Should You Update Your Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Some reasons to update your will are more obvious than others, like marriage, divorce, remarriage, births and deaths. However, those are not the only reasons your estate plan needs to be reviewed, explains a recent article appropriately titled “When it comes to a will or estate plan, don’t just set it and forget it” from CNBC.

Think of your estate plan like your home. They both need regular updates and maintenance. If your house starts to get rundown or the roof springs a leak, you know you need to get it fixed. Your estate plan is not as visible. However, it is still in need of ongoing maintenance.

Health events should be a trigger, yours or people named in your will. If the person you named as your executor becomes ill or dies, you will need to name a new person to replace them. The same goes for a guardian named to care for any minor children, especially if you named a grandparent for this role.

If you move, your estate plan must ‘move’ with you. Each state has different laws regarding how estates are administered. In one state, an executor living out of state may be okay. However, in another, it may make the executor ineligible to serve. Inheritance tax laws also vary.

Any time there is a large change to your personal wealth, whether it is good or bad, your estate planning attorney should review your will.

The same goes for a change in parental status. The birth of additional children seems like it might not require a review. However, it does. More than a few celebrities failed to update their estate plans and accidentally disinherited children. The same person who may be willing to be a guardian for one child, may find taking on two or three children to be too much of a challenge. If you want to change the guardianship, your estate plan needs to be updated.

A change in your relationship with fiduciaries also merits an update. Someone you named ten years ago to be your executor may no longer be a part of your life, or they may have died. Family members age, retire and move and siblings have changes in their own lives. Reviewing the executor regularly is important.

If a family member becomes disabled, you may need special needs planning.

A commonly overlooked trigger concerns mergers and acquisitions of financial institutions. If your bank is the executor of your estate and the bank is bought or sold, you likely have a new executor. Do you know who the person is, and do you trust their judgment?

Beneficiaries need to be checked every few years to be sure they are still correct. If your life includes a divorce and remarriage, you could be like one man whose life insurance proceeds and property went to his new spouse. His daughter was disinherited because he failed to update his will.

It does not take long to review an estate plan or beneficiaries. However, the impact of not doing so could be long-lasting and cast a negative light on your legacy.

Reference: CNBC (March 1, 2022) “When it comes to a will or estate plan, don’t just set it and forget it”

 

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Write a Letter of Instruction for Loved Ones – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A letter of intent is frequently recommended for parents of disabled children to share information for when the parent dies. However, letters of intent or a letter of instruction can also be a helpful resource for executors, says the article “Planning Head: For detailed instructions consider a letter of instruction” from The Mercury. This is especially valuable, if the executor does not know the decedent or their family members very well.

For disabled children, legal documents address specific issues and are not necessarily the right place to include personal information about the child or the parent’s desires for the child’s future. Estate plans need more information, especially for a minor child.

The goal is to create a document to make clear what the parents want for the child after they pass, whether that occurs early or late in the child’s life.

For a disabled child, the first questions to be addressed in the estate plan concern who will care for the child if the parent dies or becomes incapacitated, where will the child live and what funds will be available for their care. Once those matters are resolved, however, there are more questions about the child’s wants and needs.

The letter of intent can answer questions about the special information only a parent knows and is helpful in future decisions about their care and living situation.

The letter of intent concerning an estate should also include information about wishes for a funeral or burial and contain everything from directions for the music list for a ceremony to the writing on the headstone.

Once the letter of intent is created, the next question is, where should you put it so it is secure and can be accessed when it is needed?

Do not put it in a bank safe deposit box. This is a common error for estate planning documents as well. The executor may only access the contents of the safe deposit box after letters of administration have been issued. This happens after the funeral, and sometimes long after the funeral. By then, it will be too late for any instructions.

Keeping estate planning documents in a safe deposit box presents other problems. If the bank seals the safe deposit box on notification of the owner’s death, the executor will not be able to proceed. This can sometimes be prevented by having additional owners on the safe deposit box, if permitted by the bank . Any additional owners will also need to know where the key is located and be able get access to it.

The better solution is to keep all important documents including wills, financial power of attorney, health care powers, living wills, or health care directives, insurance forms, cemetery deeds, information for the family’s estate planning attorney, financial advisor, and CPA, etc., in one location known to the trusted person who will need access to the documents. That person will need a set of keys to the house. If they are kept in a fire and waterproof safe in the house; they will also need the keys to the safe.

If the parents move or move the documents, they will need to remember to tell the trusted person where these documents have moved. Otherwise, a lot of work will have been for naught.

Reference: The Mercury (Jan. 19, 2022) “Planning Head: For detailed instructions consider a letter of instruction”

 

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How Do I Plan with a Special Needs Child? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The three main structures a family should put in place to provide future protection for their child relate to money management, self-care and housing, says CNBC’s recent article entitled “If you have a child with special needs, here’s how to plan for their life after you pass.”

Money Management: If the child gets government benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income or Medicaid, parents will usually establish a special needs trust to shield assets to allow the child continued access to those benefits. A trustee oversees the funds and other trust provisions not under the child’s control.

Life Insurance. This is the cheapest way to fund a trust. That is because you need to know what is left over from your estate to care for the child, and this creates that certain bucket of money.

Self-Care: Parents must arrange the services their child will need to live independently or semi-independently, which may be overseen by a court-appointed conservator (or guardian). This person makes all decisions regarding an individual’s financial and/or personal affairs. In the alterative, decisions may be made by a person with power of attorney, as well as the individual.

Parents may want to write a “letter of intent,” which is a guide for those who will care for the child in the future. This letter can cover family history, medical care, benefits, daily routines, diet, behavior management, residential arrangements, education, social life, career, religion and end-of-life decisions, according to the Autism Society.

Housing: With respect to future housing for the child, location is more important than the house itself. Parents should consider options beyond keeping their loved one in the family home. It is more important to look at the individual and the interests and supports they might require. Parents may think of retiring to a community that supports the interests of the child. There is a trend toward more community-based living. State-administered Medicaid HCBS waiver programs allow people with disabilities to live in a house or apartment. The state, in turn, provides staffing for a group of similar residents. Sometimes, a group of families will purchase a collection of houses or condominiums. Also, people are rehabbing houses for roommate living, resulting in neighborhoods of people with special needs.

It is critical to work with specialists in this type of planning, such as an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney.

Reference: CNBC (Dec. 6, 2021) “If you have a child with special needs, here’s how to plan for their life after you pass”

 

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Who Should I Name as Trustee? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

When a revocable living trust is created, the grantor (person who creates the trust) names a successor trustee, the person who will take charge of the trust when the grantor dies. One of the biggest sticking points in creating a trust is often selecting a successor trustee. A recent article, “Be careful when choosing your successor trustee,” from Los Altos Town Crier explains what can go wrong and how to protect your estate.

When the grantor dies, the successor trustee is in charge of determining the value of the trust and distributing assets to named beneficiaries. If there are unclear provisions in the trust, the trustee is required by law, as a fiduciary, to use good judgment and put the interest of the beneficiaries ahead of the trustee’s own interests.

When considering who to name as a successor trustee, you have many options. Just because your first born adult child wants to be in charge does not mean they are the best candidate. You will want to name a reliable, responsible and organized person, who will be able to manage finances, tax reporting and respects the law.

The decision is not always an easy one. The child who lives closest to you may be excellent at caregiving, but not adept at handling finances. The child who lives furthest away may be skilled at handling money, but will they be able to manage their tasks long distance?

A trustee needs to be able to understand what their role is and know when they need the help of an estate planning attorney. Some trusts are complicated and tax reporting is rarely simple. The trustee may need to create a team of professionals, including an estate planning attorney, a CPA and a financial advisor. Someone who thinks they can manage an estate on their own with zero experience in the law or finance may be headed for trouble.

If there are no family members or trusted friends who can serve in this role, it may be best to consider a professional fiduciary to serve as a successor trustee. An estate planning attorney may also serve as a successor trustee.

The next option is a financial institution or trust company. Some banks have trust departments and take on this role, but they often have steep minimums and will only work with estates with significant value. Fees are also likely to be higher than for a professional fiduciary or other professional. Be sure to inquire how they evaluate your needs and ensure quality of care, if you become incapacitated. What processes are in place to protect grantors?

Another alternative is to identify a nonprofit with a pooled trust that accepts trustee responsibilities for individuals with special needs and for others who would prefer to have a nonprofit in this role.

Your estate planning attorney will be able to help you identify the best candidate for this role, as you work through the creation of the trust. Don’t be shy about asking for help with this important matter.

Reference: Los Altos Town Crier (Nov. 17, 2021) “Be careful when choosing your successor trustee”

 

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Estate Planning Is Best When Personalized – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Just as a custom-tailored suit fits better than one off the rack, a custom-tailored estate plan works better for families. Making sure assets pass to the right person is more likely to occur when documents are created just for you, advises the article “Tailoring estate to specific needs leads to better plans” from the Cleveland Jewish News.

The most obvious example is a family with a special needs member. Generic estate planning documents typically will not suit that family’s estate planning.

Every state has its own laws about distributing property and money owned by a person at their death, in cases where people don’t have a will. Relying on state law instead of a will is a risky move that can lead to people you may not even know inheriting your entire estate.

In the absence of an estate plan, the probate court makes decisions about who will administer the estate and the distribution of property. Without a named executor, the court will appoint a local attorney to take on this responsibility. An appointed attorney who has never met the decedent and does not know the family will not have the insights to follow the decedent’s wishes.

The same risks can occur with online will templates. Their use often results in families needing to retain an estate planning attorney to fix the mistakes caused by their use. Online wills may not be valid in your state or may lead to unintended consequences. Saving a few dollars now could end up costing your family thousands to clean up the mess.

Estate plans are different for each person because every person and every family are different. Estate plan templates may not account for any of your wishes.

Generic plans are very limited. An estate plan custom created for you takes into consideration your family dynamics, how your individual beneficiaries will be treated and expresses your wishes for your family after you have passed.

Generic estate plans also do not reflect the complicated families of today. Some people have family members they do not want to inherit anything. Disinheriting someone successfully is not as easy as leaving them out of the will or leaving them a small token amount.

Ensuring that your wishes are followed and that your will is not easily challenged takes the special skills of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (Dec. 9, 2020) “Tailoring estate to specific needs leads to better plans”

 

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SECURE Act has Changed Special Needs Planning – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The SECURE Act eliminated the life expectancy payout for inherited IRAs for most people, but it also preserved the life expectancy option for five classes of eligible beneficiaries, referred to as “EDBs” in a recent article from Morningstar.com titled “Providing for Disabled Beneficiaries After the SECURE Act.” Two categories that are considered EDBs are disabled individuals and chronically ill individuals. Estate planning needs to be structured to take advantage of this option.

The first step is to determine if the individual would be considered disabled or chronically ill within the specific definition of the SECURE Act, which uses almost the same definition as that used by the Social Security Administration to determine eligibility for SS disability benefits.

A person is deemed to be “chronically ill” if they are unable to perform at least two activities of daily living or if they require substantial supervision because of cognitive impairment. A licensed healthcare practitioner certifies this status, typically used when a person enters a nursing home and files a long-term health insurance claim.

However, if the disabled or ill person receives any kind of medical care, subsidized housing or benefits under Medicaid or any government programs that are means-tested, an inheritance will disqualify them from receiving these benefits. They will typically need to spend down the inheritance (or have a court authorized trust created to hold the inheritance), which is likely not what the IRA owner had in mind.

Typically, a family member wishing to leave an inheritance to a disabled person leaves the inheritance to a Supplemental Needs Trust or SNT. This allows the individual to continue to receive benefits but can pay for things not covered by the programs, like eyeglasses, dental care, or vacations. However, does the SNT receive the same life expectancy payout treatment as an IRA?

Thanks to a special provision in the SECURE Act that applies only to the disabled and the chronically ill, a SNT that pays nothing to anyone other than the EDB can use the life expectancy payout. The SECURE Act calls this trust an “Applicable Multi-Beneficiary Trust,” or AMBT.

For other types of EDB, like a surviving spouse, the individual must be named either as the sole beneficiary or, if a trust is used, must be the sole beneficiary of a conduit trust to qualify for the life expectancy payout. Under a conduit trust, all distributions from the inherited IRA or other retirement plan must be paid out to the individual more or less as received during their lifetime. However, the SECURE Act removes that requirement for trusts created for the disabled or chronically ill.

However, not all of the SECURE Act’s impact on special needs planning is smooth sailing. The AMBT must provide that nothing may be paid from the trust to anyone but the disabled individual while they are living. What if the required minimum distribution from the inheritance is higher than what the beneficiary needs for any given year? Let us say the trustee must withdraw an RMD of $60,000, but the disabled person’s needs are only $20,000? The trust is left with $40,000 of gross income, and there is nowhere for the balance of the gross income to go.

In the past, SNTs included a provision that allowed the trustee to pass excess income to other family members and deduct the amount as distributable net income, shifting the tax liability to family members who might be in a lower tax bracket than the trust.

Special Needs Planning under the SECURE Act has raised this and other issues, which can be addressed by an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Morningstar.com (Dec. 9, 2020) “Providing for Disabled Beneficiaries After the SECURE Act”

 

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Trusts: The Swiss Army Knife of Estate Planning – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Trusts serve many different purposes in estate planning. They all have the intent to protect the assets placed within the trust. The type of trust determines what the protection is, and from whom it is protected, says the article “Trusts are powerful tools which can come in many forms,” from The News Enterprise. To understand how trusts protect, start with the roles involved in a trust.

The person who creates the trust is called a “grantor” or “settlor.” The individuals or organizations receiving the benefit of the property or assets in the trust are the “beneficiaries.” There are two basic types of beneficiaries: present interest beneficiaries and “future interest” beneficiaries. The beneficiary, by the way, can be the same person as the grantor, for their lifetime, or it can be other people or entities.

The person who is responsible for the property within the trust is the “trustee.” This person is responsible for caring for the assets in the trust and following the instructions of the trust. The trustee can be the same person as the grantor, as long as a successor is in place when the grantor/initial trustee dies or becomes incapacitated. However, a grantor cannot gain asset protection through a trust, where the grantor controls the trust and is the principal recipient of the trust.

One way to establish asset protection during the lifetime of the grantor is with an irrevocable trust. Someone other than the grantor must be the trustee, and the grantor should not have any control over the trust. The less power a grantor retains, the greater the asset protection.

One additional example is if a grantor seeks lifetime asset protection but also wishes to retain the right to income from the trust property and provide a protected home for an adult child upon the grantor’s death. Very specific provisions within the trust document can be drafted to accomplish this particular task.

There are many other options that can be created to accomplish the specific goals of the grantor.

Some trusts are used to protect assets from taxes, while others ensure that an individual with special needs will be able to continue to receive needs-tested government benefits and still have access to funds for costs not covered by government benefits.

An estate planning attorney will have a thorough understanding of the many different types of trusts and which one would best suit each individual situation and goal.

Reference: The News Enterprise (July 25, 2020) “Trusts are powerful tools which can come in many forms”

 

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Your Estate Plan Needs to Be Customized – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The only thing worse than having no estate plan, is an estate plan created from a ‘fill-in-the-blank’ form, according to the recent article “Don’t settle for a generic estate plan” from The News-Enterprise. Compare having an estate plan created to buying a home. Before you start packing, you think about the kind of house you want and how much you can spend. You also talk with real estate agents and mortgage brokers to get ready.

Even when you find a house you love, you do not write a check right away. You hire an engineer to inspect the property. You might even bring in contractors for repair estimates. At some point, you contact an insurance agent to learn how much it will cost to protect the house. You rely on professionals, because buying a home is an expensive proposition and you want to be sure it will suit your needs and be a sound investment.

The same process goes for your estate plan. You need the advice of a skilled professional–the estate planning lawyer. Sometimes you want input from trusted family members or friends. There other times when you need the estate planning lawyer to help you get past the emotions that can tangle up an estate plan and anticipate any family dynamics that could become a problem in the future.

An estate planning attorney will also help you to avoid problems you may not anticipate. If the family includes a special needs individual, leaving money to that person could result in their losing government benefits. Giving property to an adult child to try to avoid nursing home costs could backfire, making you ineligible for Medicaid coverage and cause your offspring to have an unexpected tax bill.

Your estate planning lawyer should work with your team of professional advisors, including your financial advisor, accountant and, if you own a business, your business advisor. Think of it this way—you would not ask your real estate agent to do a termite inspection or repair a faulty chimney. Your estate plan needs to be created and updated by a skilled professional: the estate planning lawyer.

Once your estate plan is completed, it is not done yet. Make sure that the people who need to have original documents—like a power of attorney—have original documents or tell them where they can be found when needed. Keep in mind that many financial institutions will only accept their own power of attorney forms, so you may need to include those in your estate plan.

Medical documents, like advance directives and healthcare powers of attorney, should be given to the people you selected to make decisions on your behalf. Make a list of the documents in your estate plan and where they can be found.

Preparing an estate plan is not just signing a series of fill-in-the-blank forms. It is a means of protecting and passing down the estate that you have devoted a lifetime to creating, no matter its size.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (June 23, 2020) “Don’t settle for a generic estate plan”

 

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Possible Pitfalls for Special Needs Planning for Parents – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Public benefits for disabled individuals include health care, supplemental income, and resources, like day programs and other vital services. Some benefits are based on the individual’s disability status, but others are “needs tested,” where eligibility is determined based on financial resources, as explained in the article “Planning for loved ones with special needs” from NWTimes.com.

Needs testing” is something that parents must address as part of special needs planning, in concert with their own estate planning. This ensures that the individual’s government benefits will continue, while their family has the comfort of knowing that after the parents die, their child may have access to resources to cover additional costs and maintain a quality of life they may not otherwise have.

Families must be very careful to make informed planning decisions, otherwise their loved ones may lose the benefits they rely upon.

A variety of special planning tools may be used, and the importance of skilled help from an elder law estate planning attorney cannot be overstated.

One family received a “re-determination” letter from the Social Security Administration. This is the process whereby the SSA scrutinizes a person’s eligibility for benefits, based on their possible access to other non-governmental resources. Once the process begins, the potential exists for a disabled person to lose benefits or be required to pay back benefits if they were deemed to have wrongfully received them.

In this case, a woman who lived in California, engaged in a periodic phone call with California Medicaid. California is known for aggressively pursuing on-going benefits eligibility. The woman mentioned a trust that had been created as a result of estate planning done by her late father. The brief mention was enough to spark an in-depth review of planning. The SSA requested no less than 15 different items, including estate documents, account history and a review of all disbursements for the last two years.

The process has created a tremendous amount of stress for the woman and for her family. The re-determination will also create expenses, as the attorney who drafted the original trust in Indiana, where the father lived, will need to work with a special needs attorney in California, who is knowledgeable about the process in the state.

Similar to estate planning, the special needs process required by Medicaid and the SSA is a constantly evolving process, and not a “one-and-done” transaction. Special needs and estate planning documents created as recently as three or four years ago should be reviewed.

Reference: NWTimes.com (June 21, 2020) “Planning for loved ones with special needs”

 

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