Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Cryptocurrency and Estate Planning: What Executors Need to Know

Millennials are not the only ones investing in cryptocurrency. In a recent article titled “Help! My dad is investing in cryptocurrency” from Monterey Herald, a woman is worried about her elderly father investing in this new type of money. She is concerned for both his financial well-being and for what she may have to address when it is time to distribute his estate to her siblings.

Crypto, or cryptocurrency, is more than a passing fad. It has become an alternative purchasing and investment tool, with more than 8,000 different types of crypto available, representing billions in assets. You can use crypto to buy a Tesla automobile, an airplane or real estate. Regulations have recently been issued to permit banks to take custody of digital currency. One credit card company is even developing a card to allow consumers to spend digital cash using a credit or debit card.

Perhaps the ultimate recognition of this new currency comes from the IRS, which now requires owners to report income and capital gains earned on the sale of crypto and assess taxes on it, the same as other traditional types of investments.

As the executor of her father’s will, the woman mentioned above will be responsible for distributing her father’s entire estate, including the cryptocurrency. As a fiduciary, she will have to learn what it is and how to manage it.

When people buy crypto, they receive a digital key. This is usually a string of numbers, symbols and letters representing the asset on a secure ledger. The key cannot be replaced, and if it is lost, so are the crypto holdings. There are many different ways to store this key, so the daughter needs to know where the key is stored and how to access it.

The best way forward would be for the daughter to spend time with her father learning about cryptocurrency, what types he owns and how they are secured. Their conversation should also address his wishes for the investment. Does he want his grandchildren to receive it as crypto, or would he prefer to liquidate it before he dies and place it in a trust? Does he want her to liquidate it after he dies, and have it become part of his estate?

When it is time to settle the estate, if the crypto has not been liquidated into cash, she will need to value the assets at his date of death, like any other investment and may either sell the currency or distribute it to his beneficiaries. If the estate is valued at more than $12.06 million, federal estate taxes will need to be paid on all assets, including the cryptocurrency. There may also be state estate taxes due.

She should also speak with an estate planning attorney about cryptocurrency, and also read his will to learn if the cryptocurrency is included. If he does not have a will or an estate plan, now is the time to make an appointment with an estate planning attorney and get that in order.

Being an executor used to require learning about possessions like art or jewelry collections or fine rugs. Today, the executor needs to add a cryptocurrency education to their task list.

Reference: Monterey Herald (Feb. 19, 2022) “Help! My dad is investing in cryptocurrency”

Is It Important for Physicians to Have an Estate Plan?

When the newly minted physician completes their residency and begins practicing, the last thing on their minds is getting their estate plan in order. Instead, they should make it a priority, according to a recent article titled “Physicians, get your estate in order or the court will do it instead” from Medical Economics. Physicians accumulate wealth to a greater degree and faster than most people. They are also in a profession with a higher likelihood of being sued than most. They need an estate plan.

Estate planning does more than distribute assets after death. It is also asset protection. An estate planning attorney helps physicians, dentists and other medical professionals protect their assets and their legacies.

Basic estate planning documents include a last will and testament, financial power of attorney and a medical power of attorney. However, the physician’s estate is complex and requires an attorney with experience in asset protection and business succession.

During the process of creating an estate plan, the physician will need to determine who they would want to serve as a guardian, if there are minor children and what they would want to occur if all of their beneficiaries were to predecease them. A list should be drafted with all assets, debts, including medical school loans, life insurance documents and retirement or pension accounts, including the names of beneficiaries.

The will is the center of the estate plan. It will require naming a person, typically a spouse, to be the executor: the person in charge of administering the estate. If the physician is not married, a trusted relative or friend can be named. There should also be a second person named, in case the first is unable to serve.

If the physician owns their practice, the estate plan should be augmented with a business succession plan. The will’s executor may need to oversee decisions regarding the sale of the practice. A trusted friend with no business acumen or knowledge of how a medical practice works may not be the best executor. These are all important considerations. Special considerations apply when the “business” is a professional practice, so do not make any moves without expert estate planning assistance.

The will only controls assets in the individual’s name. Assets owned jointly, or those with a beneficiary designation, are not governed by the will.

Without a will, the entire estate may need to go through probate, which is a lengthy and expensive process. For one family, their father’s lack of a will and secrecy took 18 months and cost $30,000 in legal fees for the estate to be settled.

Trusts are an option for protecting assets. By placing assets in trust, they are protected from creditors and provide control in complex family situations. The goal is to create a trust and fund it before any legal actions occur. Transferring assets after a lawsuit has begun or after a creditor has attached an asset could lead to a physician being charged with fraudulent conveyance—where assets are transferred for the sole purpose of avoiding paying creditors.

Estate planning is never a one-and-done event. If a doctor starts a family limited partnership to transfer wealth to the next generation but neglects to properly maintain the partnership, some or all of the funds may be vulnerable.

An estate plan needs to be reviewed every few years and certainly every time a major life event occurs, including marriage, divorce, birth, death, relocation, or a significant change in wealth.

When consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney, a doctor should ask about the potential benefits of revocable living trust planning to avoid probate, maintain privacy and streamline the administration of the estate upon incapacity or at death.

Reference: Medical Economics (Feb. 22, 2022) “Physicians, get your estate in order or the court will do it instead”

Is Advance Care Planning a Benefit to Seniors?

Advance care planning (ACP) is an ongoing discussion that involves shared decision-making to clarify and document an individual’s wishes, preferences and goals regarding their medical care. This is extremely important to making certain that they get the medical care they want, if they become incapacitated and unable to make their own decisions. Despite the importance of ACP, most Americans don’t have their medical wishes documented, according to Medical Life Sciences News’ recent article entitled “Comprehensive approach may promote Advance Care Planning for elderly adults.”

In the pandemic, too many families exhausted themselves attempting to address this issue, agonizing over what their loved one might have chosen for their care if they had been given the chance.

Dr. Angelo Volandes, MD, MPH, physician and researcher, Division of General Internal Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, and colleagues started the Advance Care Planning: Communicating with Outpatients for Vital Informed Decisions (ACP-COVID) pragmatic trial. This experiment was designed to see if ACP participation during the pandemic would increase following implementation of video decision aids and clinician communication skills training. They also looked at how these interventions would affect ACP documentation among patients from ethnic and racial minority groups, specifically African Americans and Hispanics.

The trial included a large, diverse patient population aged 65+ from 22 outpatient clinics at Northwell Health, the largest healthcare system in New York State. ACP documentation from three six-month time periods was compared:

  1. Pre-COVID-19
  2. The first wave of COVID-19; and
  3. An intervention period.

The findings showed that ACP documentation was significantly greater among all groups during the intervention period, with African American and Hispanic patients showing the most significant increases.

“The stark disparity in COVID-related outcomes for African American and Hispanic patients highlights a reality already known by many: our healthcare system routinely fails to meet the needs of minority patients. No one intervention or initiative is going to correct all those failings though advance care planning, through engaging and empowering patients, is one of the most effective, immediate ways to address disparities in care,” adds Volandes, who is also an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

“Fundamentally, advance care planning aims to empower patients. The results of our study demonstrate the importance of meeting patients where they are,” adds Volandes. “Whether that means providing information in their native language or sharing educational material via text rather than a patient portal, if advance care planning is to be about the patient and we need to find ways to ensure that they feel they have the knowledge and ability to make decisions alongside their clinicians when they deem the time is right. COVID-19 has made ACP more important than ever, and especially in communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.”

Reference: Medical Life Sciences News (Feb. 28, 2022) “Comprehensive approach may promote Advance Care Planning for elderly adults”

Can Grandchildren Receive Inheritances?

Wanting to take care of the youngest and most vulnerable members of our families is a loving gesture from grandparents. However, minor children are not legally allowed to own property.  With the right strategies and tools, your estate plan can include grandchildren, says a recent article titled “Elder Care: How to provide for your youngest heirs” from the Longview News-Journal.

If a beneficiary designation on a will, insurance policy or other account lists the name of a minor child, your estate will take longer to settle. A person will need to be named as a guardian of the estate of the minor child, which takes time. The guardian may not be the child’s parent.

The parent of a minor child may not invest and grow any funds, which in some states are required to be deposited in a federally insured account. Periodic reports must be submitted to the court, and audits will need to be done annually. Guardianship requires extensive reporting and any monies spent must be accounted for.

When the child becomes of legal age, usually 18, the entire amount is then distributed to the child. Few children are mature enough at age 18, even though they think they are, to manage large sums of money. Neither the guardian nor the parent nor the court has any say in what happens to the funds after they are transferred to the child.

There are many other ways to transfer assets to a minor child to provide more control over how the money is managed and how and when it is distributed.

One option is to leave it to the child’s parent. This takes out the issue of court involvement but may has a few drawbacks: the parent has full control of the asset, with no obligation for it to be set aside for the child’s needs. If the parents divorce or have debt, the money is not protected.

Many states have Uniform Transfers to Minors Accounts. In Pennsylvania, it is PUTMA, in New York, UTMA and in California, CUTMA. Gifts placed in these accounts are held in custodianship until the child reaches 18 (or 21, depending on state law) and the custodian has a duty to manage the property prudently. Some states have limits on the amount in the accounts, and if the designated custodian passes away before the child reaches legal age, court proceedings may be necessary to name a new custodian. A creditor could file a petition with the court if there is a debt.

For most people, a trust is the best option for placing funds aside for a minor child. The trust can be established during the grandparent’s lifetime or through a testamentary trust after probate of their will is complete. The trust contains directions as to how the money is to be spent: higher education, summer camp, etc. A trustee is named to manage the trust, which may or may not be a parent. If a parent is named trustee, it is important to ensure that they follow the directions of the trust and do not use the property as if it were their own.

A trust allows the assets to be restricted until a child reaches an age of maturity, setting up distributions for a portion of the account at staggered ages, or maintaining the trust with limited distributions throughout their lives. A trust is better to protect the assets from creditors, more so than any other method.

A trust for a grandchild can be designed to anticipate the possibility of the child becoming disabled, in which case government benefits would be at risk in the event of a lump sum payment.

There are many options for leaving money to a minor, depending upon the family’s circumstances. In all cases, a conversation with an experienced estate planning attorney will help to ensure any type of gift is protected and works with the rest of the estate plan.

Reference: Longview News-Journal (Feb. 25, 2022) “Elder Care: How to provide for your youngest heirs”

Can I Split My Inheritance with My Sibling?

Let’s say that you are the beneficiary of your brother’s IRA.

All of his assets were supposed to be split between you and your sister according to a living trust. However, the IRA administrator says the IRA only has one beneficiary… you. How can you spilt this equally?

Can you sell half and give your other sibling her money?

What is the effect on taxes and the cost basis?

nj.com’s recent article entitled “Can I give my brother half of my inheritance?” says that it’s important to review beneficiary designations to make sure they reflect your wishes.

In this case, you would essentially be making a gift to your sister from the IRA account that you inherited.

To do this, you would have to liquidate some of the account and pay the taxes on the liquidated amount, if it is a traditional IRA.

You would also have to file a federal gift tax return for the amount gifted above the $16,000 annual exclusion amount. However, no gift tax should be due if you have less than $12.06 million in your estate and/or lifetime gifts made above the annual exclusion amounts.

The unified tax credit provides a set dollar amount that a person can gift during their lifetime before any estate or gift taxes apply. This tax credit unifies both the gift and estate taxes into one tax system that decreases the tax bill of the individual or estate, dollar to dollar.

As of 2021, the federal estate tax is 40% of the inheritance amount. However, the unified tax credit has a set amount that a person can gift during his or her lifetime before any estate or gift taxes are due. The 2021 federal tax law applies the estate tax to any amount above $11.7 million. This year’s amount is $12.06 million.

While you would receive a step-up in basis, the cost basis of your brother’s gifted share would be the value at the time the gift is made.

Another thought is that if there are other assets in the estate, perhaps your sister could have a greater share of those, so you could keep the IRA intact to avoid paying taxes at this time.

Reference: nj.com (Feb. 23, 2022) “Can I give my brother half of my inheritance?”

Must I Sell Parent’s Home if They Move to a Nursing Facility?

If a parent is transferring to a nursing home, you may ask if her home must be sold.

It is common in a parent’s later years to have the parent and an adult child on the deed, with a line of credit on the house. As a result, there’s very little equity.

Seniors Matter’s recent article entitled “If my mom moves to a nursing home, does her home need to be sold?” says that if your mother has assets in her name, but not enough resources to pay for an extended nursing home stay, this can add another level of complexity.

If your mother has long-term care insurance or a life insurance policy with a nursing home rider, these can help cover the costs.

However, if your mom will rely on state aid, through Medicaid, she will need to qualify for coverage based on her income and assets.

Medicaid income and asset limits are low—and vary by state. Homes are usually excluded from the asset limits for qualification purposes. That is because most states’ Medicaid programs will not count a nursing home resident’s home as an asset when calculating an applicant’s eligibility for Medicaid, provided the resident intends to return home

However, a home may come into play later on because states eventually attempt to recover their costs of providing care. If a parent stays a year-and-a-half in a nursing home—the typical stay for women— when her home is sold, the state will make a claim for a share of the home’s sales proceeds.

Many seniors use an irrevocable trust to avoid this “asset recovery.”

Trusts can be expensive to create and require the help of an experienced elder law attorney. As a result, in some cases, this may not be an option. If there’s not enough equity left after the sale, some states also pursue other assets, such as bank accounts, to satisfy their nursing home expense claims.

An adult child selling the home right before the parent goes into a nursing home would also not avoid the state trying to recover its costs. This because Medicaid has a look-back period for asset transfers occurring within five years.

There are some exceptions. For example, if an adult child lived with their parent in the house as her caregiver prior to her being placed in a nursing home. However, there are other requirements.

Talk to elder law attorney on the best way to go, based on state law and other specific factors.

Reference: Seniors Matter (Feb. 25, 2022) “If my mom moves to a nursing home, does her home need to be sold?”

Should I have a Charitable Trust in My Estate Plan?

Charitable trusts can be created to provide a reliable income stream to you and your beneficiaries for a set period of time, says Bankrate’s recent article entitled “What is a charitable trust?”

Establishing a charitable trust can be a critical component of your estate plan and a rewarding way to make an impact for a cause you care deeply about. There are a few kinds of charitable trusts to consider based on your situation and what you may be looking to accomplish.

Charitable lead trust. This is an irrevocable trust that is created to distribute an income stream to a designated charity or nonprofit organization for a set number of years. It can be established with a gift of cash or securities made to the trust. Depending on the structure, the donor can benefit from a stream of income during the life of the trust, deductions for gift and estate taxes, as well as current year income tax deductions when the assets are donated to the trust.

If the charitable lead trust is funded with a donation of cash, the donor can claim a deduction of up to 60% of their adjusted gross income (AGI), and any unused deductions can generally be carried over into subsequent tax years. The deduction limit for appreciated securities or other assets is limited to no more than 30% of AGI in the year of the donation.

At the expiration of the charitable lead trust, the assets that remain in the trust revert back to the donor, their heirs, or designated beneficiaries—not the charity.

Charitable remainder trust. This trust is different from a charitable lead trust. It’s an irrevocable trust that’s funded with cash or securities. A CRT gives the donor or other beneficiaries an income stream with the remaining assets in the trust reverting to the charity upon death or the expiration of the trust period. There are two types of CRTs:

  1. A charitable remainder annuity trust or CRAT distributes a fixed amount as an annuity each year, and there are no additional contributions can be made to a CRAT.
  2. A charitable remainder unitrust or CRUT distributes a fixed percentage of the value of the trust, which is recalculated every year. Additional contributions can be made to a CRUT.

Here are the steps when using a CRT:

  1. Make a partially tax-deductible donation of cash, stocks, ETFs, mutual funds or non-publicly traded assets, such as real estate, to the trust. The amount of the tax deduction is a function of the type of CRT, the term of the trust, the projected annual payments (usually stated as a percentage) and the IRS interest rates that determine the projected growth in the asset that’s in effect at the time.
  2. Receive an income stream for you or your beneficiaries based on how the trust is created. The minimum percentage is 5% based on current IRS rules. Payments can be made monthly, quarterly or annually.
  3. After a designated time or after the death of the last remaining income beneficiary, the remaining assets in the CRT revert to the designated charity or charities.

There are a number of benefits of a charitable trust that make them attractive for estate planning and other purposes. It’s a tax-efficient way to donate to the charities or nonprofit organizations of your choosing. The charitable trust provides benefits to the charity and the donor. The trust also provides upfront income tax benefits to the donor, when the contribution to the trust is made.

Donating highly appreciated assets, such as stocks, ETFs, and mutual funds, to the charitable trust can help avoid paying capital gains taxes that would be due if these assets were sold outright.  Donations to a charitable trust can also help to reduce the value of your estate and reduce estate taxes on larger estates.

However, charitable trusts do have some disadvantages. First, they’re irrevocable, so you can’t undo the trust if your situation changes, and you were to need the money or assets donated to the trust. When you establish and fund the trust, the money’s no longer under your control and the trust can’t be revoked.

A charitable trust may be a good option if you have a desire to create a legacy with some of your assets. Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney about your specific situation.

Reference: Bankrate (Dec. 14, 2021) “What is a charitable trust?”

What Did I Hear about Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids?

The proposed rule comes four years after Congress passed a law mandating that the FDA to establish a category of over-the-counter hearing aids. The agency ran through its August 2020 deadline for doing so, but now has finalized it after a 90-day public commentary period. The FDA’s updated guidelines will create a new category of devices requiring neither a prescription nor a fitting by an audiologist. These will be sold online and at retail stores for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss.

AARP’s recent article entitled “FDA Clears Way for Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids” reports that right now those seeking hearing aids usually must see a health care professional for testing and fitting — a process that can be both costly and lengthy.

“Hearing loss has a profound impact on daily communication, social interaction and the overall health and quality of life for millions of Americans,” Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D., said in a statement. “The FDA’s proposed rule represents a significant step toward helping ensure that adults with mild to moderate hearing loss have improved access to more affordable and innovative product options.”

About 15% of U.S. adults (37.5 million) report trouble hearing, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, and fewer than 1 in 3 adults aged 70 and older with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids have ever used them. The reason most often cited is the cost. Hearing aids currently cost between $2,000 and $6,000 a pair and are not covered by Medicare or most insurance. The proposed rule is expected to lead to lower prices for consumers, by lowering barriers to entry for hearing aid makers.

The only over-the-counter options now available have been personal sound-amplification products (PSAPs), which increase the volume of all the sounds in a given environment, and which typically cost a hundred dollars a pair.

“Reducing health care costs for everyone in America is a top priority,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “Today’s move by FDA takes us one step closer to the goal of making hearing aids more accessible and affordable for the tens of millions of people who experience mild to moderate hearing loss.”

Reference: AARP (Oct. 19, 2021) “FDA Clears Way for Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids”

What If an Estate Owes Back Taxes?

If grandma did not finish up all of her duties as the executor of her husband’s estate before she passed away, it would be wise to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney.

An estate planning attorney can help with the issues with estate administration, says nj.com’s recent article entitled “My grandmother’s estate owes back taxes. What next?”

The fiduciary appointed to administer an estate—called an executor or personal representative—is responsible to make certain that all creditors are paid before making distribution of estate assets.

An executor of an estate is the person designated to administer the last will and testament of the decedent. His or her primary duty is to carry out the instructions to manage the affairs and wishes of the decedent.

An executor is appointed either by the testator of the will (the one who makes the will) or by a court, in situations where there is no will (also known as intestacy).

If there is a probate proceeding, the executor is required to officially notify creditors of it pursuant to the state probate statutes.

If there are not enough assets to pay all creditors, state statutes give a priority regarding how creditors are paid.

Funeral expenses and taxes are typically paid first.

Note that if the creditors are not paid, and money is distributed to beneficiaries, the creditors may seek the return of those distributions from the beneficiaries.

However, the executor’s individual assets would not be responsible for payment of estate debts. It is just the assets that are received from the decedent.

As far as taxes, the IRS is still legally entitled to the money owed by the decedent. The federal government will usually go to great lengths to collect it, even if the will instructs the remaining assets to be distributed elsewhere.

Reference: nj.com (Feb. 3, 2022) “My grandmother’s estate owes back taxes. What next?”

What Does New VA Budget Include for Veterans?

Even with many years of significant budget increases, the Department of Veterans Affairs will need billions more in funding in fiscal 2023 to keep pace with the health care and support services needs of veterans and their families, according to a new report released by advocacy groups.

Military Times’ recent article entitled “VA needs more money to keep pace with veterans’ needs, advisory group warns” reports that The Independent Budget—an advisory spending plan compiled by Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars — calls for a 23% increase in VA program spending over the latest White House request to add funds for priorities like mental health services, caregiver support and homeless veterans assistance.

Advocates say the administration’s plan for fiscal 2021 falls about $4 billion short of the needs of America’s veterans. In fiscal 2001, the entire VA budget totaled about $45 billion. By fiscal 2011, it was about $125 billion, almost triple that total. Ten years later, in 2021, the department’s budget was nearly double that again, at $245 billion.

The White House budget request for fiscal 2022 — which began last October — was $270 billion. Lawmakers have not yet approved a full-year budget for the VA, but are expected to advance discussion on that issue in coming weeks. The administration’s fiscal 2023 budget plan for VA is also expected to be released sometime next month.

Authors of the Independent Budget said their requests for more VA money next year are not wishful thinking but a real assessment of the challenges ahead for the department.

“As we enter into 2022, COVID’s impact remains a challenge for VA, with the spread of the virus and disruptions to health care systems continuing,” said Randy Reese, executive director of DAV’s Washington Headquarters. “In this environment, we made cautious recommendations based on historical trends to ensure the needs of our nation’s ill and injured veterans are met.”

Under the Independent Budget plan, VA officials would see a $1.8 billion uptick to health programs to “close the gap in clinical care” at department medical centers.

“The lack of adequate health care staffing has been a major driver of longer waiting times for veterans seeking VA care, and ultimately has the effect of suppressing the true level of veterans’ demand for care,” the report states. “It also forces many veterans who would prefer to receive their care from VA providers into community care providers.”

The organizations have also called for $490 million above the pending White House request for caregiver support programs, $395 million more for homeless veterans’ programs and $288 million more for mental health services and suicide prevention efforts.

Reference: Military Times (Feb. 7, 2022) “VA needs more money to keep pace with veterans’ needs, advisory group warns”