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Why Trusts Should Be Part of Your Estate Plan
Trusts Are Great Ways to Protect Your Family

Why Trusts Should Be Part of Your Estate Plan

Regular people have learned that they need to have an estate plan to protect themselves, while they are living and to distribute assets when they pass. Estate planning tools like a Power of Attorney and a Health Care Power of Attorney are basic documents anyone over 18 needs to have. Trusts, once the province of the wealthy, are now being used by people in many different economic levels, reports the Cleveland Jewish News in the article “Five reasons to incorporate trust into estate plan.”

Taxes. While it’s true that the exclusion for estates and prior taxable gifts is now $11.4 million per individual, most estates won’t be taxable at the federal level. However, don’t overlook state estate taxes. What if life insurance proceeds put your estate into a higher bracket? One way to keep the cap on your estate size, is with an irrevocable life insurance trust, also known as an ILIT. It will keep life insurance policy proceeds outside of a probatable estate and minimize the tax hit.

Asset Distribution. Your will controls who receives what assets, but not what happens to them after they are distributed. A trust can ensure that funds are used for specific purposes, such as higher education. It can also control how funds are distributed to an individual. If there are concerns about how an heir might mishandle an inheritance, perhaps because of an addiction or a lack of financial skills, a trust can be used for oversight into when funds are distributed and possibly under what circumstances. You can set benchmarks for trust distribution, like completing college or a rehabilitation program.

Privacy. Heirs are sometimes surprised when they, along with executors, start receiving solicitations after a loved one’s will is probated. That is because once a will goes through probate, the information is public record and available to anyone, including nosy neighbors, scammers or an estranged family member. A trust provides a layer of privacy. It can also do this while you are living. Certain information, like the ownership of a property, can be made less public, if the property is owned by a trust instead of an individual.

Making Estate Settlement More Efficient. Depending upon the jurisdiction, probate matters can take time. The court process does not always move quickly, and sometimes can be difficult to navigate. Probate can also become expensive. An executor or administrator of the estate is generally paid a percentage of the total value of the assets managed. But assets that are held in a trust do not go through the probate process and can be managed far more efficiently and quickly.

An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to determine what kind of trusts will be most appropriate and useful for your situation.

Learn about the many benefits of a trust.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (September 16, 2019) “Five reasons to incorporate trust into estate plan”

How Does Elder Law Protect Seniors from Exploitative Guardians?
Elder Law Attorneys Help Keep Guardians in Check

How Does Elder Law Protect Seniors from Exploitative Guardians?

Orlando Sentinel’s recent article, “DeSantis, Florida lawmakers consider changes in troubled guardianship program,” reports that legislative leaders and officials of Governor Ron DeSantis’ administration met with judges, guardianship trade groups, state attorneys and people from the Elder Law section of the Florida Bar to talk about ways to protect seniors from exploitative or neglectful guardians.

“More must be done to enhance the structure of accountability for guardians to monitor compliance with established standards of practice and ensure that guardians are acting in the best interests of their wards,” Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom said. “The matter is complex, and the solution extends beyond the Department of Elder Affairs; families, local communities, and public officials must also work together to prevent all forms of exploitation to provide safety and security for all.” Elder law attorneys can be very helpful.

The recent news concerning guardian Rebecca Fierle, who investigators say was responsible for more than 400 wards and regularly signed “Do Not Resuscitate” orders for clients against their wishes, has rekindled interest among lawmakers for more control over Florida’s 550 registered guardians.

Senator Kathleen Passidomo and Representative Colleen Burton participated in the meeting and said some of the ideas being discussed include limiting the number of cases each guardian has and requiring a judge to approve a DNR order. Other ideas include increased standards for guardians and more thorough monitoring.

The lawmakers say there’s no need to increase the requirements to become a guardian. All that is required now is a 40-hour course and passing an exam. Passidomo said the issue isn’t a lack of competence, but the risk for abuse.

As a result, standards and monitoring of guardians must be increased. However, these ideas are merely being discussed, as lawmakers have yet to present a concrete plan.

Governor DeSantis will publish a budget request for the Department of Elder Affairs, which includes the Office of Public and Professional Guardians, which could include more funds for investigators to review complaints. The OPPG has only four employees. Prudom has taken control of the department since July, when he asked Carol Berkowitz, the agency’s executive director, to resign because of the Fierle case.

Learn how an elder law attorney can help with guardianships.

Reference: Orlando Sentinel (September 16, 2019) “DeSantis, Florida lawmakers consider changes in troubled guardianship program”

Do It Yourself Wills Go Wrong–Fast
Having a Will is Vital

Do It Yourself Wills Go Wrong–Fast

What happens when a well-meaning person decides to create a will, after reading information from various sources on the internet? There’s no end of problems, as described in the Glen Rose Reporter’s article “Do-it-yourself estate plan goes awry.”

The woman started her plan by deeding her home to her three children, retaining a life estate for herself.

By doing so, she has eliminated the possibility of either selling the house or taking out a reverse mortgage on the home, if she ever needs to tap its equity.

Since she is neither an estate planning attorney nor an accountant, she missed the tax issue completely.

By deeding the house, the transfer has caused a taxable transaction. Therefore, she needs to file a gift tax return because of it. At the same time, her life estate diminishes the value of the gift, and her estate is not large enough to require her to actually pay any tax.

She was puzzled to learn this, since there wasn’t any tax when her husband died and left his share of the house to her. That’s because the transfer of community property between spouses is not a taxable event.

However, that wasn’t the only tax issue to consider. When the house passed to her from her husband, she got a stepped-up basis, meaning that since the house had appreciated in value since she bought it, she only had to pay taxes on the difference in the increased value at the time of her husband’s death and what she sold the property for.

By transferring the house to the children, they don’t get a stepped-up basis. This doesn’t apply to a gift made during one’s lifetime. When the children get ready to sell the home, the basis will be the value that was established at the time of her husband’s death, even if the property increased in value by the time of the mother’s death. The children will have to pay tax on the difference between that value, which is likely to be quite lower, and the sale price of the house.

There are many overlapping issues that go into creating an estate plan. The average person who doesn’t handle estate planning on a regular basis (and even an attorney who does not handle estate planning on a regular basis), doesn’t know how one fact can impact another.

Sitting down with an estate planning attorney, who understands the tax issues surrounding estate planning, gifting, real estate, and inheritances, will protect the value of the assets being passed to the next generation and protect the family. It’s money well spent.

Read here about the importance of having a last will and testament.

Reference: Glen Rose Reporter (September 17, 2019) “Do-it-yourself estate plan goes awry”