Estate Planning Blog Articles

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

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”

Why Is Estate Planning Review Important?

Maybe your estate plan was created when you were single, and there have been some significant changes in your life. Perhaps you got married or divorced.

You also may now be on better terms with children with whom you were once estranged.

Tax and estate laws can also change over time, requiring further updates to your planning documents.

WMUR’s recent article entitled “The ‘final’ estate-planning step” reminds us that change is a constant thing. With that in mind, here are some key indicators that a review is in order.

  • The value of your estate has changed dramatically
  • You or your spouse changed jobs
  • Changes to your income level or income needs
  • You are retiring and no longer working
  • There is a divorce or marriage in your family
  • There is a new child or grandchild
  • There is a death in the family
  • You (or a close family member) have become ill or incapacitated
  • Your parents have become dependent on you
  • You have formed, purchased, or sold a business;
  • You make significant financial transactions, such as substantial gifts, borrowing or lending money, or purchasing, leasing, or selling assets or investments
  • You have moved
  • You have purchased a vacation home or other property in another state
  • A designated trustee, executor, or guardian dies or changes his or her mind about serving; and
  • You are making changes in your insurance coverage.

Reference: WMUR (Feb. 3, 2022) “The ‘final’ estate-planning step”

Is It Better to Inherit Stock or Cash?

To make an inheritance even more advantageous for heirs, it’s a good idea to streamline accounts and simplify what you own before you die, eliminating some complications during a very emotional time. The next three decades will see a massive transfer of wealth from one generation to the next, says a recent article “6 of the Best Assets to Inherit” from Kiplinger. If you might be among those leaving inheritances to loved ones, there are steps you can take to prevent emotional and even family-destroying fights resulting from problematic assets.

Cash is king of inheritance assets. It’s simplest to deal with and the value is crystal clear. If you have accounts in multiple financial institutions, consolidate cash into one account. Each bank may have different rules for distributing assets, so reducing the number of banks involved will make it easier. Just remember to stay within FDIC limits, which insures only $250,000 per bank per ownership category. Tell your children if they are going to receive a significant cash inheritance and discuss what they may want to do with it.

Cash substitutes. Proceeds from a life insurance policy are usually very cut and dried. When you pass away, the life insurance company pays beneficiaries the death benefit in cash, according to the beneficiaries named on the policy. Be sure to tell your heirs where the original policy is located. They’ll need to provide the insurance company with a death certificate and there may be a form or two involved. The proceeds are income tax free, although the death benefit itself is added to the value of your estate and might be charged estate taxes.

Bank products, like CDs and Money Market Accounts. You can set up these accounts to be Payable on Death (POD), so the person named can access the assets quickly after your death. Don’t put one person’s name on the account and hope they share with their siblings. That’s a recipe for family disaster. If your will has one set of instructions and the bank product names another owner, the bank will pay according to the titling of the account. The same goes for life insurance proceeds—the beneficiary designation supersedes instructions in a will.

Brokerage Accounts. Stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other assets held in a taxable brokerage account are easy to divide and value. They are also easy to sell and convert to cash. What’s more, they could give heirs a significant tax benefit. If you bought shares of Apple or IBM years ago and sold the stocks while you were living, you’d owe capital gains taxes. However, if the investments are inherited, the heir receives a step-up-in-basis, which means the investment basis goes to the market value on the day you die. It’s entirely possible for heirs to sell appreciated assets with no or little taxes due.

Assets that decrease in value fast: this is not for everyone. Let’s say you know your heir is going to take their inheritance and buy an over-the-top luxury item, like a new sports car or a yacht. You know the asset will lose value the minute it’s driven out of the showroom or launched for the first time. Rather than leave them cash to make a purchase, buy the car or boat yourself and leave it to them as an inherited asset. They lose value immediately, while reducing your taxable estate. You’ve always wanted a Lamborghini anyway.

Roth IRA—Best of All IRA Worlds. The Roth IRA is funded with after-tax dollars, and in exchange, retirement withdrawals and investment gains are income tax-free. If you leave a 401(k) or traditional IRA, heirs will owe taxes on withdrawals and unless they meet certain requirements, they have to empty the account within ten years.

Trust Fund Assets. This may be the best way to protect an inheritance from heirs. If you leave property outright to heirs, it’s subject to creditors and predators. Funds in a trust are carefully protected, according to the terms of the trust, which you determine. Your estate planning attorney can create the trust to achieve whatever you want. Inheritances in trusts are less likely to evaporate quickly and you get the final say in how assets are distributed.

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 9, 2021) “6 of the Best Assets to Inherit”

Can I Claim Grandfather’s Unclaimed Insurance Policy?

What if you recently discovered some old life insurance accounts being held by the state for your grandfather, who passed away in 1977.

It looks like the funds were never disbursed because the address was spelled wrong. As a result, the insurance accounts were considered unclaimed.

None of his children—including your mom—is alive today, and there are a number of adult grandchildren besides you.

How do you get your hands on this money? How is it disbursed?

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “I found two old life insurance policies. How can we collect?” says that insurance claims can be made at any time, even years after the death of the policy holder.

The first step is to make contact with the life insurance company that issued the policy.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has a website to help people locate insurance policies.

Even if the policy proceeds reverted to the state, you can still claim it through the Unclaimed Property Administration.

The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, which is a network of the National Association of State Treasurers, says that about one in 10 people have unclaimed cash or property waiting for them.

Unclaimed or “abandoned” property is defined as property or accounts within financial institutions or companies with no activity generated (or contact with the owner) as to the property for one year or a longer period.

After a designated period of time—known as “the dormancy period”— with no activity or contact, the property becomes “unclaimed” and—by law—must be turned over to the state.

There are billions of dollars in unclaimed property that’s held by state governments and treasuries across the country.

As far as who would get your grandfather’s insurance policy proceeds, the distribution of the life insurance proceeds are governed by the contract of the life insurance policy.

Reference: nj.com (Nov. 18, 2021) “I found two old life insurance policies. How can we collect?”

How Can I Clean Up My Estate Plan?

Chicago Business Journal’s recent article entitled “8 steps to tidy up your estate plan now” gives you some items to think about when working through your affairs.

Make certain that your plan is accurate and up to date. Your basic documents, which include your will, health care directive and power of attorney, should be in place and up-to-date. Review them to confirm that they’re consistent with your wishes and the current laws.

Review your named beneficiaries and fiduciaries. Confirm that the names of designated beneficiaries and fiduciaries are accurate. Most assets will pass under your will or through trusts, other accounts such as retirement, or life insurance may pass directly to a named (or contingent) beneficiary. If your planning circumstances have changed since creating these designations, update them.

Review your life and property insurance coverage. Be sure that these policies offer adequate coverage and meet their intended purpose. As your wealth increases, the planning purposes behind a term policy for risk mitigation purposes or a whole life policy to ensure ample liquidity upon death may become unnecessary. However, if your assets’ value has grown, you may need to re-examine if the current property coverage is sufficient to minimize your increased potential liability.

Ensure that your beneficiaries have enough liquidity. The estate administration process can be slow and tiresome. It’s possible that a person may not have immediate access to liquidity after a spouse’s death, depending on how assets are titled. A temporary (but major) burden can be avoided, by confirming at least some liquidity will be titled in or directly available to your spouse after you have passed.

Locate and compile important information and account identification. A difficult step in estate administration is locating a decedent’s assets. Make this process easier for loved ones, by creating a list of your accounts, property of significant value, liabilities and contacts at each financial institution. Make the list easily accessible to your family or executor, and update it whenever opening or closing an account.

Review digital assets and online accounts. These assets are frequently overlooked as to access and ownership after death. Instead of divulging passwords or allowing account access, you can add a “digital assets clause” to your planning documents. This lets named parties access specific items within the bounds of accepted legal standards.

Draft a letter of wishes. This document allows you to fully express your intentions and hopes, as well as any explanations or instructions you want to impart to your loved ones.

Plan to review. Repeat the review process regularly and calendar a reminder to give yourself an annual financial and planning checkup.

Reference: Chicago Business Journal (Dec. 2, 2021) “8 steps to tidy up your estate plan now”

What are Earnings Limits for Disability Retirees?

If you are 60 or older, there’s no restriction on the amount of income you can earn while receiving disability retirement.

However, if you’re under age 60, you can earn income from work while also receiving disability retirement benefits. Note that your disability annuity will cease, if the United States Office of Personnel Management determines that you’re able to earn an income that’s near to what your earnings would be if you’d continued working.

Fed Week’s recent article entitled “The Limits on Earnings for Disability Retirees” says that the retirement law has set an earnings limit of 80% for you to still keep getting your disability retirement. You reach the 80% earnings limit (or are “restored to earning capacity”) if, in any calendar year, your income from wages and self-employment is at least 80% of the current rate of basic pay for the position from which you retired.

All income from wages and self-employment that you actually get plus deferred income that you actually earned in the calendar year is considered “earnings.” Any money received before your retirement isn’t considered “earnings.”

The government says that income from wages includes any salary received while working for someone else (including overtime, vacation pay, etc.). Income from self-employment is any net profit you made from working or managing your own business—whether at home or elsewhere. Net profit is the amount that’s left after deducting business expenses and before the deduction of any personal expenses or exemptions as allowed by the IRS. Deferred income is any income you earned but didn’t receive in the calendar year for which you’re claiming income below the 80% earnings limitation.

If you’re reemployed in federal service, and your salary is reduced by the gross amount of your annuity, the gross amount of your salary before the reduction is considered “earnings” during the calendar year.

The following aren’t considered earnings:

  • Gifts
  • Pensions and annuities
  • Social Security benefits
  • Insurance proceeds
  • Unemployment compensation
  • Rents and royalties not involving or resulting from personal services
  • Interest and dividends not resulting from your own trade or business
  • Money earned prior to retirement
  • Inheritances
  • Capital gains
  • Prizes and awards
  • Fellowships and scholarships; and
  • Net business losses.

If you’re under age 60 and reemployed in a position equivalent to the position you held at retirement, the Office of Personnel Management will find you recovered from your disability and will cut off your annuity payments.

Reference: Fed Week (Nov. 4, 2021) “The Limits on Earnings for Disability Retirees”

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”

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?”

Will Vets Get More Time to Apply for Veterans’ Group Life Insurance?

The Department of Veterans Affairs has extended the deadline to apply for Veterans’ Group Life Insurance to include service members leaving the military through Dec. 11, 2021. During the pandemic, the VA provided more application time to anyone leaving the military from June 11, 2020, through June 11, 2021. The move allows troops leaving in the second half of last year to also get some extra time.

Military Times’ recent article entitled “More troops get extension to apply for veterans life insurance” tells us how it works for those whose separation dates are between June 11, 2020, and Dec. 11, 2021:

  • To apply for VGLI without a health review to provide proof of good health, service members will be allowed to 330 days after they separate from the military, an increase of 90 days over the standard period of 240 days and
  • To apply with a health review of good health, service members will have up to one year and 210 days after leaving the service—an increase of 90 days over the standard period of one year and 120 days.

The Department of Veterans Affairs says that the extension is aimed at relieving some of the financial effects of the pandemic for former service members, “especially those with disabilities incurred while in service, since many of these former members would otherwise not qualify for a private commercial plan of insurance due to such disabilities,” the VA states. Some troops may also have challenges with visiting their health care provider to get their medical records, according to the VA.

The Veterans’ Group Life Insurance coverage is an option for those who have Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance coverage. This permits them to convert their existing SGLI coverage to VGLI coverage. Both programs are administered by the Office of Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance, and are supervised by the VA.

VGLI coverage is more expensive than Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance coverage. It increases in cost every five years up to age 80. Therefore, for instance, $400,000 worth of SGLI coverage costs the same — $25 a month — regardless of age. VGLI coverage of $400,000 at age 30 costs $36 a month, and at age 40 costs $64 a month. However, life insurance policies can be purchased in increments of $10,000 up to $400,000. Thus, a $10,000 policy would cost $1.60 a month for a 40-year-old.

Service members should shop around for life insurance and have a policy in hand well before their VGLI application deadline to ensure they have coverage, if there are health conditions that might make them ineligible for commercial life insurance coverage.

Reference: Military Times (June 18, 2021) “More troops get extension to apply for veterans life insurance”

What Is a Holistic Estate Plan?

Estate planning is more than a tax strategy. It’s about creating a legacy and protecting your family for the short and long term, explains the article Create A Holistic Estate Plan Now For Bigger Payoffs In The Future” from Forbes. The process begins with as much disclosure as possible. That means talking with your estate planning attorney about the challenges your family faces, as well as the assets to be left for loved ones.

One change to the tax code can disrupt decades of careful planning and leave people scrambling to protect loved ones. Market tumult can require assets to be sold to meet cash flow needs. Charitable contributions may also need to be reviewed and possibly changed, if the family’s asset level changes.

There are three aspects to consider when creating an estate plan: a lifetime spending strategy, a charitable legacy and bequests. All of these are impacted by taxes and need to be reviewed as a whole.

Lifetime spending strategy. These questions are centered on your goals and plans. Where do you want to live during retirement and how do you wish to live, travel and entertain? Will you stay in place and focus on charitable organizations, or travel throughout the year? It’s good to set a budget and stress-test it to see what different outcomes may arise.

A family that owns businesses or large real estate holdings may benefit from strategies, like family limited partnerships. A sale of the business to an outsider or a family member could create many different options, and all should be considered.

Charitable gift planning. Estate planning offers a way to clarify charitable giving goals and create a road map for how gifting can be transformed into a legacy. A well-planned charitable gift strategy can also minimize estate taxes and maximize the future of the gift, for both the family and the charities you favor.

A Charitable Remainder Trust is used to provide an income stream during your lifetime and reach gifting goals at the same time. One way to accomplish this is to transfer an asset, like highly appreciated stocks or bonds, into an irrevocable trust, thereby removing the asset from your taxable estate. The trustee may then sell the asset at market value and reinvest, creating a lifelong income stream for you or a beneficiary.

Leaving assets, not estate tax bills, for heirs. Families who own multiple properties in their own names or in a single LLC can lead to a lot of administrative headaches when the owners die. One simple fix is to place each property into a separate LLC, which increases the availability of strategic tax savings.

Another way to minimize estate taxes is through the use of life insurance. This is a strategy to do while you are still relatively healthy, as it becomes increasing difficult to obtain once you turn 60 or 70.

All of these strategies take knowledge and time to set up, so creating an estate plan and working through the many different strategies is best done with an experienced estate planning attorney and before any trigger events occur.

Reference: Forbes (April 6, 2021) Create A Holistic Estate Plan Now For Bigger Payoffs In The Future”