What Is a Fiduciary and a Fiduciary Duty? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

First, a fiduciary duty is the requirement that certain professionals, like attorneys or financial advisors, work in the best financial interest of their clients. By law, members of some professions with clients are bound by fiduciary duty.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “What Is Fiduciary Duty?” explains that in a fiduciary relationship, the person who must prioritize their clients’ interests over their own is called the fiduciary. The person getting the services or assistance is called the beneficiary or principal.

You will frequently see a fiduciary relationship with certain types of professionals, like attorneys and financial advisors. A fiduciary duty is a serious obligation, and if a fiduciary does not fulfill his or her duties, it is known as a breach of fiduciary duty. Fiduciaries must act in a beneficiary’s best interest. They have two main duties: duty of care and duty of loyalty. Fiduciaries may have different or additional requirements, depending on their industry.

With the duty of care, fiduciaries must make informed business decisions after reviewing available information with a critical eye. Lawyers must act carefully in performing work for clients. Care is determined by the prevailing standards of professional competence in the relevant field of law and geographic region. To abide by the duty of loyalty, fiduciaries must not have any undisclosed economic or personal conflict of interest. They cannot use their positions to further their own private interests. For example, fiduciary financial advisors might adhere to the duty of loyalty by disclosing recommendations from which they will receive a commission.

Other common professions or positions that require fiduciary duties include directors of corporations and real estate agents, as well as those discussed below:

Trustee of a Trust. When you want your assets to transfer to someone after you die, you can put them into a trust. The trustee who is in charge of the trust has a fiduciary duty to manage the trust and its assets in the best interests of the beneficiary who will one day inherit them.

Estate Executor. The person who manages your estate and handles your affairs is your estate executor. He or she has a fiduciary responsibility to your heirs and next of kin to distribute the estate according to your wishes.

Lawyer. Your attorney must disclose any conflicts of interest and must work with your best interests in mind.

Financial Advisors. Financial advisors who are fiduciaries must act in the best interest of their clients and offer the lowest cost financial solutions to fit their clients’ needs. However, it important to note that not all financial advisors are fiduciaries.

Reference: Forbes (July 28, 2020) “What Is Fiduciary Duty?”

 

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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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How Can I Protect Assets from Creditors? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Three Estate Planning Techniques That Protect Your Assets From Creditors” explains that the key to knowing if your assets might be susceptible to attachment in litigation is the fraudulent conveyance laws. These laws make a transfer void, if there is explicit or constructive fraud during the transfer. Explicit fraud is when you know that it is likely an existing creditor will try to attach your assets. Constructive fraud is when you transfer an asset, without receiving reasonably equivalent consideration. Since these laws void the transfer, a future creditor can attach your assets.

Getting reasonably equivalent consideration for a transfer of assets will eliminate the transfer being treated as constructive fraud. Reasonably equivalent consideration includes:

  • Funding a protective trust at death to provide for your spouse or children
  • Asset transfer in return for interest in an LLC or LLP; or
  • A transfer that exchanges for an annuity (or other interest) that protects the principal from claims of creditors.

Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) can be an asset protection entity, because when assets are transferred into the LLC, your creditors have limited rights to get their hands on them. Like a corporation, your interest in the LLC can be attached. However, you can place restrictions on the sale or transfer of interests that can decrease its value and define the term by which sale proceeds must be paid out. An LLC must be treated as a business for the courts to treat them as a business. Thus, if you use the LLC as if it were your personal property, courts will disregard the LLC and treat it as personal property.

Annuities are created when you exchange assets for the right to get payment over time. Unlike annuities sold by insurance companies, these annuities are private. These annuities are similar to insurance company annuities, in that they have some income tax consequences, but protect the principal against attachment.

You can also ask an experienced estate planning attorney about trusts that use annuities, which are called split interest trusts. There is a trust where you (the Grantor) give assets but keep the right to receive payments, which can be a fixed amount annually with a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (or GRAT.)

Another trust allows you to get a variable amount, based on the value of the assets in the trust each year. This is a Grantor Retained Uni-Trust or GRUT. If the assets are vacant land or other tangible property, or being gifted to someone who is not your sibling, parent, child, or other descendant, you can keep the income from the assets by using a Grantor Retained Income Trust (or GRIT).

Along with a trust where you make a gift to an individual, you can protect the trust assets and get a charitable deduction, if you make a gift to charity through trusts. There are two types of trust for this purpose: a Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT) lets you keep an annuity or a variable payment annually, with the remainder of the trust assets going to charity at the end of the term; and a Charitable Lead Trust (CLT) where you give a fixed of variable annuity to charity for a term and the remainder either back to you or to others.

To get the most from your asset protection, work with an experienced estate planning attorney

Reference: Forbes (June 25, 2020) “Three Estate Planning Techniques That Protect Your Assets From Creditors”

 

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What Should I Know about Beneficiaries? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

When you open almost any kind of financial account, like a bank account, life insurance, a brokerage account, or a retirement account – the institution will ask you to designate a beneficiary. You will also name beneficiaries when you create a will or other legal contracts that require you to specify someone to benefit. With some trusts, the beneficiary may even be you and your spouse while you are alive.

The beneficiary is typically a person, but it could be any number of individuals, as well as the trustee of your trust, your estate, or a charity.

When you are opening an account, many people forget to choose a beneficiary, mainly because it is not necessary to do so with many financial accounts. However, you should name your beneficiaries, because it ensures that your assets will pass to the people you intend. It also eliminates conflict and can decrease legal interference.

There are two basic types of beneficiaries: a primary beneficiary and a contingent beneficiary. A primary beneficiary (or beneficiaries) is first in line to get the distributions from your assets. You can assign different percentages of your account to this group. A contingent beneficiary will benefit, if one or more of the primary beneficiaries is unable to collect (typically upon death).

You should review the designations regularly, especially when there is a major life event, such as a death, divorce, adoption, or birth. This may change who you want to be your beneficiary.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help you make certain that any language in your will, does not conflict with beneficiary designations. Beneficiary designations take precedence over your will.

You can have a minor child as a beneficiary, but a minor usually cannot hold property. Consequently, you will need to set up a structure, so the child receives the assets. You can appoint a guardian who will keep the assets in custody for the minor. You may also be able to use a trust to the same effect but with an added benefit: you can state that the assets be given to beneficiaries, only when they reach a certain age or for a certain purpose, like buying a first home or for college tuition.

With estate planning, ask an attorney to help you structure any legal documents, so they achieve your aims without creating further complications.

Reference: Bankrate (July 1, 2020) “What is a beneficiary?”

 

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Why Is Trust Funding Important in Estate Planning? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Trust funding is a crucial part of estate planning that many people forget to do. If done properly with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, trust funding will avoid probate, provide for you in the event of your incapacity and save on estate taxes, says Forbes’ recent article entitled “Don’t Overlook Your Trust Funding.”

If you have a revocable trust, you have control over the trust and can modify it during your lifetime. You can also fund the trust while you are alive. This will save your family time and aggravation after your death.

You can also protect yourself and your family, if you become incapacitated. Your revocable trust likely provides for you and your family during your lifetime. You are able to manage your assets yourself, while you are alive and in good health. However, who will manage the assets in your place, if your health declines or if you are incapacitated?

If you go ahead and fund the trust now, your successor trustee will be able to manage the assets for you and your family if you are not able. However, if a successor trustee does not have access to the assets to manage on your behalf, a conservator may need to be appointed by the court to oversee your assets, which can be expensive and time consuming.

If you are married, you may have created a trust that has terms for estate tax savings. These provisions will often defer estate taxes until the death of the second spouse, by providing income to the surviving spouse and access to principal during her lifetime. The ultimate beneficiaries are your children.

You will need to fund your trust to make certain that these estate tax provisions work properly.

Any asset transfer will need to be consistent with your estate plan. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about transferring taxable brokerage accounts, bank accounts and real estate to the trust.

You may also want to think about transferring tangible items to the trust and a closely held business interests, like stock in a family business or an interest in a limited liability company (LLC).

Reference: Forbes (July 13, 2020) “Don’t Overlook Your Trust Funding”

 

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Can I Add Real Estate Investments in My Will? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Motley Fool’s recent article entitled “How to Include Real Estate Investments in Your Will” details some options that might make sense for you and your intended beneficiaries.

A living trust. A revocable living trust allows you to transfer any deeds into the trust’s name. While you are still living, you would be the trustee and be able to change the trust in whatever way you wanted. Trusts are a little more costly and time consuming to set up than wills, so you will need to hire an experienced estate planning attorney to help. Once it is done, the trust will let your trustee transfer any trust assets quickly and easily, while avoiding the probate process.

A beneficiary deed. This is also known as a “transfer-on-death deed.” It is a process that involves getting a second deed to each property that you own. The beneficiary deed will not impact your ownership of the property while you are alive, but it will let you to make a specific beneficiary designation for each property in your portfolio. After your death, the individual executing your estate plan will be able to transfer ownership of each asset to its designated beneficiary. However, not all states allow for this method of transferring ownership. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about the laws in your state.

Co-ownership. You can also pass along real estate assets without probate, if you co-own the property with your designated beneficiary. You would change the title for the property to list your beneficiary as a joint tenant with right of survivorship. The property will then automatically by law pass directly to your beneficiary when you die. Note that any intended beneficiaries will have an ownership interest in the property from the day you put them on the deed. This means that you will have to consult with them, if you want to sell the property.

Wills and estate plans can feel like a ghoulish topic that requires considerable effort. However, it is worth doing the work now to avoid having your estate go through the probate process once you die. The probate process can be expensive and lengthy. It is even more so, when real estate is involved.

Reference: Motley Fool (June 22, 2020) “How to Include Real Estate Investments in Your Will”

 

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That Last Step: Trust Funding – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Neglecting to fund trusts is a surprisingly common mistake, and one that can undo the best estate and tax plans. Many people put it on the back burner, then forget about it, says the article “Don’t Overlook Your Trust Funding” from Forbes.

Done properly, trust funding helps avoid probate, provides for you and your family in the event of incapacity and helps save on estate taxes.

Creating a revocable trust gives you control. With a revocable trust, you can make changes to the trust while you are living, including funding. Think of a trust like an empty box—you can put assets in it now, or after you pass. If you transfer assets to the trust now, however, your executor will not have to do it when you die.

Note that if you do not put assets in the trust while you are living, those assets will go through the probate process. While the executor will have the authority to transfer assets, they will have to get court approval. That takes time and costs money. It is best to do it while you are living.

A trust helps if you become incapacitated. You may be managing the trust while you are living, but what happens if you die or become too sick to manage your own affairs? If the trust is funded and a successor trustee has been named, the successor trustee will be able to manage your assets and take care of you and your family. If the successor trustee has control of an empty, unfunded trust, a conservatorship may need to be appointed by the court to oversee assets.

There is a tax benefit to trusts. For married people, trusts are often created that contain provisions for estate tax savings that defer estate taxes until the death of the second spouse. Income is provided to the surviving spouse and access to the principal during their lifetime. The children are usually the ultimate beneficiaries. However, the trust will not work if it is empty.

Depending on where you live, a trust may benefit you with regard to state estate taxes. Putting money in the trust takes it out of your taxable estate. You will need to work with an estate planning attorney to ensure that the assets are properly structured. For instance, if your assets are owned jointly with your spouse, they will not pass into a trust at your death and will not be outside of your taxable estate.

Move the right assets to the right trust. It is very important that any assets you transfer to the trust are aligned with your estate plan. Taxable brokerage accounts, bank accounts and real estate are usually transferred into a trust. Some tangible assets may be transferred into the trust, as well as any stocks from a family business or interests in a limited liability company. Your estate planning attorney, financial advisor and insurance broker should be consulted to avoid making expensive mistakes.

You have worked hard to accumulate assets and protecting them with a trust is a good idea. Just do not forget the final step of funding the trust.

Reference: Forbes (July 13, 2020) “Don’t Overlook Your Trust Funding”

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There Is a Difference between Probate and Trust Administration – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Many people get these two things confused. A recent article, “Appreciating the differences between probate and trust administration,” from Lake County News clarifies the distinctions.

Let us start with probate, which is a court-supervised process. To begin the probate process, a legal notice must be published in a newspaper and court appearances are needed. However, to start trust administration, a letter of notice is mailed to the decedent’s heirs and beneficiaries. Trust administration is far more private, which is why many people chose this path.

In the probate process, the last will and testament and any documents in the court file are available to the public. While the general public may not have any specific interest in your will, estranged relatives, relatives you never knew you had, creditors and scammers have easy and completely legal access to this information.

If there is no will, the court documents that are created in intestacy (the heirs inherit according to state law), are also available to anyone who wants to see them.

In trust administration, the only people who can see trust documents are the heirs and beneficiaries.

There are cost differences. In probate, a court filing fee must be paid for each petition. There are also at least two petitions from start to finish in probate, plus the newspaper publication fee. The fees vary, depending upon the jurisdiction. Add to that the attorney’s and personal representative’s fees, which also vary by jurisdiction. Some are on an hourly basis, while others are computed as a sliding scale percentage of the value of the estate under management. For example, each may be paid 4% of the first $100,000, 3% of the next $100,000 and 2% of any excess value of the estate under management. The court also has the discretion to add fees, if the estate is more time consuming and complex than the average estate.

For trust administration, the trustee and the estate planning attorney are typically paid on an hourly basis, or however the attorney sets their fee structure. Expenses are likely to be far lower, since there is no court involvement.

There are similarities between probate and trust administration. Both require that the decedent’s assets be collected, safeguarded, inventoried and appraised for tax and/or distribution purposes. Both also require that the decedent’s creditors be notified, and debts be paid. Tax obligations must be fulfilled, and the debts and administration expenses must be paid. Finally, the decedent’s beneficiaries must be informed about the estate and its administration.

The use of trusts in estate planning can be a means of minimizing taxes and planning for family assets to be passed to future generations in a private and controlled fashion. This is the reason for the popularity of trusts in estate planning.

It should be noted that a higher level of competency—mental comprehension—must be possessed by an individual to execute a trust than to execute a will. A person whose capacity may be questionable because of Alzheimer’s or another illness may not be legally competent enough to execute a trust. Their heirs may face challenges to the estate plan in that case.

Reference: Lake County News (July 4, 2020) “Appreciating the differences between probate and trust administration”

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Does a Beneficiary of a Trust Have to Pay a Tax? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

When a trust makes a distribution, it deducts the income distributed on its own tax return and issues the beneficiary a tax form called a K-1. That form shows what part of the beneficiary’s distribution is interest income and principal. This tells beneficiaries what they must claim as taxable income, when filing taxes.

A recent Investopedia article asks “Do Trust Beneficiaries Pay Taxes?” The article explains that a trust is a fiduciary relationship, whereby the trustor or grantor gives another party–the trustee–the right to hold assets for the benefit of a beneficiary. Trusts are established to provide legal protection and to safeguard assets as part of estate planning.

When trust beneficiaries get distributions from the trust’s principal balance, they do not have to pay taxes on the distribution. The IRS assumes this money was already taxed before it was placed into the trust. Once money is placed into the trust, the interest it accumulates is taxable as income—either to the beneficiary or the trust itself. The trust is required to pay taxes on any interest income it holds and doesn’t distribute past year-end. Interest income the trust distributes is taxable to the beneficiary.

The amount distributed to the beneficiary is thought to be from the current-year income first, then from the accumulated principal. This is usually the original contribution plus subsequent ones. It is income in excess of the amount distributed.

Capital gains from this amount may be taxable to either the trust or the beneficiary. The entire amount distributed to and for the benefit of the beneficiary is taxable to that person to the extent of the distribution deduction of the trust.

The two most significant tax forms for trusts are the 1041 and the K-1. Form 1041 is similar to Form 1040. The trust deducts from its own taxable income any interest it distributes to beneficiaries in Form 1041. At the same time, the trust issues a K-1. That form details the distribution, or how much of the distributed money came from principal versus interest.

The K-1 schedule for taxing distributed amounts is generated by the trust and given to the IRS.

The IRS will then send the document to the beneficiary to pay the tax.

The trust then fills out a Form 1041 to determine the income distribution deduction that is accorded to the distributed amount.

Reference: Investopedia (Feb. 8, 2020). “Do Trust Beneficiaries Pay Taxes?”

 

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Don’t Neglect a Plan for Your Pet During the Pandemic – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

If you have a pet, chances are you have worried about what would happen to your furry companion if something were to happen to you. However, worrying and having an actual plan are two very different things, as discussed at a Council of Aging webinar. That is the subject of the article “COA speakers urge pet owners to plan for their animal’s future” that appeared in The Harvard Press.

It is stressful to worry about something happening, but it is not that difficult to put something in place. After you have got a plan for yourself, your children and your property, add a plan for your pet.

Start by considering who would really commit to caring for your pet, if you had a long-term illness or in the event of your unexpected passing. Have a discussion with them. Do not assume that they will take care of your pet. A casual agreement is not enough. The owner needs to be sure that the potential caretaker understands the degree of commitment and responsibility involved.

If you should need to receive home health care, do not also assume that your health care provider will be willing to take care of your pet. It is best to find a pet sitter or friend who can care for the pet before the need arises. Write down the pet’s information: the name and contact info for the vets, the brand of food, medication and any behavioral quirks.

There are legal documents that can be put into place to protect a pet. Your will can contain general directions about how the pet should be cared for, and a certain amount of money can be set aside in a will, although that method may not be legally enforceable. Owners cannot leave money directly to a pet, but a pet trust can be created to hold money to be used for the benefit of the pet, under the management of the trustee. The trust can also be accessed while the owner is still living. Therefore, if the owner becomes incapacitated, the pet’s care will not be interrupted.

An estate planning attorney will know the laws concerning pet trusts in your state. Not all states permit them, although many do.

A pet trust is also preferable to a mention in a will, because the caretaker will have to wait until the will is probated to receive funds to care for your pet. The cost of veterinary services, food, medication, boarding or pet sitters can add up quickly, as pet owners know.

A durable power of attorney can also be used to make provisions for the care of a pet. The person in that role has the authority to access and use the owner’s financial resources to care for the animal.

The legal documents will not contain information about the pet, so it is a good idea to provide info on the pet’s habits, medications, etc., in a separate document. Choose the caretaker wisely—your pet’s well-being will depend upon it!

Reference: The Harvard Press (May 14, 2020) “COA speakers urge pet owners to plan for their animal’s future”

 

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