What Do Your Kids Want to Inherit? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Nearly everyone needs a will, also known as a last will and testament, to list all properties and assets and how they should be distributed postmortem. While the decisions are all yours, it’s helpful to know what personal possessions your children may or may not want to receive as part of their inheritance, as explained in the article “12 Things Your Kids Actually Might Want to Inherit” from Entrepreneur.

Making a list of things you want your children to inherit will save a lot of time, especially if you have a lot of possessions you want to give to them. You might think they want your collection of fine china and glassware, silverware and Grandma Helen’s sculptures. However, you might be wrong.

Wanting your children to have these items so they stay in the family isn’t wrong. However, it’s more than likely they’ll be donated after you die. If you want to make your children’s lives a little easier, here are twelve things they actually might want:

Cash money. Cash is the ideal asset, since it can be easily divided. Cash also provides an easy way to give your children a chance to invest in stocks or real estate or a means of starting a business.

Annuities. An inherited annuity has several advantages, including tax benefits, especially if they are non-qualified annuities paid for with after-tax dollars. By annuitizing an annuity, heirs may convert it into a steady and dependable income stream to help cover living expenses. They can choose to do this for a pre-defined period of time or for life, if the original annuity contract was created as a multi-life annuity.

Recipes. There are any number of ways to create a cookbook, from a simple bound folder to a hard-cover book likely to be shared and talked about, bringing warm memories to all.

Family Photos. Whether you take the time to organize them or not, videos and photos are your family’s history. Keep them in a water-proof bin and protect them for the future generations, until you’re ready to hand them over.

Trusts. Trusts are not just for wealthy people. Trusts are an all-purpose tool for passing assets across generations, controlling how they are used and minimizing estate tax liability. A trust is a legal entity to hold a variety of assets. A trust allows you to set down what you want done with the money, from paying for college to buying a first home. You name a trustee who is in charge of managing the trust and making sure your wishes are followed.

Furniture. Today’s young adult is more likely to want authentic furniture with family history than the latest knockdown furniture from Ikea. They also know how expensive good furniture is and may welcome saving money when furnishing their first home.

Vinyl Records. While collectors may value pristine records, the albums you listened to with scratches and skips will be prized by younger listeners. They evoke happy memories and hold sentimental value.

Life Insurance. If you want to leave money for your family but worry about the impact of taxes, life insurance is a good option. Your estate planning attorney will be able to explain who the beneficiary should be, or if you need to set up a trust to benefit your children.

Real Estate. Real estate is a strong investment with a track record of growth. Keeping a vacation home in the family for future generations requires extra planning. For many families, even a simple cabin by the lake is a touchstone of family history.

A Business. Family-owned businesses are often passed to the next generation. An established business has value up front and, if all is well with the business, provides income. A succession plan will be needed. Be realistic: if your children have never set foot in your office or expressed interest in the business, selling it may be a better move.

Investment Accounts. Stocks, bonds or other investment accounts can be gifted to children while you are living or after you die. Like cash, this asset is easily divided and relatively easy to give.

Education Funds. You can start a College Savings Account 529 for individual children when they are born or open one at any time to help with college expenses. Having financial help for college could be the difference between the burden of college loans or being able to explore different careers without the constant worry that a six-figure debt brings.

Contact us to speak with one of our estate planning attorneys and explore all of the different ways to transfer wealth to the next generation while you are living and after you pass.

Reference: Entrepreneur (Oct. 30, 2022) “12 Things Your Kids Actually Might Want to Inherit”

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

What Is a Community Property Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Where you live matters for estate planning, since laws regarding estate planning are state specific. The same is true for taxes, especially for married couples, says a recent article “How Community Property Trusts Can Benefit Married Couples” from Kiplinger.

There are two different types of basic ownership law for married couples: common law and community property law. Variances can be found across states, but some general rules apply to all. If a state is not a community property state, it’s a common-law state.

Community property states have a tax advantage for assets when one spouse dies. But if you live in a common-law state, don’t worry: several states have now passed statutes allowing married couples living in a common-law state to establish a community property trust with a qualified trustee. They can gain a step-up in cost basis at each death, which previously was not allowed in common-law states.

First, let’s explain what community property means. Each member of the married couple owns one half of all the property of the couple, with full rights of ownership. All property acquired during a marriage is usually community property, with the exception of property from an inheritance or received as a gift. However, laws vary in the community property states regarding some ownership matters. For example, a spouse can identify some property as community property without the consent of the other spouse.

Under federal law, all community property (which includes both the decedent’s one-half interest in the community property and the surviving spouse’s one-half interest in the community property) gets a new basis at the death of the first spouse equal to its fair market value. The cost basis is stepped up, and assets can be sold without recognizing a capital gain.

Property in the name of the surviving spouse can receive a second step-up in basis. However, there’s no second step-up for assets placed into irrevocable trusts before the second death. This includes a trust set up to shelter assets under the lifetime estate tax exemption or to qualify assets for the unlimited marital deduction. This is often called “A-B” trust planning.

Under common law, married couples own assets together or individually. When the first spouse dies, assets in the decedent spouse’s name or in the name of a revocable trust are stepped-up. Assets owned jointly at death receive a step-up in basis on only half of the property. Assets in the surviving spouse’s name only are not stepped-up. However, when the surviving spouse dies, assets held in their name get another step-up in basis.

To date, five common-law states have passed community property trust statutes to empower a married couple to convert common-law property into community property. They include Alaska, Florida, Kentucky, South Dakota and Tennessee.

The community property trust allows married couples living in the resident state and others living in common-law states to obtain a stepped-up basis for all assets they own at the first death. Those who live in common-law states not permitting this trust solution can still execute a community property trust in a community property state. However, they will first need to appoint a qualified trustee in the state.

For this to work, the trusts need to be prepared properly by an experienced estate planning attorney, who will also be able to advise the couple whether there are any other means of achieving these and other tax planning goals.

Reference: Kiplinger (Sep. 18, 2022) “How Community Property Trusts Can Benefit Married Couples”

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How Much can You Inherit and Not Pay Taxes? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Even with the new proposed rules from Biden’s lowered exemption, estates under $6 million will not have to worry about federal estate taxes for a few years—although state estate tax exemptions may be lower. However, what about inheritances and what about inherited IRAs? This is explored in a recent article titled “Minimizing Taxes When You Inherit Money” from Kiplinger.

If you inherit an IRA from a parent, taxes on required withdrawals could leave you with a far smaller legacy than you anticipated. For many couples, IRAs are the largest assets passed to the next generation. In some cases they may be worth more than the family home. Americans held more than $13 trillion in IRAs in the second quarter of 2021. Many of you reading this are likely to inherit an IRA.

Before the SECURE Act changed how IRAs are distributed, people who inherited IRAs and other tax-deferred accounts transferred their assets into a beneficiary IRA account and took withdrawals over their life expectancy. This allowed money to continue to grow tax free for decades. Withdrawals were taxed as ordinary income.

The SECURE Act made it mandatory for anyone who inherited an IRA (with some exceptions) to decide between two options: take the money in a lump sum and lose a huge part of it to taxes or transfer the money to an inherited or beneficiary IRA and deplete it within ten years of the date of death of the original owner.

The exceptions are a surviving spouse, who may roll the money into their own IRA and allow it to grow, tax deferred, until they reach age 72, when they need to start taking Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). If the IRA was a Roth, there are no RMDs, and any withdrawals are tax free. The surviving spouse can also transfer money into an inherited IRA and take distributions on their life expectancy.

If you are not eligible for the exceptions, any IRA you inherit will come with a big tax bill. If the inherited IRA is a Roth, you still have to empty it out in ten years. However, there are no taxes due as long as the Roth was funded at least five years before the original owner died.

Rushing to cash out an inherited IRA will slash the value of the IRA significantly because of the taxes due on the IRA. You might find yourself bumped up into a higher tax bracket. It is generally better to transfer the money to an inherited IRA to spread distributions out over a ten-year period.

The rules do not require you to empty the account in any particular order. Therefore, you could conceivably wait ten years and then empty the account. However, you will then have a huge tax bill.

Other assets are less constrained, at least as far as taxes go. Real estate and investment accounts benefit from the step-up in cost basis. Let us say your mother paid $50 for a share of stock and it was worth $250 on the day she died. Your “basis” would be $250. If you sell the stock immediately, you will not owe any taxes. If you hold onto to it, you will only owe taxes (or claim a loss) on the difference between $250 and the sale price. Proposals to curb the step-up have been bandied about for years. However, to date they have not succeeded.

The step-up in basis also applies to the family home and other inherited property. If you keep inherited investments or property, you will owe taxes on the difference between the value of the assets on the day of the original owner’s death and the day you sell.

Estate planning and tax planning should go hand-in-hand. If you are expecting a significant inheritance, a conversation with aging parents may be helpful to protect the family’s assets and preclude any expensive surprises.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 29, 2021) “Minimizing Taxes When You Inherit Money”

 

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What are the Stages of Probate? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Probate is a court-supervised process occurring after your death. It takes place in the state where you were a resident at the time of your death and addresses your estate—all of your financial assets, real estate, personal belongings, debts and unpaid taxes. If you have an estate plan, your last will names an executor, the person who takes charge of your estate and settles your affairs, explains the article “Understanding Probate” from Pike County Courier. How exactly does the probate process work?

If your estate is subject to probate, your estate planning attorney files an application for the probate of your last will with the local court. The application, known as a petition, is brought to the probate court, along with the last will. That is also usually when the petitioner files an application for the appointment of the executor of your estate.

First, the court must rule on the validity of the last will. Does it meet all of the state’s requirements? Was it witnessed properly? If the last will meets the state’s requirements, then the court deems it valid and addresses the application for the executor. That person must also meet the legal requirements of your state. If the court agrees that the person is fit to serve, it approves the application.

The executor plays a very important role in settling your estate. The executor is usually a spouse or a close family member. However, there are situations when naming an attorney or a bank is a better option. The person needs to be completely trustworthy. Your fiduciary will have a legal responsibility to be honest, impartial and put your estate’s well-being above the fiduciary’s own. If they do not have a good grasp of financial matters, the fiduciary must have the common sense to ask for expert help when needed.

Here are some of the tasks the fiduciary must address:

  • Finding and gathering assets and liabilities
  • Inventorying and appraising assets
  • Filing the estate tax return and your last tax return
  • Paying debts, managing creditors and paying taxes
  • Distributing assets
  • Providing a detailed report of the estate settlement to the court and any other parties

What is the probate court’s role in this part of the process? It depends upon the state. The probate court is more involved in some states than in others. If the state allows for a less formal process, it is simpler and faster. If the estate is complicated with multiple properties, significant assets and multiple heirs, probate can take years.

If there is no executor named in your last will, the court will appoint an administrator. If you do not have a last will, the court will also appoint an administrator to settle your estate following the laws of the state. This is the worst possible scenario, since your assets may be distributed in ways you never wished.

Does all of your estate go through the probate process? With proper estate planning, many assets can be taken out of your probate estate, allowing them to be distributed faster and easier. How assets are titled determines whether they go through probate. Any assets with named beneficiaries pass directly to those beneficiaries and are outside of the estate. That includes life insurance policies and retirement plans with named beneficiaries. It also includes assets titled “jointly with rights of survivorship,” which is how most people own their homes.

Your estate planning attorney will discuss how the probate process works in your state and how to prepare a last will and any needed trusts to distribute your assets as efficiently as possible.

Reference: Pike County Courier (March 4, 2021) “Understanding Probate”

 

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Is There Estate Tax on the Property I Inherited? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The vast majority of those who inherit real estate don’t end up paying any taxes on the property. However, there are some instances where estate or inheritance taxes could be assessed on inherited real estate. Motley Fool’s recent article, “Do You Have to Pay Estate Tax on Real Estate You Inherit?” provides a rundown of how estate taxes work in the U.S. and what it means to you if you inherit or are gifted real estate assets.

An estate tax is a tax applied on property transfers at death. A gift tax is a tax levied on property transfers while both parties are alive. An inheritance tax is assessed on the individual who inherits the property. For real estate purposes, you should also know that this includes money and property, and real estate is valued based on the fair market value at the time of the decedent’s death.

Most Americans don’t have to worry about estate taxes because we’re allowed to exclude a certain amount of assets from our taxable estates, which is called the lifetime exemption. This amount is adjusted for inflation over time and is $11.58 million per person for 2020. Note that estate taxes aren’t paid by people who inherit the property but are paid directly by the estate before it is distributed to the heirs.

The estate and gift taxes in the U.S. are part of a unified system. The IRS allows an annual exclusion amount that exempts many gifts from any potential transfer tax taxation. In 2020, it’s $15,000 per donor, per recipient. Although money (or assets) exceeding this amount in a given year is reported as a taxable gift, doesn’t mean you’ll need to pay tax on them. However, taxable gifts do accumulate from year to year and count toward your lifetime exclusion. If you passed away in 2020, your lifetime exclusion will be $11.58 million for estate tax purposes.

If you’d given $3 million in taxable gifts during your lifetime, you’ll only be able to exclude $8.58 million of your assets from estate taxation. You’d only be required to pay any gift taxes while you’re alive, if you use up your entire lifetime exemption. If you have given away $11 million prior to 2020 and you give away another $1 million, it would trigger a taxable gift to the extent that your new gift exceeds the $11.58 million threshold.

There are a few special rules to understand, such as the fact that you can give any amount to your spouse in most cases, without any gift or estate tax. Any amount given to charity is also free of gift tax and doesn’t count toward your lifetime exemption. Higher education expenses are free of gift and estate tax consequences provided the payment is made directly to the school. Medical expense payments are free of gift and estate tax consequences, if the payment is made directly to the health care provider.

Remember that some states also have their own estate and/or inheritance taxes that you might need to consider.

States that have an estate tax include Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. The states with an inheritance tax are Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Maryland has both an estate and an inheritance tax. However, there are very few situations when you would personally have to pay tax on inherited real estate.

Estate tax can be a complex issue, so speak with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Motley Fool (December 11, 2019) “Do You Have to Pay Estate Tax on Real Estate You Inherit?”

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

Remaining Even and Fair in Estate Distribution – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Treating everyone equally in estate planning can get complicated, even with the best of intentions.

What if a family wants to leave their home to their daughter, who lives locally, but wants to be sure that their son, who lives far away, receives his fair share of their estate? It takes some planning, says the Davis Enterprise in the article “Keeping things even for the kids.” The most important thing to know is that if the parents want to make their distribution equitable, they can.

If the daughter takes the family home, she’ll need to have an appraisal of the home done by a certified real estate appraiser. Then, she has options. She can either pay her brother his share in cash, or she can obtain a mortgage in order to pay him.

Property taxes are another concern. The taxes vary because the amount of the tax is based on the assessed value of the real property. That is the amount of money that was paid for the property, plus certain improvements. In California, property taxes are paid to the county on one percent of the property’s “assessed value,” also known as the “base year value” along with any additional parcel taxes that have become law. The base year value increases annually by two percent every year. This was created in the 1970s under California’s Proposition 13.

Here’s the issue: the overall increase in the value of real property has outpaced the assessed value of real property. Longtime residents who purchased a home years ago still enjoy low taxes, while newer residents pay more. If the property changes ownership, the purchase could reset the “base year value,” and increase the taxes. However, there is an exception when the property is transferred from a parent to a child. If the child takes over ownership of the home, they will have the same adjusted base year value as their parents.

If the house is going from parents to daughter, it seems like it should be a simple matter. However, it is not. Here’s where you need an experienced estate planning attorney. If the estate planning documents say that each child should receive “equal shares” in the home, each child receives a one-half interest in the home. If the daughter takes the house and equalizes the distribution by buying out the son’s share, she can do that. However, the property tax assessor will see that acquisition of her brother’s half interest in the property as a “sibling to sibling” transfer. There is no exclusion for that. The one-half interest in the property will then be reassessed to the fair market value of the home at the time of the transfer—when the siblings inherit the property. The property tax will go up.

There may be a solution, depending upon the laws of your state. One attorney discovered that the addition of certain language to estate planning documents allowed one sibling to buy out the other sibling and maintain the parent-child exclusion from reassessment. The special language gives the child the option to purchase the property from the other. Make sure your estate planning attorney investigates this thoroughly, since the rules in your jurisdiction may be different.

Reference: Davis Enterprise (Oct. 27, 2019) “Keeping things even for the kids”

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

How Do I Deed My Home into a Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Say that a husband used his inheritance to purchase the family home outright. The wife signed a quitclaim deed to him to put the property into his living trust with the condition that if he died before his wife, she could live in the home until her death.

However, a common issue is that the husband or the creator of the trust never signed the living trust. So what would happen to the property if the husband were to die before the wife?

This can be complicated if the couple lives out-of-state and it’s a second marriage for each of the spouses. They both also have adult children from prior marriages.

The Herald Tribune’s recent article, “Home ownership complications need guidance from estate planning attorney,” says that in this situation it’s important to know if the deed was to the husband personally or to his living trust. If the wife quitclaimed the home to her husband personally, he then owns her share of the home, subject to any marital interests she may still have in the home. However, if the wife quitclaimed the home to his living trust, and the trust was never created, the deed may be invalid. The wife may still own the husband’s interest in the home.

It’s common for a couple to own the home as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. This would have meant that if the wife died, her husband would own the entire property automatically. If he died, she’d own the entire home automatically. She then signed a quitclaim deed over to him or his trust.

First, the wife should see if the deed was even filed or recorded. If it wasn’t recorded or filed, she could simply destroy the document and keep the status of the title as it was. However, if the document was recorded and she transferred ownership to her husband, he would be the sole owner of the home, subject to her marital rights under state law.

If the trust doesn’t exist, her quitclaim deed transfer to an entity that doesn’t exist would create a situation, where she could claim that she still owned her interest in the home. However, the home may now be owned by the spouses as tenants in common, rather than joint tenants with rights of survivorship.

To complicate things further, if the husband now owns the home and the wife has marital rights in the home, upon his death, she may still be entitled to a share of the home under her husband’s will, if he has one, or by the laws of intestacy. However, the husband’s children would also own a share of his share of the home. At that point, the wife would co-own the home with his children.

You can see how crazy this can get. It’s best to seek the advice of a qualified estate planning attorney to guide you through the process and make sure that the proper documents get signed and filed or recorded.

Reference: The (Sarasota, FL) Herald Tribune (September 8, 2019) “Home ownership complications need guidance from estate planning attorney”

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

What Happens When Real Estate Is Inherited? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The number one question on most people’s minds when they inherit real estate is whether they have to pay taxes on it.

For the most part, people don’t have to pay taxes on what they inherit, unless they live in a state with an inheritance tax. There are tax forms to be filed, says the Petoskey News-Review in the article “The pros and cons of inheriting real estate,” but not every estate has to pay taxes.

The estate has to pay taxes on any gains or losses after the death of the decedent, if and when they sell the property. The seller will have either capital gains or capital losses, depending upon what the house was purchased for and what it sold for.

Let’s say that Mom purchased the house for $100,000, gave it to her children and then they sold it for $120,000. They have to pay capital gains on the $20,000. When someone dies, heirs get the step-up in basis, so they get the value of the property at the date of the decedent’s death. If mom bought the house for $100,000 and when she died it had jumped in value to $220,000 the children sold it for $220,000, there would be no capital gain.

People who inherit property should have it appraised by an experienced real estate appraiser to determine the actual value at the date of death. An estate planning attorney will be able to recommend an appraiser.

One of the biggest disagreements that families face after the death of a loved one centers on selling real estate property. Some families actually break up over it, which is a shame. It would be far better for the family to talk about the property before the parents die and work out a plan.

The sticking point often centers on a summer home being passed down to multiple heirs. One wants to sell it, another wants to rent it out for summers and use it during winters and the third wants to move in. If they can resolve these issues with their parents, it’s less likely to come up as a divisive factor when the parents die and emotions are running high. This gives the parents or grandparents a chance to talk about what they want after they have passed and why.

Conflicts can also arise when it’s time to clean up the house after someone inherits the property. Mom’s old lemon juicer or Dad’s favorite barbecue fork seem like small items until they become part of family history.

The best thing for families that are able to pass a house down to the next generation is to start the discussion early and make a plan.

An estate planning attorney can help the family work through the issues, including creating a plan for how the real estate property should be handled. The attorney will also be able to help the family  plan for any taxes that might be due, so there are no big surprises.

Reference: Petoskey News-Review (June 25, 2019) “The pros and cons of inheriting real estate”

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