Estate Planning Blog Articles

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

How Can I Conduct a Family Meeting about Family Wealth Planning?

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “It’s Never Too Late for a Family Meeting – Here’s How to Do Them Well” emphasizes that no matter the amount of wealth that a family has, wealth education is crucial to overall financial education, preparing for the future and to becoming a good steward of an inheritance.

Family meetings are a great way of bringing members of a family together with a goal of facilitating communication and education. This allows for sharing family stories, communicating values, setting goals to help ensure transparency and helping members across generations understand their roles around stewardship and wealth.

Here are some ideas on how to have an effective family meeting:

Prepare. The host of the meeting should spend time with each participating family member to help them understand the reason for the meeting and learn more about their expectations. There should be a desire and commitment from the participants to invest time and effort to make family meetings a success.

Plan. Create a clear agenda that defines the purpose and goals of each meeting. Share this agenda with participants before the meeting. Select a neutral location that makes everyone comfortable and encourages participation.

Have time for learning. Include an educational component in the agenda, such as an introduction to investing, estate planning, budgeting and saving, or philanthropy.

Have a “parking lot.” Note any topics raised that might need to be addressed in a future meeting.

Use a facilitator. Perhaps have a trusted adviser facilitate the meeting. This can help with managing the agenda, offering a different perspective, calming emotions and making certain that everyone is heard and understood.

Follow up. Include some to-do’s and schedule the next meeting to set expectations about continuing to bring the family together.

Reference: Kiplinger (Sep. 1, 2021) “It’s Never Too Late for a Family Meeting – Here’s How to Do Them Well”

What Items Should Not Be Stored in a Safe Deposit Box?

We’re reminded daily about living in a digital world where anything of importance is stored in the cloud. However, if you were thinking about getting rid of your safe deposit box, says the article “9 Things You’ll Regret Keeping in a Safe Deposit Box,” from Kiplinger, think again.

By all means keep your prized possessions like baseball cards in a safe deposit box. Some documents also do belong in a bank vault. However, it’s not the right place for everything.

Even if the bank’s ATMs are open 24/7, access to the safe deposit box is limited to hours when the bank is open. If you need something in an emergency on a weekend, holiday or at night, you’re stuck. The same goes for natural disasters, which seem to be happening more frequently in certain parts of the country. Reduced operations and branch closures happened because of the pandemic and today’s hiring problems might mean a longer wait even during regular business hours at a bank branch.

Here’s a look at what not to put in your safe deposit box:

Cash money. Most banks are very clear: cash should not be kept in a safe deposit box. Read your contract with the bank. The FDIC does not protect cash, unless it’s in a bank account.

Passports. Unless you travel often enough to keep a passport next to your wallet, it may be tempting to put it in the safety deposit box. However, if an emergency arises, or you get a great last minute travel bargain, you won’t have quick access to your passport.

An original will. Keeping copies of your will in a safe deposit box is fine, but not the original. After death, the bank seals the safe deposit box until an executor can prove they have the legal right to access it.

Letters of Intent. A letter of intent, or letter of instruction, is a letter to your family, telling them what your wishes are for your funeral or memorial service and giving details on specific bequests. However, if it’s locked up in a safe deposit box, your final wishes may not see the light of day for months. Keep the letter of intent with your original will. You might also wish to send the letter of intent to anyone who is designated to receive a specific item.

Power of Attorney. Similar to the will, the POA needs to be accessible any time, day, or night. Keep it with your original will and provide copies to anyone who might need it. The same goes for your Advance Directives for Health Care or Living Will. It won’t do you any good to say you don’t want to be kept alive on a heart and lung machine if your agents can’t get to these documents.

Valuables, Jewelry or Collectibles. The FDIC does not insure safe deposit boxes or their contents. There are no federal laws governing safe deposit boxes and no law says the bank has to reimburse you for stolen items. Protect valuables with a supplemental policy or a rider to your homeowner’s insurance policy and keep them at home.

Spare House Keys. How likely are you to be able to get to your house keys even if the bank is open, if your key to the safe deposit box is in your home? Enough said.

Illegal, Dangerous, or Liquid Items. When you opened your safe deposit box, you signed a contract listing what you may and may not keep in a safe deposit box. Firearms, explosive, illegal drugs, and hazardous materials are among the things prohibited from being kept in a safe deposit box. The same goes for less dramatic items: if you have a collection of rare whiskey, keep it at home.

Reference: Kiplinger (Sep. 24, 2021) “9 Things You’ll Regret Keeping in a Safe Deposit Box”

If I Have a Will, Do I Have an Estate Plan?

Estate planning and writing a will are entirely different terms.

An estate plan is a broader plan of action for your assets that may apply during your life, as well as after your death.

However, a will states the way in which your assets will go after you die.

Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “Estate Planning vs. Will: What’s the Difference?” explains that a will is a legal document that states the way in which you’d like your assets to be distributed after you die.

A will can also detail your wishes about how your minor children will be cared after your death, and it names an executor who’s in charge of carrying out the actions in your will. Without a will, the state’s probate laws determine how your property is divided.

Estate planning is a lot broader and more complex than writing a will. A will is a single tool. An estate plan involves multiple tools, such as powers of attorney, advance directives and trusts.

Again, a will is a legal document, and an estate plan is a collection of legal documents. An estate plan can also handle other estate planning matters that can’t be addressed in a will.

A will is a good place to start, but you’ll want to create an estate plan to ensure that your family is fully covered in the event of your death.

While having a will is important, it’s only the first step when it comes to creating an estate plan.

To leave your heirs and loved ones in the best position after your death, you should talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about creating a comprehensive estate plan, so your assets can end up where you want them.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Aug. 10, 2021) “Estate Planning vs. Will: What’s the Difference?”

When Should You Fund a Trust?

If your estate plan includes a revocable trust, sometimes called a “living trust,” you need to be certain the trust is funded. When created by an experienced estate planning attorney, revocable trusts provide many benefits, from avoiding having assets owned by the trust pass through probate to facilitating asset management in case of incapacity. However, it doesn’t happen automatically, according to a recent article from mondaq.com, “Is Your Revocable Trust Fully Funded?”

For the trust to work, it must be funded. Assets must be transferred to the trust, or beneficiary accounts must have the trust named as the designated beneficiary. The SECURE Act changed many rules concerning distribution of retirement account to trusts and not all beneficiary accounts permit a trust to be the owner, so you’ll need to verify this.

The revocable trust works well to avoid probate, and as the “grantor,” or creator of the trust, you may instruct trustees how and when to distribute trust assets. You may also revoke the trust at any time. However, to effectively avoid probate, you must transfer title to virtually all your assets. It includes those you own now and in the future. Any assets owned by you and not the trust will be subject to probate. This may include life insurance, annuities and retirement plans, if you have not designated a beneficiary or secondary beneficiary for each account.

What happens when the trust is not funded? The assets are subject to probate, and they will not be subject to any of the controls in the trust, if you become incapacitated. One way to avoid this is to take inventory of your assets and ensure they are properly titled on a regular basis.

Another reason to fund a trust: maximizing protection from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insurance coverage. Most of us enjoy this protection in our bank accounts on deposits up to $250,000. However, a properly structured revocable trust account can increase protection up to $250,000 per beneficiary, up to five beneficiaries, regardless of the dollar amount or percentage.

If your revocable trust names five beneficiaries, a bank account in the name of the trust is eligible for FDIC insurance coverage up to $250,000 per beneficiary, or $1.25 million (or $2.5 million for jointlyowned accounts). For informal revocable trust accounts, the bank’s records (although not the account name) must include all beneficiaries who are to be covered. FDIC insurance is on a per-institution basis, so coverage can be multiplied by opening similarly structured accounts at several different banks.

One last note: FDIC rules regarding revocable trust accounts are complex, especially if a revocable trust has multiple beneficiaries. Speak with your estate planning attorney to maximize insurance coverage.

Reference: mondaq.com (Sep. 10, 2021) “Is Your Revocable Trust Fully Funded?”

Where Do You Score on Estate Planning Checklist?

Make sure that you review your estate plan at least once every few years to be certain that all the information is accurate and updated. It’s even more necessary if you experienced a significant change, such as marriage, divorce, children, a move, or a new child or grandchild. If laws have changed, or if your wishes have changed and you need to make substantial changes to the documents, you should visit an experienced estate planning attorney.

Kiplinger’s recent article “2021 Estate Planning Checkup: Is Your Estate Plan Up to Date?” gives us a few things to keep in mind when updating your estate plan:

Moving to Another State. Note that if you’ve recently moved to a new state, the estate laws vary in different states. Therefore, it’s wise to review your estate plan to make sure it complies with local laws and regulations.

Changes in Probate or Tax Laws. Review your estate plan with an experienced estate planning attorney to see if it’s been impacted by changes to any state or federal laws.

Powers of Attorney. A power of attorney is a document in which you authorize an agent to act on your behalf to make business, personal, legal, or financial decisions, if you become incapacitated.  It must be accurate and up to date. You should also review and update your health care power of attorney. Make your wishes clear about do-not-resuscitate (DNR) provisions and tell your health care providers about your decisions. It is also important to affirm any clearly expressed wishes as to your end-of-life treatment options.

A Will. Review the details of your will, including your executor, the allocation of your estate and the potential estate tax burden. If you have minor children, you should also designate guardians for them.

Trusts. If you have a revocable living trust, look at the trustee and successor appointments. You should also check your estate and inheritance tax burden with an estate planning attorney. If you have an irrevocable trust, confirm that the trustee properly carries out the trustee duties like administration, management and annual tax returns.

Gifting Opportunities. The laws concerning gifts can change over time, so you should review any gifts and update them accordingly. You may also want to change specific gifts or recipients.

Regularly updating your estate plan can help you to avoid simple estate planning mistakes. You can also ensure that your estate plan is entirely up to date and in compliance with any state and federal laws.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 28, 2021) “2021 Estate Planning Checkup: Is Your Estate Plan Up to Date?”

What are Digital Assets in an Estate?

Planning for what would happen to our intangible, digital assets in the event of incapacity or death is now as important as planning for traditional assets, like real property, IRAs, and investment accounts. How to accomplish estate planning for digital assets is explained in the article, aptly named, “Estate planning for your digital assets” from the Baltimore Business Journal.

Digital asset is the term used to describe all electronically stored information and online accounts. Some digital assets have monetary value, like cryptocurrency and accounts with gaming or gambling winnings, and some may be transferrable to heirs. These include bank accounts, domains, event tickets, airline miles, etc.

Ownership issues are part of the confusion about digital assets. Your social media accounts, family photos, emails and even business records, may be on platforms where the content itself is considered to belong to you, but the platform strictly controls access and may not permit anyone but the original owner to gain control.

Until recently, there was little legal guidance in managing a person digital files and accounts in the event of incapacity and death. Accessing accounts, managing contents and understanding the owner, user and licensing agreements have become complex issues.

In 2014, the Uniform Law Commission proposed the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA) to provide fiduciaries with some clarity and direction. The law, which was revised in 2015 and is now referred to as RUFADAA (Revised UFADAA) was created as a guideline for states and almost every state has adopted these laws, providing estate planning attorneys with the legal guidelines to help create a digital estate plan.

A digital estate plan starts with considering how many digital accounts you actually own—everything from online banking, music files, books, businesses, emails, apps, utility and bill payment programs. What would happen if you were incapacitated? Would a trusted person have the credentials and technical knowledge to access and manage your digital accounts? What would you want them to do with them? In case of your demise, who would you want to have ownership or access to your digital assets?

Once you have created a comprehensive list of all of your assets—digital and otherwise—an estate planning attorney will be able to update your estate planning documents to include your digital assets. You may need only a will, or you may need any of the many planning tools and strategies available, depending upon the type, location and value of your assets.

Not having a digital asset estate plan leaves your estate vulnerable to many problems, including costs. Identity theft against deceased people is rampant, once their death is noted online. The ability to pay bills to keep a household running may take hours of detective work on your surviving spouse’s part. If your executor doesn’t know about accounts with automatic payments, your estate could give up hundreds or thousands in charges without anyone’s knowledge.

There are more complex digital assets, including cryptocurrency and NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) with values from a few hundred dollars to millions of dollars. The rules on the valuation, sale and transfers of these assets are as yet largely undefined. There are also many reports of people who lose large sums because of a lack of planning for these assets.

Speak with your estate planning attorney about your state’s laws concerning digital assets and protect them with an estate plan that includes this new asset class.

Reference: Baltimore Business Journal (Sep. 16, 2021) “Estate planning for your digital assets”

You Need a Buy-Sell Agreement for Your Business

Every business should have a buy-sell agreement to protect the owners, their families, employees and the company. Without a buy-sell agreement or succession plan, any company is at risk, notes a recent article titled “Why does your business need a buy-sell agreement?” from the Philadelphia Business Journal.

Many business owners are reluctant to recognize the possibility of their becoming disabled or dying, so they put off creating a buy sell agreement. However, as we all know, unexpected events happen and it’s always better to be prepared.

A buy-sell agreement offers protection first by establishing what type of triggering events could happen and defining the terms and conditions for how shareholders will enter and exit their ownership of the business.

Companies often have a buy-sell agreement stuck in a file drawer from ten or twenty years ago. Chances are that big changes have taken place in the business and the old agreement is no longer relevant. The day-to-day operations of a business are pressing, and there’s never enough time to get around to it. However, when the unexpected occurs, shareholders are left to negotiate among themselves during the worst possible time.

A well-drafted buy-sell agreement should address the most common events: death, disability, divorce, personal bankruptcy, voluntary termination, retirement and involuntary separation. The agreement should clearly state the percentage and type of ownership, how shares are valued and how any insurance proceeds are to be handled. Without knowledge of the value and terms of payment, there’s no way to provide protection for a triggering event.

Once the value of the company and its shareholders is defined, it may become clear that a business needs to close a valuation gap.

The intentions for the future of the business can also be clarified through this process. Some provisions to consider are:

  • How to notify other shareholders, in the event of a voluntary termination.
  • Trailer provisions to protect exiting shareholders, in the event of a subsequent liquidity event.
  • Discounts on value or extended payment terms for non-compliance of notification provisions.
  • Insurance portability provisions to allow existing shareholders to reassign beneficiary designations (once payments owed to the exiting shareholder have been made).

Businesses are dynamic entities with frequent changes, so buy-sell agreements should be reviewed and updated in the same way that an estate plan needs to be updated—every three or four years.

Reference: Philadelphia Business Journal (Sep. 1, 2021) “Why does your business need a buy-sell agreement?”

Learn about Estate Planning in Your New State

Did you know that a lot of states—especially the ones that have a state income tax—actively challenge claims by former residents that they’ve moved out of state and changed their tax domicile. These states may try to use any connection a former resident maintains with them to justify their continuing to tax the former resident.

J.P. Morgan’s recent article entitled “Changing your state of residence” says to have your move  respected, you really have to move. Half-measures don’t cut it and could leave you open to claims by your former home state that it should still be able to tax you. Domicile for tax purposes is a matter of intent, and that intent is implied by your actions.

Changing your residence is a legal issue, so consider this checklist of items. There’s no bright-line rul., However, the more of these you can check off, the more likely it is that you’ll be deemed to have changed your residence for tax purposes.

  • Change your driver’s license to your new state and cancel your old state’s driver’s license.
  • Register your vehicles in your new state and notify your insurance company of the move.
  • Register to vote in your new state and cancel your old state’s voter registration.
  • Move your membership to a local house of worship in your new state and make local contributions.
  • Purchase a home in your new state and if possible, sell your home in your old state. If you can’t buy right away, rent with a long-term lease.
  • Claim a homestead exemption in your new state (if applicable), and relinquish any homestead claim in your old state.
  • Revise your estate planning documents (wills, trusts, powers of attorney, health care powers of attorney, advance care directives, etc.) to indicate your new state of residence with a local estate planning attorney.
  • Change your financial accounts to your new state and don’t keep accounts in your former state.
  • Get a library card in your new state.
  • Use local medical professionals and send your medical records to them.
  • Change your address with the IRS and list your new address on your returns; and
  • Focus your activity (economic, social, and financial) in your new state.

As a general rule, you want to stay out of your former state more than 183 days in each calendar year (this number may vary by state). Therefore, the closer you are to this tally, the more likely your former state will want you to prove that you were outside of that state for more than 183 days. You should keep a daily calendar (with receipts) that demonstrates you were outside your former state for each day. In the first year you claim non-resident status in your former state, you may be more likely to experience a residency audit than in future years, no matter how close you are to the threshold.  While you don’t have to be in your new state for more than 183 days, your former state will look at how many days you spent in your new state as a factor in determining if you have established residency in the new state.

Reference: J.P. Morgan (July 22, 2021) “Changing your state of residence”

How to Make a Few Bucks after Retirement

When you retire, it can be hard to generate extra income. However, if you can lower your spending, you won’t need to dip into your retirement funds as much. Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “7 Unusual Ways to Cut the Cost of Living in Retirement” gives us some atypical ways to lower your expenses in retirement:

  1. Move in with the children. Children these days often live at home until they’re in their 20s. They can return the favor by letting their retired parents live with them after they’ve formed their own households. However, prior to moving in with Junior, make sure that you reach an agreement about whether you’ll help out with household expenses.
  2. Rent out a room in your home. If you have empty bedrooms in your house because your children have grown up and moved away, consider renting one out. Companies such as Roommates4Boomers and Silvernest help seniors rent out extra space in their homes or find an older roommate with whom to reside. However, being a landlord requires some effort. You’ll need to screen tenants, collect damage deposits and collect the rent, unless you use a company that handles that for you.
  3. Get your green thumb going. You can max out your savings if you grow vegetables that can be easily stored or preserved, such as potatoes, onions and winter squash. Beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, beets and sweet corn can be preserved by freezing or canning.
  4. Downsize your fleet. When you retire, you may be able to share a single vehicle with your spouse. That would eliminate the expenses associated with owning and operating a second car. Transportation-related costs are the second-largest type of expense for the average household led by someone who is 65 or older, after housing.
  5. Drop unhealthy habits. You can reduce your medical costs in retirement, if you make a greater effort to stay healthy. One way to do this is to avoid unhealthy habits, such as smoking or drinking alcohol to excess.
  6. Canceling your life insurance. The purpose of life insurance is to replace the income of household earners, providing for dependents in the event of a breadwinner’s untimely death. However, when you’re retired, odds are that your kids are grown and supporting themselves. If you no longer have dependents, the money you’re spending on life insurance might be better spent on your daily needs.
  7. Plan to age in place. If you take action now to make your home safe and accessible as you age, you may increase your chances of staying in your home longer. If you’re able to “age in place,” rather than moving into an assisted-living facility or nursing home, you’ll likely also save money.

Reference: Money Talks News (Sep. 3, 2021) “7 Unusual Ways to Cut the Cost of Living in Retirement”

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