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Essential Estate Planning Considerations for Minor Children

Estate Planning for Minor Children

It is paramount for parents to have an estate plan that not only takes care of their personal and financial matters but also addresses the well-being of their minor child or children. Delving into estate planning considerations can be overwhelming, especially when young children are involved. This guide will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of estate planning for minors.

Estate Planning: Why Is It Essential for Parents with Young Children?

Estate planning for parents with young children involves setting up mechanisms to ensure that, in the event both parents pass away, their children will be cared for in the desired manner. Many parents overlook this critical aspect. However,ensuring their children have the protection and support they need is vital.

What Is a Trust and Why Is it Important for Minor Children?

A trust is a legal entity that holds and manages assets for the benefit of certain persons or entities, typically the minor child or children. A trust may be established to ensure that your child receives the inheritance at an appropriate age. The trustee is also responsible for managing the trust assets for the child’s benefit until they reach the age of majority.

Appointing a Guardian: Who Will Care for Your Children in the Event Both Parents Die?

Choosing a guardian for your child is one of the most critical decisions in an estate plan. The guardian is entrusted with raising your child if both parents die or become incapacitated. Young parents, especially, need to decide who they would trust to raise their children if both parents are not around. Appointing someone you trust and discussing your wishes with them beforehand is essential.

Power of Attorney: Who Makes Decisions on Your Behalf?

A power of attorney is a legal document that allows a person to act on your behalf if you become incapacitated. There are different types of power of attorney, such as financial power and medical power. The former deals with financial matters, while the latter allows someone to make medical decisions for you.

Special Needs Planning: What If One of Your Children has Special Needs?

If you have a child with special needs, specific considerations should be included in the estate plan. A special needs trust is a tool parents can use to ensure that the inheritance does not disqualify the child from receiving essential government benefits. Estate planning for special needs children requires meticulous attention to detail to safeguard their interests.

Life Insurance: Ensuring Financial Security for Your Children

Life insurance plays a crucial role in estate planning for parents with minor children. In the unfortunate event that one or both parents pass away, the life insurance proceeds can provide financial stability for the children. This ensures that they have the means for education, healthcare and other essential needs.

The Last Will and Testament: A Fundamental Estate Planning Document

A last will and testament primarily directs how your personal property should be distributed after your death. Parents need to stipulate their desires, especially regarding their children’s inheritance.

Beneficiary Designations: Make Sure That Assets Go Where You Want

Ensuring the correct beneficiary designation on assets, like retirement accounts, is vital when drafting an estate plan. Incorrect or outdated designations can result in unintended consequences, potentially sidelining the intended benefits for your minor children.

Trusts for Children from Previous Relationships

For parents with children from previous relationships, establishing a trust can ensure that all children, irrespective of their biological ties, are treated equitably. This ensures that the inheritance and trust assets are distributed according to the parent’s wishes.

In Conclusion: Key Takeaways

  • Establishing an estate plan is vital for parents with minor children.
  • Setting up a trust can protect a child’s inheritance until they reach a suitable age.
  • Appointing a trusted guardian ensures that your children are in safe hands should anything happen to both parents.
  • Power of attorney is essential for someone to make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.
  • Parents with special needs children should consider setting up a special needs trust.
  • Life insurance is crucial for the financial security of your children.
  • Always ensure that beneficiary designations are updated and correct.
  • Trusts can be especially useful for parents with children from previous relationships.

To ensure that your estate plan aligns with your desires and the well-being of your minor child or children, consider consulting an estate planning attorney or law firm. They can guide you through the intricate details and help you make the best choices for your family’s future.

Estate Planning in Seven Steps

From defining financial objectives and understanding legal issues to safeguarding assets and establishing directives, every step in the creation of an estate plan is a brushstroke in the painting of your personal legacy. A recent article from Market Business News, “Crafting Your Legacy: 7 Steps in the Estate Planning Process,” describes the process of creating what is essentially a testament to protect loved ones.

Create an inventory of assets. You’ll need to be meticulous about this to ensure that all your assets are accounted for. This includes properties, investment accounts, items of value and sentimental possessions. It should include detailed descriptions and appraisals. This forms the foundation of your estate plan.

Consider your family’s needs after your death. Anticipate your family’s financial, practical, and emotional needs. Consider things like educational expenses, healthcare costs, ongoing support for basics, and, depending on your situation, recreational activities. Address this concern in your estate plan, so your family will have a secure foundation after your passing.

Select beneficiaries. This is simple in some cases and more complicated in others. You may have a traditional family or one including non-family members who are like family to you. Are there charitable concerns you want to address?

How do you want your estate divided? Be specific to avoid confusion and ensure that assets are distributed according to your intentions. Language needs to be specific and clear, with no room for ambiguity.

Store documents properly. Safeguard estate planning documents, which include your will, Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney, Living Will and others, in a secure location, like a fire and water-proof home safe. Do not put them in a bank safe deposit box, as the bank may seal the box upon your death and not allow representatives to access the box’s contents. Talk with your estate planning attorney about their recommendations.

Update your estate plan on a regular basis. Life changes, and so should your estate plan. It should be reviewed every three to five years or whenever there is a life event, including marriage, divorce, birth, or changes in your financial situation. Keeping an estate plan updated ensures that it remains relevant to your life.

Seek help from an experienced estate planning attorney. An estate planning attorney will help you navigate the complexities of legal documentation, tax implications and probate. You’ll want to be sure that your estate plan aligns with state laws. The knowledge of an estate planning attorney will provide you with peace of mind, knowing you’ve done the right thing to protect your family and ensure your legacy.

Reference: Market Business News (Oct. 28, 2023) “Crafting Your Legacy: 7 Steps in the Estate Planning Process”

Special Needs Planning for Beneficiaries with Disabilities

Families who aren’t knowledgeable about special needs planning often disinherit a disabled child because they don’t know the other options for protecting their offspring, reports a recent article,  “Beneficiaries with disabilities require special planning” from The News-Enterprise. With proper planning, disabled beneficiaries can receive an inheritance and remain eligible for government benefits.

For estate planning, disabled beneficiaries are people who are disabled and receive public benefits, should be receiving public benefits, or are likely to need public benefits in the future. These public benefits are means-tested and determined by financial eligibility. They typically include Social Security Insurance and Medicaid. However, they may also include Section 8 housing, food stamps and other income or asset-based assistance.

Some people think they can replace public benefits with an inheritance. However, realistically, the disabled person will likely use up their inheritance and then be left only with public benefits and no resources to cover any other needs.

The best practice is to create a third-party supplemental needs trust for the beneficiary to receive an inheritance. This differs from a first-party supplemental needs trust and an ABLE account, since both have requirements based on the beneficiary’s age. The third-party supplemental needs trust can be funded regardless of the beneficiary’s age.

Third-party supplemental needs trusts don’t have a payback provision to the state. This is because a third party has funded the trust and not the beneficiary. Therefore, the assets within the trust aren’t required to be repaid to the state upon the death of the beneficiary. This leads to another benefit—the third-party supplemental needs trust may be left to a contingent beneficiary upon the death of the primary beneficiary.

Some families may leave the bulk of their estate to their disabled child, while the other children will be contingent beneficiaries.

A third-party supplemental needs trust is relatively flexible to set up and administer for future trustees. Your estate planning attorney can create one to include basic protective provisions giving the trustee maximum flexibility or set it up with instructions for an advisory committee, care planning and housing requirements.

Not all disabled individuals receive income or asset-based public benefits. In this case, the inheritance can be managed in one of two ways. First, planning documents could require the beneficiary’s inheritance to be left in a third-party supplemental needs trust, either because the planning anticipates a future need for benefits or because the beneficiary cannot manage their assets.

Another option is to leave the inheritance to the beneficiary outright, with a “trigger trust” provision. This means the third-party supplemental needs trust is set up within the planning document—a will or a trust—and will be “triggered” if the beneficiary is eligible for financial-based public benefits at the time of distribution.

The benefit of a trigger trust is that any beneficiary, including those who are healthy and capable of managing their lives when the documents are executed, can have the protection of a third-party supplemental needs trust, if and when needed.

The downside of a trigger trust is that once assets are distributed to the beneficiary outright, the option for a third-party trust is no longer available.

An experienced estate planning attorney will help the family with a disabled member plan for the future.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (July 8, 2023) “Beneficiaries with disabilities require special planning”

What is the Purpose of a Blind Trust?

One type of trust offers a layer of separation between the person who created the trust and how the investments held in the trust are managed. The trust’s beneficiaries are also unable to access information regarding the investments, says the article “What is a Blind Trust?” from U.S. News & World Report.

The roles involved in a blind trust are the settlor—the person who creates the trust, the trustee—the person who manages the trust—and beneficiaries—those who receive the assets in a trust.

Blind trusts, typically created to avoid conflicts of interest, are where the settlor gives an independent trustee complete discretion over the assets in the trust to manage, invest and maintain them as the trustee determines.

This is quite different from most trusts, where the owner of the trust knows about investments and how they are managed. Beneficiaries often have insight into the holdings and the knowledge that they will eventually inherit the assets. In a blind trust, neither the beneficiaries nor the trust’s creator knows how funds are being used or what assets are held.

Blind trusts can be revocable or irrevocable. If the trust is revocable (also known as a living trust), the settlor can dissolve the trust at any time.

If the trust is irrevocable, it remains intact until the beneficiaries inherit the entire assets, although there are some exceptions.

In some instances, irrevocable trusts are used to move assets out of an estate. Settlors lose control over the holdings and may not terminate the trust or change the terms.

Blind trusts can be used in estate planning if the settlor wants to limit the beneficiaries’ knowledge of the trust assets and their ability to interfere with the management of the trust.’

People who win massive lump sums in a lottery might use a blind trust because some states allow lottery winners to preserve their anonymity using this type of trust. They draft and sign a trust deed and appoint a trustee, then fund the trust by donating the winning ticket to the trust prior to claiming the prize. By remaining anonymous, winners have some protection from unscrupulous people who prey on lottery winners.

One drawback to a blind trust is the lack of knowledge about how investments are being handled. The blind trust also poses the issue of less accountability by the trustee, since beneficiaries have no right to inspect whether or not assets are being managed properly.

Do you need a blind trust? Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss whether or not your estate would benefit from a blind trust. If you want to separate yourself from investment decisions or would rather beneficiaries don’t know about the holdings, it might make sense. However, if you have no concerns about privacy or conflict of interests, other types of trusts may make more sense.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (June 1, 2023) “What is a Blind Trust?”

Can a Trust Be Created to Protect a Pet?

For one woman in the middle of preparing for a no-contest divorce, the idea of a pet trust was a novel one. She was estranged from her sister and didn’t want her ex-husband to gain custody of her seven horses, three cats and five dogs if she died or became incapacitated. Who would care for her beloved animals?

The solution, as described in the article “Create a Pet Estate Plan for Your Fur Family” from AARP, was to form a pet trust, a legally sanctioned arrangement providing for the care and maintenance of companion animals in the event of a person’s disability or death.

Creating a pet trust and establishing a long-term plan requires state-specific paperwork and funding mechanisms, which are different from leaving property and assets to human family members. An experienced estate planning attorney is needed to ensure that the protections in place will work.

Shelters nationally are seeing a big increase in animals being surrendered because of COVID or people who are simply not able to take care of their pets. Suddenly, a companion pet accustomed to being near its human owner 24/7 is left alone in a shelter cage.

When pet parents have not made plans for their pets, more often than not these pets end up in shelters. However, not all animal shelters are no-kill shelters. In 2021, data from Best Friends Animal Society shows an increase in the number of pets euthanized in shelters for the first time in five years.

For pet owners who can’t identify a caregiver for their companions, the best option may be to find an animal sanctuary or a shelter providing perpetual care.

The woman described above had a pet trust created and funded it with a long-term care and life insurance policy. The trust was designed with a board of three trustees to check and balance one another to determine how the money will be allocated and what will happen to her assets. Her horse property could be sold, or a long-term student or trainer could be brought in to run her barn.

It is not legally possible to leave money directly to an animal, so setting up a trust with one trustee or a board is the best way to ensure that care will be given until the animals themselves pass away.

The stand-alone pet trust (which is a living trust) exists from the moment it is created. A dedicated bank account may be set up in the name of the pet trust or it could be named as the beneficiary of a life insurance or retirement plan.

A pet trust can also be set up within a larger trust, like a drawer within a dresser. The trust won’t kick in until death. These plans prevent the type of delays typical with probate but is problematic if the person becomes incapacitated.

If a trust is created as part of another trust, there can still be delays in accessing the month, if the pet trust is getting money from the larger trust.

With costlier animals likes horses and exotic birds, any delay in funding could be catastrophic.

How long will your pet live? A parrot could live for 80 years, which would need an endowment to invest assets and earn income over decades. A long-living pet also needs a succession of caregivers, as a tortoise with a 150 year lifespan will outlive more than one caregiver.

Reference: AARP (Sep. 14, 2022) “Create a Pet Estate Plan for Your Fur Family”

Why are Trusts a Good Idea?

Estate planning attorneys know trusts are the Swiss Army knife of estate planning. Whatever the challenge is to be overcome, there is a trust to solve the problem. This includes everything from protecting assets from creditors to ensuring the right people inherit assets. There’s no hype about trusts, despite the title of this article, “Trusts—What Is The Hype?” from mondaq. Rather, there’s a world of benefits provided by trusts.

A trust protects assets from creditors. If the person who had the trust created, known as the “grantor,” is also the owner of the trust, it is best for the trust to be irrevocable. This means that it is not easily changed by the grantor. The trust also can’t be modified or terminated once it’s been set up.

This is the direct opposite of a revocable or living trust. With a revocable trust, the grantor has complete control of the trust, which comes with some downsides.

Once assets are transferred into an irrevocable trust, the grantor no longer has any ownership of the assets or the trust. Because the grantor is no longer in control of the asset, it’s generally not available to satisfy any claims by creditors.

However, this does not mean the grantor is free of any debts or claims in place before the trust was funded. Depending upon your state, there may be a significant look-back period. If this is the case, and if this is the reason for the trust to be created, it may void the trust and negate the protection otherwise provided by the trust.

Most people use trusts to protect assets for future generations, for a variety of reasons.

The “spendthrift” trust is created to protect heirs who may not be good at managing money or judging the character of the people they associate with. The spendthrift trust will protect against creditors, as well as protecting loved ones from losing assets in a divorce. The spouse may not be able to make a claim for a share of the trust property in a divorce settlement.

There are a few different trusts to be used in creating a spendthrift trust. However, the one thing they have in common is a “spendthrift clause.” This restricts the beneficiary’s ability to assign or transfer their interests in the trust and restricts the rights of creditors to reach the trust assets. However, the spendthrift clause will not avoid creditor claims, unless any interest in the trust assets is relinquished completely.

Greater protection against creditor claims may come from giving trustees more discretion over trust distribution. For instance, a trust may require a trustee to make distributions for a beneficiary’s support. Once those distributions are made, they are vulnerable to creditor claims. The court may also allow a creditor to reach the trust assets to satisfy support-related debts. Giving the trustee full and complete discretion over whether and when to make distributions will allow them to provide increased protection.

A trust requires the balance of having access to assets and preventing access from others. Your estate planning attorney will help determine which is best for your unique situation.

Reference: mondaq (Aug. 9, 2022) “Trusts—What Is The Hype?”

Can Estate Planning Reduce Taxes?

The estate tax exemption won’t always be so high. The runup in housing prices may mean capital gains taxes become a serious issue for many people. There are solutions to be found in estate planning, including one known as an “Upstream Power of Appointment” Trust, as explained in the article “How to Use Your Estate Plan to Save on Taxes While You’re Still Alive!” from Kiplinger.

The strategy isn’t for everyone. It requires a completely trustworthy, elderly and less wealthy relative, such as a parent, aunt, or uncle, to serve as an additional trust beneficiary. First, here is some background information:

Basis: This is the amount by which a price is reduced to determine the taxable gain. This is often the historical cost of an asset, which may be adjusted for depreciation or other items. Estate planning attorneys are familiar with these terms.

Step-up (in-basis): If you bought a house for $100,000 and sold it for $400,000, your taxable gain would be $300,000. However, if the house had belonged to your father and was being sold to distribute assets between you and your siblings, the basis (cost) would be increased to the fair market value at the date of your father’s passing. This increase is known as the “step-up in basis” and here’s the benefit: there would be no capital gain on the sale and no taxes owed.

Lifetime estate tax exemption: This is currently at $12.06 million per person or $24.12 for married couples. This is the amount of assets which can be passed to children or others free of any federal estate tax. However, the number will take a deep dive on January 1, 2026, when it reverts back to just under $6 million, adjusted for inflation. Plan for the change now, because 2026 will be here before you know it!

Upstream planning involves transferring certain appreciated assets to older or other family members with shorter life expectancies. Since the person is expected to die sooner, the basis step-up is triggered sooner. When the named person dies, you obtain a basis step-up on the asset, saving income taxes on depreciation and saving capital gains on a future sale of the property.

Most Americans aren’t worried about paying estate taxes now, but no one wants to pay too much in income taxes or capital gains taxes.

To make this happen, your estate planning attorney will need to give an elderly person (let’s say Aunt Rose) the general power of appointment over the asset. Section 2041 of the Internal Revenue Code says you may give your Aunt Rose a power to appoint the asset to her estate, creditors, or the creditors of her estate. Providing the power will include the value of the property in her estate, not yours, ensuring the basis step-up and income tax savings.

Don’t do this lightly, as a general power of appointment also gives Aunt Rose ownership and the right to give the property to herself or anyone she wishes. Can you protect yourself, if Aunt Rose goes rogue?

While the IRC rule doesn’t require Aunt Rose to get your permission to control or change distribution of the property, a trust can be crafted with a provision to effectuate the desired result. The IRC doesn’t require Aunt Rose to know about this provision. This is why the best person for this role is someone who you know and trust without question and who understands your wishes and the desired outcome.

Proper planning with an experienced estate planning attorney is a must for this kind of transaction. All the provisions need to be right: the beneficiary need not survive for any stated period of time, you should not lose access to the assets receiving the basis increase, you want a formula clause to prevent a basis step down if the property or asset values fall and you want to be sure that assets are not exposed to creditor claims or any other liabilities of the person holding this broad power.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 3, 2022) “How to Use Your Estate Plan to Save on Taxes While You’re Still Alive!”

What Happens to Investment Accounts when Someone Dies?

Taking responsibility for a decedent’s probate or trust estate often involves managing significant amounts of wealth, whether they are brokerage accounts or cash assets. Today’s volatile markets add another level of complexity to this responsibility. The article “Estate Planning: Investments during administration of decedent’s estate” from Lake County News explains what estate administrators, executors and trustees need to know as they take on these tasks.

Investment account values are in a constant state of change and may include assets now considered too risky because they are owned by the estate and not the individual. The administrator will need to evaluate the accounts in light of debts owed by the decedent, the costs in administering the estate and any gifts to be made before the estate will be closed.

At the same time, too much cash on hand could mean unproductive assets earning less than they could, losing value to inflation. If there is a long time between the death of the owner and the date of distribution, depending on markets and interest rates, having too much cash could be detrimental to the beneficiaries.

The personal representative or trustee, as relevant, may determine that the cash should be invested, shift how existing investments are managed, or decide to sell investments to generate cash needed for debts, expenses and distributions to beneficiaries.

A personal representative is not expected or required to be a stock market expert. Their duties are to manage estate assets as a person making prudent decisions for the betterment of the estate and heirs. They must put the interest of the estate above their own and not make any speculative investments. With the exception of checking accounts, the expectation is for estate accounts to earn something, even if it is only interest.

If the personal representative has the authority to do so, they may invest in very low-risk debt assets. If the will includes investment powers and if certain conditions safeguarding payment of the decedent’s debts and expenses are satisfied, the personal representatives may invest using those powers. In some instances, a court order may be needed. An estate planning attorney will be able to advise based on the laws of the state in which the decedent resided.

For a trust, the trustee has a fiduciary duty to invest and manage trust assets for beneficiaries. Assets should be made productive, unless the trust includes specific directions for the use of assets prior to distribution. The longer the trust administration takes and the larger the value of the trust, the more important this becomes.

In all scenarios, investment decisions, including balancing risk and reward, must be made in the context of an overall investment strategy for the benefit of heirs. Investments may be delegated to a professional investment advisor, but the selection of the advisor must be made cautiously. The advisor must be selected prudently and the scope and terms of the selection of the advisor must be consistent with the purposes and terms of the trust. The trustee or executor must personally monitor the advisor’s performance and compliance with the overall strategy.

Reference: Lake County News (June 11, 2022) “Estate Planning: Investments during administration of decedent’s estate”

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”