Distributing Inherited Assets in Many Accounts – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

This generous individual may be facing a number of legal and logistical hurdles, before assets in eight separate accounts can be passed to three relatives, says the article “Sorting through multiple inheritance accounts” from the Houston Chronicle. Does the heir need to speak with each of the investment companies? Would it make sense to combine all the assets into one account for the estate and then divide and distribute them from that one account?

If all the accounts were payable to this person upon the death of the brother, then the first thing is for the heir to contact each company and have all funds transferred to one account. It might be an already existing account in their name, or it may need to be a new account opened just for this purpose. The account could be at any of the brother’s investment firms, or it could be with a different firm.

If the accounts are not payable to the heir, but they are to be inherited as part of the brother’s estate, the estate must be probated before the funds can be claimed. In this case, it would be very helpful if the sole beneficiary is also the executor. This would put one person in charge of all of the work that needs to be done.

However, the person eventually will become the owner of all eight accounts. Once everything is in the heir’s name, then the assets can be distributed to the three relatives. There are some tax issues that must be addressed.

First, if the estate is large enough, it may owe federal estate taxes, which will diminish the size of the estate. The limit, if the brother died in 2020, is $11.58 million. If he died in an earlier year, the exemption will be considerably lower, and the estate and the executor may already be late in making federal tax payments. Penalties may apply, so a conversation with an estate planning attorney should take place as soon as possible.

If the brother lived in another state, there may be state estate or inheritance taxes owed to that state. While Texas does not have a state estate or inheritance tax, other states, like Pennsylvania, do. A consultation with an estate planning attorney can also answer this question.

When gifts are ultimately made to the three relatives, the first $15,000 given to each of them during a calendar year will be treated as a non-taxable gift. However, if any of the gifts exceed $15,000, the person will be using up their own $11.58 million exemption from gift and estate taxes. A gift tax return will need to be filed to report the gifts. If the heir is married, those numbers will likely double.

It may be possible to disclaim the inheritance, with the assets passing to the three relatives to whom the heir wishes to make these gifts. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to work through the details to determine the best way to proceed with receiving and distributing the assets. Depending upon the size of the estate, there will be tax consequences that must be considered.

Reference: Houston Chronicle (March 24, 2020) “Sorting through multiple inheritance accounts”

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What’s the Difference Between an Inter Vivos Trust and a Testamentary Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Trusts can be part of your estate planning to transfer assets to your heirs. A trust created while an individual is still alive is an inter vivos trust, while one established upon the death of the individual is a testamentary trust.

Investopedia’s recent article entitled “Inter Vivos Trust vs. Testamentary Trust: What’s the Difference?” explains that an inter vivos or living trust is drafted as either a revocable or irrevocable living trust and allows the individual for whom the document was established to access assets like money, investments and real estate property named in the title of the trust. Living trusts that are revocable have more flexibility than those that are irrevocable. However, assets titled in or made payable to both types of living trusts bypass the probate process, once the trust owner dies.

With an inter vivos trust, the assets are titled in the name of the trust by the owner and are used or spent down by him or her, while they are alive. When the trust owner passes away, the remainder beneficiaries are granted access to the assets, which are then managed by a successor trustee.

A testamentary trust (or will trust) is created when a person dies, and the trust is set out in their last will and testament. Because the creation of a testamentary trust does not occur until death, it is irrevocable. The trust is a created by provisions in the will that instruct the executor of the estate to create the trust. After death, the will must go through probate to determine its authenticity before the testamentary trust can be created. After the trust is created, the executor follows the directions in the will to transfer property into the trust.

This type of trust does not protect a person’s assets from the probate process. As a result, distribution of cash, investments, real estate, or other property may not conform to the trust owner’s specific desires. A testamentary trust is designed to accomplish specific planning goals like the following:

  • Preserving property for children from a previous marriage
  • Protecting a spouse’s financial future by giving them lifetime income
  • Leaving funds for a special needs beneficiary
  • Keeping minors from inheriting property outright at age 18 or 21
  • Skipping your surviving spouse as a beneficiary and
  • Making gifts to charities.

Through trust planning, married couples may use of their opportunity for estate tax reduction through the Unified Federal Estate and Gift Tax Exemption. That is the maximum amount of assets the IRS allows you to transfer tax-free during life or at death. It can be a substantial part of the estate, making this a very good choice for financial planning.

Reference: Investopedia (Aug. 30, 2019) “Inter Vivos Trust vs. Testamentary Trust: What’s the Difference?”

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Do I Need to Be Wealthy to Set Up a Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Trust funds are intended to let a person’s money continue to be useful, after they pass away. However, they are not only useful for ultra-high-net-worth individuals. Many people can benefit from the use of a trust.

Investopedia’s recent article entitled “How to Set Up a Trust Fund if You’re Not Rich” says that you can place cash, stock, real estate, or other valuable assets in your trust. Work with a trust attorney, decide on the beneficiaries, and set any instructions or restrictions. With an irrevocable trust, you do not have the ability to dissolve the trust, if you change your mind later on. Once you place property in the trust, it is no longer yours but is under the care of a trustee. Because the assets are no longer yours, you do not have to pay income tax on any money made from the assets, and with an estate planning attorney’s guidance, the assets can be exempt from estate and gift taxes.

Tax exemptions are a main reason that some people set up an irrevocable trust. If you, the trustor (the person establishing the trust) is in a higher income tax bracket, creating an irrevocable trust lets you remove these assets from your net worth and move into a lower tax bracket.

If you do not want to set up a trust, there are other options. However, they do not give you as much control over your property. As an alternative or in addition to a trust, you can have an attorney draft your will. With a will, your property is subject to more taxes, and its terms can easily be contested in probate. You also will not have much control over how your assets are used.

Similar to a 529 college-savings plan, UGMA/UTMA custodial accounts are designed to let a person use the funds for education-related expenses. You can use an account like this to gift a certain amount up to the maximum gift tax or fund maximum to reduce your tax liability, while setting aside funds that can only be used for education-related expenses. The downside to UGMA/UTMA Custodial Accounts and 529 plans is that money in the minor’s custodial account is considered an asset. This may make them ineligible to receive need-based financial aid.

For those who do not have a high net-worth but want to leave money to children or grandchildren and control how that money is used, a trust may be a good option. Talk it over with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Investopedia (Dec. 12, 2019) “How to Set Up a Trust Fund if You’re Not Rich”

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What Does Recent Legislation Mean for the Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax (GSTT) Exemption? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Congress has made some significant changes through the planned sunset of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) increased exemptions and through the recent changes to retirement planning in the Secure Act.

Think Advisor’s recent article entitled, “Estate Planning Tips and Updates,” looks at some of the most notable of these.

  1. Increased Estate Tax Exemption Amounts. The current applicable exemption amount of $11.58 million each (or $23.16 million for a married couple) lets many people totally avoid transfer taxes. However, the applicable exclusion amount reverts to its prior inflation adjusted amount in 2026. Therefore, if you have a gross estate of $11 million and previously made, say, $7 million of gifts, the rules eliminate any claw back of those gifts, if death occurs in 2026. However, you have no applicable exclusion amount remaining, says the IRS. As a result, after the sunset, you have a gross estate of $4 million and no remaining exemption. With this example, you would be wise to consider implementing one or more strategies, including gifts and sales to grantor trusts, before the end of 2025 to be certain you fully use the disappearing exemption.
  2. The Increased Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax (GSTT) Exemption. The TCJA also upped the GSTT exemption to $11.58 million each. This allows many people to exempt transfers for several generations, if not in perpetuity, under the laws of certain states. However, they must intentionally draft trusts to establish legal situs in states like Nevada to leverage longer perpetuities periods. This will result in avoiding additional estate, gift and GSTT taxes for longer periods, normally a net positive.
  3. Annual Exclusion Gifts. Regardless of the increased exemption amounts, continued annual exclusion gifts (currently $15,000) are still going to be a crucial component of most estate tax reduction planning, removing the amount of the gift and its future appreciation. The tax-exclusive nature of the gift tax makes gifts more tax-efficient.
  4. Basis Harvesting. The increased exemption amounts often will result in some people with previous trust planning no longer having estate tax issues. These people could look at reforming, amending, or decanting an existing trust to add older generations in a manner to cause inclusion in their estates. This inclusion triggers the basis step-up rules in the code and may dramatically reduce taxes upon a liquidity event, like the sale of a business interest previously gifted or sold over to the trust.
  5. Secure Act Age Changes. For those born after July 1, 1949, the Act raises the beginning age for minimum distributions (RMDs) to 72.
  6. Employer Inducements. The Act increases the current $500 credit for setting up a retirement plan to $5,000 in some situations and provides a $500 credit for three years to encourage the use of auto-enrollment.
  7. Inherited IRAs. The Act substantially restricts the use of “stretch” IRAs. For deaths after December 31, 2019, a recipient of an IRA from the deceased must generally take distributions from the IRA over no more than a 10-year period. However, the new rules exempt accounts inherited by a spouse, a minor child, a disabled or chronically ill person, or anyone less than 10 years younger than the deceased account owner.
  8. Annuities. The “stretch” IRA provisions also apply to annuities with one important exception. Annuities making payments before January 1, 2020, may still pay out over two lives. The new law encourages greater investment in annuities through 401(k) plans, and especially plans offered by smaller businesses, by decreasing the risk associated with offering annuities. As a result, employers offering annuities as investments will not have fiduciary duties as to those potential annuity investments, assuming they choose an issuer in good standing with the applicable state insurance commission. The Secure Act also offers portability for annuities, if you change jobs. This is a direct transfer between retirement plans.

Reference: Think Advisor (March 25, 2020) “Estate Planning Tips and Updates”

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What Happens If I Don’t Have an Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

It is so much better to have a will than not to. With a will, you can direct your assets to those whom you wish to receive a legacy, rather than the default rules of the State. This is according to a recent article in the Houston Chronicle’s entitled “Elder Law: Will you plan now or pay later?”

You should also designate an independent executor. You may want to have an estate planning attorney create a special trust to provide for family members who are disabled, along with trusts for minors and even adult children.

Here are three major items about which you may not have considered that may require changes to your estate plan or motivate you to get one. Years ago, the amount a person could leave to beneficiaries (the tax-free exemption equivalent) was much lower. You were also required to either use it or lose it.

For example, back in 1987 when the exemption equivalent was $600,000 per taxpayer, a couple had to create a by-pass trust to protect the first $600,000 upon the first to die to take advantage of the exemption. The exemption is $11.58 million in 2020, and the “portability” law has changed the “use it or lose it” requirement. There may still be good reasons to use a forced by-pass trust in your will, but in some cases, it may be time to get rid of it.

Next, think about implementing planning to have some control over your assets after you die.

You could have a heart attack, a stroke, or an unfortunate accident. These types of events can happen quickly with no warning. You were healthy and then suddenly a sickness or injury leaves you severely disabled. You should plan in the event this happen to you.

Why would a person not take the opportunity to prepare documents such as powers of attorney for property, powers of attorney for health care, living wills and medical privacy documents?

It is good to know that becoming the subject of a court supervised guardianship proceeding is a matter of public record for everyone to see. There is also the unnecessary expense and frustration of a guardianship that could have been avoided, if you would have taken the time to prepare the appropriate documents with an estate planning or elder law attorney.

Why would you want to procrastinate making a will and then die suddenly without ever taking the time to make your will? Without a valid will, your family will have to pay more for a costly probate proceeding.

Reference: Houston Chronicle (Jan. 16, 2020) “Elder Law: Will you plan now or pay later?”

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What Exactly Is the Estate Tax? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

In the U.S., we treat the estate tax and gift tax as a single tax system with unified limits and tax rates—but it is not very well understood by many people. The Motley Fool’s recent article entitled “What Is the Estate Tax in the United States?” gives us an overview of the U.S. estate and gift tax, including what assets are included, tax rates and exemptions in 2020.

The U.S. estate tax only impacts the wealthiest households. Let us look at why that is the case. Americans can exempt a certain amount of assets from their taxable estate—the lifetime exemption. This amount is modified every year to keep pace with inflation and according to policy modifications. This year, the lifetime exemption is $11.58 million per person. Therefore, if you are married, you and your spouse can collectively exclude twice this amount from taxation ($23.16 million). To say it another way, if you are single and die in 2020 with assets worth a total of $13 million, just $1.42 million of your estate would be taxable.

However, most Americans don’t have more than $11.58 million worth of assets when they pass away. This is why the estate tax only impacts the wealthiest households in the country. It is estimated that less than 0.1% of all estates are taxable. Therefore, 99.9% of us do not owe any federal estate taxes whatsoever at death. You should also be aware that the lifetime exemption includes taxable gifts as well. If you give $1 million to your children, for example, that counts toward your lifetime exemption. As a result, the amount of assets that could be excluded from estate taxes would be then decreased by this amount at your death.

You do not have to pay any estate or gift tax until after your death, or until you have used up your entire lifetime exemption. However, if you give any major gifts throughout the year, you might have to file a gift tax return with the IRS to monitor your giving. There is also an annual gift exclusion that lets you give up to $15,000 in gifts each year without touching your lifetime exemption. There are two key points to remember:

  • The exclusion amount is per recipient. Therefore, you can give $15,000 to as many people as you want every year, and they do not even need to be a relative; and
  • The exclusion is per donor. This means that you and your spouse (if applicable) can give $15,000 apiece to as many people as you want. If you give $30,000 to your child to help her buy their first home and you’re married, you can consider half of the gift from each spouse.

The annual gift exclusion is an effective way for you to reduce or even eliminate estate tax liability. The estate tax rate is effectively 40% on all taxable estate assets.

Finally, the following kinds of assets aren’t considered part of your taxable estate:

  • Anything left to a surviving spouse, called “the unlimited marital deduction”;
  • Any amount of money or property you leave to a charity;
  • Gifts you have given that are less than the annual exclusion for the year in which they were given; and
  • Some types of trust assets.

Reference: The Motley Fool (Jan. 25, 2020) “What Is the Estate Tax in the United States?”

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

A 2020 Checklist for an Estate Plan – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The beginning of a new year is a perfect time for those who have not started the process of getting an estate plan started. For those who already have a plan in place, now is a great time to review these documents to make changes that will reflect the changes in one’s life or family dynamics, as well as changes to state and federal law.

Houston Business Journal’s recent article entitled “An estate planning checklist should be a top New Year’s resolution” says that by partnering with a trusted estate planning attorney, you can check off these four boxes on your list to be certain your current estate plan is optimized for the future.

  1. Compute your financial situation. No matter what your net worth is, nearly everyone has an estate that is worth protecting. An estate plan formalizes an individual’s wishes and decreases the chances of family fighting and stress.
  2. Get your affairs in order. A will is the heart of the estate plan, and the document that designates beneficiaries beyond the property and accounts that already name them, like life insurance. A will details who gets what and can help simplify the probate process, when the will is administered after your death. Medical questions, provisions for incapacity and end-of-life decisions can also be memorialized in a living will and a medical power of attorney. A financial power of attorney also gives a trusted person the legal authority to act on your behalf, if you become incapacitated.
  3. Know the 2020 estate and gift tax exemptions. The exemption for 2020 is $11.58 million, an increase from $11.4 million in 2019. The exemption eliminates federal estate taxes on amounts under that limit gifted to family members during a person’s lifetime or left to them upon a person’s passing.
  4. Understand when the exemption may decrease. The exemption amount will go up each year until 2025. There was a bit of uncertainty about what would happen to someone who uses the $11.58 million exemption in 2020 and then dies in 2026—when the exemption reverts to the $5 million range. However, the IRS has issued final regulations that will protect individuals who take advantage of the exemption limits through 2025. Gifts will be sheltered by the increased exemption limits, when the gifts are actually made.

It is a great idea to have a resolution every January to check in with your estate planning attorney to be certain that your plan is set for the year ahead.

Reference: Houston Business Journal (Jan. 1, 2020) “An estate planning checklist should be a top New Year’s resolution”

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Creating an Estate Plan Should Be a New Year’s Resolution – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Many people think of estate planning as a way to save on taxes as their hard-earned assets are passed from one generation to the next. That is certainly a part of estate planning, but there are many other aspects of estate planning that focus on protecting the person and their family. They are detailed in the article “An estate planning checklist should be a top New Year’s resolution” from the Houston Business Journal.

Now is a good time to start the new year off right to put an estate plan in place. For those who have an estate plan, it is a good time to revisit living documents that need to be updated to reflect changes in a person’s life, family dynamics, changes in exemption limits and the recently passed SECURE Act.

Here are the top four items to make sure that your estate plan is ready for 2020.

Take a look at your financial situation. No matter how modest or massive your assets, just about everyone has an estate that is worth protecting. Most people have something they want to pass along to their children or grandchildren. An estate plan simply formalizes these wishes and minimizes the chances that the family will fight over how assets are distributed.

Many people meet with their team at least once a year to get a clear picture of their financial status. This allows the estate planning attorney to review any changes that may impact how the estate is structured, including tailoring gifting strategies to reduce the tax burden.

Put your wishes on paper, and your affairs in order. Without a will, there is no way for anyone to know what your wishes are and how you would want your assets passed to others. A will spells out who gets what and avoids having the estate administered by state laws. A living will is also needed to establish medical power of attorney and state wishes about life support and what medical care you may or may not want to receive. That can include everything from blood transfusions, palliative care, diagnostic tests or the use of a respirator. A financial POA is needed to give someone the legal authority to make decisions on your behalf, if you become incapacitated.

With these estate planning documents, you relieve family members of the burden of guessing what you might have wanted, especially during emergency situations when emotions are running high.

Asset estate and gift tax exemptions for 2020. The exemption for 2020 has increased to $1.58 million. This eliminates federal estate taxes on amounts under that limit that are gifted to family members during a person’s lifetime or left to them upon a person’s death. This is a significant increase from prior years. In 1997, the exemption was $600,000. It rose to $5.49 million in 2018, and as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, was $11.4 million in 2019.

Understand the “claw back.” The exemption amount will increase every year until 2025. There was some uncertainty about what would happen if someone uses their $11.58 million exemption in 2020 and then dies in 2026, when the number could revert back to the $5 million range. Would the IRS say that the person used more of their exemption than they were entitled to? The agency recently issued final regulations that will protect individuals who take advantage of these exemption limits through 2025. Gifts will be sheltered by the increasing exemption limits when the gifts are actually made.

Continuing changes in the tax laws are examples of why an annual review of an estate plan is necessary. The one thing we can all be certain of is change, and keeping estate plans up to date makes sure that the family benefits from all available changes to the law.

Reference: Houston Business Journal (Jan. 1, 2020) “An estate planning checklist should be a top New Year’s resolution”

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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”

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