What are Top ‘To-Dos’ in Estate Planning? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Spotlight News’ recent article entitled “Estate Planning To-Dos” says that with the potential for substantial changes to estate and gift tax rules under the Biden administration, this may be an opportune time to create or review our estate plan. If you are not sure where to begin, look at these to-dos for an estate plan.

See an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss your plans. The biggest estate planning mistake is having no plan whatsoever. The top triggers for estate planning conversations can be life-altering events, such as a car accident or health crisis. If you already have a plan in place, visit your estate planning attorney and keep it up to date with the changes in your life.

Draft financial and healthcare powers of attorney. Estate plans contain multiple pieces that may overlap, including long-term care plans and powers of attorney. These say who has decision-making power in the event of a medical emergency.

Draft a healthcare directive. Living wills and other advance directives are written to provide legal instructions describing your preferences for medical care, if you are unable to make decisions for yourself. Advance care planning is a process that includes quality of life decisions and palliative and hospice care.

Make a will. A will is one of the foundational aspects of estate planning, However, this is frequently the only thing people do when estate planning. A huge misconception about estate planning is that a will can oversee the distribution of all assets. A will is a necessity, but you should think about estate plans holistically—as more than just a will. For example, a modern aspect of financial planning that can be overlooked in wills and estate plans is digital assets.  It is also recommended that you ask an experienced estate planning attorney about whether a trust fits into your circumstances, and to help you with the other parts of a complete estate plan.

Review beneficiary designations. Retirement plans, life insurance, pensions and annuities are independent of the will and require beneficiary designations. One of the biggest estate planning mistakes is having outdated beneficiary designations, which only supports the need to review estate plans and designated beneficiaries with an experienced estate planning attorney on a regular basis.

Reference: Spotlight News (May 19, 2021) “Estate Planning To-Dos”

 

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Why are Beneficiary Designations Important in Estate Planning? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Not having your beneficiary designations set up correctly can cause a lot of trouble after you pass away.

A designated beneficiary is named on a life insurance policy or on a financial account as the person who will receive those assets, in the event of the account holder’s death.

This person usually must file a claim with a copy of the death certificate to receive the assets.

NJ Money Help’s recent article entitled “Beneficiary designation – specific or not?” says that naming a beneficiary takes a little consideration.

When naming the beneficiaries on your accounts or insurance policies, you should always consider a primary and secondary (or contingent) beneficiary.

The owner of a policy or account can name multiple beneficiaries. The proceeds or assets can be divided among more than one primary beneficiary. Likewise, there can also be more than one secondary beneficiary.

The primary beneficiary or beneficiaries are the first ones to receive the asset. The secondary beneficiary is next in line if the primary beneficiary dies before the owner of the asset, cannot be found, or refuses to accept the asset.

Note that simply naming beneficiaries in generic terms, such as “wife,” “spouse”’ or “children,” may create legal issues, if there is a divorce or in case someone becomes disenfranchised.

It is always best to name your beneficiaries specifically and if they are minors, make certain you have designated a guardian.

Because our lives are constantly changing, you should review your life insurance policies, IRAs, 401(k)s, and any other instruments that require beneficiary designations every couple of years to make certain that everything is exactly the way you want.

Reference: NJ Money Help (Oct. 2017) “Beneficiary designation – specific or not?”

 

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What Should I Do when Spouse Dies? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Mourning the loss of a spouse can be one of the hardest experiences one can face. The emotional aspects of grief can also be difficult enough without having to concern yourself whether you are financially unprepared.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Financial planning considerations after the loss of a spouse” says that when a spouse passes away, there can be many impacts to the financial picture. These can include changes in income, estate planning and dealing with IRA and insurance distributions. The first step, however, is understanding and quantifying the financial changes that may happen when your spouse dies.

Income Changes – Social Security. A drop in income is frequently an unforeseen reality for many surviving spouses, especially those who are on Social Security benefits. For retirees without dependents that have reached full retirement age, the surviving spouse will typically get the greater of their social security or their deceased spouse’s benefits – but not both. For example, let’s assume Dirk and Melinda are receiving $2,000 and $1,500 per month in Social Security benefits, respectively. In the event Dirk dies, Melinda will no longer receive her benefit and will only receive Dirk’s $2,000 benefit. That is a 42% reduction in total social security income received.

Social Security benefits typically start at 62, but a widow’s benefit can be available at age 60 for the survivor or at 50 if the survivor is disabled within seven years of the spouse’s death. Moreover, unmarried children under 18 (up to age 19 if attending elementary or secondary school full time) of a worker who passes away may also be eligible to get Social Security survivor benefits.

Income Changes – Pension Benefits. This is another type of income that may be decreased because of a spouse’s death. Those eligible to receive a pension often choose little or no survivorship benefits, which results in a sudden drop in income. Therefore, a single life annuity pension payment will end at the worker’s death leaving the survivor with no additional benefits. However, a 50% survivor option will pay 50% of the worker’s benefit to the surviving spouse at their death. A surviving spouse needs to understand what, if any pension benefits will continue and the financial effect of these changes.

Spousal IRA Benefits. Spouses must understand their options for inherited retirement accounts. A spousal beneficiary can roll the funds to their own IRA account, which lets the spousal beneficiary delay Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) until age 72. In this case, the spousal beneficiary’s life expectancy is used to calculate future RMDs. This may be appropriate for those over 59½, but spousal beneficiaries under that age that require retirement account distributions may subject themselves to early withdrawal penalties, including a tax and a 10% early withdrawal penalty, even on inherited funds. Spouses younger than 59½ may consider rolling the account to a beneficial or inherited IRA for more flexibility. In this case, RMDs will be taken annually based upon the life expectancy of the beneficiary, with distributions avoiding the 10% penalty. Distributions greater than the RMD may also be taken, while still avoiding early withdrawal penalties. Inherited IRAs can be a great tool for spousal beneficiaries who need income now to help support their lifestyle but have not reached 59½.

Updating the Estate Plan of the Surviving Spouse. It is easy to forget to review your estate plan drafted before your spouse passed away. Check on this with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Updating Financial Planning Projections. You do not want to make any major decisions after the loss of a loved one, you can still review the numbers. Create a new financial plan to help provide clarity.

Reference: nj.com (Jan. 9, 2021) “Financial planning considerations after the loss of a spouse”

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What Should I Know about Beneficiaries? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

When you open almost any kind of financial account, like a bank account, life insurance, a brokerage account, or a retirement account – the institution will ask you to designate a beneficiary. You will also name beneficiaries when you create a will or other legal contracts that require you to specify someone to benefit. With some trusts, the beneficiary may even be you and your spouse while you are alive.

The beneficiary is typically a person, but it could be any number of individuals, as well as the trustee of your trust, your estate, or a charity.

When you are opening an account, many people forget to choose a beneficiary, mainly because it is not necessary to do so with many financial accounts. However, you should name your beneficiaries, because it ensures that your assets will pass to the people you intend. It also eliminates conflict and can decrease legal interference.

There are two basic types of beneficiaries: a primary beneficiary and a contingent beneficiary. A primary beneficiary (or beneficiaries) is first in line to get the distributions from your assets. You can assign different percentages of your account to this group. A contingent beneficiary will benefit, if one or more of the primary beneficiaries is unable to collect (typically upon death).

You should review the designations regularly, especially when there is a major life event, such as a death, divorce, adoption, or birth. This may change who you want to be your beneficiary.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help you make certain that any language in your will, does not conflict with beneficiary designations. Beneficiary designations take precedence over your will.

You can have a minor child as a beneficiary, but a minor usually cannot hold property. Consequently, you will need to set up a structure, so the child receives the assets. You can appoint a guardian who will keep the assets in custody for the minor. You may also be able to use a trust to the same effect but with an added benefit: you can state that the assets be given to beneficiaries, only when they reach a certain age or for a certain purpose, like buying a first home or for college tuition.

With estate planning, ask an attorney to help you structure any legal documents, so they achieve your aims without creating further complications.

Reference: Bankrate (July 1, 2020) “What is a beneficiary?”

 

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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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Do Beneficiaries of a Will Get Notified? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

In most instances, a will is required to go through probate to prove its validity.

Investopedia’s recent article entitled “When the Beneficiaries of a Will Are Notified” explains that there are exceptions to the requirement for probate, if the assets of the diseased are below a set dollar amount. This dollar amount depends on state law.

For example, in Alabama, the threshold is $3,000, and in California, the cut-off is an estate with assets valued at less than $150,000. If the assets are valued below those limits, the family can divide any property as they want with court approval.

The beneficiaries of a will must be notified after the will is filed in the probate court, and in addition, probated wills are placed in the public record. As a result, anyone who wants to look, can find out the details. When the will is proved to be valid, anyone can look at the will at the courthouse where it was filed, including anyone who expects to be a beneficiary.

However, if the will is structured to avoid probate, there are no specific notification requirements.  This is pretty uncommon.

As a reminder, probate is a legal process that establishes the validity of a will. After examining the will, the probate judge collects the decedent’s assets with the help of the executor. When all of the assets and property are inventoried, they are then distributed to the heirs, as instructed in the will.

Once the probate court declares the will to be valid, all beneficiaries are required to be notified within a certain period established by state probate law.

There are devices to avoid probate, such as setting up joint tenancy or making an asset payable upon death. In these circumstances, there are no formal notification requirements, unless specifically stated in the terms of the will.

In addition, some types of assets are not required to go through probate. These assets include accounts, such as pension assets, life insurance proceeds and individual retirement accounts (IRAs).

The county courthouse will file its probated wills in a department, often called the Register of Wills.

A will is a wise plan for everyone. Ask a qualified estate planning attorney to help you draft yours today.

Reference: Investopedia (Nov. 21, 2019) “When the Beneficiaries of a Will Are Notified”

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

Am I Making One of the Five Common Estate Planning Mistakes? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

You do not have to be super-wealthy to see the benefits from a well-prepared estate plan. However, you must make sure the plan is updated regularly, so these kinds of mistakes do not occur and hurt the people you love most, reports Kiplinger in its article entitled “Is Anything Wrong with Your Estate Plan? Here are 5 Common Mistakes.”

An estate plan contains legal documents that will provide clarity about how you would like your wishes executed, both during your life and after you die. There are three key documents:

  • A will
  • A durable power of attorney for financial matters
  • A health care power of attorney or similar document

In the last two of these documents, you appoint someone you trust to help make decisions involving your finances or health, in case you cannot while you are still living. Let us look at five common mistakes in estate planning:

# 1: No Estate Plan Whatsoever. A will has specific information about who will receive your money, property and other property. It is important for people, even with minimal assets. If you do not have a will, state law will determine who will receive your assets. Dying without a will (or “intestate”) entails your family going through a time-consuming and expensive process that can be avoided by simply having a will.

A will can also include several other important pieces of information that can have a significant impact on your heirs, such as naming a guardian for your minor children and an executor to carry out the business of closing your estate and distributing your assets. Without a will, these decisions will be made by a probate court.

# 2: Forgetting to Name or Naming the Wrong Beneficiaries. Some of your assets, like retirement accounts and life insurance policies, are not normally controlled by your will. They pass directly without probate to the beneficiaries you designate. To ensure that the intended person inherits these assets, a specific person or trust must be designated as the beneficiary for each account.

# 3: Wrong Joint Title. Married couples can own assets jointly, but they may not know that there are different types of joint ownership, such as the following:

  • Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship (JTWROS) means that, if one joint owner passes away, then the surviving joint owners (their spouse or partner) automatically inherits the deceased owner’s part of the asset. This transfer of ownership bypasses a will entirely.
  • Tenancy in Common (TIC) means that each joint owner has a separately transferrable share of the asset. Each owner’s will says who gets the share at their death.

# 4: Not Funding a Revocable Living Trust. A living trust lets you put assets in a trust with the ability to freely move assets in and out of it, while you are alive. At death, assets continue to be held in trust or are distributed to beneficiaries, which is set by the terms of the trust. The most common error made with a revocable living trust is failure to retitle or transfer ownership of assets to the trust. This critical task is often overlooked after the effort of drafting the trust document is done. A trust is of no use if it does not own any assets.

# 5: The Right Time to Name a Trust as a Beneficiary of an IRA. The new SECURE Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2020 gets rid of what is known as the stretch IRA. This allowed non-spouses who inherited retirement accounts to stretch out disbursements over their lifetimes. It let assets in retirement accounts continue their tax-deferred growth over many years. However, the new Act requires a full payout from the inherited IRA within 10 years of the death of the original account holder, in most cases, when a non-spouse individual is the beneficiary.

Therefore, it may not be a good idea to name a trust as the beneficiary of a retirement account. It is possible that either distributions from the IRA may not be allowed when a beneficiary would like to take one, or distributions will be forced to take place at a bad time and the beneficiary will be hit with unnecessary taxes. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney and review your estate plans to make certain that the new SECURE Act provisions don’t create unintended consequences.

Reference: Kiplinger (Feb. 20, 2020) “Is Anything Wrong with Your Estate Plan? Here are 5 Common Mistakes”

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What Should I Know about Beneficiary Designations? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A designated beneficiary is named on a life insurance policy or some type of investment account as the individual(s) who will receive those assets, in the event of the account holder’s death. The beneficiary designation does not replace a signed will but takes precedence over any instructions about these accounts in a will. If the decedent does not have a will, the beneficiary may see a long delay in the probate court.

If you have done your estate planning, most likely you have spent a fair amount of time on the creation of your will. You have discussed the terms with an established estate planning attorney and reviewed the document before signing it.

FEDweek’s recent article entitled “Customizing Your Beneficiary Designations” points out, however, that with your IRA, you probably spent far less time planning for its ultimate disposition.

The bank, brokerage firm, or mutual fund company that acts as custodian undoubtedly has a standard beneficiary designation form. It is likely that you took only a moment or two to write in the name of your spouse or the names of your children.

A beneficiary designation on account, like an IRA, gives instructions on how your assets will be distributed upon your death.

If you have only a tiny sum in your IRA, a cursory treatment might make sense. Therefore, you could consider preparing the customized beneficiary designation form from the bank or company.

For more customization, you can have a form prepared by an estate planning attorney familiar with retirement plans.

You can address various possibilities with this form, such as the scenario where your beneficiary predeceases you, or she becomes incompetent. Another circumstance to address, is if you and your beneficiary die in the same accident.

These situations are not fun to think about, but they are the issues usually covered in a will. Therefore, they should be addressed, if a sizeable IRA is at stake.

After this form has been drafted to your liking, deliver at least two copies to your custodian. Request that one be signed and dated by an official at the firm and returned to you. The other copy can be kept by the custodian.

Reference: FEDweek (Dec. 26, 2019) “Customizing Your Beneficiary Designations”

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Some Estate Planning Actions for 2020 – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Many of us set New Year’s resolutions to improve our quality of life. While it’s often a goal to exercise more or eat more healthily, you can also resolve to improve your financial well-being. It is a great time to review your estate plan to make sure your legacy is protected.

The Tennessean’s recent article entitled “Five estate-planning steps to take in the new year” gives us some common updates for your estate planning.

Schedule a meeting with your estate planning attorney to discuss your situation and to help the attorney create your estate plan.

You should also regularly review and update all your estate planning documents.

Goals and priorities change, so review your estate documents annually to make certain that your plan continues to reflect your present circumstances and intent. You may have changes to family or friendship dynamics or a change in assets that may impact your estate plan. It could be a divorce or remarriage; a family member or a loved one with a disability diagnosis, mental illness, or addiction; a move to a new state; or a change in a family business. If there’s a change in your circumstances, get in touch with your estate planning attorney to update your documents as soon as possible.

Federal and state tax and estate laws change, so ask your attorney to look at your estate planning documents every few years in light of any new legislation.

Review retirement, investment, and trust accounts to make certain that they achieve your long-term financial goals.

A frequent estate planning error is forgetting to update the beneficiary designations on your retirement and investment accounts. Thoroughly review your accounts every year to ensure everything is up to snuff in your estate plan.

Communicate your intent to your heirs, who may include family, friends, and charities. It is important to engage in a frank discussion with your heirs about your legacy and estate plan. Because this can be an emotional conversation, begin with the basics.

Having this type of conversation now, can prevent conflict and hard feelings later.

Reference: Tennessean (Jan. 3, 2020) “Five estate-planning steps to take in the new year”

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Are Your Company Benefit Plan Designations Up-to-Date? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

On the first day of your new job, you probably talked to the Human Resources Director, who had you complete a huge stack of forms. You needed to sign off that you understood all the corporate policies and received the company handbook. You probably took a stab at how many exemptions to claim for payroll tax withholding and also completed Form I-9 affirming your eligibility to work. In the stack was most likely a form to choose a medical plan, as well as a form to designate your beneficiaries for employee benefit plans. This might include life insurance, stock purchase plans and your company’s 401(k) plan.

Forbes’s recent article, “Company Benefit Plan Designations Can Lead To A Huge Estate Planning Blunder,” says that now, you should fast-forward to when you met with your estate planning attorney to sign your estate documents. After a few meetings, you probably felt good that this was checked off your to do list.

However, assets that have a form of joint or survivor ownership, or have named beneficiaries, pass on to heirs by law and aren’t part of your probated estate. This usually applies to homes, bank and investment accounts, life insurance, retirement plans and corporate asset accumulation plans. In other words, these are all the plans and accounts where you originally named beneficiaries, but probably haven’t changed those beneficiaries since your first day of work.

When you started your job, you probably named your spouse as your primary beneficiary. If you named a contingency beneficiary, it was probably your children. The secondary designation is probably not something to which you gave a lot of thought. However, if your spouse predeceases you and if your plans designated your children as contingent beneficiaries, they would inherit all your company benefit plans at once, or upon reaching majority of age 18 or 21.

If that’s not what you want to happen, you need to review your work beneficiary designations. Chances are, you’d prefer to pass assets to your children in stages at, say, ages 25, 30, and 35. If you don’t make any changes, one of your largest bequests derived from employee stock plans and life insurance may not pass the way you want.

Talk to a qualified estate planning attorney for help concerning how your company’s benefits should be titled. The process of revising your beneficiary designations only takes a few minutes.

Reference: Forbes (April 22, 2019) “Company Benefit Plan Designations Can Lead To A Huge Estate Planning Blunder”

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