Where Should I Keep My Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Many people ask their attorney to hold the original documents of their estate plan. This prevents the plan from being misplaced at home and keeps it away from prying family members.

Forbes’ recent article, “Keeping Your Estate Planning Documents Safe,” explains that because of the expense of storage and the move to paperless offices, some estate planning attorneys are now having their clients hold the original documents.

This saves money for the attorney, but it leaves the client with the problem of where to put the originals.

If you need a safe and secure place for them, here are some options.

No safe deposit boxes. Avoid placing the original documents in a safe deposit box, because the authority to get into the box is inside the box! If you pass away or are incapacitated—and nobody has access to the safe deposit box—they’ll need a court order to get access. For them to get the court order, they need the documents inside the box. It’s like the chicken and the egg.

Get a fireproof safe. A fireproof safe is a great place to keep these important documents.

Make copies. Get a set of hard copies in another location that is easily accessible. You can now use the safe deposit box to hold a set of copies of your documents. Your attorney should also have a set of hard copies.

E-records. Your estate planning attorney should also have an electronic copy of your estate plan and should send you an electronic version of the documents to keep with your e-records.

Don’t lose it, if the originals are misplaced or destroyed. If the original documents somehow vanish, your family may still be able to use a set of copies. For instance, a photocopy of a will can be probated, once the executor has attested that she has made a diligent search to find the original which hasn’t turned up.

Remember that this isn’t a “one and done” task. You should review your documents every few years to make certain the people you’ve named in them are still alive and your intentions haven’t changed.

Reference: Forbes (August 16, 2019) “Keeping Your Estate Planning Documents Safe”

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

How Do I Get an Executor to Sell My Mom’s Home? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

It’s not uncommon for a parent to leave his or her home to their children in equal shares.

Let’s assume that two sisters are both equal beneficiaries of their mother’s estate in New Jersey. Each adult child has retained an attorney. The executor, who’s a family friend, is moving slowly with the probate process, and it’s been more than a year of waiting. The executor of estate is the individual who is specifically designated in the deceased’s will to manage the estate.

In this case, the glacier-like progress of the executor is causing a strain on the sisters’ relationship. This results in the sisters fighting over the estate. One sister is in no hurry to sell the house, and the other feels frustrated and may have to just give her everything and walk away to save her sanity.

nj.com’s recent article on this topic asks “My mom’s executor won’t sell the house. What can I do about it?” The article says that these sisters probably tried to negotiate a resolution. However, there’s no reason to think the only way to resolve this is for you to “give her everything and walk away.”

The executor should sell the home and distribute the proceeds to the sisters.

If one of the children, her attorney, or the executor object to the sale of the home, a judge may need to intervene.

If there’s no issue, and the executor won’t act, a beneficiary can apply to the court to remove the executor. The judge may then name the two sisters as co-executors, so they can sell the home.

Although there would be legal fees and costs to go to court to get some action, if the executor won’t move, there may not be any other choice.

In addition, the sisters could ask the judge to decrease any executor commission that would be owed to the original slow-moving executor to cover the legal fees, if the judge agrees that the executor was acting improperly.

Reference: nj.com (August 10, 2019) “My mom’s executor won’t sell the house. What can I do about it?”

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

How Do I Discuss My Parents’ Long-Term Financial Goals With Them? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A recent study by Ameriprise Financial found that more than one-third of adult children say they haven’t had a conversation about their parents’ long-term financial goals. Even though discussing this delicate topic may seem uncomfortable, addressing it now can help avoid challenges and uncertainty in the future.

To that end, the Ameriprise Family Wealth Checkup study found that those who talk about money matters, feel more confident about their financial future.

The Enterprise’s recent article, “Four financial questions to ask your parents,” provides some questions that can help you start the dialogue.

“What do you want to achieve in the next five or 10 years?” Understand your parents’ aspirations for the next few years. This includes their personal and financial goals and when they plan to retire (if they haven’t already). Do they want to move closer to their grandchildren or to warmer weather? Getting an idea of how they want to spend their time, will help you know what to expect in the years ahead.

“Where is your financial information located in case of an emergency?” An incident can happen at any time, so it’s essential that you know how to access key personal, financial and estate planning documents. You should have the contact info for their financial adviser, tax professional and estate planning attorney, and be sure your parents have the right permissions set, so you can step in when the need arises. You should also ask your parents to share the passwords for their primary accounts or let you know where you can find a password list.

“How do you see your legacy?” Talk to your parents about how they want to be remembered and their plans for making that happen. These components can be essential to the discussion:

  • Ask them if they have an updated will or trust, and if there’s anything they’d like to disclose about how the assets will be distributed.
  • Health care choices and expenses are often a big source of stress for retirees. Talk to your parents about their current health priorities and the future and have them formalize their wishes in a health-care directive, which lets them name a loved one to make medical decisions, if they’re unable to do so.

“How can I help?” Proactively offering to help, may get rid of some of the frustrations or relieve stress for even the most independent and well-prepared parents. The assistance may be non-financial, like doing house projects or giving them more time with their grandchildren. You should also look into including an attorney in the discussion, if your parents have estate planning questions.

Retirement and legacy planning can be complex. However, taking the time to have frequent conversations with your parents, can help you all prepare for the future.

Reference: The Enterprise (August 19, 2019) “Four financial questions to ask your parents”

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

Here’s What You May Not Know About Roth IRAs – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

There is a lot that most people don’t know about Roth IRAs, as detailed in the article “9 Surprising Facts About Roth IRAs” from the balance. Some of them may surprise you.

Roth IRA contributions can be used for emergencies. In a perfect world, no one would ever need to use retirement money for anything but retirement, but because Roth contributions are not deductible, they can be withdrawn at any time, for any reason, without taxes or penalties. A Roth IRA can serve as an emergency fund. However, it needs to be noted that the funds you can withdraw do not include amounts that were converted to a Roth IRA or investment gains. Therefore, if you put $5,000 into a Roth IRA that grew to $6,000, you may only withdraw the $5,000 without taxes and penalties.

You might be able to use a non-deductible IRA to fund a Roth. If you make over a certain limit, you can’t contribute to a Roth IRA—or can you? Some people who keep other retirement money inside qualified retirement accounts are permitted to make a non-deductible IRA contribution every year and then convert that into a Roth. This is sometimes called the “backdoor Roth.” However, you’ll need to be careful, and you may need help. In some cases, you can even roll a self-directed IRA back into a company plan, so in future years you could use the backdoor Roth strategy without having to pay taxes on the converted amount. Get a professional to help you with this: mistakes can be expensive!

You may roll after-tax 401(k) contributions into a Roth IRA. Many employer plans let you make after-tax contributions and then, at retirement, these after-tax contributions can be rolled into a Roth IRA. Any investment gain on the after-tax contributions can’t go into the Roth, but the contributions can.

Roth IRAs have no RMDs (Required Minimum Distributions). There aren’t any age requirements for when you take money out, so there are no delayed tax bombs lurking. However, non-spouse heirs will have to take required distributions from an inherited Roth. The nice thing: they will be tax free.

You can contribute to both a SIMPLE IRA and a Roth IRA. As long as your income is within the Roth IRA limits, then you can contribute to both the SIMPLE and the Roth. The contributions to the SIMPLE IRA will be deductible, the Roth contributions will not be. This dual funding strategy lets you reduce taxable income now and have funds in the Roth accumulate for tax-free benefits in retirement. For the self-employed person, who is diligent about saving for retirement, this is a good plan.

Your employer plan may allow Roth contributions. Many 401(k) plans let you make Roth contributions. They are called “designated Roth accounts.” Check with your HR department to see if their plan let you choose which type of contribution to make. Some may be all or nothing, while others let you do some of each.

Age is not the key factor in determining whether or not to use a Roth IRA. The primary deciding factor here is your income bracket, your tax rate now and your expected tax rate during retirement. If your expected tax rate during retirement will be lower, the deductible contributions may be better. If your tax rate during retirement is going to be the same or higher in retirement, which is often the case for people with large IRAs or 401(k)s, then a Roth IRA may make a lot of sense, regardless of your age.

You might be able to make a spousal Roth contribution. Even if your spouse has no earned income, as long as you have an earned income, you can make an IRA contribution on their behalf. Many couples can double their tax favored retirement account savings by doing this.

Be careful about Roth conversions. As stated previously, mistakes here can become expensive, so don’t rely on online Roth calculators to manage conversions. Talk with an experienced professional who can help make sure that your numbers and your strategy fits with your personal retirement scenario. Every person and every situation is different, so planning needs to be specific to your needs.

Reference: the balance (August 13, 2019) “9 Surprising Facts About Roth IRAs”

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

Understanding Why a Will is Important – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

These questions presented by The Westerly Sun in the article “Making a will is an important legal step,” may seem very basic, but many people don’t really understand how wills work and why they are such an important part of estate planning. Let’s go through these fundamentals about wills.

A will is a legal document that must be prepared under very strict standards to explain your wishes about how you want your estate–that is, your property, money, tangible possessions, and real estate—distributed after you die.

A will also does more than that.

A will, which is sometimes referred to as a “Last Will and Testament,” also makes clear who you want to be in charge of your minor children, if both parents should die. It also is how you name a person to be in charge of your affairs after death, by naming them as executor of your estate.

A complete estate plan includes a will, and several other documents, including a power of attorney, trusts and a health care proxy. The goal of all of these documents is to make it easier for your surviving spouse or loved ones to take care of you and your possessions, if you become too ill to speak on your own behalf, or when you die.

Your will provides instructions about what happens to your estate. Who should receive your money and property? These instructions must be followed by the person you choose as your executor. The local probate court must give its approval, and then the estate can be distributed.

If you have a valid will, it is admitted to probate (a court process) upon your death, and then your wishes are followed. If you don’t have a will, you are said to have died “intestate.” The laws of the state, and not you, and not your loved ones, will decide what will happen to everything you own that is subject to probate. Usually this means that assets are distributed to family members, based on their degree of kinship with you.

This may not be what you wanted. If you have children, and especially if you have children with special needs, the court will appoint a guardian for those children. You may not want Aunt Jennifer raising your daughters, but that may end up happening.

Properly prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney, a will is a binding legal document that carries great significance. No one likes to think about dying, or becoming incapacitated, but by planning ahead, you can determine what you want to happen, and protect those you love.

Reference: The Westerly Sun (August 18, 2019) “Making a will is an important legal step”

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

What Does a Probate Attorney Really Do? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

If you’ve recently experienced the death of a loved one, you may have spent a lot of time and money dealing with their estate and trying to get their assets out of probate.

KAKE.com’s recent article, “Do I Need to Hire a Probate Lawyer?: The Top Signs You Should Lawyer Up” says that trying to do this on your own can often be time-consuming and expensive. That’s why it’s smart to have a probate lawyer working with you.

A probate or estate planning lawyer is one who specializes in issues related to a deceased person’s estate. They have a broad range of responsibilities, which includes the following:

  • Guiding people through the probate process;
  • Advising the beneficiaries of an estate;
  • Representing beneficiaries if they become involved in lawsuits related to the estate; and
  • Helping with challenges to the validity of the deceased’s will.

If you’re unsure about hiring a lawyer, consider whether you’re dealing with any of these issues in your case:

A Will Contest. This is when another beneficiary challenges the will. If someone contests the will, it will drag out the process and could put you at risk of losing what your loved one wanted for you to have.

Divided Assets. When split assets are part of an estate, things get complicated, especially when you have intangible assets. To avoid trouble, hire a lawyer who can help navigate the division of these assets and make certain that everything is handled in a fair manner.

An Estate Doesn’t Qualify for the Simple Probate Process. Probate can be extremely complicated. Depending on the size of the estate, it may qualify for simpler procedures that are completed relatively quickly. If this isn’t the case for the estate at issue, you should get a probate attorney to help you.

There’s Considerable Debt. If your loved one died with many debts, the estate will need to be used to pay those off. This can be tricky to manage on your own. An experienced attorney will help you make sure everything gets paid off and can negotiate debts to ensure you and the other beneficiaries receive as much from the estate as possible.

There’s Estate Tax Due. While most estates don’t have to pay any federal taxes, some states have their own estate taxes that apply to estates worth $1 million or more. It’s not an easy process, so it’s a good idea to work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

There’s a Business in the Estate. You need to ask an attorney to you sort this out because this will include the process of appraising, managing and selling a business of the deceased owner.

If any of these situations apply to you, hire an attorney with the necessary qualifications to deal with estates and the probate process.

Reference: KAKE.com (August 9, 2019) “Do I Need to Hire a Probate Lawyer?: The Top Signs You Should Lawyer Up”

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

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

Creating an estate plan is an essential part of managing wealth. This is especially true if you’re married and want to leave assets to your spouse. Understanding how a bypass trust works will help your planning, says KAKE.com’s recent article, “How a Bypass Trust Works in an Estate Plan.”

A bypass trust, or AB trust, is a legal vehicle that permits married couples to avoid estate tax on certain assets when one spouse dies. When that happens, the estate’s assets are split into two separate trusts. The first part is the marital trust, or “A” trust, and the other is a bypass, family, or “B” trust. The marital trust is a revocable trust that belongs to the surviving spouse. A revocable trust has terms that can be changed by the individual who created it. The family or “B” trust is irrevocable, meaning its terms can’t be changed.

When the first spouse dies, his or her share of the estate goes into the family or B trust. The surviving spouse doesn’t own those assets but can access the trust during their lifetime and receive income from it. The part of the estate that doesn’t go into the B trust, is placed into the A or marital trust. The surviving spouse has total control over this part of the trust. In addition, the surviving spouse can be the trustee of a bypass trust or designate another person as the trustee. It is the trustee’s task to make sure that assets from the couple’s estate are divided appropriately into each part of the trust. The trustee also coordinates asset management as instructed by the trust.

This type of trust can minimize estate taxes for married couples who have significant wealth. For the family or B part of the trust, assets up to an annual exemption limit aren’t subject to federal estate tax. In 2019, the limit is $11.4 million or $22.8 million for married couples. If assets in the B trust don’t exceed that amount, they wouldn’t be subject to federal estate tax.

Holding assets in a bypass trust lets the surviving spouse avoid probate. Any assets held in a bypass or other type of trust aren’t subject to probate.

Work with an estate planning attorney to create a bypass trust. A bypass trust for your estate plan will depend on the value of your estate as well as the amount of estate tax you want your spouse or heirs to pay when you die.

Reference: KAKE.com (August 13, 2019) “How a Bypass Trust Works in an Estate Plan”

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

Can You Protect Your Home If You Need Medicaid? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Anyone who owns a home, whether a magnificent mansion or a modest ranch, worries about the possibility of losing the home because of long-term care. How can they keep the home for their spouse or even for their family, if they need to apply to Medicaid for long-term nursing care costs?

The problem, reports The Mercury in a recent article “Protecting your house and Medicaid” is often the strategies that people come up with on their own. They usually don’t work.

The first thought of someone who is confronted with the need to qualify for Medicaid is to immediately transfer ownership of the family home to another person. The idea is to take the home out of their countable assets. But unless the person who receives the house is an adult child, that transfer only leads to problems.

Medicaid’s basic premise is that if you can afford to pay for your own care, you should. Transfer of a home, let’s say one with a value of $400,000, means that a $400,000 gift has been given to someone. There is a five-year lookback period. Any assets given away or transferred in that five-year period means that you had the asset under your control. Medicaid will not pay for your care in that case.

There are some exceptions to the gifting rules, but this is not something to be navigated without the help of an experienced elder law estate planning attorney. Here are the exceptions:

Your spouse. It’s understood that your spouse needs a place to live and a transfer of the home to your spouse does not result in penalties under Medicaid rules. This usually means transfer from title as joint tenants with rights of survivorship or tenants by the entireties to the healthier wife or husband. It is also understood that a transfer to your spouse at home is not a disqualifying transfer. This is a common practice and part of Medicaid planning.

A disabled child. A parent may transfer a house to their disabled child on the theory that it is needed for self-support. It is not necessary for a child to lose a home because a parent will be on Medicaid. This is a common mistake, and completely avoidable. Talk with an elder law attorney to learn more.

If a child is a caretaker. An adult child who moves in with the parents for a period of at least two years to care for them so they could stay at home and avoid going to a nursing home, or if the child has lived with their parents for longer than that and they need this care at home, under federal law the home can be transferred to the child without penalty and the parent can go to a nursing home and receive care under Medicaid. This is another very common mistake that causes adult children to be left without a home.

For a person who is single or a widow or widower who will never move home after moving into a Medicaid certified nursing home, the house may be sold and planning can be done with the proceeds of the sale. Paying bills to maintain a vacant home for no reason and having the government take the home as a creditor through the estate recovery program does not make sense. An elder lawyer estate planning attorney can help navigate this complex and often overwhelming process.

Reference: The Mercury (July 31, 2019) “Protecting your house and Medicaid”

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

What Happens when Both Spouses Die at the Same Time? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

There are any number of ways a person can inherit assets from another person. They may inherit assets from a trust, through a will, or as a designated beneficiary of an insurance policy or retirement account. However, in each case, says Lake Country News in the article “Simultaneous and close together deaths,” the person inheriting the asset is living, while the person they inherited from has died.

What happens if spouses die either at the same exact time or at a time that is very close to each other? The answer, as with so many estate planning questions, is that it depends.

The first question is, did both decedents have estate planning documents in place? If so, what directions do the wills give? Are there trusts, and if so, who are the trustees? If they served as trustees for each other’s trusts, did they name a secondary trustee?

If assets were owned as joint tenancy with right of survivorship, the estate of each deceased tenant receives an equal share of the asset, unless it can be proven that a joint tenant survived the other.

Here’s an example: if a parent dies without a will, is survived by two children, but one of the two children dies only four days after the parent’s death, i.e., fewer than 120 hours, in California, the law presumes that the deceased child did not survive the mother. The sole surviving child’s estate receives the entire parent’s intestate estate.

A beneficiary who survives long enough to inherit, however, might die before receiving complete distribution of his or her inheritance.

A trust may provide for distributions to alternative beneficiaries. This is another reason why it is wise to have primary and secondary beneficiaries on all accounts that permit secondary beneficiaries. Not all accounts permit this.

Similarly, a trust may provide for distribution to alternative beneficiaries. Otherwise, unless there has been advance planning, the undistributed inheritance becomes part of the deceased beneficiary’s estate where it will be distributed either according to the beneficiary’s will or according to the laws of intestacy of the decedent’s state of residence.

All of these instances are further reasons why it is so important for everyone to have a will and other estate planning documents prepared.

A probate of the beneficiary’s estate may be required as a result of an undistributed inheritance.

The legal and factual analysis associated with the distribution of a couple who die at the same time or in close proximity to each other varies from case to case. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to have an estate plan prepared to avoid your family having to unravel the knotty mess that is created when there is no will and no estate planning has been done.

Reference: Lake Country News (Aug. 10, 2019) “Simultaneous and close together deaths”

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

Can a Trust Be Amended? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A son has contacted an elder law estate planning attorney now that mom is in a nursing home and he’s unsure about many of the planning issues, as reported by the Daily Republic. The article, “Amending trust easier if parents can make informed decision,” describes the family’s situation.

There is one point to consider from the start. If the son has been involved in the planning from the start, in a family meeting with the attorney and discussions with his parents, he might have less uncertainty about the plan and the details.

As for the details: the parents are in their 90s, with some savings, a few annuities, a CD and a checking account. They also have five acres of land, which has their home and a duplex on it and 12 additional acres, with a rental property on it. Everything they own has been placed in a family trust. The son wants to be able to pay her bills and was told that he needs to have a power of attorney and to be named trustee to their trust.

He reports that his parents are good with this idea, but he has a number of concerns. If they are sued, will he be personally liable? Would the power of attorney give him the ability to handle their finances and the real estate in the trust?

If his parents have a revocable or living trust, there are provisions that allow one or more persons to become the successor trustees in the event that the parent becomes incapacitated or dies.

What happens when they die as they each leave each other their share of the assets? The son would become the trustee when the last parent passes.

Usually the power of attorney is created when the trust is created, so that someone has the ability to take control of finances for the person. See if the trust has any of these provisions—the son may already be legally positioned to act on his parents’ behalf. The trust should also show whether the successor trustee would be empowered to sell the real estate.

Trusts can be drafted in any way the client wants it written, and the successor trustee receives only the powers that are given in the document.

As for the liability, the trustee is not liable to a buyer during the sale of a property. There are exceptions, so he would need to speak with an estate planning attorney to help with the sale.

More specifically, assuming the trust does not name the son as a successor trustee and also does not give the son power of attorney, the bigger question is are the parents mentally competent to make important decisions about these documents?

Given the age of these parents, an attorney will be concerned, rightfully so, about their competency and if they can freely make an informed decision or if the son might be exercising improper influence on them to turn over their assets to him.

There are a few different steps that can be taken. One is for the son, if he believes that his parents are mentally competent, to make an appointment for them with an estate planning attorney without the son being present in the meeting, in order to determine their capacity and wishes. If the attorney is not sure about the influence of the son, he or she may want to refer the parents for a second opinion with another attorney.

If the parents are found not competent, then the son may need to become their conservator, which requires a court proceeding.

Planning in advance and discussing these issues are best done with an experienced estate planning attorney long before the issues become more complicated and expensive to deal with.

Reference: Daily Republic (Aug. 10, 2019) “Amending trust easier if parents can make informed decision”

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

For Immediate Release

Contact: Jane Frankel Sims

410-828-7775

Contact: Frank Campbell

410-263-1667

Sims & Campbell Estates and Trusts

Frankel Sims Law and Holden & Campbell
Merge to Form Sims & Campbell

Firm will offer comprehensive Trusts & Estates services through offices in Towson and Annapolis

TOWSON, Md. (April 26,2019)  Frankel Sims Law and Holden & Campbell have jointly announced the merger of their firms to create a boutique Trusts & Estates law firm providing comprehensive services in the fields of Estate Planning, Estate Administration, Trust Administration and Charitable Giving. The combined firm will be named Sims & Campbell and have offices in Towson, Md. and Annapolis, Md.  Jane Frankel Sims and Frank Campbell will lead and hold equal ownership stakes in the firm.

Sims & Campbell will have 9 attorneys and 15 legal professionals that handle every facet of estate and wealth transfer planning, including wills, revocable living trusts, irrevocable trusts, estate and gift tax advice, and charitable giving strategies.  The firm will focus solely on Trusts & Estates but will serve a wide range of clients, from young families with modest resources to ultra-high net worth individuals.  This allows clients to remain with the firm as their level of wealth and the complexity of related estate and tax implications change over time. 

“By joining forces, we have expanded our footprint to conveniently serve clients in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia” said Jane Frankel Sims.  We are seeing some of the greatest wealth transfer in our country’s history, and we want to continue to be on the leading edge of helping our clients maintain and enhance their family’s wealth.  In addition, we aim to serve our clients for years to come, and the new firm structure will allow Sims & Campbell to thrive even after Frank and I have retired.”    

“Jane and I have always admired each other’s firms and recognized the need to provide even greater depth and breadth of focused expertise to help families amass and protect their wealth from generation to generation,” said Frank Campbell.  “Now we have even greater capabilities to make a real difference for our clients.” 

The Sims & Campbell Towson office is located at 500 York Road, on the corner of York Road and Pennsylvania Avenue in the heart of Towson.  The Annapolis office is currently located at 716 Melvin Avenue, and is moving to 181 Truman Parkway in August, 2019.  For more information, visit www.simscampbell.law.