Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Do I Need an Estate Plan If I’m 25?

Florida Today’s recent article entitled “No matter your age, income or crushing debt, you should have an estate plan” explains that the purpose of a good estate plan is that it allows you to maintain control over how your assets are distributed if you die.

It names someone to make decisions for you, if you can no longer act for yourself. Let’s look at the different documents that are necessary.

Power of attorney: If you become incapacitated, someone still needs to pay your bills and handle your finances. A POA names the person you’d want to have that responsibility.

Health care surrogate: This document is used if you become incapacitated and appoints the individual whom you want to make health care decisions on your behalf.

Last will and testament: This document designates both who oversees your estate, who gets your assets and how they should be transferred.

Beneficiary designations: Part of your planning is to name who should receive money from life insurance policies, annuities, retirement accounts and other financial accounts.

HIPAA Waiver: This is a legal document that allows an individual’s health information to be used or disclosed to a third party. Without this, loved ones may not be able to be a part of decisions and treatment.

Trust. A trust can facilitate passing property to your heirs and potentially provide tax benefits for both you and your beneficiaries.

As you can see, there are a number of reasons to have an estate plan.

Estate planning isn’t only for the rich, and it doesn’t have to be overly complicated.

An experienced estate planning lawyer, also called a trusts and estates attorney, can work with you to create an estate plan customized to your needs, financial affairs and family situation.

Putting your wishes in writing will make certain that your affairs are in order for now and in the future and help your family.

Reference: Florida Today (May 28, 2022) “No matter your age, income or crushing debt, you should have an estate plan”

Your Cryptocurrency and NFTs Need to Be Included in Your Estate Plan

As more people continue to purchase cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), digital assets are becoming a bigger part of the investment world and of people’s estate plans. If you want to pass these assets to loved ones upon death, you’ll need to plan for it, says the article “Got Cryptocurrency or NFTs? They Need to Be in Your Estate Planfrom Kiplinger. Otherwise, securing, transferring and gifting crypto and NFTs can create unsolvable problems and lost assets.

There are many different kinds of crypto and NFTs, with Bitcoin, Ethereum, Binance Coin, Thether among them. An NFT is a unique, collectable, and tradable digital asset, like digital art or a photo. NFTs are purchased through a bidding process in this universe and in the metaverse, an online world where people are buying homes, real estate and more in the shape of NFTs. Sales of NFTs are estimated to have reached more than $17 billion in 2021. For better or worse, the future is here.

Cryptocurrency is accessed through a private key. This is a series of alphanumeric characters known only to the owner and stored in cold storage or a digital wallet. Whoever has possession of the key can buy, sell and spend the digital currency. If you have crypto, your family or fiduciary needs to know what you have, where to find the assets and what to do with them.

One option is to share the private key or place crypto assets and NFTs in custody, using a software application or a hardware wallet. There are a number of companies now offering these services. An old-school option for this new world asset is to create a secure spreadsheet of your digital assets and list the login protocols for each account.

For now, it is difficult to open crypto accounts and NFTs in the name of a revocable or irrevocable trust. However, digital wallets allowing you to open an account in the name of a trust do exist, if the company handling the digital asset permits. This is a very new, rapidly evolving asset class. Beneficiaries may not yet be named for crypto accounts. However, this may change in the future.

With no trust account and no named beneficiary, what happens to your crypto and NFTs when you die? For now, they must pass through your probate estate under the will. Your estate planning attorney will make sure your estate plan includes the correct way to give digital asset powers for the fiduciary handling your estate and include digital asset powers in your will, trust, and durable power of attorney.

If your state has adopted the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA) or the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA)—46 states have—then it will be easier for loved ones to manage digital assets in case of incapacity or when you pass, as long as your estate plan addresses them.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 23, 2022) “Got Cryptocurrency or NFTs? They Need to Be in Your Estate Plan

How Do IRAs and 401(k)s Fit into Estate Planning?

When investing for retirement, two common types of accounts are part of the planning: 401(k)s and IRAs. J.P. Morgan’s recent article entitled “What are IRAs and 401(k)s?” explains that a 401(k) is an employer-sponsored plan that lets you contribute some of your paycheck to save for retirement.

A potential benefit of a 401(k) is that your employer may match your contributions to your account up to a certain point. If this is available to you, then a good goal is to contribute at least enough to receive the maximum matching contribution your employer offers. An IRA is an account you usually open on your own. As far as these accounts are concerned, the key is knowing the various benefits and limitations of each type. Remember that you may be able to have more than one type of account.

IRAs and 401(k)s can come in two main types – traditional and Roth – with significant differences. However, both let you to delay paying taxes on any investment growth or income, while your money is in the account.

Your contributions to traditional or “pretax” 401(k)s are automatically excluded from your taxable income, while contributions to traditional IRAs may be tax-deductible. For an IRA, it means that you may be able to deduct your contributions from your income for tax purposes. This may decrease your taxes. Even if you aren’t eligible for a tax-deduction, you are still allowed to make a contribution to a traditional IRA, as long as you have earned income. When you withdraw money from traditional IRAs or 401(k)s, distributions are generally taxed as ordinary income.

With Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s, you contribute after-tax dollars, and the withdrawals you take are tax-free, provided that they’re a return of contributions or “qualified distributions” as defined by the IRS. For Roth IRAs, your income may limit the amount you can contribute, or whether you can contribute at all.

If a Roth 401(k) is offered by your employer, a big benefit is that your ability to contribute typically isn’t phased out when your income reaches a certain level. 401(k) plans have higher annual IRS contribution limits than traditional and Roth IRAs.

When investing for retirement, you may be able to use both a 401(k) and an IRA with both Roth and traditional account types. Note that there are some exceptions to the rule that withdrawals from IRAs and 401(k)s before age 59½ typically trigger an additional 10% early withdrawal tax.

Reference: J.P. Morgan (May 12, 2021) “What are IRAs and 401(k)s?”

What Exactly Is a Prenup?

There are some important financial decisions that need to be made before you get hitched. One of them is whether you should get a prenuptial agreement (“prenup”). This isn’t the most romantic issue to discuss, especially because these agreements usually focus on what will happen in the event of the marriage ending. However, in many cases, having tough conversations about the practical side of marriage can actually bring you and your spouse closer together.

JP Morgan’s recent article entitled “What to know about prenups before getting married” explains that being prepared with a prenup that makes both people in a marriage feel comfortable can be a great foundation for building a financially healthy and emotionally healthy marriage.

A prenup is a contract that two people enter before getting married. The terms outlined in a prenup supersede default marital laws, which would otherwise determine what happens if a couple gets divorced or one person dies. Prenups can cover:

  • How property, retirement benefits and savings will be divided if a marriage ends;
  • If and how one person in the couple is allowed to seek alimony (financial support from a spouse); and
  • If one person in a couple goes bankrupt.

Prenups can be useful for people in many different income brackets. If you or your future spouse has a significant amount of debt or assets, it’s probably wise to have a prenup. They can also be useful if you (or your spouse) have a stake in a business, have children from another marriage, or have financial agreements with an ex-spouse.

First, have an open and honest conversation with your spouse-to-be. Next, talk to an attorney, and make sure he or she understands you and your fiancé’s unique goals for your prenup. You and your partner will then compile your financial information, your attorney will negotiate and draft your prenup, you’ll review it and sign it.

Remember that a prenup can be a useful resource for couples in many different circumstances.

It might feel overwhelming to discuss a prenup with your fiancé, but doing this in a non-emotional, organized way can save a lot of strife in the future and could help bring you closer together ahead of your big day.

Reference: JP Morgan (April 4, 2022) “What to know about prenups before getting married”

What Sparks the Contesting of a Will?

A last will and testament is the document used to direct your executor to distribute assets and property according to your wishes. However, it’s not uncommon for disgruntled or distant family members or others to dispute the validity of the will. A recent article titled “5 Reasons A Law Will May Be Contested” from Vents Magazine explains the top five factors to keep in mind when preparing your will.

Undue influence is a commonly invoked reason for a challenge. If a potential beneficiary can prove the person making the will (the testator) was influenced by another person to make decisions they would not have otherwise made, a will challenge could be brought to court. Undue influence means the testator’s decision was significantly affected by a person who stood to gain something by the outcome of the will and made a concerted effort to change the testator’s mind.

Even if there was no evidence of fraud, any suspicion of the testator’s being influenced is enough for a court to accept a case. If you think someone unduly influenced a loved one, especially if they suffer from any mental frailties or dementia, you may have cause to bring a case.

Outright fraud or forgery is another reason for the will to be contested. If there have been many erasures or signature styles appear different from one document to another, there may have been fraud. An estate planning attorney should examine documents to evaluate whether there is enough cause for suspicion to challenge the will.

Improper witnesses. The testator is required to sign the will with witnesses present. In some states, only one witness is required. In most states, two witnesses must be present to sign the will in front of the testator. A beneficiary may not be a witness to the signing of the will. Some states have changed laws to allow for remote signings in response to COVID. If the rules have not been followed, the will may be invalid.

Mistaken identity seems farfetched. However, it is a common occurrence, especially when someone has a common name or more than one person in the family has the same name, and the document has not been properly signed or witnessed. This could create confusion and make the document vulnerable to a challenge. An experienced estate planning attorney will know how to prepare documents to withstand any challenges.

Capacity in the law means someone is able to understand the concept of a will and contents of the document they are signing, along with the identities of the people to whom they are leaving their assets. The person doesn’t need to have perfect mental health, so people with mild cognitive impairments, such as depression or anxiety, may make and sign a will. A medical opinion may be needed, if there might be any doubt as to whether a person had testamentary capacity when the will is signed.

A will contest can be time-consuming and expensive, so keep these issues in mind, especially if the family includes some litigious individuals.

Reference: Vents Magazine (May 6, 2022) “5 Reasons A Law Will May Be Contested”

Should I Create a Funeral Trust?

The IRS defines a funeral trust as “a pooled income fund set up by a funeral home/cemetery to which a person transfers property to cover future funeral and burial costs.”

Funeral trusts are typically set up between three parties: a bank that holds the assets in the trust, you (the grantor) and the funeral home that will receive the funds to cover the cost of the funeral after your death.

Yahoo Life’s recent article entitled “Should You Pre-Pay for Your Own Funeral as Part of Estate Planning?” explains that there are two types of funeral trusts: revocable and irrevocable.

Each type has benefits and drawbacks. The drawback to a trust in many cases is that if you die, and the funeral home isn’t paid in full, or you haven’t put in enough to cover your funeral expenses and the amount that’s currently in the trust is all that you will have—and your family will be responsible for the difference. An advantage of trusts is that, in some states, they can be used primarily for people who aren’t insurable because of extreme health conditions, old age, or imminent death.

If you set up a revocable funeral trust, then you retain control of your assets and can make changes to your terms, including dissolving the contract and getting most of your prepaid funds back.

Funerals can be quite expensive and are often an unexpected expense for which grieving families are not fully prepared. A funeral trust can help families pay for these expenses, which may include:

  • Embalming or cremation
  • A casket, burial vault, or urn
  • Dressing and casketing
  • Clothing, makeup, and hairstyling
  • A burial plot, headstone, and cemetery fees
  • Fees for the visitation and funeral service
  • Service charges for the funeral director and staff
  • Fees for clergy and musicians
  • Hearse and limousines
  • Obituary and death certificate fees; and
  • Stationery and flowers.

While discussing your death and end-of-life planning with your loved ones isn’t easy, the benefit of knowing that you’ve eased the emotional and financial burden that funeral planning can entail in times of grief is worth it.

Reference: Yahoo Life (Feb. 17, 2022) “Should You Pre-Pay for Your Own Funeral as Part of Estate Planning?”

How Did Rock Star’s Estate Planning Help Future Musicians?

The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, a nonprofit supporting music education in at-risk public schools, announced it had received a “transformative donation” from the late Eddie Van Halen.

MSN’s recent article on this is entitled “Eddie Van Halen left a huge donation in his will to support music education for kids”

Before his death in October 2020, Van Halen was involved with the foundation and supported the nonprofit over the years.

He made numerous appearances at the organization’s events and took part in various opportunities helping teach music to kids. As part of his will, Van Halen made a considerable donation that will have a profound effect on the foundation for many years.

The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation was inspired by the movie titled Mr. Holland’s Opus. It is the story of the profound effect a dedicated music teacher had on generations of students. Michael Kamen, who wrote the score for the film, started the foundation in 1996 as his commitment to the future of music education.

The foundation says that Van Halen’s donation “will enable MHOF to fulfill requests from a greater number of schools, add employees to its staff, improve the foundation’s technology and more.”

“Eddie’s support and friendship over the years meant the world to us and to his fans. His passion for music and our work created a strong bond, which is evident in his extraordinary bequest,” Felice Mancini, President and CEO of MHOF said in a statement.

“To know how much our foundation meant to Eddie is intensely humbling and gratifying to all of us – and we know that Eddie’s family is confident that his powerful legacy and values live on through our efforts.”

Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang Van Halen, will continue the family’s involvement and support of the organization. He has donated proceeds from his single “Distance” to the foundation in support of school music programs across the country and as a dedication to his father.

“Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation and the work they do for music education was always something that was important to my father,” Van Halen said in a statement. “I am incredibly proud to help facilitate this donation as he wished. Mr. Holland’s Opus are champions for our musicians of the future, and it is my privilege to continue supporting that mission and carrying on my pop’s legacy.”

Reference: MSN (April 21, 2022) “Eddie Van Halen left a huge donation in his will to support music education for kids”

How to Find a Great Estate Planning Attorney

With so many law firms, it can be challenging to find the right one for your estate planning, says Diving Daily’s recent article entitled “5 Factors to Consider When Choosing an Estate Planning Law Firm.”

The article lists the following factors you should consider when choosing an estate planning law firm.

  1. Your Specific Needs. Before you look for an estate planning lawyer, first determine what it is you need from the lawyer. Consider the intricacies of your estate and whether it has any complexities and special considerations. This will help you narrow down the list of legal professionals who can help you plan your estate.
  2. Experience. Working with an inexperienced law firm or attorney will only work to your detriment. You typically want to look for a lawyer with at least five years of experience in estate planning.
  3. Fees. The expense shouldn’t be your primary consideration when selecting an estate planning attorney, but it’s still worth mentioning. Make certain that you find an attorney that you can afford. However, this doesn’t mean you should hire the cheapest lawyer you can find. In most cases, you’ll end up getting what you pay for. Instead, find a lawyer with reasonable rates.
  4. Reputation. You want an estate planning attorney who has made a name for his or herself in estate planning law. Look at reviews and testimonials online. These are first-hand accounts of previous clients’ experiences with the law firm. They’ll help you decide whether the lawyer is worth your time and money.
  5. Attitude. Make an in-person appointment with the attorney before making your decision and learn about the lawyer’s attitude and demeanor. You’ll want an attorney that’s friendly and easy to talk to. You should note his or her professionalism and knowledge of estate planning.

Make sure you do your due diligence to find the best people to help you plan your estate.

Reference: Diving Daily (April 26, 2022) “5 Factors to Consider When Choosing an Estate Planning Law Firm”

What are Benefits of Putting Money into a Trust?

For the average person, knowing how a revocable trust, irrevocable trust and testamentary trust work will help you start thinking of how a trust might help achieve your estate planning goals. A recent article from The Street, “3 Powerful Types of Trusts that Can Work for You,” provides a good foundation.

The Revocable Trust is one of the more flexible trusts. The person who creates the trust can change anything about the trust at any time. You may add or remove assets, beneficiaries or sell property owned by the trust. Most people who create these trusts, grantors, name themselves as the trustee, allowing themselves to use their property, even though it is owned in the trust.

A Revocable Trust needs to have a successor trustee to manage the assets in the trust for when the grantor dies or becomes incapacitated. The transfer of ownership of the trust and its assets from the grantor to the successor trustee is a way to protect assets in case of disability.

At death, a revocable trust becomes an Irrevocable Trust, which cannot be easily revoked or changed. The successor trustee follows the instructions in the trust document to manage assets and distribute assets.

The revocable trust provides flexibility. However, assets in a revocable trust are considered part of the taxable estate, which means they are subject to estate taxes (both federal and state) when the owner dies. A revocable trust does not offer any protection against creditors, nor will it shield assets from lawsuits.

If the revocable trust’s owner has any debts or legal settlements when they die, the court could award funds from the value of the trust and beneficiaries will only receive what’s left.

A Testamentary Trust is a trust created in connection with instructions contained in a last will and testament. A good example is a trust for a child outlining when assets will be distributed to them by the trustee and for what purposes the trustee is permitted to make the distribution. Funds in this kind of trust are usually used for health, education, maintenance and supports, often referred to as “HEMS.”

For families with relatively modest estates, a trust can be a valuable tool to protect children’s futures. Assets held in trust for the lifetime of a child are protected in the event of the child’s going through a divorce because the child’s inheritance is not subject to equitable distribution when not comingled.

Many people buy life insurance for their families, but they don’t always know that proceeds from the life insurance policy may be subject to estate taxes. An insurance trust, known as an ILIT (Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust) is a smart way to remove life insurance from your taxable estate.

Whether you can have an ILIT depends on policy ownership at the time of the insured’s death. In most cases, the insurance trust must be the owner and the insurance trust must be named as the beneficiary. If the trust is not drafted before the application for and purchase of the life insurance policy, it may be possible to transfer an existing policy to the trust. However, if this is done after the purchase, there may be some challenges and requirements. The owner must live more than three years after the transfer for the policy proceeds to be removed from the taxable estate.

Trusts may seem complex and overwhelming. However, an estate planning attorney will draft them properly and make sure that they are used appropriately to protect your assets and your family.

Reference: The Street (May 13, 2022) “3 Powerful Types of Trusts that Can Work for You”

Will Vets Now Get a COLA Increase in Benefits?

The measure was filed by Representatives Elaine Luria, D-Virginia and Troy Nehls, R-Texas, along with Senators Jon Tester, D-Montana and Jerry Moran, R-Kansas. In joint statements, they called the proposal critical to bolstering veteran’s finances, reports Military Times’ recent article entitled “Lawmakers move to guarantee cost-of-living boost for veterans benefits.”

“We have a responsibility to take care of our veterans, many of whom rely on VA for financial support,” said Moran, ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

“As rampant inflation is driving up the cost of living, this legislation helps make certain that veterans are able to keep up with our changing economy and receive the benefits they have been promised.”

The bill linking the two government benefits is largely routine.  Lawmakers typically approve the annual proposal to couple VA benefits increases with Social Security benefits increases by large bipartisan margins.

However, this isn’t automatic. Even with the efforts of advocates in the past, an annual cost-of-living increase in veterans benefits requires congressional action.

Social Security benefits, in contrast, are adjusted based on an automatic formula that is triggered whether lawmakers vote on it or not.

In 2021, as inflation pressures began to impact the American economy, that increase was 5.9%. Officials haven’t said what this year’s adjustment may be. However, continued rising costs across the economy could push that figure even higher. The VA COLA increase legislation would apply to payouts for disability compensation, clothing allowance, dependency and indemnity benefits and other VA assistance programs.

“Transitioning from active duty to civilian life is not always easy, and a cost-of-living adjustment is the least we can do for the men, women and families who served our country,” said Luria, herself a Navy veteran.

Tester, who serves as chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the bill will “ensure [veterans] benefits are keeping pace with the changing economy.”

No timetable has been set for when either chamber could vote on the proposal.

Reference: Military Times (May 23, 2022) “Lawmakers move to guarantee cost-of-living boost for veterans benefits”