Can I Protect an Inheritance During Marriage?
Protecting Inheritance Received During Marriage

Can I Protect an Inheritance During Marriage?

A good add-on to that sentence is something like, “provided that it is kept separate from marital assets.” To say it another way, when an inheritance or any other exempt asset (like a premarital asset) is “commingled” with marital assets, it can lose its exempt status.

Trust Advisor’s recent article asks, “Do I Have To Divide The Inheritance I Received During My Marriage?” As the article explains, this is the basic rule, but it’s not iron-clad.

A few courts say that an inheritance was exempt, even when it was left for only a short time in a joint account. This can happen after a parent’s death. The proceeds of a life insurance policy that an adult child beneficiary receives, are put into the family account to save time in a stressful situation. You may be too distraught to deal with this issue when the insurance check arrives, so you or your spouse might deposit it into a joint account. However, in one case, the wife took the check and opened an investment account with the money. That insurance money deposited in the investment account was never touched, but the wife still wanted half of it when the couple divorced a few years later. However, in that case, the judge ruled that the proceeds from the insurance policy were the husband’s separate property.

The law generally says that assets exempt from equitable distribution (like insurance proceeds) may become subject to equitable distribution, if the recipient intends them to become marital assets. The comingling of these assets with marital assets may make them subject to a division in a divorce. However, if there’s no intent for the assets to become martial property, the assets may remain the recipient spouse’s property.

Courts will look at “donative intent,” which asks if the spouse had the intent to gift the inheritance to the marriage, making it a marital asset. Courts may look at a commingled inheritance for donative intent, but also examine other factors. This can include the proximity in time between the inheritance and the divorce. Therefore, if a spouse deposited an inheritance into a joint account a year before the divorce, she could argue that there should be a disproportionate distribution in her favor or that she should get back the whole amount. Of course, the longer amount of time between the inheritance and the divorce, the more difficult this argument becomes.

Be sure to speak with your estate planning attorney about the specific laws in your state. If there is a hint of trouble in the marriage, it might be wiser to simply open a new account for the inheritance.

A trust can protect a child’s inheritance.

Reference: Trust Advisor (October 29, 2019) “Do I Have To Divide The Inheritance I Received During My Marriage?”

Do I Need a Beneficiary for my Checking Account?
Beneficiary Designations are Part of Good Estate Planning

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?”

How Can Beneficiary Designations Wreck My Estate Plan?
Naming Family Members in Beneficiary Designations is an Important Part of a Good Estate Plan

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”