Estate Planning Blog Articles

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What Is Needed in Estate Plan Besides a Will?

Having a will is especially important if you have young children, says FedWeek’s recent article entitled “Estate Planning Doesn’t Stop with Making a Will.”  In your will, you can nominate guardians, who would raise your children in the event neither you nor your spouse is able to do so.

When designating a guardian, try to be practical.

Remember, your closest relatives—like your brother and his wife—may not necessarily be the best choice.

And keep in mind that you’re acting in the best interests of your children.

Be sure to obtain the consent of your guardians before nominating them in your will.

Also make sure there’s sufficient life insurance in place, so the guardians can comfortably afford to raise your children.

Your estate planning isn’t complete at this point. Here are some of the other components to consider:

  • Placing assets in trust will help your heirs avoid the hassle and expense of probate.
  • Power of Attorney. This lets a person you name act on your behalf. A “durable” power will remain in effect, even if you become incompetent.
  • Life insurance, retirement accounts and payable-on-death bank accounts will pass to the people you designate on beneficiary forms and won’t pass through probate.
  • Health care proxy. This authorizes a designated agent to make medical decisions for you, if you can’t make them yourself.
  • Living will. This document says whether you want life-sustaining efforts at life’s end.

Be sure to review all of these documents every few years to make certain they’re up to date and reflect your current wishes.

Reference: FedWeek (Dec. 28, 2022) “Estate Planning Doesn’t Stop with Making a Will”

Is Estate Planning and Writing Will the Same Thing?

An estate plan is a broader plan for your assets that may apply during your life as well as after your death. A will states where your assets will pass after you die, who will be the guardian of your minor children and other directions. A will is often part of an estate plan, but an estate plan covers much more.

Yahoo’s recent article entitled “How Is Estate Planning Different From Will Planning?” says that if you’re thinking about writing your will or creating an estate plan, it can be a good idea to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney.

A will is a legal document that describes the way you want your assets transferred after your death. It can also state your wishes when it comes to how your minor children will be cared after your death. Wills also nominate an executor who’s in charge of carrying out the actions in your will.

Without a will, your heirs may spend significant time, money and energy trying to determine how to divide up your assets through the probate court. When you die intestate, the succession laws where you reside determine how your property is divided.

Estate planning is much broader and more complex than writing a will. A will is a single tool, and an estate plan involves multiple tools, such as powers of attorney, advance directives and trusts.

Estate planning may include thinking through topics even beyond legal documents, like deciding who has the power to make healthcare decisions on your behalf while you’re alive, in addition to deciding how your assets will be distributed after your death.

Therefore, wills are part of an estate plan. However, an estate plan is more than just a will.

A will is just a first step when it comes to creating an estate plan. To leave your family in the best position after your death, create a comprehensive estate plan, so your assets can end up where you want them.

Reference: Yahoo (Oct. 20, 2022) “How Is Estate Planning Different From Will Planning?”

Can I Contest Dad’s Will While He’s Still Living?

The Maryland Daily Record’s recent article entitled “Wills cannot be challenged until testator dies, Md. appeals court says” explains the Court of Special Appeals said a will or revocable trust is only a draft document until its drafter, or testator, has died.

As a result, those challenging a living person’s will or trust would be merely “presumptive heirs” who have no legal standing to challenge a legal document that’s not yet final.

“Pre-death challenges to wills may be a waste of time – the testator might replace the will with a new one, die without property, or the challenger might die before the testator,” Judge Andrea M. Leahy wrote for the Court of Special Appeals.

The appellate court’s decision was the second defeat for Amy Silverstone, whose legal challenge to her mother Andrea Jacobson’s will was dismissed by a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge for lack of standing.

Silverstone argued that the will should be declared void based on her claim that her aunt unduly influenced her mother. The mother suffers from dementia and memory impairment.

This undue influence led Silverstone’s mother, Andrea Jacobson, to change her will in 2018 to expressly “disinherit” Silverstone and her son, Silverstone alleged.

The mother’s new will stated that Silverstone and her son shall not “in any way be a beneficiary of or receive any portion of the trust or the grantor’s estate.”

The disinheritance came amid a falling out between mother and daughter, according to court documents.

Silverstone’s challenge to the will and related trust is premature while her mother is alive, the court held.

Reference: The Maryland Daily Record (Dec. 12, 2022) “Wills cannot be challenged until testator dies, Md. appeals court says”

Does My Estate Plan Need an ‘ePlan’?

Modern estate plans should include what’s known as an “ePlan” to manage online accounts and online data. There are four specific steps to creating an effective ePlan, says American Legion’s recent article entitled “Estate planning and online accounts.”

  1. Create a List of Accounts and How to Access Them. Your list should specify the username, password account number and a description of what’s included in each account. Make sure to keep this list up to date.
  2. Store and Protect Your Info. Develop a plan for storing information, including saving the list you compiled and backing up important data files and account information. Since an ePlan account list contains sensitive information, such as usernames and passwords, it’s important to maintain the security and confidentiality of this list.
  3. Designate a Digital Executor. The laws of many states give access to online accounts to the executor of an estate. However, in some cases, state law may restrict access, if the executor doesn’t have the password or an estate plan does not clearly grant powers to the executor to access these accounts.
  4. Give Your Executor “Digital Directions.” Draft a letter of instruction to the digital executor and tell him or her how to manage your online accounts and digital assets. It may also include suggestions on the distribution of accounts, assets, files and information to family.

Note that Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple and other companies have policies for when an account holder dies. These policies may permit an account holder to designate a “Legacy Contact” to manage the account; require specific documentation before a deceased person’s account can be closed, such as a copy of a death certificate; or automatically close an account after an extended period of inactivity, such as three months.

Digital estate planning is a new and dynamic field. By adding an ePlan to your estate plan, you can be certain your executor will take the right steps to preserve and protect these accounts and that valuable and sentimental data can be passed on to family and loved ones.

Reference: American Legion (Dec. 13, 2022) “Estate planning and online accounts”

Are My Children Entitled to My Money?

Let’s say that one of your children hasn’t had contact with you since COVID in 2019. She’s been off the radar and never calls. You may not feel obligated to give them an inheritance.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “We want to cut one child out of our will. Can we?” says that adult children aren’t legally entitled to an inheritance.

Unfortunately, will contests generally happen where a child who’s left less, or disinherited, thinks that a sibling has wrongly influenced a parent to leave more to him or her.

This is particularly problematic if the parent is elderly and/or in ill health and completely reliant on that child for assistance.

A will contest is a probate proceeding where interested parties dispute the validity of a will.

The most common legal grounds for disputing the validity of a will are undue influence, duress, mistake and the decedent’s lack of capacity when they signed the will.

To properly avoid a will contest, you should work with a qualified estate planning attorney who will document his or her file and prepare a will for you with appropriate language.

Note that it isn’t necessary or advisable to provide an explanation as to why you’re disinheriting a child. That’s because if you give a reason, that reason may cause controversy.

If avoiding litigation is a priority, as an alternative to totally disinheriting a child, your attorney can also talk with you about the different forms of “no-contest” clauses that can be placed in a will.

This clause, also called an `in terrorem’ clause, indicates that if a beneficiary raises a claim with respect to the will, he or she will lose his or her inheritance.

There’s also typically a time limit to contesting a will. For example, in Minnesota, those with standing who want to contest a will must do so within a year after the death of the deceased person.

For a no-contest clause to be effective, a child must be a beneficiary of some amount in your will.

The courts will uphold this clause, unless it finds there is probable cause for bringing a court action.

Reference: nj.com (Dec. 2, 2022) “We want to cut one child out of our will. Can we?”

Giving to My Favorite Charity in Estate Plan

If you’d like to leave some or all of your money to a charity, Go Banking Rates’ recent article entitled “How To Leave Your Inheritance to an Organization” provides what you need to know about charitable giving as part of your estate plan.

  1. Make Sure the Organization Accepts Donations. Unless you have a formal agreement with the charity stating they’ll accept the inheritance, the confirmation isn’t a binding commitment. As a result, you should ask the organization if there’s any form language that they may want you to add to your will or trust as part of a specific bequest. If the charity isn’t currently able to accept this kind of donation, look at what they will accept or if other charities with a similar mission will accept it.
  2. Set the Amount You Want the Charity To Receive. Some people want to leave the estate tax exemption — the maximum amount that can pass without tax — to individuals and leave the rest to charity. Because the estate tax exemption is subject to change and the value of your assets will change, the amount the charity will get will probably change from when the planning is completed.
  3. Have a Plan B in the Event that the Charity Doesn’t Exist After Your Death. Meet with your estate planning attorney and decide what happens to the bequest if the organization you’re donating to no longer exists. You may plan ahead to pass along the inheritance to another organization and make sure it receives the funds. You could also have the inheritance go back into the general distributions in your will.
  4. State How You Want Your Gift to Be Used. If there is a certain way that you’d like the charity to use the inheritance, you can certainly inquire with the organization and learn more. Find out if the charity accepts this type of restriction, how long it may last and what happens if the charity no longer uses it for this purpose.

As you draft charitable planning provisions, make sure you do so alongside an experienced estate planning attorney.

The provisions in your will should be specific about your desires and provide enough flexibility to your personal representative, executor, or trustee to be modified based on the conditions at the time of your death.

Reference: Go Banking Rates (August 26, 2022) “How To Leave Your Inheritance to an Organization”

The Basics of Estate Planning

No matter how BIG or small your net worth is, estate planning is a process that ensures your assets are handed down the way you want after you die.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Estate Planning Basics” explains that everybody has an estate.

An estate is nothing more or less than the sum total of your assets and possessions of value. This includes:

  • Your car
  • Your home
  • Financial accounts
  • Investments; and
  • Personal property.

Estate planning is the process of deciding which people or organizations are to get your possessions or assets after you’ve died.

It’s also how you leave directions for managing your care and assets if you are incapacitated and unable to make financial or medical decisions. That is done with powers of attorney, a healthcare directive and a living will.

Your estate plan details who gets your assets. It also designates who can make critical healthcare and financial decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. If you have minor children, your estate plan also lets you designate their legal guardians, in case you die before they reach 18. It also allows you to name adults to safeguard their financial interests.

Your estate plan directs assets to specific entities or people in a legally binding manner. If you want your daughter to have your coin collection or your favorite animal rescue organization to get $500, it’s all mapped out in your estate plan.

You can also create a trust to safeguard a minor child’s assets until they reach a certain age. You can also keep assets out of probate. That way, your beneficiaries can easily access things like your home or bank accounts.

All estate plans should include documents that cover three main areas: asset transfer, medical needs and financial decisions. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help you create your estate plan.

Reference: Forbes (Nov. 16, 2022) “Estate Planning Basics”

There are Ways to Transfer Home to Your Children

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “2 Clever Ways to Gift Your Home to Your Kids” explains that the most common way to transfer a property is for the children to inherit it when the parent passes away. An outright gift of the home to their child may mean higher property taxes in states that treat the gift as a sale. It’s also possible to finance the child’s purchase of the home or sell the property at a discount, known as a bargain sale.

These last two options might appear to be good solutions because many adult children struggle to buy a home at today’s soaring prices. However, crunch the numbers first.

If you sell your home to your child for less than what it’s worth, the IRS considers the difference between the fair market value and the sale price a gift. Therefor., if you sell a $1 million house to your child for $600,000, that $400,000 discount is deemed a gift. You won’t owe federal gift tax on the $400,000 unless your total lifetime gifts exceed the federal estate and gift tax exemption of $12.06 million in 2022, However, you must still file a federal gift tax return on IRS Form 709.

Using the same example, let’s look at the federal income tax consequences. If the parents are married, bought the home years ago and have a $200,000 tax basis in it, when they sell the house at a bargain price to the child, the tax basis gets split proportionately. Here, 40% of the basis ($80,000) is allocated to the gift and 60% ($120,000) to the sale. To determine the gain or loss from the sale, the sale-allocated tax basis is subtracted from the sale proceeds.

In our illustration, the parent’s $480,000 gain ($600,000 minus $120,000) is non-taxable because of the home sale exclusion. Homeowners who owned and used their principal residence for at least two of the five years before the sale can exclude up to $250,000 of the gain ($500,000 if married) from their income.

The child isn’t taxed on the gift portion. However, unlike inherited property, gifted property doesn’t get a stepped-up tax basis. In a bargain sale, the child gets a lower tax basis in the home, in this case $680,000 ($600,000 plus $80,000). If the child were to buy the home at its full $1 million value, the child’s tax basis would be $1 million.

Another option is to combine your bargain sale with a loan to your child, by issuing an installment note for the sale portion. This helps a child who can’t otherwise get third-party financing and allows the parents to charge lower interest rates than a lender, while generating some monthly income.

Be sure that the note is written, signed by the parents and child, includes the amounts and dates of monthly payments along with a maturity date and charges an interest rate that equals or exceeds the IRS’s set interest rate for the month in which the loan is made. Go through the legal steps of securing the note with the home, so your child can deduct interest payments made to you on Schedule A of Form 1040. You’ll have to pay tax on the interest income you receive from your child.

You can also make annual gifts by taking advantage of your annual $16,000 per person gift tax exclusion. If you do this, keep the gifts to your child separate from the note payments you get. With the annual per-person limit, you won’t have to file a gift tax return for these gifts.

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 23, 2021) “2 Clever Ways to Gift Your Home to Your Kids”

The Benefits of a Good Estate Plan

If you don’t have a comprehensive estate plan, state law will control. That’s unlikely to coincide with what you would choose to do. MSN’s recent article entitled “What is estate planning?” discusses the benefits of estate planning.

Minimizes taxes. Clever structuring of flexible retirement accounts, such as a Roth IRA, can help funnel more tax-free money to your heirs, while other tax-planning strategies like strategic charitable giving can help you mitigate estate taxes.

Prevents family disputes. The possibility of a fight about who gets what of value or even a sentimental treasure can arise without proper planning.

Clarifies your directives. Although you may have always intended for your niece to get a certain heirloom, unless it’s written out in your estate plan, it may not get into her hands. If you clearly spell out your wishes with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, you can help your loved ones remember you fondly or at least get what you intended.

Avoids the time and expense of probate court. Done correctly, a trust can help your family avoid the hassles of probate court. Because of the ease of using a trust, more people are doing an end-run around probate and setting up their assets this way. You don’t need as much wealth as you might think to make it worthwhile.

Keeps your family assets together. Trusts can be a good way to make sure your money stays in the family. With the help of an estate planning attorney, a trust can keep a beneficiary from blowing your lifetime of hard work in a few years.

Protects your heirs. If you have minor children, a will can instruct who will take care of them. A living will can help heirs avoid some difficult health decisions during a parent’s end of life.

Sound estate planning can help avoid several potentially troubling problems.

Reference: MSN (Oct. 13, 2022) “What is estate planning?”

Major Blunders in Estate Planning

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “5 Common Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid” warns that if you overlook an important step or make a misstep in your estate planning, everything could be undone. You could instead burden your family with a challenging and headache-inducing estate.

There are many ways to get things wrong. Let’s look at a few:

  1. Not preparing for incapacity. The main reason to create a will is because we know that some day we’ll pass away. A will lets your family know how to distribute your property and other assets. A well-thought-out estate plan should identify the people authorized to make important decisions on your behalf regarding finances, health care and other critical matters. This is accomplished with powers of attorney. Once you are unconscious or afflicted with dementia, it will be too late. Make a list of decision-makers now, inform them of your wishes and create the necessary powers of attorney.
  2. Failing to include funeral and burial wishes. If you can purchase a burial plot and make funeral plans, put this in your estate planning documents. If you don’t, it may mean a lot of work for your family after your death. Name someone to be in charge of the funeral and burial arrangements and make sure that person understands your wishes. If you don’t detail your wishes prior to your death, it may become an issue for your loved ones.
  3. Ignoring the tax implications of transferring property. As generous as it may seem to give property to your family during your lifetime, it is usually much smarter – and far more generous – to delay the transfer until you’re deceased. If you convey the deed to property to your next of kin before you die, they may see a hefty tax bill whenever they sell the same property. That’s because the basis for that property will be tagged to the date on which you made your purchase, not the date you made your gift. As a result, it could leave your heirs scrambling to pay an enormous sum that would have been averted, had they been granted the deed after your death.
  4. Failing to designate backups for decision-makers. The best of plans can go south without a secondary beneficiary. This will address any unforeseen events. Name backups for your executor and other decision-makers. If they can’t fulfill their obligations, a court will name substitutes unless you’ve already planned for these contingencies.
  5. Not tracking beneficiary designations. In addition to stating the beneficiaries and their respective shares in your will, you must also communicate a directive to your bank that sets forth the interests in your account after your death. If you fail to do this, the bank’s rules will override anything you’re written in your will as to that account. That means your percentages will be different from those expressed in your will.

Take steps now to make certain there are no hidden issues that will haunt your family after you’ve passed.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 17, 2022) “5 Common Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid”=