Why Is Estate Planning more Complicated with a ‘Gray Divorce’? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The increasing divorce rates among Americans over the age of 50 is a problem, because minimizing discord among beneficiaries is one of the top three reasons why people engage in estate planning.

The Clare County Review’s recent article entitled “Rising Gray Divorce Rates Are Making Estate Planning Problems More Complicated” notes that along with prolonged life expectancy and rising healthcare costs, this upward trend in couples divorcing after the age of 50 has created activity and interest in estate planning.

According to the CDC, the divorce rate in the United States is 3.2 per 1,000 people. The ‘first divorce rate,’ or the number of marriages that ended in divorce per 1,000 first marriages for women 18 and older, was 15.4 in 2016, according to research by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at the Bowling Green State University. As noted earlier, black women experience divorce at the highest rate, 26.1 per 1,000, and the rate is lowest for Asian women at 9.2 per 1,000.  In Michigan, the current divorce rate is 9%, but Tennessee is way up at 43%.

Gray divorce is adding another level of complexity to estate planning that already happens with blended families, designation of heirs and changing domestic structures. Therefore, it is more crucial than ever to proactively review and discuss the estate plans with your estate planning attorney on an ongoing basis.

According to the TD Wealth survey, 39% of respondents said that divorce effects the costs of retirement planning and funding the most. Another 7% said that divorce impacts those responsible for enacting a power of attorney and 6% said divorce impacts how Social Security benefits will be determined.

It is important to communicate the estate plan with family members to reduce family conflict during the divorce process.

The divorce process is complicated at any age. However, for divorcing couples over the age of 50, the process can be especially tough because the spouse is frequently designated as a beneficiary on many, if not all, documents. Each of these documents will need to change to show new beneficiaries after the divorce has been finalized. It means that wills, trusts, retirement accounts, life insurance policies and listed assets will need to be revised.

Reference: Clare County Review (Feb. 10, 2020) “Rising Gray Divorce Rates Are Making Estate Planning Problems More Complicated”

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Do I Need a Revocable Living Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A revocable living trust is created with a written agreement or declaration that names a trustee to manage and administer the property of the grantor. If you are a competent adult, you can establish an RLT. As the grantor, or creator of the trust, you can name any competent adult as your trustee, or you can use a bank or a trust company for this role. The grantor can also act as trustee throughout his lifetime.

Investopedia’s article from last fall entitled “Should You Set up a Revocable Living Trust?” explains that after it is created, you must retitled assets—like investments, bank accounts, and real estate—into the trust. You no longer “own” those assets directly. Instead, they belong to the trust and do not have to go through probate at your death. However, with a revocable living trust, you retain control of the assets while you are alive, even though they no longer belong to you directly. A revocable living trust can be changed, and any income earned by the trust’s assets passes to you and is taxable. However, the assets themselves do not transfer from the trust to your beneficiaries until your death.

Avoiding probate is the big benefit of a living trust, but other benefits like privacy protection and flexibility make it a good choice. A living trust can be used to help control a guardian’s spending habits for the benefit of minor children. It can also instruct another individual to act on your behalf, if you become incapacitated and need someone to make decisions for you. Should you become impaired or disabled, the trust can automatically appoint your trustee to oversee it and your financial affairs without a durable power of attorney.

Although there are several advantages to establishing a revocable living trust, there also some drawbacks:

Expense. Establishing a trust requires legal assistance, which is an expense.

Maintaining Records. Most of the time, you need to monitor it on an annual basis and make adjustments as needed (they do not automatically adapt to changed circumstances, like a divorce or a new grandchild). There is the trouble of ensuring that future assets are continuously registered to the trust.

Re-titling Property. When your RLT is established, property must be re-titled in the name of the trust, requiring additional time. Fees can apply to processing title changes.

Minimal Asset Protection. Despite the myth, a revocable living trust offers little asset protection beyond avoiding probate if you retain an ownership interest, such as naming yourself as trustee.

Administrative Expenses. There can also be additional professional fees, such as investment advisory and trustee fees, if you appoint a bank or trust company as the trustee.

There’s No Tax Break. Your assets in the RLT will continue to incur taxes on their gains or income and be subject to creditors and legal action.

Compared to wills, revocable trusts have more privacy, more control and flexibility over asset distribution. With a revocable living trust, you do most of the work up front, making the disposition of your estate easier and faster. However, an RLT requires more effort, and there is an expense in creating and maintaining it.

Work with an experienced estate planning attorney, if you are considering a revocable living trust.

Reference: Investopedia (Oct. 31, 2019) “Should You Set up a Revocable Living Trust?”

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How Do I Do the Most with My Inheritance? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Studies have shown that when people unexpectedly come into money, they will treat it differently than the money they have earned.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “5 Important Steps To Maximize An Inheritance” says that even the most financially astute consumers can get inundated with their newfound wealth. People can feel pressure to use the cash to purchase new vehicles, bigger homes, or even take their families on dream vacations. Others may feel that they can safely quit their jobs and live the life of luxury.

Many people regret jumping into major purchases after getting an inheritance. Others will give away much of the money or even make bad investments that are completely wrong for their goals and financial needs. If you do not get expert financial guidance to develop a plan for your inheritance, or take the time to do it yourself, you may find yourself worse off than you were before you became wealthier via an inheritance.

Here are some financial planning tips for anyone who is receiving an inheritance or another windfall.

Do Something Fun. Set aside an amount to splurge on something fun. However, figure out how much you want to spend and on what. Without that, you may find that one small splurge turns into many, and next thing, a big chunk of your inheritance could be spent.

Taxes on Your Inheritance. It is uncommon for someone to get an inheritance big enough to trigger the federal estate tax. However, estate taxes will vary at the state level, so check with your estate planning attorney. Depending on the type of assets you inherit and how they are held, you may owe taxes on some of your newfound riches.

Quitting Your Job. This sounds tempting, but before you take this big step, make sure you have thought it through and that you have a plan to replace your income. It is not hard to underestimate how much money you will actually need to provide a nice standard of living for the rest of your life.

Take Care of Yourself. When you come into money, you will hear from relatives you never knew you had. They will all be asking for money. Make sure your own finances are in order, before you commit to take care of others beyond your immediate family.

Consult Experts. An inheritance can be stressful and overwhelming, so talk to an experienced estate planning attorney. He can help with tax filing deadlines and provide strategies to protect that wealth.

Reference: Forbes (Feb. 26, 2020) “5 Important Steps To Maximize An Inheritance”

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

Do You Think Everything Is All Set with Your Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Many people would like to believe that estate planning is simple, and that once you sign everything you’re finished. Not so. There are other things to consider as part of the process, and topics that need to be revisited over time.

When you pass away, your executor will typically have many tasks to handle to settle your estate. Anything you can do in advance to add clarity and lessen the burden on her work is wise. MarketWatch’s recent article entitled “Why your estate plan is not as buttoned up as you think it is” gives us a list of seven items to review to be certain that your estate is as planned as you think:

Check to make sure your will is up to date. That is assuming you have written your will (and if you have not, get on it!). How long has it been since you drafted it? Think about any major changes in your life that have happened since that time. If things have changed, be sure to update it.

Check to make sure that your will is sufficiently detailed. Most people think about the big stuff in their estate, like the house, car and jewelry. However, you also need to provide directions for items with sentimental value. This will help to avoid family fighting over these items. Leave directions about who gets what, even if these items of sentimental value do not have a high dollar value.

Check to make sure that your will spells out your wishes in a way that’s legally binding. Every state has its own laws, when it comes to the requirements for a valid will. Work with a seasoned estate planning attorney to make certain that your will is valid. You can also let them do it, so you do not make a mistake that could lead to problems for your executor after you are gone.

Check to make sure that your will has your funeral plans sufficiently detailed. Do not force your grieving family to plan your funeral and try to guess your wishes at the same time. Preplan your funeral. Funeral directors are happy to talk to you to preplan. Leave instructions regarding your wishes, including whether you want to be cremated or buried in a casket; the services you would like and if you would like charitable donations to be made in lieu of people sending flowers.

Be sure that your financial affairs are organized. Your executor will need to know about your typical monthly bills. Make a list of your account numbers and passwords to simplify your executor’s job. Be sure to include automatic deductions or charges on your credit card for things like internet-based subscriptions, club memberships, recurring charitable donations and automatic utility payments.

Make arrangements for the care of your family members who survive you. If you are a caregiver to a parent, spouse, child, or another family member, create a detailed plan concerning who will take over their care, if they outlive you. Do not forget your pets, since the laws on the care for animals contained in a will are different in each state. It is a good idea to make your loved ones aware of your wishes for your furry family members.

Thorough estate planning will help ensure that you family has less to deal with in their grief. Anything you can do to help them get through that difficult time by managing your affairs today is a great gift to them.

Reference: MarketWatch (March 4, 2020) “Why your estate plan is not as buttoned up as you think it is”

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What are the Main Estate Planning Blunders to Avoid? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

There are a few important mistakes that can make an estate plan defective—most of these can be easily avoided by reviewing your estate plan periodically and keeping it up to date.

Investopedia’s article from a few years ago entitled “5 Ways to Mess Up Estate Planning” lists these common blunders:

Not Updating Your Beneficiaries. Big events like a marriage, divorce, birth, adoption and death can all have an effect on who will receive your assets. Be certain that those you want to inherit your property are clearly detailed as such on the proper forms. Whenever you have a life change, update your estate plan, as well as all your financial, retirement accounts and insurance policies.

Forgetting Important Legal Documents. Your will may be just fine, but it will not exempt your assets from the probate process in most states, if the dollar value of your estate exceeds a certain amount. Some assets are inherently exempt from probate by law, like life insurance, retirement plans and annuities and any financial account that has a transfer on death (TOD) beneficiary listed. You should also make sure that you nominate the guardians of minor children in your will, in the event that something should happen to you and/or your spouse or partner.

Lousy Recordkeeping. There are few things that your family will like less than having to spend a huge amount of time and effort finding, organizing and hunting down all of your assets and belongings without any directions from you on where to look. Create a detailed letter of instruction that tells your executor or executrix where everything is found, along with the names and contact information of everyone with whom they will have to work, like your banker, broker, insurance agent, financial planner, etc.. You should also list all of the financial websites you use with your login info, so that your accounts can be conveniently accessed.

Bad Communication. Telling your loved ones that you will do one thing with your money or possessions and then failing to make provisions in your plan for that to happen is a sure way to create hard feelings, broken relationships and perhaps litigation. It is a good idea to compose a letter of explanation that sets out your intentions or tells them why you changed your mind about something. This could help in providing closure or peace of mind (despite the fact that it has no legal authority).

No Estate Plan. While this is about the most obvious mistake in the list, it is also one of the most common. There are many tales of famous people who lost virtually all of their estates to court fees and legal costs, because they failed to plan.

These are just a few of the common estate planning errors that commonly happen. Make sure they do not happen to you: talk to a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Investopedia (Sep. 30, 2018) “5 Ways to Mess Up Estate Planning”

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What’s the Best Way to Provide for My Family when I’m Gone? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The estate planning process should begin when you are at least 18 years old, of sound mind and as free as possible from emotional stress, suggests Essence’s recent article entitled “Death And Money: How To Protect And Provide For The Loved Ones You Leave Behind.” You do not want to do this kind of planning when you are on your sickbed or when your mental capabilities are in decline.

If you are new to estate planning, here are the necessary steps to ensure you start the process on the right foot. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to be certain that your plan is correct and legal.

A will. This is a legal document that details how to distribute your property and other assets upon death. A will can also nominate guardians for minor children. Without this, the state will dictate how to distribute your assets to your beneficiaries, according to the laws of intestate succession. If you already have a will, be sure it is updated to reflect an accurate listing of assets and beneficiaries that may be changed with a divorce, financial changes, or the birth or adoption of a child.

Life insurance. This is a great idea to protect and provide for your family when you are gone. Life insurance pays out money either upon your death or after a set period. Even if you have a life insurance policy as an employee benefit, this coverage is not portable, which means it does not follow you when you switch jobs. This can result in gaps in coverage at times when you may need it most.

Work with a legal professional. Estate planning is not a DIY project, like cleaning the garage. You should have the counsel and assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney to help you create a comprehensive estate plan. An estate planning attorney can also coordinate with your financial advisor to manage your estate’s finances, such as making recommendations and funding investment, retirement and trust accounts.

An estate planning attorney also can make sure that all of your beneficiaries and secondary beneficiaries are up-to-date on your investment accounts, pensions and insurance policies. An estate planning attorney will also help you with the best options for maintaining your estate after death or in the event of incapacity. In addition to preparing a will, your attorney can create a living trust that details your desires regarding your assets, your dependents and your heirs while you are still alive. He can also draw up your power of attorney for your health care, verify property titles and create legal document to ensure a succession plan for your business.

Finally, an estate planning attorney or probate attorney can help the personal representative or executor of an estate with closing responsibilities setting up an estate account, tax filings and paying the final distributions to beneficiaries.

A key to estate planning is to get (and stay) organized. Know the location and passwords (if applicable) of all your important legal and financial documents. You should also communicate the location of these files to trusted family members and to your estate planning or probate attorney.

Reference: Essence (Jan. 29, 2020) “Death And Money: How To Protect And Provide For The Loved Ones You Leave Behind”

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

How Long Do You Have to Settle an Estate? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The beneficiaries of an estate are recently eager to receive their inheritance. In a common scenario, a trust was left instead of an actual will. All the parties received their respective shares, except for the two brothers and a sister who is the executor. The trust instructed the brothers to divide the estate property in half for each of them. The sister was to get $15,000.

However, one of the brothers lives in the home.

As you may know, the administrator or executor of an estate has the job of collecting the decedent’s assets, paying debts, making distributions to the beneficiaries and finally closing the estate in an expeditious manner.

nj.com’s recent article entitled “How long does it take to pay out a family trust?” tries to sort out what the siblings need to do to settle the estate. The key factor in this scenario is the wording of the trust.

There are situations in which a trust is used as a substitute for a will. In that case, a person’s assets are placed in trust. The trustee pays all the liabilities and administers the assets in the trust in accordance with the instructions of the trust during the individual’s life and after her death.

Even when trusts are used as will substitutes, they are not always designed to be closed with distribution to happen immediately after the debts are paid, as in the case of the estate. The terms of the trust dictate the trustee’s duties as to the distribution of trust assets.

If you are a beneficiary of a trust and think that the trustee is breaching his fiduciary duties, you should inform the trustee of the nature of the suspected breach. If nothing is done to remedy this, you may ask the court for help.

One option is that you can request the court to order the trustee to take actions, which you state in your complaint filed with the probate court. Another option is to request that the court direct the trustee to stop taking specific actions that you detail in your complaint.

A third choice is to ask the court to remove the trustee due to breach of fiduciary duties that you set forth in your complaint filed with the court.

However, such court intervention can be expensive. Another thing to consider is that the trustee may petition the court to have his legal fees paid from the trust funds—which will deplete the money in the trust. Because of this, it is usually best to attempt and resolve these issues before getting the court involved.

Reference: nj.com (Feb. 12, 2020) “How long does it take to pay out a family trust?”

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

What Should I Know about Property Deeds? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Property deeds can be classified into several categories. Investopedia’s recent article entitled “Understanding Property Deeds” explains that a property deed is a written and signed legal instrument that is used to transfer ownership of real property from the then-owner (the grantor) to the new owner (the grantee).

Every state has its own requirements, but most deeds are required to have some essential elements to be legally valid:

  • It must be in writing.
  • The grantor must have the legal capacity to transfer the property and the grantee must be capable of receiving the grant of the property. Typically, one who is competent to make a valid contract is considered competent to be a grantor.
  • The grantor and grantee must be specifically identified.
  • The property must be described sufficiently.
  • There must be operative words of conveyance.
  • The deed must be signed by the grantor(s).
  • The deed must be legally delivered to the grantee or to someone acting on her behalf.
  • The deed must be accepted by the grantee.

Deeds are also categorized based on the type of title warranties provided by the grantor. The different types of deeds include the following:

General Warranty Deed. This deed offers the grantee the most protection. Here, the grantor makes a series of legally binding promises (covenants) and warranties to the grantee (and their heirs) agreeing to protect the grantee against any prior claims and demands of all persons as to the conveyed land. These are the usual covenants for title included in a general warranty deed:

  • the covenant of seisin, which means the grantor warrants that she owns the property and has the legal right to convey it;
  • the covenant against encumbrances and that the grantor warrants the property is free of liens or encumbrances, except as specifically stated in the deed;
  • the covenant of quiet enjoyment and that this won’t be disturbed, because the grantor had a defective title; and
  • the covenant of further assurance, where the grantor promises to deliver any document necessary to make the title good.

Special Warranty Deed. The grantor promises to warrant and defend the title conveyed against the claims, and it warrants that he or she received the title and hasn’t done anything while holding the title to create a defect. Thus, only defects that occurred in the grantor’s ownership of the property are warranted.

Quitclaim Deed. Also known as a non-warranty deed, this deed offers the grantee the least amount of protection. It conveys whatever interest the grantor currently has in the property, if any. There are no warranties or promises regarding the quality of the title.

Special Purpose Deeds. This deed is often used with court proceedings and situations, where the deed is from a person acting in some type of official capacity. These deeds offer little or no protection to the grantee and are essentially quitclaim deeds. The types of special purpose deeds include, for example, an Administrator’s Deed, an Executor’s Deed, a Sheriff’s Deed, a Tax Deed, a Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure, and a Deed of Gift (Gift Deed).

Certain essential elements must be contained within the deed for it to be legally operative. Ask your estate planning attorney about these different types of deeds.

Reference: Investopedia (March 27, 2019) “Understanding Property Deeds”

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

Some Estate Planning Actions for 2020 – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Many of us set New Year’s resolutions to improve our quality of life. While it’s often a goal to exercise more or eat more healthily, you can also resolve to improve your financial well-being. It is a great time to review your estate plan to make sure your legacy is protected.

The Tennessean’s recent article entitled “Five estate-planning steps to take in the new year” gives us some common updates for your estate planning.

Schedule a meeting with your estate planning attorney to discuss your situation and to help the attorney create your estate plan.

You should also regularly review and update all your estate planning documents.

Goals and priorities change, so review your estate documents annually to make certain that your plan continues to reflect your present circumstances and intent. You may have changes to family or friendship dynamics or a change in assets that may impact your estate plan. It could be a divorce or remarriage; a family member or a loved one with a disability diagnosis, mental illness, or addiction; a move to a new state; or a change in a family business. If there’s a change in your circumstances, get in touch with your estate planning attorney to update your documents as soon as possible.

Federal and state tax and estate laws change, so ask your attorney to look at your estate planning documents every few years in light of any new legislation.

Review retirement, investment, and trust accounts to make certain that they achieve your long-term financial goals.

A frequent estate planning error is forgetting to update the beneficiary designations on your retirement and investment accounts. Thoroughly review your accounts every year to ensure everything is up to snuff in your estate plan.

Communicate your intent to your heirs, who may include family, friends, and charities. It is important to engage in a frank discussion with your heirs about your legacy and estate plan. Because this can be an emotional conversation, begin with the basics.

Having this type of conversation now, can prevent conflict and hard feelings later.

Reference: Tennessean (Jan. 3, 2020) “Five estate-planning steps to take in the new year”

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

Is There Estate Tax on the Property I Inherited? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The vast majority of those who inherit real estate don’t end up paying any taxes on the property. However, there are some instances where estate or inheritance taxes could be assessed on inherited real estate. Motley Fool’s recent article, “Do You Have to Pay Estate Tax on Real Estate You Inherit?” provides a rundown of how estate taxes work in the U.S. and what it means to you if you inherit or are gifted real estate assets.

An estate tax is a tax applied on property transfers at death. A gift tax is a tax levied on property transfers while both parties are alive. An inheritance tax is assessed on the individual who inherits the property. For real estate purposes, you should also know that this includes money and property, and real estate is valued based on the fair market value at the time of the decedent’s death.

Most Americans don’t have to worry about estate taxes because we’re allowed to exclude a certain amount of assets from our taxable estates, which is called the lifetime exemption. This amount is adjusted for inflation over time and is $11.58 million per person for 2020. Note that estate taxes aren’t paid by people who inherit the property but are paid directly by the estate before it is distributed to the heirs.

The estate and gift taxes in the U.S. are part of a unified system. The IRS allows an annual exclusion amount that exempts many gifts from any potential transfer tax taxation. In 2020, it’s $15,000 per donor, per recipient. Although money (or assets) exceeding this amount in a given year is reported as a taxable gift, doesn’t mean you’ll need to pay tax on them. However, taxable gifts do accumulate from year to year and count toward your lifetime exclusion. If you passed away in 2020, your lifetime exclusion will be $11.58 million for estate tax purposes.

If you’d given $3 million in taxable gifts during your lifetime, you’ll only be able to exclude $8.58 million of your assets from estate taxation. You’d only be required to pay any gift taxes while you’re alive, if you use up your entire lifetime exemption. If you have given away $11 million prior to 2020 and you give away another $1 million, it would trigger a taxable gift to the extent that your new gift exceeds the $11.58 million threshold.

There are a few special rules to understand, such as the fact that you can give any amount to your spouse in most cases, without any gift or estate tax. Any amount given to charity is also free of gift tax and doesn’t count toward your lifetime exemption. Higher education expenses are free of gift and estate tax consequences provided the payment is made directly to the school. Medical expense payments are free of gift and estate tax consequences, if the payment is made directly to the health care provider.

Remember that some states also have their own estate and/or inheritance taxes that you might need to consider.

States that have an estate tax include Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. The states with an inheritance tax are Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Maryland has both an estate and an inheritance tax. However, there are very few situations when you would personally have to pay tax on inherited real estate.

Estate tax can be a complex issue, so speak with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Motley Fool (December 11, 2019) “Do You Have to Pay Estate Tax on Real Estate You Inherit?”

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