Ask Mom if She has a Will – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The family was baffled. Not only was the will out of date, but it was also unsigned, and the person named as executor had died a decade before their mother died. Grandchildren born after the will was created were not mentioned and personal possessions left to some people in the will had been given away years ago.

This scenario, as described in the article “Mom, Do You Have a Will?” from Next Avenue, is not unusual because many older adults and their children are equally reticent to discuss death. It’s a hard topic to address, but without these conversations, how can you make sure the transition after they pass is smooth?

Who needs a will? Pretty much everyone does. If your parents don’t have a will, here are some talking points to remind them of why it matters:

  • If you are part of a blended family, estate planning avoids either a full or partial disinheritance of a surviving spouse or their children.
  • If there are minor children or adult children with special needs, a will is used to appoint guardians. With no will, the court makes decisions about who raises children or cares for a special needs individual.
  • If yours is a fighting family (you know who you are), and if you want certain things to go to certain people, there needs to be an updated will.

Single people need a plan for their assets, especially if they are in a committed relationship but not married. Many state inheritance laws make no provision for a domestic partner. If a relationship is recognized before a loved one dies the remaining partner can access their right to property or benefits.

When someone dies without a will or a living trust, known as intestate succession, assets may be distributed according to rules set out in state law, which vary state to state and may not be what they would have wanted.

When asked if there is a will, some may say they are prepared. However, as in the example, this may or may not be true. Their will may be old, no longer relevant to their situation or may not have been signed.

Clarifying the status of an older adult’s will is important to a smoother transition of assets and needs to be addressed when they are of sound mind and able to make their own decision about their estate.

When preparing to have a discussion with someone who is active and healthy, the conversation is easier. Ask if they have a will and what their wishes are after they have passed. You can explain how these steps are essential to creating their legacy and protect their family from estate taxes and expensive court oversight.

When a person is seriously ill, this is admittedly a harder conversation. Acknowledge the difficulty and let them know they can stop the discussion if necessary. It may take more than a few conversations to get to everything. Discuss these issues with respect and empathy. Offer ideas and options and steer clear of any ultimatums.

Contact us to talk with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys who will explain what you need for your specific family.

Reference: Next Avenue (Sep. 14, 2022) “Mom, Do You Have a Will?”

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

How Do You Provide Financial Help for a Special Needs Child and Retirement Too? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

For parents of children with disabilities, the challenges of preparing for retirement and for their child’s future are far higher than for families with healthy, high-functioning adults. Planning for your own retirement, while needing to secure the stability and basic needs of a child who will be a dependent forever often feels impossible, according to the recent article “Planning for Your Retirement, and for a Child’s Special Needs, All at Once” from The New York Times.

Even under the best of circumstances, where there’s plenty of money available and many hands to help, caring for an adult child with special needs is emotionally and physically challenging. As parents age, they have to address their own needs plus the needs of their adult dependent. Who will provide safe and comfortable housing and care for them when their parents no longer can?

Understanding the entire picture can be difficult, even for parents with the best of intentions. First, they need to understand how their retirement planning must be different than other families. Their investments need to be multi-generational to last not just for their lifetimes, but for their child’s lifetime. They can’t be too conservative because they need long-term growth.

In addition, special needs parents need to keep a certain amount of funds liquid and easily accessible, for times when their child needs a new piece of expensive equipment immediately.

One of the parents will often leave the workforce to provide care or take a lower paying position to be more available for care. This creates a double hit; the household budget is reduced at the same time its strained by costs not covered by benefits or insurance. Paying for gas to drive to therapy appointments and day programs, buying supplies not covered by insurance, like adult diapers, waterproof bedding, compression garments to promote circulation, specialized diets, etc. adds up quickly.

Even with public health assistance, finding affordable housing is not easy. One adult may need supervised care in a group home, while others may need in-home care. However, the family home may need to be modified to accommodate their physical disabilities. With wait times lasting several years, many families feel they have no choice but to keep their family member at home.

Another challenge: if the parents wanted to downsize to a smaller house or move to a state where housing costs are lower, they may not be able to do so. Most of the public benefits available to special needs people are administered through Medicaid at the state level. Moving to a state with a lower cost of housing may also mean losing access to the disabled individuals’ benefits or being placed at the end of the waiting list for services in a new state.

For disabled individuals, maintaining eligibility is a key issue. Family members who name a disabled individual as a beneficiary don’t understand how they are jeopardizing their ability to access public benefits. Any money intended for a disabled person must be held in a specialized financial instrument, such as a special needs trust.

The money in a special needs trust (SNT) may be used for quality-of-life enhancements like a cellphone, computer, better food, care providers, rent and utilities among other qualified expenses.

There are two main categories of SNTs: first party trusts, created with assets belonging to the individual. Any money in this trust must go to reimburse the state for the cost of their care. Another is a third-party special needs trust, established and funded by someone else for the benefit of the disabled individual. These are typically funded by parent’s life insurance proceeds and second-to-die life insurance policies. Both parents are covered under it, and the policy pays out after the second spouse dies, providing a more affordable option than insuring both parents separately.

Contact us to schedule a time to speak with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys to develop a plan for your special needs child’s future as well as for your retirement.

Reference: The New York Times (Aug. 27, 2022) “Planning for Your Retirement, and for a Child’s Special Needs, All at Once”

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

What Is Better, a Trust or a Will? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Estate plans come in all sizes and shapes. One of the decisions in creating an estate plan is whether a trust should be part of your plan, as detailed in this recent article titled “Trust vs. Will: What They Share (And 6 Ways They are Different)” from Yahoo! Money. Both trusts and wills give control over how assets are distributed. However, there are differences.

A trust is a tool for asset protection during and after life, created by an estate planning attorney. When the trust is created, assets are transferred into the trust, which is a legal entity. If it is a revocable trust, typically you are the grantor, trustee, and beneficiary. There are also other roles, like the successor trustee, who is the trustee if the primary is incapacitated and the beneficiary, the person who receives the assets. The trustee is a fiduciary and responsible for managing the assets for the best interest of the beneficiary.

There are many different types of trusts, but they mainly fall into two categories:

Revocable or living trusts allow the grantor full control of the trust. The trust assets are outside of the probate estate. Revocable trusts can be changed, assets may be added and beneficiaries can be changed. However, there is no protection from creditors and no unique tax benefits.

Irrevocable living trusts transfer assets upon death without going through probate. They provide stronger asset protection. Assets in an irrevocable trust are not accessible to creditors and, depending on how they are set up, may place assets outside of the taxable estate.

There are also many specialized trusts. A Special Needs Trust is used to care for a person with special needs, while maintaining their government benefits. A spendthrift trust can be used to leave assets for people who are not capable (or interested) in managing funds responsibly. Trusts provide significantly more control over assets after death than wills. They may also be harder to contest after death, since they go into effect while you are living and may remain in effect for many years.

Wills are used to provide specific directions about how you want to distribute assets upon your death. The will goes through probate, where the court determines if the will is valid, if the executor is acceptable and then the will becomes part of the public record. Creditors can make claims against the estate, family members may challenge the will and depending upon where you live, it could take many months or several years to settle the estate.

How are trusts and wills different?

1—Trusts can be more complex than wills and require management. The will goes into effect upon your death, and you can change a will whenever you want. You also can change a trust whenever you want, but only if it is revocable.

2—Trusts go into effect immediately and they need to be funded, so you will have to transfer assets to the trust.

3—A trust is a separate legal entity, so assets are shielded from estate and inheritance taxes. Certain trusts do pay taxes, so speak with your estate planning attorney about how this may work for you.

4—Certain trusts put assets well beyond the reach of creditors. However, a trust may not be created solely for this purpose, since it could be deemed invalid by a court. However, in most cases, trusts work well to protect assets to pass them along to beneficiaries. A will offers no such protection, unless a “testamentary” trust is created under the will. This will created trust can operate exactly as an inheritance trust created for loved ones after you die and your revocable trust becomes irrevocable.

5—Planning for incapacity should be part of any estate plan. Once a trust is set up and funded, the assets immediately enjoy the protection by having a successor trustee to be in charge of assets if the grantor/trustee becomes incapacitated. A will only addresses what happens after you die, not what happens if you become too sick or are injured and cannot manage your affairs.

6—The trust is the winner when it comes to control over assets after death, if you want to avoid probate. You can instruct the trustee to distribute funds to beneficiaries only under certain conditions and terms. If you want beneficiaries to finish college, for instance, you can direct the trustee to distribute a certain amount of money only after the person completes an undergraduate degree. You can also use the money to pay for their college education.

For most people, a combination of a will and trust works to control assets, prepare for incapacity and, just as importantly, provide peace of mind.

Bottom line: estate planning is complicated, not a do-it-yourself project and should be done with the counsel of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Yahoo! Money (June 5, 2022) “Trust vs. Will: What They Share (And 6 Ways They are Different”

 

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

Does a Supplemental Needs Trust have an Impact on Government Benefits? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Supplemental Needs Trusts allow disabled individuals to retain inheritances or gifts without eliminating or reducing government benefits, like Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). There are cases where the individual is vulnerable to exploitation or unable to manage their own finances and using an SNT allows them to receive additional funds to pay for things not covered by their benefits.

Having an experienced estate planning attorney properly create the SNT is critical to preserving the individual’s benefits, according to a recent article titled “Protecting Government Benefits using Supplemental Needs Trusts” from Mondaq.

Disabled individuals who receive SSI must be careful, since the rules about assets from SSI are far more restrictive then if the person only received Medicaid or Social Security Disability and Medicaid.

The trustee of an SNT makes distributions to third parties like personal care items, transportation (including buying a car), entertainment, technology purchases, payment of rent and medical or therapeutic equipment. Payment of rent or even ownership of a home may be paid for by the trustee.

The SNT may not make cash distributions to the beneficiary. Payment for any items or services must be made directly to the service provider, retailers, or other entity, for benefit of the individual. Not following this rule could lead to the SNT becoming invalid.

SNTs may be funded using the disabled person’s own funds or by a third party for their benefit. If the SNT is funded using the person’s own funds, it is called a “Self-Settled SNT.” This is a useful tool if the disabled person inherits money, receives a court settlement or owned assets before becoming disabled.

If someone other than the disabled person funds the SNT, it is known as a “Third-Party SNT.” These are most commonly created as part of an estate plan to protect a family member and ensure they have supplementary funds as needed and to preserve assets for other family members when the disabled individual dies.

The most important distinction between a Self-Settled SNT and a Third-Party SNT is a Self-Settled SNT must contain a provision to direct the trust to pay back the state’s Medicaid agency for any assistance provided. This is known as a “Payback Provision.”

The Third-Party SNT is not required to contain this provision and any assets remaining in the trust at the time of the disabled person’s death may be passed on to residual beneficiaries.

Many estate planning attorneys use a “standby” SNT as part of their planning, so their loved ones may be protected, in case an unexpected event occurs and a family member becomes disabled.

References: Mondaq (May 27, 2022) “Protecting Government Benefits using Supplemental Needs Trusts”

 

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

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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Do You Need a Revocable or Irrevocable Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

However, below the surface of estate planning and the world of trusts, things get complicated. Revocable trusts become irrevocable trusts, when the grantor becomes incapacitated or dies. It is just one of the many twists and turns in trusts, as reported in the article “What’s the difference between a revocable and irrevocable trust” from Market Watch.

For starters, the person who creates the trust is known as the “grantor.” The grantor can change the trust while living, or while the grantor has legal capacity. If the grantor becomes incapacitated, the grantor cannot change the trust. An agent or Power of Attorney for the grantor can make changes, if specifically authorized in the trust, as could a court-appointed conservator.

Despite the name, irrevocable trusts can be changed—more so now than ever before. Irrevocable trusts created for asset protection, tax planning or Medicaid planning purposes are treated differently than those becoming irrevocable upon the death of the grantor.

When an irrevocable trust is created, the grantor may still retain certain powers, including the right to change trustees and the right to re-direct who will receive the trust property, when the grantor dies or when the trust terminates (these do not always occur at the same time). A “testamentary power of appointment” refers to the retained power to appoint or distribute assets to anyone, or within limitations.

When the trust becomes irrevocable, the grantor can give the right to change trustees or to change ultimate beneficiaries to other people, including the beneficiaries. A trust could say that a majority of the grantor’s children may hire and fire trustees, and each child has the right to say where his or her share will go, in the event he or she dies before receiving their share.

Asset protection and special needs trusts also appoint people in the role of trust protectors. They are empowered to change trustees and, in some cases, to amend the trust completely. The trust is irrevocable for the grantor, but not the trust protector. Another trust might have language to limit this power, typically if it is a special needs trust. This allows a trust protector to make necessary changes, if rules regarding government benefits change regarding trusts.

Irrevocable trusts have become less irrevocable over the years, as more states have passed laws concerning “decanting” trusts, reformation and non-judicial settlement of trusts. Decanting a trust refers to “pouring” assets from one trust into another trust—allowing assets to be transferred to other trusts. Depending on the state’s laws, there needs to be a reason for the trust to be decanted and all beneficiaries must agree to the change.

Trust reformation requires court approval and must show that the reformation is needed if the trust is to achieve its original purpose. Notice must be given to all current and future beneficiaries, but they do not need to agree on the change.

The Uniform Trust Code permits trust reformation without court involvement, known as non-judicial settlement agreements, where all parties are in agreement. The law has been adopted in 34 states and in the District of Columbia. Any change that does not violate a material purpose of the trust is permitted, as long as all parties are in agreement.

Reference: Market Watch (Oct. 8, 2021) “What’s the difference between a revocable and irrevocable trust”

 

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

What is not Covered by a Will? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A Last Will and Testament is one part of a holistic estate plan used to direct the distribution of property after a person has died.  A recent article titled “What you can’t do with a will” from Ponte Vedra Recorder explains how Wills work, and the types of property not distributed through a Will.

Wills are used to inform the probate court regarding your choice of Guardians for any minor children and the Executor of your estate. Without a Will, both of those decisions will be made by the court.  It is better to make those decisions yourself and to make them legally binding with a will.

Lacking a Will, an estate will be distributed according to the laws of the state, which creates extra expenses and sometimes, leads to life-long fights between family members.

Property distributed through a Will necessarily must be processed through a probate, a formal process involving a court.  However, some assets do not pass through probate.  Here is how non-probate assets are distributed:

Jointly Held Property. When one of the “joint tenants” dies, their interest in the property ends and the other joint tenant owns the entire property.

Property in Trust. Assets owned by a trust pass to the beneficiaries under the terms of the trust, with the guidance of the Trustee.

Life Insurance. Proceeds from life insurance policies are distributed directly to the named beneficiaries.  Whatever a Will says about life insurance proceeds does not matter—the beneficiary designation is what controls this distribution, unless there is no beneficiary designated.

Retirement Accounts. IRAs, 401(k) and similar assets pass to named beneficiaries.  In most cases, under federal law, the surviving spouse is the automatic beneficiary of a 401(k), although there are always exceptions.  The owner of an IRA may name a preferred beneficiary.

Transfer on Death (TOD) Accounts. Some investment accounts have the ability to name a designated beneficiary who receives the assets upon the death of the original owner.  They transfer outside of probate.

Here are some things that should NOT be included in your Will:

Funeral instructions might not be read until days or even weeks after death. Create a separate letter of instructions and make sure family members know where it is.

Provisions for a special needs family member need to be made separately from a Will.  A special needs trust is used to ensure that the family member can inherit assets but does not become ineligible for government benefits.  Talk to an elder law estate planning attorney about how this is best handled.

Conditions on gifts should not be addressed in a will. Certain conditions are not permitted by law.  If you want to control how and when assets are distributed, you want to create a trust. The trust can set conditions, like reaching a certain age or being fully employed, etc., for a Trustee to release funds.

Reference: Ponte Vedra Recorder (April 15, 2021) “What you can’t do with a will”

 

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