Five Top Reasons to Add Beneficiaries to Investment Accounts – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

One way to show loved ones that you care, is by having an estate plan and communicating your wishes to them clearly, notes the article “Why You Should Add Beneficiaries to Your Investment Accounts Now” from The Street. That includes adding beneficiaries to your retirement and investment accounts. This simple step will help save heirs time, money and emotional stress at a time when they are likely to be overwhelmed with grief and paperwork.

They will retain more of your estate and get it faster too. When beneficiaries are assigned to investment and retirement accounts, the assets pass directly to them. If there are no beneficiaries, the asset may have to go through probate, the legal process of settling an estate when someone dies.

Probating an estate usually involves going to court, which is something your beneficiaries would probably prefer not to deal with during a challenging time. A typical probate case could last a year, sometimes longer, depending on where you live. During this time, your beneficiaries are not able to access their inheritance. Going to court also means court fees, attorney fees, lost time, and additional stress.

Let us not leave out how much of a bite probate can take out of your estate. Depending on its complexity, probate can consume anywhere from 0.5% to 5% of the estate.

Removes one stress for loved ones. Having assets transfer directly to beneficiaries lessens what can be an intense burden for heirs, while they are grieving. Once the account provider is notified of the death of the account holder, the provider typically notifies beneficiaries. The beneficiaries have to provide the correct documentation, like a death certificate, but that is a whole lot easier than going through probate. Obtaining death certificates is usually part of the executor’s responsibility and does not cost very much.

Beneficiary designations override your last will and testament. By law, a beneficiary designation determines who receives assets, regardless of what is in your will. That is why it is so important to make sure your beneficiary designations are up to date. What happens if you neglect to update your beneficiaries on a life insurance policy purchased when your children were young? For instance, what if you are divorced from their father, but you forget to replace him as the policy beneficiary? In that case, your ex-spouse will receive the policy proceeds, no matter how many years you have been divorced.

It is easy and relatively painless. Updating or establishing beneficiaries is one of the easiest parts of estate planning. Start by making a list of your accounts, which you should have anyway and contact the account custodian to find out who is listed as a beneficiary. If no one has been named, get directions on how to establish the beneficiary designation and if possible, name a secondary beneficiary.

If you have an IRA or a 401(k), your account will typically offer a beneficiary form within the account. If you have investment accounts, you will need to request a form from the custodian.

Special rules for retirement account beneficiaries. There are rules about leaving retirement plan assets to a spouse, so if you want to leave those assets to children or grandchildren, your spouse will have to sign off on that, with a waiver. Depending upon where you live, a spouse may be entitled to have of the assets in an IRA, even if other beneficiaries are listed, unless there is written consent.

Reference: The Street (June 12, 2020) “Why You Should Add Beneficiaries to Your Investment Accounts Now”

 

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How Do I Avoid the Three Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

After you die, your last will and testament must be approved by the local probate court. The judge will determine if the document is the last will of the deceased, review the inventory of the estate and confirm who will administer the estate proceeds. It is known as “executing” a will.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Avoid these 3 estate-planning mistakes and make probate cheaper and easier for your loved ones” discusses some mistakes that people make and how to avoid them.

  1. You do not have a will, or you have a will that was written in another state. You also should have a current will. Life changes, and you need a will for where you live in now. Residency is defined differently in each state, and an out-of-state will delays the probate process, because it fails to satisfy state requirements. Worse yet, it may even be declared invalid.

If there is no will, the deceased is said to have died “intestate,” and his estate must go through probate. However, an administrator will be named by the judge to distribute assets, according to state law. It can be a lengthy and often costly process.

Some people do not want to hire an attorney to create their estate plan or write a will, because they believe it is too expense or they never get around to doing it. However, if you die without a will, the legal costs will be even more and that will be paid by your estate—that decreases what’s left to give to your heirs.

  1. Mixing up estate taxes with probate. Your estate may be too small to be subject to federal tax, if it is less than the $11.58 million exemption. However, you still will be subject to probate and possibly a state estate tax. Therefore, you still need an estate plan.
  2. Disregarding easy things to keep some assets from probate. Most states have a “mini-probate” that is expedited for small estates. With this process, heirs may have fewer fees, less paperwork and shorter waiting.

You can also create a living trust (revocable trust) to avoid probate altogether, if done correctly. This is a legal vehicle to which all of your assets pass upon your death. Ask an estate planning lawyer to help you create a trust, because they can be complicated. Whether you need a trust, a will, or both, an experienced estate planning attorney has worked through a variety of situations and will have sound and creative ideas. Investing time and money with an attorney makes life easier for you now and for your family later.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Feb. 18, 2020) “Avoid these 3 estate-planning mistakes and make probate cheaper and easier for your loved ones”

 

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What You Need to Know about Drafting Your Will – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A last will and testament is just one of the legal documents that you should have in place to help your loved ones know what your wishes are, if you cannot say so yourself, advises CNBC’s recent article entitled, “Here’s what you need to know about creating a will.” In this pandemic, the coronavirus may have you thinking more about your mortality.

Despite COVID-19, it is important to ponder what would happen to your bank accounts, your home, your belongings or even your minor children, if you are no longer here. You should prepare a will, if you do not already have one. It is also important to update your will, if it is been written.

If you do not have a valid will, your property will pass on to your heirs by law. These individuals may or may not be who you would have provided for in a will. If you pass away with no will —dying intestate — a state court decides who gets your assets and, if you have children, a judge says who will care for them. As a result, if you have an unmarried partner or a favorite charity but have no legal no will, your assets may not go to them.

The courts will typically pass on assets to your closest blood relatives, despite the fact that it would not have been your first choice.

Your will is just one part of a complete estate plan. Putting a plan in place for your assets helps ensure that at your death, your wishes will be carried out and that family fights and hurt feelings do not make for destroyed relationships.

There are some assets that pass outside of the will, such as retirement accounts, 401(k) plans, pensions, IRAs and life insurance policies.

Therefore, the individual designated as beneficiary on those accounts will receive the money, despite any directions to the contrary in your will. If there is no beneficiary listed on those accounts, or the beneficiary has already passed away, the assets automatically go into probate—the process by which all of your debt is paid off and then the remaining assets are distributed to heirs.

If you own a home, be certain that you know the way in which it should be titled. This will help it end up with those you intend, since laws vary from state to state.

Ask an estate planning attorney in your area — to ensure familiarity with state laws—for help with your will and the rest of your estate plan.

Reference: CNBC (June 1, 2020) “Here’s what you need to know about creating a will”

 

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Update Will at These 12 Times in Your Life – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Estate planning lawyers hear it all the time—people meaning to update their will, but somehow never getting around to actually getting it done. The only group larger than the ones who mean to “someday,” are the ones who do not think they ever need to update their documents, says the article “12 Different Times When You Should Update Your Will” from Kiplinger. The problems become abundantly clear when people die, and survivors learn that their will is so out-of-date that it creates a world of problems for a grieving family.

There are some wills that do stand the test of time, but they are far and few between. Families undergo all kinds of changes, and those changes should be reflected in the will. Here are one dozen times in life when wills need to be reviewed:

Welcoming a child to the family. The focus is on naming a guardian and a trustee to oversee their finances. The will should be flexible to accommodate additional children in the future.

Divorce is a possibility. Do not wait until the divorce is underway to make changes. Do it beforehand. If you die before the divorce is finalized, your spouse will have marital rights to your property. Once you file for divorce, in many states you are not permitted to change your will, until the divorce is finalized. Make no moves here, however, without the advice of your attorney.

Your divorce has been finalized. If you did not do it before, update your will now. Do not neglect updating beneficiaries on life insurance and any other accounts that may have named your ex as a beneficiary.

When your child(ren) marry. You may be able to mitigate the lack of a prenuptial agreement, by creating trusts in your will, so anything you leave your child will not be considered a marital asset, if his or her marriage goes south.

Your beneficiary has problems with drugs or money. Money left directly to a beneficiary is at risk of being attached by creditors or dissolving into a drug habit. Updating your will to includes trusts that allow a trustee to only distribute funds under optimal circumstances protects your beneficiary and their inheritance.

Named executor or beneficiary dies. Your old will may have a contingency plan for what should happen if a beneficiary or executor dies, but you should probably revisit the plan. If a named executor dies and you do not update the will, then what happens if the second executor dies?

A young family member grows up. Most people name a parent as their executor, then a spouse or trusted sibling. Two or three decades go by. An adult child may now be ready to take on the task of handling your estate.

New laws go into effect. In recent months, there have been many big changes to the law that impact estate planning, from the SECURE Act to the CARES act. Ask your estate planning attorney every few years, if there have been new laws that are relevant to your estate plan.

An inheritance or a windfall. If you come into a significant amount of money, your tax liability changes. You will want to update your will, so you can do efficient tax planning as part of your estate plan.

Can’t find your will? If you cannot find the original will, then you need a new will. Your estate planning attorney will make sure that your new will has language that states revokes all prior wills.

Buying property in another country or moving to another country. Some countries have reciprocity with America. However, transferring property to an heir in one country may be delayed, if the will needs to be probated in another country. Ask your estate planning attorney, if you need wills for each country in which you own property.

Family and friends are enemies. Friends have no rights when it comes to your estate plan. Therefore, if families and friends are fighting, the family member will win. If you suspect that your family may push back to any bequests to friends, consider adding a “No Contest” clause to disinherit family members who try to elbow your friends out of the estate.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 26, 2020) “12 Different Times When You Should Update Your Will”

 

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What You Need to Do after a Loved One Dies – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The Dallas Morning News’ recent article entitled “Three things to do on the death of a loved one” explains the steps you should take, if you are responsible for a family member’s assets after they die.

Be sure the property is secured. A deceased person’s property becomes a risk in some instances. Friends and family will help themselves to what they think they should get, including the deceased’s personal property. Once it is gone, it is hard to get it back and into the hands of the individual who is legally entitled to receive it.

Criminals also look at the obituaries, and while everyone is at the funeral or otherwise unoccupied, burglars can break into the house and steal property. Assign security or ask someone to stay at the house to protect the property. You can also change the locks. Credit cards, debit cards, and checks need to be protected. The deceased’s mail must be collected, and cars should be locked up.

Make funeral plans. If you are lucky, the deceased left a written Appointment of Burial Agent with detailed instructions, which can make your job much easier.

For example, Texas law lets a person appoint an agent to be in charge of funeral arrangements and to describe the arrangements. An estate planning attorney can draft this document as part of an estate plan. You should see if this document was included. If you are listed as the agent, present the paper to the funeral home and follow the instructions. If there are no written instructions, the law will say who has the authority to make arrangements for the disposition of the body and to plan the funeral.

Talk to an experienced attorney. When a person dies, there is often a lapse in authority. The decedent’s power of attorney is no longer in effect, and the executor designated in the will does not have any authority to act, until the will is admitted to probate and the executor is appointed by the probate judge and qualifies by taking the oath of office and filing a bond, if required. Direction is needed earlier rather than later, on what you are permitted to do. The probate of a will takes time.

It is best to get started promptly, so that there is an executor in place with power to handle the affairs of the decedent.

Reference: Dallas Morning News (April 10, 2020) “Three things to do on the death of a loved one”

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Tapping an Inherited IRA? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Many people are looking at their inherited IRAs this year, when COVID-19 has decimated the economy. The rules about when and how you can tap the money you inherited changed with the passage of the SECURE Act at the end of December 2019. It then changed again with the passage of the CARES Act in late March in response to the financial impact of the pandemic.

Things are different now, reports the article “Read This Before You Touch Your Inherited IRA Funds” from the News & Record, but one thing is the same: you need to know the rules.

First, if the owner had the account for fewer than five years, you may need to pay taxes on traditional IRA distributions and on Roth IRA earnings. This year, the federal government has waived mandatory distributions (required minimum distributions, or RMDs) for 2020. You may take out money if you wish, but you can also leave it in the account for a year.

Surviving spouses who do not need the money may consider doing a spousal transfer, rolling the spouse’s IRA funds into their own. The RMD does not occur until age 72. This is only available for surviving spouses, and only if the spouse is the decedent’s sole beneficiary.

The federal government has also waived the 10% early withdrawal penalty for taxpayers who are under 59½. If you are over 59½, then you can access your funds.

The five-year method of taking IRA funds from an inherited IRA is available to beneficiaries, if the owner died in 2019 or earlier. You can take as much as you wish, but by December 31 of the fifth year following the owner’s death, the entire account must be depleted. The ten-year method is similar, but only applies if the IRA’s owner died in 2020 or later. By December 31 of the tenth year following the owner’s death, the entire IRA must be depleted.

Heirs can take the entire amount in a lump sum immediately, but that may move their income into a higher tax bracket and could increase tax liability dramatically.

A big change to inherited IRAs has to do with the “life expectancy” method, which is now only available to the surviving spouse, minor children, disabled or chronically ill people and anyone not more than ten years younger than the deceased. Minor children may use the life expectancy method until they turn 18, and then they have ten years to withdraw all remaining funds.

There is no right or wrong answer, when it comes to taking distributions from inherited IRAs. However, it is best to do so, only when you fully understand how taking the withdrawals will impact your taxes and your long-term financial picture. Speak with an estate planning attorney to learn how the inherited IRA fits in with your overall estate plan.

Reference: News & Record (May 25, 2020) “Read This Before You Touch Your Inherited IRA Funds”

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Can You Place a Life Insurance Policy in a Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Trusts are frequently used in the estate planning process. They help with in the distribution of assets, making certain that everything is distributed to the right people and entities. A trust can also reduce estate taxes, because it lets you remove assets from your estate, so more wealth can be passed to beneficiaries.

Many people do not know that you can even place a life insurance policy within a trust. Investopedia’s recent article entitled “Can You Trust Your Trustee?” explains that life insurance in a trust is called trust-owned life insurance (TOLI). A TOLI is like bank-owned and company-owned life insurance. Trustees often do a good job of completing basic tasks, but conflicts and problems can pop up when trustees do not understand where their loyalties should be and how to deal with complex financial issues.

A trustee has a fiduciary responsibility to the beneficiaries of a trust. The trustee is required to manage the trust assets pursuant to the instructions of the trust for the beneficiaries.

TOLI beneficiaries usually have a desire to maximize the amount of wealth they will receive, when the trust assets are distributed. The trustee must, therefore, actively manage the insurance policy, or policies, that are owned by the trust. This includes determining if the policy is performing up to the projections reflected in the original life insurance illustration. It also requires the trustee to try to identify alternative policies that may be more in line with the desires of the beneficiaries. New life insurance products have made some policies sold in the past obsolete. An old under-performing policy can often be replaced. However, some trustees do not possess the skills necessary to oversee trust-owned life insurance. A trustee should understand and be aware of:

  • The policy’s performance relative to expectations
  • The last time the life insurance policy was reviewed
  • If there are other policies that may do a better job of meeting wishes and stipulations expressed in the trust document
  • Whether the credit rating of the insurance company that issued the policy has decreased and
  • If the allocation of the sub-accounts is still aligned with the investment policy statement.

Trust-owned life insurance can have an important role in the estate plans of many people, but not all trustees have the bandwidth when it comes to insurance and estate planning to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney for assistance.

Reference: Investopedia (June 25, 2019) “Can You Trust Your Trustee?”

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What’s the Difference between Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A trust is an estate planning tool that you might discuss with an experienced estate planning attorney, beyond drafting a last will and testament.

KAKE.com’s recent article entitled “Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts” explains that a living trust can be revocable or irrevocable.

You can act as your own trustee or designate another person. The trustee has the fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interests of the trust beneficiaries. These are the people you name to benefit from the trust.

There are three main benefits to including a trust as part of an estate plan.

  1. Avoiding probate. Assets held in a trust can avoid probate. This can save your heirs both time and money.
  2. Creditor protection. Creditors can try to attach assets held outside an irrevocable trust to satisfy a debt. However, those assets titled in the name of the irrevocable trust may avoid being accessed to pay outstanding debts.
  3. Minimize estate taxes. Estate taxes can take a large portion from the wealth you may be planning to leave to others. Placing assets in a trust may help to lessen the effect of estate and inheritance taxes, preserving more of your wealth for future generations.

What’s the Difference Between Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts?

A revocable trust is a trust that can be changed or terminated at any time during the lifetime of the person making the trust. When the grantor dies, a revocable trust automatically becomes irrevocable, so no other changes can be made to its terms.

An irrevocable trust is essentially permanent. Therefore, if you create an irrevocable trust during your lifetime, any assets you place in the trust must stay in the trust. That is a big difference from a revocable trust: flexibility.

Whether a trust is right for your estate plan, depends on your situation. Discuss this with a qualified estate planning attorney. This has been a very simple introduction to a very complex subject.

Reference: KAKE.com (March 31, 2020) “Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts”

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What Happens when Mom Refuses to Create an Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

This is a tough scenario. It happens more often than you would think. Someone owns a home, investment accounts and an inheritance, but does not want to have an estate plan. They know they need to do something, but keep putting it off—until they die, and the family is left with an expensive and stressful mess. A recent article titled “How to Get a Loved One to Visit an Estate Planning Attorney Before It’s Too Late” from Kiplinger, explains how to help make things right.

Most people put off seeing an estate planning attorney, because they are afraid of death. They may also be overwhelmed by the thought of how much work is involved. They are also worried about what it all might cost. However, if there is no estate plan, the costs will be far higher for the family.

How do you get the person to understand that they need to move forward?

Talk with the financial professionals the person already uses and trusts, like a CPA or financial advisor. Ask them for a referral to an estate planning attorney they think would be a good fit with the person who does not have an estate plan. It may be easier to hear this message from a CPA, than from an adult child.

Work with that professional to promote the person, usually an older family member, to get comfortable with the idea to talk about their wishes and values with the estate planning attorney. Offer to attend the meeting, or to facilitate the video conference, to make the person feel more comfortable.

An experienced estate planning attorney will have worked with reluctant people before. They will know how to put the older person at ease and explore their concerns. When the conversation is pleasant and productive, the person may understand that the process will not be as challenging and that there will be a lot of help along the way.

If there is no trusted team of professionals, then offer to be a part of any conversations with the estate planning attorney to make the introductory discussion easier. Share your own experience in estate planning, and tread lightly.

Trying to force a person to engage in estate planning with a heavy hand, almost always ends up in a stubborn refusal. A gentle approach will always be more successful. Explain how part of the estate plan includes planning for medical decisions while the person is living and is not just about distributing their assets. You should be firm, consistent and kind.

Explaining what their family members will need to go through if there is no will, may or may not have an impact. Some people do not care, and may simply shrug and say, “It will be their problem, not mine.” Consider what or who matters to the person. What if they could leave assets for a favorite grandchild to go to college? That might be more motivating.

One other thing to consider: if the person has an estate plan and it is out of date, that may be just as bad as not having an estate plan at all, especially when the person has been divorced and remarried. Just as many people refuse to have an estate plan, many people fail to update important documents, when they remarry. More than a few spouses come to estate planning attorney’s offices, when a loved one’s life insurance policy is going to their prior spouse. It is too late to make any changes. A health care directive could also name a former brother-in-law to make important medical decisions. During a time of great duress, it is a bad time to learn that the formerly close in-law, who is now a sworn enemy, is the only one who can speak with doctors. Do not procrastinate, if any of these issues are present.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 11, 2020) “How to Get a Loved One to Visit an Estate Planning Attorney Before It’s Too Late”

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Should I Give My Kid the House Now or Leave It to Him in My Will? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Transferring your house to your children while you are alive may avoid probate, the court process that otherwise follows death. However, gifting a home also can result in a big, unnecessary tax burden and put your house at risk, if your children are sued or file for bankruptcy.

Further, you also could be making a big mistake, if you hope it will help keep the house from being used for your nursing home bills.

MarketWatch’s recent article entitled “Why you shouldn’t give your house to your adult children” advises that there are better ways to transfer a house to your children, as well as a little-known potential fix that may help even if the giver has since passed away.

If you bequeath a house to your children so that they get it after your death, they get a “step-up in tax basis.” All the appreciation that occurred while the parent owned the house is never taxed. However, when a parent gives an adult child a house, it can be a tax nightmare for the recipient. For example, if the mother paid $16,000 for her home in 1976, and the current market value is $200,000, none of that gain would be taxable, if the son inherited the house.

Families who see this mistake in time can undo the damage, by gifting the house back to the parent.

Sometimes people transfer a home to try to qualify for Medicaid, the government program that pays health care and nursing home bills for the poor. However, any gifts or transfers made within five years of applying for the program can result in a penalty period, when seniors are disqualified from receiving benefits.

In addition, giving your home to someone else also can expose you to their financial problems. Their creditors could file liens on your home and, depending on state law, get some or most of its value. In a divorce, the house could become an asset that must be sold and divided in a property settlement.

However, Tax Code says that if the parent retains a “life interest” or “life estate” in the property, which includes the right to continue living there, the home would remain in her estate rather than be considered a completed gift.

There are specific rules for what qualifies as a life interest, including the power to determine what happens to the property and liability for its bills. To make certain, a child, as executor of his mother’s estate, could file a gift tax return on her behalf to show that he was given a “remainder interest,” or the right to inherit when his mother’s life interest expired at her death.

There are smarter ways to transfer a house. There are other ways around probate. Many states and DC permit “transfer on death” deeds that let people leave their homes to beneficiaries without having to go through probate. Another option is a living trust.

Reference: MarketWatch (April 16, 2020) “Why you shouldn’t give your house to your adult children”

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