What’s the Best Way to Mess Up Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Forbes’ recent article entitled “5 Ways People Mess Up Their Estate Plan” describes the most common mistakes people make that wreak havoc with their estate plans.

Giving money to an individual during life, but not changing their will. Cash gifts in a will are common. However, the will often is not changed. When the will gets probated, the individual named still gets the gift (or an additional gift). No one—including the probate court knows the gift was satisfied during life. As a result, a person may get double.

Not enough assets to fund their trust. If you created a trust years ago, and your overall assets have decreased in value, you should be certain there are sufficient assets going into your trust to pay all the gifts. Some people create elaborate estate plans to give cash gifts to friends and family and create trusts for others. However, if you do not have enough money in your trust to pay for all of these gifts, some people will get short changed, or get nothing at all.

Assuming all assets pass under the will. Some people think they have enough money to satisfy all the gifts in their will because they total up all their assets and arrive at a large enough amount. However, not all the assets will come into the will. Probate assets pass from the deceased person’s name to their estate and get distributed according to the will. However, non-probate assets pass outside the will to someone else, often by beneficiary designation or joint ownership. Understand the difference so you know how much money will actually be in the estate to be distributed in accordance with the will.  Do not forget to deduct debts, expenses and taxes.

Adding a joint owner. If you want someone to have an asset when you die, like real estate, you can add them as a joint owner. However, if your will is dependent on that asset coming into your estate to pay other people (or to pay debts, expenses or taxes), there could be an issue after you die. Adding joint owners often leads to will contests and prolonged court battles. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney.

Changing beneficiary designations. Changing your beneficiary on a life insurance policy could present another issue. The policy may have been payable to your trust to pay bequests, shelter monies from estate taxes, or pay estate taxes. If it is paid to someone else, your planning could be down the drain. Likewise, if you have a retirement account that was supposed to be payable to an individual and you change the beneficiary to your trust, there could be adverse income tax consequences.

Talk to your estate planning attorney and review your estate plan, your assets and your beneficiary designations. Do not make these common mistakes!

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 26, 2021) “5 Ways People Mess Up Their Estate Plan”

 

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What Do I Do with Estate Plan after Divorce? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

If you forget to update your will after a divorce, you risk your assets being distributed to your ex-spouse when you pass away.

Investopedia’s recent article “Here’s what you need to remove and add to your will when your marriage is over,” says that many states have laws that, after a divorce, automatically revoke gifts to a former spouse listed in a will. There are states that also revoke gifts to family members of a former spouse. If you are in a state that has such a law, gifts to former stepchildren would also be revoked after your divorce.

Most married people leave everything in their will to their surviving spouse. If that is the way that your will currently reads, be certain that you change your ex as a beneficiary and add a new beneficiary. Remember that many types of assets are passed outside of a will, such as life insurance, 401k’s and other investments. Therefore, you must change the beneficiary designation on those documents.

Property Transfers. Update your will for any property gained or lost during the divorce. If you have assets that are specifically identified in your will, be sure to update them for any changes that may have happened because of the divorce.

The Executor of your Will. If your ex-spouse is named in your will as your executor, you should change this.

A Guardian for Minor Children. If you have children with your ex-spouse, you will want to update your will to appoint a guardian, if you and your ex-spouse pass expectantly at the same time. If you die, your children will likely be raised by your ex-spouse.

The Best Way to Change Your Will After Divorce. It is easy: tear up your old will (literally) and begin again because you probably left everything or almost everything to your spouse in your original will. Just because you are legally married until a judge signs a divorce decree, you can still modify your will or estate plan at any time. Ask an estate planning attorney because there are some actions you cannot take until the divorce is final.

Can an Ex Challenge Your Will? An ex-spouse or even ex-de facto partner can challenge the will of a former spouse or partner. Whether the challenge will be successful will depend on the court’s interpretation of a number of factors.

Reference: Investopedia (Sep. 14, 2021) “Here’s what you need to remove and add to your will when your marriage is over”

 

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What a Will Won’t Accomplish – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Everyone needs a will. A last will and testament is how an executor is named to manage your estate, how a guardian is named to care for any minor children and how you give directions for distribution of property. However, not all property passes via your will. You will want to know what a will can and cannot do, as well as how assets are distributed outside of a will. This was the topic of “The Legal Limits of Your Will” from AARP Magazine.

Retirement and Pension Accounts

The beneficiaries named on retirement accounts, including 401(k)s, pensions, and IRAs, receive these assets directly. Some states have laws about requiring spouses to receive some or all assets. However, if you do not keep these beneficiary names updated, the wrong person may receive the asset, like it or not. Do not expect anyone to willingly give up a surprise windfall. If a primary beneficiary has died and no contingency beneficiary was named, the recipient may also be determined by default terms, which may not be what you have in mind.

Life Insurance Policies.

The beneficiary designations on an insurance policy determine who will receive proceeds upon your death. Laws vary by state, so check with an estate planning attorney to learn what would happen if you died without updating life insurance policies. A simpler strategy is to create a list of all of your financial accounts, determine how they are distributed and update names as necessary.

Note there are exceptions to all rules. If your divorce agreement includes a provision naming your ex as the sole beneficiary, you may not have an option to make a change.

Financial Accounts

Adding another person to your bank account through various means—Payable on Death (POD), Transfer on Death (TOD), or Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship (JTWROS)—may generally override a will, but may not be acceptable for all accounts, or to all financial institutions. There are unanticipated consequences of transferring assets this way, including the simplest: once transferred, assets are immediately vulnerable to creditors, divorce proceedings, etc.

Trusts

Trusts are used in estate planning to remove assets from a personal estate and place them in safekeeping for beneficiaries. Once the assets are properly transferred into the trust, their distribution and use are defined by the trust document. The flexibility and variety of trusts makes this a key estate planning tool, regardless of the value of the assets in the estate.

Reference: AARP Magazine (Sep. 29, 2021) “The Legal Limits of Your Will”

 

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How Can I Pass Wealth to My Children and Grandchildren? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

AARP’s recent article “6 Ways to Pass Wealth to Your Heirs” says that providing financial security to your heirs after you are gone is a goal you can reach in a number of ways.

Let us look at a few common options, along with their pluses and minuses:

  1. 401(k)s and IRAs. These grow tax-free while you are alive and will continue tax-free growth after your beneficiaries inherit them. Certain heirs, such as spouses and people with disabilities, can hold these accounts over their lifetime. Withdrawals from Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s are nearly always tax-free. However, other heirs not in those categories have to empty these accounts within 10 years.
  2. Taxable accounts. Heirs now get a nice tax break on investments that have grown in value over time. Say that years ago you bought stock for $300 that now trades for $3,000. If you sold it now, you would owe taxes on $2,700 in capital gains. However, if your son inherited the stock when it was trading at $3,000 and sold it at that price, he would owe no taxes on the sale. However, note that the Biden administration has proposed limiting the amount of investment capital gains free from taxes in this situation, which could impact wealthier families.
  3. Your home. If you own a home, it will typically be the most valuable non-financial asset in your estate. Heirs might not have to pay capital gains tax on it, if they sell it. However, use caution: whoever inherits the home will have to cover large expenses, such as upkeep and taxes.
  4. Term life insurance. This can be a great tool for loved ones who depend on your income or rely on your unpaid caregiving. You can get a lot of coverage for very little money. However, if you purchase plain-vanilla term insurance and do not die while the policy is in force, you do not get the money back.
  5. Whole life insurance. These policies provide a guaranteed death benefit for heirs and a cash-value component you can access for emergencies, long-term care, or other needs. However, these policies are more expensive than term insurance.
  6. Annuities. A joint-and-survivor annuity guarantees the survivor (your spouse, perhaps) a steady stream of income for life. Annuities with a death benefit can provide a lump sum for a beneficiary. However, while you are alive, annual fees for variable annuities can be high, limiting potential returns. Moreover, cashing in your annuity for a lump sum may be expensive or impossible.

Bonus Tip. Discuss your plans with your children sooner rather than later, especially if you are leaving them different amounts or giving a large sum to a favorite cause, so you have time to explain your rationale.

Reference: AARP (Sep. 9, 2021) “6 Ways to Pass Wealth to Your Heirs”

 

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Is a Rollover IRA a Good Idea? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

In addition to an increase in rollovers, there has been an increase in the mistakes people make when transferring retirement funds as well, reports The Wall Street Journal in a recent article, “The Biggest Mistake People Make With IRA Rollovers.” These are expensive mistakes, potentially adding up to tens of thousands of dollars in taxes and penalties.

Done properly, rolling the funds from a 401(k) to a traditional IRA offers flexibility and control, minus paying taxes immediately. Depending on the IRA custodian, the owner may choose from different investment options, from stocks and bonds to mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, certificates of deposits or annuities. A company plan may limit you to a half-dozen or so choices. However, before you make a move, be aware of these key mistakes:

Taking a lump-sum distribution of the 401(k) funds instead of moving them directly to the IRA custodian. The clock starts ticking when you do what is called an “indirect rollover.” Miss the 60-day deadline and the amount is considered a distribution, included as gross income and taxable. If you are younger than 59½, you might also get hit with a 10% early withdrawal penalty.

There is an exception: if you are an employee with highly appreciated stock of the company that you are leaving in your 401(k), it is considered a “Net Unrealized Appreciation,” or NUA. In this case, you may take the lump-sum distribution and pay taxes at the ordinary income-tax rate, but only on the cost basis, or the adjusted original value, of the stock. The difference between the cost basis and the current market value is the NUA, and you can defer the tax on the difference until you sell the stock.

Not realizing when you do an indirect rollover, your workplace plan administrator will usually withhold 20% of your account and send it to the IRS as pre-payment of federal-income tax on the distribution. This will happen even if your plan is to immediately put the money into an IRA. If you want to contribute the same amount that was in your 401(k) to your IRA, you will need to provide funds from other sources. Note that if too much tax was withheld, you will get a refund from the IRS in April.

Rolling over funds from a 401(k) to an IRA before taking a Required Minimum Distribution or RMD. If you are required to take an RMD for the year that you are receiving the distribution (age 72 and over), neglecting this point will result in an excess contribution, which could be subject to a 6% penalty.

Rolling funds from a 401(k) to a Roth IRA and neglecting to pay taxes immediately. If you move money from a 401(k) to a Roth IRA, it is a conversion and taxes are due when you make the transfer. However, if you have some after-tax dollars left in the 401(k), you can make a tax-free distribution of those funds to a Roth IRA. Remember funds must remain in a Roth IRA for at least five years, before withdrawing any earnings or they will be subject to taxes and possibly penalties.

Not knowing the limits when moving funds from one IRA to another, if you do a 60-day rollover. The general rule is this: you are allowed to do only one distribution from an IRA to another IRA within a 12-month period. Make more than one distribution and it is considered taxable income. Tack on a 10% penalty, if you are under 59½.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 1, 2021) “The Biggest Mistake People Make With IRA Rollovers”

 

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Can You Have Bitcoin in IRA? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Experts on both sides of the cryptocurrency world agree on one thing: it is still early to put these kinds of investments into retirement accounts, especially IRAs. A recent article from CNBC, “Want to put bitcoin in your IRA? Why experts say you may want to rethink that, explains why this temptation should be put on pause for a while.

Investors who have remained on the sidelines on cryptocurrency are taking a second look as this new asset class surpassed the $2 trillion mark in late August. Looking at retirement accounts flush with positive growth from stocks, it seems like a good time to take some gains and test the crypto waters.

However, the pros warn against using cryptocurrency in retirement accounts. “Not just yet” is the message from both bulls and bears. One expert says using cryptocurrency in a retirement account is like taking a delicate and exotic animal out of its natural element and putting it in a concrete zoo. Cryptocurrency is not like “regular” money.

The accounts are structured differently.  The average investor also will not be able to hold the keys to their own cryptocurrency investment.  It’s a buy and hold, with no individual ability to move the assets around. While there are some investment platforms working to change that, an inability to move assets, especially such volatile assets, is not for everyone.

Cryptocurrency is a much riskier investment. A quarterly look at account updates would be like only checking your retirement accounts every five years. Cryptocurrency values are volatile, and an account balance can change dramatically from one week, one day or even one hour to the next one. Crypto is a 24/7/365-day market.

Self-directed IRAs are allowed to have crypto assets, but just because you can does not mean you should. Another reason: stocks, bonds and real estate have a stated market value, which means they are taxed when withdrawals are taken. However, the expected value of cryptocurrencies is not clear. They are not regulated, while IRAs are among the most highly regulated accounts. This is a big reason as to why most IRA account administrators do not permit cryptocurrencies in their accounts.

Investment decisions are based on the eventual use of the funds. For IRAs, the intention is not to lose money, and ideally for it to grow, so there is more money for your retirement, not less. Separate margin or trading accounts are typically used for riskier investments.

One expert advised limiting cryptocurrency investments to 5% of your total retirement accounts. If money is lost, it will not destroy your retirement, and any wins are extra money. Another expert says investing such a small amount will not be worth the time or effort, so don’t even bother.

For those who are determined to get in the game, a Roth IRA may be preferable if you have an extended time horizon and can stand the ups and downs of cryptocurrency investments. The appreciation in a Roth IRA will be tax-free.

Reference: CNBC (Aug. 17, 2021) “Want to put bitcoin in your IRA? Why experts say you may want to rethink that

 

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What Happens If You Don’t Name Beneficiaries? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

It is always good to check into your retirement accounts and consider if you are saving enough and if your investments are properly balanced. However, what is just as important is whether you have reviewed named beneficiaries for these and other accounts. The recommendation comes from the article titled “Review your IRA, 401(k) beneficiaries” from Idaho State Business Journal, and it’s sound advice.

In more cases than you might think, people overlook this detail, and their loved ones are left with the consequences. After all, you opened those accounts long ago, and who even remembers? Does it really matter?

In a word, yes. What if your family circumstances have changed since you named a beneficiary? If divorce and remarriage occurred, do you want your former spouse to receive your IRA, 401(k) and life insurance proceeds?

It is important to understand that beneficiary designations supersede anything in your last will and testament. Therefore, while you have been dutifully updating your estate plans whenever life changes occur and neglecting beneficiary designations, your ex or someone else who is no longer in your life could receive a surprise windfall.

Here is another detail often overlooked: retirement plans, and insurance policies may need more than one beneficiary. Any time there is an opportunity to name a contingent beneficiary, take advantage of it. If the primary beneficiary dies or refuses the inheritance and there is no contingent or secondary beneficiary, the proceeds could end up back into your estate. Depending on the laws of your state, they might end up being taxable, in addition to not going to your intended heir.

This is an easy thing to fix, but it takes diligence and in some cases, a fair amount of time.

Start by gathering information on all your accounts, including retirement, checking and savings accounts, 401(k)s, pension plans, insurance policies and any accounts containing assets you want to pass to loved ones. If you see anything incorrect or outdated, immediately contact the financial institution, your company’s benefits manager or your insurance representative to request a change-of-beneficiary form.

Once you receive the form, immediately address making the changes. Request a printed confirmation from the financial organization to confirm the change has been made. Do not accept a verbal acknowledgement by a call center employee—this is too important to leave to chance.

To be on the safe side, it would be wise to have your estate planning attorney work with you on documenting your beneficiary designations as part of your estate plan. You may also pick up some smart pointers on other suggestions for dealing with beneficiaries.

For example, children are not permitted to control assets until they reach the age of majority. But when most children reach age 18 or 21, they are not ready to manage substantial sums of money. Your will names a guardian for minor children, but it is also wise to create a trust for the benefit of a minor that controls when distributions are made when they are older.

Most people want to leave something behind for those they love. Make sure to do it in the right way—including paying attention to beneficiary designations.

Reference: Idaho State Business Journal (July 27, 2021) “Review your IRA, 401(k) beneficiaries”

 

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Make the Most of a Roth IRA, Even If You’re Not Ultra-Wealthy – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

While it may seem like only the ultra-wealthy benefit from a Roth IRA, this retirement tool is an excellent tax shelter that anyone can use, reports CNBC.com in the recent article “The ultra-wealthy have made full use of Roth individual retirement accounts. Here’s how you can do the same.” One of PayPal’s founders, Peter Thiel, had $5 billion in a Roth IRA as of 2019, according to a ProPublica report. It said that he used a self-directed Roth account, which allows the owner to hold alternative assets, like shares in a private company or real estate that generally cannot be placed in a regular Roth.

Traditional 401(k) plans and IRAs offer a tax break, when contributions are made. Taxes are paid upon withdrawal, which is supposed to happen only after a certain age when you have retired. By contrast, the Roth versions of the 401(k) and IRA do not have the tax break up front—you have to pay taxes on the money or assets when making contributions—but there are no taxes paid upon withdrawal, and there are no required withdrawals, as there are with traditional IRAs and 401(k)s.

You pay income taxes on the money placed into the account, and then it grows tax free. You can take it out anytime, as long as the account has been owned for at least five years and you are age 59½ or older. Self-directed Roth IRAs permit tax-free growth and untaxed distributions plus investments can be made that are not available in regular Roth accounts.

Theil had private company shares in his self-directed Roth IRA, before PayPal was a publicly traded company. He benefited from both timing and savvy investment skills.

Self-directed IRAs are generally available only through specialized custodians. Brand-name financial companies do not offer them. The custodians that hold self-directed IRAs do not manage the account or police what investments are placed into the accounts, so you will need the advice of a tax-savvy estate planning attorney to be sure you are following the rules. Note that there can also be valuation issues. The value of alternative assets is not as clear as publicly traded securities. You will need to get the value right, so you do not break any tax laws. Once assets are in the account, you can sell them and use the proceeds to purchase other instruments in the account, all under the same tax-free Roth protection.

Even if you do not use a self-directed Roth IRA, the standard Roth IRA yields many benefits. We do not know what the future tax environment will be, but tax-free withdrawals in the future, combined with high-growth assets, make the Roth IRA a good choice for retirement nest eggs.

Reference: CNBC.com (June 24, 2021) “The ultra-wealthy have made full use of Roth individual retirement accounts. Here’s how you can do the same”

 

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What are Top ‘To-Dos’ in Estate Planning? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Spotlight News’ recent article entitled “Estate Planning To-Dos” says that with the potential for substantial changes to estate and gift tax rules under the Biden administration, this may be an opportune time to create or review our estate plan. If you are not sure where to begin, look at these to-dos for an estate plan.

See an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss your plans. The biggest estate planning mistake is having no plan whatsoever. The top triggers for estate planning conversations can be life-altering events, such as a car accident or health crisis. If you already have a plan in place, visit your estate planning attorney and keep it up to date with the changes in your life.

Draft financial and healthcare powers of attorney. Estate plans contain multiple pieces that may overlap, including long-term care plans and powers of attorney. These say who has decision-making power in the event of a medical emergency.

Draft a healthcare directive. Living wills and other advance directives are written to provide legal instructions describing your preferences for medical care, if you are unable to make decisions for yourself. Advance care planning is a process that includes quality of life decisions and palliative and hospice care.

Make a will. A will is one of the foundational aspects of estate planning, However, this is frequently the only thing people do when estate planning. A huge misconception about estate planning is that a will can oversee the distribution of all assets. A will is a necessity, but you should think about estate plans holistically—as more than just a will. For example, a modern aspect of financial planning that can be overlooked in wills and estate plans is digital assets.  It is also recommended that you ask an experienced estate planning attorney about whether a trust fits into your circumstances, and to help you with the other parts of a complete estate plan.

Review beneficiary designations. Retirement plans, life insurance, pensions and annuities are independent of the will and require beneficiary designations. One of the biggest estate planning mistakes is having outdated beneficiary designations, which only supports the need to review estate plans and designated beneficiaries with an experienced estate planning attorney on a regular basis.

Reference: Spotlight News (May 19, 2021) “Estate Planning To-Dos”

 

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Do You Have to Do Probate when Someone Dies? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Probate is a Latin term meaning “to prove.” Legally, a deceased person may not own property, so the moment a person dies, the property they owned while living is in a legal state of limbo. The rightful owners must prove their ownership in court, explains the article “Wills and Probate” from Southlake Style. Probate refers to the legal process that recognizes a person’s death, proves whether or not a valid last will exists and who is entitled to assets the decedent owned while they were living.

The probate court oversees the payment of the decedent’s debts, as well as the distribution of their assets. The court’s role is to facilitate this process and protect the interests of all creditors and beneficiaries of the estate. The process is known as “probate administration.”

Having a last will does not automatically transfer property. The last will must be properly probated first. If there is a last will, the estate is described as “testate.” The last will must contain certain language and have been properly executed by the testator (the decedent) and the witnesses. Every state has its own estate laws. Therefore, to be valid, the last will must follow the rules of the person’s state. A last will that is valid in one state may be invalid in another.

The court must give its approval that the last will is valid and confirm the executor is suited to perform their duties. Texas is one of a few states that allow for independent administration, where the court appoints an administrator who submits an inventory of assets and liabilities. The administration goes on with no need for probate judge’s approval, as long as the last will contains the specific language to qualify.

If there was no last will, the estate is considered to be “intestate” and the laws of the state determine who inherits what assets. The laws rely on the relationship between the decedent and the genetic or bloodline family members. An estranged relative could end up with everything. The estate distribution is more likely to be challenged if there is no last will, causing additional family grief, stress and expenses.

The last will should name an executor or administrator to carry out the terms of the last will. The executor can be a family member or a trusted friend, as long as they are known to be honest and able to manage financial and legal transactions. Administering an estate takes time, depending upon the complexity of the estate and how the person managed the business side of their lives. The executor pays bills, may need to sell a home and also deals with any creditors.

The smart estate plan includes assets that are not transferrable by the last will. These are known as “non-probate” assets and go directly to the heirs, if the beneficiary designation is properly done. They can include life insurance proceeds, pensions, 401(k)s, bank accounts and any asset with a beneficiary designation. If all of the assets in an estate are non-probate assets, assets of the estate are easily and usually quickly distributed. Many people accomplish this through the use of a Living Trust.

Every person’s life is different, and so is their estate plan. Family dynamics, the amount of assets owned and how they are owned will impact how the estate is distributed. Start by meeting with an experienced estate planning attorney to prepare for the future.

Reference: Southlake Style (May 17, 2021) “Wills and Probate”

 

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