Estate Planning Blog Articles

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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?”

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?”

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”

What’s a Pot Trust?

A pot trust can give you added flexibility as to the way in which the trust assets are used, if you plan to leave your entire estate to your children, says Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “How Does a Pot Trust Work?” It’s also called a discretionary, sprinkling or common pot trust and is a type of trust that can be used by families to pass on assets. Minor children serve as beneficiaries with a trustee overseeing the management of trust assets. The trustee has discretionary power to decide how the trust funds are used to pay for the care and needs of beneficiaries.

Flexibility is key in family pot trusts, since the assets are distributed based on the children’s needs, rather than setting specific distribution rules as to who gets what. You might consider this type of trust over other types of trusts if: (i) you have two or more children; and (ii) at least one of those children is a minor. As long as the trust is in place, the trustee determines how trust assets may be used to provide for the beneficiaries’ well-being. This trust is designed to address the financial needs of individual children as they arise, and there’s no requirement for trust assets to be divided equally among them.

Pot trusts can offer an advantage to parents who want to make certain the needs of their children will be met in the event something happens to them. If both parents were to die, a pot trust could provide money to cover basic living expenses, as well as other costs that might arise. You can decide when the trust should end, based on the ages of your children, if ever. Children can also still get distributions from the trust once it terminates, if all trust assets haven’t been used.

However, pot trusts don’t ensure an equal distribution of assets among multiple children. A family pot trust can also put an increased burden on the trustee because the trustee must in effect assume a parental role when it comes to financial decision-making. There’s no predetermined set of instructions left behind by the trust grantor.

However, if you’re worried about issues of fairness or older children having to wait to receive trust assets, ask an experienced estate planning attorney about creating individual trusts instead, so that you can designate specific assets to be added to each trust and provide instructions to the trustee on how those assets should be managed. An individual trust gives you more control over what happens with the trust assets. You can also say what portion of your estate each child should receive.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Aug. 31, 2021) “How Does a Pot Trust Work?”

 

What Should I Know about Cryptocurrency and Estate Planning?

Cryptocurrency is a digital currency that can be used to buy online goods and services, explains Forbes’ recent article entitled “Cryptocurrency And Estate Planning: What Digital Investors Should Know.” Part of cryptocurrency’s appeal is the technology that backs it. Blockchain is a decentralized system that records and manages transactions across many computers and is very secure.

As of June 24, the total value of all cryptocurrencies was $1.35 trillion, according to CoinMarketCap. There are many available cryptocurrencies. However, the most popular ones include Bitcoin, Ethereum, Binance Coin and Dogecoin. Many believe cryptocurrency will be a main currency in the future, and they’re opting to buy it now. They also like the fact that central banks are not involved in the process, so they can’t interfere with its value.

In addition, NFTs or non-fungible tokens, are also gaining in popularity. Each token is one of a kind and they’re also supported by blockchain technology. They can be anything digital, such as artwork or music files. NFTs are currently being used primarily as a way to buy and sell digital art. An artist could sell their original digital artwork to a buyer. The buyer is the owner of the exclusive original, but the artist might retain proprietary rights to feature the artwork or make copies of it. The popularity of NFTs is centered around the social value of fine art collecting in the digital space.

Here are three reasons to have an estate plan, if you buy bitcoin:

  1. No probate. Even if your loved ones knew you had cryptocurrency, and even if they knew where you stored your password, that wouldn’t be enough for them to get access to it. Without a proper estate plan, your digital assets may be put through a lengthy and expensive probate process.
  2. Blockchain technology. You must have a private key to access each of your assets. It’s usually a long passcode. A comprehensive estate plan that includes this can help you have peace of mind knowing that your investments can be passed on to loved ones’ if anything were to happen to you unexpectedly.
  3. Again, central banks don’t play any part in the process, and it’s secure because its processing and recording are spread across many different computers. However, there’s no governing body overseeing the affairs of cryptocurrency.

Reference: Forbes (July 21, 2021) “Cryptocurrency And Estate Planning: What Digital Investors Should Know”

Should I Try Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning?

US News & World Report’s recent article entitled “6 Common Myths About Estate Planning explains that the coronavirus pandemic has made many people face decisions about estate planning. Many will use a do-it-yourself solution. Internet DIY websites make it easy to download forms. However, there are mistakes people make when they try do-it-yourself estate planning.

Here are some issues with do-it-yourself that estate planning attorneys regularly see:

You need to know what to ask. If you’re trying to complete a specific form, you may be able to do it on your own. However, the challenge is sometimes not knowing what to ask. If you want a more comprehensive end-of-life plan and aren’t sure about what you need in addition to a will, work with an experienced estate planning attorney. If you want to cover everything, and are not sure what everything is, that’s why you see them.

More complex issues require professional help. Take a more holistic look at your estate plan and look at estate planning, tax planning and financial planning together, since they’re all interrelated. If you only look at one of these areas at a time, you may create complications in another. This could unintentionally increase your expenses or taxes. Your situation might also include special issues or circumstances. A do-it-yourself website might not be able to tell you how to account for your specific situation in the best possible way. It will just give you a blanket list, and it will all be cookie cutter. You won’t have the individual attention to your goals and priorities you get by sitting down and talking to an experienced estate planning attorney.

Estate laws vary from state to state. Every state may have different rules for estate planning, such as for powers of attorney or a health care proxy. There are also 17 states and the District of Columbia that tax your estate, inheritance, or both. These tax laws can impact your estate planning. Eleven states and DC only have an estate tax (CT, HI, IL, ME, MA, MN, NY, OR, RI, VT and WA). Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have only an inheritance tax. Maryland has both an inheritance tax and an estate tax.

Setting up health care directives and making end-of-life decisions can be very involved. It’s too important to try to do it yourself. If you make a mistake, it could impact the ability of your family to take care of financial expenses or manage health care issues. Don’t do it yourself.

Reference: US News & World Report (July 5, 2021) “6 Common Myths About Estate Planning”

Couple’s Charitable Remainder Trust Helps University Students

Florida resident Robert Larson of Leesburg recently donated $1.4 million to the Minnesota State University, Mankato in honor of his late wife, Virginia, the Minnesota State University, Mankato recently announced.

A story entitled “Minnesota State Mankato Receives $1.4 Million Gift to Support Education, Music, ROTC Scholarships” said that Larson’s gift will support scholarships for students studying elementary education (75%) and music (20%), and the remaining 5% is earmarked to establish Minnesota State Mankato’s first Reserve Officer Training Corps endowment. At least 14 students annually will receive scholarships as a result of the gift.

“This gift is especially meaningful because of the many years that Robert and Virginia Larson spent planning for it,” said Minnesota State University, Mankato President Edward Inch.“ Students will benefit from this gift for many generations to come.”

The Larson’s originally planned their gift by creating the university’s first-ever charitable remainder trust in 1987. The trust was set up to benefit University students after both Robert and Virginia died.

A charitable remainder trust (CRT) is a gift of cash or other property to an irrevocable trust. The donor gets to keep an income stream from the trust for a term of years or for life. The charity then gets the remaining trust assets at the conclusion of the trust term. The donor receives an immediate income tax charitable deduction when the CRT is funded, based on the present value of the assets that will eventually go to the named charity.

Mr. Larson later decided he wanted to give a larger sum to the university to be able to have an effect on students while he was still living. Therefore, he decided to forego the annual payments he received and terminated the charitable remainder trust early.

His wife Virginia graduated from Minnesota State Mankato in 1961 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. She began teaching fourth grade in Lakeville, Minnesota. She then taught third grade in Poway, California, and finally taught fourth grade and English as a second language in Chula Vista, California. She died in 2020.

“Virginia really enjoyed her time as a student at Minnesota State Mankato, and we started planning for this gift out of a desire to help students,” said Robert Larson.

Reference: Minnesota State University, Mankato (August 12, 2021) “Minnesota State Mankato Receives $1.4 Million Gift to Support Education, Music, ROTC Scholarships”

Medicare or My Employer’s Health Plan better Option?

Let’s say that you work full time and have a very good medical insurance plan, but it’s costly, especially if you also have been covering the rest of your family. Say that the spouse is 60 and permanently disabled and has been told he’s eligible for Medicare. A common question is whether the working spouse should remove the disabled spouse from the employer’s coverage and go with Medicare. What’s the best option?

NJ Money Help’s recent article entitled “Should we take Medicare or keep an employer health plan?” explains that there are different components of Medicare to cover specific services: Medicare Part A, Part B, and Part D.

Medicare Part A helps pay for hospital and facility costs. Medicare Part B helps pay for medical costs, like doctors and medical supplies. Medicare Part D is for prescription drug coverage. Most people don’t pay a monthly premium for Part A, but there are premiums associated with Part B and Part D coverage.

If an individual is 65 and has received disability benefits from Social Security for 24 months or has received certain disability benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board for 24 months, he or she will automatically get Medicare Part A and Part B.

You should also know that you can decide to delay Medicare Part B by contacting Social Security after you become eligible, and you receive the card. Discuss this option with your employer’s health care benefit department to understand how Medicare may or may not work with your current coverage. This is because there are some plans and health benefit plans (especially those with fewer than 20 employees) that become secondary to Medicare, when an enrollee becomes eligible for Medicare.

If you decide to participate in Medicare Part B, understand that there’s a cost. The premium is based on your income, and the standard Part B premium in 2021 is $148.50 per month, if your income was $176,000 or less in 2019 for a married filing joint return. The Medicare Part B premium increases as your income increases.

Medicare Part B pays for many of your medical bills. However, not all the costs for covered health care services and supplies are included. As a result, many seniors buy a supplemental insurance plan, called Medigap. This plan will pay for some of the remaining health care costs, like co-payments, coinsurance and deductibles that are not covered by Medicare.

Remember that it’s important to enroll in Medigap coverage within six months following Medicare Part B enrollment. Medigap is an additional cost along with your Medicare Part B premium and is sold through a private insurance company. To determine what will be more cost effective, you’ll need to compare the Medicare costs with your employer plan.

Reference: NJ Money Help (Aug. 13, 2021) “Should we take Medicare or keep an employer health plan?”

Who Inherited from the Painter Bob Ross?

Like many painters before him, Bob Ross’s image only took hold after his untimely death. He’s now a pop culture icon, and is featured as bobbleheads, Chia pets and has his own cereal.

However, there’s a reason why we see so much more of the gentle painter than ever before. That’s because of a legal battle for ownership of Ross’s name. That was the only item of value in his estate, which is rare for celebrities of his caliber.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Here’s Who Inherited Bob Ross’ Estate, And Where They Are Now” reports about what happened to his estate, who controls it and where they are today.

The Daily Beast wrote that Ross is “a smash hit on social media, where he feels more like a Gen-Z influencer than a once semi-obscure PBS celebrity who rose to fame in the 1980s on the back of his bouffant hairdo, hypnotic singsong baritone and a timeless message about the beauty of the world around us.”

However, he wouldn’t have become a household name, if not for Bob Ross Inc. The battle began when the artist met Bill Alexander, a celebrity painter who had a show on PBS, in 1978. Alexander gave him a job as a traveling art instructor. Ross met Annette and Walt Kowalski at a class, who recently lost their son, and who wanted to learn how to paint.

The Kowalskis convinced him to come to Washington, D.C. to teach. They eventually made a deal: they’d give him a stipend and room and board, if he’d teach more classes that they’d arrange in the area. PBS then asked Ross to do a show like Alexander’s, and Dennis Kapp, the owner and CEO of the art-supply company Martin F. Weber, wanted to develop a line of supplies with him too. Soon, The Joy of Painting was born. However, to look after the supply company with Kapp, Ross and his wife Jane, and Annette and Walt signed documents to create Bob Ross Inc., with all four of them being equal partners.

At the end of the 1980s, all four partners were making $85,000, and in the early ’90s, Ross made around $120,000. However, he wanted to branch out, and when he did, the happy days were at an end. When Ross’s health started to decline, Walt “declared war” and sent Ross documents saying the Kowalskis owned everything, but they’d agreed that Ross and his heirs would get 1% of the revenues for the next decade. Ross never signed anything, and in fact, he quickly changed his last will to make it harder for the Kowalskis to steal his name and likeness.

Those changes to his last will included “a clause specifically addressing his name, likeness and the rest of his intellectual property. All of those rights were to go to Steve and one of Bob’s half-brothers.” His third wife replaced Annette as the administrator of his estate. In July 1995, the painter lost his battle to cancer.

When Ross died, Bob Ross Inc. was totally owned by the Kowalskis. However, they wanted it all, including his name and likeness. Then what one of Ross’s good friends calls “Grand Theft Bob” began.

Steve did not know about the final amendment until 20 years later when his uncle Jimmie, the estate’s executor, informed him. When Ross died, he was worth $1.3 million. Half of that was his third part of Bob Ross Inc., and there was also cash, stocks and property to divide.

The Kowalskis went after Ross’s art supplies and artwork and made “claims against the estate for business and personal reimbursements,” charging Ross’s widow with hefty lawsuits and suing PBS and the children’s show Ross guest-starred on. In 1997, Jimmie, Ross’s brother, settled the lawsuit, practically handing over everything to the Kowalskis. In 2012, their daughter Joan took over, opening up the realm of merchandising for the company.

However, there was still a “grey zone” in how Bob Ross Inc. could truly own Ross’s name and likeness. After learning about that amendment in Ross’s will, Steve went after Bob Ross Inc. but didn’t win his case against Bob Ross Inc.

Joan did strike a deal with him: if he surrendered his rights to Ross’s name and likeness, he could print his name on anything he wanted.

The good news was that Steve was able to return as an art instructor, and thanks to Bob Ross Inc., Ross was bigger than ever. That helped class sizes, and students came in masses to learn the iconic style. Steve gets to run his father’s estate, and fans welcomed him back to the painting world. Despite the fact that the Kowalskis got everything, they were the only ones who could have kept Ross’s name from disappearing.

As for all of Ross’s paintings the Kowalskis seized, they ended up in an unprotected warehouse until the Smithsonian took a collection of them.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (June 28, 2021) “Here’s Who Inherited Bob Ross’ Estate, And Where They Are Now”

Has COVID Affected Baby Boomers’ Retirement Plans?

Baby boomers, who are either in retirement or very close to it, have had COVID-19 make an especially significant effect on post-work plans. That’s according to a recent survey from the Center for a Secure Retirement and CNO Financial Group. With the coronavirus, Boomers had to help family financially, which meant less for their own retirement.

Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “5 Impacts the Pandemic Had on Baby Boomers’ Retirement Plans” provides five important ways the pandemic has changed baby-boomer retirement dreams. The results are based on a survey of more than 2,500 middle-income boomers — defined as Americans who were born between 1946 and 1964, and who have an annual household income between $30,000 and $100,000 and less than $1 million in investable assets.

  1. Their main ‘non-negotiable’ retirement priorities have changed. Before the pandemic, 56% of boomers said maintaining financial security and independence was their top “non-negotiable” retirement priority. However, it’s now back to the basics for more boomers. The top retirement priorities are now: spending time with grandchildren (43%); maintaining financial stability and independence (35%); staying active (34%); being able to travel (30%); and living close to family and friends (25%).
  2. They’ve supported other family members financially. Many middle-income boomers reported that they assisted family members financially during the pandemic, with 41% of those surveyed saying that was the case.
  3. They haven’t been able to save much for retirement. Among middle-income baby boomers who offered cash to support family during the pandemic, 75% say they haven’t been able to save as much for retirement as they wanted.
  4. They’ve delayed plans to move. Retiring by the beach or near the grandkids are common retirement destinations. However, the pandemic has thwarted those plans for many a baby boomer. Among middle-income baby boomers who helped support family during the pandemic, 65% say that they delayed their moving plans.
  5. They’ve re-evaluated retirement finances and expenses. Helping the kids in the pandemic has meant an adjustment for many baby boomers’ budgets. About half (51%) responded that they’ve re-evaluated finances and expenses for retirement.

Reference: Money Talks News (Aug. 2, 2021) “5 Impacts the Pandemic Had on Baby Boomers’ Retirement Plans”