What’s the Best Way to Mess Up Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Forbes’ recent article entitled “5 Ways People Mess Up Their Estate Plan” describes the most common mistakes people make that wreak havoc with their estate plans.

Giving money to an individual during life, but not changing their will. Cash gifts in a will are common. However, the will often is not changed. When the will gets probated, the individual named still gets the gift (or an additional gift). No one—including the probate court knows the gift was satisfied during life. As a result, a person may get double.

Not enough assets to fund their trust. If you created a trust years ago, and your overall assets have decreased in value, you should be certain there are sufficient assets going into your trust to pay all the gifts. Some people create elaborate estate plans to give cash gifts to friends and family and create trusts for others. However, if you do not have enough money in your trust to pay for all of these gifts, some people will get short changed, or get nothing at all.

Assuming all assets pass under the will. Some people think they have enough money to satisfy all the gifts in their will because they total up all their assets and arrive at a large enough amount. However, not all the assets will come into the will. Probate assets pass from the deceased person’s name to their estate and get distributed according to the will. However, non-probate assets pass outside the will to someone else, often by beneficiary designation or joint ownership. Understand the difference so you know how much money will actually be in the estate to be distributed in accordance with the will.  Do not forget to deduct debts, expenses and taxes.

Adding a joint owner. If you want someone to have an asset when you die, like real estate, you can add them as a joint owner. However, if your will is dependent on that asset coming into your estate to pay other people (or to pay debts, expenses or taxes), there could be an issue after you die. Adding joint owners often leads to will contests and prolonged court battles. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney.

Changing beneficiary designations. Changing your beneficiary on a life insurance policy could present another issue. The policy may have been payable to your trust to pay bequests, shelter monies from estate taxes, or pay estate taxes. If it is paid to someone else, your planning could be down the drain. Likewise, if you have a retirement account that was supposed to be payable to an individual and you change the beneficiary to your trust, there could be adverse income tax consequences.

Talk to your estate planning attorney and review your estate plan, your assets and your beneficiary designations. Do not make these common mistakes!

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 26, 2021) “5 Ways People Mess Up Their Estate Plan”

 

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

What Happens If I Take a Bigger RMD? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Once you celebrate your 72nd birthday, the IRS requires you to take a minimum amount from IRAs or other tax-deferred retirement accounts. Most people take the minimum, says a recent article from Kiplinger titled “Should You Take an Extra Big RMD This Year?” However, taking the minimum is not always the right strategy.

Looking at the broader picture might lead you to go bigger with your RMDs. For example, Bill and Betty are ages 75 and 71. Bill has an IRA worth $850,000. Their retirement income consists of a pension totaling $34,000, dividends of $8,000 and combined Social Security benefits of $77,000. Bob’s 2021 IRA RMD is $37,118. Using the standard deduction of $28,100 (for a married couple where both are over age 65 plus a $300 charitable contribution deduction), their taxable income is $116,468. Federal taxes are $16,560.

Bill and Betty could recognize another $65,000 of ordinary income from his IRA before they land in the 24% tax bracket. In 2022, Betty will have to start taking RMDs on her IRA—did we mention that her IRA is worth $1.5 million?—which will bump them into the 24% tax bracket. Bill should take another $64,000 from his IRA, filing up the 22% ordinary income bracket and reducing his RMD for 2022.

Another example: Alan Smithers is 81 and remarried ten years after his first wife passed. His IRA is worth $1.3 million, and his daughter is the beneficiary. His IRA RMD is $66,000 and he intends to be generous with charity this year, using about $30,000 for a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCS). Based on a projection of his 2021 tax return, Alan could take another $22,000 from his IRA, taxable at 12%. His daughter Daphne is 51, has a high income and significant assets. He should consider filling up his own 12% marginal ordinary income bracket, because when Daphne starts taking her own beneficiary distributions, she will be facing high taxes.

Here is what you need to consider when making RMD decisions:

Your tax bracket. How much more income can you realize while staying within your current tax bracket? Taxpayers in the 10-12% brackets should be extra careful of maxing out on ordinary income.

Your income. What does 2022 look like for your income? Will there be other sources of income, such as an inherited IRA, spouse’s IRA RMD, or annuity income to be considered?

Beneficiaries. How does your own tax rate compare with the tax rates of your beneficiaries? If you have a large IRA and your children have high incomes, could an inheritance push them into a higher tax bracket?

Medicare Premiums. Increases in income can lead to higher Medicare Part B and D premiums in coming years, so also keep that in mind.

It is best to take the broader view when planning for RMDs and taxes. A short-sighted approach could end up being more costly for you and your heirs.

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 23, 2021) “Should You Take an Extra Big RMD This Year?”

 

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

Do Grandchildren Get Some of the Estate If Their Dad Dies before Me? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

It is not that uncommon that a child dies before a parent. The question then arises about who gets that share. Is it the children of the decedent child (the will maker’s grandchildren), or do the will maker’s other children split the share of the decedent child?

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Who gets this inheritance if a beneficiary dies?” explains that the language of the will itself governs what happens with each beneficiary’s share in the event one of the adult children dies before his or her parents.

Some wills divide the remainder among the will maker’s children who are still living. With this, the surviving siblings would receive the entire estate.

This is called “per capita,” which is a Latin phrase that translates literally to “by head.” In a per capita distribution, each designated beneficiary receives an inheritance only if they’re living when the inheritance vests (at the will maker’s death).

If a beneficiary dies before this, that beneficiary’s share is divided among the surviving named beneficiaries. As a result, the children of the decedent beneficiary get nothing, unless they are specifically designated as beneficiaries.

However, the more common approach is for a will to state: “I give, devise and bequeath my residuary estate to my descendants, per stirpes.”

Per stirpes is a Latin phrase that translates literally to “by roots” or “by branch.” A per stirpes distribution means that a beneficiary’s share passes to their lineal descendants if the beneficiary dies before the inheritance vests. Per stirpes effectively designates a class of beneficiaries to receive estate property, rather than designating only specific individuals to inherit property.

Therefore, providing this language in the will means that if a child predeceases the testator and the predeceased child has surviving descendants, that predeceased child’s share will go to that predeceased child’s descendants … that would be the will maker’s grandchildren.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about how each of these designations would work in your specific situation, when you draft or update your will.

Reference: nj.com (Oct. 28, 2021) “Who gets this inheritance if a beneficiary dies?”

 

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

What to Do with an Inherited IRA? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Most of us do not have to worry about paying federal estate taxes on an inheritance. In 2021, the federal estate tax does not apply, unless an estate exceeds $11.7 million. The Biden administration has proposed lowering the exemption, but even that proposal would not affect estates valued at less than about $6 million. However, you should know that some states have lower thresholds.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Minimizing Taxes When You Inherit Money” says that if you inherit an IRA from a parent, taxes on mandatory withdrawals could leave you with a smaller legacy than you anticipated. With IRAs becoming more of a significant retirement savings tool, there is also a good chance you will inherit at least one account.

Prior to last year, beneficiaries of inherited IRAs (or other tax-deferred accounts, such as 401(k) plans) were able to move the money into an account known as an inherited (or “stretch”) IRA and take withdrawals over their life expectancy. They could then minimize withdrawals which are taxed at ordinary income tax rates and allow the untapped funds to grow. However, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act of 2019 stopped this. Most adult children and other non-spouse heirs who inherit an IRA on or after January 1, 2020, now have two options: (i) take a lump sum; or (2) transfer the money to an inherited IRA that must be depleted within 10 years after the death of the original owner.

Note that this 10-year rule does not apply to surviving spouses. They are allowed to roll the money into their own IRA and allow the account to grow, tax-deferred, until they must take required minimum distributions (RMDs), which start at age 72. If it is a Roth IRA, they are not required to take RMDs. Another option for spouses is to transfer the money into an inherited IRA and take distributions based on their life expectancy. The SECURE Act also created exceptions for non-spouse beneficiaries who are minors, disabled or chronically ill, or less than 10 years younger than the original IRA owner. Any IRA beneficiaries who are not eligible for the exceptions could wind up with a big tax bill, especially if the 10-year withdrawal period coincides with years in which they have a lot of other taxable income.

Note that the 10-year rule also applies to inherited Roth IRAs. However, there is an important difference. You still deplete the account in 10 years. However, the distributions are tax-free, provided the Roth was funded at least five years before the original owner died. If you do not need the money, waiting to take distributions until you are required to empty the account will give up to 10 years of tax-free growth.

Heirs who simply cash out their parents’ IRAs can take a lump sum from a traditional IRA. However, if you do, you will owe taxes on the entire amount, which could push you into a higher tax bracket.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 28, 2021) “Minimizing Taxes When You Inherit Money”

 

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

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”

 

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

Do I Need a Living Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “What Is a Living Trust in Real Estate?” says that a living trust is a legal document that makes it easier for you to pass assets to your loved ones after you die. It allows property to be transferred directly to your designated beneficiaries without needing to go through probate. A living trust will be managed by a trustee, while you are still living (that can be you).  You will name a successor trustee who will manage the trust, if you become incapacitated and distribute its assets after you pass away.

While the trust holds these assets, you are still considered in possession of them while you are alive (assuming you named yourself the trustee). Therefore, you can move assets in and out of the trust as you see fit. If you have a revocable trust, you can even cancel or change it at any time.

Creating a living trust can simplify the inheritance process for your family when you die. That is because any property you own is subject to the probate process when you die. Probate can be a very lengthy process.

While waiting, your family may be unable to manage, use, or sell the property you left behind. Until probate is complete, your executor will be responsible for maintaining the property, including paying taxes, making repairs and paying the bills (like insurance).

A living trust is a beneficial financial product for many reasons. First, it bypasses the probate courts. There are some types of assets that will pass on to your beneficiaries directly, and others will need to clear the probate courts before they can be disbursed to your beneficiaries. This probate process can take months or even years and can be both costly and complicated.

Another benefit of a trust is that you keep control of your estate, even after you pass away. A living trust lets you set rules, timelines and stipulations for your estate. This may be something like keeping your children from getting a substantial sum of money in their early 20s. With a living trust, you can state instructions for your trustee as to when your kids receive that inheritance. For example, you may provide that they receive their inheritance in stages, like a third at 30, 35 and 40.

Finally, a trust is private. Unlike a will, your trust can be kept as private as you want. Once you pass away, and your will is filed with the probate court, it becomes public record. However, if you would rather have your estate and your wishes kept out of the public eye, a trust can help you do so.  Because a trust skips the probate process, it is also much harder for someone to challenge your directives.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Oct. 7, 2021) “What Is a Living Trust in Real Estate?”

 

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

How Long Is Probate? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Yahoo Finance’s article entitled “How Long Does Probate Take?” gives us an overview of the main things you need to understand about the probate process, so you can prepare.

During probate, a judge determines the way in which to distribute assets to heirs. The court will also authenticate the will (if there is one) and appoint an executor of the estate to supervise the probate process. Probate procedures depend to a large part on the state the decedent lived in and the type of estate he or she had.

After authenticating the decedent’s will and appointing an executor, the executor locates and assesses all the property owned by the deceased. If there are any debts, the executor uses estate assets to pay these. The remaining estate is then distributed to the heirs.

The probate process takes time to make certain that everything is done according to the law. As a result, it can take from a few months up to over a year. There is a long list of variables that can contribute to the duration. A few of the common factors are discussed below.

Estate Size. An estate’s size contributes significantly to the time in probate. Most states use the total value of the estate to determine its size. This depends on state laws and the type of assets included in the estate. Many states now have a small estate probate process, and some waive it altogether for low-value properties. The state may have a small estate limit of a certain dollar amount. The executor or beneficiaries can complete a Small Estate Claim Form or an Affidavit for Transfer of Personal Property to avoid probate for estates below that value.

Multiple beneficiaries. If an estate has a number of heirs, it may gum up the works. Multiple beneficiaries can slow down the probate proceedings because disputes can drag out an otherwise smooth legal process. Disagreements among family members or other heirs can result in delays or even a total halt.

No Will. If a person dies without a will, it means that there is no guidance from the decedent. As a result, the court and executor have to work through the estate and distribution from scratch.

Debts. Taxes and debts are major factors in the time needed to close an estate. Creditors must be paid before the beneficiaries can receive anything. When a person dies, his or her creditors must receive formal notice. They have a deadline to make a claim for money the estate owed. The longer the claims period, the longer the delay in the probate process.

Taxes. Taxes on an estate also can take a while to process. The estate must receive a closing letter from the IRS and the state taxing authority to close out the probate process. This can take up to six months.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Sep. 27, 2021) “How Long Does Probate Take?”

 

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

How Much can You Inherit and Not Pay Taxes? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Even with the new proposed rules from Biden’s lowered exemption, estates under $6 million will not have to worry about federal estate taxes for a few years—although state estate tax exemptions may be lower. However, what about inheritances and what about inherited IRAs? This is explored in a recent article titled “Minimizing Taxes When You Inherit Money” from Kiplinger.

If you inherit an IRA from a parent, taxes on required withdrawals could leave you with a far smaller legacy than you anticipated. For many couples, IRAs are the largest assets passed to the next generation. In some cases they may be worth more than the family home. Americans held more than $13 trillion in IRAs in the second quarter of 2021. Many of you reading this are likely to inherit an IRA.

Before the SECURE Act changed how IRAs are distributed, people who inherited IRAs and other tax-deferred accounts transferred their assets into a beneficiary IRA account and took withdrawals over their life expectancy. This allowed money to continue to grow tax free for decades. Withdrawals were taxed as ordinary income.

The SECURE Act made it mandatory for anyone who inherited an IRA (with some exceptions) to decide between two options: take the money in a lump sum and lose a huge part of it to taxes or transfer the money to an inherited or beneficiary IRA and deplete it within ten years of the date of death of the original owner.

The exceptions are a surviving spouse, who may roll the money into their own IRA and allow it to grow, tax deferred, until they reach age 72, when they need to start taking Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). If the IRA was a Roth, there are no RMDs, and any withdrawals are tax free. The surviving spouse can also transfer money into an inherited IRA and take distributions on their life expectancy.

If you are not eligible for the exceptions, any IRA you inherit will come with a big tax bill. If the inherited IRA is a Roth, you still have to empty it out in ten years. However, there are no taxes due as long as the Roth was funded at least five years before the original owner died.

Rushing to cash out an inherited IRA will slash the value of the IRA significantly because of the taxes due on the IRA. You might find yourself bumped up into a higher tax bracket. It is generally better to transfer the money to an inherited IRA to spread distributions out over a ten-year period.

The rules do not require you to empty the account in any particular order. Therefore, you could conceivably wait ten years and then empty the account. However, you will then have a huge tax bill.

Other assets are less constrained, at least as far as taxes go. Real estate and investment accounts benefit from the step-up in cost basis. Let us say your mother paid $50 for a share of stock and it was worth $250 on the day she died. Your “basis” would be $250. If you sell the stock immediately, you will not owe any taxes. If you hold onto to it, you will only owe taxes (or claim a loss) on the difference between $250 and the sale price. Proposals to curb the step-up have been bandied about for years. However, to date they have not succeeded.

The step-up in basis also applies to the family home and other inherited property. If you keep inherited investments or property, you will owe taxes on the difference between the value of the assets on the day of the original owner’s death and the day you sell.

Estate planning and tax planning should go hand-in-hand. If you are expecting a significant inheritance, a conversation with aging parents may be helpful to protect the family’s assets and preclude any expensive surprises.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 29, 2021) “Minimizing Taxes When You Inherit Money”

 

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

Who Pays Mortgage When I Pass Away? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

No one automatically assumes your mortgage after your death, says Credible’s recent article entitled “What Happens to Your Mortgage When You Die?”

Your estate executor—the individual you name to carry out your will and manage your estate after you die—will continue to make payments using funds from the estate, while everything is being settled. Later, the person who inherits the home might be able to assume the loan.

If you are a co-borrower or co-signer with the decedent, you do not have to do anything to take over the mortgage because you are already responsible for paying it.

Mortgage loans have a due-on-sale clause, also called an acceleration clause. This requires the loan to be paid in full, if it transfers to a new owner. However, federal law prohibits lenders from accelerating a loan in the event of a borrower’s death.

Those who acquire ownership this way are considered “successors in interest,” and lenders must treat them as if they were the borrower. A successor in interest can assume the loan without having to apply or qualify, and continue making the payments. You also can modify the mortgage to avoid foreclosure, if you want to keep the home.

A significant step in estate planning is drafting a will stating exactly how you want your estate handled after you die and naming an executor.

When planning to bequeath a mortgaged home, you should disclose the mortgage to your executor and close relatives. If you fail to do so, they will not know how to make payments. As a result, the home could be inadvertently lost to foreclosure.

Finally, think about whether the person who inherits your home will be able to afford mortgage payments and upkeep.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you devise a strategy to keep your gift from becoming a burden to your loved ones.

Reference: Credible (Sep. 24, 2021) “What Happens to Your Mortgage When You Die?”

 

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

Will Gift to Heir Be a Benefit or Burden? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Research shows that getting a lot of money can have harmful consequences. According to MarketWatch, a study found that a third of people who received an inheritance had negative savings within two years of the event.

Watertown Public Opinion’s recent article “How to make sure you leave inheritances that are helpful, not harmful” says that, on average, an inheritance is gone in about five years because of careless debts and bad investment behaviors.

However, a minority of heirs do not mishandle their inheritances. Nonetheless, it is good to explore exactly what you intend the gift to accomplish, prior to leaving money or property to someone. It is also important to consider the possible negative consequences of a gift.

Determine if the gift will actually cost the recipient time or money. As an example, leaving the family home, vacation property, land, or a ranch to someone can often cost them money they may not have in maintenance or taxes.

You should also consider if it results in causing difficult emotional issues between siblings, and whether it might encourage bad financial behavior. If a beneficiary has not developed healthy financial behaviors, a significant inheritance might actually create new financial troubles instead of addressing existing ones.

A good way to make certain that your bequests are helpful is to explore your own intentions. Ask yourself if you want to leave enough money for the beneficiary to become financially independent and if you would you like your bequest used in a specific way, like to pay off debt or fund education.

Do you care how they spend the money?

Another way to provide for thoughtful, conscious inheritances, is to speak with the intended recipients.

Ask them directly whether someone would want a bequest, such as a valuable art or coin collection or perhaps an expensive vacation home. Discuss the options and possibilities and do not simply take for granted what your heirs might want or what they might do with an inheritance.

Leaving a family member an inheritance can be helpful in some instances, but may be exceedingly destructive in others. No two situations are alike, and if you want to increase the chances that your bequests will be helpful, explore and improve your own relationship with money. Examining that relationship can help make sure that what you leave to heirs will be a benefit not a burden.

Reference: Watertown Public Opinion (Nov. 1, 2021) “How to make sure you leave inheritances that are helpful, not harmful”

 

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