Can Unequal Distribution of Inheritances Be Fair?

Unequal Distribution –  Estate planning attorneys aren’t often asked to create estate plans treating heirs unfairly. However, when they do it usually is because a parent is estranged from one child and wishes to leave him or her nothing. When it comes to estate planning, equal isn’t the same as fair, explains the article “Are Unequal Inheritances Fair?” from Advisor Perspectives.

An example of this can be seen in the case of a widow with four adult children who asked an estate planning attorney how to approach distributing her assets. Three of her children were high-income earners, already building substantial net worth. A fourth child had mental health issues, limited education, had been in and out of jail and was unable to hold a job.

She understood that her fourth child needed the financial stability the others did not. She wanted to provide some support for him, but knew any money left directly to him would be gone quickly. She was considering leaving money for him in a trust to provide a monthly income stream, but also wanted to be fair to the other three children.

The trust would be the best option. However, there were problems to consider. If the estate were to be divided in four equal parts, the fourth child’s share of the estate would be small, so trustee fees would take a significant amount of the trust. If she left her entire estate for him, it would be more likely he’d have funding for most, if not all, of his adult life.

The worst thing the mother could do was to leave all the funds for the fourth child in a trust without discussing it with the other three siblings. Unequal inheritances can lead to battles between siblings, sometimes bad enough to lead them into a court battle. This is often the case where one child is believed by others to have unduly influenced a parent, when they have inherited all or the lion’s share of the estate.

Sibling fights can occur even when the children know about and understand the need for the unequal distribution. The children may suppress their emotions while the parent is living. However, after the parent dies and the reality sets in, emotions may fire at full throttle. Logically, in this case the three successful siblings may well understand why their troubled sibling needs the funds. However, grief is a powerful emotion and can lead to illogical responses.

In this case, the woman made the decision to leave her estate in equal shares to each child and giving the three successful siblings the options to share part of their inheritance with their brother. She did this by having her estate planning attorney add language in the will stating if any child wanted to disclaim or refuse any of their inheritance, it would pass to a trust set up for the troubled sibling. This gave each child the opportunity to help or not.

Was it a perfect solution? Perhaps not, but it was the best possible solution given the specific circumstances for this family.

Reference: Advisor Perspectives (Aug. 22, 2022) “Are Unequal Inheritances Fair?”

 

Comments Off on Can Unequal Distribution of Inheritances Be Fair?

How Can I Minimize My Probate Estate?

Probate – Having a properly prepared estate plan is especially important if you have minor children who would need a guardian, are part of a blended family, are unmarried in a committed relationship or have complicated family dynamics—especially those with drama. There are things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones, as described in the article “Try these steps to minimize your probate estate” from the Indianapolis Business Journal.

Probate is the process through which debts are paid and assets are divided after a person passes away. There will be probate of an estate whether or not a will and estate plan was done, but with no careful planning, there will be added emotional strain, costs and challenges left to your family.

Dying with no will, known as “intestacy,” means the state’s laws will determine who inherits your possessions subject to probate. Depending on where you live, your spouse could inherit everything, or half of everything, with the rest equally divided among your children. If you have no children and no spouse, your parents may inherit everything. If you have no children, spouse or living parents, the next of kin might be your heir. An estate planning attorney can make sure your will directs the distribution of your property.

Probate is the process giving someone you designate in your will—the executor—the authority to inventory your assets, pay debts and taxes and eventually transfer assets to heirs. In an estate, there are two types of assets—probate and non-probate. Only assets subject to the probate process need go through probate. All other assets pass directly to new owners, without involvement of the court or becoming part of the public record.

Many people embark on estate planning to avoid having their assets pass through probate. This may be because they don’t want anyone to know what they own, they don’t want creditors or estranged family members to know what they own, or they simply want to enhance their privacy. An estate plan is used to take assets out of the estate and place them under ownership to retain privacy.

Some of the ways to remove assets from the probate process are:

Living trusts. Assets are moved into the trust, which means the title of ownership must change. There are pros and cons to using a living trust, which your estate planning attorney can review with you.

Beneficiary designations. Retirement accounts, investment accounts and insurance policies are among the assets with a named beneficiary. These assets can go directly to beneficiaries upon your death. Make sure your named beneficiaries are current.

Payable on Death (POD) or Transferable on Death (TOD) accounts. It sounds like a simple solution to own many accounts and assets jointly. However, it has its own challenges. If you wished any of the assets in a POD or TOD account to go to anyone else but the co-owner, there’s no way to enforce your wishes.

An experienced, local estate planning attorney will be the best resource to prepare your estate for probate. If there is no estate plan, an administrator may be appointed by the court and the entire distribution of your assets will be done under court supervision. This takes longer and will include higher court costs.

Reference: Indianapolis Business Journal (Aug. 26,2022) “Try these steps to minimize your probate estate”

 

Comments Off on How Can I Minimize My Probate Estate?

Why Do Siblings Fight after Death of a Parent?

Siblings – Families with more than one child are advised to prepare for discord after they die, according to a recent article from Forbes titled “The Way To Keep Your Kids From A Probate Fight After You’re Gone.” There’s a sense of entitlement to inheritance among siblings, which can lead to fights with lifelong consequences.

There’s no rule about what you do or don’t do with your estate. You can give it to a pet using a pet trust, a charity, or give it to a random stranger. Adult children don’t always to understand this, believing they have a right to whatever their parents have. The chances of discord are higher in families where parents decide to distribute the estate unequally.

We’ve all heard children protest “That’s not fair!” from the time they are old enough to understand the concept of fairness. However, when a grown adult feels slighted because a younger sibling receives the lion’s share of an inheritance, it is the equivalent of dangling a red cape in front of a bull. It’s an invitation to a fight.

Inheritances are spring-loaded with emotions. If the siblings fought as children, hold grudges about old conflicts, or are simply greedy, setting an estate is a quick route to bring everybody into the fight.

What about the adult child who is heavily involved with Mom’s care, pays bills and does all they can for an aging parent? They are likely to resent a non-involved sibling who receives an equal share of inheritance.

What can you do to avoid litigation after you’ve passed?

Be honest and tell your children what’s on your mind while you are living. If Bill never shows up to help, tell him he upsets you. If your feelings are hurt, put them on the table. Ask for what you need. If an adult child doesn’t respond, you have made the effort and can proceed with a clear conscience.

Have a family meeting. This is often best done on neutral territory, like your estate planning attorney’s conference room. Talk about the estate, your plans for distribution and how it’s going to work after you die. Having an attorney in the room can put a formal spin on the meeting and make everyone behave better than if they are in your dining room. There’s little benefit to keeping things secret. This way, you’ll know how they’ll react and can plan, or change plans, accordingly.

If your plan includes dissing two children in favor of another, consider having a cognitive assessment done to document your mental competency and capacity. One matriarch decided to give her home to the one son who was helping her with daily care and transportation, leaving nothing to two other sons who were not involved with her life at all. This pre-emptive confirmation of her mental capacity ensured that her estate and one son was prepared for any challenges about whether she was unduly influenced by the dutiful son.

In most cases, transparency and honesty can prevent problems postmortem. Your estate planning attorney can help with an estate plan structured to withstand challenges.

Reference: Forbes (July 27, 2022) “The Way To Keep Your Kids From A Probate Fight After You’re Gone.”

 

Comments Off on Why Do Siblings Fight after Death of a Parent?

IRS Extends Portability Election Option Deadline from Two to Five Years

The Internal Revenue Service recently issued a change to the rules regarding portability of a deceased spouse’s unused exclusion (DSUE), expanding the time period from two years to five years. As explained in the recent article “IRS Extends Portability Election” from The National Law Review, portability allows spouses to combine their exemption from estate and gift tax. Here’s how it works.

A surviving spouse may use the unused estate tax exemption of the deceased spouse to lower their tax liability. Let’s say Spouse A dies in 2022, when the estate tax exemption is $12.06 million. If, during Spouse A’s lifetime, they had only used $1 million of their exemption amount, Surviving Spouse B may elect portability to claim $11.06 million DSUE, as long as they file for the exemption within five years of the decedent’s date of death.

Prior to the rule change, the surviving spouse only had two years to claim the DSUE. The due date of an estate tax return is still required to be filed nine months after the decedent’s death or on the last day of the period covered by an extension, if one had been secured.

The IRS had previously extended the deadline to file for portability to two years. However, over time, the taxing agency found itself managing a large number of requests for private letter rulings from estates failing to meet the two year deadline. It was noted many of these requests for portability relief occurred on or before the fifth anniversary of a decedent’s date of death, which led to the current change.

How do I Elect Portability?

To elect portability, the executor (or personal representative) of the estate must file an estate tax return on or before the fifth anniversary of the decedent’s date of death. This estate tax return is a Form 706. The executor must note at the top of Form 706 that it is filed pursuant to Rev. Proc. 2022-32 to elect portability under Sec. 2010(C)(5)(A).

Eligibility to elect portability is not overly burdensome for most people. The decedent must have been a U.S. citizen or resident on the date of their death and the executor must not have been otherwise required to file an estate tax return. This means the decedent was under the estate tax exemption at the time of their death. With the current estate tax exemption now at $12.06 million for an individual, most people will find themselves well under the limit.

This new regulation expands the number of people who will be able to take advantage of the exemption and will help families pass wealth on to the next generation without incurring the federal estate tax. Speak with your estate planning attorney to be sure to elect portability when the first spouse passes, in order not to lose this exemption.

Reference: The National Law Review (Aug. 1, 2022) “IRS Extends Portability Election”

 

Comments Off on IRS Extends Portability Election Option Deadline from Two to Five Years
Read more about the article The Risks of Creating Your Own Estate Plan
African American businessmen shaking hands with modern glass building in background.

The Risks of Creating Your Own Estate Plan

Estate Planning Attorney – We call it the brother-in-law syndrome: your brother-in-law knows everything, even though he doesn’t. He tells anyone who’ll listen how much money he’s saved by doing things himself. Sadly, it’s the family who has to make things right after the do-it-yourself estate plan fails. This is the message from a recent article titled “Dangers of Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning” from Coastal Breeze News.

Online estate planning documents are dangerous for what they leave out. An estate plan prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney takes care of the individual while they are living, as well as taking care of distributing assets after they die. Many online forms are available. However, they are often limited to wills, and an estate plan is far more than a last will and testament.

An estate planning attorney knows you need a will, power of attorney, health care power of attorney, a living will and possibly trusts. These are essential protections needed but often overlooked by the do-it-yourselfer.

A Power of Attorney allows you to name a person to manage your personal affairs, if you are incapacitated. It allows your agent to handle your banking, investments, pay bills and take care of your property. There is no one-size-fits-all Power of Attorney. You may wish to give a spouse the power to take over most of your accounts. However, you might also want someone else to be in charge of selling your shares in a business. A Power of Attorney drafted by an estate planning attorney will be created to suit your unique needs. POAs also vary by state, so one purchased online may not be valid in your jurisdiction.

You also need a Health Care Power of Attorney or a Health Care Surrogate. This is a person named to make medical decisions for you, if you are too sick or injured to do so. These documents also vary by state,. There’s no guarantee that a general form will be accepted by a healthcare provider. An estate planning attorney will create a valid document.

A Living Will is, and should be, a very personalized document to reflect your wishes for end-of-life care. Some people don’t want any measures taken to keep them alive if they are in a vegetative state, for instance, while others want to be kept alive as long as there is evidence of brain activity. Using a standard form negates your ability to make your wishes known.

If the Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney or Living Will documents are not prepared properly, declared invalid or are missing, the family will need to go to court to obtain a guardianship, which is the legal right to make decisions on your behalf. Guardianships are expensive and intrusive. If your incapacity is temporary, you’ll need to undo the guardianship when you are recovered. Otherwise, you have no legal rights to conduct your own life.

DIYers are also fond of setting up property and accounts so they are Payable on Death (POD) or Transfer on Death (TOD) accounts. This only works if the beneficiaries outlive the original owner. If the beneficiary dies first, then the asset goes to the beneficiary’s children. Many financial institutions won’t actually allow certain accounts to be set up this way.

The other DIY disaster zone: real estate. Putting children on the title as owners with rights of survivorship sounds like a reasonable solution. However, if the children predecease the original owner, their children will be rightful owners. If one grandchild doesn’t want to sell the property and another grandchild does, things can turn ugly and expensive. If heirs of any generation have creditors, liens may be placed on the property and no sale can happen until the liens are satisfied.

With all of these sleight of hand attempts at DIY estate planning comes the end all of all problems: taxes.

When children are added to a title, it is considered a gift and the children’s ownership interest is taxed as if they bought into the property for what the parent spent. When the parent dies and the estate is settled, the children have to pay income taxes on the difference between their basis and what the property sells for. It is better if the children inherit the property, as they’d get a step-up in basis and avoid the income tax problem.

Finally, there’s the business of putting all the assets into one child’s name, with the handshake agreement they’ll do the right thing when the time comes. There’s no legal recourse if the child decides not to share according to the parent’s verbal agreement.

A far easier, less complicated answer is to make an appointment with an estate planning attorney, have the correct documents created properly and walk away when your brother-in-law starts talking.

Reference: Coastal Breeze News (Aug. 4, 2022) “Dangers of Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning”

 

Comments Off on The Risks of Creating Your Own Estate Plan

HIPAA and Key Documents Before Sending Your Child Off to College

HIPAA – In the United States, as soon as a minor turns 18, they’re typically considered a legal adult.

As a result, parents no longer have any authority to make decisions for their child, including financial and health care decisions.

Yahoo’s recent article entitled “Don’t Let Your Child Leave for College Without Signing Three Critical Documents” asks what if your adult child becomes sick or is in an accident and ends up hospitalized?

Because of privacy laws, known as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), you wouldn’t have any rights to get any information from the hospital regarding your child’s condition. Yes, we know you’re her mother. However, that’s the law!

You also wouldn’t have the ability to access his or her medical records or intercede on your child’s behalf regarding medical treatment and care.

If your child’s unable to communicate with doctors, you’d also have to ask a judge to appoint you as your child’s guardian before being able to be told of his or her condition and to make any healthcare decisions for them.

While this is hard when your child is still living at home, it’s a huge headache if your child is attending college away from home.

However, there’s a relatively easy fix to address this issue:

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about drafting three legal documents for your child to sign:

  • A Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) for Health Care. This document designates the parent as your child’s patient advocate.
  • A HIPAA Authorization gives you access to your child’s medical records and lets you to discuss his or her health condition with doctors.
  • A DPOA for Financial Matters, designates the parent as your child’s agent, so that you can manage your child’s financial affairs, including things like banking and bill paying, in case your child becomes sick or injured, or is unable to act for any reason.

Reference:  Yahoo (Aug. 2, 2022) “Don’t Let Your Child Leave for College Without Signing Three Critical Documents”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Probate Court, Inheritance, Guardianship, Power of Attorney, HIPAA Waiver, Probate Attorney

Comments Off on HIPAA and Key Documents Before Sending Your Child Off to College

Is Napping Good for Seniors?

Those who take frequent or usual napping during the day have a 12% higher risk of developing high blood pressure and a 24% higher risk of having a stroke when compared with those who don’t nap at all, says research published in Hypertension, a scientific journal published by the American Heart Association (AHA).

Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “Love to Nap? You May Have This Hidden Health Risk” reports that, for the study, researchers in China analyzed information on about 360,000 people from the biomedical database UK Biobank, who were periodically surveyed about their napping frequency between 2006 and 2019.

Their findings say that overall, participants categorized as “usually” naps had a 12% higher risk of developing high blood pressure compared with participants categorized as “never/rarely” naps. These “usually” nappers over age 60 had a 10% higher risk compared to “never/rarely” nappers the same age. In addition, “usually” nappers younger than age 60 had a 20% higher risk compared to “never/rarely” nappers the same age.

The more often participants napped, the greater their risk of developing high blood pressure.

For instance, when napping frequency increased by one category — such as from “never/rarely” to “sometimes” napping, or from “sometimes” to “usually” napping — the risk of high blood pressure increased to 40%.

In an AHA press release, Michael A. Grandner — a sleep expert and director of the Sleep Health Research Program and the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Clinic at the University of Arizona in Tucson — commented on the study.

He said that it might not be the naps themselves that are harmful—instead, the fact that people aren’t sleeping well at night and need to take naps to try to compensate for that fact.

“Poor sleep at night is associated with poorer health, and naps are not enough to make up for that. This study echoes other findings that generally show that taking more naps seems to reflect increased risk for problems with heart health and other issues,” Mr. Grandner noted.

The study authors say more research is needed to discover more about links between sleep patterns and heart health.

Reference: Money Talks News (July 27, 2022) “Love to Nap? You May Have This Hidden Health Risk”

 

Comments Off on Is Napping Good for Seniors?

What Should I Know about Burial Insurance ?

Burial insurance—also called end-of-life insurance, final expense, or funeral insurance—is a whole life insurance policy that’s designed to pay for the costs of your burial. These costs may include a memorial service, cremation costs, a headstone for your grave or other expenses associated with end-of-life arrangements.

Bankrate’s recent article entitled “Burial insurance” explains that if you have your affairs in order, your family already knows what will happen when you die. You may have given instructions for how you’d like your body to be treated, as well as ideas for your memorial service or what you want written on a tombstone.

However, all of these things cost money. If you don’t want your family to be stuck paying those costs, you may want to consider a burial policy.

Because the payout for this insurance is small compared to many regular life insurance policies, the premiums can also be quite affordable. The policies are easy to purchase and don’t require a medical exam. However, there may be a waiting period and the policy may offer only limited benefits in the first two years.

Burial insurance policies cover all the normal costs incurred by someone’s death, such as:

  • Embalming
  • A casket
  • Flowers
  • Cremation costs
  • A burial plot
  • The cost of transporting the body and/or remains
  • A headstone; and
  • Payment to clergy.

One type of burial policy, called a guaranteed issue life insurance policy, is available without any medical or health questions. It’s designed for those who are seriously ill and can’t get a policy any other way.

If all the appropriate arrangements have been made, the process of filing a burial insurance claim should be fairly smooth.

Reference: Bankrate (March 5, 2021) “Burial insurance”

 

Comments Off on What Should I Know about Burial Insurance ?

What Is a Marital Trust ?

Marital trusts have multiple benefits for beneficiaries, including asset allocation and tax benefits.  They are worth looking at in your estate plan.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Guide To Marital Trusts” says that a marital trust is an irrevocable trust that allows you to transfer a deceased spouse’s assets to the surviving spouse without paying any taxes. The trust also protects assets from creditors and future spouses that the surviving spouse may encounter.

When the surviving spouse dies, the assets in the trust aren’t included as part of their estate. That will keep the taxes on their estate lower.

There are three parties involved in setting up, maintaining and ultimately passing along the trust, including a grantor, who is the person who establishes the trust; the trustee, who’s the person or organization that manages the trust and its assets; and the beneficiary. That’s the person who will eventually receive the assets in the trust, once the grantor dies.

A marital trust also involves the principal, which are assets initially put into the trust.

A marital trust doubles the couple’s estate tax exemption limit, especially when almost all assets are owned by one spouse. Estate tax refers to the federal tax that must be paid on someone’s estate after they die. The estate tax limit is how much of an estate will be tax-free. In 2022, the estate tax limit is $12.06 million, which means utilizing such a trust would essentially double that amount to $24.12 million. Therefore, about $24 million of a couple’s net worth would be shielded from estate taxes by taking advantage of a marital trust.

A marital trust is also beneficial because it can provide income to the surviving spouse, tax-free.

Only a surviving spouse can be a beneficiary of a these trusts. When the surviving spouse dies, the trust will then be passed on to whomever the first spouse’s will or trust governs.

If keeping wealth within your family after you die is important, then a marital trust is an estate planning tool that will make certain that individuals outside of your family don’t have access to the wealth. You can put a variety of assets into the trust, including property, retirement accounts and investment accounts.

A marital trust is one legal tool to consider using when planning for a blended family.

Reference: Forbes (June 30, 2022) “Guide To Marital Trusts”

 

Comments Off on What Is a Marital Trust ?

401(k) Does Potential IRS Change Have an Impact on Estate Plan?

The new federal regulation would require many people who inherit money through traditional IRAs, as well as 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and eligible 457(b)s to withdraw funds from the accounts every year over a 10-year period, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “How an IRS Change Could Hurt Your Heirs” says that the change would apply to most beneficiaries other than spouses, and would apply to those who inherited money after 2019.

Children 21 and older, grandchildren and most others who get money from an affected account would need to follow the new regulations or rules.

The proposed change would require beneficiaries to take minimum taxable withdrawals every year for 10 years from their inheritance in situations where the original account owner died on or after April 1 of the year of his or her 72nd birthday.

These withdrawals, technically known as required minimum distributions (RMDs), must deplete the account within the 10-year period.

Heirs would pay a penalty of 50% on any RMD amounts they didn’t withdraw according to the schedule defined by the new IRS rules.

The proposed change has the potential to leave your heirs less wealthy. The reason is because the money you bequeath to heirs would have less time to grow in tax-advantaged accounts before they would be forced to withdraw it.

Over time, this can make a big difference in how much money they accumulate from the initial amount you leave them in your 401(k) .

The proposed rules are designed to clarify changes resulting from the federal Secure Act of 2019.

If the IRS moves forward with the changes, the new rules will add to the growing number of reasons why it makes sense for some people to consider putting money into a Roth IRA instead of a traditional IRA.

With a Roth IRA, the account owner pays taxes upfront As a result, heirs won’t owe any taxes on the money they inherit. Therefore, the new rules wouldn’t apply to Roth IRAs.

Reference: Money Talks News (May 13, 2022) “How an IRS Change Could Hurt Your Heirs”

 

Comments Off on 401(k) Does Potential IRS Change Have an Impact on Estate Plan?