Can an Attorney Help with Estate Planning?
David Parker, Estate Planning Attorney

Can an Attorney Help with Estate Planning?

Creating an estate plan is a big job. Many of these decisions must be made to make certain that assets transfer to beneficiaries properly. That is why finding the right estate planning attorney in this process is critical.

Cleveland Jewish News’ recent article entitled “Attorney can help with estate planning process,” recommends always having an attorney because an estate plan also prepares someone for their eventual passing.

If you use an online program to create a will or power of attorney, you may not be doing it correctly—and the laws vary from state to state. Thus, to make certain that your will is accepted by the court and everything would be handled as you intended, using the services of an experienced estate planning attorney is highly recommended.

A big problem that happens when a person doesn’t use a lawyer, is they may not fill out the will clearly, or specifically state their beneficiaries. If this occurs, the will must go through an extended probate process. That’s a judge-supervised distribution of a deceased person’s assets, which can take weeks even months.

When seeking an attorney, it is important to find one who best suits your needs, circumstances, and expectations.

In some states, a person can opt for board-certified attorney. That’s a sign that they’re working with one of the best possible estate planning attorneys.

These lawyers are extremely qualified, specialists in estate planning.

To become a specialist, a lawyer must satisfy several bar requirements. They must practice in the area of estate planning and have a substantial amount of experience.

These lawyers must take annual continuing education courses. They must also pass a test and have periodic recommendations from peers.

You want to be sure your attorney has the experience to prepare your documents, so your wishes are clearly stated and to avoid any problems after you are gone.

Due to the stressful and emotional aspect of filing an estate plan, it’s important to feel understood by an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (March 17, 2021) “Attorney can help with estate planning process”

 

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How Do Special Needs Trusts Work?

A trust of any kind is a document that expresses your wishes while you are alive and after you have passed. The need for a dedicated special needs trust for loved ones differs with the situations or issues of the family. Getting this wrong can lead to financial devastation, explains the article “Take special care with Special Needs trusts” from the Herald Bulletin.

A Special Needs Trust or supplemental trust provides protection and management for assets for specific beneficiaries. The trustee is in charge of the assets in the trust during the grantor’s life or at his death and distributes to the beneficiary as directed by the trust.

The purpose of a Special Needs or supplemental trust is to help people who receive government benefits because they are physically or mentally challenged or are chronically ill. Most of these benefits are means-tested. The rules about outside income are very strict. An inheritance would disqualify a Special Needs person from receiving these benefits, possibly putting them in dire circumstances.

The value of assets placed in a Special Needs trust does not count against the benefits. However, this area of the law is complex, and requires the help of an experienced elder law estate planning attorney. Mistakes could have lifelong consequences.

The trustee manages assets and disperses funds when needed, or at the direction of the trust. Selecting a trustee is extremely important, since the duties of a Special Needs trust could span decades. The person in charge must be familiar with the government programs and benefits and stay up to date with any changes that might impact the decisions of when to release funds.

These are just a few of the considerations for a trustee:

  • How should disbursements be made, balancing current needs and future longevity?
  • Does the request align with the rules of the trust and the assistance program requirements?
  • Will anyone else benefit from the expenditure, family members or the trustee? The trustee has a fiduciary responsibility to protect the beneficiary, first and foremost.

Parents who leave life insurance, stocks, bonds, or cash to all children equally may be putting their Special Needs child in jeopardy. Well-meaning family members who wish to take care of their relative must be made aware of the risk of leaving assets to a Special Needs individual. These conversations should take place, no matter how awkward.

An experienced elder law estate planning attorney will be able to create a Special Needs trust that will work for the individual and for the family.

Reference: Herald Bulletin (March 13, 2021) “Take special care with Special Needs trusts”

 

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Remind Me Why I Need to get a Will

There are a number of reasons to get a will as soon as possible. If you die without a will (intestate), you leave decisions up to your state of residence according to its probate and intestacy laws. Without a will, you have no say as to who receives your assets or properties. Not having a will could also make it difficult for your family.

Legal Reader’s recent article entitled “Top 7 Reasons to Fill Out a Will” reminds us that, before it is too late, consider these reasons why a will is essential.

Avoid Family Disputes. This process occasionally will lead to disagreements among family members, if there’s no will or your wishes aren’t clear. A contested will can be damaging to relationships within your family and can be costly.

Avoid Costly and Lengthy Probate. A will expedites the probate process and tells the court the way in which you want your estate to be divided. Without a will, the court will decide how your estate will be divided, which can lead to unnecessary delays.

Deciding What Happens to Your Assets. A will is the only way you can state exactly to whom you want your assets to be given. Without a will, the court will decide.

Designating a Guardian for Your Children. Without a will, the court will determine who will take care of your minor children.

Eliminate Stress for Your Family. Most estates must go to probate court to start the process. However, if you have no will, the process can be complicated. The court must name personal representatives to administer your estate.

Protect Your Business. A will allows you to pass your business to your co-owners or heirs.

Provide A Home For Your Pets. If you have a will, you can make certain that someone will care for your pets if you die. The law considers pets as properties, so you are prohibited from leaving assets to your pets in your will. However, you can name beneficiaries for your pets, leaving them to a trusted person, and you can name people to serve as guardians of your pets and leave them funds to meet their needs.

Get a will with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney can give you and your family peace of mind and convenience in the future.

Reference: Legal Reader (Jan. 28, 2021) “Top 7 Reasons to Fill Out a Will”

 

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A Trust Fund can Work for ‘Regular’ People

A trust fund is an estate planning tool that can be used by anyone who wishes to pass their property to individuals, family members or nonprofits. They are used by wealthy people because they solve a number of wealth transfer problems and are equally applicable to people who aren’t mega-rich, explains this recent article from Forbes titled “Trust Funds: They’re Not Just For The Wealthy.”

A trust is a legal entity in the same way that a corporation is a legal entity. A trust is used in estate planning to own assets, as instructed by the terms of the trust. Terms commonly used in discussing trusts include:

  • Grantor—the person who creates the trust and places assets into the trust.
  • Beneficiary—the person or organization who will receive the assets, as directed by the trust documents.
  • Trustee—the person who ensures that the assets in the trust are properly managed and distributed to beneficiaries.

Trust Funds may contain a variety of property, from real estate to personal property, stocks, bonds and even entire businesses.

Certain assets should not be placed in a trust, and an estate planning attorney will know how and why to make these decisions. Retirement accounts and other accounts with named beneficiaries don’t need to be placed inside a trust, since the asset will go to the named beneficiaries upon death. They do not pass through probate, which is the process of the court validating the will and how assets are passed as directed by the will. However, there may be reasons to designate such accounts to pass to the trust and your attorney will advise you accordingly.

Assets are transferred into trusts in two main ways: the grantor transfers assets into the trust while living, often by retitling the asset, or by using their estate plan to stipulate that a trust will be created and retain certain assets upon their death.

Trusts are used extensively because they work. Some benefits of using a trust as part of an estate plan include:

Avoiding probate. Assets placed in a trust fund pass to beneficiaries outside of the probate process.

Protecting beneficiaries from themselves. Young adults may be legally able to inherit but that doesn’t mean they are capable of handling large amounts of money or property. Trusts can be structured to pass along assets at certain ages or when they reach particular milestones in life.

Protecting assets. Trusts can be created to protect inheritances for beneficiaries from creditors and divorces. A trust can be created to ensure a former spouse has no legal claim to the assets in the trust.

Tax liabilities. Transferring assets into an irrevocable trust means they are owned and controlled by the trust. For example, with a non-grantor irrevocable trust, the former owner of the assets does not pay taxes on assets in the trust during his or her life, and they are not part of the taxable estate upon death.

Caring for a Special Needs beneficiary. Disabled individuals who receive government benefits may lose those benefits, if they inherit directly. If you want to provide income to someone with special needs when you have passed, a Special Needs Trust (sometimes known as a Supplemental Needs trust) can be created. An experienced estate planning attorney will know how to do this properly.

Reference: Forbes (March 15, 2021) “Trust Funds: They’re Not Just For The Wealthy”

 

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What Should I Do with My Valuable Beanie Baby Collection?

Learning a foreign language, making wine and crafting are popular stay-at-home activities, there’s a new trend: childhood collections of Beanie Baby, baseball cards, comic books, video games, sneakers, model trains, and Barbie dolls are being uncovered and re-examined.

The Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Estate Planning for Your Collections May Be a Smart Decision to Make” explains that the legacy we leave isn’t always a lot of money or real estate. Artifacts and collections have a value that goes beyond dollars and cents. The importance of hobbies and collections in a person’s estate plan should be noted.

A collector should catalog their collection because an heir might have no idea what he’s holding. Is it a three-buck toy from the local department store or is it a Devi Kroell Barbie from 2010 that sells now for at least $1,100?

One way to start a catalog is to take photos on a smart phone and save them in a shared file called “My Collectible Beanie Baby.”

Next, get an idea what your collection is worth. You can get some idea by looking at prices for similar items on eBay prices. You also should be aware of the “grade” of your pieces. Is your Beanie Baby still in its original packaging in pristine condition, or has your niece chewed on it for a few years as a baby? Of course, the condition makes a huge difference in the price.

You can gift a collection to a trust through a gift memorandum and specifically listed it on a trust’s Schedule A. If the collectible has its own title, like your 1954 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible, the title can be transferred to the trust. When it’s part of a trust, a collectible can be distributed or maintained the way other trust assets are governed.

Trusts avoid probate and let a collector have more flexibility to control how her collection is handled, appreciated and sold.

Without a specific bequest in a last will, something like a Beanie Baby collection worth thousands of dollars may only be mentioned as “personal property” in a catch-all category for non-financial accounts or real estate belonging to the decedent. As a result, it’s lumped in with clothing, furniture and household items. An executor who is unfamiliar with Beanie Babies or Barbies may not know enough to maximize the collection’s value.

Some collectors dispose of an unwanted collection while they’re still alive. That is because the owner is the one who understands the market for the collectibles. Obtaining the best prices and letting your heirs  use the windfall for their individual plans may be a win-win.

Reference: The Wealth Advisor (Feb. 2, 2021) “Estate Planning for Your Collections May Be a Smart Decision to Make”

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If My Estate Is the Beneficiary of My IRA , How Is It Taxed?

The named beneficiary of an IRA can have important tax consequences, says nj.com’s recent article entitled “How is tax paid when an estate is the beneficiary of an IRA?”

If an estate is the beneficiary of an IRA, or if there’s no designated beneficiary, the estate is usually designated beneficiary by default. In that case, the IRA must be paid to the estate. As a result, the account owner’s will or the state law (if there was no will and the owner died intestate) would determine who’d inherit the IRA.

An individual retirement account or “IRA” is a tax-advantaged account that people can use to save and invest for retirement.

There are several types of IRAs—Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs and SIMPLE IRAs. Each one of these has its own distinct rules regarding eligibility, taxation and withdrawals. However, with any, if you withdraw money from an IRA before age 59½, you’re usually subject to an early-withdrawal penalty of 10%.

A designated beneficiary is an individual who inherits the balance of an individual retirement account (IRA) or after the death of the asset’s owner.

However, if a “non-individual” is the beneficiary of an IRA, the funds must be distributed within five years, if the account owner died before his/her required beginning date for distributions, which was changed to age 72 last year when Congress passed the SECURE Act.

If the owner dies after his/her required beginning date, the account must then be distributed over his/her remaining single life expectancy.

The income tax on these distributions is payable by the estate. A compressed tax bracket is used.

As such, the highest tax rate of 37% is paid on this income when total income of the estate reaches $12,950.

For individuals, the 37% tax bracket isn’t reached until income is above $518,400 or $622,050 if filing as married.

Therefore, you can see why it’s not wise to leave your IRA to your estate. It’s not tax-efficient and generally should be avoided.

Reference: nj.com (Feb. 26, 2021) “How is tax paid when an estate is the beneficiary of an IRA?”

 

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Estate Planning and a Second Marriage

In California, a community property state, a resident can bequeath (leave) 100% of their separate property assets and half of their community property assets. A resident may only bequeath the entirety of a community property asset to someone other than their spouse with their spouse’s consent or acquiescence. This can be extremely important to those in second marriages with prior children.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Estate planning for second marriages” asks, first, does the individual’s (the testator) spouse even need support? If they don’t, a testator typically leaves his or her separate property assets directly to his or her own children. However, because the surviving spouse is an heir of the testator, his or her will and/or trust must acknowledge the marriage and say that the spouse is not inheriting. Otherwise, the surviving spouse as heir may be entitled either to a one-half or one-third share in the testator’s separate property, along with all of the couple’s community property assets. The surviving spouse would inherit, if the testator died intestate (with no will) or he or she passed with an outdated will he or she signed before this marriage that left out the current spouse.

If the spouse needs support, consider the assets and family relationships. Determine if the assets are the surviving spouse’s separate property from prior to marriage or from inheritance while married. It is also important to know if the testator’s spouse and children get along and whether it’s possible for the beneficiaries to inherit separate assets. If the testator’s surviving spouse and children aren’t on good terms and/or are close in age, and if it’s possible for separate assets to go to each party, perhaps they should inherit separate assets outright and part company. If not, it can get heated and complicated quickly. For example, the testator’s house could be left to his or her children and a retirement plan goes to the testator’s spouse.

If that type of set-up doesn’t work, a testator might consider making the spouse a lifetime beneficiary of a trust that owns some or all of an individual’s assets. A trust requires careful drafting, so work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Next, determine if the children need support, and if so, what kind of support, such as Supplemental Security Income. Also think about whether the children can manage an outright inheritance or if a special needs or a support trust is required.

This just scratches the surface of this complex topic. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about your specific situation.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Feb. 23, 2021) “Estate planning for second marriages”

 

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Estate Planning for a Blended Family

When you do your estate planning, you should understand some of the issues that can arise for a blended family . The Williamson Herald  in Franklin, TN recently published an article entitled “Blended families can avoid estate planning challenges.” According to the article, you can rest easy knowing that you’re not alone. Over 50% of married or cohabiting couples with at least one living parent, or parent-in-law, and at least one adult child, have a “step-kin” relationship. That makes for a lot of estate-planning issues. However, this doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Let’s look at some ideas that may help:

Try to be fair but be flexible. It is not always easy to be as equitable as you would like in your estate plans, and often a person can feel they have been treated unfairly. In a blended family, these problems can be even worse. Remember that fair isn’t always equal, and equal is not always fair. When dividing your assets, you will need to make some decisions after carefully evaluating the needs of all your family members. There’s no guarantee that all of your family will be satisfied with your determinations, but you’ll have done your best.

Be clear in your communications. It’s best to have no surprises in estate planning, and that’s especially true in a blended family. Take the time to involve other family members and make your wishes and goals known. Just give them an overall outline.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about a revocable living trust. Everyone’s circumstances are unique, but many blended families discover that a simple will isn’t enough estate planning. Therefore, you may want to create a revocable living trust. This can provide you with more control than a will, when it comes to carrying out your wishes. Moreover, because you’ve transferred your assets to the trust, you’re no longer technically the owner of these assets. As such, the probate court isn’t involved, and your estate can likely avoid the time-consuming, expensive, and public process of probate.

Find the right trustee. If you do create up a living trust, you also must designate a trustee. That’s a person who will manages the trust assets. Married couples frequently serve as co-trustees, but this can cause tensions and disagreements. As another option, you can hire a professional trustee. This may be a person or an entity with the time, experience, and neutrality to make appropriate decisions and who can bring new ideas to the process.

Estate planning can be complex with a blended family, so read up on these issues and speak to an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Williamson Herald (Franklin, TN) (Feb. 18, 2021) “Blended families can avoid estate planning challenges”

 

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What Is a SLAT in Estate Planning?

A SLAT is a type of irrevocable trust that can only be used by married couples for the benefit of a spouse, children, or other beneficiaries. Is a SLAT right for your family? The recent article titled “Should a SLAT Be Part Of Your Estate Planning?” from Forbes examines when a SLAT works, and when it doesn’t.

A SLAT works well while your spouse is alive. They have access to it and the assets it contains, since they are the beneficiary. As of this writing, up to $11,700,000 of assets can be removed from a taxable estate using your federal estate tax exemption, while your spouse continues to have access to the assets.

Sounds like a win-win, doesn’t it? However, there are drawbacks. If your spouse dies, you lose access to the assets. They will pass to the remainder beneficiaries in the trust, typically children, but they can be other beneficiaries of your choice.

If you and your spouse divorce, the spouse is still a beneficiary of the SLAT. Ask your estate planning attorney if this is something they can build into the SLAT but be mindful that if the attorney is representing both spouses for estate planning, there will be ethical considerations that could get tricky.

What about a SLAT for each spouse? If you and your spouse both establish SLATs to benefit each other, you run the risk of the “reciprocal trust doctrine.” The IRS could take the position that the trusts cancel each other out, and rule that the only reason for the SLAT was to remove taxable assets from your estate.

The SLATs need to be different from each other in more than a few ways. Your estate planning attorney will need to develop this with you. A few ways to structure two SLATs:

  • Create them at different times. The more time between their creation, the better.
  • Consider establishing the trusts in different states.
  • Have different trustees.
  • Vary the distribution rules for the surviving spouse and the distribution rules upon the death of the second spouse. For instance, one spouse’s trust could hold the assets in lifetime trusts for the children, while the other spouse’s trust could terminate, and assets be distributed to the children when they reach age 40.

The SLAT is an especially useful way to address tax liability. If you have not maxed out lifetime gifts in 2020, now is the time to start this process. December 2025, when the federal estate tax exemption reverts back to $5 million, will be here faster than you think. If the country needs to find revenue quickly, that change may come even sooner. Tax reform that occurs in 2021 is not likely to be retroactive to January 1, 2021, but there are no guarantees.

Reference: Forbes (Feb. 16, 2021) “Should a SLAT Be Part Of Your Estate Planning?”

 

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