Which Takes Priority in a Conflict: a Will or a Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A will and a trust are separate legal documents that usually have a common goal of coordinating a comprehensive estate plan. The two documents ideally work in tandem, but because they are separate and distinct documents, they sometimes can conflict with one another. This conflict can be accidental or on purpose.

A revocable trust is a living trust established during the life of the grantor. It can be changed at any time, while the grantor is still alive. Since revocable trusts become operative before the will takes effect at death, the trust takes precedence over the will, in the event that there are issues between the two.

An Investopedia article from 2019, “What Happens When a Will and a Revocable Trust Conflict?” reminds us that a will has no power to decide who receives a living trust’s assets, such as cash, equities, bonds, real estate and jewelry because a trust is a separate entity. It is a separate entity from an individual. When the grantor dies, the assets in the trust do not go into the probate process with a decedent’s personal assets. They remain trust property.

When a person dies, their will must be probated, and the deceased individual’s property is distributed according to the terms in the will. However, probate does not apply to property held in a living trust, because those assets are not legally owned by the deceased. As such, the will has no authority over a trust’s assets, which may include cash, real estate, cars, jewelry, collectibles and other tangible items.

Let us say that the family patriarch named Christopher Robin has two children named Pooh and Roo. Let us also assume that Chris places his home into a living trust, which states that Pooh and Roo are to inherit the home. Several years later, Chris remarries and just before he dies, he executes a new will that purports to leave his house to his new wife, Kanga. In such an illustration, Chris would have needed to amend the trust to make the transfer to Kanga effective, because the house is trust property, and Chris no longer owns it to give away. That home becomes the property of the children, Pooh and Roo.

This can be a complex and confusing area, so work with an experienced estate planning attorney to be sure you do not end up like Kanga with nowhere to live.

Remember a revocable trust is a separate entity and does not follow the provisions of a person’s will upon his or her death.  It is wise to seek the advice of a trust and estate planning attorney to make sure proceedings go as you intend.

While a revocable trust supersedes a will, the trust only controls those assets that have been placed into it. Therefore, if a revocable trust is formed, but assets are not moved into it, the trust provisions have no effect on those assets, at the time of the grantor’s death. If Christopher Robin created the trust but he failed to retitle the home as a trust asset, Kanga would have been able to take possession under the will. Oh bother!

Reference: Investopedia (August 5, 2019) “What Happens When a Will and a Revocable Trust Conflict?”

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

Should I Create a Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Just 40% of adults in the United States have any kind of estate planning documents in place. That leaves 60% of adults who don’t have their property and other assets protected in the event of death.

Without planning, their family and loved ones will have trouble trying to determine what to do next.

Frequently, when thinking of estate planning, we think of a will. However, there are other options. Creating a living trust may be a better option for you and your family, advises kake.com’s recent article entitled “What Are the Advantages of Creating a Living Trust for My Family?”

The article provides some of the major benefits of a living trust.

It can save your family money. When a person with a living trust passes, the trustee takes possession and control over the trust property, according to the instructions provided by the trustor. It can be less expensive, because there are no fees that may be incurred in probate. Everything also moves faster.

Protection of your privacy. A living trust is much more private, because it does not have to go through the probate court and will not become public record. In contrast, a will becomes public record, that anyone can request to view as a court record.

A trust is for more than death. A living trust can be invoked at other times before death. The creator can add specific stipulations and conditions to the living trust to designate when the trustee can take over the management of property and finances.

More difficult to challenge. A will can be contested in court, if a family member thinks that he or she is entitled to more of your assets than was outlined in the will. A judge can rule that your will is not valid, and the contesting family member can possibly get more than you intended. With a living trust, there is much less chance that this will happen.

Creating a living trust takes legal expertise, so work with an experienced estate planning attorney. You can then discuss an entire estate planning strategy.

Reference: kake.com (April 20, 2020) “What Are the Advantages of Creating a Living Trust for My Family?”

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”

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

Does Artwork Belong in a Charitable Remainder Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A charitable remainder trust is a tax-exempt irrevocable trust that is created to decrease taxable income of people, by initially giving income to the beneficiaries of the trust for a set period of time and then donating the rest of the trust funds to a designated charity.

Financial Advisor’s recent article entitled “Putting Art Into Charitable Remainder Trusts” says that people who have valuable artwork or other collectibles that are hard to divide or that their kids do not want, can investigate a charitable remainder trust with an estate planning attorney as an option.

A Charitable Remainder Trust is designed to save asset owners taxes that they would have to pay, if they sold their artworks on the open market. CRTs are also designed so that when they expire, they allow philanthropically inclined individuals help their favorite charitable organizations.

Many people with higher net worth hold about a tenth of their wealth in art and collectibles.  Due to the nature of the assets, the value may be hard to split up among their heirs, or no one heir may want that specific piece of art. A charitable remainder trust gives the art or collectible owner a solution to that issue. The trust will reduce her taxable income, by first dispersing income to the trust beneficiaries for a certain period of time and then the remainder is donated to a charity.

It is important to note that art markets are quirky, and a CRT protects an owner from forcing her into a fire sale, when she or a trustee is trying to divide the estate.

For example, say the parents purchased a number of pieces of artwork on a European vacation and shipped them back to the United States. They have three children, but there is one piece of art that is more valuable than the others. As a result, there was no way to equitably divide the pieces. If they sold the pieces outright, there would be a 28% tax imposed.

However, the parents could instead place the artwork in a charitable remainder trust, get a tax deduction for part of the value, get income from the trust and then give a sum to a selected charity.

The asset can be held in the trust until one owner dies, until both parents pass, or for up to a certain number of years, based on how the trust is set up. Contact an estate planning attorney experienced in charitable planning strategies.

Reference: Financial Advisor (Feb. 21, 2020) “Putting Art Into Charitable Remainder Trusts”

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

Do I Need to Be Wealthy to Set Up a Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Trust funds are intended to let a person’s money continue to be useful, after they pass away. However, they are not only useful for ultra-high-net-worth individuals. Many people can benefit from the use of a trust.

Investopedia’s recent article entitled “How to Set Up a Trust Fund if You’re Not Rich” says that you can place cash, stock, real estate, or other valuable assets in your trust. Work with a trust attorney, decide on the beneficiaries, and set any instructions or restrictions. With an irrevocable trust, you do not have the ability to dissolve the trust, if you change your mind later on. Once you place property in the trust, it is no longer yours but is under the care of a trustee. Because the assets are no longer yours, you do not have to pay income tax on any money made from the assets, and with an estate planning attorney’s guidance, the assets can be exempt from estate and gift taxes.

Tax exemptions are a main reason that some people set up an irrevocable trust. If you, the trustor (the person establishing the trust) is in a higher income tax bracket, creating an irrevocable trust lets you remove these assets from your net worth and move into a lower tax bracket.

If you do not want to set up a trust, there are other options. However, they do not give you as much control over your property. As an alternative or in addition to a trust, you can have an attorney draft your will. With a will, your property is subject to more taxes, and its terms can easily be contested in probate. You also will not have much control over how your assets are used.

Similar to a 529 college-savings plan, UGMA/UTMA custodial accounts are designed to let a person use the funds for education-related expenses. You can use an account like this to gift a certain amount up to the maximum gift tax or fund maximum to reduce your tax liability, while setting aside funds that can only be used for education-related expenses. The downside to UGMA/UTMA Custodial Accounts and 529 plans is that money in the minor’s custodial account is considered an asset. This may make them ineligible to receive need-based financial aid.

For those who do not have a high net-worth but want to leave money to children or grandchildren and control how that money is used, a trust may be a good option. Talk it over with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Investopedia (Dec. 12, 2019) “How to Set Up a Trust Fund if You’re Not Rich”

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

What Does Recent Legislation Mean for the Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax (GSTT) Exemption? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Congress has made some significant changes through the planned sunset of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) increased exemptions and through the recent changes to retirement planning in the Secure Act.

Think Advisor’s recent article entitled, “Estate Planning Tips and Updates,” looks at some of the most notable of these.

  1. Increased Estate Tax Exemption Amounts. The current applicable exemption amount of $11.58 million each (or $23.16 million for a married couple) lets many people totally avoid transfer taxes. However, the applicable exclusion amount reverts to its prior inflation adjusted amount in 2026. Therefore, if you have a gross estate of $11 million and previously made, say, $7 million of gifts, the rules eliminate any claw back of those gifts, if death occurs in 2026. However, you have no applicable exclusion amount remaining, says the IRS. As a result, after the sunset, you have a gross estate of $4 million and no remaining exemption. With this example, you would be wise to consider implementing one or more strategies, including gifts and sales to grantor trusts, before the end of 2025 to be certain you fully use the disappearing exemption.
  2. The Increased Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax (GSTT) Exemption. The TCJA also upped the GSTT exemption to $11.58 million each. This allows many people to exempt transfers for several generations, if not in perpetuity, under the laws of certain states. However, they must intentionally draft trusts to establish legal situs in states like Nevada to leverage longer perpetuities periods. This will result in avoiding additional estate, gift and GSTT taxes for longer periods, normally a net positive.
  3. Annual Exclusion Gifts. Regardless of the increased exemption amounts, continued annual exclusion gifts (currently $15,000) are still going to be a crucial component of most estate tax reduction planning, removing the amount of the gift and its future appreciation. The tax-exclusive nature of the gift tax makes gifts more tax-efficient.
  4. Basis Harvesting. The increased exemption amounts often will result in some people with previous trust planning no longer having estate tax issues. These people could look at reforming, amending, or decanting an existing trust to add older generations in a manner to cause inclusion in their estates. This inclusion triggers the basis step-up rules in the code and may dramatically reduce taxes upon a liquidity event, like the sale of a business interest previously gifted or sold over to the trust.
  5. Secure Act Age Changes. For those born after July 1, 1949, the Act raises the beginning age for minimum distributions (RMDs) to 72.
  6. Employer Inducements. The Act increases the current $500 credit for setting up a retirement plan to $5,000 in some situations and provides a $500 credit for three years to encourage the use of auto-enrollment.
  7. Inherited IRAs. The Act substantially restricts the use of “stretch” IRAs. For deaths after December 31, 2019, a recipient of an IRA from the deceased must generally take distributions from the IRA over no more than a 10-year period. However, the new rules exempt accounts inherited by a spouse, a minor child, a disabled or chronically ill person, or anyone less than 10 years younger than the deceased account owner.
  8. Annuities. The “stretch” IRA provisions also apply to annuities with one important exception. Annuities making payments before January 1, 2020, may still pay out over two lives. The new law encourages greater investment in annuities through 401(k) plans, and especially plans offered by smaller businesses, by decreasing the risk associated with offering annuities. As a result, employers offering annuities as investments will not have fiduciary duties as to those potential annuity investments, assuming they choose an issuer in good standing with the applicable state insurance commission. The Secure Act also offers portability for annuities, if you change jobs. This is a direct transfer between retirement plans.

Reference: Think Advisor (March 25, 2020) “Estate Planning Tips and Updates”

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

Should I Use Life Insurance in My Estate Planning? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

With proper planning, insurance money can pay expenses like estate taxes. It will help keep other assets intact.

For example, Hector passes away and leaves his rather large estate to his daughter, Isabella. Because of the size of the estate, there is a hefty estate tax due. However, unfortunately, most of Hector’s assets are tied up in real estate and an IRA. Isabella may not be keen on a quick forced sale of the real estate to free up some cash for the taxes. If Isabella taps the inherited IRA to raise cash, she will have to pay income tax on the withdrawal and lose a valuable opportunity for extended tax deferral.

FedWeek’s recent article entitled “Using Life Insurance to Protect Your Estate” that in this scenario, Hector could plan ahead. Anticipating such a result, he could buy insurance on his own life. The proceeds of that policy could be used to pay the estate tax bill. Isabella can then keep the real estate, while taking only the Required Minimum Distributions (RMD) that are warranted by law from the inherited IRA. If the insurance policy is owned by Isabella or by a trust, the proceeds most likely will not be included in Hector’s estate, and the money will not increase the estate tax liability she has.

However, some common life insurance mistakes can sabotage your estate plan:

  • Designating your estate as the beneficiary. This will place the policy proceeds in your estate, which exposes the funds to estate tax and your creditors. Your executor will also have more paperwork, if your estate is the beneficiary. Instead, name the appropriate people, trust or charities.
  • Naming just a single beneficiary. Name at least two “backup” beneficiaries to decrease confusion, in the event the main beneficiary should die before you.
  • Placing your policy in the “file and forget” drawer. Review your policies at least once every three years, make the appropriate changes and get a confirmation, in writing, from the insurance company.
  • Inadequate insurance. In the event of your untimely death, if you have a young child, in all likelihood it will take hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay all her expenses, such as college tuition. Failing to purchase adequate insurance coverage may hurt your family. This also should not be a hardship with term insurance costs so low.

Reference: FedWeek (Feb. 6, 2020) “Using Life Insurance to Protect Your Estate”

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

Why Is Estate Planning more Complicated with a ‘Gray Divorce’? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The increasing divorce rates among Americans over the age of 50 is a problem, because minimizing discord among beneficiaries is one of the top three reasons why people engage in estate planning.

The Clare County Review’s recent article entitled “Rising Gray Divorce Rates Are Making Estate Planning Problems More Complicated” notes that along with prolonged life expectancy and rising healthcare costs, this upward trend in couples divorcing after the age of 50 has created activity and interest in estate planning.

According to the CDC, the divorce rate in the United States is 3.2 per 1,000 people. The ‘first divorce rate,’ or the number of marriages that ended in divorce per 1,000 first marriages for women 18 and older, was 15.4 in 2016, according to research by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at the Bowling Green State University. As noted earlier, black women experience divorce at the highest rate, 26.1 per 1,000, and the rate is lowest for Asian women at 9.2 per 1,000.  In Michigan, the current divorce rate is 9%, but Tennessee is way up at 43%.

Gray divorce is adding another level of complexity to estate planning that already happens with blended families, designation of heirs and changing domestic structures. Therefore, it is more crucial than ever to proactively review and discuss the estate plans with your estate planning attorney on an ongoing basis.

According to the TD Wealth survey, 39% of respondents said that divorce effects the costs of retirement planning and funding the most. Another 7% said that divorce impacts those responsible for enacting a power of attorney and 6% said divorce impacts how Social Security benefits will be determined.

It is important to communicate the estate plan with family members to reduce family conflict during the divorce process.

The divorce process is complicated at any age. However, for divorcing couples over the age of 50, the process can be especially tough because the spouse is frequently designated as a beneficiary on many, if not all, documents. Each of these documents will need to change to show new beneficiaries after the divorce has been finalized. It means that wills, trusts, retirement accounts, life insurance policies and listed assets will need to be revised.

Reference: Clare County Review (Feb. 10, 2020) “Rising Gray Divorce Rates Are Making Estate Planning Problems More Complicated”

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

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

A revocable living trust is created with a written agreement or declaration that names a trustee to manage and administer the property of the grantor. If you are a competent adult, you can establish an RLT. As the grantor, or creator of the trust, you can name any competent adult as your trustee, or you can use a bank or a trust company for this role. The grantor can also act as trustee throughout his lifetime.

Investopedia’s article from last fall entitled “Should You Set up a Revocable Living Trust?” explains that after it is created, you must retitled assets—like investments, bank accounts, and real estate—into the trust. You no longer “own” those assets directly. Instead, they belong to the trust and do not have to go through probate at your death. However, with a revocable living trust, you retain control of the assets while you are alive, even though they no longer belong to you directly. A revocable living trust can be changed, and any income earned by the trust’s assets passes to you and is taxable. However, the assets themselves do not transfer from the trust to your beneficiaries until your death.

Avoiding probate is the big benefit of a living trust, but other benefits like privacy protection and flexibility make it a good choice. A living trust can be used to help control a guardian’s spending habits for the benefit of minor children. It can also instruct another individual to act on your behalf, if you become incapacitated and need someone to make decisions for you. Should you become impaired or disabled, the trust can automatically appoint your trustee to oversee it and your financial affairs without a durable power of attorney.

Although there are several advantages to establishing a revocable living trust, there also some drawbacks:

Expense. Establishing a trust requires legal assistance, which is an expense.

Maintaining Records. Most of the time, you need to monitor it on an annual basis and make adjustments as needed (they do not automatically adapt to changed circumstances, like a divorce or a new grandchild). There is the trouble of ensuring that future assets are continuously registered to the trust.

Re-titling Property. When your RLT is established, property must be re-titled in the name of the trust, requiring additional time. Fees can apply to processing title changes.

Minimal Asset Protection. Despite the myth, a revocable living trust offers little asset protection beyond avoiding probate if you retain an ownership interest, such as naming yourself as trustee.

Administrative Expenses. There can also be additional professional fees, such as investment advisory and trustee fees, if you appoint a bank or trust company as the trustee.

There’s No Tax Break. Your assets in the RLT will continue to incur taxes on their gains or income and be subject to creditors and legal action.

Compared to wills, revocable trusts have more privacy, more control and flexibility over asset distribution. With a revocable living trust, you do most of the work up front, making the disposition of your estate easier and faster. However, an RLT requires more effort, and there is an expense in creating and maintaining it.

Work with an experienced estate planning attorney, if you are considering a revocable living trust.

Reference: Investopedia (Oct. 31, 2019) “Should You Set up a Revocable Living Trust?”

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

Do You Think Everything Is All Set with Your Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Many people would like to believe that estate planning is simple, and that once you sign everything you’re finished. Not so. There are other things to consider as part of the process, and topics that need to be revisited over time.

When you pass away, your executor will typically have many tasks to handle to settle your estate. Anything you can do in advance to add clarity and lessen the burden on her work is wise. MarketWatch’s recent article entitled “Why your estate plan is not as buttoned up as you think it is” gives us a list of seven items to review to be certain that your estate is as planned as you think:

Check to make sure your will is up to date. That is assuming you have written your will (and if you have not, get on it!). How long has it been since you drafted it? Think about any major changes in your life that have happened since that time. If things have changed, be sure to update it.

Check to make sure that your will is sufficiently detailed. Most people think about the big stuff in their estate, like the house, car and jewelry. However, you also need to provide directions for items with sentimental value. This will help to avoid family fighting over these items. Leave directions about who gets what, even if these items of sentimental value do not have a high dollar value.

Check to make sure that your will spells out your wishes in a way that’s legally binding. Every state has its own laws, when it comes to the requirements for a valid will. Work with a seasoned estate planning attorney to make certain that your will is valid. You can also let them do it, so you do not make a mistake that could lead to problems for your executor after you are gone.

Check to make sure that your will has your funeral plans sufficiently detailed. Do not force your grieving family to plan your funeral and try to guess your wishes at the same time. Preplan your funeral. Funeral directors are happy to talk to you to preplan. Leave instructions regarding your wishes, including whether you want to be cremated or buried in a casket; the services you would like and if you would like charitable donations to be made in lieu of people sending flowers.

Be sure that your financial affairs are organized. Your executor will need to know about your typical monthly bills. Make a list of your account numbers and passwords to simplify your executor’s job. Be sure to include automatic deductions or charges on your credit card for things like internet-based subscriptions, club memberships, recurring charitable donations and automatic utility payments.

Make arrangements for the care of your family members who survive you. If you are a caregiver to a parent, spouse, child, or another family member, create a detailed plan concerning who will take over their care, if they outlive you. Do not forget your pets, since the laws on the care for animals contained in a will are different in each state. It is a good idea to make your loved ones aware of your wishes for your furry family members.

Thorough estate planning will help ensure that you family has less to deal with in their grief. Anything you can do to help them get through that difficult time by managing your affairs today is a great gift to them.

Reference: MarketWatch (March 4, 2020) “Why your estate plan is not as buttoned up as you think it is”

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