Should I Try Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

US News & World Report’s recent article entitled “6 Common Myths About Estate Planning explains that the coronavirus pandemic has made many people face decisions about estate planning. Many will use a do-it-yourself solution. Internet DIY websites make it easy to download forms. However, there are mistakes people make when they try do-it-yourself estate planning.

Here are some issues with do-it-yourself that estate planning attorneys regularly see:

You need to know what to ask. If you are trying to complete a specific form, you may be able to do it on your own. However, the challenge is sometimes not knowing what to ask. If you want a more comprehensive end-of-life plan and are not sure about what you need in addition to a will, work with an experienced estate planning attorney. If you want to cover everything, and are not sure what everything is, that is why you see them.

More complex issues require professional help. Take a more holistic look at your estate plan and look at estate planning, tax planning and financial planning together, since they are all interrelated. If you only look at one of these areas at a time, you may create complications in another. This could unintentionally increase your expenses or taxes. Your situation might also include special issues or circumstances. A do-it-yourself website might not be able to tell you how to account for your specific situation in the best possible way. It will just give you a blanket list, and it will all be cookie cutter. You will not have the individual attention to your goals and priorities you get by sitting down and talking to an experienced estate planning attorney.

Estate laws vary from state to state. Every state may have different rules for estate planning, such as for powers of attorney or a health care proxy. There are also 17 states and the District of Columbia that tax your estate, inheritance, or both. These tax laws can impact your estate planning. Eleven states and DC only have an estate tax (CT, HI, IL, ME, MA, MN, NY, OR, RI, VT and WA). Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have only an inheritance tax. Maryland has both an inheritance tax and an estate tax.

Setting up health care directives and making end-of-life decisions can be very involved. It is too important to try to do it yourself. If you make a mistake, it could impact the ability of your family to take care of financial expenses or manage health care issues. Do not do it yourself.

Reference: US News & World Report (July 5, 2021) “6 Common Myths About Estate Planning”

 

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What Exactly Is a Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

MSN Money’s recent article entitled “What is a trust?” explains that many people create trusts to minimize issues and costs for their families or to create a legacy of charitable giving. Trusts can be used in conjunction with a last will to instruct where your assets should go after you die. However, trusts offer several great estate planning benefits that you do not get in a last will, like letting your heirs to see a relatively speedy conclusion to settling your estate.

Working with an experienced estate planning attorney, you can create a trust to minimize taxes, protect assets and spare your family from going through the lengthy probate process to divide up your assets after you pass away. A trust can also let you control to whom your assets will be disbursed, as well as how the money will be paid out. That is a major point if the beneficiary is a child or a family member who does not have the ability to handle money wisely. You can name a trustee to execute your wishes stated in the trust document. When you draft a trust, you can:

  • Say where your assets go and when your beneficiaries have access to them
  • Save your beneficiaries from paying estate taxes and court fees
  • Shield your assets from your beneficiaries’ creditors or from loss through divorce settlements
  • Instruct where your remaining assets should go if a beneficiary dies, which can be helpful in a family that includes second marriages and stepchildren; and
  • Avoid a long probate court process.

One of the most common trusts is called a living or revocable trust, which lets you put assets in a trust while you are alive. The control of the trust is transferred after you die to beneficiaries that you named. You might want to ask an experienced estate planning attorney about creating a living trust for several reasons, such as:

  • If you would like someone else to take on the management responsibilities for some or all of your property
  • If you have a business and want to be certain that it operates smoothly with no interruption of income flow, if you die or become disabled
  • If you want to shield assets from the incompetency or incapacity of yourself or your beneficiaries; or
  • If you want to decrease the chances that your will may be contested.

A living trust can be a smart move for those with even relatively modest estates. The downside is that while a revocable trust will usually keep your assets out of probate if you were to die, there still will be estate taxes if you hit the threshold.

By contrast, an irrevocable trust cannot be changed once it has been created. You also relinquish control of the assets you put into the trust. However, an irrevocable trust has a key advantage in that it can protect beneficiaries from probate and estate taxes.

In addition, there are many types of specialty trusts you can create. Each is structured to accomplish different goals. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about these.

Reference: MSN Money (July 9, 2021) “What is a trust?

 

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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”

 

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Does Your State Have an Estate or Inheritance Tax? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Did you know that Hawaii and the State of Washington have the highest estate tax rates in the nation at 20%? There are 8 states and DC that are next with a top rate of 16%. Massachusetts and Oregon have the lowest exemption levels at $1 million, and Connecticut has the highest exemption level at $7.1 million.

The Tax Foundation’s recent article entitled “Does Your State Have an Estate or Inheritance Tax?” says that of the six states with inheritance taxes, Nebraska has the highest top rate at 18%, and Maryland has the lowest top rate at 10%. All six of these states exempt spouses, and some fully or partially exempt immediate relatives.

Estate taxes are paid by the decedent’s estate, prior to asset distribution to the heirs. The tax is imposed on the overall value of the estate. Inheritance taxes are due from the recipient of a bequest and are based on the amount distributed to each beneficiary.

Most states have been steering away from estate or inheritance taxes or have upped their exemption levels because estate taxes without the federal exemption hurt a state’s competitiveness. Delaware repealed its estate tax at the start of 2018, and New Jersey finished its phase out of its estate tax at the same time. The Garden State now only imposes an inheritance tax.

Connecticut still is phasing in an increase to its estate exemption. They plan to mirror the federal exemption by 2023. However, as the exemption increases, the minimum tax rate also increases. In 2020, rates started at 10%, while the lowest rate in 2021 is 10.8%. Connecticut’s estate tax will have a flat rate of 12% by 2023.

In Vermont, they’re still phasing in an estate exemption increase. They are upping the exemption to $5 million on January 1, compared to $4.5 million in 2020.

DC has gone in the opposite direction. The District has dropped its estate tax exemption from $5.8 million to $4 million in 2021, but at the same time decreased its bottom rate from 12% to 11.2%.

Remember that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 raised the estate tax exclusion from $5.49 million to $11.2 million per person. This expires December 31, 2025, unless reduced sooner!

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about estate and inheritance taxes, and see if you need to know about either, in your state.

Reference: The Tax Foundation (Feb. 24, 2021) “Does Your State Have an Estate or Inheritance Tax?”

 

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Does Living Trust Help with Probate and Inheritance Taxes? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A living trust is a trust that is created during a person’s lifetime, explains nj.com’s recent article entitled “Will a living trust help with probate and inheritance taxes?”

For example, New Jersey’s Uniform Trust Code governs the creation and validity of trusts. A real benefit of a trust is that its assets are not subject to the probate process. However, the New Jersey probate process is simple, so most people in the Garden State don’t have a need for a living trust.

In Kansas, a living trust can be created if the “settlor” or creator of the trust:

  • Resides in Kansas
  • The trustee lives or works in Kansas; or
  • The trust property is located in the state.

Under Florida law, a revocable living trust is governed by Florida Statute § 736.0402. To create a valid revocable trust in Florida, these elements are required:

  • The settlor must have capacity to create the trust
  • The settlor must indicate an intent to create a trust
  • The trust must have a definite beneficiary
  • The trustee must have duties to perform; and
  • The same person cannot be the sole trustee and sole beneficiary.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney and he or she will tell you that no matter where you are residing, the element that most estate planning attorneys concentrate on is the first—the capacity to create the trust. In most states, the capacity to create a revocable trust is the same capacity required to create a last will and testament.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about the mental capacity required to make a will in your state. Some state laws say that it is a significantly lower threshold than the legal standards for other capacity requirements, like making a contract.

However, if a person lacks capacity when making a will, then the validity of the will can be questioned. The person contesting the will has the burden to prove that the testator’s mental capacity impacted the creation of the will.

Note that the assets in a trust may be subject to income tax and may be includable in the grantor’s estate for purposes of determining whether estate or inheritance taxes are owed. State laws differ on this. There are many different types of living trusts that have different tax consequences, so you should talk to an experienced estate planning attorney to see if a living trust is right for your specific situation.

Reference: nj.com (Jan. 11, 2021) “Will a living trust help with probate and inheritance taxes?”

 

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Changes to Estate Tax Laws? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

This New York Times Article from January 2021 is a good summary of the potential changes to the estate tax laws under President Biden.  In addition to the possibility of a reduction in the federal estate tax exemption to $5 million or $3.5 million, the article also summarizes the possible increase in the estate tax rate from 40% to 55%, as well as significant changes to the capital gains tax rules.

Reference: NYTimes.com (Jan. 15, 2021) “The Estate Tax May Change Under Biden, Affecting Far More People”

 

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How Can I Easily Pass My Home to My Only Child? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

This estate planning issue concerns a single retired parent of an only adult daughter and how to transfer the home to the daughter. Should the daughter simply sell the house when her mother dies, or should the daughter be added to the deed now while her mother is alive?

Also, is there a court hearing?

In many states, there is no reason or requirement to go before a judge to probate your estate, says nj.com in its recent article “Should I add my daughter’s name to my home’s deed?”

In estate planning, there are two primary questions to answer about the transfer of the home. First, there would possibly be some significant capital gains if the mom adds her daughter to the deed prior to death.

Also, if the mother winds up requiring Medicaid, Medicaid might put a lien against the home after she dies for the value of the services it provided.

Generally, when a home has been owned for a long time, the mother should try to preserve the step-up in basis for tax purposes that happens, if the real estate is still in the mom’s name at her passing.

Whether that step up is preserved, depends on how the daughter is added to the deed.

Adding the daughter as a joint tenant or tenant in common will not preserve the step-up basis for taxes. Ask an elder law attorney what this means in your specific situation.

A better option may be to transfer the remainder interest in the property to the daughter in this scenario and withhold a life estate for the mom.

That will preserve the step-up in basis at death.

This can also get complicated when there is an outstanding mortgage, so speak to an experienced elder law or estate planning attorney.

Reference: nj.com (Dec. 15, 2020) “Should I add my daughter’s name to my home’s deed?”

 

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State Laws Have an Impact on Your Estate – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Will N.J. or Florida’s tax laws affect this inheritance?” notes that first, the fact that the individual from Florida is not legally married is important.

However, if she is a Florida resident, Florida rules will matter in this scenario about the vacation condo.

Florida does not have an inheritance tax, and it does not matter where the beneficiary lives. For example, the state of New Jersey will not tax a Florida inheritance.

Although New Jersey does have an inheritance tax, the state cannot tax inheritances for New Jersey residents, if the assets come from an out-of-state estate.

If she did live in New Jersey, there is no inheritance tax on “Class A” beneficiaries, which include spouses, children, grandchildren and stepchildren.

However, the issue in this case is the fact that her “daughter” is not legally her daughter. Her friend’s daughter would be treated by the tax rules as a friend.

You can call it what you want. However, legally, if she is not married to her friend, she does not have a legal relationship with her daughter.

As a result, the courts and taxing authorities will treat both persons as non-family.

The smart thing to do with this type of issue is to talk with an experienced estate planning attorney who is well-versed in both states’ laws to determine whether there are any protections available.

Reference: nj.com (July 23, 2020) “Will N.J. or Florida’s tax laws affect this inheritance?”

 

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What Does Pandemic Estate Planning Look Like? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

In the pandemic, it is a good idea to know your affairs are in order. If you already have an estate plan, it may be time to review it with an experienced estate planning attorney, especially if your family has had a marriage, divorce, remarriage, new children or grandchildren, or other changes in personal or financial circumstances. The Pointe Vedra Recorder’s article entitled “Estate planning during a pandemic: steps to take” explains some of the most commonly used documents in an estate plan:

Will: This basic estate planning document is what you use to state how you want your assets to be distributed after your death. You name an executor to coordinate the distribution and name a guardian to take care of minor children.

Financial power of attorney: This legal document allows you to name an agent with the authority to conduct your financial affairs, if you are unable. You let them pay your bills, write checks, make deposits and sell or purchase assets.

Living trust: This lets you leave assets to your heirs, without going through the probate process. A living trust also gives you considerable flexibility in dispersing your estate. You can instruct your trustee to pass your assets to your beneficiaries immediately upon your death or set up more elaborate directions to distribute the assets over time and in amounts you specify.

Health care proxy: This is also called a health care power of attorney. It is a legal document that designates an individual to act for you, if you become incapacitated. Similar to the financial power of attorney, your agent has the power to speak with your doctors, manage your medical care and make medical decisions for you, if you cannot.

Living will: This is also known as an advance health care directive. It provides information about the types of end-of-life treatment you do or do not want, if you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious.

These are the basics. However, there may be other things to look at, based on your specific circumstances. Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney about tax issues, titling property correctly and a host of other things that may need to be addressed to take care of your family. Pandemic estate planning may sound morbid in these tough times, but it is a good time to get this accomplished.

Reference: Pointe Vedra (Beach, FL) Recorder (July 16, 2020) “Estate planning during a pandemic: steps to take”

 

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How Do I Protect an Inheritance from the Tax Man? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Inheritances are not income for federal tax purposes, whether you inherit cash, investments or property. However, any subsequent earnings on the inherited assets are taxable, unless it comes from a tax-free source. Therefore, you must include the interest income in your reported income.

The Street’s recent article entitled “4 Ways to Protect Your Inheritance from Taxes” explains that any gains when you sell inherited investments or property are usually taxable. However, you can also claim losses on these sales. State taxes on inheritances vary, so ask a qualified estate planning attorney about how it works in your state.

The basis of property in a decedent’s estate is usually the fair market value (FMV) of the property on the date of death. In some cases, however, the executor might choose the alternate valuation date, which is six months after the date of death—this is only available if it will decrease both the gross amount of the estate and the estate tax liability. It may mean a larger inheritance to the beneficiaries.

Any property disposed of or sold within that six-month period is valued on the date of the sale. If the estate is not subject to estate tax, the valuation date is the date of death.

If you are getting an inheritance, you might ask that they create a trust to deal with their assets. A trust lets them pass assets to beneficiaries after death without probate. With a revocable trust, the grantor can remove the assets from the trust, if necessary. However, in an irrevocable trust, the assets are commonly tied up until the grantor dies.

Let us look at some other ideas on the subject of inheritance:

You should also try to minimize retirement account distributions. Inherited retirement assets are not taxable, until they are distributed. Some rules may apply to when the distributions must occur, if the beneficiary is not the surviving spouse. Therefore, if one spouse dies, the surviving spouse usually can take over the IRA as their own. RMDs would start at age 72, just as they would for the surviving spouse’s own IRA. However, if you inherit a retirement account from a person other than your spouse, you can transfer the funds to an inherited IRA in your name. You then have to start taking RMDs the year of or the year after the inheritance, even if you’re not age 72.

You can also give away some of the money. Sometimes it is wise to give some of your inheritance to others. It can assist those in need, and you may offset the taxable gains on your inheritance with the tax deduction you get for donating to a charitable organization. You can also give annual gifts to your beneficiaries, while you are still living. The limit is $15,000 without being subject to gift taxes. This will provide an immediate benefit to your recipients and also reduce the size of your estate. Speak with an estate planning attorney to be sure that you are up to date with the frequent changes to estate tax laws.

Reference: The Street (May 11, 2020) “4 Ways to Protect Your Inheritance from Taxes”

 

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