Could Your Estate Plan Be a Disaster? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

You may think your estate plan is all set. However, it might not be. If you met with your attorney when your children were small, and your children are now grown and have children of their own, your estate could be a disaster waiting to happen, says a recent article “Today’s Business: Your estate plan—what could go wrong?” from the New Haven Register.

Most estate planning attorneys encourage their clients to revisit their estate plan every three to five years, with good reason. The size of your estate may have changed, you may have experienced a health issue, or you may have a new child or a grandchild. There may be tax law changes, statutes may have been updated and the plan you had three to five years ago may not accomplish what you want it to.

Many people say they “have nothing” and their estate is “simple.” They might also think “my spouse will get everything anyway.” This is wrong 99% of the time. There are unintended consequences of not having a will—accounts long forgotten, an untimely death of a joint owner, or a 40-year-old car with a higher value than anyone ever expected.

Your last will and testament designates who receives your assets and provides for any minors. A will can also help protect your wishes from a challenge by unwanted heirs after your passing.

The federal estate tax exemption today is $12.6 million, but if your will was created to minimize estate taxes when the exemption was $675,000, there may be unnecessary provisions in your plan. Heirs may be forced to set up inherited trusts or even sub-trusts. With today’s current exemption level, your plan may include trusts that no longer serve any purpose.

When was the last time you reviewed your will to see whether you still want the same people listed to serve as guardians for minor children, executors, or trustees? If those people are no longer in your family, or if the named person is now your ex, or if they’ve died, you have an ineffective estate plan.

Many adults believe they are too young to need an estate plan, or they’ve set up all of their assets to be owned jointly and, therefore, don’t need an estate plan. If one of the joint owners suffers a disability and is receiving government benefits, an inheritance could put all of their benefits at risk. Minor children might inherit your estate. However, the law does not permit minors to inherit assets, so someone needs to be named to serve as their conservator. If you don’t name someone, the court will, and it may not be the person you would choose.

What about using a template from an online website? Estate planning attorneys are called in to set things right from online wills with increasing frequency. The terms of a will are governed by state law and often these websites don’t explain how the document must be aligned with the statutes of the state where it is signed. Estate plans are not one-size-fits-all documents and a will deemed invalid by the court is the same as if there were no will at all.

If you don’t have an estate plan, if your estate plan is outdated, or if your estate plan was created using an online solution, your heirs may inherit a legal quagmire, in addition to your coin collection. Give yourself and them the peace of mind of knowing you’ve done the right thing and contact us to have your will updated or created with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Reference: New Haven Register (Oct. 29, 2022) “Today’s Business: Your estate plan—what could go wrong?”

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

Estate Planning Considerations for Minor Children – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Creating an estate plan with minor children in mind has a host of variables quite different than one where all heirs are adults. If the intention is for the minor children to be beneficiaries, or if there is a remote chance a minor child might become an unintended beneficiary, different provisions will be needed. A recent article titled “Children need special attention in estate planning” from The News-Enterprise explains how these situations might be addressed.

Does the person creating the will—aka, the testator—want property to be distributed to a minor child? If so, how is the distribution to occur, tax consequences and safeguards need to be put into place. Much depends upon the relationship of the testator to the minor child. An older individual may want to leave specific dollar bequests for minor children or great-grandchildren, while people with younger children generally leave their entire estate in fractional shares to their own minor children as primary beneficiaries.

While minor children and grandchildren beneficiaries are excluded from inheritance taxes in certain states, great- grandchildren are not. Your estate planning attorney will be able to provide details on who is subject to inheritance, federal and state estate taxes. This needs to be part of your estate plan.

If minor children are the intended beneficiaries of a fractional share of the estate in its entirety, distributions may be held in a common trust or divided into separate share for each minor child. A common trust is used to hold all property to benefit all of the children, until the youngest child reaches a determined age. When this occurs, the trust is split into separate shares according to the trust directions, when each share is managed for the individual beneficiary.

Instructions to the trustee as to how much of the income and principal each beneficiary is to receive and when, at what age or intervals each beneficiary may exercise full control over the assets and what purposes the trust property is intended for until the beneficiary reaches a certain age are details which need to be clearly explained in the trust.

Trusts for minor children are often specifically to be used for health, education, maintenance, or support needs of the beneficiary, within the discretion of the trustee. This has to be outlined in the trust document.

Even if the intention is not to make minor children beneficiaries, care must be taken to include provisions if they are family members. The will or trust must be clear on how property passed to minor child beneficiaries is to be distributed. This may be done through a requirement to put distributions into a trust or may leave a list of options for the executor.

Testators need to keep in mind the public nature of probate. Whatever is left to a minor child will be a matter of public record, which could make the child vulnerable to scammers or predatory family members. Consider using a revocable living trust as an alternative to safeguard the child and the assets.

Regardless of whether a will or trust is used, there should be a person named to act as the child’s guardian and their conservator or trustee, who manages their finances. The money manager does not have to be a parent or relative but must be a trustworthy person.

Contact us to discuss your specific situation with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys and to create a plan to protect your minor children, ensuring their financial and lifestyle stability.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Sep. 10, 2022) “Children need special attention in estate planning”

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

There are Less Restrictive Alternatives than Guardianship – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The benefit of restrictive alternatives to guardianships is that they don’t require court approval or judicial oversight. They are also much easier to set up and end.

The standard for establishing incapacity is also less rigorous than the standard required for a guardianship, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort – Consider These Less Draconian Options First.”

Limited guardianships. A guardianship takes away an individual’s right to make decisions, just as full guardianships do, but they are specific to only some aspects of the person’s life. A limited guardianship can be established to manage an individual’s finances and estate or to control medical and health care decisions. These types of guardianships still require court approval and must be supported by a showing of incapacity.

Powers of attorney. Powers of attorney can be established for medical or for financial decisions. A second set of eyes ensures that financial decisions are well-considered and not harmful to the individual or his or her estate. A medical power of attorney can allow an agent to get an injunction to protect the health and well-being of the subject, including by seeking a determination of mental incapacity. A durable power of attorney for health care matters gives the agent the right to make medical decisions on behalf of the subject if or when they are unable to do so for themselves. Unlike a guardianship, powers of attorney can be canceled when they are no longer needed.

Assisted decision-making. This agreement establishes a surrogate decision-maker who has visibility to financial transactions. The bank is informed of the arrangement and alerts the surrogate when it identifies an unusual or suspicious transaction. While this arrangement doesn’t completely replace the primary account holder’s authority, it creates a safety mechanism to prevent exploitation or fraud. The bank is on notice that a second approval is required before an uncommon transaction can be completed.

Wills and trusts. These estate planning documents let people map out what will happen in the event they become incapacitated or otherwise incapable of managing their affairs. Trusts can avoid guardianship by appointing a friend or relative to manage money and other assets. A contingent trust will let the executor manage assets if necessary. For seniors, it may be wise to name a co-trustee who can oversee matters and step in should the trustor lose the capacity to make good decisions.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 7, 2022) “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort – Consider These Less Draconian Options First”

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

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

Guardianships – also known as conservatorships – are drastic and invasive. They strip away control adults otherwise exercise over their own lives and establish someone else as the decision-maker.  They require a rigorous showing of legal incapacity and approval by a judge. In many jurisdictions, parties must establish a specific need for guardianship and demonstrate that other alternatives considered would not adequately protect the individual.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort – Consider These Less Draconian Options First” says that guardianships should never be undertaken lightly. Once established, they can be extremely difficult to undo. Therefore, other options should always be considered first.

Guardianships ensure that those who are unable to handle their own affairs are not exploited or injured. There are circumstances when a guardianship may be the best – or only – choice. For example, an elderly gentleman with dementia may have lacked the planning to make adequate provisions in his will or trust for management of his affairs. Without a plan for oversight of his assets, he could end up jeopardizing the estate he intended to pass on to his family. In that case, the heirs may look to have a court-appointed guardian appointed who will ensure that their father or grandfather does not sign away his estate or compromise his physical well-being.

Transparency is important. Before it becomes necessary for a guardian to be appointed to handle your physical or financial decisions, consider whom you would trust to act in that capacity and put it in writing.

It also informs others that, if a guardian is needed, this person is the one you would like to see serve in that capacity.

A one-page directive will make your wishes clear and keep this important decision from a judge who will know nothing about you or your priorities or your specific circumstances.

In addition, you should delegate a second person now to support you in the future. It is preferable that this is someone younger whom you trust. This individual will bring a fresh perspective to the situation. They should also possess a sound understanding of money management.

If you do not consider these things now, the state will make the decision for you after you no longer can make such decisions for yourself.

Talk with an experienced elder law attorney and create the documents now that will save your loved ones from having to seek guardianship for you in the future.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 7, 2022) “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort – Consider These Less Draconian Options First”

 

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

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”

 

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

How Do I Plan with a Special Needs Child? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The three main structures a family should put in place to provide future protection for their child relate to money management, self-care and housing, says CNBC’s recent article entitled “If you have a child with special needs, here’s how to plan for their life after you pass.”

Money Management: If the child gets government benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income or Medicaid, parents will usually establish a special needs trust to shield assets to allow the child continued access to those benefits. A trustee oversees the funds and other trust provisions not under the child’s control.

Life Insurance. This is the cheapest way to fund a trust. That is because you need to know what is left over from your estate to care for the child, and this creates that certain bucket of money.

Self-Care: Parents must arrange the services their child will need to live independently or semi-independently, which may be overseen by a court-appointed conservator (or guardian). This person makes all decisions regarding an individual’s financial and/or personal affairs. In the alterative, decisions may be made by a person with power of attorney, as well as the individual.

Parents may want to write a “letter of intent,” which is a guide for those who will care for the child in the future. This letter can cover family history, medical care, benefits, daily routines, diet, behavior management, residential arrangements, education, social life, career, religion and end-of-life decisions, according to the Autism Society.

Housing: With respect to future housing for the child, location is more important than the house itself. Parents should consider options beyond keeping their loved one in the family home. It is more important to look at the individual and the interests and supports they might require. Parents may think of retiring to a community that supports the interests of the child. There is a trend toward more community-based living. State-administered Medicaid HCBS waiver programs allow people with disabilities to live in a house or apartment. The state, in turn, provides staffing for a group of similar residents. Sometimes, a group of families will purchase a collection of houses or condominiums. Also, people are rehabbing houses for roommate living, resulting in neighborhoods of people with special needs.

It is critical to work with specialists in this type of planning, such as an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney.

Reference: CNBC (Dec. 6, 2021) “If you have a child with special needs, here’s how to plan for their life after you pass”

 

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Why Is Trust Funding Important in Estate Planning? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Trust funding is a crucial part of estate planning that many people forget to do. If done properly with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, trust funding will avoid probate, provide for you in the event of your incapacity and save on estate taxes, says Forbes’ recent article entitled “Don’t Overlook Your Trust Funding.”

If you have a revocable trust, you have control over the trust and can modify it during your lifetime. You can also fund the trust while you are alive. This will save your family time and aggravation after your death.

You can also protect yourself and your family, if you become incapacitated. Your revocable trust likely provides for you and your family during your lifetime. You are able to manage your assets yourself, while you are alive and in good health. However, who will manage the assets in your place, if your health declines or if you are incapacitated?

If you go ahead and fund the trust now, your successor trustee will be able to manage the assets for you and your family if you are not able. However, if a successor trustee does not have access to the assets to manage on your behalf, a conservator may need to be appointed by the court to oversee your assets, which can be expensive and time consuming.

If you are married, you may have created a trust that has terms for estate tax savings. These provisions will often defer estate taxes until the death of the second spouse, by providing income to the surviving spouse and access to principal during her lifetime. The ultimate beneficiaries are your children.

You will need to fund your trust to make certain that these estate tax provisions work properly.

Any asset transfer will need to be consistent with your estate plan. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about transferring taxable brokerage accounts, bank accounts and real estate to the trust.

You may also want to think about transferring tangible items to the trust and a closely held business interests, like stock in a family business or an interest in a limited liability company (LLC).

Reference: Forbes (July 13, 2020) “Don’t Overlook Your Trust Funding”

 

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

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?”

 

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

What Can I Do to Plan for Incapacity? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Smart advance planning can help preserve family assets, provide for your own well-being and eliminate the stress and publicity of a guardianship hearing, which might be needed if you do nothing.

A guardianship or conservatorship for an elderly individual is a legal relationship created when a judge appoints a person to care for an elderly person, who is no longer able to care for herself.

The guardian has specific duties and responsibilities to the elderly person.

FEDweek’s recent article entitled “Guarding Against the Possibility of Your Incapacity” discusses several possible strategies.

Revocable (“living”) trust. Even after you transfer assets into the trust, you still have the ability to control those assets and collect any income they earn. If you no longer possess the ability to manage your own affairs, a co-trustee or successor trustee can assume management of trust assets on your behalf.

Durable power of attorney. A power of attorney (POA) document names an individual to manage your assets that are not held in trust. Another option is to have your estate planning attorney draft powers of attorney for financial institutions that hold assets, like a pension or IRA. Note that many financial firms are reticent to recognize powers of attorney that are not on their own forms.

Joint accounts. You can also establish a joint checking account with a trusted child or other relative. With her name on the account, your daughter can then pay your bills, if necessary. However, note that the assets held in the joint account will pass to the co-owner (daughter) at your death, even if you name other heirs in your will.

There may also be health care expenses accompanying incompetency.

This would include your health insurance and also potentially disability insurance in the event your incapacity should happen when you are still be working, and long-term care insurance, to pay providers of custodial care, at home or in a specialized facility, such as a nursing home.

Reference: FEDweek (March 5, 2020) “Guarding Against the Possibility of Your Incapacity”

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