What Happens to Parents’ Debt when They Die? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

There are two common myths about what happens when parents die in debt, says a recent article “How your parents’ debt could outlive them” from the Greenfield Reporter. One is the adult child will be liable for the debt. The second is that the adult child won’t.

If your parents have significant debts and you are concerned about what the future may bring, talk with an estate planning attorney for guidance. Here is some of what you need to know.

Debt does not disappear when someone dies. Creditors file claims against the estate, and in most instances, those debts must be paid before assets are distributed to heirs. Surprisingly to heirs, creditors are allowed to contact relatives about the debts, even if those family members do not have any legal obligation to pay the debts. Collection agencies in many states are required to affirmatively state that the family members are not obligated to pay the debt, but they may not always comply.

Some family members feel they need to dig into their own pockets and pay the debt. Speak with an estate planning lawyer before taking this action, because the estate may not have any obligation to reimburse you.

For the most part, family members do not have to use their own money to pay a loved one’s debts, unless they co-signed a loan, are a joint-account holder or agreed to be held responsible for the debt. Other reasons someone may be obligated include living in a state requiring surviving spouses to pay medical bills or other outstanding debts. If you live in a community property state, a spouse may be liable for a spouse’s debts.

Executors are required to distribute money to creditors first. Therefore, if you distributed all the assets and then planned on “getting around” to paying creditors and ran out of funds, you could be sued for the outstanding debts.

More than half of the states still have “filial responsibility” laws to require adult children to pay parents’ bills. These are old laws left over from when America had debtors’ prisons. They are rarely enforced, but there was a case in 2012 when a nursing home used Pennsylvania’s law and successfully sued a son for his mother’s $93,0000 nursing home bill. An estate planning attorney practicing in the state of your parents’ residence is your best source of the state’s law and enforcement.

If a person dies with more debts than assets, their estate is considered insolvent. The state’s law determines the order of bill payment. Legal and estate administration fees are paid first, followed by funeral and burial expenses. If there are dependent children or spouses, there may be a temporary living allowance left for them. Secured debt, like a home mortgage or car loan, must be repaid or refinanced. Otherwise, the lender may reclaim the property. Federal taxes and any federal debts get top priority for repayment, followed by any debts owed to state taxes.

If the person was receiving Medicaid for nursing home care, the state may file a claim against the estate or file a lien against the home. These laws and procedures all vary from state to state, so you will need to talk with an elder law attorney.

Many creditors will not bother filing a claim against an insolvent estate, but they may go after family members. Debt collection agencies are legally permitted to contact a surviving spouse or executor, or to contact relatives to ask how to reach the spouse or executor.

Planning in advance is the best route. However, if parents are resistant to talking about money, or incapacitated, speak with an estate planning attorney to learn how to protect your parents and yourself.

Reference: Greenfield Reporter (Feb. 3, 2022) “How your parents’ debt could outlive them”

 

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Is Estate Tax Exemption Going to Change? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

In 2022, the estate and gift tax exemption increases from $11.7 million in 2021 to $12.06 million per individual, according to new inflation-adjusted numbers from the IRS. The gift tax annual exclusion also increases, from $15,000 to $16,000. The IRS announced these numbers, as well as tax brackets, standard deductions and more, as reported in the article “New Higher Estate And Gift Tax Limits for 2022: Couples Can Pass On $720,000 More Tax Free” from Forbes.

The estate tax is 40% on the biggest estates, but wealthy individuals use legal strategies, like transferring wealth to heirs while they are living, making big gifts and also making multiple $16,000 annual exclusion gifts that do not count against the $12 million lifetime limit.

In 2022, a wealthy person may leave $12.06 to heirs with no federal estate or gift tax. A married couple may leave $24.12 million. If by some chance a couple has maxed out their lifetime gifts, this latest increase means they have the option to give away another $720,000 in 2022.

A series of annual exclusion gifts of $16,000 can add up, especially when they are done in a planned method over an extended period of time. Since these gifts do not count toward the $12 million amount, they are especially valuable for managing estate tax liability.

Estate sizes may also be reduced by making direct payments for medical and tuition expenses, for as many people as desired, with no gift or tax consequences. There is no limit on the amount to be paid, as long as these payments are made directly to the institution.

There are any number of ways to take money out of an estate. These include outright gifts, loans to family members and special trusts. A variety of trusts are created to preserve family wealth, from simple to complex trusts used to extend wealth across many generations.

In addition to planning for the increased numbers for 2022, this is also the time to check on basic estate planning documents and be certain they are up to date. These include a will, any kind of revocable living trust, a durable power of attorney, a healthcare directive and a living will. If the family includes a special needs member or a disabled individual, there are other planning methods to be discussed with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Despite the good news of these increases, the $12 million estate tax exemption will be halved at the start of 2026. The historical high exemption was created under President Donald J. Trump by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which temporarily doubled the estate tax exemption from 2018 to 2025. While there was a lot of discussion about the Infrastructure Bill and funding through estate taxes, any provisions impacting estate planning were dropped before the bill was passed.

One more reason to gift now: state estate taxes and inheritance taxes are still alive and well in many states. If you live in a state with these taxes, the state tax bite could be just as bad, if not worse, than the federal tax.

Reference: Forbes (Nov. 11, 2021) “New Higher Estate And Gift Tax Limits for 2022: Couples Can Pass On $720,000 More Tax Free”

 

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What Is the First Thing an Executor of a Will Should do? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Serving as an executor can be like having a second job. The size of the estate and your relationship to the deceased can make it a bit overwhelming, especially for adult children handling the estate of their last surviving parent. Those executors typically distribute not only financial assets, but decades of personal property, says the article “What to Do When You’re the Executor” from Yahoo! Finance. If the family is prone to arguments, or the estate is large, or both, the job of the executor can be even more challenging.

The first thing to do is obtain the death certificate. Depending on your state, the funeral home or state’s records department in the location where the death occurred will have them. Get five to ten originals, with the raised seal. You will need them to gain control of assets.

Next, file the will and the death certificate with the county probate court. The deadline for filing the will varies by state. However, it can range from ten to ninety days to six months to one year after the date of death. If probate is necessary, you will also need to obtain a “Letter of Testamentary.” This court-created document says you are the legally authorized person to manage the estate. Until you have this letter, you cannot move forward with any of the assets.

Build your team of professional advisors. An experienced estate planning attorney will help navigate probate court. You may also need a CPA and a financial planner. If possible, contact the estate planning attorney who drew up the will, because they are probably familiar with the will, the estate and possibly with the deceased.

Inventory assets. After death is when we learn a lot about those we loved. Were they hyper-organized, keeping records in an easily understood system? Did they file insurance policies under the name of the insurance company, or leave papers in a stack in no order whatsoever? Go through every box and file cabinet to make sure you do not miss anything.

Protect personal property. If the estate included a home, you must make sure that mortgage and tax payments are made. If you do not know who had keys to the house, investing in the services of a locksmith and a new set of locks and keys could save you from unscrupulous family members who believe certain items belong to them. If a car is sitting in the garage, it will need to be cared for and the title of ownership will need to be dealt with.

Obtain a federal EIN number from the IRS and use it to open an estate bank account. Until the estate is settled, the executor needs to pay bills and make deposits. A separate bank account prevents co-mingling funds, makes it easier to track transactions and is useful, if there are any challenges to your decisions as executor.

Pay any outstanding debts. The executor may be personally liable if debts from the estate are not paid before the estate assets are distributed. You are also responsible for filing state and federal tax returns for the last year the person was alive, as well as a federal tax return for the estate.

To head off potential animosity, stay in touch with beneficiaries. Let them know what you are doing, especially if the process is taking a while. Keep excellent records to reflect your activities.

Distributing assets may require court approval, depending on where the decedent lived. If the will contains specific directions for personal items, you will be in better shape than if there are no directions. If not, review the inventory of assets to see how things can be equitably distributed. Do not underestimate the emotional response to this part of the process. Families have battled over items of little monetary value.

It is a good idea to get a release from beneficiaries acknowledging they have received their inheritance. An estate planning attorney can help with preparing the language to help minimize any challenges in the future.

Reference: Yahoo! Finance (Oct. 29, 2021) “What to Do When You’re the Executor”

 

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How to Prepare for Higher Taxes – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Taxing the appreciation of property on gifting or at death, as capital gains or ordinary income, is under scrutiny as a means of raising significant revenue for the federal government. The Biden administration has proposed this, but proposing and passing into law are two very different things, observes Financial Advisor in the article “How Rich Clients Should Prepare For A Biden Estate Tax Regime.”

The tax hikes are being considered as a means of paying for the American Jobs Act and the American Families Act. Paired with the COVID-19 relief bill, the government will need a total of $6.4 trillion over the course of a decade to cover those costs. Reportedly, both Republicans and Democrats are pushing back on this proposal.

A step-up in basis recalculates the value of appreciated assets for tax purposes when they are inherited, which is when the asset’s value usually is higher than when it was originally purchased. For the beneficiary, the step-up in basis at the death of the original owner reduces the capital gains tax on the asset. Taxes are reduced significantly, or in some cases, completely eliminated.

For now, taxpayers pay an estate tax on the value of the assets and the basis of appreciated assets is stepped up to fair market value. The plan under consideration would treat appreciated assets owned at the time of death as sold, which would trigger income tax and subject those assets to estate tax.

Biden’s proposal would also subject many families to the estate tax, which they would not otherwise face, since the federal estate tax exclusion is still historically high—$11.7 million for individuals and $23.4 million for married couples. Let’s say a widowed mother dies with a $3 million estate. Most of the value of the estate is the home she lived in with her spouse for the last four decades. Her estate would not owe any federal tax, but the deemed sale of a highly appreciated home would generate income tax liability.

The proposal allows a $1 million per individual and $2 million per married couple exclusion from gain recognition on property transferred by gift or owned at death. The $1 million per person exclusion is in addition to exclusions for property transfers of tangible personal property, transfers to a spouse, transfers to charity, capital gains on certain business stock and the current exclusion of $250,000 for capital gain on a personal residence.

How should people prepare for what sounds like an unsettling proposal but may end up at a completely different place?

For some, the right move is transferring properties now, if it makes sense with their overall estate plan. Regardless of what Congress does with this proposal, the estate tax exemption will sunset to just north of $5 million (due to inflation adjustments) from the current $11.7 million. However, the likelihood of the proposal passing in its present state is low. The best option may be to make any revisions focused on the change to the estate tax exemption levels.

Reference: Financial Advisor (June 28, 2021) “How Rich Clients Should Prepare For A Biden Estate Tax Regime”

 

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Do We Need Estate Planning? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Estate planning is not just about making a will, nor is it just for people who live in mansions. Estate planning is best described in the title of this article “Estate planning is an important strategy for arranging financial affairs and protecting heirs—here are five reasons why everyone needs an estate plan” from Business Insider. Estate planning is a plan for the future, for you, your spouse and those you love.

There are a number of reasons for estate planning:

  • Avoiding paying more federal and state taxes than necessary
  • Ensuring that assets are distributed as you want
  • Naming the people you choose for your own care, if you become incapacitated; and/or
  • Naming the people you choose to care for your minor children, if you and your spouse left them orphaned.

If that sounds like a lot to accomplish, it is. However, with the help of a trusted estate planning attorney, an estate plan can provide you with the peace of mind that comes with having all of the above.

If those decisions and designations are not made by you while you are alive and legally competent, the state law and the courts will determine who will get your assets, raise your children and how much your estate will pay in death taxes to state and federal governments. You can avoid that with an estate plan.

Here are the five key things about estate planning:

It is more than a will. The estate plan includes creating Durable Powers of Attorney to appoint individuals who will make medical and/or financial decisions, if you are not able to do so. The estate plan also contains Medical Directives to communicate your wishes about what kind of care you do or do not want, if you are so sick you cannot do so for yourself. The estate plan is where you can create Trusts to control how property passes from one person or one generation to the next.

Estate planning saves time, money, and angst. If you have a surviving spouse, they are usually the ones who serve as your executor. However, if you do not and if you do not have an estate plan, the court names a public administrator to distribute assets according to state law. While this is happening, no one can access your assets. There is a lot of paperwork and a lot of legal fees. With a will, you name an executor who will take care of and gain access to most, if not all, of your assets and administer them according to your instructions.

Estate planning includes being sure that investment and retirement accounts with a beneficiary designation have been completed. If you do not name a beneficiary, the asset goes through the probate court. If you fail to update your beneficiary designations, your ex or a person from your past may end up with your biggest assets.

Estate planning is also tax planning. While federal taxes only impact the very wealthy right now, that is likely to change in the future. States also have estate taxes and inheritance taxes of their own, at considerably lower exemption levels than federal taxes. If you wish your heirs to receive more of your money than the government, tax planning should be part of your estate plan.

The estate plan is also used to protect minor children. No one expects to die prematurely, and no one expects that two spouses with young children will die. However, it does happen, and if there is no will in place, then the court makes all the decisions: who will raise your children, and where, how their upbringing will be financed, or, if there are no available family members, if the children should become wards of the state and enter the foster care system. That is probably not what you want.

The estate plan includes the identification of the person(s) you want to raise your children, and who will be in charge of the assets left in trust for the children, like proceeds from a life insurance policy. This can be the same person, but often the financial and child-rearing roles are divided between two trustworthy people. Naming an alternate for each position is also a good idea, just in case the primary people cannot serve.

Estate planning, finally, also takes care of you while you are living, with a power of attorney and healthcare proxy. That way someone you know, and trust can step in, if you are unable to take care of your legal and financial affairs.

Once your estate plan is in place, remember that it is like your home: it needs to be updated every three or four years, or when there are big changes to tax law or in your life.

Reference: Business Insider (Jan. 14, 2021) “Estate planning is an important strategy for arranging financial affairs and protecting heirs—here are five reasons why everyone needs an estate plan”

 

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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 a Charitable Remainder Trust Works – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The least popular beneficiary is almost always the federal government. Most people are concerned that their estate will need to pay taxes and do what they can through estate planning to keep federal estate tax liability to a minimum. However, with federal estate and gift tax exemptions at $11.58 million per person this year, and twice that when properly used with the spousal exemption, most people do not need to worry about the federal estate tax, explains The News Enterprise in the article “New federal law resurrects Charitable Remainder Trust.”

The passage of the SECURE Act, effective January 1, 2020, made big changes in how we need to plan for taxes for beneficiaries. Federal estate and gift tax exemptions did not change, but anyone who inherits a retirement account is likely to find fewer options than before the SECURE Act.

Charitable remainder trusts have been used for many years to avoid high capital gains taxes on appreciated assets. Appreciated assets are placed into trusts and no taxes are due on the transfer.  The donor also gets a charitable tax deduction. The amount in the trust grows, while paying out a small amount to beneficiaries in installment payments.

With the passage of the SECURE Act, non-spousal beneficiaries, with certain exceptions, must withdraw the entire amount of the qualified retirement account within ten years. Generally, beneficiaries may not roll the account into their own qualified account, and there are no required annual distributions. However, there is a ten-year window to empty the account. Taxes are due on every withdrawal, whether it takes place over ten years or as a single withdrawal.

By using a CRT, the full amount of the account may be transferred into the CRT, no taxes are due, and the donor (or the donor’s estate) gets a charitable deduction.

The trust is simply an instrument created, so that a beneficiary may receive regular payments, which may include the donor, beneficiaries or multiple beneficiaries, over the span of their lives, or in a set number of years, with the remainder interest of at least ten percent of the initial contribution paid to a qualified charity at the end of the trust.

This effectively creates a stretch for the IRA, with withdrawals being taxed to the beneficiary, over a longer time span. With only ten percent being required to be donated to a charity, those who plan on making a donation to a charity anyway receive a benefit, and their beneficiaries can receive a lifetime income stream.

Speak with your estate planning attorney to learn how a CRT could be part of your estate plan.

Reference: The News Enterprise (June 2, 2020) “New federal law resurrects Charitable Remainder Trust”

 

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Is There Estate Tax on the Property I Inherited? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The vast majority of those who inherit real estate don’t end up paying any taxes on the property. However, there are some instances where estate or inheritance taxes could be assessed on inherited real estate. Motley Fool’s recent article, “Do You Have to Pay Estate Tax on Real Estate You Inherit?” provides a rundown of how estate taxes work in the U.S. and what it means to you if you inherit or are gifted real estate assets.

An estate tax is a tax applied on property transfers at death. A gift tax is a tax levied on property transfers while both parties are alive. An inheritance tax is assessed on the individual who inherits the property. For real estate purposes, you should also know that this includes money and property, and real estate is valued based on the fair market value at the time of the decedent’s death.

Most Americans don’t have to worry about estate taxes because we’re allowed to exclude a certain amount of assets from our taxable estates, which is called the lifetime exemption. This amount is adjusted for inflation over time and is $11.58 million per person for 2020. Note that estate taxes aren’t paid by people who inherit the property but are paid directly by the estate before it is distributed to the heirs.

The estate and gift taxes in the U.S. are part of a unified system. The IRS allows an annual exclusion amount that exempts many gifts from any potential transfer tax taxation. In 2020, it’s $15,000 per donor, per recipient. Although money (or assets) exceeding this amount in a given year is reported as a taxable gift, doesn’t mean you’ll need to pay tax on them. However, taxable gifts do accumulate from year to year and count toward your lifetime exclusion. If you passed away in 2020, your lifetime exclusion will be $11.58 million for estate tax purposes.

If you’d given $3 million in taxable gifts during your lifetime, you’ll only be able to exclude $8.58 million of your assets from estate taxation. You’d only be required to pay any gift taxes while you’re alive, if you use up your entire lifetime exemption. If you have given away $11 million prior to 2020 and you give away another $1 million, it would trigger a taxable gift to the extent that your new gift exceeds the $11.58 million threshold.

There are a few special rules to understand, such as the fact that you can give any amount to your spouse in most cases, without any gift or estate tax. Any amount given to charity is also free of gift tax and doesn’t count toward your lifetime exemption. Higher education expenses are free of gift and estate tax consequences provided the payment is made directly to the school. Medical expense payments are free of gift and estate tax consequences, if the payment is made directly to the health care provider.

Remember that some states also have their own estate and/or inheritance taxes that you might need to consider.

States that have an estate tax include Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. The states with an inheritance tax are Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Maryland has both an estate and an inheritance tax. However, there are very few situations when you would personally have to pay tax on inherited real estate.

Estate tax can be a complex issue, so speak with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Motley Fool (December 11, 2019) “Do You Have to Pay Estate Tax on Real Estate You Inherit?”

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What Does an Estate Planning Attorney Really Do? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Vents Magazine’s recent article, “Understanding What an Estate Planning Attorney Does,” explains that estate planning is a legal set of instructions for your family about how to distribute your wealth and property after you die. Estate planning attorneys make sure the distribution of property happens according to the decedent’s will.

An estate planning attorney can provide legal advice on how to prepare your will after you pass away or in the event that you experience mental incapacity. She will have all the information and education on all the legal processes, beginning with your will and moving on to other important estate planning documents. She will also help you to understand estate taxes.

An estate planning attorney will also help to make certain that all of your savings and property are safe and distributed through the proper legal processes.

Estate planning attorneys can also assist with the power of attorney and health care directives. These documents allow you to designate an individual to decide issues on your behalf, in the event that you become mentally incapable of making decisions for yourself. They can also help you with a guardian who will look after your estate.

It’s important that you select the right estate planning attorney to execute the legal process, as you’ve instructed in your estate plan. You should only retain an attorney with experience in this field of law because other legal counsel won’t be able to help you with these issues—or at least, they may say they can, only to find out later that they’re not experienced in this area.

You also want to feel comfortable with your estate planning attorney because you must disclose all your life details, plans and estate issues, so she can create an estate plan that’s customized to your circumstances.

If you choose the right attorney, it will save you money in the long run. She will help you save from all the estate taxes and make all the processes smooth and easy for you and your loved ones.

Reference: Vents Magazine (December 12, 2019) “Understanding What an Estate Planning Attorney Does”

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How is My Retirement Income Taxed? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Based on the state in which you retire, state income taxes could vary by thousands of dollars. However, as a recent Kiplinger article, “State Taxes on Retirees Differ by Types of Retirement Income,” tells us, it’s not just a state’s tax rate that matters. The type of income you get in retirement frequently has a bigger impact on your state taxes than your tax rate, because each state has its own method of taxing specific types of retirement income.

Let’s look at the taxes on Social Security benefits. The federal government can tax up to 85% of Social Security benefits, but most states don’t tax Social Security benefits. There are seven states—Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming—that don’t tax Social Security benefits because they don’t have any income tax. New Hampshire and Tennessee only tax interest and dividends. Social Security benefits are exempt from tax in DC and 28 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

That leaves 13 states where part of Social Security benefits may be taxable. New Mexico, Utah, and West Virginia currently tax Social Security benefits to the same extent they are taxed on federal returns, but West Virginia plans to phase out its tax on Social Security benefits in 2020. Taxation of Social Security benefits in the rest of the states—Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Vermont—is based on your income and, in many instances, on your filing status. Some of these states may also exempt Social Security for taxpayers under certain income thresholds.

As far as retirement plan payouts, state taxation of payouts from retirement plans, such as pensions, IRAs, and 401(k)s, can be more complicated. States without an income tax or that just tax interest and dividends don’t tax retirement plan payouts. However, with the other states, it’s all over the board. Mississippi and Pennsylvania are the most generous—they typically don’t tax any retirement income. However, California, D.C., Nebraska, and Vermont offer few or no tax breaks for retirement plan payouts. In some cases, the type of retirement plan involved makes a difference.

Reference: Kiplinger (October 28, 2019) “State Taxes on Retirees Differ by Types of Retirement Income”

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