There are Less Restrictive Alternatives than Guardianship – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The benefit of restrictive alternatives to guardianships is that they don’t require court approval or judicial oversight. They are also much easier to set up and end.

The standard for establishing incapacity is also less rigorous than the standard required for a guardianship, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort – Consider These Less Draconian Options First.”

Limited guardianships. A guardianship takes away an individual’s right to make decisions, just as full guardianships do, but they are specific to only some aspects of the person’s life. A limited guardianship can be established to manage an individual’s finances and estate or to control medical and health care decisions. These types of guardianships still require court approval and must be supported by a showing of incapacity.

Powers of attorney. Powers of attorney can be established for medical or for financial decisions. A second set of eyes ensures that financial decisions are well-considered and not harmful to the individual or his or her estate. A medical power of attorney can allow an agent to get an injunction to protect the health and well-being of the subject, including by seeking a determination of mental incapacity. A durable power of attorney for health care matters gives the agent the right to make medical decisions on behalf of the subject if or when they are unable to do so for themselves. Unlike a guardianship, powers of attorney can be canceled when they are no longer needed.

Assisted decision-making. This agreement establishes a surrogate decision-maker who has visibility to financial transactions. The bank is informed of the arrangement and alerts the surrogate when it identifies an unusual or suspicious transaction. While this arrangement doesn’t completely replace the primary account holder’s authority, it creates a safety mechanism to prevent exploitation or fraud. The bank is on notice that a second approval is required before an uncommon transaction can be completed.

Wills and trusts. These estate planning documents let people map out what will happen in the event they become incapacitated or otherwise incapable of managing their affairs. Trusts can avoid guardianship by appointing a friend or relative to manage money and other assets. A contingent trust will let the executor manage assets if necessary. For seniors, it may be wise to name a co-trustee who can oversee matters and step in should the trustor lose the capacity to make good decisions.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 7, 2022) “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort – Consider These Less Draconian Options First”

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What’s a ‘Pot Trust’? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A pot trust is a type of trust that names the children as beneficiaries and the trustee is given discretion to decide how the trust assets should be spent. This trust lets the grantor create a single pool of assets to be used for the benefit of multiple children. A pot trust can offer more flexibility as to how trust assets are used if you plan to leave your entire estate to your children, says Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “How Does a Pot Trust Work?”

If you create a family pot trust for your three children and one of them experiences a medical emergency, the trustee would be able to authorize the use of trust funds or assets to cover those costs.

Flexibility is a key element of family pot trusts. Assets are distributed based on the children’s needs, rather than setting specific distribution rules as to who gets what. You might consider this type of trust over other types of trusts if:

  • You have two or more children;
  • At least one of those children is a minor; and
  • You plan to leave your entire estate to your children when you pass away.

Pot trusts can be created for children when you plan to leave all of your assets to them. Generally, a pot trust ends when the youngest included as a beneficiary reaches a certain age. As long as the trust is in place, the trustee can use his or her discretion to determine the way in which trust assets may be used to provide for the beneficiaries’ well-being. The aim is to satisfy the financial needs of individual children as they arise.

However, pot trusts don’t ensure an equal distribution of assets among multiple children. And a family pot trust can also put an increased burden on the trustee. In effect, the trustee has to take on a parental role for financial decision-making. That’s instead of adhering to predetermined directions from the trust grantor. And children may also not like at having to wait until the youngest child comes of age for the trust to terminate and assets to be distributed.

Setting up a pot trust isn’t that different from setting up any other type of trust. Contact us as our experienced estate planning attorneys are here to help you.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Aug. 30, 2021) “How Does a Pot Trust Work?”

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What Is a QTIP Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A Qualified Terminable Interest Property Trust, or QTIP, is a trust allowing the person who makes the trust (the grantor) to provide for a surviving spouse while maintaining control of how the trust’s assets are distributed once the surviving spouse passes, as explained in the article “QTIP Trusts” from Investopedia.

QTIPs are irrevocable trusts, commonly used by people who have children from prior marriages. The QTIP allows the grantor to take care of their spouse and ensure assets in the trust are eventually passed to beneficiaries of their own choosing. Beneficiaries could be the grantor’s offspring from a prior marriage, grandchildren, other family members or friends.

In addition to providing the surviving spouse with income, the QTIP also limits applicable estate and gift taxes. The property within the QTIP trust provides income to the surviving spouse and qualifies as a marital deduction, meaning the value of the trust is not taxable after the death of the first spouse. Rather, the property in the QTIP trust will be included in the estate of the surviving spouse and subject to estate taxes depending on the value of their own assets and the estate tax exemption in effect at the time of death.

The QTIP can also assert control over how assets are handled when the surviving spouse dies, as the spouse never assumes the power of appointment over the principal. This is especially important when there is more than one marriage and children from more than one family. This prevents those assets from being transferred to the living spouse’s new spouse if they should re-marry.

A minimum of one trustee must be appointed to manage the trust, although there may be multiple trustees named. The trustee is responsible for controlling the trust and has full authority over assets under management. The surviving spouse, a financial institution, an estate planning attorney or other family member or friend may serve as a trustee.

The surviving spouse named in a QTIP trust usually receives income from the trust based on the trust’s income, similar to stock dividends. Payments may only be made from the principal if the grantor allows it when the trust was created, so it must be created to suit the couple’s needs.

Payments are made to the spouse as long as they live. Upon their death, the payments end, and they are not transferable to another person. The assets in the trust then become the property of the listed beneficiaries.

The marital trust is similar to the QTIP, but there is a difference in how the assets are controlled. A QTIP allows the grantor to dictate how assets within the trust are distributed and requires at least annual distributions. A marital trust allows the surviving spouse to dictate how assets are distributed, regular distributions are not required, and new beneficiaries can be added. The marital trust is more flexible and, accordingly, more common in first marriages and not in blended families.

Your estate planning attorney will explain further how else these two trusts are different and which one is best for your situation. There are other ways to create trusts to control how assets are distributed, how taxes are minimized and to set conditions on benefits. Each person’s situation is different, and there are trusts and strategies to meet almost every need imaginable.

Contact us to determine which trust is best for your family and situation with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Reference: Investopedia (Aug. 14, 2022) “QTIP Trusts”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Can You Gift Money on Your Deathbed? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A new case out of Tax Court centers on the question of when a “deathbed gift” is considered acceptable for estate and gift tax purposes. The powerful tax law provisions used to help many taxpayers avoid federal estate tax, or reduce it to a manageable size, makes this an important decision, especially as we draw closer to a time when estate tax exemption is likely to return to a far lower number.

The two tax law provisions, described in the article “Tax Court Says When Deathbed Gifts Are Complete” from accounting WEB, are the following:

Annual gift tax exclusion. A taxpayer may give gifts to recipients under the annual gift tax exclusion without incurring any gift taxes. The exclusion, indexed for inflation in $1,000 increments, is $16,000 per recipient in 2022. It’s doubled to $32,000 for joint gifts made by a married couple. Estates can be reduced significantly with planned use of the annual gift tax exclusion. For instance, if a taxpayer and a spouse give the maximum $16,000 to five relatives for five years in a row, they will have transferred $800,000 ($32,000 x 5 x 5) out of their estate, free of taxes.

Unified estate and gift tax exemption. In addition to the annual gift exemption, gifts may be sheltered from tax by the unified estate and gift tax exemption. As of this writing, the exemption is $10 million, indexed for inflation, which brings it to $12.06 million in 2022. It is scheduled to drop to $5 million, plus inflation indexing, in 2026.

Using the exemption during the taxpayer’s lifetime reduces the available estate shelter upon death. These two provisions give even very wealthy taxpayers a great deal of flexibility regarding liquid assets.

The new case came about as a result of a resident of Pennsylvania, who executed a Power of Attorney (POA) in 2007, appointing his son as his agent. The son was authorized to give gifts in amounts not exceeding the annual gift tax exclusion. From 2007 to 2014, the son arranged annual gifts to his siblings and other family members, in accordance with the POA.

The father’s health began to fail in 2015 and he passed away on September 11. On September 6, five days before he died, the son wrote eleven checks, totaling $464,000 from the father’s investment account.

Some recipients deposited the checks before the decedent’s death, but others did not. Only one check was paid by the investment account before the decedent’s death.

The question before the Tax Court: are the gifts complete and removed from the decedent’s estate?

According to the IRS, any checks deposited before death should be excluded from the taxable estate, but the Tax Court looked to the state’s law to determine the outcome of the other checks. The Tax Court ruled the checks not deposited in time must be included in the decedent’s taxable estate.

The estate planning lesson to be learned? Timing matters. If checks are written as part of the plan to minimize taxes, they must be deposited promptly to ensure they will be considered as gifts and reduce the taxable estate.

Reference: accounting WEB (Aug. 26,2022) “Tax Court Says When Deathbed Gifts Are Complete”

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The Most Important Part of Estate Plan Is Planning for Living – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Most people think of estate planning as planning for death. However, a well-titled article “Planning for death probably isn’t the most important part of your estate plan” from Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls Press presents another reason for estate planning in clear terms. Estate planning is planning for the unexpected eventualities of life.

Estate planning documents address how things will work while you are still living but if you have become incapable of making your own decisions. In many cases, this is more important than distributing your worldly possessions.

Yes, you should have a Will (Last Will and Testament). But you should also have Power of Attorney documents—one for health care purposes and another for financial purposes.

The Power of Attorney (“POA”) document states who will be your substitute decision maker, or agent, if you are incapacitated or unable to make your own decisions while still living. This should be a personalized document prepared by an estate planning attorney to include the scope of tasks and the limits, if any, you want to set for your agent. The financial POA is an important one, as it gives your chosen agent the legal authority to make financial decisions on your behalf.

The health care POA gives your agent the authority to make health care decisions on your behalf.

With both of these documents properly prepared and available, someone you name will be empowered to serve as your decision maker if necessary.

The Will is used to state what happens to your possessions and assets when you die. It is also the legal document used to name your executor—the person who will be in charge of carrying out your instructions. The Will tells the probate court how you want your estate to be administered after death.

Why do you need these and other documents? Your Will only becomes effective after death. Your POA documents are effective if you become incapacitated. They are both part of your estate plan, which is a collection of legal documents and has nothing to do with whether you reside in a palatial estate.

Here’s how it might work. If you become seriously ill and cannot speak on your own behalf, but you have a Power of Attorney naming your daughter Carol to serve as your POA for healthcare and financial decisions, Carol will be able to pay bills, including paying the mortgage, keeping your car lease up to date, and taking care of all of the financial aspects of your life. If she is also named as your Health Care POA, she will be able to speak with your medical team, be involved in decisions about your course of care and follow the wishes you’ve expressed in your POA.

If you die, and Carol has also been named your executor, she will be able to transition into this new role by representing you through the probate process. She will be able to work with your estate planning attorney to have your will filed with the court and follow your directions for distribution of your assets.

Having only a Last Will and Testament would not protect you while you are living. Having only a Power of Attorney would not protect your wishes after you have died. All of these documents—and there are others not mentioned here—work together to protect you during life and after you’ve passed.

Contact us to design your estate plan with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Reference: Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls Press (Aug. 29, 2022) “Planning for death probably isn’t the most important part of your estate plan”

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How Can I Minimize My Probate Estate? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Having a properly prepared estate plan is especially important if you have minor children who would need a guardian, are part of a blended family, are unmarried in a committed relationship or have complicated family dynamics—especially those with drama. There are things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones, as described in the article “Try these steps to minimize your probate estate” from the Indianapolis Business Journal.

Probate is the process through which debts are paid and assets are divided after a person passes away. There will be probate of an estate whether or not a will and estate plan was done, but with no careful planning, there will be added emotional strain, costs and challenges left to your family.

Dying with no will, known as “intestacy,” means the state’s laws will determine who inherits your possessions subject to probate. Depending on where you live, your spouse could inherit everything, or half of everything, with the rest equally divided among your children. If you have no children and no spouse, your parents may inherit everything. If you have no children, spouse or living parents, the next of kin might be your heir. An estate planning attorney can make sure your will directs the distribution of your property.

Probate is the process of giving someone you designate in your will—the executor—the authority to inventory your assets, pay debts and taxes and eventually transfer assets to heirs. In an estate, there are two types of assets—probate and non-probate. Only assets subject to the probate process need go through probate. All other assets pass directly to new owners, without involvement of the court or becoming part of the public record.

Many people embark on estate planning to avoid having their assets pass through probate. This may be because they don’t want anyone to know what they own, they don’t want creditors or estranged family members to know what they own, or they simply want to enhance their privacy. An estate plan is used to take assets out of the estate and place them under ownership to retain privacy.

Some of the ways to remove assets from the probate process are:

Living trusts. Assets are moved into the trust, which means the title of ownership must change. There are pros and cons to using a living trust, which your estate planning attorney can review with you.

Beneficiary designations. Retirement accounts, investment accounts and insurance policies are among the assets with a named beneficiary. These assets can go directly to beneficiaries upon your death. Make sure your named beneficiaries are current.

Payable on Death (POD) or Transferable on Death (TOD) accounts. It sounds like a simple solution to own many accounts and assets jointly. However, it has its own challenges. If you wished any of the assets in a POD or TOD account to go to anyone else but the co-owner, there’s no way to enforce your wishes.

Contact us to speak with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.  An experienced, local estate planning attorney will be the best resource to prepare your estate for probate. If there is no estate plan, an administrator may be appointed by the court and the entire distribution of your assets will be done under court supervision. This takes longer and will include higher court costs.

Reference: Indianapolis Business Journal (Aug. 26,2022) “Try these steps to minimize your probate estate”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Can I Retire in a Bear Market? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “Retiring in a Bear Market? 7 Things to Do Now” says that research has shown that this scenario — known as sequence-of-return risk — can permanently reduce the amount of money you will have to live on during retirement. However, savvy retirees can avoid most or all of this damage. If you’re planning to retire right into the teeth of a bear market, consider the following:

Meet with a money pro. If you make the wrong decisions here, it can have life-altering effects. This is the perfect moment to speak with a financial adviser. The right pro can help you develop a plan.

Tighten your spending. A bear market may mean you must downsize your grand visions. The more money you keep in your wallet when the market is down, the better off you’re likely to be when the bull market returns. When the market recovers, you can pick up your dreams where you left them.

Use your savings. A great way to avoid permanently ruining your finances in retirement is to have cash savings to use when stocks collapse. Living off your liquid savings keeps you from having to cash in stocks when their value is depressed, which allows your portfolio time to recover.

Consider your Social Security options. When retiring into a bear market, you either have to take Social Security now, so you can leave your investments alone and give them more time to recover; or wait to claim Social Security, hoping that there will be bigger checks later in retirement that will help cushion the blow, if your other finances do not recover robustly. There’s no simple answer, and many factors can help you determine which strategy is best. These include your health, your risk tolerance, your marital status and many other considerations.

Review your asset allocation. Bear markets are the ultimate test of your tolerance for risk. With stocks down at least 20% — the definition of a “bear market” — consider your feelings. This can help you determine if your asset allocation is too risky, too conservative, or just right. Making certain that your allocation matches your risk tolerance will put you in a better position for the next bear market.

Going back to work. Bear markets rarely last long, often disappearing in less than a year. A part-time job or freelance work can give you a bit of extra income to ride out the storm, possibly even allowing you to leave all of your savings untouched. When the market recovers, you can return to your full-time retirement.

Stay calm. The tendency is to panic. Resist the urge.

Reference: Money Talks News (July 25, 2022) “Retiring in a Bear Market? 7 Things to Do Now”

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Can I Get My Co-Executor Sister to Abide by Father’s Will? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

When both children are beneficiaries and both are executors, it should be a simple result. Sell the house and split the proceeds as the father instructed. However, if one child feels this to be unfair, it can cause issues, especially when no one lives in the house, no one wants to and it just costs the heirs money each month.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “I’m fighting with my sibling about an inheritance. What can I do?” says that this is an example of the estate planning issue of treating heirs equally rather than equitably.

An executor cannot act in his or her own personal interest. Instead, the executor must act in the best interest of the estate. They have what’s called a “fiduciary duty.” Thus, as joint executors, the two children in this example owe a fiduciary duty to implement the terms laid out in their father’s will, unless the will is successfully contested.

When real estate is left to named heirs, the executor can either sell the property and divide the proceeds as specified in the will, or distribute the house “in kind,” which means that the beneficiaries would become co-owners. If the beneficiaries don’t want to be co-owners, the best solution is to sell the property.

While neither child wants to keep the home, it’s also possible for one of them to buy out the other’s share based on a fair market value of the house. If they can’t resolve the dispute amicably, the courts will need to be involved.

The dissatisfied child could file a lawsuit contesting the will. If the deadline to do this has passed, the will should stand. Even if the child does contest the will within the required time period, it will be hard for her to succeed. The two most common grounds to contest a will are to show that the testator wasn’t competent to sign it, or to show that somebody exerted undue influence over the testator.

If the dissatisfied child doesn’t contest the will — or if she does contest it but fails — she’s legally obligated to put aside her personal desires and comply with her fiduciary duty to implement the will.

If she refuses to do so, the other child can ask the court for help resolving the matter. This would involve filing a complaint seeking to remove the dissatisfied child as co-executor and name the other as the sole executor.

He would ask the court to enter an order, called an “order to show cause.” This order states deadlines for the dissatisfied child to defend her conduct and oppose the relief requested.

While you’re not required to have an attorney for this process, it will be difficult to navigate the process without one. Contact us to work with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Reference: nj.com (Aug. 9, 2022) “I’m fighting with my sibling about an inheritance. What can I do?”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Can Unequal Inheritances Be Fair? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Estate planning attorneys aren’t often asked to create estate plans treating heirs unfairly. However, when they do it usually is because a parent is estranged from one child and wishes to leave him or her nothing. When it comes to estate planning, equal isn’t the same as fair, explains the article “Are Unequal Inheritances Fair?” from Advisor Perspectives.

An example of this can be seen in the case of a widow with four adult children who asked an estate planning attorney how to approach distributing her assets. Three of her children were high-income earners, already building substantial net worth. A fourth child had mental health issues, limited education, had been in and out of jail and was unable to hold a job.

She understood that her fourth child needed the financial stability the others did not. She wanted to provide some support for him, but knew any money left directly to him would be gone quickly. She was considering leaving money for him in a trust to provide a monthly income stream, but also wanted to be fair to the other three children.

The trust would be the best option. However, there were problems to consider. If the estate were to be divided in four equal parts, the fourth child’s share of the estate would be small, so trustee fees would take a significant amount of the trust. If she left her entire estate for him, it would be more likely he’d have funding for most, if not all, of his adult life.

The worst thing the mother could do was to leave all the funds for the fourth child in a trust without discussing it with the other three siblings. Unequal inheritances can lead to battles between siblings, sometimes bad enough to lead them into a court battle. This is often the case where one child is believed by others to have unduly influenced a parent, when they have inherited all or the lion’s share of the estate.

Sibling fights can occur even when the children know about and understand the need for the unequal distribution. The children may suppress their emotions while the parent is living. However, after the parent dies and the reality sets in, emotions may fire at full throttle. Logically, in this case the three successful siblings may well understand why their troubled sibling needs the funds. However, grief is a powerful emotion and can lead to illogical responses.

In this case, the woman made the decision to leave her estate in equal shares to each child and giving the three successful siblings the options to share part of their inheritance with their brother. She did this by having her estate planning attorney add language in the will stating if any child wanted to disclaim or refuse any of their inheritance, it would pass to a trust set up for the troubled sibling. This gave each child the opportunity to help or not.

Was it a perfect solution? Perhaps not, but it was the best possible solution given the specific circumstances for this family.

Contact us to speak with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys about creating the best possible solution for you and your family.

Reference: Advisor Perspectives (Aug. 22, 2022) “Are Unequal Inheritances Fair?”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

How Do You Provide Financial Help for a Special Needs Child and Retirement Too? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

For parents of children with disabilities, the challenges of preparing for retirement and for their child’s future are far higher than for families with healthy, high-functioning adults. Planning for your own retirement, while needing to secure the stability and basic needs of a child who will be a dependent forever often feels impossible, according to the recent article “Planning for Your Retirement, and for a Child’s Special Needs, All at Once” from The New York Times.

Even under the best of circumstances, where there’s plenty of money available and many hands to help, caring for an adult child with special needs is emotionally and physically challenging. As parents age, they have to address their own needs plus the needs of their adult dependent. Who will provide safe and comfortable housing and care for them when their parents no longer can?

Understanding the entire picture can be difficult, even for parents with the best of intentions. First, they need to understand how their retirement planning must be different than other families. Their investments need to be multi-generational to last not just for their lifetimes, but for their child’s lifetime. They can’t be too conservative because they need long-term growth.

In addition, special needs parents need to keep a certain amount of funds liquid and easily accessible, for times when their child needs a new piece of expensive equipment immediately.

One of the parents will often leave the workforce to provide care or take a lower paying position to be more available for care. This creates a double hit; the household budget is reduced at the same time its strained by costs not covered by benefits or insurance. Paying for gas to drive to therapy appointments and day programs, buying supplies not covered by insurance, like adult diapers, waterproof bedding, compression garments to promote circulation, specialized diets, etc. adds up quickly.

Even with public health assistance, finding affordable housing is not easy. One adult may need supervised care in a group home, while others may need in-home care. However, the family home may need to be modified to accommodate their physical disabilities. With wait times lasting several years, many families feel they have no choice but to keep their family member at home.

Another challenge: if the parents wanted to downsize to a smaller house or move to a state where housing costs are lower, they may not be able to do so. Most of the public benefits available to special needs people are administered through Medicaid at the state level. Moving to a state with a lower cost of housing may also mean losing access to the disabled individuals’ benefits or being placed at the end of the waiting list for services in a new state.

For disabled individuals, maintaining eligibility is a key issue. Family members who name a disabled individual as a beneficiary don’t understand how they are jeopardizing their ability to access public benefits. Any money intended for a disabled person must be held in a specialized financial instrument, such as a special needs trust.

The money in a special needs trust (SNT) may be used for quality-of-life enhancements like a cellphone, computer, better food, care providers, rent and utilities among other qualified expenses.

There are two main categories of SNTs: first party trusts, created with assets belonging to the individual. Any money in this trust must go to reimburse the state for the cost of their care. Another is a third-party special needs trust, established and funded by someone else for the benefit of the disabled individual. These are typically funded by parent’s life insurance proceeds and second-to-die life insurance policies. Both parents are covered under it, and the policy pays out after the second spouse dies, providing a more affordable option than insuring both parents separately.

Contact us to schedule a time to speak with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys to develop a plan for your special needs child’s future as well as for your retirement.

Reference: The New York Times (Aug. 27, 2022) “Planning for Your Retirement, and for a Child’s Special Needs, All at Once”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys