Estate Planning when So Much Is Uncertain – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Negotiations in Washington continue to present a series of changing scenarios for estate planning. Until the ink is dry in the Oval Office, taxpayers face an uncertain legislative environment, says a recent article titled “Estate Planning in an Uncertain Time” from CPA Practice Advisor. Many people hurried to use lifetime gifting strategies because of estate tax provisions contained in earlier versions of the infrastructure bill, but even with these provisions dropped (for now), there are still good reasons to use lifetime gifting strategies.

The current $11.7 million estate/gift tax exemption will still be reduced on January 1, 2026, even if Congress takes no other action. Taxpayers who have not taken advantage of this “extra” exemption before then will lose the opportunity forever.

Any post-appreciation transfer on gifted assets accrues outside of the taxpayer’s estate. For younger individuals and for transferred assets with high potential for appreciation, this could have a major impact. Taxpayers who reside in states with a state estate tax, but no state gift tax, may find that lifetime gifting could reduce state estate tax liability.

For those who have already used all of their estate/gift tax exemption, the current low interest rate environment makes certain advanced estate planning techniques more appealing. Sales to IDGTS (Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts, a type of irrevocable trust), intra-family loans and GRATS (Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts) are more effective when interest rates are low.

The two interest rates to watch for these strategies are the federal Section 7520 rate and the short-term, mid-term and long-term applicable federal rate (AFR). If transferred assets appreciate faster than the benchmark interest rate, any excess appreciation passes without any estate/gift tax exemption being used.

Interest rates have increased in recent months. However, by historical standards, they remain low.

IDGTs are expected to remain popular for making lifetime transfers. They are a type of trust outside the taxpayer’s estate for estate tax purposes and are considered to belong to the grantor for income tax purposes. The grantor is responsible for paying the income tax of the trust, which permits the grantor to make a tax-free gift, while the assets of the IDGT may grow without income taxes.

The grantor may also sell assets to an IDGT without creating a realization event for income tax purposes. Congress may consider this a little too effective for estate taxes, but for now, this strategy is still available.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to review your current lifetime gifting plan and see if it needs to be revised. Of course, if you do not have an estate plan, now is the time to get that underway.

Reference: CPA Practice Advisor (Nov. 17, 2021) “Estate Planning in an Uncertain Time”

 

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How to Protect Assets from Medicaid Spend Down? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Medicaid is not just for poor and low-income seniors. With the right planning, assets can be protected for the next generation, while helping a person become eligible for help with long-term care costs.

Medicaid was created by Congress in 1965 to help with insurance coverage and protect seniors from the costs of medical care, regardless of their income, health status or past medical history, reports Kiplinger in a recent article “How to Restructure Your Assets to Qualify for Medicaid.” Medicaid was a state-managed, means-based program, with broad federal parameters that is run by the individual states. Eligibility criteria, coverage groups, services covered, administration and operating procedures are all managed by each state.

With the increasing cost and need for long-term care, Medicaid has become a life-saver for people who need long-term nursing home care costs and home health care costs not covered by Medicare.

If the household income exceeds your state’s Medicaid eligibility threshold, two commonly used trusts may be used to divert excess income to maintain program eligibility.

QITs, or Qualified Income Trusts. Also known as a “Miller Trust,” income is deposited into this irrevocable trust, which is controlled by a trustee. Restrictions on what the income in the trust may be used for are strict. Both the primary beneficiary and spouse are permitted a “needs allowance,” and the funds may be used for medical care costs and the cost of private health insurance premiums. However, the funds are owned by the trust, not the individual, so they do not count against Medicaid eligibility.

If you qualify as disabled, you may be able to use a Pooled Income Trust. This is another irrevocable trust where your “surplus income” is deposited. Income is pooled together with the income of others. The trust is managed by a non-profit charitable organization, which acts as a trustee and makes monthly disbursements to pay expenses for the individuals participating in the trust. When you die, any remaining funds in the trust are used to help other disabled persons.

Meeting eligibility requirements are complicated and vary from state to state. An estate planning attorney in your state of residence will help guide you through the process, using his or her extensive knowledge of your state’s laws. Mistakes can be costly—and permanent.

For instance, your home’s value (up to a maximum amount) is exempt, as long as you still live there or will be able to return. Otherwise, most states require you to spend down other assets to $2,000 per person or $4,000 per married couple to qualify.

Transferring assets to other people, typically family members, is a risky strategy. There is a five-year look back period and if you have transferred assets, you may not be eligible for five years. If the person you transfer assets to has any personal financial issues, like creditors or divorce, they could lose your property.

Asset Protection Trusts, also known as Medicaid Trusts. You may transfer most or all of your assets into this trust, including your home, and maintain the right to live in your home. Upon your death, assets are transferred to beneficiaries, according to the trust documents.

Right of Spousal Transfers and Refusals. Assets transferred between spouses are not subject to the five-year look back period or any penalties. New York and Florida allow Spousal Refusal, where one spouse can legally refuse to provide support for a spouse, making them immediately eligible for Medicaid. The only hitch? Medicaid has the right to request the healthy spouse to contribute to a spouse who is receiving care but does not always take legal action to recover payment.

Talk with your estate planning attorney if you believe you or your spouse may require long-term care. Consider the requirements and rules of your state. Keep in mind that Medicaid gives you little or no choice about where you receive care. Planning in advance is the best means of protecting yourself and your spouse from the excessive costs of long term care.

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 7, 2021) “How to Restructure Your Assets to Qualify for Medicaid”

 

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Do You Need a Revocable or Irrevocable Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

However, below the surface of estate planning and the world of trusts, things get complicated. Revocable trusts become irrevocable trusts, when the grantor becomes incapacitated or dies. It is just one of the many twists and turns in trusts, as reported in the article “What’s the difference between a revocable and irrevocable trust” from Market Watch.

For starters, the person who creates the trust is known as the “grantor.” The grantor can change the trust while living, or while the grantor has legal capacity. If the grantor becomes incapacitated, the grantor cannot change the trust. An agent or Power of Attorney for the grantor can make changes, if specifically authorized in the trust, as could a court-appointed conservator.

Despite the name, irrevocable trusts can be changed—more so now than ever before. Irrevocable trusts created for asset protection, tax planning or Medicaid planning purposes are treated differently than those becoming irrevocable upon the death of the grantor.

When an irrevocable trust is created, the grantor may still retain certain powers, including the right to change trustees and the right to re-direct who will receive the trust property, when the grantor dies or when the trust terminates (these do not always occur at the same time). A “testamentary power of appointment” refers to the retained power to appoint or distribute assets to anyone, or within limitations.

When the trust becomes irrevocable, the grantor can give the right to change trustees or to change ultimate beneficiaries to other people, including the beneficiaries. A trust could say that a majority of the grantor’s children may hire and fire trustees, and each child has the right to say where his or her share will go, in the event he or she dies before receiving their share.

Asset protection and special needs trusts also appoint people in the role of trust protectors. They are empowered to change trustees and, in some cases, to amend the trust completely. The trust is irrevocable for the grantor, but not the trust protector. Another trust might have language to limit this power, typically if it is a special needs trust. This allows a trust protector to make necessary changes, if rules regarding government benefits change regarding trusts.

Irrevocable trusts have become less irrevocable over the years, as more states have passed laws concerning “decanting” trusts, reformation and non-judicial settlement of trusts. Decanting a trust refers to “pouring” assets from one trust into another trust—allowing assets to be transferred to other trusts. Depending on the state’s laws, there needs to be a reason for the trust to be decanted and all beneficiaries must agree to the change.

Trust reformation requires court approval and must show that the reformation is needed if the trust is to achieve its original purpose. Notice must be given to all current and future beneficiaries, but they do not need to agree on the change.

The Uniform Trust Code permits trust reformation without court involvement, known as non-judicial settlement agreements, where all parties are in agreement. The law has been adopted in 34 states and in the District of Columbia. Any change that does not violate a material purpose of the trust is permitted, as long as all parties are in agreement.

Reference: Market Watch (Oct. 8, 2021) “What’s the difference between a revocable and irrevocable trust”

 

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

Do not be put off by the term “dynasty.” Just as every person has an estate, even if they do not live in a million-dollar home, every person who owns assets could potentially have a dynasty trust, even if they do not rule a continent. If you have assets that you wish to pass to others, you need an estate plan and you may also benefit from a dynasty trust, says this recent article from Kiplinger, “A Smart Option for Transferring Wealth Through Generations: The Dynasty Trust.”

When parents die, assets are typically transferred to their descendants. In most cases, the assets are transferred directly to the heirs, unless a trust has been created. Estate taxes must be paid, usually from the assets in the estate. Inheritances are divided according to the will, after the taxes have been paid, and go directly to the beneficiary, who does what they want with the assets.

If you leave assets outright to heirs, when the beneficiary dies, the assets are subject to estate taxes again. If assets are left to grandchildren, they are likely to incur another type of taxes, called Generation Skipping Transfer Taxes (GSTT). If you want your children to have an inheritance, you will need to do estate planning to minimize estate tax liability.

If you own a Family Limited Partnership (FLP) or a Limited Liability Company (LLC), own real estate or have a large equity portfolio, you may have the ability to use gifting and wealth transfer plans to provide for your family in the future. You may be able to do this without losing control of the assets.

The “dynasty trust,” named because it was once used by families like the DuPont’s and Fords, is created to transfer wealth from generation to generation without being subject to various gift, estate and/or GSTT taxes for as long as the assets remain in the trust, depending upon applicable state laws. A dynasty trust can also be used to protect assets from creditors, divorcing spouses and others seeking to make a claim against the assets.

Many people use an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) and transfer the assets free of the trust upon death. Most living trusts are transferred without benefit of being held within trusts.

A dynasty trust is usually created by the parents and can include any kind of asset—life insurance, securities, limited partnership interests, etc.—other than qualified retirement plans. The assets are held within the trust and when the grantor dies, the trust automatically subdivides into as many new trusts as the number of beneficiaries named in the trust. It is also known as a “bloodline” trust.

Let us say you have three children. The trust divides into three new trusts, dividing assets among the three. When those children die, the trust subdivides again for their children (grandchildren) in their own respective trusts and again, assets are divided into equal shares.

The trust offers broad powers for health, welfare, maintenance and support. The children can use the money as they wish, investing or taking it out. When created properly, the assets and growth are both protected from estate taxes. You will need a trustee, a co-trustee and an experienced estate planning attorney to draft and execute this plan.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 2, 2021) “A Smart Option for Transferring Wealth Through Generations: The Dynasty Trust”

 

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Where Do You Score on Estate Planning Checklist? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Make sure that you review your estate plan at least once every few years to be certain that all the information is accurate and updated. It is even more necessary if you experienced a significant change, such as marriage, divorce, children, a move, or a new child or grandchild. If laws have changed, or if your wishes have changed and you need to make substantial changes to the documents, you should visit an experienced estate planning attorney.

Kiplinger’s recent article “2021 Estate Planning Checkup: Is Your Estate Plan Up to Date?” gives us a few things to keep in mind when updating your estate plan:

Moving to Another State. Note that if you have recently moved to a new state, the estate laws vary in different states. Therefore, it is wise to review your estate plan to make sure it complies with local laws and regulations.

Changes in Probate or Tax Laws. Review your estate plan with an experienced estate planning attorney to see if it has been impacted by changes to any state or federal laws.

Powers of Attorney. A power of attorney is a document in which you authorize an agent to act on your behalf to make business, personal, legal, or financial decisions, if you become incapacitated.  It must be accurate and up to date. You should also review and update your health care power of attorney. Make your wishes clear about do-not-resuscitate (DNR) provisions and tell your health care providers about your decisions. It is also important to affirm any clearly expressed wishes as to your end-of-life treatment options.

A Will. Review the details of your will, including your executor, the allocation of your estate and the potential estate tax burden. If you have minor children, you should also designate guardians for them.

Trusts. If you have a revocable living trust, look at the trustee and successor appointments. You should also check your estate and inheritance tax burden with an estate planning attorney. If you have an irrevocable trust, confirm that the trustee properly carries out the trustee duties like administration, management and annual tax returns.

Gifting Opportunities. The laws concerning gifts can change over time, so you should review any gifts and update them accordingly. You may also want to change specific gifts or recipients.

Regularly updating your estate plan can help you to avoid simple estate planning mistakes. You can also ensure that your estate plan is entirely up to date and in compliance with any state and federal laws.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 28, 2021) “2021 Estate Planning Checkup: Is Your Estate Plan Up to Date?”

 

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

MSN Money’s recent article entitled “What is a trust?” explains that many people create trusts to minimize issues and costs for their families or to create a legacy of charitable giving. Trusts can be used in conjunction with a last will to instruct where your assets should go after you die. However, trusts offer several great estate planning benefits that you do not get in a last will, like letting your heirs to see a relatively speedy conclusion to settling your estate.

Working with an experienced estate planning attorney, you can create a trust to minimize taxes, protect assets and spare your family from going through the lengthy probate process to divide up your assets after you pass away. A trust can also let you control to whom your assets will be disbursed, as well as how the money will be paid out. That is a major point if the beneficiary is a child or a family member who does not have the ability to handle money wisely. You can name a trustee to execute your wishes stated in the trust document. When you draft a trust, you can:

  • Say where your assets go and when your beneficiaries have access to them
  • Save your beneficiaries from paying estate taxes and court fees
  • Shield your assets from your beneficiaries’ creditors or from loss through divorce settlements
  • Instruct where your remaining assets should go if a beneficiary dies, which can be helpful in a family that includes second marriages and stepchildren; and
  • Avoid a long probate court process.

One of the most common trusts is called a living or revocable trust, which lets you put assets in a trust while you are alive. The control of the trust is transferred after you die to beneficiaries that you named. You might want to ask an experienced estate planning attorney about creating a living trust for several reasons, such as:

  • If you would like someone else to take on the management responsibilities for some or all of your property
  • If you have a business and want to be certain that it operates smoothly with no interruption of income flow, if you die or become disabled
  • If you want to shield assets from the incompetency or incapacity of yourself or your beneficiaries; or
  • If you want to decrease the chances that your will may be contested.

A living trust can be a smart move for those with even relatively modest estates. The downside is that while a revocable trust will usually keep your assets out of probate if you were to die, there still will be estate taxes if you hit the threshold.

By contrast, an irrevocable trust cannot be changed once it has been created. You also relinquish control of the assets you put into the trust. However, an irrevocable trust has a key advantage in that it can protect beneficiaries from probate and estate taxes.

In addition, there are many types of specialty trusts you can create. Each is structured to accomplish different goals. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about these.

Reference: MSN Money (July 9, 2021) “What is a trust?

 

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Will Inheritance and Gift Taxes Change in 2021? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Uncertainty is driving many wealth transfers, with gifting taking the lead for many wealthy families, reports the article “No More Gift Tax Exemption?” from Financial Advisor.  For families who have already used up a large amount or even all of their exemptions, there are other strategies to consider.

Making gifts outright or through a trust is still possible, even if an individual or couple used all of their gift and generation skipping transfer tax exemptions.  Gifts and generation skipping transfer tax exemption amounts are indexed for inflation, increasing to $11.7 million in 2021 from $11.58 million in 2020.  Individuals have $120,000 additional gift and generation-skipping transfer tax exemptions that can be used this year.

Annual exclusion gifts—individuals can make certain gifts up to $15,000 per recipient, and couples can give up to $30,000 per person.  This does not count towards gift and estate tax exemptions.

Do not forget about Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) options. The GRAT is an irrevocable trust, where the grantor makes a gift of property to it, while retaining a right to an annual payment from the trust for a specific number of years.  GRATS can also be used for concentrated positions and assets expected to appreciate that significantly reap a number of advantages.

A Sale to a Grantor Trust takes advantage of the differences between the income and transfer tax treatment of irrevocable trusts.  The goal is to transfer anticipated appreciation of assets at a reduced gift tax cost.  This may be timely for those who have funded a trust using their gift tax exemption, as this strategy usually requires funding of a trust before a sale.

Intra-family loans permit individuals to make loans to family members at lower rates than commercial lenders, without the loan being considered a gift.  A family member can help another family member financially, without incurring additional gift tax.  A bona fide creditor relationship, including interest payments, must be established.

It is extremely important to work with a qualified estate planning attorney when implementing tax planning strategies, especially this year.  Tax reform is on the horizon, but knowing exactly what the final changes will be, and whether they will be retroactive, is impossible to know.  There are many additional techniques, from disclaimers, QTIPs and formula gifts, that an experienced estate planning attorney may consider when planning to protect a family legacy.

Reference: Financial Advisor (April 1, 2021) “No More Gift Tax Exemption?”

 

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How can I Revoke an Irrevocable Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Is there a way to get a house deed out of the trust?

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Can I dissolve an irrevocable trust to get my house out?” says that prior to finalizing legal documents, it is important to know the purpose and consequences of the plan.

An experienced estate planning attorney will tell you there are a variety of trust types that are used to achieve different objectives.

There are revocable trusts that can be created to avoid probate, and others trusts placed in a will to provide for minor children or loved ones with special needs.

Irrevocable trusts are often created to shield assets, including the home, in the event long-term nursing care is required.

Conveying assets to an irrevocable trust typically starts the five-year “look back” period for Medicaid purposes, if the trust is restricted from using the assets for, or returning assets to, the individual who created the trust (known as the “grantor”).

When you transfer assets to a trust, control of the assets is given to another person (the ‘trustee”).

This arrangement may protect assets in the event long-term care is required. However, it comes with the risk that the trustee may not always act how the grantor intended.

For instance, the grantor cannot independently sell the house owned by the trust or compel the trustee to purchase a replacement residence, which may cause a conflict between the grantor and trustee. Because the trust is irrevocable, it could be difficult and expensive to unwind.

In light of this, it is important to designate a trustee who will work with and honor the wishes of the grantor.

An experienced estate planning attorney retained for estate and asset planning should provide clear, understandable and thoughtful advice, so the client has the information needed to make an informed decision how to proceed.

Reference: nj.com (April 6, 2021) “Can I dissolve an irrevocable trust to get my house out?”

 

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What Is a Living Trust Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Living trusts are one of the most popular estate planning tools. However, a living trust accomplishes several goals, explains the article “Living trusts allow estates to avoid probate” from The Record Courier. A living trust allows for the management of a beneficiary’s inheritance and may also reduce estate taxes.  A person with many heirs or who owns real estate should consider including a living trust in their estate plan.

A trust is a fiduciary relationship, where the person who creates the trust, known as the “grantor,” “settlor,” “trustor” or “trustmaker,” gives the “trustee” the right to hold title to assets to benefit another person. This third person is usually an heir, a beneficiary, or a charity.

With a living trust, the grantor, trustee and beneficiary may be one and the same person. A living trust may be created by one person for that person’s benefit. When the grantor dies, or becomes incapacitated, another person designated by the trust becomes the successor trustee and manages the trust for the benefit of the beneficiary or heir. All of these roles are defined in the trust documents.

The living trust, which is sometimes referred to as an “inter vivos” trust, is created to benefit the grantor while they are living. A grantor can make any and all changes they wish while they are living to their trust (within the law, of course). A testamentary trust is created through a person’s will, and assets are transferred to the trust only when the grantor dies. A testamentary trust is an “irrevocable” trust, and no changes can be made to an irrevocable trust.

There are numerous other trusts used to manage the distribution of wealth and protect assets from taxes. Any trust agreement must identify the name of the trust, the initial trustee and the beneficiaries, as well as the terms of the trust and the name of a successor trustee.

For the trust to achieve its desired outcome, assets must be transferred from the individual to the trust. This is called “funding the trust.” The trust creator typically holds title to assets, but to fund the trust, titled property, like bank and investment accounts, real property or vehicles, are transferred to the trust by changing the name on the title. Personal property that does not have a title is transferred by an assignment of all tangible property to the trustee. An estate planning attorney will be able to help with this process, which can be cumbersome but is completely necessary for the trust to work.

Some assets, like life insurance or retirement accounts, do not need to be transferred to the trust. They use a beneficiary designation, naming a person who will become the owner upon the death of the original owner. These assets do not belong in a trust, unless there are special circumstances.

Reference: The Record Courier (April 3, 2021) “Living trusts allow estates to avoid probate”

 

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Should a Husband and Wife have Separate Trusts? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The decision about separate or joint trusts is not as straightforward as you might think. Sometimes, there is an obvious need to keep things separate, according to the recent article “Joint Trusts or Separate Trusts: Advice for Married Couples” from Kiplinger. However, it is not always the case.

A revocable living trust is a popular way to pass assets to heirs. Assets titled in a revocable living trust do not go through probate and information about the trust remains private. It is also a good way to plan for incapacity, avoid or reduce the likelihood of a death tax and make sure the right people inherit the trust.

There are advantages to Separate Trusts:

They offer better protection from creditors. When the first spouse dies, the deceased spouse’s trust becomes irrevocable, which makes it far more difficult for creditors to access, while the surviving spouse can still access funds.

If assets are going to non-spouse heirs, separate is better. If one spouse has children from a previous marriage and wants to provide for their spouse and their children, a qualified terminable interest property trust allows assets to be left for the surviving spouse, while the balance of funds are held in trust until the surviving spouse’s death. Then the funds are paid to the children from the previous marriage.

Reducing or eliminating the death tax with separate trusts. Unless the couple has an estate valued at more than $23.16 million in 2020 (or $23.4 million in 2021), they will not have to worry about federal estate taxes. However, there are still a dozen states, plus the District of Columbia, with state estate taxes and half-dozen states with inheritance taxes. These estate tax exemptions are considerably lower than the federal exemption, and heirs could get stuck with the bill. Separate trusts as part of a credit shelter trust would let the couple double their estate tax exemption.

When is a Joint Trust Better?

If there are no creditor issues, both spouses want all assets to go to the surviving spouse and state estate tax and/or inheritance taxes are not an issue, then a joint trust could work better because:

Joint trusts are easier to fund and maintain. There is no worrying about having to equalize the trusts, or consider which one should be funded first, etc.

There is less work at tax time. The joint trust does not become irrevocable, until both spouses have passed. Therefore, there is no need to file an extra trust tax return. With separate trusts, when the first spouse dies, their trust becomes irrevocable and a separate tax return must be filed every year.

Joint trusts are not subject to higher trust tax brackets, because they do not become irrevocable until the first spouse dies. However, any investment or interest income generated in an account titled in a deceased spouse’s trust, now irrevocable, will be subject to trust tax brackets. This will trigger higher taxes for the surviving spouse, if the income is not withdrawn by December 31 of each year.

In a joint trust, after the death of the first spouse, the surviving spouse has complete control of the assets. When separate trusts are used, the deceased spouses’ trust becomes irrevocable and the surviving spouse has limited control over assets.

Your estate planning attorney will be able to help you determine which is best for your situation. This is a complex topic, and this is just a brief introduction.

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 20, 2020) “Joint Trusts or Separate Trusts: Advice for Married Couples”

 

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