Estate Planning Blog Articles

Estate & Business Planning Law Firm Serving the Providence & Cranston, RI Areas

How Can Older Adults Not Get Scammed?

Everyone becomes more vulnerable to scams and financial abuse as we age into our later years, reports a recent article from Kiplinger, “Seven Ways to Protect Older Adults from Financial Abuse.” Older people are swindled out of more than $3 billion every year, and more than 3.5 million people are victims of financial exploitation every year. Protecting financial well-being requires prevention, which also applies to younger adults.

Maintain a heightened awareness level. Talk with family members about the potential risks from thieves, online and in real life. Know that exploitation by family members is just as likely, sometimes more so, than by strangers.

Maintain open communication. Just like meeting with an estate planning attorney regularly to ensure legal affairs are in order, check in with trusted loved ones about their financial status regularly. Talking about money among families can be challenging, depending on the family’s history and dynamics. Nevertheless, an open and ongoing dialogue will help with early detection and prevention of financial abuse.

Arrange for a Durable Power of Attorney. The person selected as a Power of Attorney (POA) should be trustworthy and capable of managing finances in case of incapacity. Talk with your estate planning attorney about whether you need to apply certain limitations for your POA or if it should be a broad document. If you are a “solo ager,” you may want to ask your estate planning attorney to act as your POA.

Make sure your estate planning is in order. Estate planning is an essential area of protection for people of any age, especially older adults. If your will, trust, or estate planning documents have not been updated in more than four years, it’s time to make an appointment with your attorney. There are many legal options for safeguarding assets and ensuring that your wishes are followed.

Monitor accounts regularly. Reviewing monthly statements from investments, banks and other accounts is essential for protecting assets. A few simple steps can avert fraud, including freezing credit, setting stricter controls on social media and setting phones to send unknown callers to voicemail.

Signing up for financial account and credit monitoring helps detect irregularities or unauthorized transactions. Allowing a trusted loved one to monitor accounts may make sense, depending on support needs and comfort level.

Safeguard personal information. If you’re using your birthday or your pet’s name as a password, it’s time for new passwords. The digital world has increased risks, and endless scammers with highly technical skills exist. Consider using two-factor authentication where possible—you can’t get into your account until you confirm with a code sent to your phone, text, or email. It is an added step and effective in protecting accounts.

Stay Up to Date on Scams. Financial scams come and go in waves, like fashion. Some people still receive emails about having been chosen by an overseas family who needs to bring huge wealth to America. Others have been targeted by romantic scammers on dating websites. There are Medicare scams, charity scams, IRS impersonation scams, sweepstakes scams and grandparent scams. In other words, thieves try to access accounts and funds in many ways. Be vigilant!

Reference: Kiplinger (Jan. 8, 2024) “Seven Ways to Protect Older Adults from Financial Abuse”

3 Signs You Definitely Need a Trust (and Not Just a Will)

Estate planning is akin to crafting a roadmap for the future; it’s about guiding your loved ones through the maze of your final wishes with clarity and ease. At the heart of this journey lie two pivotal tools: wills and trusts. While both serve to shepherd your assets posthumously, certain situations demand the finesse of a trust over the simplicity of a will. In this piece, we’ll illuminate the scenarios in which a trust isn’t just a choice, but a necessity.

Understanding Wills vs. Trusts

A will is your voice from beyond, a document that speaks on your behalf after you’re gone. It outlines who gets what, who’s in charge and even who cares for your children. Simple and straightforward, right?

Enter the trust. This legal entity takes hold of your assets, managing and distributing them according to your precise instructions, both during your lifetime and after. Unlike a will, a trust offers a private, probate-free path tailored to complex or unique personal circumstances.

The difference? It’s like comparing a hand-drawn map to a GPS; both guide you to your destination, but one offers a path laden with potential roadblocks and public scrutiny (the will), while the other navigates you through a streamlined, private route (the trust).

You Have a Blended Family

Blended families are like tapestries – intricate, colorful and diverse. However, this beauty can result in complexity when it comes to estate planning. With children, stepchildren and multiple parents involved, a will’s one-size-fits-all approach may unravel the fabric you’ve so carefully woven.

A trust, however, can be the tailor to your tapestry. It allows you to:

  1. Specify exact allocations: Deciding who gets what, when and how.
  2. Protect your children’s inheritance: Ensuring that your children, not just your spouse’s, benefit from your estate.
  3. Avoid unintended consequences: Preventing your assets from unintentionally passing to a new spouse’s children in the event of remarriage.

You Own Property in Multiple States

Owning property in different states is like having multiple anchors in diverse ports. A will, however, could make your loved ones set sail on a stormy probate sea in every state in which you own property. Each state’s probate process can be costly and time-consuming, lengthening the time before your beneficiaries can claim their inheritance.

A trust, on the other hand, unifies these disparate anchors. It allows for:

  1. Centralized management: One entity handling all properties, irrespective of location.
  2. Smoother transition: Bypassing multiple state probate processes.
  3. Cost and time efficiency: Reducing legal fees and administrative delays.

You Value Privacy and Want to Avoid Probate

The probate process is like a stage where your will is the star – open for all to see. This public airing of your estate can be uncomfortable, exposing your assets and beneficiaries to outside eyes.

A trust, conversely, is the private screening of your final act. It shields your estate from the public eye and sidesteps the time-consuming, often costly, probate process. With a trust you’re not just planning; you’re protecting.

Additional Considerations

When it comes to estate planning, one size does not fit all. The decision between a will and a trust should be weighed with:

  • Tax implications: Understanding how each option affects your estate tax-wise.
  • Personalized solutions: Every estate is unique, and so should be its plan.

In the tapestry of estate planning, trusts emerge as a nuanced, flexible thread, weaving through the complexities of blended families, multi-state properties and privacy concerns. If these signs resonate with your situation, it might be time to consider a trust.

Remember, the best estate plan is one tailored to your unique story. We encourage you to seek professional estate guidance to navigate these waters.

Life Insurance and Estate Planning

The Importance of Incorporating Life Insurance into Your Estate Plan

Life insurance is a pivotal component of a comprehensive estate plan. Integrating life insurance policies into estate planning can provide financial security for your heirs and ensure that your estate is distributed according to your wishes. When used effectively, life insurance can solve a range of estate planning challenges, from providing immediate cash flow to beneficiaries to helping cover estate tax liabilities.

Incorporating life insurance into your estate plan requires careful consideration of the type of policy that best suits your needs, whether term life insurance for temporary coverage or whole life insurance for permanent protection. It’s essential to understand the insurance company’s role in managing these policies and ensuring that they align with your overall estate objectives.

How Can Life Insurance Be Used in Estate Planning?

Life insurance can play a crucial role in estate planning. It can provide a death benefit to cover immediate expenses after your passing, such as funeral costs and debts, thereby alleviating financial burdens on your heirs. Furthermore, life insurance proceeds can be used to pay estate taxes, ensuring that your beneficiaries receive their inheritance without liquidating other estate assets.

When selecting life insurance for estate planning purposes, it’s important to consider the different types of policies available, such as term insurance for short-term needs and permanent insurance for long-term planning. An insurance agent can be a valuable resource in this process, helping to determine the right policy type for your estate planning goals.

Choosing the Right Beneficiary for Your Life Insurance Policy

Designating the appropriate beneficiary is crucial in using life insurance for estate planning. The beneficiary should align with your overall estate plan, ensuring the death benefit supports your intended estate distribution. Reviewing and updating your beneficiary designations regularly is vital, especially after significant life events like marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child.

Heirs named as beneficiaries will receive the insurance death benefit directly, which can provide them with immediate financial support and help them manage any inheritance or estate inheritance they receive from your other assets.

The Role of Life Insurance Trusts in Estate Planning

Life insurance trusts, particularly irrevocable life insurance trusts (ILITs), play a significant role in estate planning. By placing a life insurance policy within a trust, you can exert greater control over how the death benefit is distributed among your beneficiaries. The trust owns the policy, removing it from your taxable estate and potentially reducing estate tax liabilities.

An irrevocable trust is especially beneficial since it ensures that the proceeds from the life insurance policy are used according to the terms you’ve set, such as funding a trust for a child with special needs or providing for a specific heir.

The Benefits of Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts

An irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) offers several benefits in estate planning. Since the trust is irrevocable, it provides a layer of protection against creditors and legal judgments, ensuring that the life insurance payout is used solely for the benefit of your designated beneficiaries.

Setting up an ILIT requires careful planning and adherence to legal guidelines. The trustee you appoint will manage the trust and oversee the life insurance death benefit distribution according to your specified terms.

Estate Planning with Different Types of Life Insurance

Understanding the different types of life insurance is crucial in estate planning. Term life insurance offers coverage for a specified period and is often used for short-term estate planning needs, such as providing financial support to minor children. On the other hand, permanent life insurance policies, like whole life or universal life insurance, offer lifelong coverage and can build cash value over time, which can be an asset in your overall estate.

When considering life insurance in estate planning, it’s important to evaluate how the death benefit of a life insurance policy will impact your estate’s overall financial picture and the inheritance your heirs will receive.

Life Insurance and Federal Estate Tax Considerations

Life insurance can be a strategic tool in managing federal estate tax obligations. The proceeds from a life insurance policy are typically not subject to federal income tax. However, they can still be included in your gross estate for estate tax purposes, depending on the ownership of the policy.

To minimize estate tax impact, you might consider establishing an irrevocable life insurance trust, which removes the policy from your taxable estate. This strategy can be particularly effective in estates approaching or exceeding the federal estate tax exclusion limit.

How Life Insurance Can Help Pay Estate Taxes

One of the primary uses of life insurance in estate planning is to provide funds to pay estate taxes. This is especially relevant for larger estates that may face significant federal and state estate taxes. The death benefit from a life insurance policy can be used to cover these taxes, ensuring that your heirs do not have to liquidate other estate assets to meet tax obligations.

In planning for estate taxes, working with professionals, such as estate attorneys and tax advisors, is essential to ensure that your life insurance coverage aligns with your anticipated tax liabilities.

The Role of Life Insurance in Providing for Heirs and Beneficiaries

Life insurance can offer substantial financial support to your heirs and beneficiaries upon your passing. Whether providing for a spouse, children, or other dependents, life insurance can ensure that your loved ones are cared for financially. This is particularly important in cases where other estate assets are not readily liquid or if you wish to leave a specific inheritance to certain beneficiaries.

When selecting life insurance for this purpose, consider the needs of your heirs, their ability to manage a large sum of money and how the death benefit will complement other aspects of your estate plan.

Summary: Key Points to Remember in Life Insurance and Estate Planning

  • Life Insurance as a Financial Tool: Understand the different types of life insurance and how they fit into your estate plan.
  • Beneficiary Designations: Regularly review and update your beneficiary designations to align with your estate planning goals.
  • Life Insurance Trusts: Consider using irrevocable life insurance trusts to control the distribution of your life insurance proceeds.
  • Federal Estate Tax Planning: Utilize life insurance to address potential estate tax liabilities, especially in larger estates.
  • Providing for Heirs: Choose the right life insurance policy to ensure that your heirs are financially supported according to your wishes.

In conclusion, life insurance plays a vital role in comprehensive estate planning. By carefully selecting the right type of policy, designating appropriate beneficiaries and considering the use of trusts, you can ensure that your estate plan effectively addresses your financial goals and provides for your loved ones after your passing.

Guide to Incapacity Planning: Protecting Yourself and Your Estate

Incapacity planning is a crucial aspect of managing your estate and ensuring that your wishes are honored if you cannot make decisions for yourself. This article will examine the various components of incapacity planning, offering comprehensive advice for anyone looking to secure their future.

What Is Incapacity Planning?

Incapacity planning involves preparing legal documents and making decisions in advance should you become unable to manage your affairs due to illness, injury, or other reasons. This process ensures that your financial, health and personal preferences are respected and handled according to your wishes.

Understanding the Basics

Incapacity planning isn’t just for the elderly; unexpected life events can happen at any age. It’s about taking control of your future, regardless of what may happen. This planning includes choosing who will make decisions on your behalf and outlining your wishes for medical treatment and financial management.

The Importance of Early Planning

The best time to plan is now. Waiting until you’re incapacitated leaves your loved ones with difficult decisions and could lead to court involvement. Early planning ensures that your wishes are clear and legally documented.

What Is a Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal document allowing you to appoint someone to handle your affairs if you cannot. There are different types of POAs, each with specific functions.

Financial Power of Attorney

This document grants someone authority to manage your financial matters, from paying bills to handling investments. Choosing someone trustworthy and capable of managing your finances effectively is essential.

Medical Power of Attorney

Also known as a healthcare proxy, this allows someone to make medical decisions on your behalf. Discussing your wishes with this person is crucial, ensuring that they understand your preferences for medical treatment.

What Role Does a Trust Play in Incapacity Planning?

A trust is a legal arrangement where a trustee holds assets on behalf of a beneficiary. Trusts can be particularly useful in incapacity planning.

Revocable Living Trust

This type of trust allows you to maintain control over your assets while alive and capable. In the event of incapacity, a successor trustee can manage the trust assets according to your wishes.

Using Trusts to Avoid Guardianship

By setting up a trust, you can avoid needing a court-appointed guardian or conservator, since the trust’s instructions will guide how your assets are managed.

How Can I Ensure That My Medical Wishes are Respected?

Documenting your healthcare preferences is a vital part of incapacity planning. This ensures that your medical treatment aligns with your values and wishes.

Living Wills and Healthcare Directives

A living will or healthcare directive outlines your wishes for medical treatment, including end-of-life care. This can include specific instructions on issues, like life support and feeding tubes.

HIPAA Authorization

The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), known as the Privacy Rule, gives individuals rights over their health information and sets rules and limits on who can look at and receive a person’s health information. A HIPAA authorization is a legal document that enables your healthcare providers to share your medical information with the individuals you’ve designated.

Healthcare Surrogate or Medical Agent

While the HIPAA authorization allows chosen individuals to receive or view your healthcare information, a healthcare surrogate or medical agent is an authorized individual who can make decisions for your medical care when you cannot.

What Happens If I don’t have an Incapacity Plan?

Without a plan, your family may face legal hurdles and difficult decisions. They may need to seek guardianship or conservatorship, which can be time-consuming, expensive, and stressful.

The Risk of Court Intervention

Without proper documents, a court may appoint someone to make decisions for you who might not align with your preferences. This can lead to family disputes and added emotional stress.

Ensuring Your Wishes are Followed

An effective incapacity plan helps avoid these issues, ensuring that your wishes are known and respected and that someone you trust makes decisions on your behalf.

How Do I Choose the Right People to Act on My Behalf?

Choosing the right individuals to make decisions for you is crucial. They should be people you trust, who understand your values and are willing to act in your best interests.

Selecting a Health Care Proxy

Your healthcare proxy appointee should understand your medical preferences and be willing to advocate on your behalf, even under challenging circumstances.

Choosing a Financial Proxy

Selecting someone with financial acumen and integrity is essential for managing your financial affairs. This person should be organized, responsible and understand your financial goals well.

Can Incapacity Planning Reduce Estate Taxes?

While incapacity planning primarily focuses on managing your affairs during life, it can also affect estate taxes. Proper planning can help manage your estate efficiently, potentially reducing tax liabilities.

Summary: Key Points to Remember

  • Start Early: Don’t wait until it’s too late to start planning.
  • Appoint Trusted Individuals: Choose people you trust to make decisions on your behalf.
  • Document Your Wishes: Clearly outline your healthcare and financial management preferences.
  • Consider a Trust: Trusts can provide a streamlined way to manage your assets if you become incapacitated.
  • Legal Advice: Consult an estate planning attorney to ensure that your plan meets your needs and complies with legal requirements.

Incapacity planning is not just about protecting your assets; it’s about ensuring your wishes are honored and providing peace of mind for you and your loved ones. With the right planning, you can safeguard your future, no matter what it holds.

What Is the Biggest Mistake People Make on Their Wills?

Making mistakes in your estate planning can torpedo every effort made to protect your family after you die, warns a recent article from Kiplinger, “Common Estate Planning Mistakes.” Everyone benefits from a professionally-made comprehensive estate plan, a process for preparing your legal and financial affairs so assets and possessions are passed on after your death to the people or charities you want.

Not having an estate plan can create a world of trouble for those you love. The biggest estate planning mistake of all is not having an estate plan. After that, there are several others.

Procrastination. Suppose you unexpectedly become incapacitated and don’t have an estate plan. In that case, your family will be left guessing what you would want your medical care to be, in addition to needing to go to court to apply for guardianship so they can pay your bills and keep your household running. Everyone should have documents like Health Care Power of Attorney, Power of Attorney, HIPAA Release Form and Living Will in place.

Trying to make an estate plan on your own. Unless you’re an experienced estate planning attorney, there’s a lot you could leave out if you attempt a DIY estate plan. If there are errors, a court could declare your will invalid and it’s as if you never had a will in the first place. The laws of your state will be used to distribute your assets. It may not be what you had in mind.

Keeping estate planning documents in a safe or safe deposit box. Documents need to be where someone can get them in an emergency or after your passing. Safety deposit boxes are often sealed on the death of the owner. Give copies of your estate plan to your appointed executor or trustee, a trusted family member and your estate planning attorney.

Missing key documents. If your estate plan lacks key documents, your heirs might find themselves battling over the estate. Make sure your estate plan includes these documents:

  • Last will and testament—This document outlines all final wishes and instructions for distributing your assets and how you want your affairs managed after you die. It also is used to name a guardian for minor children and an executor to oversee the instructions in the will.
  • Beneficiary designations—Any account allowing for beneficiaries, including IRAs, pension plans, investment accounts and insurance policies, will pass directly to named beneficiaries. Be sure that these are up to date.
  • Durable power of attorney for medical care—Allows another person to make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated. Depending on your jurisdiction, it may include an advanced healthcare directive, which gives your instructions on whether or not to use life support.
  • Funeral instructions—Do you want a traditional burial? Cremation? Tell your family your wishes for a funeral or memorial service.
  • Proof of identity—Your Social Security card, birth certificate, marriage and/or divorce certificate and any prenuptial agreements will be needed for administering the estate.
  • Deeds or loan documents for large assets—Collect paperwork for homes, boats and other big assets.

Digital assets. These include websites, cloud storage, social media accounts and cryptocurrency, to name a few. By assigning a digital fiduciary and sharing key information, you help heirs avoid identity theft and lost assets.

Failing to update your plan. Your estate plan needs to reflect the changes in your life. If your estate plan is outdated, you may unintentionally disinherit beneficiaries.

Appointing the wrong person as executor or trustee. If your eldest child is a disaster with money management, don’t name them your executor. Consider a trusted person who is unbiased and able to manage money and family dynamics and talk with them about taking on this role before appointing them to this critical role.

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 30, 2023) “Common Estate Planning Mistakes”

What’s the Age Cut-Off for a Roth IRA?

Roth IRAs aren’t just for young people, as long as you meet the criteria regarding income, how much you may contribute and when you’re eligible for penalty-free withdrawals. A recent article, “Are You Too Old to Benefit From a Roth IRA?” from U.S. News & World Report, explains the benefits and requirements for older workers considering a Roth IRA.

Requirements for a Roth IRA

Once you meet the qualifications, you can add funds to a Roth IRA at any age. In 2024, the contribution limit Is $7,000 or $8,000 if you’re 50 or older. The account must be open for at least five years to take penalty-free withdrawals in retirement. If you take funds out early, you could face penalties, and contributions to a Roth IRA may only be made from earned income.

A single person may add funds to a Roth IRA if they earn up to $146,000. After that, the amount you may contribute is phased out until income reaches $161,000, after which you can’t add funds directly to the account. For married couples, the income threshold is less than $230,000.

Roth IRA Tax Benefits

Funds are taxed before they go into a Roth IRA account, giving the advantage of the account the tax-free distributions of contributions and earnings. In addition to the five-year rule, you’ll need to meet these eligibility requirements:

  • The original owner dies, and you inherit the Roth IRA.
  • The owner is at least 59 ½ years old.
  • The owner meets disability requirements.
  • The distribution is used for first-time homeowner expenses of up to $10,000.

Age Considerations

If you’re in your 70s and still working, there are some facts to consider before opening a Roth IRA. The tax-free growth of Roth IRAs works best as the holding period increases. The up-front tax costs may be very high if you’re in your highest income level and a higher tax bracket. This makes a Roth IRA more advantageous for younger contributors. However, if you work part-time, your lower taxable income might make the Roth IRA an excellent way to save.

Passing Funds to Heirs

With traditional IRAs or 401(k)s, Required Minimum Distributions start at a certain age, usually after celebrating your 73rd birthday. However, there are no RMDs for Roth IRAs, and the funds remaining in the account after you die could be passed on tax-free. Beneficiaries may inherit the Roth IRA while allowing it to grow tax-deferred for up to ten years, then take the money without paying taxes.

Opening a Roth IRA later in life should be coordinated with your overall retirement and estate plan to be sure it works in concert with your overall estate plan. When reviewing your estate plan, it’s something to discuss with your estate planning attorney.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Dec. 29, 2023) “Are You Too Old to Benefit From a Roth IRA?”

How Do You Plan a Business Succession?

When business owners die without estate or succession plans, chaos ensues as family members clash over leadership decisions and determining the direction of the business. Even the closest families can quickly descend into a battlefield of hurt feelings, endless arguments and faction-building, according to the article “How to Make Your Business Outlive You” from next avenue.

Family disagreements often escalate into legal disputes. Lacking leadership, businesses spiral downward and often must be liquidated, leaving behind broken families with severely depleted assets.

This scenario occurs in small businesses on a regular basis. Owners with the vision and tenacity to take their ideas and create a successful enterprise are often so passionate that they can’t imagine the business without them.

A well-defined succession plan matters to more than just the family and their customers. According to the Small Business Association, businesses with less than 500 employees account for 99.9% of all firms in the U.S., 43.5% of the country’s total economic output, and just under 66% of new jobs created. A well-designed succession plan contributes to the national economy,

Having a succession plan in place protects the business and the family from unforeseen circumstances and creates a roadmap for the future. What is the best time to start? When all is well, leaders are healthy and there’s no internal drama.

Start by contemplating your legacy. How do you want your family and employees to benefit from the value created by the business? Clarifying this will drive much of what follows.

Seek professional guidance. An estate planning attorney should be one of several professionals to ensure that the plan complies with laws and regulations in your jurisdiction. You also want to be sure your business succession plan aligns with your estate plan. Otherwise, the resulting confusion could lead to prolonged difficulties and even litigation.

You’ll need a power of attorney for someone to be able to make decisions if the business owner becomes incapacitated. A buy-sell agreement establishes a fair market value for the company. Life and disability insurance policies provide financial security for the owner and key personnel.

Put it in legally enforceable documents. Discussions only go so far. Executing a formal series of documents ensures that the plan will be enforceable by a court if needed. Language should be clear, with no ambiguity, to transfer ownership and business shares.

Potential successors need to be identified. Will everyone step up to the next level if the business owner becomes incapacitated or dies? This isn’t always the best solution. Sometimes, skills override structure.

Reviewing and updating the business plan should be done as often as you update an estate plan. Whenever there is a major event in the business, review the plan to see if it is still relevant.

A succession plan is all about legacy, continuity, safeguarding a business, letting employees know they are valued and reducing volatility in the family’s future. It allows the business owner to communicate their values and vision, even if they are not present to be part of the future.

Reference: next avenue (Dec. 12, 2023) “How to Make Your Business Outlive You”

What Should I Do to Get My Affairs in Order?

Estate planning is one of the most important tasks you can do for your family. It has many different steps. Using a checklist can help be sure your wishes are met and simplify the process for loved ones, according to an article from Forbes, “Estate Planning Checklist: Get Your Affairs In Order.” Every plan is different. However, there are several primary steps everyone needs to take to protect their future and secure their legacy.

Identifying What Needs to Happen to Protect Wealth: Asset protection is crucial to estate planning. One way to do this is to create a Medicaid protection plan. Nursing home care is expensive and not covered by Medicare or other medical insurance, except in very limited situations. Medicaid does cover custodial care in a nursing home. However, you need limited assets to qualify. A Medicaid plan helps ensure that you can access care while protecting wealth. Ask your estate planning attorney about a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust.

You may also need to protect assets against creditor claims, be sure an irresponsible heir doesn’t burn through any inheritance, or take steps to limit or avoid estate taxes. All of these can be accomplished with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Consider Your Heirs and Their Needs: You may face unique circumstances impacting the people who inherit your wealth or your ability to provide for them. For instance, a direct inheritance could jeopardize their eligibility if your family includes a special needs individual who receives government benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid. You may need to have a Special Needs Trust (SNT) created.

Other issues to consider when creating your estate plan include leaving money or other assets to minor children not old enough to inherit or manage funds or leaving money to someone you don’t trust to manage it. By thinking about who you wish to provide for, you can make informed choices about the strategies and tools used to create your estate plan.

A Plan to Transfer Assets: Once you’ve clarified your heirs’ needs and any potential threats to your wealth, you’ll be better positioned to create an estate plan to facilitate the transfer of your property to the people or charities you want after death.

Your estate plan will likely include the following:

  • A last will and testament.
  • Pay-on-death accounts.
  • Jointly owned property.
  • Revocable Trusts.
  • Irrevocable Trusts.

Prepare for Incapacity: Preparing for possible incapacity should be a key part of your estate planning checklist. This includes:

  • Creating a durable power of attorney—to allow someone of your choosing to act on your behalf in managing assets and making decisions for you.
  • Naming a healthcare proxy—giving someone the power to make medical decisions for you.
  • Creating a living will—allowing you to convey your wishes for medical care regarding being kept alive by artificial means.

Address Other Issues: If you have minor children, your will is used to name a guardian. You may also mention your pets and designate a person to care for them and arrange financial support for their lifetime. You can also include instructions for your funeral, although the will may not be reviewed for a while after your passing. Talk with your estate planning attorney about how to best handle this in your jurisdiction.

Reference: Forbes (Dec. 25, 2023) “Estate Planning Checklist: Get Your Affairs In Order”

What Is the Advantage of a Step-Up Basis for Estates?

The adjustment in the cost basis is sometimes overlooked in estate planning, even though it can be a tax game-changer. Under this tax provision, an inherited asset’s cost basis is determined not by what the original owner paid but by the value of the asset when it is inherited after the original owner’s death.

Since most assets appreciate over time, as explained in the article “Maximizing Inheritance With A Step Up” from Montgomery County News, this adjustment is often referred to as a “step-up” basis. A step-up can create significant tax savings when assets are sold and is a valuable way for beneficiaries to maximize their inheritance.

In most cases, assets included in the decedent’s overall estate will receive an adjustment in basis. Stocks, land, and business interests are all eligible for a basis adjustment. Others, such as Income in Respect of the Decedent (IRD), IRAs, 401(k)s, and annuities, are not eligible.

Under current tax law, the cost basis is the asset’s value on the date of the original owner’s death. The asset may technically accrue little to no gain, depending on how long they hold it before selling it and other factors regarding its valuation. The heir could face little to no capital gains tax on the asset’s sale.

Of course, it’s not as simple as this, and your estate planning attorney should review assets to determine their eligibility for a step-up. Some assets may decrease in value over time, while assets owned jointly between spouses may have different rules for basis adjustments when one of the spouses passes. The rules are state-specific, so check with a local estate planning attorney.

To determine whether the step-up basis is helpful, clarify estate planning goals. Do you own a vacation home you want to leave to your children or investments you plan to leave to grandchildren? Does your estate plan include philanthropy? Reviewing your current estate plan through the lens of a step-up in basis could lead you to make some changes.

Let’s say you bought 20,000 shares of stock ten years ago for $20 a share, with the original cost-basis being $400,000. Now, the shares are worth $40 each, for a total of $800,000. You’d like your adult children to inherit the stock.

There are several options here. You could sell the shares, pay the taxes, and give your children cash. You could directly transfer the shares, and they’d receive the same basis in your stock at $20 per share. You could also name your children as beneficiaries of the shares.

As long as the shares are in a taxable account and included in your gross estate when you die, your heirs will get an adjustment in basis based on the fair market value on the day of your passing.

If the fair market value of the shares is $50 when you die, your heirs will receive a step up in basis to $50. The gain of $30 per share will pass to your children with no tax liability.

Tax planning is part of a comprehensive estate plan, where an experienced estate planning attorney can help you and your family minimize tax liabilities.

Reference: Montgomery County News (Dec. 20, 2023) “Maximizing Inheritance With A Step Up”