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”

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”

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?”

Will Stepmother Take Dad’s Money When He Dies?

Here’s a savvy and responsible stepmother—she called for a meeting with the estate planning attorney. At age 57, married to a 72-year old man with three kids from his first marriage and two kids from their marriage, she wanted to make sure that his wealth didn’t become a source of agitation for the family, when he passed. That, says Forbes, typifies how the “new” American family has changed, in the article “How Long Will Stepmom Live? And Other Vexing Estate Planning Questions for Modern Families.”

The stepmother did not want to be seen as rapacious or coming between the kids and their inheritance.

The solution was as follows: money for the stepmother was left to a marital trust with provisions for her benefit, while the children received accelerated inheritances through a series of Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs), a qualified personal residence trust for a vacation compound and annual exclusion gifts.

Here’s another example: a male descendent of a wealthy family acknowledged that he had fathered a child without being married to the child’s mother. He had to seek legal determination to ensure that the child would be cared for.

Welcome to today’s new family. They include three-parent families, artificial reproductive heirs and blended families. These are all hot issues in the world of estate planning and attorneys are now addressing these new dynamics.

There are five basic questions that must be addressed when creating an estate plan today:

Who? Who gets your money and your stuff?

How much? How will it be divided among heirs?

When? Will it be at a specific age, or just when you die?

Outright versus in trust? With a trustee, you name a person who will control your assets.

Who represents you? An agent and a fiduciary, with a power of attorney who acts on your behalf, if you become incapacitated, an executor who is in charge of administering your estate, and a trustee who manages any trusts created.

Modern families don’t want old-school estate planning solutions. They want to know that their estate plan will work for their situation, which may not match the old “Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, Brother” construct. So, how should you handle the distribution of wealth for non-traditional families? If a child dies, and a live-in partner is rearing the children, should there be money for the children in a trust? What about taking care of the surviving partner, even if they were not married?

What about late-in-life marriages? If there’s a huge gap in years between grandparents and grandchildren, how will family wealth be passed down? Funding 529 trusts is one answer, and trusts are another. If the age gap is so big that grandparents never meet their grandchildren, a statement of intent in documents can be used to convey the goals and wishes the grandparents have for their grandchildren.

Providing for all children equally isn’t always the goal of the modern family. Some might think their ex-spouse will provide for children and leave them fewer assets than they would have, if that were not a factor. However, don’t assume that, even if you can’t have that conversation with your ex. If your intention is to distribute assets in unequal portions, you may save your loved ones a lot of pain and fighting, by either talking with them about it while you are still living or leaving a letter behind explaining your decision-making process.

It’s hard to tell what changes will come to families in the future, but one thing will remain the same: the need for an estate plan, done with the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney, is essential.

Reference: Forbes (Jan. 29, 2019) “How Long Will Stepmom Live? And Other Vexing Estate Planning Questions for Modern Families”

Downsizing Boomers Find Help from Senior Move Management Companies

When faced with the task of pulling up roots and moving her family from a big midwestern city to a smaller town, Laura Schulman found it overwhelming. However, she did enjoy some of the tasks, including handling all the details of organizing and packing and setting up a new home. Nine years later, she decided to start a company that would help seniors downsize, before moving to smaller homes, apartments or assisted living facilities.

As reported in Columbus CEO’s article Estate Planning and Retirement: How to Downsize Like a Diva,” Schulman and her team at A Moving Experience take the work and worry out of a move, so seniors can focus on the emotional challenges that come with this kind of move. When people are not at their physical best, downsizing can be extremely upsetting. It can get to the point, where many people wait until the very last minute and then panic sets in.

Her company is one of many senior move management companies that help seniors with this transition. The companies organize possessions, create a floor plan for new residences, schedule and oversee moving companies, handle any sales or donations of items that are no longer needed or wanted and even pack and unpack after the move.

What’s just as important: they provide the seniors with the emotional support needed during a very trying time. It’s not easy to be faced with the reality that they must leave their home after decades or even a lifetime. Equally upsetting: coming to terms with the limitations of aging.

Children and family members may not be as sensitive to their parent’s emotions about a move like this, or they may be equally uncomfortable. Having a non-family professional may serve as a buffer and a facilitator for everyone.

The increase in the number of these types of companies is due to the enormous number of Baby Boomers entering retirement. Most will be downsizing, as they leave one-family homes and move to smaller living spaces. With 10,000 turning 65 everyday, a projected 79 million Americans will be 65 or older by 2030. Clearly, aging is a big business.

Senior moving management charges range in pricing from $40 to $120 per person nationwide, with the average price for help costing around $3,000, plus the charge of the moving company.

The money is considered well-spent by many. One family called on a senior moving company, when their mother had to leave her long-time home in one state and relocate to an independent senior living community near family members in another state. The siblings reported that they needed help from someone who would be patient and understand the process their mother was going through. The senior mover worked to make the new home layout, as close to the mother’s original house as possible.

Nonprofit organizations are also getting involved in helping seniors move, with several agencies helping seniors, who can’t afford the services of a private company.

Reference: Columbus CEO (Jan. 21, 2019) Estate Planning and Retirement: How to Downsize Like a Diva”

When Do I Need a Power of Attorney?

Estate planning is important. Signing a power of attorney can be essential for those seeking to safeguard their financial resources and other assets.

The Tri-County Times explains in its article, “Power of attorney protects loved ones,” that a POA is granted to an “attorney-in-fact” or “agent.” It gives that individual the legal authority to make decisions for an incapacitated “principal.” The laws for creating a power of attorney vary based on the state.  However, there are some general similarities.

Many people think their families will be able to intercede, if an event occurs that leaves them incapacitated and unable to make decisions for themselves. That’s not always true. If a person isn’t named as an agent or granted legal access to financial, medical, and other information, family members may be left out. Further, the government may appoint someone to make certain decisions for an individual, if no POA is named.

Almost everyone can benefit from establishing a power of attorney.

A signed power of attorney will remove the legal obstacles that may arise in the event that a person is no longer physically or mentally capable of managing certain tasks.

A power of attorney is a broad term that covers a wide range of decision-making. The main types of POA are a general power of attorney, health care power of attorney, durable power of attorney and special power of attorney.

The responsibilities of some of these overlap, but there are some legal differences. For instance, a durable power of attorney relates to all the appointments involved in general, special and health care powers of attorney being made “durable”—meaning that the document will remain in effect or take effect if a person becomes mentally incompetent.

Certain powers of attorney may expire within a certain time period.

An agent appointed through POA may be able to handle many tasks, depending on what powers are granted in the document. They include banking transactions, filing tax returns, managing government-supplied benefits, deciding on medical treatments and executing advanced health care directives.

Although a power of attorney document can be completed on your own, sitting down with an experienced estate planning attorney is preferred to better understand the intricacies of this vital document and ensuring that it will be legally binding and properly prepared.

Reference: Tri-County (MI) Times (January 24, 2019) “Power of attorney protects loved ones”

Who Pays What Taxes on an Inherited IRA?

The executor of a person’s estate must take on the important responsibility of ensuring that the deceased person’s last wishes are carried out, concerning the disposition of their property and possessions. There are times when investments and savings are part of that estate.

An individual may have an IRA that designates the beneficiary or her estate as her heir. Inherited IRAs are not like other assets. Executors must be aware of what to do when withdrawing the IRA into the estate account, particularly about how will these funds will be taxed.

nj.com’s recent article asks “Who pays taxes on this inherited IRA?” It explains that the distributions from an IRA are treated as ordinary income by the federal tax code.

The will must be probated, and it may stipulate that the money from the IRA is to be given to the deceased’s children.

These distributions to the children are taxed at their marginal tax rates. However, it is important to note that when an estate is an IRA beneficiary, the entire account must be withdrawn within five years.

If the executor moves the IRA directly into inherited IRAs for each of the beneficiary children, the beneficiaries would be responsible for paying the taxes.

If the executor withdraws the IRA assets, then the executor would pay the taxes from the estate assets.

You will need to speak with the custodian of the IRA to find out what is and is not permitted in terms of distribution: are they allowed to roll the IRA into a beneficiary IRA, or can they divide the account into separate IRAs for the beneficiaries? The distribution must take place within five years, so keep that in mind when discussing options and goals for the IRA and the heirs. An estate planning attorney will be able to determine your best tax options for the inherited IRA when settling the estate.

Reference: nj.com (January 7, 2019) “Who pays taxes on this inherited IRA?”

How Do I Include Retirement Accounts in Estate Planning?

You probably made beneficiary designations for your retirement accounts, when you opened them. Remember: who you designated can affect your overall estate planning objectives. Because of this, when including your retirement assets in your estate, ask yourself if anything has changed in your life since then that would affect their status as your beneficiaries, as well as how they’d receive the retirement assets.

Investopedia’s recent article, “Include Your Retirement Accounts in Your Estate,” gives us some things to consider in the New Year.

Beneficiary Designations. Review your beneficiary designations after major life changes. If you fail to make these designations, the funds will most likely go into your estate—a horrible outcome from a tax and planning perspective. If your estate is named a beneficiary, your heirs must wait until probate is finished to access your retirement accounts. It is usually better to name an individual or a trust as your beneficiary.

Protecting Retirement Funds With a Trust. Another option is to include a trust in your estate planning, instead of giving your retirement funds directly to named individuals. This allows you more control over the distribution, while protecting your heirs from additional paperwork and taxes. Trust distributions keep a beneficiary from accessing and spending their inheritance all at once. It’s also a good idea if your beneficiaries include minor children who shouldn’t have direct access to the money until they are adults. Be sure to consult with an estate planning attorney, because there are tax and other complexities associated with designating a trust as beneficiary.

Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). Your retirement plans have rules about when you are required to start taking distributions. For 401(k) accounts, you are required to start taking RMDs at age 70½. However, if you die and leave retirement plans and accounts to your heirs, these rules apply to them instead. A spousal beneficiary can roll over your retirement funds tax-free into their retirement plan and make their own distribution choices. However, other beneficiaries don’t have the same option. Tax treatment and distribution options vary, depending on who is receiving your retirement assets.

Tax Considerations. The biggest worry you need to address when designating retirement accounts as part of your estate plan, is how they’ll be taxed. Consider how to withdraw from these accounts while you’re alive and how to minimize tax consequences after you’ve passed.

Work with an estate planning attorney who has a strong understanding of retirement accounts and the tax and legal requirements of estate planning. That way you can be certain your retirement assets are distributed to the proper beneficiaries with the least tax liability.

Reference: Investopedia (August 27, 2018) “Include Your Retirement Accounts in Your Estate”