Should My Estate Plan Include a Trust?
A good estate plan often includes a trust

Should My Estate Plan Include a Trust?

There are as many types of estate plans. Using a trust is a common type of estate plan. There are many good reasons to have trusts. They all have benefits and drawbacks. What type of estate plan is best for you? Is a trust the best estate plan in your situation? The answer is best discussed in person with an estate planning attorney. However, an article from U.S. News & World Report titled “8 Things to Know About Trusts,” gives a good overview.

Revocable or Irrevocable? Revocable trusts are usually established for a person (the grantor) during their lifetime, and then pass assets to the named beneficiaries, when the grantor dies. The revocable trust allows for a fair amount of flexibility during the grantor’s lifetime. An irrevocable trust is harder to change, and in some cases cannot be changed or amended. Some states do allow the option of “decanting” trusts, that is, pouring over assets from one trust to another. You’ll want to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to be sure trusts are set up correctly and achieve the goals you want.

Trusts can protect assets. Irrevocable trusts are often used, when a grantor must go into a nursing home and the goal is to protect assets. However, this means that the grantor no longer has access to the money and has fundamentally given it away to the trust. Putting assets into an irrevocable trust is commonly done to preserve assets, when a person needs to become eligible for Medicaid.  The trust must be created and funded five years before applying for benefits. Irrevocable trusts can also be used to obtain veteran’s benefits, if they are asset-based. VA benefits have a three-year look-back period, as compared to Medicaid’s five-year look-back period.

Trusts can’t own retirement accounts. Trusts can own non-retirement bank accounts, life insurance policies, property and securities. However, retirement accounts become taxable immediately, if they are owned by a trust.

Trusts help avoid probate after the grantor’s death. Most people think of trusts for this purpose. Assets in a trust do not pass through probate, which is the process of settling an estate through the courts. Having someone named as a trustee, a trusted family member, friend or a financial institution, means that the assets can be managed for the beneficiaries, if they are not deemed able to manage the assets. Another good part about trusts: you can direct how and when the funds are to be distributed.

Trusts offer privacy. When a will is filed in the courthouse, it becomes part of the public record. Trusts are not, and that keeps assets and distribution plans private. A grantor could put real estate and other personal property into a trust and title of ownership would remain private.

Tax savings. Before the federal estate tax exemptions became so high, people would put assets into trusts to avoid taxation. However, state taxes may still be avoided, if the assets don’t reach state tax levels. You can also transfer funds into an irrevocable trust to transfer it to others, without making it become part of a taxable estate. This is something to discuss in detail with an estate planning attorney.

Irrevocable Trusts can be expensive. If you are considering an irrevocable trust as a means of controlling the cost of an estate, this is not the solution you are looking for. Trusts require careful administration, annual tax filings and other fees. You may also lose the advantage of long-term capital gains by putting assets into trusts, since they are taxed upon withdrawal, and usually based upon current market value. The marginal rates for trust income of all kinds apply at much lower levels, so that the highest marginal taxes will be paid on very low levels of income.

Work with an experienced trusts and estates lawyer. Trusts and their administration can be complex. Seek the help of a trusts and estates attorney, who will be able to factor in tax liability and the impact of the trusts on the rest of your estate plan. Remember that every state has its own laws about trusts. Finally, an estate plan needs to be updated every few years. For example, trusts that were set up for a far lower federal estate tax exemption several years ago are now out of date, and may not work to achieve their intended goal. The laws changes, and the role of trusts also changes.

Learn more about when a trust would be appropriate for you.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (March 29, 2019) “8 Things to Know About Trusts”

Empty Nest? Time to Focus on the Nest Egg

After decades devoted to rearing children, it happens: parents realize that they’ve neglected their own retirement savings. Once the nest empties out, says USA Today, it’s time to refocus on building up savings accounts. How do you do it? The answers are in the article “5 ways empty nesters can boost their savings and turbocharge their 401(k)s.”

Here’s a five-step plan for making this happen.

Up the savings side. Once you’re not spending cash on your kids for clothes, college funds, cars and car insurance, that cash can move into retirement savings. The maximum for a 401(k) in 2019 is $19,000, and if you are over age 50, you can add $6,000 as a “catch-up” contribution. For annual IRA contributions, the limit is $5,000 with a catch-up of $1,000. Increase your paycheck deductions to the percentage, that will get you to the IRS limits. Put savings first.

If there’s a match, don’t miss it. Lucky enough to work for a company that matches all or part of your retirement savings? Do whatever you can to take full advantage of that free money. The most common company match is 50 cents per dollar on 6% of pay, according to Vanguard Group, which says that 70% of 401(k) plans had this match in place in 2017. Let’s say you earn $75,000 and save 6% of your pay. The company would give you $2,250, which means you’d be boosting your savings to $6,750.

Max out savings. The more money that is saved, the faster the nest egg grows. A married couple that socks away a combined $50,000 in pretax dollars every year in their 401(k)s, can find themselves with an additional $250,000 in five years. That’s not counting company matches or any investment growth.

Catch-up as fast as you can. Over 50? The IRS promotes savings by allowing catch-up contributions. An additional $6,000 is allowed in a 401(k). Parents who were paying for summer sleep away camp or riding lessons, can move those dollars into their own retirement accounts.

Control spending. The natural inclination when cash flow loosens up, is to spend more. Many people decide to live it up during these years, feeling like they deserve to enjoy themselves after dedicating so many years to their children. There’s a balance that needs to be found between enjoying and over-spending. Most families increase their retirement savings when the children are gone, but not by enough. Ramping up spending, instead of saving, means years of missed opportunities to build your retirement accounts.

The best advice is to take the long view. Savings instead of putting a convertible in the garage or taking lavish vacations, when a more modest approach is equally enjoyable, could change the nature of your retirement.

Reference: USA Today (Jan. 14, 2019) “5 ways empty nesters can boost their savings and turbocharge their 401(k)s”