Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Which Stars Made the Biggest Estate Planning Blunders?

Mistakes in the estate planning of high-profile celebrities are one very good way to learn the lessons of what not to do.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Eight Lessons From Celebrity Estates” discussed some late celebrities who made some serious experienced estate planning blunders. Hopefully, we can learn from their errors.

James Gandolfini. The “Sopranos” actor left just 20% of his estate to his wife. If he’d left more of his estate to her, the estate tax on that gift would have been avoided in his estate. But the result of not maximizing the tax savings in his estate was that 55% of his total estate went to pay estate taxes.

James Brown. One of the hardest working men in show business left the copyrights to his music to an educational foundation, his tangible assets to his children and $2 million to educate his grandchildren. Because of ambiguous language in his estate planning documents, his girlfriend and her children sued and, years later and after the payment of millions in estate taxes, his estate was finally settled.

Michael Jackson.  Jackson created a trust but never funded the trust during his lifetime. This has led to a long and costly battle in the California Probate Court over control of his estate.

Howard Hughes. Although he wanted to give his $2.5 billion fortune to medical research, there was no valid written will found at his death. His fortune was instead divided among 22 cousins. The Hughes Aircraft Co. was bequeathed to the Hughes Medical Institute before his death and wasn’t included in his estate.

Michael Crichton. The author was survived by his pregnant second wife, so his son was born after his death. However, because his will and trust didn’t address a child being born after his death, his daughter from a previous marriage tried to cut out the baby boy from his estate.

Doris Duke. The heir to a tobacco fortune left her $1.2 billion fortune to her foundation at her death. Her butler was designated as the one in charge of the foundation. This led to a number of lawsuits claiming mismanagement over the next four years, and millions in legal fees.

Casey Kasem. The famous DJ’s wife and the children of his prior marriage fought over his end-of-life care and even the disposition of his body. It was an embarrassing scene that included the kidnapping and theft of his corpse.

Prince and Aretha Franklin. Both music legends died without a will or intestate. This has led to a very public, and in the case of Prince, a very contentious and protracted settlement of their estates.

So, what did we learn? Even the most famous (and the richest) people fail to carefully plan and draft a complete estate plan. They make mistakes with tax savings (Gandolfini), charities (Brown and Hughes), providing for family (Crichton), whom to name as the manager of the estate (Duke) and failing to prevent family disputes, especially in mixed marriages (Kasem).

If you have an estate plan, be sure to review your existing documents to make certain that they still accomplish your wishes. Get the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Forbes (July 16, 2020) “Eight Lessons From Celebrity Estates”

Is It Easy to Change My Home’s Title from Tenants in Common to Joint Tenants?

Many couples may have purchased a home years ago with the original deed titled as “William Smith and Wilhelmina Smith”. In some states, like Georgia, this defaults to tenants in common. With Wilhelmina being William’s wife for decades, they thought it was time to think about changing the title to William Smith and Wilhelmina Smith, joint tenants with right of survivorship.

The Washington Post’s recent article entitled “Changing a home title from ‘tenants in common’ to ‘joint tenants’” looks at whether this would result in any adverse consequences, such as issues with the title insurance or taxes issues.

When you own a home in joint tenancy, should either of the owners die, that owner’s interest automatically goes to the surviving joint tenant. However, when people own a home as tenants in common, each person owns a specific share of that home. Therefore, our hypothetical couple William Smith and Wilhelmina Smith each owns a 50% interest in the home. If either of them were to die, his or her 50% interest in the home would be distributed, as provided in his or her will or as provided by state probate statute.

If people purchase a home but don’t specify how they want to own the property, in most situations, the state law will say how the parties take title to the property when the deed is silent.

You can typically record a new document that puts both William Smith and Wilhelmina Smith on the title to the home, as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. When it’s a simple change in the title from tenants in common to joint tenants, most state tax authorities will ignore that change.

To be sure you should ask an experienced estate planning attorney or the office that collects or assesses values in your location for more information. However, it’s a pretty safe bet that the change won’t affect a home’s value.

As far as the title insurance policy, after so many years, it would be doubtful there would be any problems. That’s because the original title insurance policy named William Smith and Wilhelmina Smith as the insured. If they change the ownership from tenants in common to joint tenants, the Smiths are still the owners of the home and still named on that policy.

Reference: Washington Post (July 6, 2020) “Changing a home title from ‘tenants in common’ to ‘joint tenants’”

A Non-Medical Check Up – For Your Estate Plan

An estate plan isn’t just for you—it’s for those you love. It should include a will and possibly, trusts, a power of attorney for financial affairs and a health care directive. As many as 60% of all Americans don’t have a will. However, the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted for everyone the need to have those documents. For those who have an estate plan, the need for a tune-up has become very clear, says the article “Time for a non-medical checkup? Review your will” from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

With any significant change in your life, a review of your estate plan is in order. Keep in mind that none of your estate planning documents are written in stone. They should be changed when your life does. COVID-19 has also changed many of our lives. Let’s take a look at how.

Has anyone you named as a beneficiary died, or become estranged from you? Will everyone who is a beneficiary in your current estate plan still receive what you had wanted them to receive? Are there new people in your life, family members or otherwise, with whom you want to share your legacy?

The same applies to the person you selected as your executor. As you have aged over the years, so have they. Are they still alive? Are they still geographically available to serve as an executor? Do they still want to take on the responsibilities that come with this role? Family members or trusted friends move, marry, or make other changes in their lives that could cause you to change your mind about their role.

Over time, you may want to change your wishes for your children, or other beneficiaries. Maybe ten years ago you wanted to give everyone an equal share of an inheritance, but perhaps circumstances have changed. Maybe one child has had career success and is a high-income earner, while another child is working for a non-profit and barely getting by. Do you want to give them the same share?

Here’s another thought—if your children have become young adults (in the wink of an eye!), do you want them to receive a large inheritance when they are young adults, or would you want to have some control over when they inherit? Some people stagger inheritances through the use of trusts, and let their children receive significant funds, when they reach certain ages, accomplishments or milestones.

Have you or your children been divorced, since your estate plan was last reviewed? In that case, you really need to get that appointment with an estate planning attorney! Do you want your prior spouse to have the same inheritance you did when you were happily married? If your children are married to people you aren’t sure about, or if they are divorced, do you want to use estate planning to protect their inheritance? That is another function of estate planning.

Taking out your estate plan and reviewing it is always a good idea. There may be no need for any changes—or you may need to do a major overhaul. Either way, it is better to know what needs to be done and take care of it, especially during a times like the one we are experiencing right now.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (July 27, 2020) “Time for a non-medical checkup? Review your will”

Visiting Grandma at the Nursing Home

In spots where visits have resumed, they’re much changed from those before the pandemic. Nursing homes must take steps to minimize the chance of further transmission of COVID-19. The virus has been found in about 11,600 long-term care facilities, causing more than 56,000 deaths, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

AARP’s recent article entitled “When Can Visitors Return to Nursing Homes?” explains that the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has provided benchmarks for state and local officials to use, in deciding when visitors can return and how to safeguard against new outbreaks of COVID-19 when they do. The CMS guidelines are broad and nonbinding, and there will be differences, from state to state and nursing home to nursing home, regarding when visits resume and how they are handled. Here are some details about the next steps toward reuniting with family members in long-term care.

When will visits resume? As of mid-July, 30 states permitted nursing homes to proceed with outdoor visits with strict rules for distancing, monitoring and hygiene. The CMS guidelines suggest that nursing homes continue prohibiting any visitation, until they have gone at least 28 days without a new COVID-19 case originating on-site (as opposed to a facility admitting a coronavirus patient from a hospital). CMS says that these facilities should also meet several additional benchmarks, which include:

  • a decline in cases in the surrounding community
  • the ability to provide all residents with a baseline COVID-19 test and weekly tests for staff
  • enough supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning and disinfecting products; and
  • no staff shortages.

Where visits are permitted, it should be only by appointment and in specified hours. In some states, only one or two people can visit a particular resident at a time. Even those states allowing indoor visits are suggesting that families meet loved ones outdoors. Research has shown that the virus spreads less in open air.

Health checks on visitors. The federal guidelines call for everyone entering a facility to undergo 100% screening. However, the CMS recommendations don’t address testing visitors for COVID-19.

Masks. The federal guidelines say visitors should be required to “wear a cloth face covering or face mask for the duration of their visit,” and states that allow visitation are doing so. The guidelines also ask nursing homes to make certain that visitors practice hand hygiene. However, it doesn’t say whether facilities should provide masks or sanitizer.

Social distancing. The CMS guidelines call on nursing homes that allow visitors to ensure social distancing, but they don’t provide details. States that have permitted visits, state that facilities enforce the 6-foot rule.

Virtual visits. Another option is to make some visits virtual. Videoconferencing and chat platforms have become lifelines for residents and families during the pandemic. Continued use after the lockdowns can minimize opportunities for illness to spread.

Reference: AARP (July 22, 2020) “When Can Visitors Return to Nursing Homes?”

Take Advantage of Tax Laws Now

The pundits are saying that the if Democrats win the White House and possibly Congress, expect changes to income, gift generation skipping transfer and estate taxes. This recent article from Forbes, “Use It Or Lose It: Locking In the $11.58 Million Unified Credit” says that the time to act is now.

Since 2000, the estate and gift tax exemption has taken a leap from $675,000 and a top marginal rate of 55% to an exemption of $11.58 million and a top marginal rate of 40%. However, it’s not permanent. If Congress does nothing, the tax laws go back in 2026 to a $5.6 million exemption and a top marginal rate of 55%. The expectation is that if Biden wins in November, and if Congress enacts the changes published in his tax plan, the exemption will fall to $3.5 million, and the top marginal rate will jump to 70%.

The current exemption and tax rate may be as good as it gets.

If you make a taxable gift today, you can effectively make the current tax laws permanent for you and your family. The gift will be reported in the year it is made, and the tax laws that are in effect when the gift is made will permanently applicable. Even if the tax laws change in the future, which is always a possibility, there have been proposed regulations published by the IRS that say the new tax laws will not be imposed on taxable gifts made in prior years.

Let’s say you make an outright taxable gift today of $11.58 million, or $23.16 million for a married couple. That gift amount, and any income and appreciation from the date of the gift to the date of death will not be taxed later in your estate. The higher $11.58 million exemption from the Generation Skipping Transfer Tax (GSTT) can also be applied to these gifts.

Of course, you’ll need to have enough assets to make a gift and still be financially secure. Don’t give a gift, if it means you won’t be able to support your spouse and family. To take advantage of the current exemption amount, you’ll need to make a gift that exceeds the reversionary exemption of $3.5 million. One way to do this is to have each spouse make a gift of the exemption amount to a Spousal Lifetime Access Trust (SLAT), a trust for the benefit of the other spouse for that spouse’s lifetime.

Be mindful that such a trust may draw attention from the IRS, because when two people make gifts to trusts for each other, which leaves each of them in the same economic position, the gifts are ignored and the assets in the trusts are included in their estate. The courts have ruled, however, that if the trusts are different from each other, based on the provisions in the trusts, state laws and even the timing of the creation and funding of the trusts may be acceptable.

These types of trusts need to be properly administered and aligned with the overall estate plan. Who will inherit the assets, and under what terms?

A word of caution: these are complex trusts and take time to create. Time may be running out. Speak with a skilled estate planning attorney with knowledge of tax law.

Reference: Forbes (July 17, 2020) “Use It Or Lose It: Locking In the $11.58 Million Unified Credit”

How Do I Make Sure My Wife Gets the House?

Nj.com’s article “Will my wife get my house when I die?” explains that many of life’s transitions and big events, such as marriage, divorce, new job, birth or adoption of a child and others, are the triggers to address in your estate and financial plan.

It’s not uncommon for a person’s decisions made before marriage as a bachelor, not to match up with a future with a new spouse.

As far as making certain that a house with a sister on the deed passes to the spouse, depends on how the house was titled at purchase. The titling of an asset can affect the way in which it would be transferred at death.

With real estate, most frequently, a person would have titled it either as Tenancy in Common (TIC) or Joint Tenancy with Rights of Survivorship (JTWROS).

If a person elects to go with JTWROS, then at his death, the house will avoid probate and pass entirely to the sister.

The law stipulates that the sister would be the full owner of the house, in which the man and his new wife had been living.

If you select to title as TIC, upon the man’s death, his half of the house would go to his estate. This doesn’t avoid probate. Therefore, the rights of the estate will be determined according to the decedent’s will.

However, neither scenario is too great for the wife. This potentially leaves her in a stressful situation upon her husband’s death.

A wise approach is for the man to begin a dialog with the sister and an experienced estate planning attorney, who can help draft an agreement or help to change the titling of the house.

His will and beneficiaries should also be updated at the same time.

Another recommendation is to consider life insurance to provide for the wife after his death.

Reference: nj.com (June 18, 2020) “Will my wife get my house when I die?”

How Do I Keep Up My Spirits in the Pandemic?

The coronavirus has created some stressful situations that can bring out the best or worst in us. We must hope that the pandemic will eventually be brought under control, and our loved ones will survive.

AARP’s recent article entitled “Keeping Caregiver Spirits High During the Coronavirus Outbreak” says that there’s no single way to find hope.

Many family caregivers draw on their faith, and others on rely on sheer determination. However, there some other ways to create hope for caregivers and their loved ones in this pandemic.

The article provides some psychological ideas:

Watch your temperament. Through our disposition and upbringing, each one of us is inclined to look at the world as a pessimist or an optimist. These tendencies become more pronounced under the stress of a crisis. To get a sense of your natural tendency, keep a daily journal and record your current preoccupying thoughts. Keep that document and review it in a week. Rereading those entries will quickly let you know where you stand psychologically and let you to see if you need to take steps to better deal with the current pandemic.

Change your mindset. Since optimism is better, make an effort to increase your optimistic thinking. You could bring your attention more fully to some of the unforeseen benefits of this change in our normally hectic lives. Keeping a gratitude journal is another way of heightening your awareness of the good things we still have.

Rearrange your activities. Directing your activities can result in a more hopeful outlook. Don’t watch hours of cable news shows, because it can have a negative effect on your psyche. Keep informed but balance news with engaging in fun activities.

Contact your positive-minded friends. It is more crucial than ever to virtually contact your friends and family members for support by sharing experiences, fears and good wishes. Reach out to those who can sustain a more balanced and realistic view, acknowledging these negative times but also the positive possibilities.

Reference: AARP (March 31, 2020) “Keeping Caregiver Spirits High During the Coronavirus Outbreak”

What are the Important Medicare Deadlines?

Here are the important dates for Medicare enrollment:

  • You can initially enroll in Medicare during the seven-month period that begins three months before you turn 65.
  • If you continue to work past 65, sign up for Medicare within eight months of leaving the job or group health plan or penalties apply.
  • The six-month Medicare Supplement Insurance enrollment period starts when you’re 65 or older and enrolled in Medicare Part B.
  • You can make changes to your Medicare coverage during the annual open enrollment period, from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.
  • Medicare Advantage Plan participants can move to another plan from January 1 to March 31 each year.

Yahoo News’ recent article entitled “Medicare Enrollment Deadlines You Shouldn’t Miss” takes a look at when you need to sign up for Medicare and the penalties that can be imposed for late enrollment.

Medicare Parts A and B Deadline. Individuals who are getting Social Security benefits, may be automatically enrolled in Parts A and B, and coverage starts the month they turn 65. However, those who haven’t claimed Social Security must proactively enroll in Medicare. You can first sign up for Medicare Part A hospital insurance and Medicare Part B medical insurance during the seven months that starts three months before the month you turn 65. Your coverage can start as soon as the first day of the month you turn 65, or the first day of the prior month, if your birthday falls on the first of the month. If you fail to enroll in Medicare during the initial enrollment period, you can sign up during the general enrollment period between January 1 and March 31 each year for coverage that will begin July 1. Note that you might be charged a late enrollment penalty when your benefit begins. Monthly Part B premiums increase by 10% for each 12-month period you delay signing up for Medicare, after becoming eligible for benefits.

If you or your spouse are still working after age 65 for an employer that provides group health insurance, you must enroll in Medicare within eight months of leaving the job or the coverage ending to avoid the penalty.

Medicare Part D Deadline. Part D prescription drug coverage has the same initial enrollment period of the seven months around your 65th birthday as Medicare Parts A and B, but the penalty is different. It’s calculated by multiplying 1% of the “national base beneficiary premium” ($32.74 in 2020) by the number of months you didn’t have prescription drug coverage after Medicare eligibility and rounding to the nearest 10 cents. That’s added to the Medicare Part D plan that you choose each year. As the national base beneficiary premium increases, your penalty also goes up.

Medicare Supplement Insurance Plan Deadline. These plans can be used to pay for some of Medicare’s cost-sharing requirements and some services that traditional Medicare doesn’t cover. The enrollment period is different than the other parts of Medicare. It is a six-month period that starts when you’re 65 or older and enrolled in Medicare Part B. During this open enrollment period, private health insurance companies must sell you a Medicare Supplement Insurance plan, regardless of your health conditions. After this enrollment period, insurance companies can use medical underwriting to decide how much to charge for the policy and can even reject you. If you miss the open enrollment period, you’re no longer guaranteed the ability to buy a Medicare Supplement Insurance plan without underwriting, or you could be charged significantly more, if you have any health conditions.

Medicare Open Enrollment Deadline. You can make changes to your Medicare coverage during the annual open enrollment period from October 15 to December 7. During this period, you can move to a new Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, join a Medicare Advantage Plan, or stop a Medicare Advantage Plan and return to original Medicare. Changes take effect on January 1 of the following year.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Deadline. Participants can move to another plan or drop their Medicare Advantage Plan and return to original Medicare, including purchasing a Medicare Part D plan, from January 1 to March 31 each year. You can only make one change each year during this period, and the new plan will begin on the first of the month after your request is received.

Reference: Yahoo News (July 27, 2020) “Medicare Enrollment Deadlines You Shouldn’t Miss”

Will I Live Longer, if I Babysit the Grandchildren?

There’s a growing body of research that supports the notion that grandparents who babysit a grandchild live longer. Parents with young children can know that their parents and their children are getting benefits from babysitting time together, says Considerable’s June article entitled “Grandparents who babysit a grandchild live longer, study finds.”

Considerable spoke with Dr. David Coall, senior lecturer at Edith Cowan University and a co-author of a 2017 study that found a connection between grandparent caregiving and mortality. Dr. Coall gave some updates in the field and highlighted further connections that still need to be made.

The 2017 study that Dr. Coall co-authored analyzed date from the Berlin Aging Study (BASE), which monitored the health and social conditions of over 500 participants in Germany between 1990 and 2009. The study focused on grandparents who simply provided periodic babysitting, rather than primary caregiving for their grandchildren.

Dr. Coall’s team of researchers found that caregiving grandparents had a 37% lower risk of death than non-caregiving grandparents. The same 37% risk reduction in mortality was found when comparing caregiving grandparents with non-grandparents.

Therefore, the risk of dying over a 20-year period was a third lower for grandparents who provided some level of care for their grandchildren, as opposed to grandparents who provided no care at all.

According to Dr. Coall, “The obvious next question was, ‘Is that purely because healthier grandparents are more likely to babysit and live longer?’”

In August 2017, he used the same BASE data to see if grandparents were healthier due to babysitting, or if they were babysitting, because they were already healthier and able to do so. Dr. Coall found that health only accounted for 22% of the link between helping and longevity. Interestingly, a direct effect of babysitting on longevity still existed in the data.

“So, we continue to look for what could be making this link between helping and living longer.”

Some longitudinal studies have examined if babysitting is linked with a subsequent improvement in grandparental health, with mixed results. The most recent study, a collaboration with researchers in Finland that was published in July, looked at whether an individual who became a grandparent subsequently went on to enjoy improved health.

Dr. Coall said that the research shows “a specific improvement in physical health, but not in emotional or mental health. Maybe this works through increased activity levels looking after grandchildren.”

Reference: Considerable (June 23, 2020) “Grandparents who babysit a grandchild live longer, study finds”

Preparing Children for Inheritances in the Future

Almost three quarters of the wealthiest people in the world—those whose net worth is higher than $30 million—are self-made, according to a Wealth-X report. Look closer into the world’s wealthiest, and only about a quarter have a combination of inherited and self-made money, while only 8.5% inherited their wealth.

Transferring wealth and having it last more than two generations is very difficult, says an article that offers suggestions: “4 Ways to Prepare Children Now to Oversee their Inheritance Later” from Forbes. A decades-long study of 2,500 families found that 70% of family fortunes disappear by just the second generation. By the third generation, that number leaps to 90%.

Why is wealth retention so difficult? One of the key reasons is a lack of preparation. Parents may devote time and resources to ensure that their estate is organized, but they must also prepare their children to oversee and sustain inherited wealth and give them the skills, values and knowledge needed.

How can parents make sure their family wealth endures? Here are a few steps:

Have an estate plan created. This lets you maximize the inheritance left to heirs, by minimizing taxes and asset distribution costs. When the children are minors, establish guardians in case both parents die early and make a plan to distribute assets over their lifetimes, so they don’t receive a large inheritance all at once.

Give your children a financial education. Children need to be taught how to save, what compound interest can do, how investments work and how money is earned. Let them handle money early and experience the consequences of poor decision making. Better to learn at a young age with small amounts of money, than when they are adults and the stakes are higher.

Let them know what the family’s net worth is and apprise them of any changes. These discussions should be age-appropriate, but financial openness and honesty that starts young eliminates confusion and mixed messages. Give them a small stake in the planning, by allowing them to choose a charity and make a donation to it. Delegating even a small portion of control and letting the child see how it feels to be a steward of wealth is an important lesson.

Encourage children to build their own wealth. Many wealthy parents worry that knowing there is an inheritance in their future will prevent their children from having any ambitions. Grant a limited amount of control over portions of their inheritance at certain ages and teach them about options: investing, saving, donating or spending.

A financial education that starts early and provides time for lessons to be learned, will make children at any economic level better prepared for good decision making throughout their lives.

Reference: Forbes (July 1, 2020) “4 Ways to Prepare Children Now to Oversee their Inheritance Later”