What Is the Point of a Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A trust is an agreement made when a person, referred to as the trustor or grantor, gives a third party, known as the trustee, the authority to hold assets for the trust beneficiaries. The trustee is in charge of the trust and responsible for executing the trust’s instructions as per the language in the trust, explains a recent article from The Skim, “What is a Trust? (Spoiler: They’re Not Just for the Wealthy).”

Some examples of how trusts are used: if the grantor doesn’t want beneficiaries to have access to funds until they reach a certain age, the trustee will not distribute anything until the age as directed by the trust. The funds could also be solely used for the beneficiaries’ health care needs or education or whatever expense the grantor has named, the trustee decides when the funds should be released.

Trusts are not one-size-fits-all. There are many to choose from. For instance, if you wanted the bulk of your assets to go to your grandchildren, you might use a Generation-Skipping Trust. If you think your home’s value may skyrocket after you die, you might want to consider a Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT) to reduce taxes.

Trusts fall into a few categories:

Testamentary Trust vs. Living Trust

A testamentary trust is known as a “trust under will” and is created based on provisions in the will after the grantor dies. A testamentary trust fund can be used to make gifts to charities or provide lifetime income for loved ones.

In most cases, trusts don’t have to go through the probate process, that is, being validated by the court before beneficiaries can receive their inheritance. However, because the testamentary trust is tied to the will, it is subject to probate. Your heirs may have to wait until the probate process is completed to receive their inheritance. This varies by state, so ask an estate planning attorney in your state.

Living trusts are created while you are living and are also known as revocable trusts. As the grantor, you may make as many changes as you like to the trust terms while living. Once you die, the trust becomes an irrevocable trust, and the terms cannot be changed. There’s no need for the trust to go through probate and beneficiaries receive inheritances as per the directions in the trust.

What are the key benefits of creating a trust? A trust doesn’t always need to go through probate and gives you greater control over the assets. If you create an irrevocable trust and fund it while living, your assets are removed from your probate estate, which means whatever assets are moved into the trust are not subject to estate taxes.

Are there any reasons not to create a trust? There are costs associated with creating a trust. The trust must also be funded, meaning ownership documents like titles for a car or deeds for a house have to be revised to place the asset under the control of the trust. The same is true for stocks, bank accounts and any other asset used to fund the trust.

For gaining more control over your assets, minimizing estate taxes and making life easier for those you love after you pass, trusts are a valuable tool. Contact us to speak with one of our estate planning attorneys to find out which trust works best for your situation. Your estate plan and any trusts should complement each other.

Reference: The Skim (Oct. 26, 2022) “What is a Trust? (Spoiler: They’re Not Just for the Wealthy)”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You Ready for 2026? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

You may not be thinking about Jan. 1, 2026. Any New Year’s Eve celebrations being planned now are more likely to concern Jan. 1, 2023. However, if your estate is worth $5 million or more when the first day of 2026 arrives, your estate planning should begin now. According to a recent article from Forbes, “Is 2026 An Important Year For Your Wealth?,” the reduction in the estate tax exemption will revert to the 2010 level of $5 million adjusted for inflation. It could go even lower. With federal tax rates on estates over the exemption level set at 40%, plus any state estate or inheritance taxes, planning needs to be done in advance.

Considering the record levels of national debt and government spending, it’s unlikely these exemptions will remain the same. Now is the time to maximize today’s high estate tax exemption levels to minimize federal estate taxes and maximize what will be left to heirs.

Your estate planning attorney will have many different strategies and tools to achieve these goals. One is the Spousal Lifetime Access Trust (SLAT). This is an irrevocable trust created by each spouse, known as the grantors, for the benefit of the other spouse. Important note: to avoid scrutiny, the trusts must not be identical.

Each trust is funded by the grantor in an amount up to the current available tax exemption. Today, this is $12.06 million each (or a total of $24.12 million) without incurring a gift tax.

This serves several purposes. One is removing the gifted assets from the grantor’s estate. The assets and their future growth are protected from estate taxes.

The spousal beneficiary has access to the trust income and/or principal, depending upon how the trust is created, if they need to tap the trust.

The trust income may be taxed back to the grantor instead of the trust. This allows the assets in the trust to grow tax-free.

Remainder beneficiaries, who are typically the grantor’s children, receive the assets at the termination of the SLAT, usually when the beneficiary spouse passes away.

The SLAT can be used as a generation-skipping trust, if this is the goal.

The SLAT is a useful tool for blended families to avoid accidentally disinheriting children from first (or subsequent) marriage. Remainder assets can be distributed to named beneficiaries upon the death of the spouse.

The SLAT is an irrevocable trust, so some control needs to be given up when the SLATs are created. Couples using this strategy need to have enough assets to live comfortably after funding the SLATS.

Why do this now, when 2026 is so far away? The SLAT strategy takes time to implement, and it also takes time for people to get comfortable with the idea of taking a significant amount of wealth out of their control to place in an irrevocable trust. For a large SLAT, estate planning attorneys, CPAs and financial advisors generally need to work together to create the proper structure. Executing this estate planning strategy takes time and should not be left for the year before this large change in federal estate taxes occurs.

Contact us to begin planning your SLAT strategy with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys today.

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 4, 2022) “Is 2026 An Important Year For Your Wealth?”

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

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

A Qualified Terminable Interest Property Trust, or QTIP, is a trust allowing the person who makes the trust (the grantor) to provide for a surviving spouse while maintaining control of how the trust’s assets are distributed once the surviving spouse passes, as explained in the article “QTIP Trusts” from Investopedia.

QTIPs are irrevocable trusts, commonly used by people who have children from prior marriages. The QTIP allows the grantor to take care of their spouse and ensure assets in the trust are eventually passed to beneficiaries of their own choosing. Beneficiaries could be the grantor’s offspring from a prior marriage, grandchildren, other family members or friends.

In addition to providing the surviving spouse with income, the QTIP also limits applicable estate and gift taxes. The property within the QTIP trust provides income to the surviving spouse and qualifies as a marital deduction, meaning the value of the trust is not taxable after the death of the first spouse. Rather, the property in the QTIP trust will be included in the estate of the surviving spouse and subject to estate taxes depending on the value of their own assets and the estate tax exemption in effect at the time of death.

The QTIP can also assert control over how assets are handled when the surviving spouse dies, as the spouse never assumes the power of appointment over the principal. This is especially important when there is more than one marriage and children from more than one family. This prevents those assets from being transferred to the living spouse’s new spouse if they should re-marry.

A minimum of one trustee must be appointed to manage the trust, although there may be multiple trustees named. The trustee is responsible for controlling the trust and has full authority over assets under management. The surviving spouse, a financial institution, an estate planning attorney or other family member or friend may serve as a trustee.

The surviving spouse named in a QTIP trust usually receives income from the trust based on the trust’s income, similar to stock dividends. Payments may only be made from the principal if the grantor allows it when the trust was created, so it must be created to suit the couple’s needs.

Payments are made to the spouse as long as they live. Upon their death, the payments end, and they are not transferable to another person. The assets in the trust then become the property of the listed beneficiaries.

The marital trust is similar to the QTIP, but there is a difference in how the assets are controlled. A QTIP allows the grantor to dictate how assets within the trust are distributed and requires at least annual distributions. A marital trust allows the surviving spouse to dictate how assets are distributed, regular distributions are not required, and new beneficiaries can be added. The marital trust is more flexible and, accordingly, more common in first marriages and not in blended families.

Your estate planning attorney will explain further how else these two trusts are different and which one is best for your situation. There are other ways to create trusts to control how assets are distributed, how taxes are minimized and to set conditions on benefits. Each person’s situation is different, and there are trusts and strategies to meet almost every need imaginable.

Contact us to determine which trust is best for your family and situation with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Reference: Investopedia (Aug. 14, 2022) “QTIP Trusts”

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

Another Reason Why You Need an Estate Planning Attorney – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The saying ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ is most apt in estate planning. A well-meaning person may create a will with the goal of leaving property to grandchildren, only for the children or their parents to learn after the grandparent’s passing the law does not permit property to be transferred. A recent article titled “The Arcane Law That Could Derail Your Inheritance Plans” from yahoo! entertainment is a good example of the importance of estate planning attorneys to create effective estate plans.

The rule against perpetuities may prevent a property from remaining in the family, if it takes too long for the will’s conditions to be met.

The rule against perpetuities creates a standard for when an interest in land or property must vest. The rule against perpetuities stipulates that a will, estate plan or other legal documents intending to transfer property ownership more than twenty-one years after the death of the primary (decedent) becomes void.

This rule means a person can’t legally guarantee their grandchildren, great-grandchildren or other heirs in the future may retain ownership of the grantor’s property. This may be an obscure law. However, the problem becomes real if and when someone should challenge the will, as this is a legitimate legal argument to be made.

This is an old law dating back to 17th century England, when courts wanted heirs and descendants to be able to buy and sell land without the influence of ancestors who tried to control property over many generations. The United States adopted this law and while many legal authorities see it as being outdated, only some states have drafted modifications or new laws to change it.

In 1986, thirty-one states addressed the problem by drafting a “wait and see” approach, meaning an interest in the property must vest within ninety years of the implementation of a will or life estate. This has alleviated the limit, meaning a will or other transfer of property has nine decades to vest before it becomes void.

If your estate plan includes leaving assets for grandchildren, including real estate property, contact us to speak with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys about this admittedly arcane law. If your state is one that has not adopted the “wait and see” approach, you will be glad you prepared.

Reference: yahoo! entertainment (Aug. 20, 2022) “The Arcane Law That Could Derail Your Inheritance Plans”

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

What Is Better, a Trust or a Will? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Estate plans come in all sizes and shapes. One of the decisions in creating an estate plan is whether a trust should be part of your plan, as detailed in this recent article titled “Trust vs. Will: What They Share (And 6 Ways They are Different)” from Yahoo! Money. Both trusts and wills give control over how assets are distributed. However, there are differences.

A trust is a tool for asset protection during and after life, created by an estate planning attorney. When the trust is created, assets are transferred into the trust, which is a legal entity. If it is a revocable trust, typically you are the grantor, trustee, and beneficiary. There are also other roles, like the successor trustee, who is the trustee if the primary is incapacitated and the beneficiary, the person who receives the assets. The trustee is a fiduciary and responsible for managing the assets for the best interest of the beneficiary.

There are many different types of trusts, but they mainly fall into two categories:

Revocable or living trusts allow the grantor full control of the trust. The trust assets are outside of the probate estate. Revocable trusts can be changed, assets may be added and beneficiaries can be changed. However, there is no protection from creditors and no unique tax benefits.

Irrevocable living trusts transfer assets upon death without going through probate. They provide stronger asset protection. Assets in an irrevocable trust are not accessible to creditors and, depending on how they are set up, may place assets outside of the taxable estate.

There are also many specialized trusts. A Special Needs Trust is used to care for a person with special needs, while maintaining their government benefits. A spendthrift trust can be used to leave assets for people who are not capable (or interested) in managing funds responsibly. Trusts provide significantly more control over assets after death than wills. They may also be harder to contest after death, since they go into effect while you are living and may remain in effect for many years.

Wills are used to provide specific directions about how you want to distribute assets upon your death. The will goes through probate, where the court determines if the will is valid, if the executor is acceptable and then the will becomes part of the public record. Creditors can make claims against the estate, family members may challenge the will and depending upon where you live, it could take many months or several years to settle the estate.

How are trusts and wills different?

1—Trusts can be more complex than wills and require management. The will goes into effect upon your death, and you can change a will whenever you want. You also can change a trust whenever you want, but only if it is revocable.

2—Trusts go into effect immediately and they need to be funded, so you will have to transfer assets to the trust.

3—A trust is a separate legal entity, so assets are shielded from estate and inheritance taxes. Certain trusts do pay taxes, so speak with your estate planning attorney about how this may work for you.

4—Certain trusts put assets well beyond the reach of creditors. However, a trust may not be created solely for this purpose, since it could be deemed invalid by a court. However, in most cases, trusts work well to protect assets to pass them along to beneficiaries. A will offers no such protection, unless a “testamentary” trust is created under the will. This will created trust can operate exactly as an inheritance trust created for loved ones after you die and your revocable trust becomes irrevocable.

5—Planning for incapacity should be part of any estate plan. Once a trust is set up and funded, the assets immediately enjoy the protection by having a successor trustee to be in charge of assets if the grantor/trustee becomes incapacitated. A will only addresses what happens after you die, not what happens if you become too sick or are injured and cannot manage your affairs.

6—The trust is the winner when it comes to control over assets after death, if you want to avoid probate. You can instruct the trustee to distribute funds to beneficiaries only under certain conditions and terms. If you want beneficiaries to finish college, for instance, you can direct the trustee to distribute a certain amount of money only after the person completes an undergraduate degree. You can also use the money to pay for their college education.

For most people, a combination of a will and trust works to control assets, prepare for incapacity and, just as importantly, provide peace of mind.

Bottom line: estate planning is complicated, not a do-it-yourself project and should be done with the counsel of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Yahoo! Money (June 5, 2022) “Trust vs. Will: What They Share (And 6 Ways They are Different”

 

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

Is Your Estate Plan Ready for Tax Changes? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

After December 1, 2025, the federal estate tax exemption will fall back to $5 million (indexed for inflation) from the current $12 million level. Now is the time to use available estate planning strategies and ensure that your plan factors in changes in tax law, advises a recent article titled “Are Clients’ Current Estate Plans Soundproof for the Future?” from Financial Advisor.

For many families, structured and leveraged gifting is one of the most useful wealth transfer vehicles. A parent could use their GST and gift tax exemptions to make gifts to children, grandchildren and other family members before this tax law changes.

Here is an example, using a high-net-worth family. Bill and Sue are married, so they can make combined lifetime gifts of $24,120,000. They own a family business worth $10 million in equal shares. They transfer 20% of the business to their children. This is a minority stake, meaning the minority owners have no right to make relevant business decisions and vote on important issues. As a result, the minority stake is discounted and worth $1.3 million instead of $2 million for gift and estate tax purposes and Bill and Sue retain $700,000 more of their allotted exemption.

For lifetime transfers, the valuation date is the date of the gifting, but for transfers at death, the valuation date is the date of death. By using this valuation discount while they are living, Bill and Sue have reduced the value of their company for estate tax purposes, giving their children a percentage of the company in a manner costing less in terms of transfer tax.

By making these gifts in 2022, Bill and Sue have removed $24,120,000 from their estate tax free. They have also removed the appreciation on the assets gifted away from their estate. However—if the gift is not made and the federal estate tax exemption reduces to $6 million per person before their deaths in 2040, then when the second spouse dies, heirs or beneficiaries will receive significantly less than what they would have received if the gift was made prior to the reduction of the federal exemption.

There was concern about tax outcomes if the taxpayer makes gifts now and the exemptions are reduced sooner. However, the IRS Treasury Decision 9884 confirms there will be no claw backs under these circumstances.

If the parents are concerned about making outright gifts to chosen beneficiaries who are too young, immature, or vulnerable to creditors, other strategies can be used to allow them to maintain control, while protecting assets and locking in these estate and gift tax advantages. The grantor can execute a plan ensuring that the donor receives an income from the transferred asset and/or maintaining access to principal.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to learn what strategies are available now to prevent overly burdensome estate taxes in the future. After all, 2025 is not as far away as it seems.

Reference: Financial Advisor (June 8, 2022) “Are Clients’ Current Estate Plans Soundproof for the Future?”

 

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What Is the Best Way to Leave Money to Children? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Parents and grandparents want what is best for children and grandchildren. We love generously sharing with them during our lifetimes—family vacations, values and history. If we can, we also want to pass on a financial legacy with little or no complications, explains a recent article titled “4 Tax-Smart Ways to Share the Wealth with Kids” from Kiplinger.

There are many ways to transfer wealth from one person to another. However, there are only a handful of tools to effectively transfer financial gifts for future generations during our lifetimes. UTMA/UGMA accounts, 529 accounts, IRAs, and Irrevocable Gift Trusts are the most widely used.

Which option will be best for you and your family? It depends on how much control you want to have, the goal of your gift and its size.

UTMA/UGMA Accounts, the short version for Uniform Transfers to Minor or Uniform Gift to Minor accounts, allows gifts to be set aside for minors who would otherwise not be allowed to own significant property. These custodial accounts let you designate someone—it could be you—to manage gifted funds, until the child becomes of legal age, depending on where you live, 18 or 21.

It takes very little to set up the account. You can do it with your local bank branch. However, the funds are taxable to the child and if an investment triggers a “kiddie tax,” putting the child into a high tax bracket and in line with income tax brackets for non-grantor trusts, it could become expensive. Your estate planning attorney will help you determine if this makes sense.

What may concern you more: when the minor turns 18 or 21, they own the account and can do whatever they want with the funds.

529 College Savings Accounts are increasingly popular for passing on wealth to the next generation. The main goal of a 529 is for educational purposes. However, there are many qualified expenses that it may be used for. Any income from transfers into the account is free of federal income tax, as long as distributions are used for qualified expenses. Any gains may be nontaxable under local and state laws, depending on which account you open and where you live. Contributions to 529 accounts qualify for the annual gift tax exclusion but can also be used for other gift and estate tax planning methods, including letting you make front-loaded gifts for up to five years without tapping your lifetime estate tax exemption.

You may also change the beneficiary of the account at any time, so if one child does not use all their funds, they can be used by another child.

From the IRS’ perspective, a child’s IRA is the same as an adult IRA. The traditional IRA allows an immediate deduction for income taxes when contributions are made. Neither income nor principal are taxed until funds are withdrawn. By contrast, a Roth IRA has no up-front tax deduction. However, any earned income is tax free, as are withdrawals. There are other considerations and limits.  However, generally speaking the Roth IRA is the preferred approach for children and adults when the income earner expects to be in a higher tax bracket when they retire. It is safe to say that most younger children with earned income will earn more income in their adult years.

The most versatile way to make gifts to minors is through a trust. There is no one-size-fits-all trust, and tax rules can be complex. Therefore, trusts should only be created with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney. A trust is a private agreement naming a trustee who will manage the assets in the trust for a beneficiary. The terms can be whatever the grantor (the person creating the trust) wants. Trusts can be designed to be fully asset-protected for a beneficiary’s lifetime, as long as they align with state law. The trust should have a provision for what will occur if the beneficiary or the primary trustee dies before the end of the trust.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 15, 2022) “4 Tax-Smart Ways to Share the Wealth with Kids”

 

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

What Happens to a Pet when Owner Dies? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Pet trusts are a legally binding arrangement in which the donor (the person creating the trust) formally outlines their wishes for how they want their pet to be cared for.

A few more people are involved in a pet trust, according to the article “’Paws-ing’ to plan: How you can ensure your pet’s future well-being with pet trust planning” from The Gilmer Mirror. A trustee oversees the way trust funds are dispensed, a caretaker, who is in charge of the pet’s care and an enforcer, who makes sure the donor’s wishes are followed. Donors may appoint a caretaker of their choice, or work with an agent to find someone suitable for their pet.

Unlike an informal promise to care for a pet made by a well-meaning friend or family member, the pet trust is legally enforceable, giving it more “teeth” than a verbal promise. There is nothing to stop the person you leave your pet with from doing whatever they wish with the pet, from leaving the pet at a shelter to selling the pet. With a trust, all parties are bound to use the money for its intended purposes and to follow pet care instructions.

What can you ask your pet’s caretaker to do? Anything you feel is necessary. It can be as basic or as detailed as you wish. The pet could be cared for as they were by you, with the same kind of food, attention and affection. They can also continue to be seen by the same veterinarian, if one is named in the trust.

Pet planning has become increasingly popular, as more people see their pets as members of the family. However, pet trusts are not just for house cats or dogs. Work animals, show animals, specially trained service and companion animals and animals used for breeding are also protected by pet trusts.

A pet trust could ensure the future of a highly trained show jumper, or to ensure a working dog ends up at a farm where she continues to herd sheep.

Pet trusts are especially important for people with service animals. A blind person who has bonded with a seeing-eye dog may only wish another blind person to inherit a seeing-eye dog. The trust could ensure that animals who have been trained to provide emotional support, or to detect health conditions like seizures, should go to individuals with these same challenges.

Individuals who live with highly trained service animals should consult an experienced estate planning attorney along with the organization that trained the animal to ensure a pet trust is created within the scope and requirements of the organization, as well as the wishes of the owner. The organization may be better able to place the animal, while adhering to the pet trust’s requirements.

A pet trust helps protect our beloved animal companions and provides peace of mind for their humans. It should be part of your overall estate plan and should be updated regularly.

Reference: The Gilmer Mirror (March 23, 2022) “’Paws-ing’ to plan: How you can ensure your pet’s future well-being with pet trust planning”

 

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

What Legal Terms in Estate Planning do Non-Lawyers Need to Know? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Having a working knowledge of the terms used in estate planning is the first step in working successfully with an estate planning attorney, says a recent article, “Learn lingo of estate planning to help ensure best outcome” from The News-Enterprise. Two of those key words:

Principal—the individual on whose behalf documents are prepared.

Fiduciary—the person who signs some of these documents and who is responsible for making decisions in the best interest of the principal and the estate.

In estate planning and in business, the fiduciary is the person or business who must act responsibly and in good faith towards the person and their property. You will see this term in almost every estate planning or financial document.

Within a last will and testament, there are more: beneficiary, conservator, executor, grantor, guardian, testator, and trustee are some of the more commonly used terms for the roles people take.

The testator is the principal, the person who signs the will and on whose behalf the will was drafted.

Beneficiaries are individuals who receive property from the estate after death. Contingent beneficiaries are “back-up” beneficiaries, in case the beneficiaries are unable to receive the inheritance. In most wills, the beneficiaries are listed “or to descendants, per stirpes.” This means if the beneficiary dies before the testator, the beneficiary’s children receive the original beneficiary’s share.

In most cases, specific distributions are made first, where a specific asset or amount of money goes to a specific person. This includes charitable donations. After all specific distributions are made, the rest of the estate, referred to as the “residuary estate,” is distributed. This includes everything else in the probate estate.

The administrator or executor is the fiduciary charged with gathering assets, paying bills and making the distribution to beneficiaries. The executor is the term used when there is a will. If there is no will, the person in the role is referred to as the administrator and may be appointed by the court.

If a beneficiary is unable to take the inheritance because they are a minor or incapacitated, the court will appoint a conservator to act as fiduciary on behalf of the beneficiary.

A guardian is the person who takes care of the beneficiary, or minor children, and is named in the will. If there is no guardian named in the will, or if there is no will, a court will appoint a person to be the guardian. Judges do not always select family members to serve as guardians, so there should always be a secondary guardian, in case the first cannot serve. If the first guardian does not wish to serve or is unable to, naming a secondary guardian is better than a child being sent to foster care.

Finally, the trustee is the person in charge of a trust. The person who creates the trust is the grantor or settlor. It is important to note the executor has no control or input over the trust. Only the trustee or successor trustee may make distributions and they are the trust’s fiduciary.

Getting comfortable with the terms of estate planning will make the process easier and help you understand the different roles and responsibilities involved.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Jan. 18, 2022) “Learn lingo of estate planning to help ensure best outcome”

 

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