How to Make Beneficiary Designations Better – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Beneficiary designations supersede all other estate planning documents, so getting them right makes an important difference in achieving your estate plan goals. Mistakes with beneficiary designations can undo even the best plan, says a recent article “5 Retirement Plan Beneficiary Mistakes to Avoid” from The Street. Periodically reviewing beneficiary forms, including confirming the names in writing with plan providers for workplace plans and IRA custodians, is important.

Post-death changes, if they can be made (which is rare), are expensive and generally involve litigation or private letter rulings from the IRS. Avoiding these five commonly made mistakes is a better way to go.

1—Neglecting to name a beneficiary. If no beneficiary is named for a retirement plan, the estate typically becomes the beneficiary. In the case of IRAs, language in the custodial agreement will determine who gets the assets. The distribution of the retirement plan is accelerated, which means that the assets may need to be completely withdrawn in as little as five years, if death occurs before the decedent’s required beginning date for taking required minimum distributions (RMDs).

With no beneficiary named, retirement plans become probate accounts and transferring assets to heirs becomes subject to delays and probate fees. Assets might also be distributed to people you didn’t want to be recipients.

2—Naming the estate as the beneficiary. The same issues occur here, as when no beneficiary is named. The asset’s distributions will be accelerated, and the plan will become a probate account. As a general rule, estates should never be named as a beneficiary.

3—Not naming a spouse as a primary beneficiary. The ability to stretch out the distribution of retirement plans ended when the SECURE Act was passed. It still allows for lifetime distributions, but this only applies to certain people, categorized as “Eligible Designated Beneficiaries” or “EDBs.” This includes surviving spouses, minor children, disabled or special needs individuals, chronically ill people and individuals who are not more than ten years younger than the retirement plan’s owner. If your heirs do not fall into this category, they are subject to a ten-year rule. They have only ten years to withdraw all assets from the account(s).

If your goal is to maximize the distribution period and you are married, the best beneficiary is your spouse. This is also required by law for company plans subject to ERISA, a federal law that governs employee benefits. If you want to select another beneficiary for a workplace plan, your spouse will need to sign a written spousal consent agreement. IRAs are not subject to ERISA and there is no requirement to name your spouse as a beneficiary.

4—Not naming contingent beneficiaries. Without contingency, or “backup beneficiaries,” you risk having assets being payable to your estate, if the primary beneficiaries predecease you. Those assets will become part of your probate estate and your wishes about who receives the asset may not be fulfilled.

5—Failure to revise beneficiaries when life changes occur. Beneficiary designations should be checked whenever there is a review of the estate plan and as life changes take place. This is especially true in the case of a divorce or separation.

Any account that permits a beneficiary to be named should have paperwork completed, reviewed periodically and revised. This includes life insurance and annuity beneficiary forms, trust documents and pre-or post-nuptial agreements.

Reference: The Street (Aug. 11, 2020) “5 Retirement Plan Beneficiary Mistakes to Avoid”

 

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Do I Qualify as an Eligible Designated Beneficiary under the SECURE Act? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

An eligible designated beneficiary (EDB) is a person included in a unique classification of retirement account beneficiaries. A person may be classified as an EDB, if they are classified as fitting into one of five categories of individuals identified in the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act. The bill passed in December 2019 and is effective for all inherited retirement accounts, as of the first of this year.

Investopedia’s recent article entitled “Eligible Designated Beneficiary” explains that these people get special treatment and greater flexibility to withdraw funds from their inherited accounts than other beneficiaries.

With the SECURE Act, there are now three types of beneficiaries. It is based on the individual’s connection to the original account owner, the beneficiary’s age, and his or her status as either an individual or a non-person entity. However, an EDB is always an individual. On the other hand, an EDB cannot be a trust, an estate, or a charity, which are considered not designated beneficiaries. There are five categories of individuals included in the EDB classification. These are detailed below.

In most instances, except for the exceptions below, an EDB must withdraw the balance from the inherited IRA account over the beneficiary’s life expectancy. There is optional special treatment allowed only for surviving spouses, which is explained below. When a minor child reaches the age of majority, he or she is no longer considered to be an EDB, and the 10-year rule concerning withdrawal requirements for a designated beneficiary applies.

Here are the five categories of EDBs.

Owner’s surviving spouse. Surviving spouses get special treatment, which lets them step into the shoes of the owner and withdraw the balance from the IRA over the original owner’s life expectancy. As another option, they can roll an inherited IRA into their own IRA and take withdrawals at the point when they would normally take their own required minimum distributions (RMDs).

Owner’s minor child. A child who is not yet 18 can make withdrawals from an inherited retirement account using their own life expectancy. However, when he or she turns 18, the 10-year rule for designated beneficiaries (who are not EDBs) applies. At that point, the child would have until December 31 of the 10th year after their 18th birthday to withdraw all funds from the inherited retirement account. A deceased retirement account owner’s minor child can get an extension, up until age 26, for the start of the 10-year rule, if he or she is pursuing a specified course of education.

An individual who is disabled. The tax code says that an individual is considered to be disabled if he or she is “unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or to be of long continued and indefinite duration.” A disabled person who inherits a retirement account can use their own life expectancy to calculate RMDs.

An individual who is chronically ill. The tax code states that “the term ‘chronically ill individual’ means any individual who has been certified by a licensed healthcare practitioner as—

  • being unable to perform (without substantial assistance from another individual) at least two activities of daily living for a period of at least 90 days, due to a loss of functional capacity,
  • having a level of disability similar (as determined under regulations prescribed by the Secretary in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services) to the level of disability described in clause (i), or
  • requiring substantial supervision to protect such individual from threats to health and safety due to severe cognitive impairment.”

A chronically ill individual who inherits a retirement account can use their own life expectancy to determine the RMDs.

Any other person who is less than 10 years younger than the decedent. This is a catch-all that includes certain friends and siblings (depending on age), who are identified as beneficiaries of a retirement account. This also excludes most adult children (who are not disabled or chronically ill) from the five categories of EDBs. A person in this category who inherits a retirement account is permitted to use their own life expectancy to calculate RMDs.

Reference: Investopedia (June 25, 2020) “Eligible Designated Beneficiary”

 

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

When you open almost any kind of financial account, like a bank account, life insurance, a brokerage account, or a retirement account – the institution will ask you to designate a beneficiary. You will also name beneficiaries when you create a will or other legal contracts that require you to specify someone to benefit. With some trusts, the beneficiary may even be you and your spouse while you are alive.

The beneficiary is typically a person, but it could be any number of individuals, as well as the trustee of your trust, your estate, or a charity.

When you are opening an account, many people forget to choose a beneficiary, mainly because it is not necessary to do so with many financial accounts. However, you should name your beneficiaries, because it ensures that your assets will pass to the people you intend. It also eliminates conflict and can decrease legal interference.

There are two basic types of beneficiaries: a primary beneficiary and a contingent beneficiary. A primary beneficiary (or beneficiaries) is first in line to get the distributions from your assets. You can assign different percentages of your account to this group. A contingent beneficiary will benefit, if one or more of the primary beneficiaries is unable to collect (typically upon death).

You should review the designations regularly, especially when there is a major life event, such as a death, divorce, adoption, or birth. This may change who you want to be your beneficiary.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help you make certain that any language in your will, does not conflict with beneficiary designations. Beneficiary designations take precedence over your will.

You can have a minor child as a beneficiary, but a minor usually cannot hold property. Consequently, you will need to set up a structure, so the child receives the assets. You can appoint a guardian who will keep the assets in custody for the minor. You may also be able to use a trust to the same effect but with an added benefit: you can state that the assets be given to beneficiaries, only when they reach a certain age or for a certain purpose, like buying a first home or for college tuition.

With estate planning, ask an attorney to help you structure any legal documents, so they achieve your aims without creating further complications.

Reference: Bankrate (July 1, 2020) “What is a beneficiary?”

 

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Can I Add Real Estate Investments in My Will? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Motley Fool’s recent article entitled “How to Include Real Estate Investments in Your Will” details some options that might make sense for you and your intended beneficiaries.

A living trust. A revocable living trust allows you to transfer any deeds into the trust’s name. While you are still living, you would be the trustee and be able to change the trust in whatever way you wanted. Trusts are a little more costly and time consuming to set up than wills, so you will need to hire an experienced estate planning attorney to help. Once it is done, the trust will let your trustee transfer any trust assets quickly and easily, while avoiding the probate process.

A beneficiary deed. This is also known as a “transfer-on-death deed.” It is a process that involves getting a second deed to each property that you own. The beneficiary deed will not impact your ownership of the property while you are alive, but it will let you to make a specific beneficiary designation for each property in your portfolio. After your death, the individual executing your estate plan will be able to transfer ownership of each asset to its designated beneficiary. However, not all states allow for this method of transferring ownership. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about the laws in your state.

Co-ownership. You can also pass along real estate assets without probate, if you co-own the property with your designated beneficiary. You would change the title for the property to list your beneficiary as a joint tenant with right of survivorship. The property will then automatically by law pass directly to your beneficiary when you die. Note that any intended beneficiaries will have an ownership interest in the property from the day you put them on the deed. This means that you will have to consult with them, if you want to sell the property.

Wills and estate plans can feel like a ghoulish topic that requires considerable effort. However, it is worth doing the work now to avoid having your estate go through the probate process once you die. The probate process can be expensive and lengthy. It is even more so, when real estate is involved.

Reference: Motley Fool (June 22, 2020) “How to Include Real Estate Investments in Your Will”

 

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What’s the Best Way to Select a Beneficiary for My 401(k)? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

WTOP’s article “How to pick a beneficiary for your 401(k) plan” instructs us on how to make certain your 401(k) savings get to your intended heir.

  1. Name a Beneficiary. Designating a beneficiary of your retirement account lets that person receive your financial bequest without the need to access to your will, financial documents, or go through probate. In designating a beneficiary, carefully think about who that will be, just as you would for any other asset you intend to leave to your heirs.
  2. Name Contingent Beneficiaries. A contingent beneficiary will get the assets from the account in the event that all of the primary beneficiaries have died. Review your beneficiary designations at least annually to ensure each beneficiary, and their assigned percentage, is still appropriate.
  3. Update Your Named Beneficiaries After Significant Life Events. When you begin a job in your 20s, you might list your parents or siblings as the beneficiary of your account. However, when you marry, you may change your beneficiary to your spouse. If you want to leave your retirement account balance to your children, you must update your beneficiary form upon the birth of each child, or you might leave the youngest out, if you die unexpectedly.

Divorce or remarriage is another reason to change your beneficiary forms. If you remarry and do not change your ex-spouse’s name from your most recent beneficiary document, your ex-spouse may get your remaining retirement assets.

Note that beneficiary forms are unique to each 401(k) plan. This means that if you have multiple 401(k) accounts with previous employers, you will have to update each one.

You can also consider combining old 401(k) accounts or rolling them over into an IRA to make your beneficiary designations and investments easier to manage.

Many 401(k) plans let you update your beneficiaries online.

  1. Inform Your Beneficiaries About Your Accounts. Your heirs may be required to get in touch with the financial institution to get their inheritance. Tell them where you have accounts, so they know what to expect and can claim your unused retirement funds. Be certain that everyone has the information. That way, there is no question and access to those funds will be easy.

Reference: WTOP (June 8, 2020) “How to pick a beneficiary for your 401(k) plan”

 

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Is a Life Insurance Policy Beneficiary Required to Pay for a Funeral with Insurance Proceeds? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

It is not that uncommon for a close family member to be named as the executor of a parent’s will. Let us say that rather than your brother, it is your stepsister who is the executor of your father’s estate.

This person has failed to provide any documentation about where Dad’s assets and money have gone.

Add to this the fact that sis has asked all of the siblings to forfeit their life insurance proceeds to her to pay for Dad’s funeral—a funeral that no one can attend because of the coronavirus.

What can the siblings do about the actions of their stepsister as executor of their father’s will?

A recent nj.com article asks “Do we have to pay for a funeral with life insurance proceeds?” According to the article, it is becoming more frequent that estate beneficiaries are hiring their own attorneys to make certain the executor administers the estate properly.

Hiring a private probate attorney is especially common when stepsiblings and multiple marriages are involved.

In most states, the appointed executor is obligated to account in detail to all estate beneficiaries what she has done.

In addition, there is absolutely no requirement that a named beneficiary of a life insurance policy must hand over their pay-out to pay for the decedent’s funeral or estate debts—unless there was some sort of agreement to do this.

Beneficiaries of an estate are entitled to an accounting and should demand one in writing.

The beneficiaries could also ask to review the bank statements of the estate that show all transactions, if they are unable to get an accounting from the executor.

If an executor is not complying with the law and her duties under it, it can be extremely hard for beneficiaries to see results without hiring an elder law attorney or probate attorney who knows how to get this accomplished.

Reference: nj.com (June 16, 2020) “Do we have to pay for a funeral with life insurance proceeds?”

 

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Does a Beneficiary of a Trust Have to Pay a Tax? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

When a trust makes a distribution, it deducts the income distributed on its own tax return and issues the beneficiary a tax form called a K-1. That form shows what part of the beneficiary’s distribution is interest income and principal. This tells beneficiaries what they must claim as taxable income, when filing taxes.

A recent Investopedia article asks “Do Trust Beneficiaries Pay Taxes?” The article explains that a trust is a fiduciary relationship, whereby the trustor or grantor gives another party–the trustee–the right to hold assets for the benefit of a beneficiary. Trusts are established to provide legal protection and to safeguard assets as part of estate planning.

When trust beneficiaries get distributions from the trust’s principal balance, they do not have to pay taxes on the distribution. The IRS assumes this money was already taxed before it was placed into the trust. Once money is placed into the trust, the interest it accumulates is taxable as income—either to the beneficiary or the trust itself. The trust is required to pay taxes on any interest income it holds and doesn’t distribute past year-end. Interest income the trust distributes is taxable to the beneficiary.

The amount distributed to the beneficiary is thought to be from the current-year income first, then from the accumulated principal. This is usually the original contribution plus subsequent ones. It is income in excess of the amount distributed.

Capital gains from this amount may be taxable to either the trust or the beneficiary. The entire amount distributed to and for the benefit of the beneficiary is taxable to that person to the extent of the distribution deduction of the trust.

The two most significant tax forms for trusts are the 1041 and the K-1. Form 1041 is similar to Form 1040. The trust deducts from its own taxable income any interest it distributes to beneficiaries in Form 1041. At the same time, the trust issues a K-1. That form details the distribution, or how much of the distributed money came from principal versus interest.

The K-1 schedule for taxing distributed amounts is generated by the trust and given to the IRS.

The IRS will then send the document to the beneficiary to pay the tax.

The trust then fills out a Form 1041 to determine the income distribution deduction that is accorded to the distributed amount.

Reference: Investopedia (Feb. 8, 2020). “Do Trust Beneficiaries Pay Taxes?”

 

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Five Top Reasons to Add Beneficiaries to Investment Accounts – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

One way to show loved ones that you care, is by having an estate plan and communicating your wishes to them clearly, notes the article “Why You Should Add Beneficiaries to Your Investment Accounts Now” from The Street. That includes adding beneficiaries to your retirement and investment accounts. This simple step will help save heirs time, money and emotional stress at a time when they are likely to be overwhelmed with grief and paperwork.

They will retain more of your estate and get it faster too. When beneficiaries are assigned to investment and retirement accounts, the assets pass directly to them. If there are no beneficiaries, the asset may have to go through probate, the legal process of settling an estate when someone dies.

Probating an estate usually involves going to court, which is something your beneficiaries would probably prefer not to deal with during a challenging time. A typical probate case could last a year, sometimes longer, depending on where you live. During this time, your beneficiaries are not able to access their inheritance. Going to court also means court fees, attorney fees, lost time, and additional stress.

Let us not leave out how much of a bite probate can take out of your estate. Depending on its complexity, probate can consume anywhere from 0.5% to 5% of the estate.

Removes one stress for loved ones. Having assets transfer directly to beneficiaries lessens what can be an intense burden for heirs, while they are grieving. Once the account provider is notified of the death of the account holder, the provider typically notifies beneficiaries. The beneficiaries have to provide the correct documentation, like a death certificate, but that is a whole lot easier than going through probate. Obtaining death certificates is usually part of the executor’s responsibility and does not cost very much.

Beneficiary designations override your last will and testament. By law, a beneficiary designation determines who receives assets, regardless of what is in your will. That is why it is so important to make sure your beneficiary designations are up to date. What happens if you neglect to update your beneficiaries on a life insurance policy purchased when your children were young? For instance, what if you are divorced from their father, but you forget to replace him as the policy beneficiary? In that case, your ex-spouse will receive the policy proceeds, no matter how many years you have been divorced.

It is easy and relatively painless. Updating or establishing beneficiaries is one of the easiest parts of estate planning. Start by making a list of your accounts, which you should have anyway and contact the account custodian to find out who is listed as a beneficiary. If no one has been named, get directions on how to establish the beneficiary designation and if possible, name a secondary beneficiary.

If you have an IRA or a 401(k), your account will typically offer a beneficiary form within the account. If you have investment accounts, you will need to request a form from the custodian.

Special rules for retirement account beneficiaries. There are rules about leaving retirement plan assets to a spouse, so if you want to leave those assets to children or grandchildren, your spouse will have to sign off on that, with a waiver. Depending upon where you live, a spouse may be entitled to half of the assets in an IRA, even if other beneficiaries are listed, unless there is written consent.

Reference: The Street (June 12, 2020) “Why You Should Add Beneficiaries to Your Investment Accounts Now”

 

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What You Need to Know about Drafting Your Will – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A last will and testament is just one of the legal documents that you should have in place to help your loved ones know what your wishes are, if you cannot say so yourself, advises CNBC’s recent article entitled, “Here’s what you need to know about creating a will.” In this pandemic, the coronavirus may have you thinking more about your mortality.

Despite COVID-19, it is important to ponder what would happen to your bank accounts, your home, your belongings or even your minor children, if you are no longer here. You should prepare a will, if you do not already have one. It is also important to update your will, if it is been written.

If you do not have a valid will, your property will pass on to your heirs by law. These individuals may or may not be who you would have provided for in a will. If you pass away with no will —dying intestate — a state court decides who gets your assets and, if you have children, a judge says who will care for them. As a result, if you have an unmarried partner or a favorite charity but have no legal no will, your assets may not go to them.

The courts will typically pass on assets to your closest blood relatives, despite the fact that it would not have been your first choice.

Your will is just one part of a complete estate plan. Putting a plan in place for your assets helps ensure that at your death, your wishes will be carried out and that family fights and hurt feelings do not make for destroyed relationships.

There are some assets that pass outside of the will, such as retirement accounts, 401(k) plans, pensions, IRAs and life insurance policies.

Therefore, the individual designated as beneficiary on those accounts will receive the money, despite any directions to the contrary in your will. If there is no beneficiary listed on those accounts, or the beneficiary has already passed away, the assets automatically go into probate—the process by which all of your debt is paid off and then the remaining assets are distributed to heirs.

If you own a home, be certain that you know the way in which it should be titled. This will help it end up with those you intend, since laws vary from state to state.

Ask an estate planning attorney in your area — to ensure familiarity with state laws—for help with your will and the rest of your estate plan.

Reference: CNBC (June 1, 2020) “Here’s what you need to know about creating a will”

 

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Update Will at These 12 Times in Your Life – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Estate planning lawyers hear it all the time—people meaning to update their will, but somehow never getting around to actually getting it done. The only group larger than the ones who mean to “someday,” are the ones who do not think they ever need to update their documents, says the article “12 Different Times When You Should Update Your Will” from Kiplinger. The problems become abundantly clear when people die, and survivors learn that their will is so out-of-date that it creates a world of problems for a grieving family.

There are some wills that do stand the test of time, but they are far and few between. Families undergo all kinds of changes, and those changes should be reflected in the will. Here are one dozen times in life when wills need to be reviewed:

Welcoming a child to the family. The focus is on naming a guardian and a trustee to oversee their finances. The will should be flexible to accommodate additional children in the future.

Divorce is a possibility. Do not wait until the divorce is underway to make changes. Do it beforehand. If you die before the divorce is finalized, your spouse will have marital rights to your property. Once you file for divorce, in many states you are not permitted to change your will, until the divorce is finalized. Make no moves here, however, without the advice of your attorney.

Your divorce has been finalized. If you did not do it before, update your will now. Do not neglect updating beneficiaries on life insurance and any other accounts that may have named your ex as a beneficiary.

When your child(ren) marry. You may be able to mitigate the lack of a prenuptial agreement, by creating trusts in your will, so anything you leave your child will not be considered a marital asset, if his or her marriage goes south.

Your beneficiary has problems with drugs or money. Money left directly to a beneficiary is at risk of being attached by creditors or dissolving into a drug habit. Updating your will to includes trusts that allow a trustee to only distribute funds under optimal circumstances protects your beneficiary and their inheritance.

Named executor or beneficiary dies. Your old will may have a contingency plan for what should happen if a beneficiary or executor dies, but you should probably revisit the plan. If a named executor dies and you do not update the will, then what happens if the second executor dies?

A young family member grows up. Most people name a parent as their executor, then a spouse or trusted sibling. Two or three decades go by. An adult child may now be ready to take on the task of handling your estate.

New laws go into effect. In recent months, there have been many big changes to the law that impact estate planning, from the SECURE Act to the CARES act. Ask your estate planning attorney every few years, if there have been new laws that are relevant to your estate plan.

An inheritance or a windfall. If you come into a significant amount of money, your tax liability changes. You will want to update your will, so you can do efficient tax planning as part of your estate plan.

Can’t find your will? If you cannot find the original will, then you need a new will. Your estate planning attorney will make sure that your new will has language that states revokes all prior wills.

Buying property in another country or moving to another country. Some countries have reciprocity with America. However, transferring property to an heir in one country may be delayed, if the will needs to be probated in another country. Ask your estate planning attorney, if you need wills for each country in which you own property.

Family and friends are enemies. Friends have no rights when it comes to your estate plan. Therefore, if families and friends are fighting, the family member will win. If you suspect that your family may push back to any bequests to friends, consider adding a “No Contest” clause to disinherit family members who try to elbow your friends out of the estate.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 26, 2020) “12 Different Times When You Should Update Your Will”

 

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