Estate Planning Blog Articles

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

What Is the Best Way to Leave Money to Children?

Parents and grandparents want what’s best for children and grandchildren. We love generously sharing with them during our lifetimes—family vacations, values and history. If we can, we also want to pass on a financial legacy with little or no complications, explains a recent article titled “4 Tax-Smart Ways to Share the Wealth with Kids” from Kiplinger.

There are many ways to transfer wealth from one person to another. However, there are only a handful of tools to effectively transfer financial gifts for future generations during our lifetimes. UTMA/UGMA accounts, 529 accounts, IRAs, and Irrevocable Gift Trusts are the most widely used.

Which option will be best for you and your family? It depends on how much control you want to have, the goal of your gift and its size.

UTMA/UGMA Accounts, the short version for Uniform Transfers to Minor or Uniform Gift to Minor accounts, allows gifts to be set aside for minors who would otherwise not be allowed to own significant property. These custodial accounts let you designate someone—it could be you—to manage gifted funds, until the child becomes of legal age, depending on where you live, 18 or 21.

It takes very little to set up the account. You can do it with your local bank branch. However, the funds are taxable to the child and if an investment triggers a “kiddie tax,” putting the child into a high tax bracket and in line with income tax brackets for non-grantor trusts, it could become expensive. Your estate planning attorney will help you determine if this makes sense.

What may concern you more: when the minor turns 18 or 21, they own the account and can do whatever they want with the funds.

529 College Savings Accounts are increasingly popular for passing on wealth to the next generation. The main goal of a 529 is for educational purposes. However, there are many qualified expenses that it may be used for. Any income from transfers into the account is free of federal income tax, as long as distributions are used for qualified expenses. Any gains may be nontaxable under local and state laws, depending on which account you open and where you live. Contributions to 529 accounts qualify for the annual gift tax exclusion but can also be used for other gift and estate tax planning methods, including letting you make front-loaded gifts for up to five years without tapping your lifetime estate tax exemption.

You may also change the beneficiary of the account at any time, so if one child doesn’t use all their funds, they can be used by another child.

From the IRS’ perspective, a child’s IRA is the same as an adult IRA. The traditional IRA allows an immediate deduction for income taxes when contributions are made. Neither income nor principal are taxed until funds are withdrawn. By contrast, a Roth IRA has no up-front tax deduction. However, any earned income is tax free, as are withdrawals. There are other considerations and limits.  However, generally speaking the Roth IRA is the preferred approach for children and adults when the income earner expects to be in a higher tax bracket when they retire. It’s safe to say that most younger children with earned income will earn more income in their adult years.

The most versatile way to make gifts to minors is through a trust. There’s no one-size-fits-all trust, and tax rules can be complex. Therefore, trusts should only be created with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney. A trust is a private agreement naming a trustee who will manage the assets in the trust for a beneficiary. The terms can be whatever the grantor (the person creating the trust) wants. Trusts can be designed to be fully asset-protected for a beneficiary’s lifetime, as long as they align with state law. The trust should have a provision for what will occur if the beneficiary or the primary trustee dies before the end of the trust.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 15, 2022) “4 Tax-Smart Ways to Share the Wealth with Kids”

What Assets are Not Considered Part of an Estate?

In many families, more assets pass outside the Last Will than through the Last Will. Think about non-probate assets: life insurance proceeds, investment accounts, jointly titled real estate assets, assuming they were titled as joint tenants with right of survivorship, and the like. These often add up to considerable sums, often more than the probate estate.

This is why a recent article from The Mercury titled “Planning Ahead: Pay attention to your non-probate assets” strongly urges readers to pay close attention to accounts transferred by beneficiary.

Most retirement accounts like IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s and others pass by beneficiary designation and not through the Last Will. Banks and investment accounts designated as Payable on Death (POD) or Transfer on Death (TOD) also do not pass through probate, but to the other person named on the account. Any property owned by a trust does not go through probate, one of the reasons it is placed in the trust.

Why is it important to know whether assets pass through probate or by beneficiary designation? Here’s an example. A man was promised half of this father’s estate. His dad had remarried, and the son didn’t know what estate plans had been made, if any, with the new spouse. When the father passed, the man received a single check for several thousand dollars. He knew his father’s estate was worth considerably more.

What is most likely to have happened is simple. The father probably retitled the house with his new spouse as tenants by the entireties–making it a non-probate asset. He probably retitled bank accounts with his new spouse. And if the father had a new Last Will created, he likely gave 50% to the son and 50% to the new spouse. The father’s car may have been the only asset not jointly owned with his new spouse.

A parent can also accidentally disinherit an heir, if all of their non-probate assets are in one child’s name and no provision for the non-probate assets has been made for any other children. An estate planning attorney can work with the parents to find a way to make inheritances equal, if the intention is for all of the children to receive an equal share. One way to accomplish this would be to give the other children a larger share of probated assets.

Any division of inheritance should bear in mind the tax liability of assets. Non-probate does not always mean non-taxed. Depending upon the state of residence for the decedent and the heirs, there may be estate or inheritance tax on the assets.

Placing assets in an irrevocable trust is a commonly used estate planning method to ensure inheritances are received by the intended parties. The trust allows you to give very specific instructions about who gets what. Assets in the trust are outside of the probate estate, since the trust is not owned by the grantor.

Your estate planning attorney will be able to review probate and non-probate assets to determine the best way to achieve your wishes for your distribution of assets.

Reference: The Mercury (April 12, 2022) “Planning Ahead: Pay attention to your non-probate assets”

What Happens to a Pet when Owner Dies?

Pet trusts are a legally binding arrangement in which the donor (the person creating the trust) formally outlines their wishes for how they want their pet to be cared for.

A few more people are involved in a pet trust, according to the article “’Paws-ing’ to plan: How you can ensure your pet’s future well-being with pet trust planning” from The Gilmer Mirror. A trustee oversees the way trust funds are dispensed, a caretaker, who is in charge of the pet’s care and an enforcer, who makes sure the donor’s wishes are followed. Donors may appoint a caretaker of their choice, or work with an agent to find someone suitable for their pet.

Unlike an informal promise to care for a pet made by a well-meaning friend or family member, the pet trust is legally enforceable, giving it more “teeth” than a verbal promise. There is nothing to stop the person you leave your pet with from doing whatever they wish with the pet, from leaving the pet at a shelter to selling the pet. With a trust, all parties are bound to use the money for its intended purposes and to follow pet care instructions.

What can you ask your pet’s caretaker to do? Anything you feel is necessary. It can be as basic or as detailed as you wish. The pet could be cared for as they were by you, with the same kind of food, attention and affection. They can also continue to be seen by the same veterinarian, if one is named in the trust.

Pet planning has become increasingly popular, as more people see their pets as members of the family. However, pet trusts are not just for house cats or dogs. Work animals, show animals, specially trained service and companion animals and animals used for breeding are also protected by pet trusts.

A pet trust could ensure the future of a highly trained show jumper, or to ensure a working dog ends up at a farm where she continues to herd sheep.

Pet trusts are especially important for people with service animals. A blind person who has bonded with a seeing-eye dog may only wish another blind person to inherit a seeing-eye dog. The trust could ensure that animals who have been trained to provide emotional support, or to detect health conditions like seizures, should go to individuals with these same challenges.

Individuals who live with highly trained service animals should consult an experienced estate planning attorney along with the organization that trained the animal to ensure a pet trust is created within the scope and requirements of the organization, as well as the wishes of the owner. The organization may be better able to place the animal, while adhering to the pet trust’s requirements.

A pet trust helps protect our beloved animal companions and provides peace of mind for their humans. It should be part of your overall estate plan and should be updated regularly.

Reference: The Gilmer Mirror (March 23, 2022) “’Paws-ing’ to plan: How you can ensure your pet’s future well-being with pet trust planning”

How Does a Charitable Trust Help with Estate Planning?

Simply put, a charitable trust holds assets and distributes assets to charitable organizations. The person who creates the trust, the grantor, decides how the trust will manage and invest assets, as well as how and when donations are made, as described in the article “How a Charitable Trust Works” from yahoo! finance. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you create a charitable trust to achieve your estate planning goals and create tax-savings opportunities.

Any trust is a legal entity, legally separate from you, even if you are the grantor and a trustee. The trust owns its assets, pays taxes and requires management. The charitable trust is created with the specific goal of charitable giving, during and after your lifetime. Many people use charitable trusts to create ongoing gifts, since this type of trust grows and continues to make donations over extended periods of time.

Sometimes charitable trusts are used to manage real estate or other types of property. Let’s say you have a home you’d like to see used as a community resource after you die. A charitable trust would be set up and the home placed in it. Upon your death, the home would transfer to the charitable organization you’ve named in the trust. The terms of the trust will direct how the home is to be used. Bear in mind while this is possible, most charities prefer to receive cash or stock assets, rather than real estate.

The IRS defines a charitable trust as a non-exempt trust, where all of the unexpired interests are dedicated to one or more charitable purposes, and for which a charitable contribution deduction is allowed under a specific section of the Internal Revenue Code. The charitable trust is treated like a private foundation, unless it meets the requirements for one of the exclusions making it a public charity.

There are two main kinds of charitable trusts. One is a Charitable Remainder Trust, used mostly to make distributions to the grantor or other beneficiaries. After distributions are made, any remaining funds are donated to charity. The CRT may distribute its principal, income, or both. You could also set up a CRT to invest and manage money and distribute only earnings from the investments. A CRT can also be set up to distribute all holdings over time, eventually emptying all accounts. The CRT is typically used to distribute proceeds of investments to named beneficiaries, then distribute its principal to charity after a certain number of years.

The Charitable Lead Trust (CLT) distributes assets to charity for a defined amount of time, and at the end of the term, any remaining assets are distributed to beneficiaries. The grantor may be included as one of the trust’s beneficiaries, known as a “Reversionary Trust.”

All Charitable Trusts are irrevocable, so assets may not be taken back by the grantor. To qualify, the trust may only donate to charities recognized by the IRS.

An estate planning attorney will know how to structure the charitable trust to maximize its tax-savings potential. Depending upon how it is structured, a CT can also impact capital gains taxes.

Reference: yahoo! finance (Dec. 16, 2021) “How a Charitable Trust Works”

What Taxes Have to Be Paid When Someone Dies?

The last thing families want to think about after a loved one has passed are taxes, but they must be dealt with, deadlines must be met and challenges along the way need to be addressed. The article “Elder Care: Death and taxes, Part 1: Tax guidance for administering a loved one’s estate” from The Sentinel offers a useful overview, and recommends speaking with an estate planning attorney to be sure all tasks are completed in a timely manner.

Final income tax returns must be filed after a person passes. This is the tax return on income received during their last year of life, up to the date of death. When a final return is filed, this alerts federal and state taxing authorities to close out the decedent’s tax accounts. If a final return is not filed, these agencies will expect to receive annual tax payments and may audit the deceased. Even if the person didn’t have enough income to need to pay taxes, a final return still needs to be filed so tax accounts are closed out. The surviving spouse or executor typically files the final tax return. If there is a surviving spouse, the final income tax return is the last joint return.

Any tax liabilities should be paid by the estate, not by the executor. If a refund is due, the IRS will only release it to the personal representative of the estate. An estate planning attorney will know the required IRS form, which is to be sent with an original of the order appointing the person to represent the estate.

Depending on the decedent’s state of residence, heirs may have to pay an Inheritance Tax Return. This is usually based on the relationship of the heirs. The estate planning attorney will know who needs to pay this tax, how much needs to be paid and how it is done.

Income received by the estate after the decedent’s death may be taxable. This may be minimal, depending upon how much income the estate has earned after the date of death. In complex cases, there may be significant income and complex tax filings may be required.

If a Fiduciary Return needs to be filed, there will be strict filing deadline, often based on the date when the executor applied for the EIN, or the tax identification number for the estate.

The estate’s executor needs to know of any trusts that exist, even though they pass outside of probate. Currently existing trusts need to be administered. If there is a trust provision in the will, a new trust may need to be started after the date of death. Depending on how they are structured, trust income and distributions need to be reported to the IRS. The estate planning attorney will be able to help with making sure this is managed correctly, as long as they have access to the information.

The decedent’s tax returns may have a lot of information, but probably don’t include trust information. If the person had a Grantor Trust, you’ll need an experienced estate planning attorney to help. During the Grantor’s lifetime, the trust income is reported on the Grantor’s 1040 personal income tax return, as if there was no trust. However, when the Grantor dies, the tax treatment of the trust changes. The Trustee is now required to file Fiduciary Returns for the trust each year it exists and generates income.

An experienced estate planning attorney can analyze the trust and understand reporting and taxes that need to be paid, avoiding any unnecessary additional stress on the family.

Reference: The Sentinel (Dec. 3, 2021) “Elder Care: Death and taxes, Part 1: Tax guidance for administering a loved one’s estate”

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?”

Do You Need a Revocable Trust or Irrevocable Trust?

There are important differences between revocable and irrevocable trusts. One of the biggest differences is the amount of control you have over assets, as explained in the article “What to Consider When Deciding Between a Revocable and Irrevocable Trust” from Kiplinger. A revocable trust is often referred to as the Swiss Army knife of estate planning because it has so many different uses. The irrevocable trust is also a multi-use tool, only different.

Trusts are legal entities that own assets like real estate, investment accounts, cars, life insurance and high value personal belongings, like jewelry or art. Ownership of the asset is transferred to the trust, typically by changing the title of ownership. The trust documents also contain directions regarding what should happen to the asset when you die.

There are three key parties to any trust: the grantor, the person creating and depositing assets into the trust; the beneficiary, who will receive the trust assets and income; and the trustee, who is in charge of the trust, files tax returns as needed and distributes assets according to the terms of the trust. One person can hold different roles. The grantor could set up a trust and also be a trustee and even the beneficiary while living. The executor of a will can also be a trustee or a successor trustee.

If the trust is revocable, the grantor has the option of amending or revoking the trust at any time. A different trustee or beneficiary can be named, and the terms of the trust may be changed. Assets can also be taken back from a revocable trust. Pre-tax retirement funds, like a 401(k) cannot be placed inside a trust, since the transfer would require the trust to become the owner of these accounts. The IRS would consider that to be a taxable withdrawal.

There isn’t much difference between owning the assets yourself and a revocable trust. Assets still count as part of your estate and are not sheltered from estate taxes or creditors. However, you have complete control of the assets and the trust. So why have one? The transition of ownership if something happens to you is easier. If you become incapacitated, a successor trustee can take over management of trust assets. This may be easier than relying on a Power of Attorney form and some believe it offers more legal authority, allowing family members to manage assets and pay bills.

In addition, assets in a trust don’t go through probate, so the transfer of property after you die to heirs is easier. If you own homes in multiple states, heirs will receive their inheritance faster than if the homes must go through probate in multiple states. Any property in your revocable trust is not in your will, so ownership and transfer status remain private.

An irrevocable trust is harder to change, as befits its name. To change an irrevocable trust while you are living takes a little more effort but is not impossible. Consent of all parties involved, including the beneficiary and trustee, must be obtained. The benefits from the irrevocable trust make the effort worthwhile. By giving up control, assets in the irrevocable trust may not be part of your taxable estate. While today’s federal estate exemption is historically high right now, it’s expected to go much lower in the future.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 14, 2021) “What to Consider When Deciding Between a Revocable and Irrevocable Trust”

Will Inheritance and Gift Taxes Change in 2021?

Uncertainty is driving many wealth transfers, with gifting taking the lead for many wealthy families, reports the article “No More Gift Tax Exemption?” from Financial Advisor. For families who have already used up a large amount or even all of their exemptions, there are other strategies to consider.

Making gifts outright or through a trust is still possible, even if an individual or couple used all of their gift and generation skipping transfer tax exemptions. Gifts and generation skipping transfer tax exemption amounts are indexed for inflation, increasing to $11.7 million in 2021 from $11.58 million in 2020. Individuals have $120,000 additional gift and generation-skipping transfer tax exemptions that can be used this year.

Annual exclusion gifts—individuals can make certain gifts up to $15,000 per recipient, and couples can give up to $30,000 per person. This does not count towards gift and estate tax exemptions.

Don’t forget about Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) options. The GRAT is an irrevocable trust, where the grantor makes a gift of property to it, while retaining a right to an annual payment from the trust for a specific number of years. GRATS can also be used for concentrated positions and assets expected to appreciate that significantly reap a number of advantages.

A Sale to a Grantor Trust takes advantage of the differences between the income and transfer tax treatment of irrevocable trusts. The goal is to transfer anticipated appreciation of assets at a reduced gift tax cost. This may be timely for those who have funded a trust using their gift tax exemption, as this strategy usually requires funding of a trust before a sale.

Intra-family loans permit individuals to make loans to family members at lower rates than commercial lenders, without the loan being considered a gift. A family member can help another family member financially, without incurring additional gift tax. A bona fide creditor relationship, including interest payments, must be established.

It’s extremely important to work with a qualified estate planning attorney when implementing tax planning strategies, especially this year. Tax reform is on the horizon, but knowing exactly what the final changes will be, and whether they will be retroactive, is impossible to know. There are many additional techniques, from disclaimers, QTIPs and formula gifts, that an experienced estate planning attorney may consider when planning to protect a family legacy.

Reference: Financial Advisor (April 1, 2021) “No More Gift Tax Exemption?”

Trusts can Work for ‘Regular’ People

A trust fund is an estate planning tool that can be used by anyone who wishes to pass their property to individuals, family members or nonprofits. They are used by wealthy people because they solve a number of wealth transfer problems and are equally applicable to people who aren’t mega-rich, explains this recent article from Forbes titled “Trust Funds: They’re Not Just For The Wealthy.”

A trust is a legal entity in the same way that a corporation is a legal entity. A trust is used in estate planning to own assets, as instructed by the terms of the trust. Terms commonly used in discussing trusts include:

  • Grantor—the person who creates the trust and places assets into the trust.
  • Beneficiary—the person or organization who will receive the assets, as directed by the trust documents.
  • Trustee—the person who ensures that the assets in the trust are properly managed and distributed to beneficiaries.

Trusts may contain a variety of property, from real estate to personal property, stocks, bonds and even entire businesses.

Certain assets should not be placed in a trust, and an estate planning attorney will know how and why to make these decisions. Retirement accounts and other accounts with named beneficiaries don’t need to be placed inside a trust, since the asset will go to the named beneficiaries upon death. They do not pass through probate, which is the process of the court validating the will and how assets are passed as directed by the will. However, there may be reasons to designate such accounts to pass to the trust and your attorney will advise you accordingly.

Assets are transferred into trusts in two main ways: the grantor transfers assets into the trust while living, often by retitling the asset, or by using their estate plan to stipulate that a trust will be created and retain certain assets upon their death.

Trusts are used extensively because they work. Some benefits of using a trust as part of an estate plan include:

Avoiding probate. Assets placed in a trust pass to beneficiaries outside of the probate process.

Protecting beneficiaries from themselves. Young adults may be legally able to inherit but that doesn’t mean they are capable of handling large amounts of money or property. Trusts can be structured to pass along assets at certain ages or when they reach particular milestones in life.

Protecting assets. Trusts can be created to protect inheritances for beneficiaries from creditors and divorces. A trust can be created to ensure a former spouse has no legal claim to the assets in the trust.

Tax liabilities. Transferring assets into an irrevocable trust means they are owned and controlled by the trust. For example, with a non-grantor irrevocable trust, the former owner of the assets does not pay taxes on assets in the trust during his or her life, and they are not part of the taxable estate upon death.

Caring for a Special Needs beneficiary. Disabled individuals who receive government benefits may lose those benefits, if they inherit directly. If you want to provide income to someone with special needs when you have passed, a Special Needs Trust (sometimes known as a Supplemental Needs trust) can be created. An experienced estate planning attorney will know how to do this properly.

Reference: Forbes (March 15, 2021) “Trust Funds: They’re Not Just For The Wealthy”

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Trusts: The Swiss Army Knife of Estate Planning

Trusts serve many different purposes in estate planning. They all have the intent to protect the assets placed within the trust. The type of trust determines what the protection is, and from whom it is protected, says the article “Trusts are powerful tools which can come in many forms,” from The News Enterprise. To understand how trusts protect, start with the roles involved in a trust.

The person who creates the trust is called a “grantor” or “settlor.” The individuals or organizations receiving the benefit of the property or assets in the trust are the “beneficiaries.” There are two basic types of beneficiaries: present interest beneficiaries and “future interest” beneficiaries. The beneficiary, by the way, can be the same person as the grantor, for their lifetime, or it can be other people or entities.

The person who is responsible for the property within the trust is the “trustee.” This person is responsible for caring for the assets in the trust and following the instructions of the trust. The trustee can be the same person as the grantor, as long as a successor is in place when the grantor/initial trustee dies or becomes incapacitated. However, a grantor cannot gain asset protection through a trust, where the grantor controls the trust and is the principal recipient of the trust.

One way to establish asset protection during the lifetime of the grantor is with an irrevocable trust. Someone other than the grantor must be the trustee, and the grantor should not have any control over the trust. The less power a grantor retains, the greater the asset protection.

One additional example is if a grantor seeks lifetime asset protection but also wishes to retain the right to income from the trust property and provide a protected home for an adult child upon the grantor’s death. Very specific provisions within the trust document can be drafted to accomplish this particular task.

There are many other options that can be created to accomplish the specific goals of the grantor.

Some trusts are used to protect assets from taxes, while others ensure that an individual with special needs will be able to continue to receive needs-tested government benefits and still have access to funds for costs not covered by government benefits.

An estate planning attorney will have a thorough understanding of the many different types of trusts and which one would best suit each individual situation and goal.

Reference: The News Enterprise (July 25, 2020) “Trusts are powerful tools which can come in many forms”