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A Power of Attorney and a Trust Protect You – Not Just Your Heirs
Power of Attorney and Trust are Meant for the Living, Not Just Heirs

A Power of Attorney and a Trust Protect You – Not Just Your Heirs

A good power of attorney is meant for you while you are alive. In similar fashion, a trust also helps you, not just your heirs. Experts urge people to develop estate plans to make sure you get to choose who will inherit from you and how much, and to select additional options that are available through legal documents, like trust agreements. It can be easy to procrastinate about putting the time and effort into going through this process, if you do not see a direct benefit to yourself. However, having a power of attorney and a trust can also have a dramatic effect on your life. You can protect yourself – not just your heirs – with your estate plan.

Living the Dream

You can have your elder law attorney draft documents that can make it possible for you to live your dream life, without a care in the world. Let’s say that you want to sail around the world for a few years or serve a tour of duty in the 50+ section of the Peace Corps. You cannot unplug 100 percent from the everyday world. Someone will have to pay your unavoidable bills, file your taxes and manage your money, when you are away and out of reach.

If you know someone whom you can trust without reservation, your lawyer can draft a financial power of attorney for the person you designate (your agent) to handle as many or as few business matters as you specify. You can revoke the power of attorney whenever you want, as long as you have the legal capacity to do so.

In other words, if the law would allow you to draft a valid power of attorney now, you have the legal capacity to revoke one. If you have become incompetent, for example, from an illness or injury, you cannot change the power of attorney, until or unless you regain competency.

Planning for the Worst

Your power of attorney will automatically expire, if you become incapacitated, unless you make sure that the document is a “durable” power of attorney. Being durable means that, at the time that you signed the paper, you intended for the document to continue in effect, if you could not manage matters for yourself.

If you do not have a durable power of attorney and one day you have a stroke or a catastrophic car crash, by way of example, the courts will decide who will make your financial decisions for you. Your family will have to file a request with the court (and pay the court costs to do so), wait for a hearing date, and get a ruling from a judge – a person who has never met you or your family. By the way, the judge will be required to appoint an independent attorney to represent you against your family, to protect your interests. If you prefer to have control over this decision rather than a total stranger, get a durable power of attorney.

Trusts are for the Living

Many people think of setting up a trust as a way to pass their assets to their loved ones privately and quickly, without having to go through the probate courts. While that is one of the purposes for trusts, you can also set up a living trust to stipulate how you want your assets, investments and other financial matters handled, if you become incapacitated.

You can even lay out how you want your business run, if you own a company. You can name someone to serve as your guardian and name a conservator who will manage your finances. You can also let a total stranger make these decisions.

Be sure to talk with an elder law attorney in your area, because this article is about the general law.  Your state’s rules might vary from the general law.

Find out more about how a power of attorney and trust can benefit you today.

References:

American Bar Association. Power of Attorney. (Accessed April 4, 2019) https://www.americanbar.org/groups/real_property_trust_estate/resources/estate_planning/power_of_attorney/

What If I Give Unequal Inheritances to My Kids?
Family Harmony Can Be Achieved by Thoughtful Inheritance Planning

What If I Give Unequal Inheritances to My Kids?

What and how you leave an inheritance to your children can be a hard decision, if you have more than one child. This is particularly true, if your kids’ circumstances are dramatically different or you’re much closer to one than another. The easiest solution might be to split whatever you have equally among them. However, giving equal inheritances is not the same thing as fair?

Ladders.com’s recent article, “More parents are leaving unequal inheritances to their adult kids” says that a growing number of parents say that answer is a resounding “no.”

According to a new study from Merrill Lynch Bank of America/Age Wave, responding parents with more than one child who are planning to leave an inheritance, are okay leaving different sums to each child, based on the situation. In fact, the research showed that 67% of Americans think that under certain circumstances, an uneven split is just fine.

Other studies have showed the same trend. A 2015 study by IZA Institute for Labor Economics, based on data from a large government study, found that among Americans at least 50 years old who had a will, the percentage who left unequal inheritances to their children had more than doubled from 16% in 1995 to 35% in 2010. However, an unequal division can generate ugly sibling fights, jealousy and meltdowns.

An Ameriprise survey found that among siblings who fought about money as adults, 70% of the fights involved issues with parents, like how the inheritance gets divided. If you go with unequal inheritances, you need to manage expectations, so you don’t have one sibling blaming another or you.

There are many reasons why parents consider another option. In the Merrill Lynch Bank of America/Age Wave study, nearly one in four of respondents said a child who has children of her own, deserves more money than a child who doesn’t have kids. About 66% said that a child who steps in as primary caregiver for an aging parent, deserves to inherit more than other siblings. A total of 40% of participants with blended families, say they should treat stepchildren the same as biological or adopted children.

Because of the potential different circumstances of each child, you may want to give one child the money outright, and with the other, you may want to put it in a trust. The reason for doing this is to protect the child, not to punish them. If a child struggles with addiction or overspending, a trust makes certain that she has access to the money, but the trustee has control over its disbursement. In some cases, parents may also be concerned that a child’s marriage may be in trouble or feel uneasy about their son- or daughter-in-law.

Regardless of how you decide to distribute your assets, if you feel you have a sound rationale for not dividing it equally, tell the children what you’re doing and why. Explaining this is very important to help avoid misunderstandings and misperceptions.

Likewise, if you think a trust is best for one child, you may use a trust for all of them to avoid hurt feelings and anger among the siblings, after you’re gone.

Failing to consider the impact of unequal inheritances on family relationships can mess up good estate planning. We can help.

Reference: Ladders.com (March 25, 2019) “More parents are leaving unequal inheritances to their adult kids”

Should My Estate Plan Include a Trust?
A good estate plan often includes a trust

Should My Estate Plan Include a Trust?

There are as many types of estate plans. Using a trust is a common type of estate plan. There are many good reasons to have trusts. They all have benefits and drawbacks. What type of estate plan is best for you? Is a trust the best estate plan in your situation? The answer is best discussed in person with an estate planning attorney. However, an article from U.S. News & World Report titled “8 Things to Know About Trusts,” gives a good overview.

Revocable or Irrevocable? Revocable trusts are usually established for a person (the grantor) during their lifetime, and then pass assets to the named beneficiaries, when the grantor dies. The revocable trust allows for a fair amount of flexibility during the grantor’s lifetime. An irrevocable trust is harder to change, and in some cases cannot be changed or amended. Some states do allow the option of “decanting” trusts, that is, pouring over assets from one trust to another. You’ll want to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to be sure trusts are set up correctly and achieve the goals you want.

Trusts can protect assets. Irrevocable trusts are often used, when a grantor must go into a nursing home and the goal is to protect assets. However, this means that the grantor no longer has access to the money and has fundamentally given it away to the trust. Putting assets into an irrevocable trust is commonly done to preserve assets, when a person needs to become eligible for Medicaid.  The trust must be created and funded five years before applying for benefits. Irrevocable trusts can also be used to obtain veteran’s benefits, if they are asset-based. VA benefits have a three-year look-back period, as compared to Medicaid’s five-year look-back period.

Trusts can’t own retirement accounts. Trusts can own non-retirement bank accounts, life insurance policies, property and securities. However, retirement accounts become taxable immediately, if they are owned by a trust.

Trusts help avoid probate after the grantor’s death. Most people think of trusts for this purpose. Assets in a trust do not pass through probate, which is the process of settling an estate through the courts. Having someone named as a trustee, a trusted family member, friend or a financial institution, means that the assets can be managed for the beneficiaries, if they are not deemed able to manage the assets. Another good part about trusts: you can direct how and when the funds are to be distributed.

Trusts offer privacy. When a will is filed in the courthouse, it becomes part of the public record. Trusts are not, and that keeps assets and distribution plans private. A grantor could put real estate and other personal property into a trust and title of ownership would remain private.

Tax savings. Before the federal estate tax exemptions became so high, people would put assets into trusts to avoid taxation. However, state taxes may still be avoided, if the assets don’t reach state tax levels. You can also transfer funds into an irrevocable trust to transfer it to others, without making it become part of a taxable estate. This is something to discuss in detail with an estate planning attorney.

Irrevocable Trusts can be expensive. If you are considering an irrevocable trust as a means of controlling the cost of an estate, this is not the solution you are looking for. Trusts require careful administration, annual tax filings and other fees. You may also lose the advantage of long-term capital gains by putting assets into trusts, since they are taxed upon withdrawal, and usually based upon current market value. The marginal rates for trust income of all kinds apply at much lower levels, so that the highest marginal taxes will be paid on very low levels of income.

Work with an experienced trusts and estates lawyer. Trusts and their administration can be complex. Seek the help of a trusts and estates attorney, who will be able to factor in tax liability and the impact of the trusts on the rest of your estate plan. Remember that every state has its own laws about trusts. Finally, an estate plan needs to be updated every few years. For example, trusts that were set up for a far lower federal estate tax exemption several years ago are now out of date, and may not work to achieve their intended goal. The laws changes, and the role of trusts also changes.

Learn more about when a trust would be appropriate for you.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (March 29, 2019) “8 Things to Know About Trusts”