What Sparks the Contesting of a Will? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A last will and testament is the document used to direct your executor to distribute assets and property according to your wishes. However, it is not uncommon for disgruntled or distant family members or others to dispute the validity of the will. A recent article titled “5 Reasons A Law Will May Be Contested” from Vents Magazine explains the top five factors to keep in mind when preparing your will.

Undue influence is a commonly invoked reason for a challenge. If a potential beneficiary can prove the person making the will (the testator) was influenced by another person to make decisions they would not have otherwise made, a will challenge could be brought to court. Undue influence means the testator’s decision was significantly affected by a person who stood to gain something by the outcome of the will and made a concerted effort to change the testator’s mind.

Even if there was no evidence of fraud, any suspicion of the testator’s being influenced is enough for a court to accept a case. If you think someone unduly influenced a loved one, especially if they suffer from any mental frailties or dementia, you may have cause to bring a case.

Outright fraud or forgery is another reason for the will to be contested. If there have been many erasures or signature styles appear different from one document to another, there may have been fraud. An estate planning attorney should examine documents to evaluate whether there is enough cause for suspicion to challenge the will.

Improper witnesses. The testator is required to sign the will with witnesses present. In some states, only one witness is required. In most states, two witnesses must be present to sign the will in front of the testator. A beneficiary may not be a witness to the signing of the will. Some states have changed laws to allow for remote signings in response to COVID. If the rules have not been followed, the will may be invalid.

Mistaken identity seems farfetched. However, it is a common occurrence, especially when someone has a common name or more than one person in the family has the same name, and the document has not been properly signed or witnessed. This could create confusion and make the document vulnerable to a challenge. An experienced estate planning attorney will know how to prepare documents to withstand any challenges.

Capacity in the law means someone is able to understand the concept of a will and contents of the document they are signing, along with the identities of the people to whom they are leaving their assets. The person does not need to have perfect mental health, so people with mild cognitive impairments, such as depression or anxiety, may make and sign a will. A medical opinion may be needed, if there might be any doubt as to whether a person had testamentary capacity when the will is signed.

A will contest can be time-consuming and expensive, so keep these issues in mind, especially if the family includes some litigious individuals.

Reference: Vents Magazine (May 6, 2022) “5 Reasons A Law Will May Be Contested”

 

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What Is the Proposed IRS Anti-Clawback Provision? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The proposed amendment is designed to fix some loopholes in a 2019 regulation passed in response to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The 2017 law doubled the value of the estate and gift tax exemption until December 31, 2025, when it goes from $12.06 million to $5.49 million. According to this recent article from Financial Advisor titled “Amending The IRS’s Anti-Clawback Provision on Gifting,” the law generated concern among those who wanted to make large gifts to take advantage of the historically high federal estate and gift tax exemption.

The concern was whether the IRS would attempt to clawback the taxes, if the taxpayer died after 2025. This is when the estate tax reverts back to a much lower number. A regulation was issued in 2019 to reassure taxpayers and explain how they could take advantage of the high exemption as long as they made gifts before 2026, regardless of the exemption at the time of their death.

The IRS recognized this as a good step. However, it had a loophole and hence the new proposed amendment. The amendment provides clarity on what constitutes an actual gift. If the donor garners a benefit from the gift or maintains control over the gift, is it really a gift?

Giving the gift of a promissory note worth $12.06 million to lock in the high exemption and leaving it unpaid until death, for instance, is not a gift. The person is not actually giving anything away until after death. Therefore, the note is part of the taxable estate and bound by the estate tax exemption amount in place at the day of death.

The same goes for a person who gives ownership interests in a limited liability company, while continuing to serve as the company’s manager. Taxpayers must be very careful not to mischaracterize their gifts to stay on the right side of this regulation.

Another example: let’s say a person puts a $12 million vacation home into an LLC, with clear directions for home to be kept in the family, and then makes gifts of the LLC ownership interests to the children. If the donor wants those gifts to max out the current $12.06 million exemption, rather than be subject to the lower exemption in place at the date of death, the owner should not be the manager of the LLC. The same goes for the owner living rent-free in any property he’s gifted to anyone, if the wish is to take advantage of the gifting exemption.

In the same way, a mother who places money into a trust fund for a child may not serve as a trustee and control the assets and distributions, if she wishes to take advantage of the tax benefit.

If your estate plan uses grantor annuity trusts (GRATs), Grantor Retained Income Trusts (GRITs) and qualified personal residence trusts (QPRTs), speak with your estate planning attorney. If you die during the annuity period or term of the trust, your estate may lose the benefit of the anti-clawback regulation.

If the amendment is approved, which is expected in late summer, make sure your estate plan follows the new guidelines. If you are truly giving gifts before 2026, you will likely be able to take advantage of this substantial tax benefit and pass more of your estate to your heirs.

Reference: Financial Advisor (May 27, 2022) “Amending The IRS’s Anti-Clawback Provision on Gifting”

 

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Does a Supplemental Needs Trust have an Impact on Government Benefits? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Supplemental Needs Trusts allow disabled individuals to retain inheritances or gifts without eliminating or reducing government benefits, like Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). There are cases where the individual is vulnerable to exploitation or unable to manage their own finances and using an SNT allows them to receive additional funds to pay for things not covered by their benefits.

Having an experienced estate planning attorney properly create the SNT is critical to preserving the individual’s benefits, according to a recent article titled “Protecting Government Benefits using Supplemental Needs Trusts” from Mondaq.

Disabled individuals who receive SSI must be careful, since the rules about assets from SSI are far more restrictive then if the person only received Medicaid or Social Security Disability and Medicaid.

The trustee of an SNT makes distributions to third parties like personal care items, transportation (including buying a car), entertainment, technology purchases, payment of rent and medical or therapeutic equipment. Payment of rent or even ownership of a home may be paid for by the trustee.

The SNT may not make cash distributions to the beneficiary. Payment for any items or services must be made directly to the service provider, retailers, or other entity, for benefit of the individual. Not following this rule could lead to the SNT becoming invalid.

SNTs may be funded using the disabled person’s own funds or by a third party for their benefit. If the SNT is funded using the person’s own funds, it is called a “Self-Settled SNT.” This is a useful tool if the disabled person inherits money, receives a court settlement or owned assets before becoming disabled.

If someone other than the disabled person funds the SNT, it is known as a “Third-Party SNT.” These are most commonly created as part of an estate plan to protect a family member and ensure they have supplementary funds as needed and to preserve assets for other family members when the disabled individual dies.

The most important distinction between a Self-Settled SNT and a Third-Party SNT is a Self-Settled SNT must contain a provision to direct the trust to pay back the state’s Medicaid agency for any assistance provided. This is known as a “Payback Provision.”

The Third-Party SNT is not required to contain this provision and any assets remaining in the trust at the time of the disabled person’s death may be passed on to residual beneficiaries.

Many estate planning attorneys use a “standby” SNT as part of their planning, so their loved ones may be protected, in case an unexpected event occurs and a family member becomes disabled.

References: Mondaq (May 27, 2022) “Protecting Government Benefits using Supplemental Needs Trusts”

 

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

What are Benefits of Putting Money into a Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

For the average person, knowing how a revocable trust, irrevocable trust and testamentary trust work will help you start thinking of how a trust might help achieve your estate planning goals. A recent article from The Street, “3 Powerful Types of Trusts that Can Work for You,” provides a good foundation.

The Revocable Trust is one of the more flexible trusts. The person who creates the trust can change anything about the trust at any time. You may add or remove assets, beneficiaries or sell property owned by the trust. Most people who create these trusts, grantors, name themselves as the trustee, allowing themselves to use their property, even though it is owned in the trust.

A Revocable Trust needs to have a successor trustee to manage the assets in the trust for when the grantor dies or becomes incapacitated. The transfer of ownership of the trust and its assets from the grantor to the successor trustee is a way to protect assets in case of disability.

At death, a revocable trust becomes an Irrevocable Trust, which cannot be easily revoked or changed. The successor trustee follows the instructions in the trust document to manage assets and distribute assets.

The revocable trust provides flexibility. However, assets in a revocable trust are considered part of the taxable estate, which means they are subject to estate taxes (both federal and state) when the owner dies. A revocable trust does not offer any protection against creditors, nor will it shield assets from lawsuits.

If the revocable trust’s owner has any debts or legal settlements when they die, the court could award funds from the value of the trust and beneficiaries will only receive what is left.

A Testamentary Trust is a trust created in connection with instructions contained in a last will and testament. A good example is a trust for a child outlining when assets will be distributed to them by the trustee and for what purposes the trustee is permitted to make the distribution. Funds in this kind of trust are usually used for health, education, maintenance and supports, often referred to as “HEMS.”

For families with relatively modest estates, a trust can be a valuable tool to protect children’s futures. Assets held in trust for the lifetime of a child are protected in the event of the child’s going through a divorce because the child’s inheritance is not subject to equitable distribution when not comingled.

Many people buy life insurance for their families, but they do not always know that proceeds from the life insurance policy may be subject to estate taxes. An insurance trust, known as an ILIT (Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust) is a smart way to remove life insurance from your taxable estate.

Whether you can have an ILIT depends on policy ownership at the time of the insured’s death. In most cases, the insurance trust must be the owner and the insurance trust must be named as the beneficiary. If the trust is not drafted before the application for and purchase of the life insurance policy, it may be possible to transfer an existing policy to the trust. However, if this is done after the purchase, there may be some challenges and requirements. The owner must live more than three years after the transfer for the policy proceeds to be removed from the taxable estate.

Trusts may seem complex and overwhelming. However, an estate planning attorney will draft them properly and make sure that they are used appropriately to protect your assets and your family.

Reference: The Street (May 13, 2022) “3 Powerful Types of Trusts that Can Work for You”

 

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Should You have a GRAT? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Estate planning includes using various methods to reduce gift and estate taxes, as described in a recent article titled “Grantor Retained Annuity Trust Questions Answered” from Entrepreneur. GRATs are one type of irrevocable annuity trust used by estate planning attorneys to reduce taxes.

An annuity is a financial product, often sold by insurance companies, where you contribute funds or assets to an account, referred to as premiums. The trust distributes payments to a beneficiary on a regular basis. If you have a Grantor-Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT), the person establishing the trust is the Grantor, who receives the annuities from the trust.

The GRAT payments are typically made annually or near the anniversary of the funding date. However, they can be made any time within 105 days after the annuity date. Payments to the GRAT may not be made in advance, so consider your cash flow before determining how to fund a GRAT. For this to work, the grantor must receive assets equal in value to what they put into the GRAT. If the assets appreciate at a rate higher than the interest rate, it is a win. At the end of the GRAT term, all appreciation in the assets is gifted to the named remainder beneficiaries, with no gift or estate tax.

Here is a step-by-step look at how a GRAT is set up.

  • First, an individual transfers assets into an irrevocable trust for a certain amount of time. It is best if those assets have a high appreciation potential.
  • Two parts of the GRAT value are the annuity stream and the remainder interest. An estate planning attorney will know how to calculate these values.
  • Annuity payments are received by the grantor. The trust must produce a minimum return at least equal to the IRS Section 7520 interest rate, or the trust will use the principal to pay the annuity. In this case, the GRAT has failed, reverting the trust assets back to the grantor.
  • Once the final annuity payment is made, all remaining assets and asset growth are gifted to beneficiaries, if the GRAT returns meet the IRS Section 7520 interest rate requirements.

The best candidates for GRATS are those who face significant estate tax liabilities at death. An estate freeze can be achieved by shifting all or some of the appreciation to heirs through a GRAT.

A GRAT can also be used to permit an S-Corporation owner to preserve control of the business, while freezing the asset’s value and taking it out of the owner’s taxable estate. Caution is required here, because if the owner of the business dies during the term of the GRAT, the current stock value is returned to the owner’s estate and becomes taxable.

GRATs are most beneficial in transferring large amounts of money to beneficiaries, while paying little or no gift tax. A GRAT allows you to give a beneficiary more than $16,000 without triggering a gift tax, which is especially useful for wealthy individuals with healthy estates.

There are some downsides to GRATs. When the trust term is over, remaining assets become the property of the beneficiaries. Setting a term must be done mindfully. If you have a long-term GRAT of 20 years, it is more likely that you may experience serious health challenges as you age, and possibly die before the term is over. If the assets in the GRAT depreciate below the IRS’s assumed return rate, any benefits of the GRAT are lost.

Reference: Entrepreneur (March 17, 2022) “Grantor Retained Annuity Trust Questions Answered”

 

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Does an Elder Orphan Need an Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Estate planning for the future is even more important for elder orphans than for those with a spouse or family members, according to this recent article “Savvy Senior: How to get help as an elder orphan” from The Virginia Gazette. There is no one single solution, but there are steps to take to protect your estate, health and provide for long-term care.

Start with the essential estate planning documents. These documents will protect you and ensure that your wishes are followed, if you become seriously ill or when you die. These documents include:

A durable Power of Attorney to designate someone to handle financial matters in the event of incapacity.

An Advanced Health Care Directive, including a Living Will, to tell your health care provider what kind of care you want if you become incapacitated.

A Health Care Power of Attorney, naming a person of your choice to make medical decisions on your behalf, if you are unable to do so.

A Will to direct how you want your property and assets to be distributed upon your death and to name an Executor who will be in charge of your estate.

Your best option to prepare these documents is an experienced estate planning attorney. Trying to do it yourself is risky. Each state has its own laws for these documents to be valid. If the documents are not accepted, the court could declare your will invalid and your directions will not be followed.

People with families typically name a responsible adult child as their power of attorney for finances, as executor or for health care decisions. If you do not have adult children, you may ask a trusted friend or colleague. Name a person who is younger than you, organized and responsible and who will likely be available and willing to service.

If the person you name as executor lives in another state, you will need to check with your estate planning attorney to see if there are any special requirements.

If you do not have a friend or even a distant relative you feel comfortable assigning this role to, your estate planning attorney may be able to suggest alternatives, such as an aging life care manager. These professionals are trained in geriatric care and often have backgrounds in social work or nursing.

If you are reluctant to complete the legal documents mentioned above or start having them prepared and then fail to complete them, you may face some unpleasant consequences. A judge may appoint a guardian to make decisions on your behalf. This guardian is likely to be a complete stranger to you. They will be legally empowered to make all decisions for you regarding your health care, end-of-life care and even your burial and funeral services.

Unless you are comfortable with a court-appointed person making health care and other decisions for you, call an estate planning attorney and start making plans for the future.

Reference: The Virginia Gazette (April 1, 2022) “Savvy Senior: How to get help as an elder orphan”

 

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When Can Estate Assets Be Distributed? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Just as an individual pays taxes, so do estates. An estate is required to file an annual income tax return for each calendar year it is open, even if only for part of the year. This is in addition to the estate tax return and the decedent’s final tax return, explains a recent article “The Dangers Of Distributing Estate Assets Too Soon” from Forbes.

The estate tax return is based on the assets in the estate, the income received and deductible expenses paid during the calendar year. Only one estate tax return is required. However, as long as the estate is open, an annual estate income tax return needs to be filed.

To minimize income, many executors distribute income to beneficiaries shortly after it comes into the estate. The estate takes a deduction for the income distributed to beneficiaries in the same year it is received by the estate. Beneficiaries are required to include the distribution in their gross income.

However, if the estate does not distribute income before the end of the year, the estate will owe income taxes. There are further complexities to be aware of, including what happens if an executor receives unexpected income or does not know the tax impact of certain transactions. The estate has to pay taxes, but what happens if all assets have been distributed?

The estate still owes those taxes.

The executor may be personally liable for paying the taxes.

If some of the expenses the estate pays are not deductible, but the executor thinks they are, then the estate will have an income tax liability, possibly without the cash to pay it.

The estate often receives property taxable as income if it is not distributed to beneficiaries, like a stock dividend. The estate receives the stock, and its taxable income based on the value at the date of the distribution.

If the estate does not distribute the stock to beneficiaries until later in the year and the stock’s value declines, the estate is still required to recognize the income equal to the stock’s value on the date it was received. If the executor deducts the lower value of the stock, then the estate will be liable for the income tax on the difference.

In some cases, these kinds of issues can be prevented by maintaining a certain level of cash in the estate account until the final estate tax return is filed. The beneficiaries receive distributions once all of the taxes—estate income, estate and final individual or final joint—are paid.

For larger or more complex estates, it is wise to have a tax discussion with the estate planning attorney, the family CPA and the executor, so all parties are prepared for tax liabilities in advance.

Reference: Forbes (Feb. 16, 2022) “The Dangers Of Distributing Estate Assets Too Soon”

 

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Does the Executor Control Bank Accounts? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Executors administering probate assets usually have to deal with several different financial institutions. If good planning has been done by the decedent, the executor has a list of assets, account numbers, website addresses and phone numbers. Otherwise, the personal representative or successor trustee starts by gathering information and identifying the accounts, as described in a recent article “Dealing with the back offices of banks and brokerages” from Lake Country News.

The accounts must be identified, retitled to become part of the estate, or liquidated and moved into the estate account.

If the decedent had a financial advisor who handled all of their investments, the process may be easier, since there will only be one person to deal with.

If there is no financial advisor who can or will personally manage the assets, the executor starts by contacting the back office department of the institution, often referred to as the “estates department.” The contact info can usually be found on the institutions’ website or on the paper statements, if there are any.

Expect to spend a lot of time on hold, especially in the beginning of the week. It may be better to call on a Wednesday or Thursday.

The first call is to introduce the executor, advise of the death of the decedent and learn about the company’s procedures for transferring, retitling, or otherwise gaining control of the account. The bank usually assigns a case number, to be used on all future communications.

If possible, obtain their name, direct dial, and direct email of whoever you speak with. It may only be with one assigned representative, or a different person every time. It depends upon the organization. Take careful notes on every interaction. You may need them.

Some of the documents needed to complete these transactions include an original death certificate, a court certified letter of administration or trustee’s certification of trust and a letter of authorization signed by the client to allow the institution to communicate with the executor or successor trustee.

Financial institutions will often only accept their own forms, which then need to be prepared for completion and signature. Expect to be asked to notarize some documents. In many cases, the institution will require a new account be opened and the assets transferred to the new account.

Be organized—you may find yourself needing to submit the documents multiple times, depending on the financial institution. If hard copy documents are sent, use registered or express mail requiring a signature on delivery. If documents are sent by email, they should only be sent via an encrypted portal to protect both estate and executor.

This is not a quick process and requires diligent follow up, with multiple emails and phone calls. If the value of the estate is large and the assets are complex, it may be better to have the estate planning attorney handle the process.

Reference: Lake Country News (Jan. 15, 2022) “Dealing with the back offices of banks and brokerages”

 

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What Legal Terms in Estate Planning do Non-Lawyers Need to Know? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Having a working knowledge of the terms used in estate planning is the first step in working successfully with an estate planning attorney, says a recent article, “Learn lingo of estate planning to help ensure best outcome” from The News-Enterprise. Two of those key words:

Principal—the individual on whose behalf documents are prepared.

Fiduciary—the person who signs some of these documents and who is responsible for making decisions in the best interest of the principal and the estate.

In estate planning and in business, the fiduciary is the person or business who must act responsibly and in good faith towards the person and their property. You will see this term in almost every estate planning or financial document.

Within a last will and testament, there are more: beneficiary, conservator, executor, grantor, guardian, testator, and trustee are some of the more commonly used terms for the roles people take.

The testator is the principal, the person who signs the will and on whose behalf the will was drafted.

Beneficiaries are individuals who receive property from the estate after death. Contingent beneficiaries are “back-up” beneficiaries, in case the beneficiaries are unable to receive the inheritance. In most wills, the beneficiaries are listed “or to descendants, per stirpes.” This means if the beneficiary dies before the testator, the beneficiary’s children receive the original beneficiary’s share.

In most cases, specific distributions are made first, where a specific asset or amount of money goes to a specific person. This includes charitable donations. After all specific distributions are made, the rest of the estate, referred to as the “residuary estate,” is distributed. This includes everything else in the probate estate.

The administrator or executor is the fiduciary charged with gathering assets, paying bills and making the distribution to beneficiaries. The executor is the term used when there is a will. If there is no will, the person in the role is referred to as the administrator and may be appointed by the court.

If a beneficiary is unable to take the inheritance because they are a minor or incapacitated, the court will appoint a conservator to act as fiduciary on behalf of the beneficiary.

A guardian is the person who takes care of the beneficiary, or minor children, and is named in the will. If there is no guardian named in the will, or if there is no will, a court will appoint a person to be the guardian. Judges do not always select family members to serve as guardians, so there should always be a secondary guardian, in case the first cannot serve. If the first guardian does not wish to serve or is unable to, naming a secondary guardian is better than a child being sent to foster care.

Finally, the trustee is the person in charge of a trust. The person who creates the trust is the grantor or settlor. It is important to note the executor has no control or input over the trust. Only the trustee or successor trustee may make distributions and they are the trust’s fiduciary.

Getting comfortable with the terms of estate planning will make the process easier and help you understand the different roles and responsibilities involved.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Jan. 18, 2022) “Learn lingo of estate planning to help ensure best outcome”

 

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What Is the HEMS Standard? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The HEMS standard is used to inform trustees as to how and when funds should be released to a beneficiary, according to a recent article from Yahoo! News, “What is the HEMS Standard in Estate Planning.” Using HEMS language in a trust gives the trustee more control over how assets are distributed and spent. If a beneficiary is young and not financial savvy, this becomes extremely important to protecting both the beneficiary and the assets in the trust. Your estate planning attorney can set up a trust to include this feature.

When a trust includes HEMS language, the assets may only be used for specific needs. Health, education or living expenses can include college tuition, mortgage, and rent payments, medical care and health insurance premiums.

Medical treatment may include eye exams, dental care, health insurance, prescription drugs and some elective procedures.

Education may include college housing, tuition, technology needed for college, studying abroad and career training.

Maintenance and Support includes reasonable comforts, like paying for a gym membership, vacations and gifts for family members.

The HEMS language provides guidance for the trustee. However, ultimately the trustee is vested with the discretionary power to decide whether the assets are being used according to the directions of the trust.

Sometimes beneficiary requests are straightforward, like college tuition or health insurance bills. However, maintenance and support need to be considered in the context of the family’s wealth. If the family and the beneficiary are used to a lifestyle that includes three or four luxurious vacations every year, a request for funds used for a ski trip to Spain may not be out of line. For another family and trust, this would be a ludicrous request.

Having HEMS language in the trust limits distribution. It has greater value, if the trustee is also a beneficiary, lessening the chances of the trust diminishing for non-essentials or to fund a lavish lifestyle.

Giving the trustee HEMS language narrows their discretionary authority enough to help them do a better job of managing assets and may limit challenges by beneficiaries.

HEMS language can be as broad or narrow as the grantor wishes. Just as a trust is crafted to meet the specific directions of the grantor for beneficiaries, the HEMS language can be created to establish a trust where the assets may only be used to pay for college tuition or career training.

Reference: Yahoo! News (Jan. 7, 2022) “What is the HEMS Standard in Estate Planning”

 

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