When thinking about an estate plan, the top priority is usually devising strategies on how to transfer assets to heirs. It’s rare that a person really considers the consequences for the beneficiaries.
Kiplinger’s recent article asks, “Are You Forcing Unintended Consequences on Your Heirs?” An estate plan should bring about a positive outcome. However, you may be surprised to learn how easy it is to impose an unintended negative outcome on your family.
Some retirees have an estate plan that says, in essence, “What I’ve put together is enough. It’s my children’s problem to address it, when they get it. Regardless, they’ll be better off, so I’m not gonna worry.” Although that may be true, a better approach is to create intentional outcomes that advance the mental and emotional value of their wealth. This requires you to do something that can be uncomfortable—that’s talking about your wealth with your family. Many issues arise from a lack of communication and a lack of understanding of your heirs’ financial situations. Here are some examples of how you may be forcing unintended consequences on your family, when your assets transition with your estate.
Passing Unequal IRA Tax Liability to Your Heirs. When you pass on assets in a traditional IRA, you also pass the taxes and Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) of that account. Unless your children all pay tax at the exact same rate because they are all in roughly the same income tax bracket, each of their inheritances will have a different tax liability. As a result, the amount they actually receive, after-tax, will also be different. Be sure to look into the effects of an equal split of the assets in your estate plan.
Inheriting a Vacation Home. If you own a vacation home, it’s likely you hope that your children will be able to enjoy it as a part of your legacy. Parents may directly pass a property to their children or set up a Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT). However, talk to your children to see if they share the same intent for their future. A vacation home can become a burden for your children, if none of them or only one wants it.
Selling Illiquid Asset at Bargain Prices. These are assets that are hard to value and hard to sell, like real estate, collectibles and other alternative investments. If they decide to sell the illiquid asset, know that it may be at an auction or at a fire sale price, leaving your family with less money. Instead, think about selling these assets, while you can make sure that the fair market value is attained.
Life Insurance Proceeds Set in a Trust. You may have a life insurance policy in an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT), which was set up to retain the proceeds of the policy out of your estate to avoid estate taxes. Many people did this long ago, when the federal estate tax exemption was $600,000 and have failed to look over the terms of the trust since then. However, now in 2019, the federal exemption is $11.4 million per person. For many, this means the need to own the insurance policy in the trust may be unnecessary.
Protecting Wealth in Trusts That Don’t Fit with Plans. Many people use revocable trusts as a method to protect their family from probate. However, when you die, the trust becomes irrevocable, and the distribution of the funds is dependent upon the terms of the trust, which may create unnecessary restrictions on accessing the funds. Therefore, it’s crucial to make certain that your need for the trust is supported by its terms to address your family’s circumstances.
An effective estate plan transfers your assets to your heirs, and it also aligns the personal, emotional, and financial situations of all those involved. Remember to think about what the heirs receive.
When meeting with a qualified estate planning attorney, be certain to talk about any restrictions that you’re intentionally or unintentionally imparting on your heirs.
Reference: Kiplinger (June 13, 2019) “Are You Forcing Unintended Consequences on Your Heirs?”