Can I Plan My Estate to Avoid Leaving Residual Assets? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

When looking into your estate plan, you see the term “residuary estate.” This is any part of your estate that has not been distributed to your heirs through a will. It is also called estate residue or residual estate. However, it simply means assets that are left over once your will has been read, the assets have been distributed to your heirs and any final expenses have been paid.

Proper estate planning can help you avoid leaving residual assets behind, says Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “Residuary Estate Definition and Example.” An experienced estate planning attorney can help you select a structure for your estate that accomplishes your objectives.

A will lets you state how you want your assets to be divided among your heirs when you pass away. However, it is possible that not all of your assets will make it into your will for some reason. Any assets that are not included in your will or distributed through a trust automatically becomes part of your residuary estate when you pass away.

Residual estates can be created without advance planning. For example, your heirs may be left to deal with a residuary estate if:

  • You neglected to include certain assets in your will;
  • You acquired new assets after drafting your will and failed to amend the document for the distribution of these assets; or
  • Someone you named in your will dies before you or is unable to receive their inheritance for some other reason.

Assets that are designed to have a named beneficiary but do not have one, can also be included in the residuary estate.

When a residuary estate exists, it can complicate the probate process for your family. Any unclaimed or otherwise overlooked assets would be distributed according to the state’s inheritance laws, after any estate taxes, outstanding debts or final expenses have been paid.

You should also know that it is possible to have a residuary beneficiary of a living trust. This person would receive any property or assets transferred to the trust that were not designated for specific beneficiaries. If you create a trust properly, there should be a provision for each beneficiary you want to be included and which assets they should receive. However, you could still run into issues if a named beneficiary dies, and you haven’t named anyone as a residuary beneficiary.

A residuary estate is something you may need to plan for when creating a will or trust. Fortunately, it is pretty easy to do so by including the proper wording in your will and trust documents. Ask an estate planning attorney to eliminate confusion and to plan your estate properly.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Dec. 30, 2021) “Residuary Estate Definition and Example”

 

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

What Should I Know about Charitable Gifts? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Sometimes as individuals and families increase in wealth, they want to give more to charities.

Some charitable donations may be tax deductible or be able to reduce tax liabilities. Let’s look at some suggestions if you decide you want to make charitable donations, according to WMUR’s recent article entitled “Money Matters: Considerations when making charitable gifts.”

First, it might be the time to establish a giving plan. The first step is to decide how much your family wants to give. When researching a charity, look at how the contributions will be used. Charity Navigator, a charity assessment organization, has a site to help you get started at charitynavigator.org. Each charity has a rating with additional information.

Besides annual giving, charitable giving can play a role in estate planning. Your estate planning documents can state these wishes, and sometimes, giving can reduce estate taxes. The federal government taxes wealth transfers during life and at death. Currently, these types of taxes are imposed on lifetime transfers exceeding $12.06 million per spouse at a top rate of 40%. States may also impose these types of taxes. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about it.

To give to charity, you could include a bequest in your will or trust. Another option is to name a charity as a beneficiary on life insurance policies. Retirement plans such as IRAs, 401(k)s, and 403(b)s may also have a charity listed as beneficiary. If these plans are tax-deferred, then an advantage to using them to make charitable gifts is that a charity can get money tax-free that would otherwise be taxed.

You might also ask an estate planning attorney about a charitable lead or a charitable remainder trust.

Another option for giving is to use donor-advised funds, which gives the donor the tax benefit for making the gift all in one year but the option to make the actual gift later on.

A donor-advised fund is particularly useful for taxpayers who itemize deductions. This is an agreement between the donor and a host organization, which then becomes the legal owner of the assets.

You can tell the fund how to invest the contribution and how the money is disbursed. The fund controls the assets but usually will honor the donor’s requests.

Finally, you could set up a private family foundation. These are more complex but give you and your family control over the investment and distribution of the money. They work best when a significant amount of money is involved.

Reference: WMUR (Dec. 30, 2021) “Money Matters: Considerations when making charitable gifts”

 

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Is Life insurance a Good Idea? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Nasdaq’s recent article entitled “Having a Child? Now Is the Time to Get Life Insurance” explains that parents usually want to make certain that their children are provided for — even in a worst-case scenario where that parent does not survive until the child’s adulthood. That is the big reason why it is so important to get life insurance when a child is born, if the parent does not have it already.

Parents must make sure they are as financially prepared as possible if they die suddenly, and purchasing term life insurance is frequently the best way to do that. A term life insurance policy is one in effect for a limited period of time, like 20 years or so. Parents can buy a policy that will cover their life for as long as they expect their child to be dependent on them for financial support.

Parents who get term life insurance can be sure there is money available to provide for a child into adulthood, as well as to cover that child’s education.

Term life insurance can be a cheaper way to obtain this type of protection than whole life insurance and is usually all that is necessary. This is because children eventually become financially independent after several decades. However, parents whose children are disabled and who will require lifelong care may wish to buy a whole life policy, so a death benefit will always be paid out.

When purchasing term life insurance to protect a child, parents should consider who to name as the beneficiary. Typically, naming the child directly can create some legal complications because children under the age of 18 cannot legally manage the life insurance proceeds — and giving a large lump sum of money to a child who is just 18 could create problems with wise money management.

It may be wise for the parent purchasing coverage to name the other parent of the child as the beneficiary of the death benefit. That parent can use the money to provide financial support. However, in instances where the person purchasing coverage does not necessarily trust the other parent to use it wisely, there are other approaches such as creating a trust, appointing a trustee to manage the funds on behalf of the child and naming the trust as the beneficiary.

Parents should speak with an experienced estate planning attorney, if they have a more complex situation.

Reference: Nasdaq (Dec. 12, 2021) “Having a Child? Now Is the Time to Get Life Insurance”

 

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What’s the Difference between Probate Assets and Non-Probate Assets? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Updating estate plans and reviewing beneficiary designations are both important estate planning tasks, more important than most people think. They are easy to fix while you are alive, but the problems created by ignoring these tasks occur after you have passed, when they cannot be easily fixed or, cannot be fixed at all. The article “Who gets the brokerage account?” from Glen Rose Reporter shares one family’s story.

The father of three children had an estate plan done when the children were in their twenties. His Last Will and Testament directed all assets in a substantial brokerage account to be equally divided between the three children.

His Last Will and Testament was never updated.

Thirty years later, his two sons are successful, affluent physicians with high incomes. His daughter is a retired educator who had raised two children as a single mom and struggled financially for many years.

When her father met with his investment advisor, he signed a beneficiary designation leaving the substantial brokerage account, including the substantial growth occurring over the years, to his daughter.

When he dies, the two brothers claim his Last Will and Testament, dividing all assets equally, must be the final word. They insist the brokerage account is to be divided equally among the three children.

Any assets held in an account with a beneficiary designation are considered non-probate assets. They do not pass through the probate process. Their disposition is not controlled by the Last Will and Testament. The contract between the institution and the individual is paramount.

Insurance policies, retirement accounts, bank and brokerage accounts usually have these designations. They often include a pay-on-death provision, and the person who is to receive the assets upon death of the owner is clearly named.

If the owner of the account fails to sign a right of survivorship, pay-on-death or to name a beneficiary designation before they die, then the assets are paid by the financial institution to the probate estate. This is to be avoided, however, since it complicates what could be a simple transaction.

The two sons were correctly advised by an estate planning attorney of their sister’s full and protected right to receive the investment account, despite their wishes. When the provisions in the Last Will and Testament conflict with a contract made between an owner and a financial institution, the contract prevails.

In this case, a less financially secure daughter and her family benefited from the wishes and foresight of her father.

Last Wills and Testament and beneficiary designations need to be reviewed and revised to ensure that they reflect the wishes of the parent as time goes by.

Reference: Glen Rose Reporter (Jan. 13, 2022) “Who gets the brokerage account?”

 

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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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Do Grandchildren Get Some of the Estate If Their Dad Dies before Me? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

It is not that uncommon that a child dies before a parent. The question then arises about who gets that share. Is it the children of the decedent child (the will maker’s grandchildren), or do the will maker’s other children split the share of the decedent child?

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Who gets this inheritance if a beneficiary dies?” explains that the language of the will itself governs what happens with each beneficiary’s share in the event one of the adult children dies before his or her parents.

Some wills divide the remainder among the will maker’s children who are still living. With this, the surviving siblings would receive the entire estate.

This is called “per capita,” which is a Latin phrase that translates literally to “by head.” In a per capita distribution, each designated beneficiary receives an inheritance only if they’re living when the inheritance vests (at the will maker’s death).

If a beneficiary dies before this, that beneficiary’s share is divided among the surviving named beneficiaries. As a result, the children of the decedent beneficiary get nothing, unless they are specifically designated as beneficiaries.

However, the more common approach is for a will to state: “I give, devise and bequeath my residuary estate to my descendants, per stirpes.”

Per stirpes is a Latin phrase that translates literally to “by roots” or “by branch.” A per stirpes distribution means that a beneficiary’s share passes to their lineal descendants if the beneficiary dies before the inheritance vests. Per stirpes effectively designates a class of beneficiaries to receive estate property, rather than designating only specific individuals to inherit property.

Therefore, providing this language in the will means that if a child predeceases the testator and the predeceased child has surviving descendants, that predeceased child’s share will go to that predeceased child’s descendants … that would be the will maker’s grandchildren.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about how each of these designations would work in your specific situation, when you draft or update your will.

Reference: nj.com (Oct. 28, 2021) “Who gets this inheritance if a beneficiary dies?”

 

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Can I Change My Estate Plan During Divorce? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Divorce is never easy. Adding the complexities of estate planning can make it harder. However, it still needs to be included during the divorce process, says a recent article entitled “How to Change Your Estate Plan During Divorce from the Waco Tribune-Herald.

Some of the key things to bear in mind during a divorce include:

Is your Last Will and Testament aligned with your pending divorce? The unexpected occurs, whether planning a relaxing vacation or a contentious divorce. If you were to die in the process, which usually takes a few years, who would inherit your worldly goods? Your ex? A trust created to take care of your children, with a trusted sibling as a trustee?

Are your beneficiary designations up to date? For the same reason, make sure that life insurance policies, retirement accounts and any financial accounts allowing you to name a beneficiary are current to reflect your pending or new marital status.

Certain changes may not be made until the divorce is finalized. For instance, there are laws concerning spouses and pension distribution. You might not be able to make a change until the divorce is finalized.  If your divorce agreement includes maintaining life insurance for the support of minor children, you must keep your spouse (or whoever is the agreed-upon guardian) as the policy beneficiary.

Once the divorce decree is accepted by the court, the best path forward is to have a completely new will prepared. Making a patchwork estate plan of amendments can be more expensive and leave your estate more vulnerable after you have passed. A new will revokes the original document, including naming an executor and a guardian for minor children.

The will is far from the only document to be changed. Other documents to be created include health care directives and medical and financial powers of attorney. All of these are used to name people who will act on your behalf, in the event of incapacity.

It is a good idea to update these documents during the divorce process. If you are in the middle of an ugly, emotionally charged divorce, the last person you want making life or death decisions as your health care proxy or being in charge of your finances is your soon-to-be ex.

Talk with your estate planning attorney so your attorney knows you are going through the divorce process. They will be able to make further recommendations to protect you, your children and your estate during and after the divorce.

Reference: Waco Tribune-Herald (Oct. 18, 2021) “How to Change Your Estate Plan During Divorce”

 

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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”

 

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

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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What Should Small Business Owners Know about Estate Planning? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Not having an estate plan can place business owners and entrepreneurs in jeopardy because they may face difficulties in keeping the business running, if they have to withdraw from the business at any point in time.

Legal Reader’s recent article entitled “What Small Business Owners Should Know about Doing Estate Planning” explains that estate planning is necessary to ensure business continuity. Think about who can take control when you are no longer around to have the business continue according to your wishes contained in your estate plan. An experienced estate planning attorney can help business owners create a comprehensive estate plan, so things do not become chaotic for their family in the event of premature death or any permanent disability. Consider these steps when it comes to good estate planning for business owners.

Create an estate plan if you have not got one. A will is designed to detail your wishes about how you want the business to run and the manner of sharing your property at your death. A power of attorney allows an entrusted individual to undertake your business transactions and manage your finances, if you are incapacitated by injury or illness. A healthcare directive permits a trusted agent to make medical decisions on your behalf when you cannot do so yourself.

Plan for taxes. Tax planning is a major component of estate planning. Our tax laws keep changing frequently, so you have to stay in constant touch with your attorney to develop strategies for decreasing your tax liability, as well as creating a strategy for minimizing inheritance/estate taxes.

Buy life and disability insurance. Small business owners should think about purchasing life insurance, so their families can have a source of income after their death.

Create a succession plan. In addition to estate planning, a business owner should have a succession plan that specifies exactly how your company, and your family will prepare for a transition of ownership. The purpose of a well thought out succession plan is to keep the business operating or to take steps to sell it. This plan also includes the organizational structure of the business in case of maintaining business continuity.

Finally, you should keep everyone impacted by your decisions apprised of your estate plan and your business succession plan.

Reference: Legal Reader (Aug. 26, 2021) “What Small Business Owners Should Know about Doing Estate Planning”

 

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