Your Estate Planning Checklist for 2021

If you reviewed or created your estate plan in 2020, you are ahead of most Americans, but you’re not done yet. If you created a trust, gave gifts of real estate, business interest or other assets, you need to address the loose ends and do the follow up work to ensure that your planning goals will be met. That’s the advice from a recent article “Checklist 2020 Planning Follow Through: You Have More Work To Do” from Forbes.

Here are few to consider:

Did you loan money to heirs? If you made any loans to heirs or had any other loan transactions, you’ll need to calendar the interest payment dates and amounts and be sure that interest is paid promptly as described in the promissory notes. Correct interest payments are necessary for the IRS or creditors to treat the transaction as a real loan, otherwise you risk having the loan recharacterized or worse, being disregarded completely.

Did you create an irrevocable trust? If so, you need to be sure that gifts are made to the trust each year to fund insurance premiums. If the trust includes annual demand powers (known as “Crummey powers”) to allow gifts to qualify for the gift tax annual exclusion, written notices for 2020 gifts will need to be issued. This can be way more complicated than you expect: if you have transfers made to multiple trusts and outright gifts made directly to heirs, those gifts may need to be prioritized, based on the terms of the trusts and the dates of the gifts to determine which gifts qualify for the annual exclusion and which do not.

If you made gifts to a trust that is exempt from the generation skipping transfer tax (GST), you may have to file a gift tax return to allocate the GST exemption, so the trust remains GST exempt. Talk to your estate planning attorney to avoid any expensive mistakes.

Do you own life insurance? Or does a trust own life insurance for you? Either way, do not ignore your coverage after you’ve purchased a policy or policies. Your broker should review policy performance, the appropriateness of coverage for your plan, etc., every few years. If you didn’t do this in 2020, make it a priority for 2021. Many people create SLATS—Spousal Lifetime Access Trusts—so that their spouse benefits from the trusts. However, if your spouse dies prematurely, the SLAT no longer works.

Paying trustee fees. If you have institutional trustees, their fees need to be paid annually. If you pay the fees directly, the fee becomes an additional gift to the trust, requiring the filing of a gift tax for that year. If the trust pays the fee directly, there might not be a tax implication. Again, check with your estate planning attorney.

Did you make transfers to a trust with a disclaimer mechanism? If you made transfers to a trust that has a disclaimer mechanism and you want to reconsider the planning, it may be possible for beneficiaries or a trustee to disclaim gifts made to the trust within nine months of the transfer, thereby unwinding the planning.

Did you create any GRATs in 2020? If you created a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust, be certain that the trustee calendars the required annuity payments and that they are paid on a timely basis. Missing payments could put the GRAT status in jeopardy. You should also confirm also how the payment is calculated, which should be in the GRAT itself.

The best estate plan is one that is reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that it works, throughout changes that occur in law and life.

Reference: Forbes (Dec. 27, 2020) “Checklist 2020 Planning Follow Through: You Have More Work To Do”

 

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Should People Keep that Out of Their Wills ?

In general, a last will and testament is an easy and straightforward way to state who gets what when you die and designate a guardian for your minor children, if you (and your spouse) die unexpectedly.

MSN’s recent article entitled “Things you should never put in your will” explains that you can be specific about who receives what. However, attaching strings or conditions may not work because there’s no one to legally enforce the terms. If you have specific details about how a person should use their inheritance, whether they are a spendthrift or someone with special needs, a trust may be a better option because you’ll have more control, even from beyond the grave.

Keeping some assets out of your will can actually benefit your future heirs because they’ll get their inheritance faster. When you pass on, wills must be “proven” and validated in a probate court prior to distribution of your property. This process takes some time and effort, if there are issues—including something in your will that doesn’t need to be there. For example, property in a trust and payable-on-death accounts are two types of assets that can be distributed to your beneficiaries without a will.

Don’t put anything in a will that you don’t own outright. If you jointly own assets with someone, they will likely become the new owner. For example, this applies to a property acquired by married couples in community property states.

Property in a revocable living trust. This is a separate entity that you can use to distribute your assets which avoids probate. When you title property into the trust, it is subject to the trust’s rules.  Because a trust operates independently, you must avoid inconsistencies and not include anything in your will that the trust addresses.

Assets with named beneficiaries. Some financial accounts are payable-on-death or transferable-on-death. They are distributed or paid out directly to the named beneficiaries. That makes putting them in a will unnecessary (and potentially troublesome, if you’re inconsistent). However, you can add information about these assets in your letter of instruction (see below). As far as bank accounts, brokerage or investment accounts, retirement accounts and pension plans and life insurance policies, assign a beneficiary rather than putting these assets in your will.

Jointly owned property. Property you jointly own with someone else will almost always directly pass to the co-owner when you die, so do not put it in your will. A common arrangement is joint tenancy with rights of survivorship.

Other things you may not want to put in wills. Businesses can be given away in a will, but it’s not the best plan. Wills must be probated in court and that can create a rough transition after you die. Instead, work with an experienced estate planning attorney on a succession plan for your business and discuss any estate tax issues you may have as a business owner.

Adding your funeral instructions in your will isn’t optimal. This is because the family may not be able to read the will before making arrangements. Instead, leave a letter of instruction with any personal wishes and desires.

Reference: MSN (Dec. 8, 2020) “Things you should never put in your will”

 

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How Does a Charitable Trust Work?

A charitable trust can provide an alternative to meeting your wishes for charities and your loved ones, while serving to minimize tax liabilities. There are pros and cons to consider, according to a recent article titled “Here’s how to create a charitable trust as part of an estate plan” from CNBC. Many families are considering their tax planning for the next few years, aware that the individual income tax provisions of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will expire after 2025.

Creating a charitable trust may work to achieve wishes for charities, as well as loved ones.

A charitable trust is a set of assets, usually liquid, that a donor signs over to or uses to create a charitable foundation. The assets are then managed by the charity for a specific period of time, with some or all of the interest the assets produce benefitting the charity.

When the period of time ends, the assets, now called the remainder, can go to heirs, or can be donated to the charity (although they are usually returned to heirs).

There are pros and cons to Charitable Remainder Trusts and Charitable Lead Trusts. Your estate planning attorney will determine which one, if any, is appropriate for you and your family.

A charitable trust allows you to give generously to an organization that has meaning to you, while providing an equally generous tax break for you and your heirs. However, to achieve this, the charitable trust must be irrevocable, so you can’t change your mind once it’s set in place.

Charitable trusts provide a way to ensure current or future distributions to you or to your loved ones, depending on your unique circumstances and goals.

A Charitable Remainder Trust, or CRT, provides an income stream either to you or to individuals you select for a set period of time, which is typically your lifetime, your spouse’s lifetime, or the lifetimes of your beneficiaries. The remaining assets are ultimately distributed to one or more charities.

By contrast, the Charitable Lead Trust (CLT) pays income to one or more charities for a set term, and the remaining assets pass to individuals, such as heirs.

For CRTs and CLTs, the annual distribution during the initial term can happen in two ways; a Unitrust (CRUT or CLUT) or an Annuity Trust (CRAT or CLAT).

In a Unitrust, the income distribution for the coming year is calculated at the end of each calendar year and it changes, as the value of the trust increases or decreases.

In an Annuity Trust, the distribution is a fixed annual distribution determined as a percentage of the initial funding value and does not change in future years.

Interest rates are a key element in determining whether to use a CLT or a CRT. Right now, with interest rates at historically low levels, a CRT yields minimal income.

The key benefits to a CRT include income tax deductions, avoidance of capital gains taxation, annual income and a wish to support nonprofit organizations.

Your estate planning attorney and a member of the development team from the charity can work together to ensure that your charitable strategy achieves your goals of supporting the charity and building your legacy.

Reference: CNBC (Dec. 22, 2020) “Here’s how to create a charitable trust as part of an estate plan”

 

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When is an Inheritance Community Property ?

Families with concerns about the durability of a child’s marriage are right to be concerned about protecting their children’s assets. For one family, where a mother wishes to give away all of her assets in the next year or two to her children and grandchildren, giving money directly to a son with an unstable marriage can be solved with the use of estate planning strategies, according to the article “Husband should keep inheritance in separate account” from The Reporter.

Everything a spouse earns while married is considered community property in most states. However, a gift or inheritance is usually considered separate property. If the gift or inheritance is not kept totally separate, that protection can be easily lost.

An inheritance or gift should not only be kept in a separate account from the spouse, but it should be kept at an entirely different financial institution. Since accounts within financial institutions are usually accessed online, it would be very easy for a spouse to gain access to an account, since they have likely already arranged for access to all accounts.

No other assets should be placed into this separate account, or the separation of the account will be lost and some or all of the inheritance or gift will be considered community property and belonging to both spouses.

The legal burden of proof will be on the son in this case, if funds are commingled. He will have to prove what portion of the account should be his and his alone.

Here is another issue about community property: if the son does not believe that his spouse is a problem and that there is no reason to keep the inheritance or gift separate, or if he is being pressured by the spouse to put the money into a joint account, he may need some help from a family member.

This “help” comes in the form of the mother putting his gift in an irrevocable trust.

If the mother decides to give away more than $15,000 to any one person in any one calendar year, she needs to file a gift tax return with her income tax returns the following year. However, her unified credit protects the first $11.7 million of her assets from any gift and estate taxes, so she does not have to pay any gift tax.

The mother should consider whether she expects to apply for Medicaid. If she is giving her money away before a serious illness occurs because she is concerned about needing to spend down her life savings for long term care, she should work with an elder law attorney. Giving money away in a lump sum would make her ineligible for Medicaid for at least five years in most states.

The best solution is for the mother to meet with an estate planning attorney who can work with her to determine the best way to protect her gift to her son and protect her assets if she expects to need long term care.

People often attempt to find simple workarounds to complex estate planning issues, and these DIY solutions usually backfire. It is smarter to speak with an experienced elder law attorney, who can help the mother and protect the son from making an expensive and stressful mistake.

Reference: The Reporter (Dec. 20, 2020) “Husband should keep inheritance in separate account”

 

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Should I Transfer my home to my daughter ?

This estate planning issue concerns a single retired parent of an only adult daughter and how to transfer my home to my daughter. Should the daughter simply sell the house when her mother dies, or should the daughter be added to the deed now while her mother is alive?

Also, is there a court hearing?

In many states, there is no reason or requirement to go before a judge to probate your estate, says nj.com in its recent article “Should I add my daughter’s name to my home’s deed?”

In estate planning, there are two primary questions to answer about the transfer of the home. First, there would possibly be some significant capital gains if the mom adds her daughter to the deed prior to death.

Also, if the mother winds up requiring Medicaid, Medicaid might put a lien against the home after she dies for the value of the services it provided.

Generally, when a home has been owned for a long time, the mother should try to preserve the step-up in basis for tax purposes that happens, if the real estate is still in the mom’s name at her passing.

Whether that step up is preserved, depends on how the daughter is added to the deed.

Adding the daughter as a joint tenant or tenant in common won’t preserve the step-up basis for taxes. Ask an elder law attorney what this means in your specific situation.

A better option may be to transfer the remainder interest in the property to the daughter in this scenario and withhold a life estate for the mom.

That will preserve the step-up in basis at death.

This can also get complicated when there’s an outstanding mortgage, so speak to an experienced elder law or estate planning attorney.

Reference: nj.com (Dec. 15, 2020) “Should I add my daughter’s name to my home’s deed?”

 

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Did Robert Redford Have a Business Exit Plan?

Motley Fool’s recent article titled “What Robert Redford’s Sale of Sundance Can Teach Investors About Exit Planning” says that, in announcing the sale, Redford told the Salt Lake Tribune that he’s been thinking of selling for several years. However, he wanted to find the right partners. Broadreach and Cedar plan to upgrade the resort, add hotel rooms and build a new inn. The companies have also said that they will keep the resort sustainable and practicing measured growth, as well as also continuing to host the Sundance Film Festival.

The 2,600-acre resort has 1,845 acres of land saved from future development through a conservation easement and protective covenants. The 84-year-old actor has had a lifelong interest in the environment and in land stewardship. Redford and his family have also arranged with Utah Open Lands to create the Redford Family Elk Meadows Preserve at the base of Mt. Timpanogos. The gift will reduce Robert Redford ‘s tax liability on his estate.

Both Broadreach and Cedar have extensive hospitality experience, but neither looks to have much ski resort experience. However, they’re working with Bill Jensen, an industry legend, who recently left his role as CEO of Telluride Ski and Golf Resort in Colorado.

Business exit and succession planning can be difficult—in part, because people don’t like to address such unwelcome topics. Most investors don’t have the luxury of waiting years to find the right buyer, but the Redford deal does show that planning ahead may be critical to creating a mechanism that supports the vision for the property.

When selling a large investment property, you must first understand why you’re selling, and your desired end result. Of course, a return on investment is nice, but there may be other considerations, like in Redford’s case. Another key is ascertaining the updated worth of what you’re selling. Get a valuation, especially with an irreplaceable asset.

The structure of the sale is important. You will likely be liable for tax on your capital gains, so ask an attorney. If you’re also structuring your estate plans at the same time, you’ll need to know what amount you can give and what your heirs may have to pay. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney to be certain that you’re covering all the bases.

Reference: Motley Fool (Dec. 12, 2020) “What Robert Redford’s Sale of Sundance Can Teach Investors About Exit Planning”

 

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SECURE Act has Changed Special Needs Planning

The SECURE Act eliminated the life expectancy payout for inherited IRAs for most people, but it also preserved the life expectancy option for five classes of eligible beneficiaries, referred to as “EDBs” in a recent article from Morningstar.com titled “Providing for Disabled Beneficiaries After the SECURE Act.” Two categories that are considered EDBs are disabled individuals and chronically ill individuals. Estate planning needs to be structured to take advantage of this option.

The first step is to determine if the individual would be considered disabled or chronically ill within the specific definition of the SECURE Act, which uses almost the same definition as that used by the Social Security Administration to determine eligibility for SS disability benefits.

A person is deemed to be “chronically ill” if they are unable to perform at least two activities of daily living or if they require substantial supervision because of cognitive impairment. A licensed healthcare practitioner certifies this status, typically used when a person enters a nursing home and files a long-term health insurance claim.

However, if the disabled or ill person receives any kind of medical care, subsidized housing or benefits under Medicaid or any government programs that are means-tested, an inheritance will disqualify them from receiving these benefits. They will typically need to spend down the inheritance (or have a court authorized trust created to hold the inheritance), which is likely not what the IRA owner had in mind.

Typically, a family member wishing to leave an inheritance to a disabled person leaves the inheritance to a Supplemental Needs Trust or SNT. This allows the individual to continue to receive benefits but can pay for things not covered by the programs, like eyeglasses, dental care, or vacations. However, does the SNT receive the same life expectancy payout treatment as an IRA?

Thanks to a special provision in the SECURE Act that applies only to the disabled and the chronically ill, a SNT that pays nothing to anyone other than the EDB can use the life expectancy payout. The SECURE Act calls this trust an “Applicable Multi-Beneficiary Trust,” or AMBT.

For other types of EDB, like a surviving spouse, the individual must be named either as the sole beneficiary or, if a trust is used, must be the sole beneficiary of a conduit trust to qualify for the life expectancy payout. Under a conduit trust, all distributions from the inherited IRA or other retirement plan must be paid out to the individual more or less as received during their lifetime. However, the SECURE Act removes that requirement for trusts created for the disabled or chronically ill.

However, not all of the SECURE Act’s impact on special needs planning is smooth sailing. The AMBT must provide that nothing may be paid from the trust to anyone but the disabled individual while they are living. What if the required minimum distribution from the inheritance is higher than what the beneficiary needs for any given year? Let’s say the trustee must withdraw an RMD of $60,000, but the disabled person’s needs are only $20,000? The trust is left with $40,000 of gross income, and there is nowhere for the balance of the gross income to go.

In the past, SNTs included a provision that allowed the trustee to pass excess income to other family members and deduct the amount as distributable net income, shifting the tax liability to family members who might be in a lower tax bracket than the trust.

Special Needs Planning under the SECURE Act has raised this and other issues, which can be addressed by an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Morningstar.com (Dec. 9, 2020) “Providing for Disabled Beneficiaries After the SECURE Act”

 

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How Can Blended Families Use Estate Planning to Protect All of the Siblings?

If two adult children from blended families receive a lot more financial help from their parent and stepparents than other children, there may be expectations that the parent’s estate plan will be structured to address any unequal distributions. This unique circumstance requires a unique solution, as explained in the article “Estate Planning: A Trust Can Be Used to Protect Blended Families” from The Daily Sentinel. Blended families in which adult children and stepchildren have grandchildren also require unique estate planning.

Blended families face the question of what happens if one parent dies and the surviving step parent remarries. If the deceased spouse’s estate was given to the surviving step parent, will those assets be used to benefit the deceased spouse’s children, or will the new spouse and their children be the sole beneficiaries?

In a perfect world, all children would be treated equally, and assets would flow to the right heirs.  However, that does not always happen. There are many cases where the best of intentions is clear to all, but the death of the first spouse in a blended marriage change everything.

Other events occur that change how the deceased’s estate is distributed. If the surviving step-spouse suffers from Alzheimer’s or experiences another serious disease, their judgement may become impaired.

All of these are risks that can be avoided, if proper estate planning is done by both parents while they are still well and living. Chief among these is a trust,  a simple will does not provide the level of control of assets needed in this situation. Don’t leave this to chance—there’s no way to know how things will work out.

A trust can be created, so the spouse will have access to assets while they are living. When they pass, the remainder of the trust can be distributed to the children.

If a family that has helped out two children more than others, as mentioned above, the relationships between the siblings that took time to establish need to be addressed, while the parents are still living. This can be done with a gifting strategy, where children who felt their needs were being overlooked may receive gifts of any size that might be appropriate, to stem any feelings of resentment.

That is not to say that parents need to use their estate to satisfy their children’s expectations. However, in the case of the family above, it is a reasonable solution for that particular family and their dynamics.

A good estate plan addresses the parent’s needs and takes the children’s needs into consideration. Every parent needs to address their children’s unique needs and be able to distinguish their needs from wants. A gifting strategy, trusts and other estate planning tools can be explored in a consultation with an experienced estate planning attorney, who creates estate plans specific to the unique needs of each family.

Reference: The Daily Sentinel (Dec. 16, 2020) “Estate Planning: A Trust Can Be Used to Protect Blended Families”

 

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What Do I Need to Know about Creating a Simple Will ?

A simple or basic will allows you to specifically say the way in which you want your assets to be distributed among your beneficiaries after your death. This can be a good starting point for creating a comprehensive estate plan because you may need more than just a basic will.

KAKE’s recent article entitled “What Is a Simple Will and How Do You Make One?” explains that a last will and testament is a legal document that states what you want to happen to your property and “worldly goods” when you die. A simple will can be used to designate an executor for the will and a legal guardian for minor children and specify who (or which organizations) should inherit your assets when you die.

A will must be approved in the probate process when you pass away. After the probate court reviews the will to make sure it’s valid, your executor will take care of the collection and distribution of assets listed in the will. Your executor would also be responsible for paying any debts owed by your estate.

Whether you need a basic will or something more complex, usually depends on a few factors, including your age, the size of your estate and if you have children (and their ages).

Having a will in place can be a good starting point for estate planning. However, deciding if it should be simple  will or complex will can depend on a number of factors, such as:

  • The size of your estate
  • The amount of estate tax you expect to owe
  • The type of assets and property you own
  • Whether you own a business
  • The number of beneficiaries you want to name
  • Whether the beneficiaries are individuals or organizations (like charities)
  • Any significant life changes you anticipate, like marriages, divorces, or having more children; and
  • Whether any of your children or beneficiaries have special needs.

With these situations, you may need a more detailed will to plan how you want your assets to be distributed. In any event, work with an experienced estate planning attorney. With life or financial changes, you may need to create a more complex will or consider a trust. It is smart to speak with an estate planning attorney, who can help you determine which components to include in your plan and help you keep it updated.

Reference: KAKE (Nov. 23, 2020) “What Is a Simple Will and How Do You Make One?”

 

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How Much Should We Tell the Children about the Estate Plan?

Congratulations, if you have finished your estate plan. You and your estate planning attorney created a plan that is suited for your family, you have checked on beneficiary designations, signed all of the necessary documents and named an executor to carry out your directions when you pass. However, have you talked about your estate plan with your adult children? That is the issue explored in the recent article entitled “What to tell your adult kids when planning your estate” from CNBC. It can be a tricky one.

There are certain parts of estate plans that should be shared with adult children, even if money is not among them. Family conflict is common in many cases, whether the estate is worth $50,000 or $50 million. So, even if your estate plan is perfect, it might hold a number of surprises for your children, if you don’t speak with them while you are living.

The best estate plan can bequeath resentment and enduring family conflicts, if family members don’t have a head’s up about what you’ve planned and why.

If you die without a will, there can be even more problems for the family. With no will—called dying “intestate”—it is up to the courts in your state to decide who inherits what. This is a public process, so your life’s work is on display for all to see. If your heirs have a history of fighting, especially over who deserves what, dying without a will can make a bad family situation worse.

Not everything about an estate plan has to do with distribution of possessions. Much of an estate plan is concerned with protecting you, while you are alive.

For starters, your estate planning attorney can help you with a Power of Attorney. You’ll name a person who will handle your finances, if you become unable to do so because of illness or injury. A Healthcare Power of Attorney is used to empower a trusted person to make medical decisions for you, if you are incapacitated. Some estate planning attorneys recommend having a Living Will, also called an Advance Healthcare Directive, to convey end-of-life wishes, if you want to be kept alive through artificial means.

These documents do not require that you name a family member. A friend or colleague you trust and know to be responsible can carry out your wishes and can be named to any of these positions.

All of these matters should be discussed with your children. Even if you don’t want them to know about the assets in your estate, they should be told who will be responsible for making decisions on your finances and health care.

Consider if you want your children to learn about your finances during your lifetime, when you are able to discuss your choices with them, or if they will learn about them after you have passed, possibly from a stranger or from reading court documents.

Many of these decisions depend upon your family’s dynamics. Do your children work well together, or are there deep-seated hostilities that will lead to endless battles? You know your own children best, so this is a decision only you can make.

It is also important to take into consideration that an unexpected large inheritance can create emotional turbulence for many people. If heirs have never handled any sizable finances before, or if they have a marriage on shaky ground, an unexpected inheritance could create very real problems—and a divorce could put their inheritance at risk.

Talk with your children, if at all possible. Erring on the side of over-communicating might be a better mistake than leaving them in the dark.

Reference: CNBC (Nov. 11, 2020) “What to tell your adult kids when planning your estate”

 

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