Blog Articles

Mistakes to Avoid with Beneficiary Designations

Many people don’t know that their will doesn’t control who inherits all of their assets when they die. Some assets pass by beneficiary designation. Assets like life insurance, annuities and retirement accounts all pass by beneficiary designation. There are mistakes to avoid with beneficiary designations.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Beneficiary Designations: 5 Critical Mistakes to Avoid” lists five critical mistakes to avoid when dealing with your beneficiary designations:

  1. Failing to designate any beneficiary at all. Many people forget to name a beneficiary for retirement accounts or life insurance. They may forget, didn’t know they had to, or just never got around to filling out the forms. If you don’t name a beneficiary for life insurance or retirement accounts, the company will apply its rules about where the assets will go after you die. For life insurance, the proceeds will typically be paid to your probate estate. For retirement benefits, if you’re married, your spouse will most likely receive the assets. However, if you’re unmarried, the retirement account will likely be paid to your probate estate, which has negative income tax ramifications.
  2. Failing to consider special circumstances. Not every family member should get an asset directly. This includes minor children, those with specials needs and people who can’t manage assets or with creditor issues.
  3. Misspelling a beneficiary’s name. Beneficiary designation forms can be filled out incorrectly and the beneficiary designation form may not be specific. People also change their names through marriage or divorce, or assumptions can be made about a person’s legal name that later prove incorrect. Failing to have names match exactly can cause delays in payouts, and in a worst-case scenario of two people with similar names, it can result in a court case.
  4. Forgetting to update your beneficiaries. Your choice of beneficiary may likely change over time as circumstances change. Naming a beneficiary is part of an overall estate plan, and just as life changes, so should your estate plan. Beneficiary designations are an important part of that plan—make certain that they’re updated regularly.
  5. Failing to review beneficiary choices with legal and financial advisers. How beneficiary designations should be completed is a component of an overall financial and estate plan. Involve your legal and financial advisers to determine what’s best for your circumstances. Note that beneficiary designations are designed to guarantee that you have the ultimate say over who will get your assets when you pass away. Taking the time to carefully (and correctly) choose your beneficiaries and then periodically reviewing those choices and making any necessary updates will allow you to remain in control of your money.

Your estate planning attorney will help you avoid any mistakes with your beneficiary designations, and make sure your choices are in line with your overall estate plan. If you would like to learn more about beneficiary designations, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Kiplinger (June 6, 2022) “Beneficiary Designations: 5 Critical Mistakes to Avoid”

Photo by Gustavo Fring

 

The Estate of The Union Season 2, Episode 2 – The Consumer's Guide to Dying is out now!

 

Read our Books

Are Testamentary Trusts a Good Idea?

Are Testamentary Trusts a Good Idea?

Not everyone wants to leave everything to their heirs without restrictions. Some want to protect money inherited from their own parents for their children or want to keep an irresponsible child from squandering an inheritance. For people who want more control over their assets, a testamentary trust might be useful, according to the recent article “What Is a Testamentary Trust and How Do I Create One? from U.S. News & World Report. A testamentary trust can also be used to leave assets to minor children, who may not legally inherit wealth directly. Are testamentary trusts a good idea?

Your estate planning attorney may have some other, better tools for you.

A testamentary trust is a trust created to hold assets created in a last will and testament. It does not become active until after a person dies and the will has been validated by probate court. Once this has happened, the trust is activated and the decedent’s assets are placed into the trust. At this point, the trustee is in charge of the trust’s management and asset distribution.

A testamentary trust is different from a living trust. The living trust, also known as a revocable trust, is created while the grantor (the person making the trust) is still living. When the person dies, the trust doesn’t go through probate and assets are distributed according to the directions in the trust.

Both testamentary and living or revocable trusts are used in estate planning. However, the living trust may have far more flexibility and be easier to manage for a very simple reason: testamentary trusts are part of the probate process, administered through probate for as long as they are in effect.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both kinds of trusts. The testamentary trust is often used to manage assets for minor children. It’s also a good tool if you’re worried about an adult child getting divorced and keeping the family money in the family. The long-term court oversight is more protective, which may be desirable, but it can also be more expensive.

The best reason for a testamentary estate? When someone involved in the person’s estate loves to get tangled up in litigation. Having to deal with probate court in addition to civil court might make a litigious family member a little less likely to bring a lawsuit.

Your will must contain specific directions for what assets go into the testamentary trust. Assets with beneficiary designations, such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts, don’t go into any trusts, unless a trust is designated as the beneficiary of the policy or account. They are instead distributed directly to beneficiaries outside of the probate estate.

Changing or annulling a testamentary trust is relatively easy while you are living—simply update your will to reflect your new wishes.  However, once you have passed, the testamentary trust becomes irrevocable and may not be changed.

Are testamentary trusts a good idea for your situation? Your estate planning attorney will evaluate these and other estate planning tools to find the best solutions to protect you and your family. If you would like to read more about trusts in general, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (July 14, 2022) “What Is a Testamentary Trust and How Do I Create One?

Photo by cottonbro

 

The Estate of The Union Season 2, Episode 2 – The Consumer's Guide to Dying is out now!

 

Read our Books

IRS Extending Time to File Portability Exemption

IRS Extending Time to File Portability Exemption

When a spouse dies, the surviving spouse has the option of taking the unused federal estate tax exclusion and applying it to their own estate. This is known as electing portability for the DSUE, Deceased Spousal Unused Exemption, according to a recent article “Estates can now request late portability election relief for 5 years” from the Journal of Accountancy. The IRS is extending the time it takes to file a portability exemption.

The portability exemption has grown in use, and the scheduled decrease in the estate tax exemption starting on January 1, 2026, will no doubt dramatically expand the number of people who will be even more eager to adopt this process.

The IRS has extended the amount of time a surviving spouse may elect to take the Deceased Spousal Unused Exclusion (DSUE) from two to five years. The expanded timeframe is a reflection of the number of requests for letter rulings from estates missing the deadline for what had been a two-year relief period. The overly burdened and underfunded agency needed to find a solution to an avalanche of estates seeking this relief. Most of the requests were from estates missing the deadline between two years and under five years from the decedent’s date of death.

To reduce the number of letter ruling requests, the IRS has updated the requirement by extending the period within which the estate of a decedent may make the portability election under the simplified method to on or before the fifth anniversary of the decedent’s death.

There are some requirements to use the simplified method. The decedent must have been a citizen or U.S. resident at the date of death and the executor must not have been otherwise required to file an estate tax return based on the value of the gross estate and any adjusted taxable gifts. The executor must also not have timely filed the estate’s tax return within nine months after the date of death or date of extended file deadline.

If it is determined later that the estate was in fact required to file an estate tax return, the grant of relief will be voided.

Note that this change doesn’t extend the period during which the surviving spouse can claim a credit or a refund of any overpaid gift or estate taxes on the surviving spouse’s own gift or estate return.

The decision by the IRS extending the time to file a portability exemption will become even more popular after December 31, 2025, when the federal exemption changes from $12.6 million per person to $5 million (adjusted for inflation). Given the rise in housing prices, even people with modest estates may find themselves coming close or exceeding the federal estate tax level. If you would like to learn more about the portability exemption, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Journal of Accountancy (July 11, 2022) “Estates can now request late portability election relief for 5 years”

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich

 

The Estate of The Union Season 2, Episode 2 – The Consumer's Guide to Dying is out now!

 

Read our Books

How are Capital Gains in Irrevocable Trust Taxed?

How are Capital Gains in Irrevocable Trust Taxed?

Putting a home in an irrevocable trust may be done to protect the house from estate taxes, explains a recent article from Yahoo! Life titled “Do Irrevocable Trusts Pay the Capital Gains Tax?”  How are capital gains in a irrevocable trust taxed?

An irrevocable trust is used to protect assets. Unlike a revocable trust, once an asset is placed within the trust, it’s difficult to have the asset returned to the original owner. The trust is a separate legal entity and has its own taxpayer identification number.

Assets moved into a trust are permanently owned by the trust, until the trustee distributes assets to named beneficiaries or their heirs. Irrevocable trusts are often used to protect assets from litigation.

Capital gains taxes are the tax liabilities created when assets are sold. Typical assets subject to capital gains taxes include stocks, homes, businesses and collectibles. Capital gains taxes are usually lower than earned income taxes. For example, the top federal income tax rate is 37%, and the top capital gains tax rate is 20%. A single investor might pay no capital gains taxes if their taxable income is $41,675 or less (in 2022). Married copies filing joining also pay 0% capital gains if their taxable income is $83,350 or less.

Irrevocable trusts are the owners of assets in the trust until those assets are distributed, including any earned income. While it would seem that the irrevocable trust should pay taxes on earned income, this is not necessarily the case. If irrevocable trusts are required to distribute income to beneficiaries every year, then that makes the trust a pass-through entity. Beneficiaries pay taxes on the income they receive from the trust.

Capital gains are not considered income to such an irrevocable trust. Instead, any capital gains are treated as contributions to principal. Therefore, when a trust sells an asset and realizes a gain, and the gain is not distributed to beneficiaries, the trust pays capital gains taxes.

One of the tax benefits of home ownership is the ability to avoid the first $250,000 in capital gains profits on the sale of the home. For married couples filing jointly, the exemption is $500,000. The home must be a primary residence for two of the last five years.

What happens if you transfer your home to an irrevocable trust as part of your estate planning? Who pays the capital gains tax on the sale of a home in an irrevocable trust? Remember, the trust is a legal entity and not a person. The trust does not receive the $250,000 exemption.

Placing a home into an irrevocable trust can protect it from creditors and litigation, but when the home is sold, someone will have to pay the capital gains taxed on the sale. Although irrevocable trusts are great for distributing assets to beneficiaries, they are also responsible for paying capital gains taxes.

An experienced estate planning attorney will help you to determine which is more important for your unique situation: protecting the home through the use of an irrevocable trust or getting the tax exemption benefit if the home sells. If you would like to learn more about irrevocable trusts, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Yahoo! Life (July 7, 2022) “Do Irrevocable Trusts Pay the Capital Gains Tax?”

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich

 

The Estate of The Union Season 2, Episode 2 – The Consumer's Guide to Dying is out now!

 

Read our Books

Geriatric Care Managers can make Life Easier

Geriatric Care Managers can make Life Easier

Geriatric care managers (or GCMs) help seniors deal with their burdens in an efficient, organized manner. Geriatric care managers can simply make life easier for both you and your senior, says Seniors Matter’s recent article entitled “What is a geriatric care manager?”

Seniors Matter created a guide to provide seniors with detailed information about geriatric care managers, including what they do and how to locate the most qualified individuals in your area. If you’re not sure about the role of a geriatric care manager, it can be broken down into two parts: First of all, “geriatric care” simply refers to geriatric medicine, which focuses on health care services for elderly individuals. The second part of the phrase is quite straightforward, since a “manager” is simply someone with strong organizational skills who is in charge of making important decisions.

Geriatric care managers are knowledgeable and organized individuals skilled in advocacy and care coordination for seniors. They are specialists in senior care who can guide family caregivers and others in providing the best support for their seniors. In fact, many family caregivers think of senior care managers as unofficial family members.

They’re people you can trust to make the right choices when it comes to eldercare services, and they often develop bonds with the entire family.

Geriatric care managers have strong qualifications. Many of them have professional experience in case management, physical therapy, nursing, social work, or occupational therapy. Some have worked as gerontologists. Note that a GCM doesn’t need to directly provide seniors with all of the medical treatment they need. A significant part of their role involves finding other qualified medical professionals and senior care providers who can offer more specialized assistance.

GCMs are especially helpful in long-distance care situations. They can ensure quick response times in the case of an emergency.

Even if the time commitment of informal caregiving isn’t an issue for you, a geriatric care manager can be a welcome source of advice, guidance, and advocacy.

You can make life easier and feel confident about important decisions when you consult with qualified geriatric care managers.  They can help you with the complex issues associated with proper care coordination. If you would like to learn more about elder care and elder law, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Seniors Matter (July 7, 2022) “What is a geriatric care manager?”

Photo by Kampus Production

 

The Estate of The Union Season 2, Episode 2 – The Consumer's Guide to Dying is out now!

 

Read our Books

 

There are Alternatives to Guardianship

There are Alternatives to Guardianship

Guardianships are drastic and very invasive. They strip individuals of their legal autonomy and establish the guardian as the sole decision maker. To become a guardian requires strong evidence of legal incapacity, and approval by a judge, explains an article titled “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort–Consider These Less Draconian Options First” from Kiplinger. They should not be undertaken unless there is a serious need to do so. Once they’re in place, guardianships are difficult to undo. There are alternatives to guardianship.

If an elderly person with dementia failed to make provisions durable powers of attorney for health care and for financial matters before becoming ill, a guardianship may be the only ways to protect the person and their estate. There are also instances where an aging parent is unable to care for themselves properly but refuses any help from family members.

Another scenario is an aging grandparent who plans to leave funds for minor beneficiaries. Their parents will need to seek guardianships, so they can manage the money until their children reach the age of majority.

Laws vary from state to state, so if you might need to address this situation, you’ll need to speak with an estate planning attorney in the elderly parent or family member’s state of residence. For the most part, each state requires less restrictive alternatives to be attempted before guardianship proceedings are begun.

Alternatives to guardianship include limited guardianship, focused on specific aspect of the person’s life. This can be established to manage the person’s finances only, or to manage only their medical and health care decisions. Limited guardianships need to be approved by a court and require evidence of incapacity.

Powers of attorney can be established for medical or financial decisions. This is far less burdensome to achieve and equally less restrictive. A Healthcare Power of Attorney will allow a family member to be involved with medical care, while the Durable General Power of Attorney is used to manage a person’s personal financial affairs.

Some families take the step of making a family member a joint owner on a bank, home, or an investment account. This sounds like a neat and simple solution, but assets are vulnerable if the family member has any creditor issues or risk exposure. A joint owner also doesn’t have the same fiduciary responsibility as a POA.

An assisted decision-making agreement creates a surrogate decision-maker who can see the incapacitated person’s financial transactions. The bank is notified of the arrangement and alerts the surrogate when it sees a potentially suspicious or unusual transaction. This doesn’t completely replace the primary account holder’s authority. However, it does create a limited means of preventing exploitation or fraud. The bank is put on notice and required to alert a second person before completing potentially fraudulent transactions.

Trusts can also be used to protect an incapacitated person. They can be used to manage assets, with a contingent trustee. For an elderly person, a co-trustee can step in if the grantor loses the capacity to make good decisions.

Planning in advance is the best solution for incapacity. Guardianship is a very significant step, so consider the alternatives first. Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney to protect loved ones from having to take draconian actions to protect your best interests. If you would like to read more about guardianships, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (July 7, 2022) “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort–Consider These Less Draconian Options First”

Photo by Pixabay

 

The Estate of The Union Season 2, Episode 2 – The Consumer's Guide to Dying is out now!

 

Read our Books

Burial Insurance can give you Peace of Mind

Burial Insurance can give you Peace of Mind

Burial insurance can give you peace of mind when you are already emotionally fragile after the death of a loved one. Burial insurance—also called end-of-life insurance, final expense, or funeral insurance—is a whole life insurance policy that’s designed to pay for the costs of your burial. These costs may include a memorial service, cremation costs, a headstone for your grave or other expenses associated with end-of-life arrangements.

Bankrate’s recent article entitled “Burial insurance” explains that if you have your affairs in order, your family already knows what will happen when you die. You may have given instructions for how you’d like your body to be treated, as well as ideas for your memorial service or what you want written on a tombstone.

However, all of these things cost money. If you don’t want your family to be stuck paying those costs, you may want to consider a burial policy.

Because the payout for burial insurance is small compared to many regular life insurance policies, the premiums can also be quite affordable. The policies are easy to purchase and don’t require a medical exam. However, there may be a waiting period and the policy may offer only limited benefits in the first two years.

Burial insurance policies cover all the normal costs incurred by someone’s death, such as:

  • Embalming
  • Memorial Service
  • A casket
  • Flowers
  • Cremation costs
  • A burial plot
  • The cost of transporting the body and/or remains
  • A headstone; and
  • Payment to clergy.

One type of burial policy, called a guaranteed issue life insurance policy, is available without any medical or health questions. It’s designed for those who are seriously ill and can’t get a policy any other way.

If all the appropriate arrangements have been made, the process of filing a burial insurance claim should be fairly smooth. Allow burial insurance to give you that peace of mind at an extremely difficult time. If you would like to read more about funeral expenses, and other issues related to probate, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Bankrate (March 5, 2021) “Burial insurance”

Photo by RODNAE Productions

 

The Estate of The Union Season 2, Episode 2 – The Consumer's Guide to Dying is out now!

 

Read our Books

Spendthrift Trust has Restrictions to protect Heirs

Spendthrift Trust has Restrictions to protect Heirs

There are situations when you want to care for your children in your will. However, you know they’d just blow their inheritance in just a few years. That’s when a spendthrift trust is useful. A spendthrift trust is a type of trust that has restrictions to protect immature heirs from both themselves and potential creditors.

US News’ recent article entitled “What Is a Spendthrift Trust?” explains that a spendthrift trust lets you  leave funds to a beneficiary, without giving them full control over those funds. Instead, a trustee is given the authority to distribute funds for the benefit of a beneficiary.

This type of trust is created to protect a beneficiary from squandering the wealth bequeathed to them or was left to them

Speak with an estate attorney and talk in detail about your concerns. Ask the attorney to draft this document for you.

The attorney can write into the trust certain rules, such as that an heir may be required to reach a certain age before they start receiving payments, or that the heir receives installments at certain life stages.

If you have an heir or someone you want to leave an inheritance who is immature, irresponsible, or underage, a spendthrift trust can give you some control and power over how and when the money is spent.

A spendthrift trust can also try to limit access to the funds by creditors. The objective is to keep other people from accessing the funds set aside for the beneficiary.

It’s the goal of the original trust creator to protect their beneficiary’s assets from other people. This might be a creditor or even an ex-spouse.

Note that the laws regarding spendthrift trusts vary from state to state, so work with a local estate planning attorney.

The ability of a creditor to access assets in the trust will to depend on state law. Every state has different rules regarding their respect for the spendthrift trust.

A spendthrift trust that has restrictions to protect heirs can be a critical component in your heirs future success. One of the critical tasks in setting up a successful spendthrift trust is the person who is named as the trustee of the funds. That person can have some discretion when distributing the funds, so it needs to be an individual you can trust over the long term. That’s why partnering with an experienced estate planning attorney who’s truly an expert in that field is so important. If you would like to read more about these types of trusts, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: US News (June 28, 2022) “What Is a Spendthrift Trust?”

Photo by RODNAE Productions

 

 

The Estate of The Union Season 2, Episode 2 – The Consumer's Guide to Dying is out now!

 

Read our Books

Business Interests are better Protected by Trusts

Business Interests are better Protected by Trusts

Once your business grows, so does the pressure to make good financial decisions in the short and long term. When you think about the future, estate and succession planning emerge as two major concerns. You’re not just considering balance sheets, profits and losses, but your family and what will happen to them and your business when you’re not around. This thinking leads to what seems like a great idea: transferring stock or LLC membership units to one or more of your adult children. There are benefits, especially the ability to avoid a 40% estate tax and other benefits. However, there are also lots of ways this can go sideways, fast. Your business interests are better protected by trusts established to benefit your family.

Executing due diligence and creating an exit plan to minimize taxes and successfully transfer the business takes planning and, even harder, removing emotions from the plan to make a good decision.

An outright transfer of stock or ownership units can expose you and your business to risk. Even if your children are Ivy-league MBA grads, with track records of great decision making and caring for you and your spouse, this transaction offers zero protection and all risk for you. What could go wrong?

  • An in-law (one you may not have even met yet) could try to place a claim on the business and move it away from the family.
  • Creditors could seize assets from the children, entirely likely if their future holds legal or financial problems—or if they have such problems now and haven’t shared them with you.
  • Assets could go into your children’s estates, which reintroduces exposure to estate taxes.

No family is immune from any of these situations, and if you ask your estate planning attorney, you’ll hear as many horror stories as you can tolerate.

Trusts are a solution. Thoughtfully crafted for your unique situation, a trust can help avoid exposure to some estate and other taxes, allocating effective ownership to your children, in a protected manner. Your ultimate goal: keeping ownership in the family and minimizing tax exposure.

A Beneficiary Defective Inheritance Trust (BDIT) may be appropriate for you. If you’ve already executed an outright transfer of the stock, it’s not too late to fix things. The BDIT is a grantor trust serving to enable protection of stock and eliminate any “residue” in your childrens’ estates.

If you haven’t yet transferred stock to children, don’t do it. The risk is very high. If you’ve already completed the transfer, speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about how to reverse the transfer and create a plan to protect the business and your family.

Bottom line: business interests are better protected when they are held not by individuals, but by trusts for the benefit of individuals. Your estate planning attorney can draft trusts to achieve goals, minimize estate taxes and, in some situations, even minimize state income taxes. If you would like to learn more about business succession planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Street (June 27, 2022) “Should I Transfer Company Stock to My Kids?”

Photo by Christina Morillo

 

The Estate of The Union Season 2, Episode 2 – The Consumer's Guide to Dying is out now!

 

Read our Books

Marital Trusts have multiple Benefits

Marital Trusts have multiple Benefits

Marital trusts have multiple benefits for beneficiaries, including asset allocation and tax benefits.  They are worth looking at in your estate plan.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Guide To Marital Trusts” says that a marital trust is an irrevocable trust that allows you to transfer a deceased spouse’s assets to the surviving spouse without paying any taxes. The trust also protects assets from creditors and future spouses that the surviving spouse may encounter.

When the surviving spouse dies, the assets in the trust aren’t included as part of their estate. That will keep the taxes on their estate lower.

There are three parties involved in setting up, maintaining and ultimately passing along the trust, including a grantor, who is the person who establishes the trust; the trustee, who’s the person or organization that manages the trust and its assets; and the beneficiary. That’s the person who will eventually receive the assets in the trust, once the grantor dies.

A marital trust also involves the principal, which are assets initially put into the trust.

A marital trust doubles the couple’s estate tax exemption limit, especially when almost all assets are owned by one spouse. Estate tax refers to the federal tax that must be paid on someone’s estate after they die. The estate tax limit is how much of an estate will be tax-free. In 2022, the estate tax limit is $12.06 million, which means utilizing a marital trust would essentially double that amount to $24.12 million. Therefore, about $24 million of a couple’s net worth would be shielded from estate taxes by taking advantage of a marital trust.

A marital trust is also beneficial because it can provide income to the surviving spouse, tax-free.

Only a surviving spouse can be a beneficiary of a marital trust. When the surviving spouse dies, the trust will then be passed on to whomever the first spouse’s will or trust governs.

If keeping wealth within your family after you die is important, then a marital trust is an estate planning tool that will make certain that individuals outside of your family don’t have access to the wealth. You can put a variety of assets into a marital trust, including property, retirement accounts and investment accounts.

Marital trusts have multiple benefits for your heirs and is a legal tool to consider using when planning for a blended family. If you would like to learn more about marital trusts, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (June 30, 2022) “Guide To Marital Trusts”

Photo by Jeremy Wong

 

The Estate of The Union Season 2, Episode 2 – The Consumer's Guide to Dying is out now!

 

Read our Books

 

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.
Categories
View Blog Archives
View TypePad Blogs