Some Assets Better Left Outside of Will – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A will is a document of last resort to transfer assets. There are many ways to transfer assets that would preempt the terms of a will. AARP’s recent article entitled “The Legal Limits of Your Will” provides a list of some major assets that often fall outside a will’s scope, along with tips for getting them to the people or organizations you want.

Retirement accounts. Those named as beneficiaries will get those assets, no matter what the will says. That’s because a beneficiary designation already informed the plan administrator how to handle the asset after your death. There’s no need for probate court involvement.

Life insurance policies. A life insurance policy’s beneficiary listing, not the will, determines who gets the proceeds. However, some states automatically revoke the beneficiary designation of an ex-spouse on a life insurance policy.

Bank accounts. If an account is titled as transfer on death (TOD), payable on death (POD) or joint tenancy with right of survivorship (JTWROS), those designations generally override the will. The account’s signature card would show if any of these designations applies. Ask the bank to look up your card if you aren’t sure. For individual accounts titled TOD or POD, the beneficiary can go to the bank with a death certificate (or death certificates) and proof of identity to transfer or collect the funds. JTWROS accounts become the property of the surviving account holder, who will need to show the bank a death certificate for the other account holder.

Real estate. If two spouses own a home jointly with right of survivorship or as tenants by the entirety, the property automatically is transferred to the remaining spouse without a court’s involvement. Real estate can also be transferred outside a will in certain states through a TOD deed, in which you name the beneficiary on the property.

Trusts. Any asset in a trust isn’t governed by a will. Therefore, trusts are another tool for distributing assets outside of probate court. However, after a trust is created, you must retitle accounts, change beneficiaries, or take other measures so that each asset you want to put into the trust will actually end up there.

Reference: AARP (September 29, 2022) “The Legal Limits of Your Will”

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

What Estate Planning Can a Nursing Home Resident Do? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

It can be difficult trying to understand the estate settlement process. It’s a system so arcane and frustrating that it can take months to complete. Family members must deal with probate, taxes, assets and debts — all while navigating their grief.

McKnight’s Senior Living’s recent article entitled “5 estate-planning steps your residents should know” says “it doesn’t have to be that hard, especially if the estate owner helps organize the estate before the time comes. While you already might know some steps, the list of things to consider will prove useful. Handling those steps in life is the kindest thing a person, especially a resident of a care facility, can do for his or her family. That’s because these steps are far more difficult for an executor to complete, if they have not been thoughtfully planned.

  1. Name an executor. The first thing is to choose the person who will carry out the terms of the last will and testament. A senior should make certain this individual is able to take on such a complex role and notify them in advance. A critical part of the process for a care facility resident, depending on their circumstances, can be creating joint accounts with the executor. Doing this can ensure that money won’t be trapped in probate after the resident’s passing. Beware: there are risks associated with this approach because the surviving joint owner becomes the legal owner and may use it personally rather than for estate expenses.
  2. Create a list of assets and liabilities. Collect all important records on paper or in a digital vault for the executor to reference and fulfill when needed. This should include a list of all digital accounts, debts owed and to whom, any valuable and sentimental items, as well as assets passing outside of probate by joint ownership, beneficiary designations and title in trust. When questions arise, the executor won’t have to sift through documents and get frustrated if an important document or asset can’t be found.
  3. Determine how the estate should be distributed. The resident should have an estate distribution plan that can be added to the will to help lessen the burden on the executor.
  4. Draft a last will. When the last will is created, the resident should ensure that loved ones and beneficiaries are aware of the terms, so there are no issues. Make sure that the will can be authenticated easily later. Keep it in a central place with other important documents.
  5. Prepare for probate. Probate is the process of authenticating the last will. It lets debts and assets move from the deceased’s estate to the executor. Every state has its own probate rules. A resident must be aware of two primary things. First, finding the right probate court. If the resident has moved recently or lives in a senior living community far from his or her original home, then probate may be required in the new state rather than the state they call “home.” Second, the resident must understand and plan for probate-related fees.

There are ways to avoid probate, to include those mentioned earlier in this post, such as placing assets in a trust. Contact us to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about probate avoidance tactics, if you want to explore options to simplify the estate settlement process.

Reference: McKnight’s Senior Living (Sep. 29, 2022) “5 estate-planning steps your residents should know”

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

Does My College Kid Need an Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

When it comes to estate planning, we usually think of older adults. However, it’s a topic that we should also consider for college students.

WDIO’s recent article entitled “Estate planning is for college students too” reminds us that there’s a number of documents you can put into place in the case of an emergency.

Power of Attorney. There are two types of POAs. The financial power of attorney allows a named agent to make financial decisions on behalf of the college student, in the event they are unable to do so. A medical power of attorney names a healthcare agent.

These can have HIPAA language written into them that authorizes their medical provider to release information about them. Remember, if your student travels away from home for college, you may need a POA for that state.

Will. A typical college student might not have a lot of money. However, they do have their own stuff, and someone needs to make the decision regarding what happens to that stuff. Ask the student to name the parents as the executor of his or her will.

FERPA Waiver. FERPA stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Without this waiver, a parent has no authority to call the college and request information about your student if they are over 18. With a waiver, you can request a transcript and student loan information.

HIPAA Waiver. A HIPAA waiver allows an adult child’s health information to be disclosed. It’s usually for medical facilities, doctors, schools, or any other person where they are in possession of the health information of a person where that individual authorizes the release of the information to a designated person.

If you have a child in college, contact us to schedule a time for your child to discuss creating an estate plan with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Reference: WDIO (Sep. 28, 2022) “Estate planning is for college students too”

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

Is Your Business Included in Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Forbes’ recent article entitled “The Importance of Estate Planning When Building Your Business” says that every business that’s expected to survive must have a clear answer to this question. The plan needs to be shared with the current owners and management as well as the future owners.

The common things business owners use to put some protection in place are buy-sell agreements, key-person insurance and a succession plan. These are used to make certain that, when the time comes, there’s both certainty around what needs to happen, as well as the funding to make sure that it happens.

If your estate plan hasn’t considered your business interests or hasn’t been updated as the business has developed, it may be that this plan falls apart when it matters the most.

Buy-sell insurance policies that don’t state the current business values could result in your interests being sold far below fair value or may see the interests being bought by an external party that threatens the business itself.

If your agreements are not in place, or are challenged by the IRS, your estate may find itself with a far greater burden than anticipated.

Your estate plan should be reviewed regularly to account for changes in your situation, the value of your assets, the status of your (intended) beneficiaries and new tax laws and regulations.

There are a range of thresholds, exemptions and rules that apply. Adapting the plan to make best use of these given your current situation is well worth the effort. Contact us to talk to one of our experienced estate planning attorneys about your plan.

Including your estate planning as part of your general financial planning and management will frequently provide a valuable guidance in terms of how best to set up and manage your broader financial affairs.

Financial awareness can not only inform how you grow your wealth now but also ensure that it gets passed on effectively. The same is also true of your business.

A tough conversation about what happens in these situations can be a reminder to management that over dependence on any key person is not something to take for granted.

Reference: Forbes (Sep. July 12, 2019) “The Importance of Estate Planning When Building Your Business”

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

How Does Probate Court Work? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Probate court is where wills are examined to be sure they have been prepared according to the laws of the state and according to the wishes of the person who has died. It is also the jurisdiction where the executor is approved, their activities are approved, all debts are paid, and assets are distributed properly. According to a recent article from Investopedia “What is Probate Court?,” this is also where the court determines how to distribute the decedent’s assets if there is no will.

Probate courts handle matters like estates, guardianships and wills. Estate planning lawyers often manage probate matters and navigate the courts to avoid unnecessary complications. The probate court process begins when the estate planning attorney files a petition for probate, the will and a copy of the death certificate.

The probate court process is completed when the executor completes all required tasks, provides a full accounting statement to the court and the court approves the statement.

Probate is the term used to describe the legal process of handling the estate of a recently deceased person. The role of the court is to make sure that all debts are paid, and assets distributed to the correct beneficiaries as detailed in their last will and testament.

Probate has many different aspects. In addition to dealing with the decedent’s assets and debts, it includes the court managing the process and the actual distribution of assets.

Probate and probate court rules and terms vary from state to state. Some states don’t even use the term probate, but instead refer to a surrogate’s court, orphan’s court, or chancery court. Your estate planning attorney will know the laws regarding probate in the state where the will is to be probated before death if you’re having an estate plan created, or after death if you are the beneficiary or the executor.

Probate is usually necessary when property is only titled in the name of the decedent. It could include real property or cars. There are some assets which do not go through probate and pass directly to beneficiaries. A partial list includes:

  • Life insurance policies with designated beneficiaries
  • Pension plan distribution
  • IRA or 401(k) retirement accounts with designated beneficiaries
  • Assets owned by a trust
  • Securities owned as Transfer on Death (TOD)
  • Wages, salary, or commissions owed to the decedent (up to the set limits)
  • Vehicles intended for the immediate family (this depends on state law)
  • Household goods and other items intended for the immediate family (also depending upon state law).

Many people seek to avoid or at least minimize the probate process. This needs to be done in advance by an experienced estate planning attorney. They can create trusts, assign assets to the trust and designate beneficiaries for those assets. Another means of minimizing probate is to gift assets during your lifetime.  If you are interested in avoiding probate, contact us to speak with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Reference: Investopedia (Sep. 21, 2022) “What is Probate Court?”

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

Important Documents in Your Estate Plan – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) and a Health Surrogacy or Advanced Health Directive are used for situations where you can’t make decisions for yourself, explains Parent Your Parents recent article entitled “What You Should Know about Durable Powers of Attorney and Health Surrogacies.”

A Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA). This is written authorization to represent or act on another’s behalf in private affairs, business, or legal matters. The person authorizing the other to act is the “principal” or “grantor.” The person given the power is called the “agent” or “attorney-in-fact.” There are two types of power of attorney: (1) a Springing Durable Power of Attorney, which “springs” into action when you become incapacitated; and (2) a General Durable Power of Attorney, which becomes effective as soon as it is signed and continues until you die.

If you live in a “Springing POA” state and move to a “Durable POA” state, the document is treated as a Durable Power of Attorney, and your agent can act without your consent. You should consider who you trust to be your agent.

It is typically a family member, a friend, or a professional agent. You should also have an alternate designated who can step in if something happens to your first choice and he or she is unable to serve.

Health Surrogacy or Advanced Directive. This document is called a variety of things: a Power of Attorney for Health, Designation of Health Surrogate, or a Living Will. No matter what it’s called, you’re appointing an adult to make healthcare decisions for you when you are unable to make them for yourself.

When you’re in an accident, unconscious, or injured and need a specific medical procedure, the designated agent steps in and makes important decisions in your stead.

If you’re in your 60s but still don’t have a legal document describing what you want to happen when you’re incapacitated, contact us to speak with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Your family, close friends, and healthcare professionals should know how you feel about end-of-life treatments and have your detailed directions as to various circumstances and how you would like them handled.

Reference: Parent Your Parents (Sep. 15, 2022) “What You Should Know about Durable Powers of Attorney and Health Surrogacies”

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

What is a Life Estate? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A life estate is a type of property ownership that divides the control and ownership of a property. The person who creates the life estate for their home and assets is known as the “life tenant.” While a tenant retains control of the property, he or she shares ownership during their lifetime with the remainderman (the estate’s heir).

Quicken Loans’ recent article entitled “What Is A Life Estate And What Property Rights Does It Confer?” explains that while the life tenant lives, they’re in control of the property in all respects, except they can’t sell or encumber the property without the consent of the remaindermen. After the life tenant passes away, the remainderman inherits the property and avoids probate. This is a popular estate planning tool that automatically transfers ownership at the life tenant’s death to their heirs.

The life estate deed shows the terms of the life estate. Upon the death of the life tenant, the heir must only provide the death certificate to the county clerk to assume total ownership of the property.

Medicaid can play an essential role in many older adults’ lives, giving them the financial support needed for nursing facilities, home health care and more. However, the government considers your assets when calculating Medicaid eligibility. As a result, owning a home – or selling it and keeping the proceeds – could impact those benefits. When determining your eligibility for Medicaid, most states will use a five-year look-back period. This means they will total up all the assets you’ve held, sold, or transferred over the last five years. If the value of these assets passes above a certain threshold, you’ll likely be ineligible for Medicaid assistance.

However, a life estate can help elderly property owners avoid selling their home to pay for nursing home expenses. If your life estate deed was established more than five years before you first apply for benefits, the homeownership transfer would not count against you for Medicaid eligibility purposes.

To ensure you’re correctly navigating qualifying for Medicaid, it’s smart to discuss your situation with an attorney specializing in Medicaid issues.

Reference: Quicken Loans (Aug. 9, 2022) “What Is A Life Estate And What Property Rights Does It Confer?”

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

The Difference between Revocable and Irrevocable Trust – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A living trust can be revocable or irrevocable, says Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts: Which Is Better?” And not everyone needs a trust. For some, a will may be enough. However, if you have substantial assets you plan to pass on to family members or to charity, a trust can make this much easier.

There are many different types of trusts you can establish, and a revocable trust is a trust that can be changed or terminated at any time during the lifetime of the grantor (i.e., the person making the trust). This means you could:

  • Add or remove beneficiaries at any time;
  • Transfer new assets into the trust or remove ones that are in it;
  • Change the terms of the trust concerning how assets should be managed or distributed to beneficiaries; and
  • Terminate or end the trust completely.

When you die, a revocable trust automatically becomes irrevocable, and no further changes can be made to its terms. An irrevocable trust is permanent. If you create an irrevocable trust during your lifetime, any assets you transfer to the trust must stay in the trust. You can’t add or remove beneficiaries or change the terms of the trust.

The big advantage of choosing a revocable trust is flexibility. A revocable trust allows you to make changes, and an irrevocable trust doesn’t. Revocable trusts can also allow your heirs to avoid probate when you die. However, a revocable trust doesn’t offer the same type of protection against creditors as an irrevocable trust. If you’re sued, creditors could still try to attach trust assets to satisfy a judgment. The assets in a revocable trust are part of your taxable estate and subject to federal estate taxes when you die.

In addition to protecting assets from creditors, irrevocable trusts can also help in managing estate tax obligations. The assets are owned by the trust (not you), so estate taxes are avoided. Holding assets in an irrevocable trust can also be useful if you’re trying to qualify for Medicaid to help pay for long-term care and want to avoid having to spend down assets.

But again, you can’t change this type of trust and you can’t act as your own trustee. Once the trust is set up and the assets are transferred, you no longer have control over them.

Contact us to speak with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys to see if a revocable or an irrevocable trust is best or whether you even need a trust at all.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Sep. 10, 2022) “Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts: Which Is Better?”

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

What Penalties Hurt Retirement Accounts? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “3 Tax Penalties That Can Ding Your Retirement Accounts” says make one wrong move, and Uncle Sam may ask for some explanations. Let’s review the three biggest mistakes people make.

Excess IRA contribution penalty. Contributing too much to an individual retirement account (IRA) can mean a penalty from the IRS. You can do this if you contribute more than the applicable annual contribution limit for your IRA or improperly rolling over money into an IRA. The IRS states, “Excess contributions are taxed at 6% per year as long as the excess amounts remain in the IRA. The tax can’t be more than 6% of the combined value of all your IRAs as of the end of the tax year.”

The IRS lets you remedy your mistake before any penalties will be applied. You must withdraw the excess contributions — and any income earned on those contributions — by the due date of your federal income tax return for that year.

Taking money out too soon from a retirement account. If you withdraw funds from your IRA before the age of 59½, you might be subject to paying income taxes on the money, plus an additional 10% penalty. However, there are several exceptions when you’re permitted to take early IRA withdrawals without penalties: if you lose your employment, you’re allowed to tap your IRA early to pay for health insurance premiums.

The same penalties apply to early withdrawals from retirement plans like 401(k)s, but again, there are exceptions to the rule that allow you to make early withdrawals without penalty. The exceptions that let you make early retirement plan withdrawals without penalty may differ from the exceptions that allow you to make early IRA withdrawals without penalty.

Missed RMD penalty. Taxpayers were previously obligated to take required minimum distributions — also known as RMDs — from most types of retirement accounts beginning the year they turn 70½. However, the Secure Act of 2019 bumped up that age to 72.

The consequences of not making these mandatory withdrawals still apply. If you fail to take your RMDs starting the year you turn 72, you face harsh penalties. The IRS says that if you don’t take any distributions, or if the distributions aren’t large enough, you may have to pay a 50% excise tax on the amount not distributed as required.

Reference: Money Talks News (March 1, 2022) “3 Tax Penalties That Can Ding Your Retirement Accounts”

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

There are Less Restrictive Alternatives than Guardianship – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The benefit of restrictive alternatives to guardianships is that they don’t require court approval or judicial oversight. They are also much easier to set up and end.

The standard for establishing incapacity is also less rigorous than the standard required for a guardianship, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort – Consider These Less Draconian Options First.”

Limited guardianships. A guardianship takes away an individual’s right to make decisions, just as full guardianships do, but they are specific to only some aspects of the person’s life. A limited guardianship can be established to manage an individual’s finances and estate or to control medical and health care decisions. These types of guardianships still require court approval and must be supported by a showing of incapacity.

Powers of attorney. Powers of attorney can be established for medical or for financial decisions. A second set of eyes ensures that financial decisions are well-considered and not harmful to the individual or his or her estate. A medical power of attorney can allow an agent to get an injunction to protect the health and well-being of the subject, including by seeking a determination of mental incapacity. A durable power of attorney for health care matters gives the agent the right to make medical decisions on behalf of the subject if or when they are unable to do so for themselves. Unlike a guardianship, powers of attorney can be canceled when they are no longer needed.

Assisted decision-making. This agreement establishes a surrogate decision-maker who has visibility to financial transactions. The bank is informed of the arrangement and alerts the surrogate when it identifies an unusual or suspicious transaction. While this arrangement doesn’t completely replace the primary account holder’s authority, it creates a safety mechanism to prevent exploitation or fraud. The bank is on notice that a second approval is required before an uncommon transaction can be completed.

Wills and trusts. These estate planning documents let people map out what will happen in the event they become incapacitated or otherwise incapable of managing their affairs. Trusts can avoid guardianship by appointing a friend or relative to manage money and other assets. A contingent trust will let the executor manage assets if necessary. For seniors, it may be wise to name a co-trustee who can oversee matters and step in should the trustor lose the capacity to make good decisions.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 7, 2022) “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort – Consider These Less Draconian Options First”

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