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Actions to avoid when Shopping for Life Insurance

Actions to avoid when Shopping for Life Insurance

Life expectancy is important because life insurers take on a financial risk by covering you. The higher the chance of an insurer having to pay out your policy, the more you’ll pay and the more difficult it will be to get coverage. There are some actions and behaviors to avoid when shopping for life insurance.

Market Watch’s recent article entitled“5 reasons you might have to pay more for life insurance” says that if you fall into one of the following groups, you may be deemed a high risk for life insurance.

  1. You have a pre-existing health condition. This is something such as cancer, diabetes and any type of autoimmune disorder. Morbid obesity is a big risk. However, if you’re managing your pre-existing condition well, insurers will consider that when setting rates. That’s because the more controlled your health risk is, the more favorable it is for your own mortality. That is good for everybody involved. It is a “win-win.”
  2. You work a dangerous job. If you work in a risky workplace, you’ll be treated differently from someone with a desk job. The list of “dangerous” jobs is based on specialized tasks. However, if leave your hazardous job, you can ask your life insurance agent to re-evaluate your rates.
  3. You’re a daredevil If you enjoy the thrill of extreme sports, like car racing, piloting, skydiving, scuba diving, or mountain climbing, you’ll likely have higher life insurance rates. Insurers will consider the level of risk you’re taking and how frequently you participate in these activities.
  4. You’re receiving drug or alcohol treatment. The type of drug and the length of time you’ve been clean play a part. Insurance companies look carefully at relapse rates, as well as the likelihood of contracting diseases through drug use, like hepatitis C.
  5. You have a recent DUI. A DUI is more than a blip on your driving record. It can also impact your ability to get low-cost life insurance. If you received a DUI in the past year, you could expect a higher premium when you apply for life insurance. If you have multiple DUIs over five years ago, you’ll likely pay more than twice as much for coverage as someone with a clean driving record. However, the insurance company may not penalize you for just one DUI that happened five or more years ago.

Actions to avoid like these when you are shopping for life insurance can increase your chances of approval. Make sure to work with a life insurance broker or independent agent. They partner with a number of life insurance companies, so they can help you navigate your options. If you would like to read more about life insurance and estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Market Watch (Jan. 25, 2022) “5 reasons you might have to pay more for life insurance”

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Strategies to reduce Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax

Strategies to reduce Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax

The unified estate and gift tax exemption increased from $5 million to $10 million, with inflation indexing stands at $12.06 million in 2022. A married couple can shelter as much as $24.12 million from the federal estate tax. However, what about assets you gift or leave in your will to grandchildren, asks a recent article titled “Beware the Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax” from CPA Practice Advisor. There are strategies to reduce the generation-skipping transfer tax.

Without proper estate planning, the Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax (GSTT) may be imposed on families who aren’t prepared for it. There are some strategies to work around the GSTT. However, you’ll need to get this done in advance of making any gifts or before you die.

The GSTT was created to prevent wealthy individuals from getting too far around the estate and gift rules through generation-skipping transfers, as the name implies. A simple explanation of the tax is this: the tax applies to transfers to related individuals who are more than one generation away—that would be grandchildren or great grandchildren—and any unrelated individuals more than 37 ½ years younger. They are known as “skip persons.”

Transferring assets to a trust and naming grandchildren or a much younger person as the ultimate beneficiary doesn’t work to avoid the GSTT. If you took this route, all of the trust beneficiaries, which could also be adult children, would be treated as skip persons. Even the trust itself may be considered a skip person, in certain circumstances.

The rules for the GSTT are the same as apply to federal estate taxes. The top tax rate for the GSTT is 40%, the same rate for federal estate taxes. The GSTT also shares the same exemption rate, indexed for inflation, as the federal estate tax.

However, remember what’s coming. In 2026, the exemption is scheduled to revert to $5 million, plus inflation indexing. If Congress enacts any other legislation before then, it will change sooner.

There’s more. There is a GSTT exemption for lifetime transfers aligned with the annual gift tax exclusion. You may gift up to $16,000 per recipient, including a grandchild or other descendent, every year, without triggering a GSTT bill.

Talk with your estate planning attorney to see if these three strategies are appropriate for you to avoid or reduce the Generation-skipping transfer tax:

  • Make the most of the GSTT exemption. Even though lifetime transfers do reduce the available estate tax shelter, the current $12.06 million exemption provides a lot of flexibility.
  • You can use the annual gift tax exemption to shelter tax gifts up to $16,000 above and beyond the lifetime exemption. Use this before the lifetime exemption.
  • Always look to see how trusts within the usual tax law boundaries can be used to protect assets from taxes.

If you would like to learn more about strategies to reduce estate taxes, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: CPA Practice Advisor (June 3, 2022) “Beware the Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax”

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Be Cautious when Buying Funeral Services

Be Cautious when Buying Funeral Services

Planning a funeral is stressful. It is important to be cautious when buying funeral services. People usually don’t buy funeral services frequently, so they’re unfamiliar with the process. Add to this the fact that they’re typically bereaved and stressed, which can affect decision-making, explains Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, an advocacy group. In addition, people tend to associate their love for the dead person with the amount of money they spend on the funeral, says The Seattle Times’ recent article entitled “When shopping for funeral services, be wary.”

“Grieving people really are the perfect customer to upsell,” Slocum said.

The digital age has also made it easier to contact grieving customers. Federal authorities recently charged the operator of two online cremation brokerages of fraud. The operator misled clients and even withheld remains to force bereaved families to pay inflated prices.

The Justice Department, on behalf of the Federal Trade Commission, sued Funeral & Cremation Group of North America and Legacy Cremation Services, which operates under several names and the companies’ principal, Anthony Joseph Damiano. The companies, according to a civil complaint, sell their funeral services through the websites Legacy Cremation Services and Heritage Cremation Provider.

These companies pretend to be local funeral homes offering low-cost cremation services. Their websites use search engines that make it look like consumers are dealing with a nearby business. However, they really act as middlemen, offering services and setting prices with customers, then arranging with unaffiliated funeral homes to perform cremations.

The lawsuit complaint says these companies offered lower prices for cremation services than they ultimately required customers to pay and arranged services at locations that were farther than advertised, forcing customers to travel long distances for viewings and to obtain remains.

“In some instances when consumers contest defendants’ charges,” the complaint said, the companies “threaten not to return or actually refuse to return” remains until customers pay up.

Mr. Slocum of the Funeral Consumers Alliance recommends contacting several providers — in advance, if possible, so you can look at the options without pressure. And ask for the location of the cremation center and request a visit. Also note that cremation sites in the U.S. are frequently not located in the same place as the funeral home and may not be designed for consumer tours.

Note that the FTC’s Funeral Rule predates the internet and doesn’t require online price disclosure. Likewise, most states don’t require this either.

It is wise to be cautious when buying funeral services. Last year during the pandemic, the government issued a warning about fraud related to the funeral benefits. They said FEMA had reports of people receiving calls from strangers offering to help them “register” for benefits. If you would like to learn more about planning for a funeral, and other related topics, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Seattle Times (May 15, 2022) “When shopping for funeral services, be wary”

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Firearms can be included in your Estate Plan

Firearms can be included in your Estate Plan

It’s common to focus on the big assets when creating an estate plan, like the family home, investment accounts and life insurance, but personal property also needs to be addressed, especially if the items are of great value or if ownership is complicated. This is especially the case regarding firearms, discussed in a recent article, “In the Crosshairs: Guns in Estate Planning” from The National Law Review. Firearms can be included in your estate plan.

Your executor, personal representative or successor trustee is the person who takes on the fiduciary role of administering your estate, according to the directions in your last will and testament. What seems like a relatively simple transfer of your favorite shotgun to a family member could lead to serious legal problems, if the family member is a “prohibited person.”

The Gun Control Act of 1968 made it unlawful for certain people to ship, transport, receive or possess firearms or ammunition. This group includes persons with mental illness, felons, dishonorable discharges or domestic violence convictions. Unless your executor knows the family member and can confirm they do not belong to any of these categories, the transfer and receipt of the firearm could constitute criminal behavior.

Geography could be an issue as well. A federal firearms license holder must be used to transfer the firearm, if the recipient lives in a different state. Since guns laws vary widely throughout the US, transfers are not straightforward. Something perfectly legal in one state may be a felony in another.

Laws about guns and related devices change also. After a mass shooting event in Las Vegas in 2017, the bump stock, a device used to allow more shots to be fired from an assault weapon was made illegal and owners were advised to surrender or destroy any bump stocks in their possession. If the fiduciary doesn’t know anything about firearms, they may unwittingly commit a felony.

The risks of transferring firearms can be addressed with informed planning. Gun trusts are used to protect and plan, especially for unique items like registered machine guns, suppressors, short barrel rifles and short barrel shotguns.

Firearms can be included in your estate plan. In recent years, the gun trust use has expanded to collectible firearms to preserve their use for future generations. Collectable firearms often are as expensive as collectible cars, so care must be taken to properly preserve and transfer them.

If firearms are in your home and you wish to pass them along to another family member, the best way to do this is with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney who can create a gun trust and help determine if the intended heir is permitted to inherit a gun. If you would like to learn more about addressing personal property in your planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The National Law Review (May 10, 2022) “In the Crosshairs: Guns in Estate Planning”

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Consider a Prenup in your Estate Planning

Consider a Prenup in your Estate Planning

There are some important financial decisions that need to be made before you get hitched. One of them is whether you should get a prenuptial agreement (“prenup”). This isn’t the most romantic issue to discuss, especially because these agreements usually focus on what will happen in the event of the marriage ending. However, in many cases, having tough conversations about the practical side of marriage can actually bring you and your spouse closer together. It might be wise to consider a prenup in your estate planning as well.

JP Morgan’s recent article entitled “What to know about prenups before getting married” explains that being prepared with a prenup that makes both people in a marriage feel comfortable can be a great foundation for building a financially healthy and emotionally healthy marriage.

A prenup is a contract that two people enter before getting married. The terms outlined in a prenup supersede default marital laws, which would otherwise determine what happens if a couple gets divorced or one person dies. Prenups can cover:

  • How property, retirement benefits and savings will be divided if a marriage ends;
  • If and how one person in the couple is allowed to seek alimony (financial support from a spouse); and
  • If one person in a couple goes bankrupt.

Prenups can be useful for people in many different income brackets. If you or your future spouse has a significant amount of debt or assets, it’s probably wise to have a prenup. They can also be useful if you (or your spouse) have a stake in a business, have children from another marriage, or have financial agreements with an ex-spouse.

First, have an open and honest conversation with your spouse-to-be. Next, talk to an attorney, and make sure he or she understands you and your fiancé’s unique goals for your prenup. You and your partner will then compile your financial information, your attorney will negotiate and draft your prenup, you’ll review it and sign it.

Consider that a prenup can be a useful resource for couples in many different circumstances, including  your estate planning.

It might feel overwhelming to discuss a prenup with your fiancé, but doing this in a non-emotional, organized way can save a lot of strife in the future and could help bring you closer together ahead of your big day. If you would like to learn more about prenups, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: JP Morgan (April 4, 2022) “What to know about prenups before getting married”

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Tips to avoid a Contested Will

Tips to avoid a Contested Will

A last will and testament is the document used to direct your executor to distribute assets and property according to your wishes. However, it’s not uncommon for disgruntled or distant family members or others to dispute the validity of the will. There are tips to avoid a contested will. A recent article titled “5 Reasons A Law Will May Be Contested” from Vents Magazine explains the top five factors to keep in mind when preparing your will.

Undue influence is a commonly invoked reason for a challenge. If a potential beneficiary can prove the person making the will (the testator) was influenced by another person to make decisions they would not have otherwise made, a will challenge could be brought to court. Undue influence means the testator’s decision was significantly affected by a person who stood to gain something by the outcome of the will and made a concerted effort to change the testator’s mind.

Even if there was no evidence of fraud, any suspicion of the testator’s being influenced is enough for a court to accept a case. If you think someone unduly influenced a loved one, especially if they suffer from any mental frailties or dementia, you may have cause to bring a case.

Outright fraud or forgery is another reason for the will to be contested. If there have been many erasures or signature styles appear different from one document to another, there may have been fraud. An estate planning attorney should examine documents to evaluate whether there is enough cause for suspicion to challenge the will.

Improper witnesses. The testator is required to sign the will with witnesses present. In some states, only one witness is required. In most states, two witnesses must be present to sign the will in front of the testator. A beneficiary may not be a witness to the signing of the will. Some states have changed laws to allow for remote signings in response to COVID. If the rules have not been followed, the will may be invalid.

Mistaken identity seems farfetched. However, it is a common occurrence, especially when someone has a common name or more than one person in the family has the same name, and the document has not been properly signed or witnessed. This could create confusion and make the document vulnerable to a challenge. An experienced estate planning attorney will know how to prepare documents to withstand any challenges.

Capacity in the law means someone is able to understand the concept of a will and contents of the document they are signing, along with the identities of the people to whom they are leaving their assets. The testator doesn’t need to have perfect mental health, so people with mild cognitive impairments, such as depression or anxiety, may make and sign a will. A medical opinion may be needed, if there might be any doubt as to whether a person had testamentary capacity when the will is signed.

A contested will can be time-consuming and expensive, so keep these tips in mind to avoid it, especially if the family includes some litigious individuals. If you would like to learn more about drafting a will, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Vents Magazine (May 6, 2022) “5 Reasons A Law Will May Be Contested”

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

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

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

Dealing with a funeral home after the death of a loved one is something no one relishes.

In this episode of the Estate of the Union, we interview Nancy Walker, the Executive Director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Central Texas, a non-profit that helps people navigate this unpleasant task. Nancy hits on the perils of the process and even discusses “natural burials.” Learn what the organization is and how they are an important resource for making educated choices and arrangements prior to end of life.

This is fun, innovative and informative. Despite the topic, you will love it!

To learn more about Nancy Walker and the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Central Texas, please visit their website: www.fcactx.org

We’ve got fifteen episodes posted and more to come. We hope you will enjoy them enough to share it with others. These are available on Apple, Spotify and other podcast outlets. Click on our logo to listen on Spotify.

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 2  – The Consumer’s Guide to Dying can be found on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or anywhere you get your podcasts. Please click on the link below to listen to the new installment of The Estate of The Union podcast. We hope you enjoy it.

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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.

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Supplemental Needs Trust can safeguard Benefits

Supplemental Needs Trust can safeguard Benefits

A Supplemental Needs Trust can safeguard government benefits. Supplemental Needs Trusts allow disabled individuals to retain inheritances or gifts without eliminating or reducing government benefits, like Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). There are cases where the individual is vulnerable to exploitation or unable to manage their own finances and using an SNT allows them to receive additional funds to pay for things not covered by their benefits.

Having an experienced estate planning attorney properly create the SNT is critical to preserving the individual’s benefits, according to a recent article titled “Protecting Government Benefits using Supplemental Needs Trusts” from Mondaq.

Disabled individuals who receive SSI must be careful, since the rules about assets from SSI are far more restrictive then if the person only received Medicaid or Social Security Disability and Medicaid.

The trustee of an SNT makes distributions to third parties like personal care items, transportation (including buying a car), entertainment, technology purchases, payment of rent and medical or therapeutic equipment. Payment of rent or even ownership of a home may be paid for by the trustee.

The SNT may not make cash distributions to the beneficiary. Payment for any items or services must be made directly to the service provider, retailers, or other entity, for benefit of the individual. Not following this rule could lead to the SNT becoming invalid.

SNTs may be funded using the disabled person’s own funds or by a third party for their benefit. If the SNT is funded using the person’s own funds, it is called a “Self-Settled SNT.” This is a useful tool if the disabled person inherits money, receives a court settlement or owned assets before becoming disabled.

If someone other than the disabled person funds the SNT, it’s known as a “Third-Party SNT.” These are most commonly created as part of an estate plan to protect a family member and ensure they have supplementary funds as needed and to preserve assets for other family members when the disabled individual dies.

The most important distinction between a Self-Settled SNT and a Third-Party SNT is a Self-Settled SNT must contain a provision to direct the trust to pay back the state’s Medicaid agency for any assistance provided. This is known as a “Payback Provision.”

The Third-Party SNT is not required to contain this provision and any assets remaining in the trust at the time of the disabled person’s death may be passed on to residual beneficiaries.

A Supplemental Needs Trust can safeguard benefits. That is why so many estate planning attorneys use a “standby” SNT as part of their planning, so their loved ones may be protected, in case an unexpected event occurs and a family member becomes disabled. If you would like to learn more about SNTs, please visit our previous posts.

References: Mondaq (May 27, 2022) “Protecting Government Benefits using Supplemental Needs Trusts”

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Choosing the right Executor is Crucial

Choosing the right Executor is Crucial

When you pass away, it will be up to your executor or personal representative to handle all the paperwork after your death and the distribution of your assets. Choosing the right executor is crucial to your estate planning.

Fed Week’s recent article entitled “Considerations when Picking an Executor for Your Estate” suggest that one possibility is to name an independent party as your estate’s executor.

An executor or personal representative of an estate is a person or entity that’s appointed to administer the last will and testament of a deceased person. The executor’s main duty is to carry out the instructions to manage the affairs and wishes of the deceased.

The executor is appointed either by the testator of the will (the person who makes the will) or by a court, in the event where there’s no prior appointment in a will.

However, a bank trust department or even an independent trust company might serve as an executor.

While your family may not like paying fees to an executor, if you name a surviving relative as executor, he or she may face enormous pressure from heirs with competing claims.

It’s not unheard of for family disputes to occur.

It’s also important to point out that an executor assumes a fiduciary responsibility that may be better left to an institution. The executor of the estate is required to complete an estate tax return, pay any estate tax due and distribute the estate’s assets.

If that tax return is later audited and more tax is due, the executor is legally responsible. The other heirs may not be ready to give some of their money back to pay the tax. You can, therefore, see that there is at least one point of contention that could grow into a conflict.

However, if you name an institution, you shift that liability away from a family member.

If you don’t expect any tax or family problems with your estate, you can simply name a family member as executor. You can perhaps name an adult child, because a surviving spouse may be too overwhelmed to deal with everything.

However, a grown son or daughter who is conscientious and lives close might be a good choice.

In any case, your will should designate a backup executor. Choosing the right executor for your estate is crucial to ensuring a smooth distribution of your assets and an experienced estate planning attorney can help you make a decision that works best for you. If you would like to read more about the role of the executor, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Fed Week (May 3, 2022) “Considerations when Picking an Executor for Your Estate”

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Minimizing taxes should be a part of your plan

Minimizing Taxes should be a Part of your Plan

Let’s get this out of the way: preparing for death doesn’t mean it will come sooner. Quite the opposite is true. Most people find preparing and completing their estate plan leads to a sense of relief. They know if and when any of life’s unexpected events occur, like incapacity or death, they have done what was necessary to prepare, for themselves and their loved ones. Minimizing taxes should be a part of your plan.

It’s a worthwhile task, says the recent article titled “Preparing for the certainties in life: death and taxes” from Cleveland Jewish News and doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Some attorneys use questionnaires to gather information to be brought into the office for the first meeting, while others use secure online portals to gather information. Then, the estate planning attorney and you will have a friendly, candid discussion of your wishes and what decisions need to be made.

Several roles need to be filled. The executor carries out the instructions in the will. A guardian is in charge of minor children, in the event both parents die. A person named as your attorney in fact (or agent) in your Power of Attorney (POA) will be in charge of the business side of your life. A POA can be as broad or limited as you wish, from managing one bank account to pay household expenses to handling everything. A Health Care Proxy is used to appoint your health care agent to have access to your medical information and speak with your health care providers, if you are unable to.

Your estate plan can be designed to minimize probate. Probate is the process where the court reviews your will to ensure its validity, approves the person you appoint to be executor and allows the administration of your estate to go forward.

Depending on your jurisdiction, probate can be a long, costly and stressful process. In Ohio, the law requires probate to be open for at least six months after the date of death, even if your estate dots every “i” and crosses every “t.”

Part of the estate planning process is reviewing assets to see how and if they might be taken out of your probate estate. This may involve creating trusts, legal entities to own property and allow for easier distribution to heirs. Charitable donations might become part of your plan, using other types of trusts to make donations, while preserving assets or creating an income stream for loved ones.

Minimizing taxes should be a part of your estate plan. While the federal estate tax exemption right now is historically high $12.06 million per person, on January 1, 2025, it drops to $5.49 million adjusted for inflation. While 2025 may seem like a long way off, if your estate plan is being done now, you might not see it again for three or five years. Planning for this lowered number makes sense.

Reviewing an estate plan should take place every three to five years to keep up with changes in the law, including the lowered estate tax. Large events in your family also need to prompt a review—trigger events like marriage, death, birth, divorce and the sale of a business or a home. If you would like to read more about taxes and their influence of estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (May 13, 2022) “Preparing for the certainties in life: death and taxes”

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Information in our blogs is very general in nature and should not be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Please feel free to contact Texas Trust Law to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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