Estate Planning Blog Articles

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

What are Mistakes to Avoid with Beneficiary Designations?

Many people don’t know that their will doesn’t control who inherits all of their assets when they die. Some assets pass by beneficiary designation. Assets like life insurance, annuities and retirement accounts all pass by beneficiary designation.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Beneficiary Designations: 5 Critical Mistakes to Avoid” lists five critical mistakes to avoid when dealing with your beneficiary designations:

  1. Failing to designate any beneficiary at all. Many people forget to name a beneficiary for retirement accounts or life insurance. They may forget, didn’t know they had to, or just never got around to filling out the forms. If you don’t name a beneficiary for life insurance or retirement accounts, the company will apply its rules about where the assets will go after you die. For life insurance, the proceeds will typically be paid to your probate estate. For retirement benefits, if you’re married, your spouse will most likely receive the assets. However, if you’re unmarried, the retirement account will likely be paid to your probate estate, which has negative income tax ramifications.
  2. Failing to consider special circumstances. Not every family member should get an asset directly. This includes minor children, those with specials needs and people who can’t manage assets or with creditor issues.
  3. Misspelling a beneficiary’s name. Beneficiary designation forms can be filled out incorrectly and the beneficiary designation form may not be specific. People also change their names through marriage or divorce, or assumptions can be made about a person’s legal name that later prove incorrect. Failing to have names match exactly can cause delays in payouts, and in a worst-case scenario of two people with similar names, it can result in a court case.
  4. Forgetting to update your beneficiaries. Your choice of beneficiary may likely change over time as circumstances change. Naming a beneficiary is part of an overall estate plan, and just as life changes, so should your estate plan. Beneficiary designations are an important part of that plan—make certain that they’re updated regularly.
  5. Failing to review beneficiary choices with legal and financial advisers. How beneficiary designations should be completed is a component of an overall financial and estate plan. Involve your legal and financial advisers to determine what’s best for your circumstances. Note that beneficiary designations are designed to guarantee that you have the ultimate say over who will get your assets when you pass away. Taking the time to carefully (and correctly) choose your beneficiaries and then periodically reviewing those choices and making any necessary updates will allow you to remain in control of your money.

Reference: Kiplinger (June 6, 2022) “Beneficiary Designations: 5 Critical Mistakes to Avoid”

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?”

Addressing Vacation Home in Another State in Estate Planning

Many families have an out-of-state cabin or vacation home that’s passed down by putting the property in a will. While that’s an option, this strategy might not make it as easy as you think for your family to inherit this home in the future.

Florida Today’s recent article entitled “Avoiding probate: What is the best option for my out-of-state vacation home?” explains the reason to look into a more comprehensive plan. While you could just leave an out-of-state vacation home in your will, you might consider protecting your loved ones from the often expensive, overwhelming and complicated process of dealing both an in-state probate and an out-of-state probate.

There are options to help avoid probate on an out-of-state vacation home that can save your family headaches in the future. Let’s take a look:

  • Revocable trust: This type of trust can be altered while you’re still living, especially as your assets or beneficiaries change. You can place all your assets into this trust, but at the very least, put the vacation home in the trust to avoid the property going through probate. Another benefit of a revocable trust is you could set aside money in the trust specifically for the management and upkeep of the property, and you can leave instructions on how the vacation home should be managed upon your death.
  • Irrevocable trust: similar to the revocable trust, assets can be put into an irrevocable trust, including your vacation home. You can leave instructions and money for the management of the vacation home. However, once an irrevocable trust is established, you can’t amend or terminate it.
  • Limited liability company (LLC): You can also create an LLC and list your home as an asset of the company to eliminate probate and save you or your family from the risk of losing any other assets outside of the vacation home, if sued. You can protect yourself if renting out a vacation home and the renter decides to sue. The most you could then lose is that property, rather than possibly losing any other assets. Having beneficiaries rent the home will help keep out-of-pocket expenses low for future beneficiaries. With the creation of an LLC, you’re also able to create a plan to help with the future management of the vacation home.
  • Transfer via a deed: When you have multiple children, issues may arise when making decisions surrounding the home. This is usually because your wishes for the management of the house are not explicitly detailed in writing.
  • Joint ownership: You can hold the title to the property with another that’s given the right of survivorship. However, like with the deed, this can lead to miscommunication as to how the house should be cared for and used.

Plan for the future to help make certain that the property continues to be a place where cherished memories can be made for years to come. Talk to a qualified estate planning attorney for expert legal advice for your specific situation.

Reference: Florida Today (July 2, 2022) “Avoiding probate: What is the best option for my out-of-state vacation home?”

How Do IRAs and 401(k)s Fit into Estate Planning?

When investing for retirement, two common types of accounts are part of the planning: 401(k)s and IRAs. J.P. Morgan’s recent article entitled “What are IRAs and 401(k)s?” explains that a 401(k) is an employer-sponsored plan that lets you contribute some of your paycheck to save for retirement.

A potential benefit of a 401(k) is that your employer may match your contributions to your account up to a certain point. If this is available to you, then a good goal is to contribute at least enough to receive the maximum matching contribution your employer offers. An IRA is an account you usually open on your own. As far as these accounts are concerned, the key is knowing the various benefits and limitations of each type. Remember that you may be able to have more than one type of account.

IRAs and 401(k)s can come in two main types – traditional and Roth – with significant differences. However, both let you to delay paying taxes on any investment growth or income, while your money is in the account.

Your contributions to traditional or “pretax” 401(k)s are automatically excluded from your taxable income, while contributions to traditional IRAs may be tax-deductible. For an IRA, it means that you may be able to deduct your contributions from your income for tax purposes. This may decrease your taxes. Even if you aren’t eligible for a tax-deduction, you are still allowed to make a contribution to a traditional IRA, as long as you have earned income. When you withdraw money from traditional IRAs or 401(k)s, distributions are generally taxed as ordinary income.

With Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s, you contribute after-tax dollars, and the withdrawals you take are tax-free, provided that they’re a return of contributions or “qualified distributions” as defined by the IRS. For Roth IRAs, your income may limit the amount you can contribute, or whether you can contribute at all.

If a Roth 401(k) is offered by your employer, a big benefit is that your ability to contribute typically isn’t phased out when your income reaches a certain level. 401(k) plans have higher annual IRS contribution limits than traditional and Roth IRAs.

When investing for retirement, you may be able to use both a 401(k) and an IRA with both Roth and traditional account types. Note that there are some exceptions to the rule that withdrawals from IRAs and 401(k)s before age 59½ typically trigger an additional 10% early withdrawal tax.

Reference: J.P. Morgan (May 12, 2021) “What are IRAs and 401(k)s?”

What Should I Know about Estate Planning before ‘I Do’?

Romance is in the air. Spring is the time for marriages, and with America coming out of the pandemic, wedding calendars will be filled.

AZ Big Media’s recent article entitled “5 estate planning tips for newlyweds” gives those ready to walk down the aisle a few things to consider.

  1. Prenuptial Agreement. Commonly referred to as a prenup, this is a written contract that you and your spouse enter into before getting legally married. It provides details on what happens to finances and assets during your marriage and, of course, in the event of divorce. A prenup is particularly important if one of the spouses already has significant assets and earnings and wishes to protect them in the event of divorce or death.
  2. Review you restate plan. Even if you come into a marriage with an existing plan, it’s out of date as soon as you’re wed.
  3. Update your beneficiary designations. Much of an individual’s estate plan takes place by beneficiary designations. Decide if you want your future spouse to be a beneficiary of life insurance, IRAs, or other pay on death accounts.
  4. Consider real estate. A married couple frequently opts to live in the residence of one of the spouses. This should be covered in the prenup. However, in a greater picture, decide in the event of the death of the owner, if you’d want this real estate to pass to the survivor, or would you want the survivor simply to have the right to live in the property for a specified period of time.
  5. Life insurance. You want to be sure that one spouse is taken care of in the event of your death. A married couple often relies on the incomes of both spouses, but death will wreck that plan. Think about life insurance as a substitute for a spouse’s earning capacity.

If you are soon-to-be-married or recently married and want to discuss it with an expert, make an appointment with a skilled estate planning attorney.

Reference:  AZ Big Media (March 23, 2022) “5 estate planning tips for newlyweds”

Should an Estate Plan Include a Cabin on the Lake?

If you don’t plan appropriately and thoughtfully, problems may arise with respect to this property and your family when you are gone, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Your Vacation Home Needs an Estate Plan!”

Speaking with your spouse and children is a good first step to help determine interest in retaining the property for the next generation and financial ability to maintain it. Let’s look at three ways you can plan for your vacation home.

Leave a Vacation Home to Children Outright During Life or at Death. An outright transfer of the home via a deed to children is the easiest way to transfer a vacation home.

However, if your children all own the property equally, they all have an equal say as to its use and management.

As a result, all decisions require unanimous agreement, which can prove challenging and be ripe for disagreement. Suggest that they create a Use and Maintenance Agreement to determine the terms and rules for the property usage. The contract would require all children to agree.

Form a Limited Liability Company (LLC). This is a tool often used by families, where each family member has a certain amount of membership interests in a home or to give away a home in a controlled manner. The operating agreement states the rules for governing the use and management of the property.

Put the Vacation Home in a Trust. A trust is another way to help with the ownership and transfer of vacation homes. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about how this might work for your family.

Planning for your family’s vacation property is important to help avoid litigation and maintain family peace.

Addressing how the property will be paid for and setting aside money for it—as well as selecting the right structure for your family to use and enjoy the property—will help avoid issues in the future.

Reference: Kiplinger (Feb. 1, 2022) “Your Vacation Home Needs an Estate Plan!”

When Should I Think About Business Succession?

The pandemic has made many business owners rethink their business succession and retirement planning. Insurance News Net’s recent article entitled “Succession Planning For Business Owners: More Important Than Ever” reports that according to PwC’s 2021 US Family Business Survey, only a third of US family businesses have a robust, documented and communicated succession plan in place.

If you wait too long, you may not have the right people in place to run the business. It also restricts the tax planning options for the business and your personal estate. Either error can cause a business to fail, when it passes from one generation to the next.

An exit that is too sudden or without direction can leave a vacuum at the top and damage relationships with existing clients and customers. With clear objectives, a sense of urgency and an experienced estate planning attorney, you can help ensure that your business, and your future, are secure.

There are a number of areas of transition that should be addressed:

  1. Founder Transition: Determine how long you plan to stay with the business, and what your retirement plans are;
  2. Family Transition: If you plan to leave your business to your children, determine the way in which the roles and power relationships will change;
  3. Business Transition: How will the company’s operations and customer relations be maintained through other transitions;
  4. Management Transition: Decide who will make up the new management team, such as family, non-family, or both, and how new leadership will be evaluated. You should also map out the schedule for transferring control of day to day decisions;
  5. Ownership Transition: Determine how ownership is to be transferred; and
  6. Estate Transition: see how you will coordinate your estate plan to ensure that the other transitions above occur as planned.

Many of these transitions will be accomplished through formal documentation, such as an operating agreement, buy-sell agreements and trusts. Sit down with an attorney soon rather than later to sort this out.

Reference: Insurance News Net (December 30, 2021) “Succession Planning For Business Owners: More Important Than Ever”

Should I have a Charitable Trust in My Estate Plan?

Charitable trusts can be created to provide a reliable income stream to you and your beneficiaries for a set period of time, says Bankrate’s recent article entitled “What is a charitable trust?”

Establishing a charitable trust can be a critical component of your estate plan and a rewarding way to make an impact for a cause you care deeply about. There are a few kinds of charitable trusts to consider based on your situation and what you may be looking to accomplish.

Charitable lead trust. This is an irrevocable trust that is created to distribute an income stream to a designated charity or nonprofit organization for a set number of years. It can be established with a gift of cash or securities made to the trust. Depending on the structure, the donor can benefit from a stream of income during the life of the trust, deductions for gift and estate taxes, as well as current year income tax deductions when the assets are donated to the trust.

If the charitable lead trust is funded with a donation of cash, the donor can claim a deduction of up to 60% of their adjusted gross income (AGI), and any unused deductions can generally be carried over into subsequent tax years. The deduction limit for appreciated securities or other assets is limited to no more than 30% of AGI in the year of the donation.

At the expiration of the charitable lead trust, the assets that remain in the trust revert back to the donor, their heirs, or designated beneficiaries—not the charity.

Charitable remainder trust. This trust is different from a charitable lead trust. It’s an irrevocable trust that’s funded with cash or securities. A CRT gives the donor or other beneficiaries an income stream with the remaining assets in the trust reverting to the charity upon death or the expiration of the trust period. There are two types of CRTs:

  1. A charitable remainder annuity trust or CRAT distributes a fixed amount as an annuity each year, and there are no additional contributions can be made to a CRAT.
  2. A charitable remainder unitrust or CRUT distributes a fixed percentage of the value of the trust, which is recalculated every year. Additional contributions can be made to a CRUT.

Here are the steps when using a CRT:

  1. Make a partially tax-deductible donation of cash, stocks, ETFs, mutual funds or non-publicly traded assets, such as real estate, to the trust. The amount of the tax deduction is a function of the type of CRT, the term of the trust, the projected annual payments (usually stated as a percentage) and the IRS interest rates that determine the projected growth in the asset that’s in effect at the time.
  2. Receive an income stream for you or your beneficiaries based on how the trust is created. The minimum percentage is 5% based on current IRS rules. Payments can be made monthly, quarterly or annually.
  3. After a designated time or after the death of the last remaining income beneficiary, the remaining assets in the CRT revert to the designated charity or charities.

There are a number of benefits of a charitable trust that make them attractive for estate planning and other purposes. It’s a tax-efficient way to donate to the charities or nonprofit organizations of your choosing. The charitable trust provides benefits to the charity and the donor. The trust also provides upfront income tax benefits to the donor, when the contribution to the trust is made.

Donating highly appreciated assets, such as stocks, ETFs, and mutual funds, to the charitable trust can help avoid paying capital gains taxes that would be due if these assets were sold outright.  Donations to a charitable trust can also help to reduce the value of your estate and reduce estate taxes on larger estates.

However, charitable trusts do have some disadvantages. First, they’re irrevocable, so you can’t undo the trust if your situation changes, and you were to need the money or assets donated to the trust. When you establish and fund the trust, the money’s no longer under your control and the trust can’t be revoked.

A charitable trust may be a good option if you have a desire to create a legacy with some of your assets. Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney about your specific situation.

Reference: Bankrate (Dec. 14, 2021) “What is a charitable trust?”

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”

Should I Withdraw more than RMD?

As most know, once a person hits 72, the IRS require you to take a certain minimum amount from your IRA each year. Many do take only the minimum, believing that this will leave more assets to grow tax deferred. However, recent tax changes are a reason to revisit one’s IRA distribution strategy.

MSN’s article entitled “Should You Take an Extra Big RMD This Year?” says that although some people are worried about paying more in taxes this year than they need to may want stay to the bare minimum of their required minimum distribution (RMD), others seek to find a broader tax strategy.

Those people may want to consider going big with their RMDs. Let’s look the wisdom of taking more than the required minimum distribution from your IRA.

The article gives us four considerations to help with your RMD decision about possibly taking more than the IRA RMD in any year:

  1. Your tax bracket. Determine the amount of additional income you can recognize this year, while still staying within your current tax bracket. Taxpayers in the 10% and 12% tax brackets should be especially cognizant of maximizing ordinary income in these relatively low tax brackets.
  2. Your income. See what your income’s projected to be next year and consider whether you (or you and your spouse) will have other sources of income in future years, such as an inherited IRA, spouse’s IRA RMD or annuity income to add to the mix.
  3. Your beneficiaries. Look at the way in which your current tax rate compares with the tax rates of your IRA beneficiaries. If you have a large IRA and children with high incomes of their own, your heirs could be pushed into a much higher tax bracket when they start their inherited IRA distributions.
  4. Your Medicare premiums. An increase in income can also result in higher Medicare Part B & D premiums in coming years. As a result, consider this in the context of total savings.

Reference: MSN (Nov. 23, 2021) “Should You Take an Extra Big RMD This Year?”