Estate Planning Blog Articles

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How to Simplify Estate Planning

For most people, estate planning and preparation doesn’t rank very high on their “to do” list. There are a number of reasons, but frequently it comes down these three: (i) cost; (ii) they believe it’s just for the rich; and (iii) it’s too complicated.

Fort Worth’s recent article entitled “3 Tips to Help Simplify Estate Planning,” explains that an estate plan really is not about you. It’s about taking care of your loved ones and charities.

Without an estate plan or last will, state intestacy law determines who gets your assets. You lose control of how your wealth will be distributed.

Let’s look at three tips to make it easier and to help you prepare for the future:

  1. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney. Estate planning is not something you ask your buddy to do. “Hey, Jimmy, help me write my will.” No way. Partner with an experienced estate planning attorney, so you are confident your documents comply with state law and that the plan’s language clearly details how your wealth should be managed.
  2. Review your estate planning documents regularly. We all have planned and unexpected events in our lives, like new grandchildren, illnesses, or significant increases or decreases in your net worth that could impact wealth and how it should be distributed. Meet regularly with your estate planning attorney and review your plan to make sure it still meets your needs and intentions.
  3. Organize important documents. Make certain important documents have been created and can be located quickly, if something happens to you. Here is a list of documents you should have on file that can be accessed by your spouse or family members in case of an emergency:
  • Wills, trusts, and other important estate planning documents
  • A list of tangible and intangible property
  • A list of financial accounts and insurance policies; and
  • Email accounts, logins, or other log-in information to your PC and phone.

Estate planning is not a DIY project. You need the expertise of an experienced estate planning attorney to make certain that your wishes are carried out and that your estate plan can withstand any legal challenge.

Reference: Fort Worth (May 6, 2021) “3 Tips To Help Simplify Estate Planning”

Does My State have Inheritance Tax?

There are several states with an inheritance tax. They include Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Maryland is the only state to impose both an inheritance tax and a state estate tax.

Forbes’s recent article entitled “Is There a California Estate Tax?” says that even if you live outside these states, it does not necessarily mean that your inheritance will be tax-free.

Twelve states and DC impose estate taxes. These include Hawaii, Washington, Massachusetts, Oregon, New York, Minnesota, Illinois, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Maryland.

There may be other taxes due at the state level for those inheriting assets, investments, retirement accounts, or real estate.

The estate tax is a tax levied on the estate, when a person dies before the estate is passed on to the heirs and beneficiaries. Federal estate tax only applies to large estates, regardless of which state you live in. Estate taxes vary from state to state.

There is one state that imposes a gift tax: Connecticut. That state’s Department of Revenue Services says that all transfers of real or personal property by gift, whether tangible (like a car or jewelry) or intangible (such as cash) that are made by you (the donor) to someone else (the donee) are subject to tax, if the fair market value of the property exceeds the amount received for the property.

The federal gift tax applies to all states. For 2021, the annual gift-tax exclusion is $15,000 per donor, per recipient. A giver can give anyone else—such as a relative, friend, or even a stranger—up to $15,000 in assets a year, free of federal gift taxes.

Even if your state doesn’t have a state estate tax, there’s still a federal estate tax. This goes into effect for estates valued at $11.7 million and up, in 2021, for singles. The estate tax exemption is $23.4 million per couple in 2021.

With proper tax planning and estate planning, you have the ability to pass an estate much larger than this without being subject to the federal estate tax. The estate tax starts at 18% and goes up to 40% for those anything over the $23.4 million threshold.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney for questions about taxes and estate planning.

Reference: Forbes (May 4, 2021) “Is There a California Estate Tax?”

Should Parent Transfer House to Kid?

Let us say the parent is 90 and has a will bequeathing a home to a child, a son. The house was purchased 20 years ago for $300,000 and is now worth about $400,000.

The child stays there occasionally to help care for the parent, but he doesn’t live there. The parents’ estate is otherwise worth less than $1 million.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “What are the pros and cons of transferring a home’s title?” explains that there are two primary reasons why parents want to transfer their home to their children.

First, they think they will be able to protect the house, in the event the parent needs to move to a nursing home. Second, they want to avoid probate.

Because many states now have a simple probate process for smaller estates, probate avoidance alone isn’t a worthwhile rationale to transfer the house to a child.

The transfer of the house to a child who doesn’t live there will be subject to the look-back rule for Medicaid, which in most states is now five years. As a result, if a parent transfers the house to the child within five years of applying for Medicaid, the transfer will trigger a penalty which will begin when the Medicaid application is submitted. The length of the penalty period depends on the value of the house. Therefore, if the parent might require nursing home care in the next five years, the parent should have enough other assets to cover the penalty period or wait five years before applying for Medicaid.

In addition, the transfer of the house may also cause a significant capital gains tax liability to the child when the house is sold. That’s because the child will receive the house with the carryover basis of the parent. However, if the child inherits the house, the child will get a step-up in basis—the basis will be the value of the house at the date of the parent’s death.

If the parent transferring the house retains a life estate—the right to live in the house until he or she passes away—the property will get a step-up in basis to the value of the house at the date of death.  In the event that the house is sold while the parent is still alive, the value of the life estate interest will be excluded from income tax but the value of the child’s remainder interest in the house may be subject to capital gain taxes.

Last, if the house is transferred to a child who has financial troubles, the child’s creditors may be able to force the child to sell the house to pay his debts.

Reference: nj.com (April 20, 2021) “What are the pros and cons of transferring a home’s title?”

What Emergency Documents Do I Need in Pandemic?

With the threat of COVID-19, we’ve all come face-to-face with our mortality. However, are you prepared for the worst?, asks KSAT in its January 23 article entitled, “Important documents you need to have handy in case of an emergency.”

A consumer report recently found that just 7% of those ages 19 to 29 have an advance directive for health care emergencies, and even fewer have a will. Estate planning is one of the most worthwhile things we could do for ourselves or our loved ones.

The article explains that your estate is everything you own, and if it’s not protected, it could be taken away from your loved ones.

An extremely important document to have, in addition to a will, is a living will and a healthcare proxy or power of attorney. These documents let you designate the individual who will make decisions on your behalf, if you cannot speak for yourself.

In addition, a HIPAA authorization permits an individual you trust to speak with your healthcare staff and receive your personal medical information.

Another key document is a financial power of attorney. This empowers you to designate an agent to handle your debts, contracts and assets. A financial power of attorney must be signed and notarized.

You should also consider payable on death and transfer on death designations, which transfer assets to designated beneficiaries without probate.

It is important to conduct a digital asset inventory to list your entire online presence and include all accounts, logins, passwords, social media, and professional profiles, and most importantly, a list of everything you have on autopay.

Last, you need a last will and testament. This lets you to name an executor or personal representative to handle your postmortem affairs. However, a last will does not keep assets out of probate.

One last note: you can prepare a personal property memorandum to list the beneficiaries of any sentimental, non-monetary items.

Reference: KSAT (San Antonio) (Jan. 23, 2021) “Important documents you need to have handy in case of an emergency”

Should Young Families have an Estate Plan?

Young families are always on the go. New parents are busy with diapers, feeding schedules and trying to get a good night’s sleep. As a result, it’s hard to think about the future when you’re so focused on the present. Even so, young parents should think about estate planning.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled, “Why Young Families Should Consider an Estate Plan,” explains that the word “estate” might sound upscale, but estate planning isn’t just for the wealthy. Your estate is simply all the assets you have when you die. This includes bank accounts, 401(k) plan, a home and cars. An estate plan helps to make certain that your property goes to the right people, that your debts are paid and your family is cared for. Without an estate plan, your estate must go through probate, which is a potentially lengthy court process that settles the debts and distributes the assets of the decedent.

Estate planning is valuable for young families, even if they don’t have extensive assets. Consider these key estate planning actions that every parent needs to take to make certain they’ve protected their child, no matter what the future has in store.

Purchase Life Insurance. Raising children is costly, and if a parent dies, life insurance provides funds to continue providing for surviving children. For most, term life insurance is a good move because the premiums are affordable, and the coverage will be in effect until the children grow to adulthood and are no longer financially dependent.

Make a Will and Name a Guardian for your Children. For parents, the most important reason to make a will is to designate a guardian for your children. If you fail to do this, the courts will decide and may place your children with a relative with whom you have not spoken in years. However, if you name a guardian, you choose a person or couple you know has the same values and who will raise your kids as you would have.

Review Your Beneficiaries. You probably already have a 401(k) or IRA that makes you identify who will inherit it if you die. You’ll need to update these accounts, if you want your children to inherit these assets.

Consider a Trust. If you die before your children turn 18, your children can’t directly assume control of an inheritance, which can be an issue. The probate court could name an individual to manage the assets you leave to your child. However, if you want to specify who will manage assets, how your money and property should be used for your children and when your children should directly receive a transfer of wealth, consider asking an experienced estate planning attorney about a trust. With a trust, you can name a designated person to manage money on behalf of your children and provide direction regarding how the trustee can use the money to help care for your children as they grow. Trusts aren’t just for the very well-to-do. Anyone may be able to benefit from a trust.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (April 13, 2021) “Why Young Families Should Consider an Estate Plan”

Should I Discuss Estate Planning with My Children?

US News & World Report’s recent article entitled “Discuss Your Estate Plan With Your Children” says that staying up-to-date with your estate plan and sharing your plans with your children could make a big impact on your legacy and what you’ll pay in estate taxes. Let’s look at why you should consider talking to your children about estate planning.

People frequently create an estate plan and name their child as the trustee or executor. However, they fail to discuss the role and what’s involved with them. Ask your kids if they’re comfortable acting as the executor, trustee, or power of attorney. Review what each of the roles involves and explain the responsibilities. The estate documents state some critical responsibilities but don’t provide all the details. Having your children involved in the process and getting their buy-in will be a big benefit in the future.

Share information about valuables stored in a fireproof safe or add their name to the safety deposit box. Tell them about your accounts at financial institutions and the titling of the various accounts, so that these accounts aren’t forgotten, and bills get paid when you’re not around.

Parents can get children involved with a meeting with their estate planning attorney to review the estate plan and pertinent duties of each child. If they have questions, an experienced estate planning attorney can answer them in the context of the overall estate plan.

If children are minors, invite the successor trustee to also be part of the meeting.

Explain what you own, what type of accounts you have and how they’re treated from a tax perspective.

Discussing your estate plan with your children provides a valuable opportunity to connect with your loved ones, even after you are gone. An individual’s attitudes about money says much about his or her values.

Sharing with your children what your money means to you, and why you are speaking with them about it, will help guide them in honoring your memory.

There are many personal reasons to discuss your estate plans with your children. While it’s a simple step, it’s not easy to have this conversation. However, the pandemic emphasized the need to not procrastinate when it comes to estate planning. It’s also provided an opportunity to discuss these estate plans with your children.

Reference: US News & World Report (Feb. 17, 2021) “Discuss Your Estate Plan With Your Children”

What Does ‘Per Stirpes’ in a Will Mean?

Let’s say you had six brothers and sisters. All of your siblings were still living at the time your father made his will. However, three of your brothers died before your father passed away.

In that case, would the children of the deceased siblings be entitled to their fathers’ shares of their grandfather’s estate?

What if that wasn’t what the father intended when he wrote the will. Instead, the money was to be divided equally between his remaining living children. Who’s right?

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “My father died. Who will get the share meant for a dead beneficiary?” says that it really depends on how the will was written by the deceased, who’s also known as the testator.

A will may state, “I give, devise, and bequeath my residuary estate to those of my children who survive me, in equal shares, and the descendants of a deceased child of mine, to take their parent’s share per stirpes.”

Per stirpes in a will means that the share of a deceased child will pass to the children of that deceased child in equal shares, if any. However, if nothing is stated in the will, then every state has law that interprets a lapse of a will provision. These are known as “anti-lapse” statutes.

For example, the Kansas anti-lapse statute (K.S.A. 59-615), is operative only when:

  • The testator bequeaths or devises property to a beneficiary who’s a member of the class designated by the statute
  • The specified beneficiary predeceases the testator and leaves issue who survive the testator  and
  • The testator doesn’t revoke or change his or her will as to the predeceased beneficiary.

If you are a resident of Arizona, that state’s anti-lapse statute applies, if a beneficiary under your will predeceases you. The anti-lapse statute would apply if the predeceasing beneficiary were your grandparent, a descendant of your grandparent, or your stepchild, who have at least one child who survives you. Therefore, if the anti-lapse statute were to apply, the child who survives you would effectively take your beneficiary’s place, and inherit the gift instead of the beneficiary.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney if you have questions about wills and per stirpes designations.

Reference: nj.com (March 25, 2021) “My father died. Who will get the share meant for a dead beneficiary?”

Why Is Family of a Texas Governor Fighting over His Estate?

Dolph Briscoe Jr. was a Texas rancher and businessman and was the 41st Governor of Texas between 1973 and 1979. His oldest child, Janey Briscoe Marmion, established the foundation with her father to honor her only child, Kate, who died in 2008 at the age of 20.

The Uvalde Leader-News’ recent article entitled “Briscoe family lawsuit targets Marmion’s will” reports that Marmion’s original will filed in 2011 directed her assets to be placed in a revocable trust.

The foundation was to have received income from half of her wealth for 22 years. The rest was directed to the children of her brother Chip Briscoe and those of her sister Cele Carpenter of Dallas.

However, a second will executed by Marmion in 2014 and admitted to probate in the County Court in December 2018— a month and a day after her death—calls for three trusts, including two child’s trusts created by her father and a generation-skipping trust (GST). A GST is a type of trust agreement in which the contributed assets are transferred to the grantor’s grandchildren, “skipping” the next generation (the grantor’s children).

Marmion created the Janey Marmion Briscoe GST Trust, dated November 1, 2012, in which she gave a third of her assets to the foundation and the other two-thirds to be divided equally between Chip Briscoe’s sons.

Carpenter’s three children filed suit in Dallas and in Uvalde County last year challenging the validity of the 2014 will and contesting the probate.

Their complaint alleges that Marmion intended to include the three as beneficiaries, in addition to Chip’s two sons, and that the situation creates a disproportionate inheritance in favor of the Briscoe men.

The amount in question is more than $500 million, since the former Texas governor’s estate was estimated by Forbes to be worth as much as $1.3 billion in 2015. Governor Briscoe died in Uvalde in 2010 at the age of 87.

Reference: Uvalde (TX) Leader-News (March 11, 2021) “Briscoe family lawsuit targets Marmion’s will”

Sound Like a Broken Record in Estate Planning?

After a year like the last, estate planning attorneys may sound like a broken record, repeating their message over and over again: No matter your age, wealth, or familial structure, you should have a last will and testament, powers of attorney and a health care proxy.

Everyone needs these documents, to protect wealth, children, spouses, family and yourself.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “2020 Concludes With Intestate Celebrity Estates” says that the execution of legal documents does have a financial cost. This can keep some people from talking to an experienced estate planning attorney. Others say they are simply too busy to take care of the matter, so they delay. There are other people don’t want to talk about issues of sickness and mortality because they just can’t bring themselves to think about these important estate planning documents.

It doesn’t matter who you are, these types of issues are seen with all kinds of people. Recently, we’ve learned that several celebrities died intestate or without a last will and testament. For example, Argentinian soccer great Diego Armando Maradona died in November at the age of 60. He had a fortune including real estate, financial assets and jewelry, but his life was filled with drama. Diego fathered eight children from six different partners but signed no last will and testament. Fighting among his many heirs is expected, especially with his large estate. Diego said publicly that he wanted to donate his entire estate and not leave his children anything. However, he died of a heart attack before putting this plan in place. Therefore his next-of-kin, not the charities, received his assets.

Another notable person who died intestate recently is former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who died at age 46. His estate is valued at $840 million. Hsieh was survived by his two brothers and his parents. He recently purchased eight houses in Park City, Utah, so this purchase of real estate across state lines will make the administration of his estate even more complicated without a last will and testament or a trust.

Finally, actor Chadwick Boseman died intestate at age 43, after a long battle with colon cancer. His wife, Simone Ledward, petitioned the California courts to be named the administrator of his estate. The couple married in early 2020. As a result, she was qualified to administer and receive from his estate. He had no children, so under California probate law, she gets the entire estate.

These recent deaths of three celebrities, none of whom were elderly, show the need for individuals of all ages, backgrounds and wealth to address their estate plans and not put it off.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Jan. 19, 2020) “2020 Concludes With Intestate Celebrity Estates”

If I Move to a New State, Do I Need to Update My Estate Plan?

The U.S. Constitution requires states to give “full faith and credit” to the laws of other states. As a result, your will, trust, power of attorney, and health care proxy executed in one state should be honored in every other state.

Although that’s the way it should work, the practical realities are different and depend on the document, says Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Moving to a New State? Be Sure to Update Your Estate Plan.”

Your last will should still be legally valid in the new state. However, the new state may have different probate laws that make certain provisions of the will invalid. This can also happen with revocable trusts.

However, it’s not as common with powers of attorney and health care directives. These estate planning documents should be honored from state to state, but sometimes banks, medical professionals, and financial and health care institutions will refuse to accept the documents and forms. They may have their own, as is the case frequently with banks.

You should also know that the execution requirements of your estate planning documents may be different, depending on the state.

For example, there are some states that require witnesses on durable powers of attorney, and others that do not. A state that requires witnesses may not allow a power of attorney without witnesses to be used to convey real estate, even though the document is perfectly valid in the state where it was drafted and signed.

With health care proxies, other states may use different terms for the document, such as “durable power of attorney for health care” or “advance directive.”

When you move to a different state, it’s also a smart move to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to make certain that your estate plan in general is up to date. There are also other changes in circumstances—like a change in income or marital status—that can also have an impact on your estate plan. Moreover, there may be practical changes you may want to make. For example, you may want to change your trustee or agent under a power of attorney based on which family members will be closer in proximity.

For all these reasons, when you move out of state it’s wise to have an experienced estate planning attorney in your new home state review your estate planning documents.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Jan. 26, 2021) “Moving to a New State? Be Sure to Update Your Estate Plan”