Top 10 Success Tips for Estate Planning – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Unless you’ve done the planning, assets may not be distributed according to your wishes and loved ones may not be taken care of after your death. These are just two reasons to make sure you have an estate plan, according to the recent article titled “Estate Planning 101: 10 Tips for Success” from the Maryland Reporter.

Create a list of your assets. This should include all of your property, real estate, liquid assets, investments and personal possessions. With this list, consider what you would like to happen to each item after your death. If you have many assets, this process will take longer—consider this a good thing. Don’t neglect digital assets. The goal of a careful detailed list is to avoid any room for interpretation—or misinterpretation—by the courts or by heirs.

Meet with an estate planning attorney to create wills and trusts. These documents dictate how your assets are distributed after your death. Without them, the laws of your state may be used to distribute assets. You also need a will to name an executor, the person responsible for carrying out your instructions.

Your will is also used to name a guardian, the person who will raise your children if they are orphaned minors.

Who is the named beneficiary on your life insurance policy? This is the person who will receive the death benefit from your policy upon your death. Will this person be the guardian of your minor children? Do you prefer to have the proceeds from the policy used to fund a trust for the benefit of your children? These are important decisions to be made and memorialized in your estate plan.

Make your wishes crystal clear. Legal documents are often challenged if they are not prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney or if they are vaguely worded. You want to be sure there are no ambiguities in your will or trust documents. Consider the use of “if, then” statements. For example, “If my husband predeceases me, then I leave my house to my children.”

Consider creating a letter of intent or instruction to supplement your will and trusts. Use this document to give more detailed information about your wishes, from funeral arrangements to who you want to receive a specific item. Note this document is not legally binding, but it may avoid confusion and can be used to support the instructions in your will.

Trusts may be more important than you think in estate planning. Trusts allow you to take assets out of your probate estate and have these assets managed by a trustee of your choice, who distributes assets directly to beneficiaries. You don’t have to have millions to benefit from a trust.

List your debts. This is not as much fun as listing assets, but still important for your executor and heirs. Mortgage payments, car payments, credit cards and personal loans are to be paid first out of estate accounts before funds can be distributed to heirs. Having this information will make your executor’s tasks easier.

Plan for digital assets. If you want your social media accounts to be deleted or emails available to a designated person after you die, you’ll need to start with a list of the accounts, usernames, passwords, whether the platform allows you to designate another person to have access to your accounts and how you want your digital assets handled after death. This plan should be in place in case of incapacity as well.

How will estate taxes be paid? Without tax planning properly done, your legacy could shrink considerably. In addition to federal estate taxes, some states have state estate taxes and inheritance taxes. Talk with your estate planning attorney to find out what your estate tax obligations will be and how to plan strategically to pay the taxes.

Plan for Long Term Care. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that about 70% of Americans will need some type of long-term care during their lifetimes. Some options are private LTC insurance, government programs and self-funding.

The more planning done in advance, the more likely your loved ones will know what to do if you become incapacitated and know what you wanted when you die.  Contact us to begin working on your estate plan with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys today.

Resource: Maryland Reporter (Sep. 27, 2022) “Estate Planning 101: 10 Tips for Success”

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

Must I Pay for Spouse’s Debt If They Die? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Who has to pay medical bills when a spouse dies?” says that a creditor may pursue collection against a spouse for an expense incurred by the other spouse for “necessaries.” only where the financial resources of the spouse who incurred the expense are insufficient, unless both spouses agreed to pay the debt.

In situations where both spouses incurred the debt, or agreed to pay the debt, or one spouse guaranteed the debt of the other spouse, the creditor may go after either or both spouses.

However, if one spouse incurs a medical expense or other expense deemed necessary — including, in some cases, legal fees or clothing — the creditor must first look to the spouse who incurred the expense.

Note that only if the spouse’s assets are insufficient to pay may the creditor seek payment from the non-debtor spouse.

It is also important to know that each spouse holding his or her assets in separate names doesn’t avoid responsibility for the debtor spouse’s medical bills, if the debtor spouse’s assets are insufficient to pay such bills.

Signing a pre-marital or post-marital agreement, in which each spouse agrees to be responsible for his or her own medical expenses, also doesn’t prevent a creditor from pursuing payment against the non-debtor spouse if the debtor spouse, or the debtor spouse’s estate, lacks the ability to pay.

Spouses also may not be able to avoid a creditor seeking reimbursement with respect to `necessaries’ merely by separating.

Before paying any creditors for a deceased person, please contact our office to speak with one of our attorneys.

Reference: nj.com (Aug. 3, 2022) “Who has to pay medical bills when a spouse dies?”

 

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

Do You have to Go through Probate when Someone Dies? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Probate involves assets, debts and distribution. The administration of a probate estate involves gathering all assets owned by the decedent, all claims owed to the decedent and the payments of all liabilities owed by the decedent or the estate of the decedent and the distribution of remaining assets to beneficiaries. If this sounds complicated, that is because it is, according to the article “The probate talk: Administrators, creditors and beneficiaries need to know” from The Dallas Morning News.

The admission of a decedent’s will to probate may be challenged for up to two years from the date it was admitted to probate. Many people dismiss this concern, because they believe they have done everything they could to avoid probate, from assigning beneficiary designations to creating trusts. Those are necessary steps in estate planning, but there are some possibilities that executors and beneficiaries need to know.

Any creditor can open a probate estate and sue to pull assets back into the estate. A disappointed heir can sue the executor/administrator and claim that designations and transfers were made when the decedent was incapacitated, unduly influenced or the victim of fraud.

It is very important that the administrator handles estate matters with meticulous attention to detail, documenting every transaction, maintaining scrupulous records and steering clear of anything that might even appear to be self-dealing. The administrator has a fiduciary duty to keep the beneficiaries of the estate reasonably informed of the process, act promptly and diligently administer and settle the estate.

The administrator must also be in a position to account for all revenue received, money spent and assets sold. The estate’s property must not be mixed in any way with the administrator’s own property or funds or business interests.

The administrator may not engage in any self-dealing. No matter how easily it may be to justify making a transaction, buying any of the estate’s assets for their own benefit or using their own accounts to temporarily hold money, is not permitted.

The administrator must obtain a separate tax identification number from the IRS, known as an EIN, for the probate estate. This is the identification number used to open an estate bank account to hold the estate’s cash and any investment grade assets. The account has to be properly named, on behalf of the probate estate. Anything that is cash must pass through the estate account, and every single receipt and disbursement should be documented. There is no room for fuzzy accounting in an estate administration, as any estate planning lawyer will advise.

Distributions do not get made, until all creditors are paid. This may not win the administrator any popularity contests, but it is required. No creditors are paid until the taxes are paid—the last year’s taxes for the last year the decedent was alive, and the estate taxes. The administrator may be held personally liable, if money is paid out to creditors or beneficiaries and there is not enough money in the estate to pay taxes.

If the estate contains multiple properties in different states, probate must be done in all of those different states. If it is a large complex estate, an estate planning attorney will be a valuable resource in helping to avoid pitfalls, minor or major.

Reference: The Dallas Morning News (May 16, 2021) “The probate talk: Administrators, creditors and beneficiaries need to know”

 

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

A Millennial’s Guide for Investing – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Bankrate recently created a guide to investing for Millennials. The Millennial Generation is not only concerned about the ability to retire when they choose, but also outliving their retirement savings.

Many millennials carry a great weight of debt, most of which tends to be student loan debt. The large debt ratio of this generation plays a major role in why they are unable or afraid to invest. It is important to keep in mind that avoiding riskier investments will not help build your retirement faster.

Bankrate reports in their recent article  “Time on your side: A guide to millennial investing” why it is so beneficial for millennials to invest early on. The article also provides a guide on how to go about investing, even if you think this is not in your current budget.

According to Bankrate, before making your investment you should evaluate how much you are able to invest. Here are a few steps to follow:

Calculate your total debt: First, figure out how much income you have coming in monthly and how much money is coming out. Some things to consider are rent or a house payment, monthly loan payments, monthly credit card payments, and factor in other debts or payments that must be made monthly. Paying off even a small credit card can help alleviate some debt and provide you with money to put towards your investment.

Determine your financial risk level: Keep in mind that there will always be ups and downs in the stock market. With this being said, if you have a short-term goal that you have been saving for, you may want to start by investing conservatively.

Educate yourself on stark market basics: Bonds, brokerage account, ETFs or exchange-traded funds, mutual funds, and stocks are all terms that you should educate yourself on. The article published by Bankrate is a good starting point for these investing terms.

One thing to keep in mind is the importance of staying up to date on financial news. General stock market news can be found on any major news source. Before you get started with your investing, determine your short-term and long-term goals.

Reference: Bankrate (February 20, 2020) “Time on your side: A guide to millennial investing”

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

Should I Use a Home Equity Loan to Float my Retirement? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Many retirees—and those nearing retirement—have put much of their savings in traditional IRAs or 401(k)s, which are tax-deferred methods for accumulating wealth. In addition, taxpayers may decide to use other tax-deferred accounts to avoid interest, dividends, and capital gains from spilling into their tax returns. These strategies can help taxpayers decrease income and taxes.

However, Kiplinger’s recent article, “How You Can ‘TAP’ into Home Equity to Help Keep Your Retirement Stable,” says that once we “turn on the faucet” and withdraw money from these tax-deferred accounts, additional income will have to be claimed on our tax returns. Instead, retirees can make moves that will help them reduce taxes. A lesser-known tool to look at for tax-free income is a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, on your home.

Let’s examine two scenarios in which a HELOC may make sense in retirement:

An IRA drawdown. Let’s say that a typical married retired couple wants to stay in the 12% tax bracket as joint filers. They can withdraw up to $78,950 of taxable income from their IRAs to stay in this bracket in 2019. That amount goes up to $103,350, after adding the standard deduction of $24,400. Then, for any additional funds they may need during the year, they can use a HELOC. For example, if they take $15,000 out, they will actually receive $15,000 tax-free. However, if they take the same amount from their IRA, it would move them into the 22% tax bracket. As a result, they’d owe $3,300 in federal taxes, in addition to any state or local income taxes. Therefore, they only receive about $10,000 after taxes from their IRA withdrawal. The HELOC is tax-free, and the interest rate charged on a HELOC is generally low at this point. Depending on your purpose for the money, that interest may be tax deductible, and repayments can be planned over a multiyear term to be covered by future IRA distributions or other investment income. This spreads out the tax impact to continuously stay under tax bracket thresholds, keeping as much of your money in your hands as possible.

Emergency money. Unexpected expenses can arise, and if you don’t have funds available in a checking or savings account, the emotion of a stressful emergency may drive you to make impulsive (and costly) financial decisions. Instead of using a high-interest credit card or cashing out investments, a HELOC can be a wise move. Note that there are some HELOC disadvantages. The interest rate is variable, which means the monthly payment can be unpredictable, especially during times of rising interest rates.

There are other ways to use the equity in your home to create cash flow in retirement, but a HELOC may be best for some retirees, based on its flexibility for scenarios, such as future downsizing or the potential need for the cost of assisted living facilities down the road. A HELOC can be a very useful tool for a proactive and comprehensive cash-flow plan in retirement.

Reference: Kiplinger (October 8, 2019) “How You Can ‘TAP’ into Home Equity to Help Keep Your Retirement Stable”

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

The Medicaid Medically Needy “Spend-Down Program” – What You Need to Know – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

If you’ve been denied Medicaid benefits because you have too many assets or too high an income, don’t give up. There are available programs that may enable you to qualify for Medicaid benefits, despite this setback. Each state may offer different programs, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has added new ways to obtain coverage. This article addresses the “spend down program” offered in every state.

Medicaid Spend-Down Program – The Basics

To qualify for Medicaid benefits, your income and assets may not exceed a certain amount set by law. If these items do exceed the legal limits, you may still qualify after a spend-down period. The medically needy spend-down program helps individuals over the age of 65, and some younger individuals with disabilities. To be eligible for this program, you must not be receiving public financial assistance.

Exempt & Non-Exempt Assets

It is not necessary to sell off everything you own to qualify for the spend-down program. You may keep a certain amount of “exempt assets,” such as the home you live in, your car (used for transportation), household furniture, clothes, jewelry and other personal items. None of these assets affect your eligibility, regardless of their value (unless you have high equity, say $1 million in an asset, in which case you may need to spend that down).

Non-exempt assets, on the other hand, do affect your eligibility for the spend-down program. These assets include bank accounts, stocks, investments, and cash over $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a married couple.

Amount of Income You Can Have to Apply

It does not matter how much income you have when you apply. The more income you have, though, the more medical expenses you must incur before your coverage can start. The way you spend down this income is by spending it on medical expenses, until you reach the income requirements for Medicaid. Interestingly, you just need to incur medical costs. You don’t have to actually pay them.

In addition, you can pay down accrued debt to spend down your income. Therefore, paying down credit card bills, car payments, or mortgage debt can count towards your spend down. Another tactic you can use, is to pay excess monthly amounts on old medical bills.

Seeking Professional Assistance

Medicaid programs are different in each state, and the laws change frequently. If done wrong, you could end up incurring penalties instead of obtaining benefits. It may be a good idea to enlist the help of a Medicaid specialist or elder law attorney to walk you through the process in a way that will avoid these types of penalties.

Resources:

National Council on Aging. “Benefits Checkup” (Accessed November 28, 2019) https://www.benefitscheckup.org/fact-sheets/factsheet_medicaid_la_medicaid_spend_down/#/

U.S. News and World Report. “How a Medicaid Spend Down Works.” (Accessed 28, 2019) https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/baby-boomers/articles/how-a-medicaid-spend-down-works

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

What Debts Must Be Paid Before and After Probate? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Everything that must be addressed in settling an estate becomes more complicated when there is no will and no estate planning has taken place before the person dies. Debts are a particular area of concern for the estate and the executor. What has to be paid and who gets paid first? These are explained in the article “Dealing with Debts and Mortgages in Probate” from The Balance.

Probate is the process of gaining court approval of the estate and paying off final bills and expenses before property can be transferred to beneficiaries. Dealing with the debts of a deceased person can be started before probate officially begins.

Start by making a list of all of the decedent’s liabilities and look for the following bills or statements:

  • Mortgages
  • Reverse mortgages
  • Home equity loans
  • Lines of credit
  • Condo fees
  • Property taxes
  • Federal and state income taxes
  • Car and boat loans
  • Personal loans
  • Loans against life insurance policies
  • Loans against retirement accounts
  • Credit card bills
  • Utility bills
  • Cell phone bills

Next, divide those items into two categories: those that will be ongoing during probate—consider them administrative expenses—and those that can be paid off after the probate estate is opened. These are considered “final bills.” Administrative bills include things like mortgages, condo fees, property taxes and utility bills. They must be kept current. Final bills include income taxes, personal loans, credit card bills, cell phone bills and loans against retirement accounts and/or life insurance policies.

The executors and heirs should not pay any bills out of their own pockets. The executor deals with all of these liabilities in the process of settling the estate.

For some of the liabilities, heirs may have a decision to make about whether to keep the assets with loans. If the beneficiary wants to keep the house or a car, they may, but they have to keep paying down the debt. Otherwise, these payments should be made only by the estate.

The executor decides what bills to pay and which assets should be liquidated to pay final bills.

A far better plan for your beneficiaries is to create a comprehensive estate plan that includes a will that details how you want your assets distributed and addresses what your wishes are. If you want to leave a house to a loved one, your estate planning attorney will be able to explain how to make that happen while minimizing taxes on your estate.

Reference: The Balance (March 21, 2019) “Dealing with Debts and Mortgages in Probate”

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