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”

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”

When Was the Last Time You Talked with Your Estate Planning Attorney?

If you haven’t had a talk with your estate planning attorney since before the TCJA act went into effect, now would be a good time to do so, says The Kansas City Star in the article “Talk to estate attorney about impacts of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.” While most of the news about the act centered on the increased exemptions for estate taxes, there are a number of other changes that may have a direct impact on your taxes.

Start by looking at any wills or trusts that were created before the tax act went into effect. If any of the trusts use formulas that are tied to the federal estate tax exemption, there could be unintended consequences because of the higher exemption amounts.

The federal estate tax exemption doubled from $5.49 million per person in 2017 to $11.18 million per person in 2018 (or $22.36 million per couple). It is now $11.2 million per person in 2019 (or $22.4 million per couple).

Let’s say that your trust was created in 2001, when the estate tax exemption was a mere $675,000. Your trust may have stipulated that your children receive the amount of assets that could be passed free from federal estate tax, and the remainder, which exceeded the federal estate tax exemption, goes to your spouse. At the time, this was a perfectly good strategy. However, if it hasn’t been updated since then, your children will receive $11.4 million and your spouse could be disinherited.

Trusts drafted prior to 2011, when portability was introduced, require particular attention.

Two other important factors to consider are portability and step-up of cost basis. In the past, many couples relied on the use of bypass or credit shelter trusts that pay income to the surviving spouse and then eventually pass trust assets on to the children, upon the death of the surviving spouse. This scenario made sure to use the first deceased spouse’s estate exemption.

However, new legislation passed in 2011 allowed for portability of the deceased spouse’s unused estate exemption. The surviving spouse’s estate can now use any exemption that wasn’t used by the first spouse to die.

A step-up in basis was not changed by the TCJA law, but this has more significance now. When a person dies, their heir’s cost basis of many assets becomes the value of the asset on the date that the person died. Highly appreciated assets that avoided income taxes to the decedent, could avoid or minimize income taxes to the heirs. Maintaining the ability for assets to receive a step-up in basis is more important now, because of the size of the federal estate tax exemption.

Beneficiaries who inherit assets from a bypass or credit shelter trust upon the surviving spouse’s death, no longer benefit from a “second” step-up in basis. The basis of the inheritance is the original basis from the first spouse’s death. Therefore, bypass trusts are less useful than in the past, and could actually have negative income tax consequences for heirs.

If your current estate plan has not been amended for these or other changes, make an appointment soon to speak with a qualified estate planning attorney. It may not take a huge overhaul of the entire estate plan, but these changes could have a negative impact on your family and their future.

Reference: The Kansas City Star (Feb. 7, 2019) “Talk to estate attorney about impacts of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”

Spare Your Family From a Feud: Make Sure You Have a Will

If for no other reason than to avoid fracturing the family, as they squabble over who gets Aunt Nina’s sideboard or Uncle Bruno’s collection of baseball cards, everyone needs a will. It is true that having an estate plan created does require us to consider what we want to happen after we have died, which most of us would rather not think about.

However, whether we want to think about it or not, having an estate plan in place, and that includes a will, is a gift of peace we give to our loved ones and ourselves. It’s peace of mind that our family is being told exactly what we want them to do after we pass, and peace of mind to ourselves that we’ve put our plan into place.

A recent article from Fatherly, “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know,” starts with the basic premise that a will prevents family squabbles. Families fight, when they don’t have clear direction of what the deceased wanted. That’s just one reason to have a last will and testament. However, there are other reasons.

A will is one way to ensure that your property is eventually distributed as you wish. Without a will, your estate is administered as an “intestate estate,” which means the state’s laws will determine who receives your assets after you pass. In some states, that means your spouse gets half of your estate, with your parents getting the rest (if there are no children). If the parents have died and there are no children, the rest of the estate may go to your siblings.

Most people—some studies say as many as 60% of Americans—don’t have a will. It’s hard to say why they don’t: maybe they don’t want to accept their own mortality, maybe they don’t understand what will happen when they die without a will, or perhaps they want to wreak havoc on their families. However, having a will is essential.

Don’t delay. If you don’t have a will in place, stop putting it off. Creating a will gives you the opportunity to effectuate your wishes, not that of the state. What if you don’t want your long-lost brother showing up just to receive a portion of your estate? If you don’t want someone to receive any of your assets, you need to have a will. Otherwise, there’s no way to know how the distribution will play out.

Be thoughtful about how you distribute your assets. If you have children and your will gives them your assets when they reach 18, will they be prepared to manage without blowing their inheritance in a month? A qualified estate planning attorney will be able to help you create a plan for distributing your wealth to children or other heirs in a sequence that will match their financial abilities. You may want to create a trust that will hold the assets, with a trustee who can ensure that assets are distributed in a wise and timely manner.

Every family is different, and today’s families, which often include children from prior marriages, require special planning. If you have remarried and have not legally adopted your spouse’s children from a previous marriage, they are not your legal heirs. If you want to make sure they inherit money or a specific asset, you’ll need to state that clearly in your will. If you are not married to your partner, they will not have any rights to your estate, unless a will is created that directs the assets you want them to inherit.

Parents of young children absolutely need a will. If you do not, and both parents pass away at the same time, their future will be determined by the court. They could end up in foster care, while awaiting a court decision. Battling grandparents may create a tumultuous situation. The court could also name a guardian who you would never have chosen. A will lets you decide.

Speak with an estate planning attorney to make sure you have a will that is properly prepared and follows the laws of your state. You also want to have a power of attorney and a health care agent named. Having these plans made before you need them, gives you the ability to express your wishes in a way that can be legally enforced.

Reference: Fatherly (Feb. 6, 2019) “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know”

Being an Adult Means You Need an Estate Plan

Estate planning has a purpose while you are alive, with medical directives and power of attorney, as well as when you have passed. That is something most people don’t understand. As described in a recent article in Forbes, “6 Reasons Why You Need an Estate Plan,” most people continue to neglect to put a plan in place. A recent survey from caring.com found that less than half of American adults have estate planning documents, such as a will or a trust. Here are a few reasons why that’s a big mistake:

Plan for your needs. If you should become incapacitated or unable to make your own decisions, an estate plan will protect you, your assets and your family. Part of your estate plan is preparing for this type of scenario. What kind of cash flow will you need and is there insurance missing from your plan? You should designate a healthcare proxy or a power of attorney who can make medical and financial decisions on your behalf, if necessary. Speak with the people who you want to name to these key roles, so they are prepared and understand your wishes in advance.

Dispose of your assets. With no will, your state will decide how to distribute your assets. At the very least, check your beneficiary designations on accounts so your financial and investment accounts and insurance proceeds go to the right people. A will clearly defines how you want your assets distributed at your death and saves your family from the time, expense and frustration of trying to figure out what you wanted, and what the law allows.

Minimize taxes. If there’s a substantial amount of wealth involved, that you want to transfer it to other family members or loved ones, the estate planning process can help you do this in the most tax-efficient way possible. Speak with your estate planning attorney about different types of taxes to consider: the estate tax, gift tax and generation-skipping transfer taxes. Since the IRS places limits on how much money can be transferred and to whom without being taxed, an estate plan outlines a wealth transfer strategy.

Create a philanthropic legacy. How do you want to be remembered after you die? Do you want to create a family foundation, endow a scholarship or participate in a donor-advised fund to support a cause that is important to you? There’s also the question of giving while you are alive, to enjoy seeing the results of your generosity.

Protect the wealth of the family. Your assets can come under pressure in many different ways, while you are living. Frivolous lawsuits can become an expensive nuisance. Estate planning can remove your name from assets and put them into legally-protected vehicles, such as trusts or limited liability entities. Insurance is also a part of estate plans, with certain types of insurance used to protect you against a variety of legal challenges.

Prepare future generations. For families that have accumulated large amounts of assets, instilling and preserving the family values over generations is a difficult but do-able task. Families that are successful in building long-lasting legacies devote time to teaching children about stewardship, civic and fiscal responsibilities and their role as part of a family that takes its achievements seriously.

An estate planning attorney can help you to create an estate plan that will protect your family and your legacy across generations.

Reference: Forbes (Sep. 13, 2018) “6 Reasons Why You Need an Estate Plan”

Planning for the Sad Truth of Growing Old Together

If it’s any comfort, there are now some 20 million widows and widowers in America, according to a study from Merrill Lynch and Age Wave that focuses on widowhood, as reported by CBS News’ Moneywatch in “A retirement planning must-do for married couples.” The study, “Widowhood: The Loss Couples Rarely Plan for—and Should” takes a detailed look at what happens, when the first spouse dies.

It should be noted that women are three times as likely as men to be the surviving spouse, since women historically tend to live longer. Widowers tend to marry younger women, leaving many older women to need to learn how to live as senior singles.

More than half of all of those surveyed who had lost a spouse, said they had not planned for it.  More than three-quarters of married retirees said they would not be financially prepared for retirement, if their spouse passed away.

Losing a spouse is the hardest thing for married people, particularly if they have never been single. Some 75% of those who had lost a spouse, said it was the single hardest thing they’d ever had to deal with. Half of them experience a household decline in income of 50%—or more. Adjusting to that loss of income is a big concern.

When the first spouse passes, the surviving spouses report that they were overwhelmed with paperwork and didn’t know how to begin.

You can plan for this unpleasant eventuality, and you should. Just as having an estate plan in place will help loved ones, planning for one of you to become widowed will help the other.

What should couples do in advance?

  • Know what all your assets and accounts are and how to access all accounts.
  • Make sure both names are on all accounts and deeds.
  • Be able to access cash.
  • Keep credit card debt separate.

Here’s some advice from the surviving spouses:

  • Avoid making big decisions, until at least a year has passed.
  • Find all important documents and pay bills on time.
  • Notify banks, financial advisors and employers.
  • Reevaluate your retirement strategy, following a financial audit of your new situation.
  • Update your estate plan and check all beneficiary designations.

Losing a spouse is a difficult and painful experience.  However, many people report that afterwards they found courage and strength they never knew they had and are living a full and rewarding life.

Reference: CBS Moneywatch (Sep. 12, 2018) “A retirement planning must-do for married couples”

Own Guns? Don’t Leave Your Heirs This Problem

The NY Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act, enacted in response to the Sandy Hook shootings, amended many of New York’s laws to provide strict regulations, including guidelines and a time frame for safeguarding firearms after a gun owner dies.  However, do the new laws leave family members and heirs at risk of criminal liability?

The New York Law Journal considered this issue recently in an article titled “Death of a Gun Owner: Criminal Liability for an Heir?” The article looks examines how the act works and what happens to heirs, when a gun owner dies.

The SAFE Act created a statewide database that tracks people who were issued gun licenses, closed some loopholes regarding private gun sales, required stricter gun storage retirements and created more strict penalties for people who are found guilty of using or owning a gun.

In the estates world, the act also amended the New York Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) that requires estate fiduciaries to file a firearms inventory with the Surrogate’s Court to settle the estate of a decedent who owned guns. The inventory must be filed with the Division of Criminal Justice Services as a way of ensuring that the state knows where guns are located and about any transfer of ownership. There are also very specific time limitations for when the inventory must be filed.

What if your heirs don’t even know you own guns?

When a licensed gun owner dies, the person in charge of the decedent’s personal property is technically in illegal possession of the gun and guilty of criminal possession of a weapon. The law does provide an exemption from criminal liability for an executor or administrator or any other lawful possessor of a decedent’s firearm if, within 15 days of the death of the gun owner, the person either disposes of the gun lawfully or turns the gun over to the police.

Failure to do so could result in criminal charges, including a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail or three years of probation and a $1,000 fine.

Fifteen days is a very short time in which to require that the gun is turned over to the police or “disposed of lawfully.” People who are not gun owners may not know what they should do. In some states, the law requires that the disposal of firearms must be conducted by a licensed firearms dealer.  However, there is an exception for transfers between immediate family members. That means spouses, domestic partners, children and stepchildren.  However, those receiving the gun must have a valid license to possess a firearm.

Each state has different laws regarding the possession of firearms, in addition to federal requirements. An experienced estate planning attorney will know the laws of your state and help you properly prepare for the transfer of any firearms. This is one headache you don’t want to leave your heirs to face.

Reference: New York Law Journal (Sep. 7, 2018) “Death of a Gun Owner: Criminal Liability for an Heir?”

This is the Year to Complete Your Estate Plan!

Your estate plan is an essential part of preparing for the future. It can have a dramatic effect on your family’s future financial situation. Estate planning can also have a significant impact on your tax liability immediately. Utah Business’s article, “5 Estate Planning Tips For 2019,” helps us with some tips.

Your Will. If you have a will, you’re ahead of more than half of the people in the U.S. Remember, however, that estate planning isn’t a one-time thing. It’s an ongoing process that requires making sure your plan reflects your current wishes and financial situation. You should review your will at least every few years. However, there are also some life events that should trigger a review, regardless of when the last review occurred. These include marriage, divorce, the birth or adoption of a child or grandchild, an inheritance, a large financial loss and the loss of a spouse.

A Trust. Anyone can create a trust, and it has real estate planning advantages. You can use a trust to pass assets to heirs and other beneficiaries, just like you could with a will. However, assets passed through a trust don’t need to go through probate. Using a trust to transfer assets provides privacy.

The Current Tax Breaks. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act gives us some significant tax cuts in 2019, such as a temporary doubled lifetime exclusion for the gift and estate tax, temporary exemptions from the generation-skipping transfer tax, higher annual gift limits and charitable contribution deductions. To see if you can use of any of these tax benefits, speak to an experienced estate planning attorney.

Talk to an Attorney for a Review of Your Estate Plan. It’s important to remember that estate planning is complicated. You should, therefore, develop a comprehensive estate plan with the help of an experienced attorney. Don’t be tempted to use an online legal do-it-yourself service to save a few dollars, because any mistakes you make could have a big impact on you and your family’s financial future.

Every state has its own laws regarding the formalities required to create a valid will. If you fail to follow any of these, a court may declare your will invalid during probate. Your entire estate will then be distributed according to the laws of intestate succession. These laws may not reflect your wishes for the distribution of your estate. Meeting with an attorney will make certain that your estate planning documents are in order. It will also help you to identify your goals and ensure that your assets are protected and transferred in the most efficient way possible.

Reference: Utah Business (February 5, 2019) “5 Estate Planning Tips For 2019”