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What is the Best Way to Leave an Inheritance to a Grandchild?

Leaving money or real estate to a child under the age of 18 requires careful handling, usually under the guidance of an estate planning attorney. The same is true for money awarded by a court, when a child has received property for other reasons, like a settlement for a personal injury matter.

According to the article “Gifts from Grandma, and other problems with children owning property” from the Cherokee-Tribune & Ledger News, if a child under age 18 receives money as an inheritance through a trust, or if the trust states that the asset will be “held in trust” until the child reaches age 18, then the trustee named in the will or trust is responsible for managing the money.

Until the child reaches age 18, the trustee is to use the money only for the child’s benefit. The terms of the trust will detail what the trustee can or cannot do with the money. In any situation, the trustee may not benefit from the money in any way.

The child does not have free access to the money. Children may not legally hold assets in their own names. However, what happens if there is no will, and no trust?

A child could be entitled to receive property under the laws of intestacy, which defines what happens to a person’s assets, if there is no will. Another way a child might receive assets, would be from the proceeds of a life insurance policy, or another asset where the child has been named a beneficiary and the asset is not part of the probate estate. However, children may not legally own assets. What happens next?

The answer depends upon the value of the asset. State laws vary but generally speaking, if the assets are below a certain threshold, the child’s parents may receive and hold the funds in a custodial account. The custodian has a duty to manage the child’s money, but there isn’t any court oversight.

In Georgia, the threshold is $15,000. Check with a local estate planning attorney to determine your state’s limitations.

If the asset is valued at more than $15,000, or whatever the threshold is for the state, the probate court will exercise its oversight. If no trust has been set up, then an adult will need to become a conservator, a person responsible for managing a child’s property. This person needs to apply to the court to be named conservator, and while it is frequently the child’s parent, this is not always the case.

The conservator is required to report to the probate court on the child’s assets and how they are being used. If monies are used improperly, then the conservator will be liable for repayment. The same situation occurs, if the child receives money through a court settlement.

Making parents go through a conservatorship appointment and report to the probate court is a bit of a burden for most people. A properly created estate plan can avoid this issue and prepare a trust, if necessary, and name a trustee to be in charge of the asset.

Another point to consider: turning 18 and receiving a large amount of money is rarely a good thing for any young adult, no matter how mature they are. An estate planning attorney can discuss how the inheritance can be structured, so the assets are used for college expenses or other important expenses for a young person. The goal is to not distribute the funds all at once to a young person, who may not be prepared to manage a large inheritance.

Reference: Cherokee-Tribune & Ledger News (March 1, 2019) “Gifts from Grandma, and other problems with children owning property”

Why Should I Check My Beneficiary Designations?

Investopedia’s recent article, “The Importance of Updating Retirement Account Beneficiaries,” shares some of the problems caused by outdated beneficiary designations.

It’s not uncommon for retirement account owners, who’ve been divorced and remarried, to forget to update their beneficiary designations. It is also troublesome, if some children are named as beneficiaries but the document isn’t updated to include those who were born after the initial designation. To avoid these issues, update your beneficiary designations right after you have a change in family status and review them periodically, so they never become outdated or incorrect.

You can also write in a customized beneficiary designation to address “what-if” situations, like what if your primary beneficiary predeceases you and you fail to update the designation?

An IRA plan’s documents also default the designation, if the designated beneficiary predeceases the IRA owner. These options vary among IRA custodians and trustees. This option may reduce the administrative responsibilities from account owners, but it may not reflect their preferences. That’s why account owners should check the plan document and be sure that they update their beneficiary designations regularly.

Spouses, expecting that one will predecease the other, frequently designate each other as their beneficiaries. However, the issue of simultaneous death is then addressed by state law. This will decide that one spouse died first, even though both deaths occurred at the same time.

This determination is important, if there are children from a previous marriage because it may determine if all the children must be included or children from a previous marriage will be excluded. For this reason, the proper documentation naming successor beneficiaries for normal and extenuating circumstances is needed.

You can also create a customized designation to choose how that portion would be distributed, instead of having it default to the surviving beneficiary. For instance, if one of your beneficiaries has children, you can designate them to receive the primary beneficiary’s share, if he or she passes before you do.

When drafting your customized beneficiary designations, you can look at various options with your estate planning attorney to find the one that meets your needs. The beneficiary designation you select may determine, if your elections are carried over to the next generation.

Making a proper beneficiary designation is a critical part of your estate planning.

Reference: Investopedia (May 8, 2018) “The Importance of Updating Retirement Account Beneficiaries”

How Do I Plan for End-of-Life Measures for a Loved One?

It’s not that uncommon for a senior to injure himself in the regular course of living at home as he ages. A broken hip will mean a stay at the hospital. In many cases, a senior recovering from a broken hip in the hospital will be released to a nursing home. Sometimes, things can take a downward turn. The elderly are susceptible to other illnesses, and often just being in a care facility, even the best ones, can expose an already vulnerable patient to other illnesses, like pneumonia or a staph infection.

When more than one family member shares power of attorney, says The Grand Forks Herald’s recent article, “Joint power of attorney complicated this couple’s wishes,” there can be emotional stresses that result from differing opinions about care.

In one situation, the wife alerted her adult stepchildren about her husband’s condition in a health crisis. He had been hospitalized for a broken hip, then released to a nursing home, where he developed pneumonia.

While she initially hoped that their arrival would be a comfort, the children had their own idea about what was best for their father. They basically took control of the situation and negated their father’s health care documents. They had him sent back to the hospital, thinking that would be best for his overall health.

Arriving at the hospital, the woman reported that her husband was weaker from the transfer and confused about why he was back in the hospital.

The children shared power of attorney, which was set up so that both the wife and the children could make decisions about the man’s medical care. The wife was troubled by the children’s insistence that he needed to return to the hospital. The children felt that his care at the nursing home was inadequate.

It’s hard to know what may motivate the stepchildren here, but an attorney who specializes in estate or elder law is the best resource for people when making decisions, while setting up powers of attorney. An attorney may not have advised that the wife and stepchildren share this decision-making power. Even when the intentions are good, sometimes its best when only one person is in charge.

Estates can be complex when there are adult children and a second marriage—even when the relationships are good.

It would have been better had the father spoken with his children beforehand to explain his overall wishes about his care, so that there would be less discord in the decision-making process. The treating physician might have been asked to speak with the children and explain the impact that a transfer would have on an already injured and ill person. In most cases nursing homes are just as able to treat pneumonia as a hospital, and it would have spared him the trauma of the move.

At this point, it may be better to forgive and move on for the wife, so that her relationship with the stepchildren is not difficult during what may be the last years of her husband’s life.

Reference: Grand Forks Herald (March 8, 2019) “Joint power of attorney complicated this couple’s wishes”

When Do I Need a Revocable Trust?

A will is a legal document that states how your property should be distributed when you die.  It also names guardians for any minor children. Whatever the size of your estate, without a will, there’s no guarantee that your assets will be distributed, according to your wishes. For those with substantial assets, more complicated situations, or concerns of diminished capacity in later years, a revocable trust might also be considered, in addition to a will.

Forbes’ recent article, “Revocable Trusts And Why Should You Consider One,” explains that a revocable trust, also called a “living trust” or an inter vivos trust, is created during your lifetime. On the other hand, a “testamentary trust” is created at death through a will. A revocable trust, like a will, details dispositive provisions upon death, successor and co-trustees, and other instructions. Upon the grantor’s passing, the revocable trust functions in a similar manner to a will.

A revocable trust is a flexible vehicle with few restrictions during your lifetime.  you usually designate yourself as the trustee and maintain control over the trust’s assets. You can move assets into or out of the trust, by retitling them. This movement has no income or estate tax consequences, nor is it a problem to distribute income or assets from the trust to fund your current lifestyle.

A living trust has some advantages over having your entire estate flow through probate. The primary advantages of having the majority of your assets avoid probate, is the ease of asset transfer and the lower costs. Another advantage of a trust is privacy, because a probated will is a public document that anyone can view.

Even with a revocable trust, you still need a will. A “pour over will” controls the decedent’s assets that haven’t been titled to the revocable trust, intentionally or by oversight. These assets may include personal property. This pour-over will generally names the revocable trust—which at death becomes irrevocable—as the beneficiary.

Another reason for creating a revocable trust is the possibility of future diminished legal capacity, when it may be better for another person, like a spouse or child, to help with your financial affairs. A co-trustee can pay bills and otherwise control the trust’s assets. This can also give you financial protection, by obviating the need for a court-ordered guardianship.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about the best options for your situation to protect your estate and provide the peace of mind that your family will receive what you intended for them to inherit, with the least possible costs and stress.

Reference: Forbes (March 11, 2019) “Revocable Trusts And Why Should You Consider One”

What Are the Biggest Threats to Estate Planning?

A recent survey conducted by TD Wealth at the 53rd Annual Heckerling Institute on Estate Planning found that nearly half (46%) of respondents said that family conflict was the biggest threat to estate planning in 2019, followed by market volatility (24%) and tax reform (14%).

Insurance News Net’s recent article, “Family Conflict Reigns As Greatest Threat To Estate Planning, Survey Finds,” reported that the survey also looked at the various causes of family conflict, when engaging in estate planning. They said that the designation of beneficiaries (30%) was the most common cause of conflict. Other leading factors included not communicating the plan with family members (25%) and working with blended families (21%).

Family dynamics have always played a crucial part in estate planning. With an increase in blended families, many experts think that these conversations will become even more frequent and challenging. Estate planning comes with the responsibility of motivating families to communicate through difficult times. This requires regular conversations and total transparency. To minimize risk, families should include everyone at the table to participate in an open and honest conversation about their shared goals and objectives.

Market volatility was also a big concern of the respondents for 2019. Almost 25% said that identifying volatile markets was the biggest threat to estate planning this year, up from 12% in 2018.

Market fluctuations are worth watching and can cause worry for potential gift givers. It’s best to maintain a long-term view when investing, and know that short-term market movements are no match for a robust estate plan and a well-balanced portfolio.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act continues to have a large-scale effect on estate planning. After the increase in the federal gift and estate tax exemption, there are some new strategies to allow people to take advantage of the exemption. About one third of respondents (31%) propose that their clients consider creating trusts to protect assets. About 26% say their clients plan to minimize future capital gains tax consequences and 21% agree to gift now, while the exemption is high.

Experts are stressing the importance of creating trusts for the benefit of family, so assets can be protected from future claims.

A total of 40% of estate planners think their clients will continue to give the same amount to charities as they did in 2018, with 21% expecting them to donate more.

Reference: Insurance News Net (March 13, 2019) “Family Conflict Reigns As Greatest Threat To Estate Planning, Survey Finds”

Aging in Place: Reality or Dream?
A geriatrician holds the hand of an elderly woman with arthritis.

Aging in Place: Reality or Dream?

Seniors crave their independence and a sense of place. Almost all wish to remain in their own homes and to “age in place.” Being independent in your senior years benefits everyone. However, if aging brings illness, professional home caregiving may be unaffordable, says The Winston-Salem Journal in the article “Who will help me to age in place?”

Even though they want to remain independent, family member participation may be necessary for this to happen. Family caregivers may live with aging parents, serving as guardians, trustees or power of attorney agents on their parent’s behalf. They may perform many tasks, including cooking, cleaning and monitoring their medical or home care. They may take care of the home and take aging parents on outings.

Loyalty to aging parents runs the gamut, from daily contacts and living together, to children who vanish as soon as they are financially independent. While our biology may dictate that close family members are genetically predisposed to care for us most, it’s not everyone’s experience.

If your goal is to have parents, children and grandchildren all spend time together as the generations move through their lives, the time to start is while you are parenting. The most important thing you can do to increase the likelihood of having family members who value each other and care for each other, is to raise children with love and kindness.

You should limit the amount of time that children spend with electronic devices. Making family connections and teaching caregiving skills within the family, requires time and attention. Teach your children empathy and caregiving through gardening, caring for plants and pets and letting them see how you take care of siblings, parents, grandparents, friends and the less fortunate through volunteer work.

Our children learn more from what they see, than what we say. By teaching your children to respect and care for those they love, you will be creating a family legacy based on your values. This will be as much a part of them, as any inheritance you can leave them.

Part of caregiving is taking care of the legal and financial side of your life. Ensure that your family members have an estate plan in place, including a will, financial power of attorney and health care power of attorney. Caregiving for others involves preparing for the ups and downs of life. This shows your children that there are things we do for ourselves and for others that make life easier for those we leave behind. It is an important life lesson for each generation.

Reference: The Winston-Salem Journal (March 5, 2019) “Who will help me to age in place?”

Hurt Feelings, Family Battles and A Royal Mess
couple arguing, argument.

Hurt Feelings, Family Battles and A Royal Mess

Without an estate plan in place, and that includes a will, power of attorney, and health care directives, dividing up an estate gets messy, fast. Preparing a will does not really take that much time, but it does require you to do some work, like making a list of your assets and sitting down with an estate planning attorney.

The title of this article from Zing! says it all: “What Happens If You Die Without a Will? You Might Leave Behind Hurt Feelings, Legal Battles and Chaos.” Dying without a will, means that your estate is “intestate,” and the rules of your state will dictate exactly what happens to your assets. You may not want your kid brother or the man you were divorcing to get anything but depending on your state’s laws and your marital state, that could happen.

In most states, your assets will pass to your kids and your spouse. If you don’t have any, your assets are passed on to your nearest living relatives. If your kids are minors, the court will decide who will raise them. A will is also about naming a guardian for your minor children and naming a person who will be in charge of your money to look after them.

When there’s no will, everything is decided by the court.

Having a complete estate plan is like a gift to your survivors. It tells them exactly what you want to have happen to your possessions, who you want to make decisions on your behalf for medical care if you are unable to, who you would want to raise your children and even what kind of funeral you want to have.

Here’s an example, let’s say that an adult is financially supporting a parent, even though the adult does not live with their parent. In New York State, if that person dies, their spouse inherits everything. If that person has a spouse and children, the spouse inherits the first $50,000 plus half the balance of the estate. The children inherit everything else.

The parent who was dependent upon the adult child, is left on their own. The parent would have to hope that her daughter-in-law (or son-in-law) would be willing to continue to help them. Basic estate planning could have set up a trust or other mechanism to support that adult.

Another concern: if you die without a will, it is more likely that people you don’t know, may try to fraudulently make claims on your estate. There may be bitter resentment, if one family member steps up to try to take charge of the process. That person will have to apply to the court to be appointed as the estate administrator. When that happens, your assets will be frozen. If no one wants to become the executor, the court will appoint a public trustee.

What if there’s not enough money to support the family and the family home needs to be sold? That would become a legal and financial nightmare for all concerned.

By sitting down with an experienced estate planning attorney, you protect yourself, your assets and your family and loved ones. You can determine how you want your assets to be distributed. You can also determine who you want to be in charge of your financial life and your health, if you should become incapacitated. With a will, power of attorney, power of attorney for healthcare, and other documents that are used, depending upon your unique situation, you can have a say in what happens and spare your family the legal, financial, and emotional stress that occurs when there is no will.

Reference: Zing! (March 4, 2019) “What Happens If You Die Without a Will? You Might Leave Behind Hurt Feelings, Legal Battles and Chaos”

Did Luke Perry Plan His Estate?

Fifty-two-year-old Luke Perry suffered a serious stroke recently and was hospitalized under heavy sedation. A few days later, his family made the decision to remove life support, when it was apparent that he wouldn’t recover and after a reported second stroke.

Forbes reports in its article, “Luke Perry Protected His Family With Estate Planning,” that he was surrounded by his children, 21-year-old Jack and 18-year-old Sophie, his fiancé, ex-wife, mother and siblings, when he passed.

The fact that the hospital let Perry’s family end life support, means that he likely had executed the proper legal documents, so his family could make the decision. Those documents were most likely an advance directive or a power of attorney. Without these legal documents, Luke’s family may have needed to obtain an order from a probate court to terminate life support—a public and emotional process that would have prolonged his suffering and made it even more stressful for his family.

Perry reportedly created a will in 2015. He left everything to his two children. According to a family friend, Perry discovered he had precancerous growths following a colonoscopy. This motivated him to create a will to protect his children.

Luke Perry had a reported net worth of around $10 million, so he may have created a revocable living trust, in addition to a will. If he had only a will, then his estate will have to pass through probate court. However, if he had a trust, and if his trust was properly funded (he transferred his assets into his trust prior to death), then his assets can pass to his children without court involvement.

One question is whether Perry would have wanted something to go to his fiancé, therapist Wendy Madison Bauer. Since his will was drafted in 2015, he likely did not include Bauer at the time. If the couple had married prior to his death, then Bauer would typically have received rights as a “pretermitted spouse.” These rights wouldn’t have been automatic, but would have depended on the terms of his will and/or trust, as well as whether the couple signed a prenuptial agreement that addressed inheritance rights. However, if the documents failed to show an intent to exclude Bauer as a beneficiary, then she would’ve been entitled to one-third of his estate under California law, if they’d been married.

Because Perry died before he married Bauer, she’s not entitled to inherit anything through his will or trust, assuming his children are his only beneficiaries, and no later will, trust, or amendment is found that includes her. Perry may have left money for Bauer in other ways, like life insurance, a joint bank account, or an account with a TOD (Transfer on Death) or POD (Payable on Death) clause.

Luke Perry’s death provides an important lesson: don’t wait until you’re “old” to do your estate planning. Perry’s 2015 cancer scare made him take action, which simplified the process for his family to terminate life support and will likely make the process of dividing his estate easier.

Reference: Forbes (March 8, 2019) “Luke Perry Protected His Family With Estate Planning”

Smart Women Protect Themselves with Estate Planning

The reason to have an estate plan is two-fold: to protect yourself, while you are living and to protect those you love, after you have passed. If you have an estate plan, says the Boca Newspaper in the article titled “Smart Tips for Women: Estate Planning,” your wishes for the distribution of your assets are more likely to be carried out, tax liabilities can be minimized and your loved ones will not be faced with an extended and expensive process of settling your estate.

Here are some action items to consider, when putting your estate plan in place:

If you have an estate plan but aren’t really sure what’s in it, it’s time to get those questions answered. Make sure that you understand everything. Don’t be intimidated by the legal language: ask questions and keep asking until you fully understand the documents.

If you have not reviewed your estate plan in three or four years, it’s time for a review. There have been new tax laws that may have changed the outcomes from your estate plan. Anytime there is a big change in the law or in your life, it’s time for a review. Triggering events include births, deaths, marriages, and divorces, purchases of a home or a business or a major change in financial status, good or bad.

If you don’t have an estate plan, stop postponing and make an appointment with an estate planning attorney, as soon as possible.

Your estate plan should include advance directives, including a Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Surrogate, and a Living Will. You may not be capable of executing these documents during a health emergency and having them in place will make it possible for those you name to make decisions on your behalf.

Anyone who is over the age of 18, needs to have these same documents in place. Parents do not have a legal right to make any decisions or obtain medical information about their children, once they celebrate their 18th birthday.

Make a list of your trusted professionals: your estate planning attorney, CPA, financial advisor, your insurance agent and anyone else your executor will need to contact.

Tell your family where this list is located. Don’t ask them to go on a scavenger hunt, while they are grieving your loss.

List all your assets. You should include where they are located, account numbers, contact phone numbers, etc. Tell your family that this list exists and where to find it.

If you have assets with primary beneficiaries, make sure that they also have contingent beneficiaries.

If you have assets from a first marriage and remarry, be smart and have a prenuptial agreement drafted that aligns with a new estate plan.

If you have children and assets from a first marriage and want to make sure that they continue to be your heirs, work with an estate planning attorney to determine the best way to make this happen. You may need a will, or you may simply need to have your children become the primary beneficiaries on certain accounts. A trust may be needed. Your estate planning attorney will know the best strategy for your situation.

If you own a business, make sure you have a plan for what will happen to that business, if you become incapacitated or die unexpectedly. Who will run the business, who will own it and should it be sold? Consider what you’d like to happen for long-standing employees and clients.

Smart women make plans for themselves and their loved ones. An estate planning attorney will be able to help you navigate through an estate plan. Remember that an estate plan needs upkeep on a regular basis.

Reference: Boca Newspaper (March 4, 2019) “Smart Tips for Women: Estate Planning”

Are You Retiring in 2019? Here’s What You Need to Know

There are more than few steps you’ll need to complete, before packing up your desk, cubicle or locker and saying good bye to your work family. Even if your 401(k) and IRA is in order, there are things you need to during the last few months of working, says Next Avenue in the article “Tips to Prepare for Retiring This Spring or Summer.”

There’s detailed planning, organization of documents, and additional financial details that need attending. You may also want to start creating your “bucket list” — a list of things you’ve always wanted to do, but never had the time to do while you were working. Getting all of this in order, will speed your waiting time and prepare you better, when the last day of your working life does finally arrive.

Whether you are three months or six months from retirement, here are some tips for your to-do list:

Social Security. Figure out when the best time for you to take Social Security benefits will be. Can you delay it until age 70? That’s when you’ll get the biggest payout. The earlier you start collecting benefits, the smaller your monthly check will be. Take it early, and you are locked in to this lower rate.

Health Care. Figuring out how to manage health care costs, is the single biggest worry of retirement for most Americans. An injury that puts you in a nursing care facility can make a huge dent in your retirement funds, even if it’s just for a short while. This is the time of your life, when focusing on your health is most important, even if you’ve been careless in earlier decades. Evaluate your health status and get check ups with your regular physician and your dentist.

Investments. Check with your HR department about when you’ll need to roll over your 401(k) plan. If you transfer the funds into a low-cost IRA, you may save in fees. Work with your financial advisor to determine what your withdrawal rate will be. You may need to reevaluate some of your retirement goals or consider working part time during retirement for a few years.

Medicare. If you’re almost 65, you can start enrolling in Medicare now. The government lets you start the process within three months of your 65th birthday. Start this process, so you are covered, once you are not on the company’s health care plan.

Expectations. The first six months to a year of retirement can be both wonderful and terrible. While enjoying freedom, many people find it hard to withdraw money from the same accounts they spent so many years building. What if they don’t have enough for a long life? Take a realistic look at your lifestyle, budget, and spending habits, before you retire to make sure you are financially ready to do so. If you think you might work part time, look into the positions that are available in your area and what they pay.

Lifestyle. Often, we are so busy planning for the financial side of retirement, that we forget to plan for the “soft” side: what will you do in retirement? Will you volunteer with an organization that has meaning for you? Write the novel you’ve started on a dozen times? Spend more time with your grandchildren? Travel? What will make you feel like your time is being well-spent, and what will make you fulfilled?

Don’t forget the legal plan. Retired or not, you need to have a will, power of attorney, and health care power of attorney to protect your family, whether you are preparing for retirement or in the middle of your career. Speak with an estate planning attorney to ensure that these important documents are in place.

Reference: Next Avenue (March 6, 2019) “Tips to Prepare for Retiring This Spring or Summer”