Legacy Planning Law Group
Weekly Blog

Estate & Elder Law

Protect Your Family. Preserve Your Legacy

If you’re interested in learning more about our process and the solution for you and your family, please book your free 15-minute call with us today!

Intestate

What If Grandma Didn’t Have a Will and Died from COVID-19?

What If Grandma Didn’t Have a Will and Died from COVID-19?

What if Grandma didin’t have a will and died from COVID-19? The latest report shows about 1.87 million reported cases and at least 108,000 COVID-19-related deaths were reported in the U.S., according to data released by Johns Hopkins University and Medicine.

Here’s a question that is being asked a lot these days: What happens if someone dies “intestate,” or without having established a will or estate plans?

If you die without a will in California and many other states, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state “intestate succession” statutes.

Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “My loved one died without a will – now what?” explains that there are laws in each state that will dictate what happens, if you die without a will.

In Pennsylvania, the laws list the order of who receives upon your death, if you die without a will: your spouse, your children, and then your parents (if still alive), your siblings, and then on down the line to cousins, aunts and uncles, and the like. Typically, first on every state’s list is the spouse and the children.

You may also have some valuable assets that will not pass via your will and aren’t affected by your state’s intestate succession laws. Here are some of the common ones:

  • Any property that you’ve transferred to a living trust
  • Your life insurance proceeds
  • Funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement accounts
  • Any securities held in a transfer-on-death account
  • A payable-on-death bank account
  • Your vehicles held by transfer-on-death registration; or
  • Property you own with someone else in joint tenancy or as community property with the right of survivorship.

These types of assets will pass to the surviving co-owner or to the beneficiary you named, whether or not you have a will.

It’s quite unusual for the government to claim a deceased person’s estate. While it might be allowed in some states, it’s considered a last resort. Typically, we all have some relatives.

If you have a loved one who has died without a will, speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about your next steps.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (June 1, 2020) “My loved one died without a will – now what?”

Read more related articles at :

Florida Laws of Intestacy Succession

What Happens If You Die Without a Will?

Also, read one of our previous Blogs at:

What if I Don’t Have a Will in the Pandemic?

Click here to check out our Master Class!

 

Family Estate Planning

Am I Making One of the Five Common Estate Planning Mistakes?

You don’t have to be super-wealthy to see the benefits from a well-prepared estate plan. However, you must make sure the plan is updated regularly, so these kinds of mistakes don’t occur and hurt the people you love most, reports Kiplinger in its article entitled “Is Anything Wrong with Your Estate Plan? Here are 5 Common Mistakes.”

An estate plan contains legal documents that will provide clarity about how you’d like your wishes executed, both during your life and after you die. There are three key documents:

  • A will
  • A durable power of attorney for financial matters
  • A health care power of attorney or similar document

In the last two of these documents, you appoint someone you trust to help make decisions involving your finances or health, in case you can’t while you’re still living. Let’s look at five common mistakes in estate planning:

# 1: No Estate Plan Whatsoever. A will has specific information about who will receive your money, property and other property. It’s important for people, even with minimal assets. If you don’t have a will, state law will determine who will receive your assets. Dying without a will (or “intestate”) entails your family going through a time-consuming and expensive process that can be avoided by simply having a will.

A will can also include several other important pieces of information that can have a significant impact on your heirs, such as naming a guardian for your minor children and an executor to carry out the business of closing your estate and distributing your assets. Without a will, these decisions will be made by a probate court.

# 2: Forgetting to Name or Naming the Wrong Beneficiaries. Some of your assets, like retirement accounts and life insurance policies, aren’t normally controlled by your will. They pass directly without probate to the beneficiaries you designate. To ensure that the intended person inherits these assets, a specific person or trust must be designated as the beneficiary for each account.

# 3: Wrong Joint Title. Married couples can own assets jointly, but they may not know that there are different types of joint ownership, such as the following:

  • Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship (JTWROS) means that, if one joint owner passes away, then the surviving joint owners (their spouse or partner) automatically inherits the deceased owner’s part of the asset. This transfer of ownership bypasses a will entirely.
  • Tenancy in Common (TIC) means that each joint owner has a separately transferrable share of the asset. Each owner’s will says who gets the share at their death.

# 4: Not Funding a Revocable Living Trust. A living trust lets you put assets in a trust with the ability to freely move assets in and out of it, while you’re alive. At death, assets continue to be held in trust or are distributed to beneficiaries, which is set by the terms of the trust. The most common error made with a revocable living trust is failure to retitle or transfer ownership of assets to the trust. This critical task is often overlooked after the effort of drafting the trust document is done. A trust is of no use if it doesn’t own any assets.

# 5: The Right Time to Name a Trust as a Beneficiary of an IRA. The new SECURE Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2020 gets rid of what’s known as the stretch IRA. This allowed non-spouses who inherited retirement accounts to stretch out disbursements over their lifetimes. It let assets in retirement accounts continue their tax-deferred growth over many years. However, the new Act requires a full payout from the inherited IRA within 10 years of the death of the original account holder, in most cases, when a non-spouse individual is the beneficiary.

Therefore, it may not be a good idea to name a trust as the beneficiary of a retirement account. It’s possible that either distributions from the IRA may not be allowed when a beneficiary would like to take one, or distributions will be forced to take place at a bad time and the beneficiary will be hit with unnecessary taxes. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney and review your estate plans to make certain that the new SECURE Act provisions don’t create unintended consequences.

Reference: Kiplinger (Feb. 20, 2020) “Is Anything Wrong with Your Estate Plan? Here are 5 Common Mistakes”

Read more related articles at:

5 Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes You Can Make

Is Anything Wrong with Your Estate Plan? Here are 5 Common Mistakes

Also read one of our Previous Blogs at:

Common Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

 

 

money and art

Does Artwork Belong in a Charitable Remainder Trust?

Does Artwork Belong in a Charitable Remainder Trust?

A charitable remainder trust is a tax-exempt irrevocable trust that is created to decrease taxable income of people, by initially giving income to the beneficiaries of the trust for a set period of time and then donating the rest of the trust funds to a designated charity.

Financial Advisor’s recent article entitled “Putting Art Into Charitable Remainder Trusts” says that people who have valuable artwork or other collectibles that are hard to divide or that their kids don’t want, can investigate a charitable remainder trust with an estate planning attorney as an option.

A Charitable Remainder Trust is designed to save asset owners taxes that they would have to pay, if they sold their artworks on the open market. CRTs are also designed so that when they expire, they allow philanthropically inclined individuals help their favorite charitable organizations.

Many people with higher net worth hold about a tenth of their wealth in art and collectibles.  Due to the nature of the assets, the value may be hard to split up among their heirs, or no one heir may want that specific piece of art. A charitable remainder trust gives the art or collectible owner a solution to that issue. The trust will reduce her taxable income, by first dispersing income to the trust beneficiaries for a certain period of time and then the remainder is donated to a charity.

It’s important to note that art markets are quirky, and a CRT protects an owner from forcing her into a fire sale, when she or a trustee is trying to divide the estate.

For example, say the parents purchased a number of pieces of artwork on a European vacation and shipped them back to the United States. They have three children, but there’s one piece of art that’s more valuable than the others. As a result, there was no way to equitably divide the pieces. If they sold the pieces outright, there would be a 28% tax imposed.

However, the parents could instead place the artwork in a charitable remainder trust, get a tax deduction for part of the value, get income from the trust and then give a sum to a selected charity.

The asset can be held in the trust until one owner dies, until both parents pass, or for up to a certain number of years, based on how the trust is set up. Contact an estate planning attorney experienced in charitable planning strategies.

Reference: Financial Advisor (Feb. 21, 2020) “Putting Art Into Charitable Remainder Trusts”

Read more related articles at:

New IRS Rule Opens Tax Saving Strategy To Art Collectors

Charitable Remainder Trusts

Also Read one of our previous Blogs at :

Charitable Giving and Your Estate Plan

 

gray divorce

Why Is Estate Planning more Complicated with a ‘Gray Divorce’?

Why Is Estate Planning more Complicated with a ‘Gray Divorce’?

The increasing divorce rates among Americans over the age of 50 is a problem, because minimizing discord among beneficiaries is one of the top three reasons why people engage in estate planning.

The Clare County Review’s recent article entitled “Rising Gray Divorce Rates Are Making Estate Planning Problems More Complicated” notes that along with prolonged life expectancy and rising healthcare costs, this upward trend in couples divorcing after the age of 50 has created activity and interest in estate planning.

According to the CDC, the divorce rate in the United States is 3.2 per 1,000 people. The ‘first divorce rate,’ or the number of marriages that ended in divorce per 1,000 first marriages for women 18 and older, was 15.4 in 2016, according to research by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at the Bowling Green State University. As noted earlier, black women experience divorce at the highest rate, 26.1 per 1,000, and the rate is lowest for Asian women at 9.2 per 1,000.  In Michigan, the current divorce rate is 9%, but Tennessee is way up at 43%.

Gray divorce is adding another level of complexity to estate planning that already happens with blended families, designation of heirs and changing domestic structures. Therefore, it is more crucial than ever to proactively review and discuss the estate plans with your estate planning attorney on an ongoing basis.

According to the TD Wealth survey, 39% of respondents said that divorce effects the costs of retirement planning and funding the most. Another 7% said that divorce impacts those responsible for enacting a power of attorney and 6% said divorce impacts how Social Security benefits will be determined.

It’s important to communicate the estate plan with family members to reduce family conflict during the divorce process.

The divorce process is complicated at any age. However, for divorcing couples over the age of 50, the process can be especially tough because the spouse is frequently designated as a beneficiary on many, if not all, documents. Each of these documents will need to change to show new beneficiaries after the divorce has been finalized. It means that wills, trusts, retirement accounts, life insurance policies and listed assets will need to be revised.

Reference: Clare County Review (Feb. 10, 2020) “Rising Gray Divorce Rates Are Making Estate Planning Problems More Complicated”

For more related articles Go to :

Rising Gray Divorce Rates Are Making Estate Planning Problems More Complicated

How ‘Gray Divorce’ Complicates Estate Planning

Couples divorcing after age 50 face many financial challenges

Also Read one of our previous blogs at :

How Blended Families Can Address Finances and Inheritance Issues

 

Life Insurance Is a Good Estate Planning Tool but Needs to Be Done Carefully

With proper planning and the help of a seasoned estate planning or probate attorney, insurance money can pay expenses, like estate tax and avoid the need to liquidate other assets, says FEDweek’s recent article entitled “Errors to Avoid in Using Life Insurance for Estate Planning.”

As an example, let’s say that Reggie passes away and leaves a large estate to his daughter Veronica. There’s a big estate tax that’s due. However, the majority of Reggie’s assets are tied up in real estate and an IRA. In light of this, Veronica might not want to proceed directly into a forced sale of the real estate. However, if she taps the inherited IRA to raise cash, she’ll be required to pay income tax on the withdrawal and forfeit a very worthwhile opportunity for extended tax deferral.

If Reggie plans ahead, he could purchase insurance on his own life. The proceeds could be used to pay the estate tax bill. As a result, Veronica can retain the real estate, while taking only minimum required distributions (RMDs) from the inherited IRA.

If the insurance policy is owned by Veronica or by a trust, the proceeds probably won’t be included in Reggie’s estate and won’t increase her estate taxes.

Along these same lines, here are some common life insurance errors to avoid:

Designating your estate as beneficiary. When you make this move, it puts the insurance policy proceeds into your estate, exposing it to estate tax and your creditors. Your executor will also have to deal with more paperwork, if your estate is the beneficiary. Instead, name the appropriate people or charities.

Designating just a single beneficiary. You should name at least two “backup” beneficiaries. This will decrease any confusion, if the primary beneficiary predeceases you.

Throwing the copy of your life insurance policy in the “file and forget” drawer. You should review your policies at least once every few years. If the beneficiary is an ex-spouse or someone who’s passed away, make the appropriate changes and get a confirmation from the insurance company in writing.

Failing to carry adequate insurance. If you have a youngster, it undoubtedly requires hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay all her expenses, such as college bills, in the event of your untimely death.

Talk to a qualified and experienced estate planning attorney about the particulars of your situation.

Reference: FEDweek (Dec. 12, 2019) “Errors to Avoid in Using Life Insurance for Estate Planning”

How to Avoid Taxation on Life Insurance Proceeds

Read one of our previous blogs about How Life Insurance can Help your Estate Plan

 

Should I Name a Minor as an IRA Beneficiary?

People often leave assets to minors, but is making a minor an IRA beneficiary a really bright idea?

There are many ways to give assets to those for whom you want to leave a legacy. You can leave tangible assets. However, the age of the person to whom you leave the gift will frequently decide the form of, and the conditions under which, they receive the property. Let’s look at some of the advantages and potential negatives of leaving an IRA to a minor.

Investopedia’s recent article, “Designating a Minor as an IRA Beneficiary,” explains that there are several reasons why someone might want to give an IRA to a beneficiary who is not yet an adult. One of the most obvious is that IRAs can provide much greater flexibility and potential for long-term growth than, for example, savings bonds. IRAs also don’t have to be used for higher education or any other specific purpose in order to avoid taxation. Young beneficiaries also get the benefit of a lower required minimum distribution (RMD) over their lifetimes, as the beneficiary’s life expectancy is used when calculating their RMDs.

For example, if you died and left $100,000 of IRA money to a one-year-old granddaughter this year, her current life expectancy would be 81.6 years. Assuming that the funds in the account grow at 8% to 10% per year, she could withdraw several million dollars from the account during her lifetime. If the money were in a Roth IRA, she’d probably also save at least a million dollars in taxes.

If you leave an IRA to a minor, there must be an appointment of a guardian to manage the account, until the child reaches adulthood. Minors can’t own legal property of any kind in their name. Instead, you can appoint a guardian to manage the property on their behalf, until they reach the age of majority (18 or 21, depending on the state). If you do not do this, the court will appoint one for you—and that could be a person who may have very different thoughts about how the account should be managed and invested.

The law prohibits IRA custodians from dealing directly with minors in any capacity. A will doesn’t solve the problem because wills only deal with probate assets, and IRAs are exempt from probate. The minor’s parents or another relative can petition the court for guardianship, if you fail to make an appointment. However, this can be expensive, time-consuming and really unnecessary.

There are a couple of different ways that your beneficiary can receive the IRA. One option is to put the distributions inside a custodial account, like an UGMA or UTMA account. However, there could be adverse tax consequences for the minor’s parents (or whoever claims the minor as a dependent on a tax return) if the minor’s income is above a certain threshold. That’s because the parent or guardian must pay tax on the excess at their top marginal tax rate. This also gives the minor sole custody of the property at the age of majority, but she may not be prepared at that time to handle a large sum of money.

Another possibility is to put the money into a 529 plan. This will let the assets grow tax free, until they’re used to pay for qualified higher education expenses.

A more comprehensive solution may be to use a revocable living trust as the beneficiary for the IRA. The minor is named the beneficiary for the trust, and the guardian would be appointed as the trustee. A big benefit of a trust is that you can provide specific instructions as to how you want the guardian to handle the IRA distributions for the minor.

There are several available options, so talk with an experienced estate planning attorney about what makes the most sense for you and your family.

Care should be taken when designating beneficiaries of IRAs.

Reference: Investopedia (September 7, 2019) “Designating a Minor as an IRA Beneficiary”

How Can Life Insurance Help My Estate Plan?

In the 1990s, it wasn’t unusual for people to buy second-to-die life insurance policies to help pay federal estate taxes. However, in 2019, with estate tax exclusions up to $11,400,000 (and rising with the cost-of-living adjustments), fewer people would owe much for estate taxes.

However, IRAs, 401(k)s, and other accounts are still 100% taxable to the individuals, spouses and their children. The stretch IRA options still exist, but they may go away, as Congress may limit stretch IRAs to a maximum of 10 years.

Forbes’ recent article, “3 Ways Life Insurance Can Help Your Estate Plan,” explains that as the IRA is giving income from the RMDs, it may also be added, after tax, to the life insurance policy. If this occurs, it’s even possible that the death benefits could grow in the future, giving a cost-of-living benefit to children. This is one way how life insurance can be used creatively to help your estate plan.

For married couples, one strategy is to consider how life insurance on one individual could be used to pay “conversion tax” at death, using tax-free benefits. When the retiree dies, the spouse beneficiary can then convert all the IRA (taxable money) to a Roth IRA, which is tax-exempt with new, lower income tax rates (37% in 2018-2025 versus 39.6% in 2017 or earlier).

This tax-free death benefit money can be used to pay the taxes on the conversion, letting the surviving beneficiary have a lifetime of tax-exempt income without RMD issues from the Roth IRA. The Social Security income could also be tax-exempt, because Roth withdrawals don’t count as “income” in the calculation to see how much of your Social Security is taxed. However, you’d have to be within the threshold for any other combined income.

Life insurance for both individuals (if married) may also be a good idea. If the spouse of the IRA owner dies, the money from the life insurance can be used once again. If this is done in the tax year of the death for married individuals, the tax conversion could be done under “married filing status” before the next year, when the individual must use single tax filing status.

Another benefit of the IRA-to-Roth conversion is the passing of Roth IRAs to heirs, which could create a lasting legacy, if planned well. New life insurance policies that add long-term care features with chronic care and critical care benefits can also provide an extra degree of benefits, if one of the insureds has health issues prior to death.

Be sure to watch the tax rates and possible changes. With today’s lower tax rates, this could be very beneficial. Remember that there are usually individual state taxes as well. However, considering all the tax-optimized benefits to spouses and beneficiaries, the long-term tax benefits outweigh the lifetime tax liabilities, especially when you also consider SSI tax benefits for the surviving spouse and no RMD issues.

Life insurance in retirement can help protect, build and transfer wealth in one of the easiest ways possible. If you’re not certain about where to start with your life insurance needs, speak with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Read about how life insurance fits with a good estate plan.

Reference: Forbes (November 15, 2019) “3 Ways Life Insurance Can Help Your Estate Plan”

Do I Need a Beneficiary for my Checking Account?

When you open up most investment accounts, you’ll be asked to designate a beneficiary. This is an individual who you name to benefit from the account when you pass away. Does this include checking accounts?

Investopedia’s recent article asks “Do Checking Accounts Have Beneficiaries?” The article explains that unlike other accounts, banks don’t require checking account holders to name beneficiaries. However, even though they’re not needed, you should consider naming beneficiaries for your bank accounts, if you want to protect your assets.

Banks usually offer their customers payable-on-death (POD) accounts. This type of account directs the bank to transfer the customer’s money to the beneficiary. The money in a POD bank account usually becomes part of a person’s estate when they die but is not included in probate, when the account holder dies.

To claim the money, the beneficiary just has to present herself at the bank, prove her identity and show a certified copy of the account holder’s death certificate.

You should note that if you are married and have a checking account converted into a POD-account and live in a community property state, your spouse automatically will be entitled to half the money they contributed during the marriage—despite the fact that another beneficiary is named after the account holder passes away. Spouses in non-community property states have a right to dispute the distribution of the funds in probate court.

If you don’t have the option of a POD account, you could name a joint account holder on your checking account. This could be a spouse or a child. You can simply have your bank add another name on the account. Be sure to take that person with you, because they’ll have to sign all their paperwork.

An advantage of having a joint account holder is that there’s no need to name a beneficiary, because that person’s name is already on the account. He or she will have access and complete control over the balance. However, a big disadvantage is that you have to share the account with that person, who may be financially irresponsible and leave you in a bind.

Remember, even though you may name a beneficiary or name a joint account holder, you should still draft a will. Speak with a qualified estate planning attorney to make sure about all your affairs, even if your accounts already have beneficiaries.

Beneficiary designations are part of good overall estate planning.

Reference: Investopedia (August 4, 2019) “Do Checking Accounts Have Beneficiaries?”

jacksonville legal services

How Can Beneficiary Designations Wreck My Estate Plan?

It’s not uncommon for the intent of an individual’s will and trust to be overridden by beneficiary designations that weren’t chosen carefully.

Some people think that naming a beneficiary should be a simple job, and they try to do it themselves. Others don’t want to bother their attorney with what seems like a straightforward issue. A well-intentioned financial advisor could also complete the change of beneficiary form incorrectly.

Beneficiary designations are often used for life insurance and retirement benefits, but more frequently, they’re also being used for brokerage and bank accounts. People trying to avoid probate may name a “payable on death” beneficiary of an account. However, they don’t know that doing this may undermine their existing estate plan. It’s best to consult with your attorney to make certain that your named beneficiaries are consistent with your estate planning documents.

Wealth Advisor’s “7 Ways That Beneficiary Designations Can Mess Up Your Estate Plan” lists seven issues you need to think about, when making your beneficiary designations.

Cash. If your will leaves cash to various people or charities, you need to make certain that sufficient money comes into your estate, so your executor can pay these gifts.

Estate tax liability. If assets do pass outside your estate to a named beneficiary, make certain there will be sufficient money in your estate and trust to pay your estate tax lability. If all your assets pass by beneficiary designation, your executor may not have enough money to pay the estate taxes that may be due at your death.

Protect your tax savings. If you have created trusts for estate tax purposes, make sure that sufficient assets flow into your trusts to maximize the estate tax savings. Designating individuals as beneficiaries instead of your trusts may defeat the purpose of your estate tax planning. If there aren’t enough assets in your trust, the estate tax provisions may not work. As a result, your heirs may eventually end up paying more in taxes.

Accurate records. Be sure the information you have on the change of beneficiary form is accurate. This is particularly important if the beneficiary is a trust—the trust name, trustee information and tax identification number all need to be right.

Spouses as beneficiaries. Many people name their spouse as the primary beneficiary of their life insurance policy, followed by their trust as the secondary beneficiary. However, this may defeat your estate planning, especially if you have children from a first marriage, or if you don’t want your spouse to control the assets. If your trust provides for your surviving spouse on your death, he or she will be taken care of from the trust.

No last minute changes. Some people change their beneficiary designations at the last minute, because they’re nervous about assets flowing into a trust. This could lead to increased estate tax payments and litigation from heirs who were left out.

Qualified accounts. Don’t name a trust as the beneficiary of qualified accounts, like an IRA, without consulting with your attorney. Trusts that receive such qualified money need to contain special provisions for income tax purposes.

Be sure that your beneficiary designations work with your estate planning, rather than against it.

Your estate planning attorney can help you figure out how beneficiary designations affect your estate plan.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (October 8, 2019) “7 Ways That Beneficiary Designations Can Mess Up Your Estate Plan”

Join Our eNews

WATCH OUR MASTERCLASS