What Is Needed in Estate Plan Besides a Will? Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Having a will is especially important if you have young children, says Fed Week’s recent article entitled “Estate Planning Doesn’t Stop with Making a Will.”  In your will, you can nominate guardians, who would raise your children in the event neither you nor your spouse is able to do so.

When designating a guardian, try to be practical.

Remember, your closest relatives—like your brother and his wife—may not necessarily be the best choice.

And keep in mind that you’re acting in the best interests of your children.

Be sure to obtain the consent of your guardians before nominating them in your will.

Also make sure there’s sufficient life insurance in place, so the guardians can comfortably afford to raise your children.

Your estate planning isn’t complete at this point. Here are some of the other components to consider:

  • Placing assets in trust will help your heirs avoid the hassle and expense of probate.
  • Power of Attorney. This lets a person you name act on your behalf. A “durable” power will remain in effect, even if you become incompetent.
  • Life insurance, retirement accounts and payable-on-death bank accounts will pass to the people you designate on beneficiary forms and won’t pass through probate.
  • Health care proxy. This authorizes a designated agent to make medical decisions for you, if you can’t make them yourself.
  • Living will. This document says whether you want life-sustaining efforts at life’s end.

Be sure to review all of these documents every few years to make certain they’re up to date and reflect your current wishes.  Contact us to review your estate plan with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Reference: Fed Week (Dec. 28, 2022) “Estate Planning Doesn’t Stop with Making a Will”

 

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Is Estate Planning and Writing Will the Same Thing? – Annapolis and Towson Planning

An estate plan is a broader plan for your assets that may apply during your life as well as after your death. A will states where your assets will pass after you die, who will be the guardian of your minor children and other directions. A will is often part of an estate plan, but an estate plan covers much more.

Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Yahoo’s recent article entitled “How Is Estate Planning Different From Will Planning?” says that if you’re thinking about writing your will or creating an estate plan, it can be a good idea to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney.

A will is a legal document that describes the way you want your assets transferred after your death. It can also state your wishes when it comes to how your minor children will be cared after your death. Wills also nominate an executor who’s in charge of carrying out the actions in your will.

Without a will, your heirs may spend significant time, money and energy trying to determine how to divide up your assets through the probate court. When you die intestate, the succession laws where you reside determine how your property is divided.

Estate planning is much broader and more complex than writing a will.  A will is a single tool, and an estate plan involves multiple tools, such as powers of attorney, advance directives and trusts.

Estate planning may include thinking through topics even beyond legal documents, like deciding who has the power to make healthcare decisions on your behalf while you’re alive, in addition to deciding how your assets will be distributed after your death.

Therefore, wills are part of an estate plan. However, an estate plan is more than just a will.

A will is just a first step when it comes to creating an estate plan. To leave your family in the best position after your death, create a comprehensive estate plan, so your assets can end up where you want them.

Contact us to review your estate plan with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Reference: Yahoo (Oct. 20, 2022) “How Is Estate Planning Different From Will Planning?”

 

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Beneficiary Mistakes to Avoid – Annapolis and Towson Planning

Planning for one’s eventual death can be a somber task. However, consider what would occur if you failed to plan: loved ones trying to figure out your intentions, a long and expensive legal battle with unintended heirs and instead of grieving your loss, wondering why you didn’t take care of business while you were living. Planning suddenly becomes far more appealing, doesn’t it?  Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A recent article from Yahoo finance, “5 Retirement Plan Beneficiary Mistakes to Avoid,” explains how to avoid some of the issues regarding beneficiaries.

You haven’t named a beneficiary for your retirement accounts. This is a common estate planning mistake, even though it seems so obvious. A beneficiary can be a person, a charity, a trust, or your estate. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help you identify likely beneficiaries and ensure they are eligible.

You forgot to review your beneficiary designations for many years. Most people have changes in relationships as they move through the stages of life. The same person who was your best friend in your twenties might not even be in your life in your sixties. However, if you don’t check on beneficiary designations on a regular basis, you may be leaving your retirement accounts to people who haven’t heard from you in decades and disinheriting loved ones. Every time you update your estate plan, which should be every three to five years, check your beneficiary designations.

You didn’t name your spouse as a primary beneficiary for a retirement account. When Congress passed the 2019 SECURE Act, the bill removed a provision allowing non-spousal beneficiaries to stretch out disbursements from IRAs over their lifetimes, also known as the “Stretch IRA.” A non-spouse beneficiary must empty any inherited IRA within ten years from the death of the account holder. If a minor child is the beneficiary, once they reach the age of legal majority, they are required to follow the rules of a Required Minimum Distribution. Having a spouse named as beneficiary allows them to move the inherited IRA funds into their own IRA and take out assets as they wish.

You named an estate as a beneficiary. You can name your estate as a beneficiary. However, it creates a significant tangle for the family who has to set things right. For instance, if you have any debt, your estate could be attached by creditors. Your estate may also go through probate court, a court-supervised process to validate your will, have your final assets identified and have debts paid before any remaining assets are distributed to heirs.

You didn’t create a retirement plan until late in your career. Retirement seems very far away during your twenties, thirties and even forties. However, the years pass and suddenly you’re looking at retirement without enough money set aside. Creating an estate plan early in your working life shifts your focus, so you understand how important it is to have a retirement plan.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help square away your beneficiary designations as part of your overall estate plan. The best time to start? How about today?  Contact us to review your estate plan with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Reference: Yahoo finance (Dec. 19, 2022) “5 Retirement Plan Beneficiary Mistakes to Avoid”

 

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Where Should an Estate Plan Be Stored? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

If you have a medical emergency or die unexpectedly, and your documents can’t be located, your family will be scrambling to give you the assistance you need or to close your final affairs, says AARP’s recent article, entitled “Storing Legal Documents in an Easy-to-Find Place for Family Caregivers.”

Security and accessibility are the two primary factors in making the decision about where to store originals. However, frequently the most secure spot isn’t always the most accessible.

Some attorneys offer to keep the originals of your legal documents for safekeeping. However, this has drawbacks. Your family would have to contact the law firm and obtain the release of the documents.

If you opt to keep your original documents at home, secure them from fire or flood. A fire-rated safe is more protective than a file cabinet.

If you lock them up, remember that someone will need to either have a key or know where the key is.

If you decide not to provide copies or originals to your future caregivers and loved ones, tell them where they’ll be able to find the documents, if they need them (and how to access them!).

If you’re reluctant to tell them in advance, leave a letter of instruction for their use if you’re incapacitated or pass away.

Inform your attorney of the location and ask them to note it in your file or perhaps provide a copy of your letter of instruction for them to keep.

If you decide to change the location, let the attorney know.

When you draft new documents, make certain you destroy or discard your now-outdated documents.

Send a notice of revocation to anyone who’s holding copies or originals. If you’ve recorded any of those documents, record the notice of revocation as well. Also, ask that anyone holding copies also destroy or discard the documents in their possession.

You don’t want your loved ones to get delayed in probate court if they can only find a copy of your documents or, even worse, no documents at all.

Organization and dialog are critical to both safeguarding your paperwork and making it easy for your loved ones to use it when the time comes.

Questions? Request a consultation to speak with one of our attorneys.

Reference: AARP  (July 27, 2022) “Storing Legal Documents in an Easy-to-Find Place for Family Caregivers”

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

Why Do I Need an Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “Why Everyone Needs an Estate Plan” reminds us that estate plans aren’t just for the wealthy. People of all ages and income levels can benefit from drafting an estate plan. An estate plan provides instructions about how your assets will be distributed, as well as how you’ll pay for your debts, final arrangements and even your medical care if you become incapacitated.

With everything stated explicitly in an estate plan, your family can work through their grief after your death instead of battling each other about who gets what.

An estate plan describes your wishes regarding how assets such as your house, vehicle bank accounts, investments and valuables will be transferred to your beneficiaries after you die. Most of this is included in your will. You’ll also name the executor of your estate in your will, as well as a guardian for your minor children, and even someone to take care of your pets when you’re no longer here.

Many people will confuse an estate plan with a will. However, that’s just a part of a comprehensive estate plan. There is much more involved in an estate plan than just who gets what after you die. An estate plan can also include your wishes, if you’re medically unable to manage your own affairs. Your plan can designate your durable power of attorney (DPA), who can make medical and financial decisions in your stead, along with medical directives on what medical procedures you do or don’t want to prolong your life.

One of the most compelling reasons to have an estate plan is that it can help avoid probate and prevent your family from winding up in court to access the assets you’ve left behind for them. Another reason to have an estate plan is to help reduce any estate or inheritance taxes imposed on your estate when your assets are transferred to your beneficiaries.

Federal estate taxes typically only apply to the very wealthy. In 2022, the threshold, or estate tax exemption, is $12.06 million, for 2023 that number is $12.93 million.

Unless your assets are valued over the applicable exemption in the year of death, you’re exempt from federal estate taxes. However, while you may be exempt from federal-level estate taxes, the state you live in may impose its own estate taxes. Some states also levy inheritance taxes on beneficiaries who receive assets from your estate.

If you are interested in designing your estate plan, contact us to speak with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Reference: Money Talks News (Oct. 21, 2022) “Why Everyone Needs an Estate Plan”

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The Basics of Estate Planning – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

No matter how BIG or small your net worth is, estate planning is a process that ensures your assets are handed down the way you want after you die.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Estate Planning Basics” explains that everybody has an estate.

An estate is nothing more or less than the sum total of your assets and possessions of value. This includes:

  • Your car
  • Your home
  • Financial accounts
  • Investments; and
  • Personal property.

Estate planning is the process of deciding which people or organizations are to get your possessions or assets after you’ve died.

It’s also how you leave directions for managing your care and assets if you are incapacitated and unable to make financial or medical decisions. That is done with powers of attorney, a healthcare directive and a living will.

Your estate plan details who gets your assets. It also designates who can make critical healthcare and financial decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. If you have minor children, your estate plan also lets you designate their legal guardians, in case you die before they reach 18. It also allows you to name adults to safeguard their financial interests.

Your estate plan directs assets to specific entities or people in a legally binding manner. If you want your daughter to have your coin collection or your favorite animal rescue organization to get $500, it’s all mapped out in your estate plan.

You can also create a trust to safeguard a minor child’s assets until they reach a certain age. You can also keep assets out of probate. That way, your beneficiaries can easily access things like your home or bank accounts.

All estate plans should include documents that cover three main areas: asset transfer, medical needs and financial decisions. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help you create your estate plan.

Reference: Forbes (Nov. 16, 2022) “Estate Planning Basics”

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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

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?”

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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?”

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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