Estate Planning Blog Articles

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

When Should I Hire an Estate Planning Attorney?

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Should I Hire an Estate Planning Attorney Now That I Am a Widow?” describes some situations where an experienced estate planning attorney is really required:

Estates with many types of complicated assets. Hiring an experienced estate planning attorney is a must for more complicated estates. These are estates with multiple investments, numerous assets, cryptocurrency, hedge funds, private equity, or a business. Some estates also include significant real estate, including vacation homes, commercial properties and timeshares. Managing, appraising and selling a business, real estate and complex investments are all jobs that require some expertise and experience. In addition, valuing private equity investments and certain hedge funds is also not straightforward and can require the services of an expert.

The estate might owe federal or state estate tax. In some estates, there are time-sensitive decisions that require somewhat immediate attention. Even if all assets were held jointly and court involvement is unnecessary, hiring a knowledgeable trust and estate lawyer may have real tax benefits. There are many planning strategies from which testators and their heirs can benefit. For example, the will or an estate tax return may need to be filed to transfer the deceased spouse’s unused Federal Estate Unified Tax Credit to the surviving spouse. The decision whether to transfer to an unused unified tax credit to the surviving spouse is not obvious and requires guidance from an experienced estate planning attorney.

Many states also impose their own estate taxes, and many of these states impose taxes on an estate valued at $1 million or more. Therefore, when you add the value of a home, investments and life insurance proceeds, many Americans will find themselves on the wrong side of the state exemption and owe estate taxes.

The family is fighting. Family disputes often emerge after the death of a parent. It’s stressful, and emotions run high. No one is really operating at their best. If unhappy family members want to contest the will or are threatening a lawsuit, you’ll also need guidance from an experienced estate planning attorney. These fights can result in time-intensive and costly lawsuits. The sooner you get legal advice from a probate attorney, the better chance you have of avoiding this.

Complicated beneficiary plans. Some wills have tricky beneficiary designations that leave assets to one child but nothing to another. Others could include charitable bequests or leave assets to many beneficiaries.

Talk to an experienced attorney, whose primary focus is estate and trust law.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 5, 2022) “Should I Hire an Estate Planning Attorney Now That I Am a Widow?”

Is Putting a Home in Trust a Good Estate Planning Move?

A typical estate at death will include a personal residence. It’s common for a large estate to also include a vacation home, or family retreat. Leaving real property in trust is common.

Estate plans that include a revocable trust will fund the trust by a pour-over, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Should You Own Your Home in Your Trust?”

A settlor (the person establishing a trust) often will title their home to the revocable trust, which becomes irrevocable at death.

Another option is a Qualified Personal Residence Trust, which is irrevocable, to gift a valuable home to a trust for the settlor’s children. With a QPRT, the house is passed over a term of years while the original owner continues to live there, so the gift passes with little or no gift or estate tax.

Some trusts arising from a decedent estate will hold the home belonging to the settlor without any instructions for its disposal or retention. Outside of very large trusts, a requirement to actually purchase homes for beneficiaries in the trust is far less common.

It is more common in a large trust to have terms that let the trustee buy a home for a beneficiary outside the trust or keep the settlor’s home in the trust for a beneficiary’s use, including purchasing a replacement home when requested.

The trustee will hopefully propose a plan that will satisfy the beneficiary without undue risk to the trust estate or exceeding the trustee’s powers. The most relevant considerations for homeownership in a trust are:

  • The competing needs of other trust beneficiaries
  • The purchase price and costs of maintaining the home
  • The size of the trust as compared to those costs
  • Other sources of income and resources available to the beneficiary; and
  • The interests of the remaindermen (beneficiaries who will take from the trust when the current beneficiaries’ interests terminate).

The terms of the trust may require the trustee to ignore some of these considerations.

Each situation requires a number of decisions that could expose the trustee to a charge that it has acted imprudently.

Those who want to create a trust should work with an experienced estate planning attorney to avoid any issues.

Reference: Kiplinger (Feb. 8, 2022) “Should You Own Your Home in Your Trust?”

Can I Split My Inheritance with My Sibling?

Let’s say that you are the beneficiary of your brother’s IRA.

All of his assets were supposed to be split between you and your sister according to a living trust. However, the IRA administrator says the IRA only has one beneficiary… you. How can you spilt this equally?

Can you sell half and give your other sibling her money?

What is the effect on taxes and the cost basis?

nj.com’s recent article entitled “Can I give my brother half of my inheritance?” says that it’s important to review beneficiary designations to make sure they reflect your wishes.

In this case, you would essentially be making a gift to your sister from the IRA account that you inherited.

To do this, you would have to liquidate some of the account and pay the taxes on the liquidated amount, if it is a traditional IRA.

You would also have to file a federal gift tax return for the amount gifted above the $16,000 annual exclusion amount. However, no gift tax should be due if you have less than $12.06 million in your estate and/or lifetime gifts made above the annual exclusion amounts.

The unified tax credit provides a set dollar amount that a person can gift during their lifetime before any estate or gift taxes apply. This tax credit unifies both the gift and estate taxes into one tax system that decreases the tax bill of the individual or estate, dollar to dollar.

As of 2021, the federal estate tax is 40% of the inheritance amount. However, the unified tax credit has a set amount that a person can gift during his or her lifetime before any estate or gift taxes are due. The 2021 federal tax law applies the estate tax to any amount above $11.7 million. This year’s amount is $12.06 million.

While you would receive a step-up in basis, the cost basis of your brother’s gifted share would be the value at the time the gift is made.

Another thought is that if there are other assets in the estate, perhaps your sister could have a greater share of those, so you could keep the IRA intact to avoid paying taxes at this time.

Reference: nj.com (Feb. 23, 2022) “Can I give my brother half of my inheritance?”

What If an Estate Owes Back Taxes?

If grandma did not finish up all of her duties as the executor of her husband’s estate before she passed away, it would be wise to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney.

An estate planning attorney can help with the issues with estate administration, says nj.com’s recent article entitled “My grandmother’s estate owes back taxes. What next?”

The fiduciary appointed to administer an estate—called an executor or personal representative—is responsible to make certain that all creditors are paid before making distribution of estate assets.

An executor of an estate is the person designated to administer the last will and testament of the decedent. His or her primary duty is to carry out the instructions to manage the affairs and wishes of the decedent.

An executor is appointed either by the testator of the will (the one who makes the will) or by a court, in situations where there is no will (also known as intestacy).

If there is a probate proceeding, the executor is required to officially notify creditors of it pursuant to the state probate statutes.

If there are not enough assets to pay all creditors, state statutes give a priority regarding how creditors are paid.

Funeral expenses and taxes are typically paid first.

Note that if the creditors are not paid, and money is distributed to beneficiaries, the creditors may seek the return of those distributions from the beneficiaries.

However, the executor’s individual assets would not be responsible for payment of estate debts. It is just the assets that are received from the decedent.

As far as taxes, the IRS is still legally entitled to the money owed by the decedent. The federal government will usually go to great lengths to collect it, even if the will instructs the remaining assets to be distributed elsewhere.

Reference: nj.com (Feb. 3, 2022) “My grandmother’s estate owes back taxes. What next?”

How to File Tax Return When Mom Passes Away

If you are preparing a 1040 federal income tax form for a spouse or parent, you are grieving while also gathering tax records. If you are the executor for an estate, you may not know the history of the decedent’s tax situation nor have the access you need to important documents. To help alleviate the problems, AARP’s January 27th article entitled, “How to File a Tax Return for a Deceased Taxpayer,” gives some guidance on how a decedent’s tax return might be different from the usual 1040 form, as well as the pitfalls to avoid as you prepare to file.

  1. Marital filing status. A surviving spouse should file a joint return for the year of death and write in the signature area “filing as surviving spouse.” The spouse also can file jointly for the next two tax years if he or she has dependents and has not remarried. This special provision gives the surviving spouse benefit from the advantages of a joint return, such as the higher standard deduction.
  2. Get authorization to file. If there is no surviving spouse, someone must be chosen to file the tax return. This could be the estate’s executor if there was a will, the estate administrator if there is not a will, or anyone responsible for managing the decedent’s property. To prepare the return — or provide necessary information to an accountant — you will need to access the decedent’s financial records, and financial institutions usually want to see a copy of the certified death certificate before releasing information.
  3. Locate last year’s return. That is your starting point. Returns filed electronically must have the password to sign into the software program that was used. A major step in estate planning is, therefore, to give passwords to a trusted person or instructions about how to access that information after your death. However, if you cannot find last year’s return, submit Form 4506-T to the IRS to request a transcript of the previous tax return. This shows what was on the return, including filing status, taxable income, tax payments and more. The IRS also can provide source documents, such as a W-2 or a 1099-INT from a bank or a 1099-R for a pension distribution from a union — all the documents sent to the IRS on your behalf — which can help you know what documents to collect now.
  4. Update the address on the return. If you are not a surviving spouse or did not live with the decedent, be sure to update the tax return to list your address as an “in care of” address, so anything from the IRS will come directly to you.
  5. Review medical costs. The deduction for medical expenses is the amount that exceeds 7.5% of adjusted gross income. If the decedent was chronically ill, medical expenses can add up. Hospital stays, nursing homes, prescriptions and care from aides can add up and hit that threshold.
  6. Get extra time to file and/or make payments. The executor or surviving spouse can request an extension and estimate what any tax liability might be. The IRS may also give you a break on penalties for not filing because you were dealing with funeral arrangements, for example, but you have to cite a reasonable cause.
  7. Cut down the IRS’ time to assess taxes. The IRS has three years to decide if you have paid the right amount for that tax year. You can cut that to 18 months, by filing Form 4810. That is a request for a prompt assessment of tax. As you prepare the return, you may miss a 1099 or other document, unintentionally understating income. If you skip filing Form 4810, the IRS could notify you of taxes owed up to three years later, likely after you have distributed the estate’s funds.
  8. You may be filing multiple returns. If someone dies in January or February, you may be responsible for filing the tax return for last year and this year. There might be a filing obligation for that brief period of time that the person was alive in this year. The other situation is that the decedent failed to file a previous year’s return, perhaps because he or she was very ill. A notice will be sent from the IRS stating that they do not have a copy of the decedent’s return. This is another reason it is important to file Form 4810, requesting that the IRS has only 18 months to assess tax. You do not want any surprises. A tax return, or Form 1041, also may need to be filed for the estate, if it has earned more than $600. Since it can take a long time to wind down an estate and pay heirs, a Form 1041 may need to be filed the following year, too — a healthy brokerage account could generate more than $600 income for the year. It may also take a long time to distribute the estate.
  9. Estate taxes. An estate tax return, Form 706, must be filed if the gross estate of the decedent is valued at more than $12.06 million for 2022 or $11.7 million for 2021. However, that is a high threshold.
  10. Consider hiring an attorney. If all this sounds like it is too much, ask an attorney for help. A legal professional will know what information is required.

Reference: AARP (Jan. 27, 2022) “How to File a Tax Return for a Deceased Taxpayer”

How Do I Write My Will?

Remember that if you don’t write your will correctly, your wishes could end up going unfulfilled, says Claremont Portside’s article entitled “A Guide for Writing Your Will: Steps You Need to Take.”

While there are a lot of tools online, your best bet is working with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Schedule a meeting with an estate planning attorney to discuss your final wishes. The process of writing a will is relatively straightforward:

  • Decide who you want to inherit your assets
  • Remember to include your favorite charities, if you want
  • Note if any of your heirs has special needs or requires extra planning (e.g., if they’re not good with money)
  • Note if you have minor children who will need a guardian and can’t inherit outright at their age
  • List the specific items or assets you want each person to inherit
  • List any debts or liabilities
  • Designate an executor or personal representative
  • Determine how your estate should be managed, until it is distributed; and
  • Ask your attorney about tax implications.

Once prepared, retain a copy in a safe place and make copies for your executor, your spouse or partner, children older than 18 years old and any other heirs who live in another state.

When you begin this process, create a list of what you own and how much it’s worth. This can help ensure that your estate is distributed according to your wishes.

The executor of your will is responsible for ensuring that everything goes according to plan, so choose someone you trust.

Reference: Claremont Portside “A Guide for Writing Your Will: Steps You Need to Take”

What Is Elder Law?

WAGM’s recent article entitled “A Closer Look at Elder Law“ takes a look at what goes into estate planning and elder law.

Wills and estate planning may not be the most exciting things to talk about. However, in this day and age, they can be one of the most vital tools to ensure your wishes are carried out after you’re gone.

People often don’t know what they should do, or what direction they should take.

The earlier you get going and consider your senior years, the better off you’re going to be. For many, it seems to be around 55 when it comes to starting to think about long term care issues.

However, you can start your homework long before that.

Elder law attorneys focus their practice on issues that concern older people. However, it’s not exclusively for older people, since these lawyers counsel other family members of the elderly about their concerns.

A big concern for many families is how do I get started and how much planning do I have to do ahead of time?

If you’re talking about an estate plan, what’s stored just in your head is usually enough preparation to get the ball rolling and speak with an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney.

They can create an estate plan that may consists of a basic will, a financial power of attorney, a medical power of attorney and a living will.

For long term care planning, people will frequently wait too long to start their preparations, and they’re faced with a crisis. That can entail finding care for a loved one immediately, either at home or in a facility, such as an assisted living home or nursing home. Waiting until a crisis also makes it harder to find specific information about financial holdings.

Some people also have concerns about the estate or death taxes with which their families may be saddled with after they pass away. For the most part, that’s not an issue because the federal estate tax only applies if your estate is worth more than $12.06 million in 2022. However, you should know that a number of states have their own estate tax. This includes Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, plus Washington, D.C.

Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania have only an inheritance tax, which is a tax on what you receive as the beneficiary of an estate. Maryland has both.

Therefore, the first thing to do is to recognize that we have two stages. The first is where we may need care during life, and the second is to distribute our assets after death. Make certain that you have both in place.

Reference: WAGM (Dec. 8, 2021) “A Closer Look at Elder Law“

Will Moving to a New State Impact My Estate Planning?

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., baby boomers have been speeding up their retirement plans. Many Americans have also been moving to new states. For retirees, the non-financial considerations often revolve around weather, proximity to grandchildren and access to quality healthcare and other services.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Thinking of Retiring and Moving? Consider the Financial Implications First” provides some considerations for retirees who may set off on a move.

  1. Income tax rates. Before moving to a new state, you should know how much income you’re likely to be generating in retirement. It’s equally essential to understand what type of income you’re going to generate. Your income as well as the type of income you receive could significantly influence your economic health as a retiree, after you make your move. Before moving to a new state, look into the tax code of your prospective new state. Many states have flat income tax rates, such as Massachusetts at 5%. The states that have no income tax include Alaska, Florida, Nevada, Texas, Washington, South Dakota and Wyoming. Other states that don’t have flat income tax rates may be attractive or unattractive, based on your level of income. Another important consideration is the tax treatment of Social Security income, pension income and retirement plan income. Some states treat this income just like any other source of income, while others offer preferential treatment to the income that retirees typically enjoy.
  2. Housing costs. The cost of housing varies dramatically from state to state and from city to city, so understand how your housing costs are likely to change. You should also consider the cost of buying a home, maintenance costs, insurance and property taxes. Property taxes may vary by state and also by county. Insurance costs can also vary.
  3. Sales taxes. Some states (New Hampshire, Oregon, Montana, Delaware and Alaska) have no sales taxes. However, most states have a sales tax of some kind, which generally adds to the cost of living. California has the highest sales tax, currently at 7.5%, then comes Tennessee, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Mississippi and Indiana, each with a sales tax of 7%. Many other places also have a county sales tax and a city sales tax. You should also research those taxes.
  4. The state’s financial health. Examine the health of the state pension systems where you are thinking about moving. The states with the highest level of unfunded pension debts include Connecticut, Illinois, Alaska, New Jersey and Hawaii. They each have unfunded state pensions at a level of more than 20% of their state GDP. If you’re thinking about moving to one of those states, you’re more apt to see tax increases in the future because of the huge financial obligations of these states.
  5. The overall cost of living. Examine your budget to see the extent to which your annual living expenses might increase or decrease in your new location because food, healthcare and transportation costs can vary by location. If your costs are going to go up, that should be all right, provided you have the financial resources to fund a larger expense budget. Be sure that you’ve accounted for the differences before you move.
  6. Estate planning considerations. If this is going to be your last move, it’s likely that the laws of your new state will apply to your estate after you die. Many states don’t have an estate or gift tax, which means your estate and gifts will only be subject to federal tax laws. However, a number of states, such as Maryland and Iowa, have a state estate tax.

You should talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about the estate and gift tax implications of your move.

Reference: Forbes (Nov. 30, 2021) “Thinking of Retiring and Moving? Consider the Financial Implications First”

Does My State Have an Inheritance Tax?

Real Simple’s recent article entitled “Here’s Which States Collect Zero Estate or Inheritance Taxes” explains that inheritance taxes are levies paid by the living beneficiary who gets the inheritance. And both federal and state governments can apply estate taxes, which are levied against the assets that are bequeathed.

Just five states apply an inheritance tax: New Jersey, Nebraska, Iowa, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. There are 12 states that have an estate tax: Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Illinois, New York, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Hawaii and the District of Columbia. Maryland collects both. As a result, there are 32 states that don’t collect death-related taxes: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

To better estimate and project the possible outcomes, you should consider an intergenerational planning meeting. There are some families that like the transparency of establishing a trust. This can minimize fighting and avoid probate. Trusts are also taxed differently than individuals. There’s more certainty about who will bear the costs.

There are families that gift assets, while an elderly or chronically ill person is still alive. These gifts can be subject to taxation, but there are exceptions for tuition and medical expenses. Gifts to children may also be excluded.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to transferring valuable or sentimental assets. You can list the most important people and causes in your life. If that list has people in other states, it will be even more important to prepare everyone for their role and responsibilities with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.

If inheritance tax sounds intimidating, start small with updating the beneficiary forms on your bank accounts and employer-led retirement accounts. Organize documents, such as insurance information and house titles and deeds. Make them secure but accessible to those who might need them, if you’re unavailable.

Even if you’re socially distancing, many estate planning attorneys offer consultations via video conferencing. There’s no reason to delay another year to clarify your inheritance and estate plans.

Reference: Real Simple (Nov. 24, 2021) “Here’s Which States Collect Zero Estate or Inheritance Taxes”

Why Do I Need an Estate Planning Attorney?

Pennsylvania News Today’s recent article entitled “Top 7 Reasons You Need An Estate Lawyer says that when you think about hiring a real estate lawyer, it might seem a little unsettling. However, let’s look at these reasons and why you might require them.

Estate Planning. You might want to consider this, but everyone passes away. It’s important that your family is ready for this. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you through this process and make certain everything is prepared. You should have a will. This document says what should happen with your assets when you pass away.

Trusts. A trust helps manage assets before someone dies. If you only have one or two assets you want given to someone, a will is adequate. However, if you own extensive property, ask an experienced estate planning attorney about setting up a trust. This will help your family keep living in your home, even after you’re gone without worrying about it being sold out from under them.

Probate. The probate court oversees the distribution of a person’s estate according to the instructions in their will. Probate can be a lengthy and expensive process, depending on where you live and the complexity of your assets or family situation. An estate planning attorney can help you with strategies to avoid it. A probate attorney can help you, so your family doesn’t have to worry about dealing with that stress or spending a vast amount of money necessary to do this correctly.

Guardianship. Guardianships are used when parents pass away and leave minor children behind. You can designate a guardian for your minor children in your will.

Elder Law Services. Seniors frequently need help managing finances and health care decisions. An experienced estate planning attorney or elder law attorney can help your loved ones through these complicated matters.

Estate Investments. An experienced attorney can also advise you on how to make smart investments for your family and can make certain that the transaction goes smoothly, and that any moves work with your estate planning objectives.

Tax Issues. Taxes may be owed on estates worth more than five million dollars. This can make it hard for heirs who don’t have access to this much money upfront. An estate planning attorney can help you avoid taxes, so your family doesn’t have to deal with this problem.

Estate planning is a process that should be started as soon as possible. You’ll need an estate planning lawyer who is knowledgeable and experienced to help.

Reference: Pennsylvania News Today (Nov. 11, 2021) “Top 7 Reasons You Need An Estate Lawyer”