What’s Best for You, a Will or a Trust?
A Trust Often is Better Than a Will

What’s Best for You, a Will or a Trust?

Which one is best, a will or a trust? It is the central question in estate planning. Trusts often offer better planning solutions.

That may be an idealistic portrayal, but there is some truth to it. It is no longer unusual for families to engage in estate litigation, according to The Northside Sun’s article “Do You Have a Will or a Trust? Why?” Many families who have estate plans incorporate trusts to ensure that their directions are followed.

One of the many differences between a will and a revocable living trust, is that a will operates only after your death. By contrast, a trust performs many tasks while you are still living. A last will and testament is how assets are distributed after death. A living trust takes effect as soon as it is created and funded, allowing your assets to be protected during life, disability and after death.

A will must go through a court proceeding known as probate, before it becomes a legally effective means of carrying out your wishes. A living trust functions without the need for court involvement, both in cases of incapacity and at death.

While you definitely need a will as part of your estate plan, a comprehensive estate plan will also have provisions to prepare for incapacity. Many people have a durable power of attorney. However, this is just one part of the necessary documents for incapacity. In fact, if the power of attorney is too old, the bank may refuse to honor it. This is an all-too frequent occurrence.

In the absence of a recognized power of attorney, the family may need to apply to the court for a conservatorship, which can be costly. A living trust, on the other hand, can be created to facilitate access to assets, without needing court intervention.

Some families try to create an informal estate plan, by putting their children’s names on assets so they can help their parents in the event of incapacity. These self-created plans usually don’t work. The assets are now exposed to any creditors of the child and are at great risk, if there is a divorce or bankruptcy.

Similarly, making an adult child a co-owner of real property will not give the child the ability to sell the property, and once again the asset is subject to the claims of creditors.

This is also the case when using lifetime gifting to avoid probate or minimize the size of a taxable estate. A trust can serve the same purposes, without the risks that an outright gift presents.

This is especially problematic in the event that a child goes through a divorce. The assets could actually end up being owned by the former spouse’s new spouse. Using a trust can maintain control of the assets.

Another family dynamic where trusts are valuable, is when there are children from multiple marriages. When the married couple creates a will that leaves their assets to each other, one set of children is likely to be accidentally disinherited. Let’s say a father has two daughters and a mother has two sons. They marry, and create wills to leave each other all of their assets. If the father dies, the mother inherits his entire estate. When the mother dies, it is more likely that she will leave her estate to her two children. A trust can be created that will facilitate the distribution of the remaining assets that had belonged to the father to his daughters.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to learn how you can use trusts as part of your estate plan, in planning for life, incapacity and death. Trusts don’t have to be complicated to serve your needs. Make sure you understand the trusts, how they work and that they will achieve your goals.

Learn how a trust can offer more estate planning solutions than a will.

Reference: The Northside Sun (August 14, 2019) “Do You Have a Will or a Trust? Why?”

Business Succession Planning For Business Owners
Business Succession Planning

Business Succession Planning For Business Owners

A business owner without a business succession estate plan, is a business owner whose business and personal estate are both in jeopardy, says the Augusta Free Press in an article that asks “Own a business? 5 reasons you need an estate plan.”

You need more than a will to plan for incapacity. If you become ill or incapacitated, a will isn’t the business succession estate planning tool that will help you and your family. What you need is a power of attorney (POA). This document names another individual or individuals to manage your finances and your business dealings, while you are unable to do so. Your estate planning attorney can create a power of attorney that limits what the named person, known as an “agent” may do on your behalf, or make it a broad POA so they can do anything they deem necessary.

Your state’s estate plan may not align with your wishes. Every state has its own laws about property distribution in the event a person does not have a business succession estate plan. A popular joke among estate planning attorneys is that if you don’t have an estate plan, your state has one for you—but you may not like it. This is particularly important for business owners. If you have a sibling who you haven’t spoken to in decades, depending upon the laws of your state, that sibling may be first in line for your assets and your business. If that makes you worried, it should.

Caring for a disabled family member. A family that includes individuals with special needs who receive government benefits requires a specific type of estate planning, known as Special Needs Planning. This includes the use of trusts, so a trust owns assets the assets for the benefit of such a family member without putting government benefits at risk.

Help yourself and heirs with tax liability. If your future plan includes leaving your business to your children or another family member, there will be taxes due. What if they don’t have the resources to pay taxes on the business and have to sell it in a fire sale just to satisfy the tax bill? A business succession estate plan, worked out with an experienced estate planning attorney who regularly works with family-owned businesses, will include a comprehensive tax plan. Make sure your heirs understand this plan—you may want to bring them with you to a family meeting with the attorney, so everyone is on the same page.

Avoid fracturing your own family. An unhappy truth is that when there is no estate plan, it impacts not just the family business. If some children or family members are involved in the business and others are not, the ones who work in the business may resent having to share any of the business. How to divide your business is up to the business owner. However, making a good plan in advance with the guidance of an experienced advisor and communicating the plan to family members will prevent the family from falling apart.

There’s no way to know how family members will respond when a parent dies. Sometimes death brings out the best in people, and sometimes it brings out the worst. However, by having an estate plan and business plan for the future, you can preclude some of the stresses and strains on the family.

Learn what business succession planning is all about.

Reference: Augusta Free Press (August 13, 2019) “Own a business? 5 reasons you need an estate plan.”

Can a Trust Be Amended?
Trusts are a Vital Part of Good Estate Planning

Can a Trust Be Amended?

A son has contacted an elder law estate planning attorney now that mom is in a nursing home and he’s unsure about many of the planning issues surrounding trusts, as reported by the Daily Republic. The article, “Amending trust easier if parents can make informed decision,” describes the family’s situation.

There is one point to consider from the start. If the son been involved in the planning from the start, in a family meeting with the attorney and discussions with his parents, he might have less uncertainty about the plan and the details.

As for the details: the parents are in their 90s, with some savings, a few annuities, a CD and a checking account. They also have five acres of land, which has their home and a duplex on it and 12 additional acres, with a rental property on it. Everything they own has been placed in a family trust. The son wants to be able to pay her bills and was told that he needs to have a power of attorney and to be named trustee to their trust.

He reports that his parents are good with this idea, but he has a number of concerns. If they are sued, will he be personally liable? Would the power of attorney give him the ability to handle their finances and the real estate in the trust?

If his parents have a revocable or living trust, there are provisions that allow one or more persons to become the successor trustees, in the event that the parent becomes incapacitated or dies.

What happens when they die, as they each leave each other their share of the assets? The son would become the trustee, when the last parent passes.

Usually the power of attorney is created when the trust is created, so that someone has the ability to take control of finances for the person. See if the trust has any of these provisions—the son may already be legally positioned to act on his parents’ behalf. The trust should also show whether the successor trustee would be empowered to sell the real estate.

Trusts can be drafted in any way the client wants it written, and the successor trustee receives only the powers that are given in the document.

As for the liability, the trustee is not liable to a buyer during the sale of a property. There are exceptions, so he would need to speak with an estate planning attorney to help with the sale.

More specifically, assuming the trust does not name the son as a successor trustee and also does not give the son power of attorney, the bigger question is are the parents mentally competent to make important decisions about these documents?

Given the age of these parents, an attorney will be concerned, rightfully so, about their competency and if they can freely make an informed decision, or if the son might be exercising improper influence on them to turn over their assets to him.

There are a few different steps that can be taken. One is for the son, if he believes that his parents are mentally competent, to make an appointment for them with an estate planning attorney, without the son being present in the meeting, in order to determine their capacity and wishes. If the attorney is not sure about the influence of the son, he or she may want to refer the parents for a second opinion with another attorney.

If the parents are found not competent, then the son may need to become their conservator, which requires a court proceeding.

Planning in advance and discussing these issues are best done with an experienced estate planning attorney, long before the issues become more complicated and expensive to deal with.

Learn how trusts can be amended or changed.

Reference: Daily Republic (Aug. 10, 2019) “Amending trust easier if parents can make informed decision”