimizes both types of fees.
Unlike the will, which becomes a public document once it goes through probate, revocable trust assets and beneficiaries remain confidential, known only to the trustee and beneficiaries. Anyone who wants to can request and review your will and obtain information about assets and beneficiaries. However, the trust is a private document, protecting your loved ones from scammers, overly aggressive salespeople, and nosy relatives.
Privacy can be essential for business owners. For example, suppose you die owning a business interest as an individual. In that case, the description and value of business interests must be reported on the public record during the probate process and is available to potential purchasers to use as leverage against your estate. Transferring business interests to a revocable trust during your lifetime can keep that information private.
Trusts are also used for asset protection for assets with beneficiary designations, including life insurance, IRAs and retirement plans. For instance, if a life insurance policy is paid to your estate, creditors of your estate may have access to the proceeds. If it is paid to the trust, it is protected from creditors. A Revocable trust is only as good as its funding. Revocable trusts must be funded to be effective. If you would like to learn more about RLTs, please visit our previous posts.
Don’t forget to name alternative beneficiaries and executors. If the will names a beneficiary but they are unable to take possession of the property, or they are deceased, the asset will pass as though you didn’t have a will at all. In other words, the state will determine who receives the property, which may not be in accordance with your wishes. If there’s an alternate beneficiary, the property will go to someone of your choosing. A backup executor is also critical. If your primary executor cannot or does not want to serve, the court may appoint an administrator.
Personal possessions, including family heirlooms. Most families have items with great sentimental value, whether or not they have any financial value. Putting a list in your will makes it very difficult if you want to change your mind over time. It’s best to have a personal property memorandum. This is a separate document providing details about what items you want to give to family and friends. In some states, it is legally binding if the personal property memorandum is referenced in the will and signed and dated by the person making the will. A local estate planning attorney will know the laws regarding personal property memorandums for your state.
Even if this document is not legally binding, it gives your heirs clear instructions for what you want and may avoid family arguments. Please don’t use it to make any financial bequests or real estate gifts. Those belong in the will.
Digital assets. Much of our lives is now online. However, many people have slowly incorporated digital assets into their estate plans. You’ll want to list all online accounts, including email, financial, social media, gaming, shopping, etc. In addition, your executor may need access to your cell phone, tablet and desktop computer. The agent named by your Power of Attorney needs to be given authority to handle online accounts with a specific provision in these documents. Ensure the list, including the accounts, account number, username, password and other access information, is kept safe, and tell your executor where it can be found.
Companion animals. Today’s pet is a family member but is often left unprotected when its owners die or become incapacitated. Pets cannot inherit property, but you can name a caretaker and set aside funds for maintenance. Many states now permit pet owners to have a pet trust, a legally enforceable trust so the trustee may pay the pet’s caregiver for your pet’s needs, including veterinarian care, training, boarding, food and whatever the pet needs. Creating a document providing details to the caretaker concerning the pet’s needs, health conditions, habits and quirks is advised. Make sure the person you are naming as a caretaker is able and willing to serve in this capacity, and as always, when naming a person for any role, have at least one backup person named.
Make sure your consider these overlooked elements in your planning. Discuss all of your options carefully with an experienced estate planning attorney. If you would like to learn more about drafting an estate plan, please visit our previous posts.
One of the best strategies to plan for long-term care involves using an irrevocable trust. However, the word “irrevocable” makes people a little wary. It shouldn’t. Planning for long-term care with irrevocable trusts can provide peace of mind for your family. The use of the Intentionally Defective Grantor Trust, a type of irrevocable trust, provides both protection and flexibility, explains the article “Despite the name, irrevocable trusts provide flexibility” from The News-Enterprise.
Trusts are created by an estate planning attorney for each individual and their circumstances. Therefore, the provisions in one kind of trust may not be appropriate for another person, even when the situation appears to be the same on the surface. The flexibility provisions explored here are commonly used in Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts, referred to as IDGTs.
Can the grantor change beneficiaries in an IDGT? The grantor, the person setting up the trust, can reserve a testamentary power of appointment, a special right allowing grantors to change after-death beneficiaries.
This power can also hold the trust assets in the grantors’ taxable estate, allowing for the stepped-up tax basis on appreciated property.
Depending on how the trust is created, the grantor may only have the right to change beneficiaries for a portion or all of the property. If the grantor wants to change beneficiaries, they must make that change in their will.
Can money or property from the trust be removed if needed later? IDGT trusts should always include both lifetime beneficiaries and after-death beneficiaries. After death, beneficiaries receive a share of assets upon the grantor’s death when the estate is distributed. Lifetime beneficiaries have the right to receive property during the grantor’s lifetime.
While grantors may retain the right to receive income from the trust, lifetime beneficiaries can receive the principal. This is particularly important if the trust includes a liquid account that needs to be gifted to the beneficiary to assist a parent.
The most important aspect? The lifetime beneficiary may receive the property and not the grantor. The beneficiary can then use the gifted property to help a parent.
An often-asked question of estate planning attorneys concerns what would happen if tax laws changed in the future. It’s a reasonable question.
If an irrevocable trust needs a technical change, the trust must go before a court to determine if the change can be made. However, most estate planning attorneys include a trust protector clause within the trust to maintain privacy and expediency.
A trust protector is a third party who is neither related nor subordinate to the grantor, serves as a fiduciary, and can sign off on necessary changes. Trust protectors serve as “fixers” and are used to ensure that the trust can operate as the grantors intended. They are not frequently used, but they offer flexibility for legislative changes.
Planning for long-term care with irrevocable trusts is an excellent way to protect assets with both protection and flexibility in mind. If you would like to learn more about long-term care planning, please visit our previous posts.
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.
Texas Trust Law, PLLC, also known as Texas Trust Law, is not a chartered bank or trust company, or depository institution. It is not authorized to accept deposits or trust accounts, and is not licensed or regulated by any state or federal banking authority.