What Exactly Is a Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

MSN Money’s recent article entitled “What is a trust?” explains that many people create trusts to minimize issues and costs for their families or to create a legacy of charitable giving. Trusts can be used in conjunction with a last will to instruct where your assets should go after you die. However, trusts offer several great estate planning benefits that you do not get in a last will, like letting your heirs to see a relatively speedy conclusion to settling your estate.

Working with an experienced estate planning attorney, you can create a trust to minimize taxes, protect assets and spare your family from going through the lengthy probate process to divide up your assets after you pass away. A trust can also let you control to whom your assets will be disbursed, as well as how the money will be paid out. That is a major point if the beneficiary is a child or a family member who does not have the ability to handle money wisely. You can name a trustee to execute your wishes stated in the trust document. When you draft a trust, you can:

  • Say where your assets go and when your beneficiaries have access to them
  • Save your beneficiaries from paying estate taxes and court fees
  • Shield your assets from your beneficiaries’ creditors or from loss through divorce settlements
  • Instruct where your remaining assets should go if a beneficiary dies, which can be helpful in a family that includes second marriages and stepchildren; and
  • Avoid a long probate court process.

One of the most common trusts is called a living or revocable trust, which lets you put assets in a trust while you are alive. The control of the trust is transferred after you die to beneficiaries that you named. You might want to ask an experienced estate planning attorney about creating a living trust for several reasons, such as:

  • If you would like someone else to take on the management responsibilities for some or all of your property
  • If you have a business and want to be certain that it operates smoothly with no interruption of income flow, if you die or become disabled
  • If you want to shield assets from the incompetency or incapacity of yourself or your beneficiaries; or
  • If you want to decrease the chances that your will may be contested.

A living trust can be a smart move for those with even relatively modest estates. The downside is that while a revocable trust will usually keep your assets out of probate if you were to die, there still will be estate taxes if you hit the threshold.

By contrast, an irrevocable trust cannot be changed once it has been created. You also relinquish control of the assets you put into the trust. However, an irrevocable trust has a key advantage in that it can protect beneficiaries from probate and estate taxes.

In addition, there are many types of specialty trusts you can create. Each is structured to accomplish different goals. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about these.

Reference: MSN Money (July 9, 2021) “What is a trust?

 

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How Do I Disinherit My Child? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Disinheriting a child or any person trying to gain access to your assets after you have died requires skilled estate planning. The things that can be done before you die to protect your estate are the subjects of a recent article “Disinheriting a child” from Westfair Online. It should be noted that if you anticipate a challenge to your will, or if you suspect claims will emerge after you pass, it will be wise to prepare your estate and family members for the legal, financial and emotional aspects of an estate battle.

Here are some of the steps to consider.

Avoiding probate. The probate estate includes assets that are controlled by your Last Will and Testament on the day you die. It does not include assets where there are named beneficiaries. Such assets pass directly to beneficiaries.

Before a will can be executed, it must go through probate. Part of the probate process is the notification of any individuals who may be entitled to receive assets. If you pass away without a will, the estate still needs to be probated and those individuals must still be provided with a notice of your passing and the distribution of your assets. If you had intended to disinherit someone and did not take the necessary steps, it is as if you have issued an invitation to them.

Using a revocable trust. Trusts are used to remove assets from probate estates. A revocable trust is a trust that allows you to maintain complete control over the assets in the trust, while you are living. When you die, the trust does not go through probate and no one needs to be notified of the trust’s existence or its terms, if you so specify and state law permits. Your wishes and assets may remain private. This is especially useful, if you want to disinherit someone.

The revocable trust is not immune from contest, but it makes the challenging more difficult.

Changing titles to joint ownership and naming beneficiaries. Changing your bank, investment and real estate property ownership to joint ownership is a way to avoid probate and have assets pass directly to your intended beneficiaries. However, there are complications to this strategy. If the person you add to an account has money problems, your assets are now available to their creditors. If the person on the account goes through a divorce, your assets are legally available to their spouse. And if the joint owner should die before you, any protection you may have obtained is gone. A trust may be a better solution.

Review your retirement plans and any other assets that allow you to name a beneficiary to ensure that the person who will receive these assets is still the person you want.

What about a no-contest clause? It seems like a simple solution—by including a no-contest clause, often referred to as an “in terrorem” clause, anyone who seeks to contest the will immediately forfeits any distribution to that person, if they are not successful in the will contest. However, what if they are successful in the will contest?

Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney about these and other strategies to defuse a disinherited person’s potential claims. Disinheriting a child sparks many estate battles, so preparations need to be made to protect the family and the estate.

Reference: Westfair Online (Jan. 26, 2021) “Disinheriting a child”

 

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What Happens When a Will Is Challenged? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

What happens when estate planning does not go according to plan? A last will and testament is a legally binding contract that determines who will get a person’s assets. However, according to the article “Can you prevent someone from challenging your will?” in the Augusta Free Press, it is possible for someone to bring a legal challenge.

Most will contests are centered around five key reasons:

  • The deceased had a more recent will.
  • The will was not signed voluntarily.
  • The deceased was incapacitated, when she signed the will.
  • The will was not signed in front of the right number of witnesses.
  • The will was signed under some kind of duress or mental impairment.

What is the best way to lessen the chances of someone challenging your will? Take certain steps when the will is created, including:

Be sure your will is created by an estate planning attorney. Just writing your wishes on a piece of paper and signing and dating the paper is not the way to go. Certain qualifications must be met, which they vary by state. In some states, one witness is enough for a will to be properly executed. In others, there must be two and they can’t be beneficiaries.

The will must state the names of the intended beneficiaries. If you want someone specific to be excluded, you will have to state their name and that you want them to be excluded. A will should also name a guardian, if your children are minors.  It should also contain the name of an alternate executor, in case the primary executor predeceases you or cannot serve.

What about video wills? First, make a proper paper will. If you feel the need to be creative, make a video. In many states, a video will is not considered to be valid. A video can also become confusing, especially if what you say in the paper will is not exactly the same as what is in the video. Discrepancies can lead to will contests.

Do not count on those free templates. Downloading a form from a website seems like a simple solution, but some of the templates online are not up to date. They also might not reflect the laws in your state. If you own property, or your estate is complex, a downloaded form could create confusion and lead to family battles.

Tell your executor where your will is kept. If no one can find your will, people you may have wanted to exclude from your estate will have a better chance of succeeding in a will challenge. You should also tell your executor about any trusts, insurance policies and any assets that are not listed in the will.

Don’t expect that everything will go as you planned. Prepare for things to go sideways, to protect your loved ones. It is costly, time-consuming and stressful to bring an estate challenge, but the same is true on the receiving end. If you want your beneficiaries to receive the assets you intend for them, a good estate planning attorney is the right way to go.

Reference: Augusta Free Press (July 12, 2020) “Can you prevent someone from challenging your will?”

 

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Should I Create a Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Just 40% of adults in the United States have any kind of estate planning documents in place. That leaves 60% of adults who don’t have their property and other assets protected in the event of death.

Without planning, their family and loved ones will have trouble trying to determine what to do next.

Frequently, when thinking of estate planning, we think of a will. However, there are other options. Creating a living trust may be a better option for you and your family, advises kake.com’s recent article entitled “What Are the Advantages of Creating a Living Trust for My Family?”

The article provides some of the major benefits of a living trust.

It can save your family money. When a person with a living trust passes, the trustee takes possession and control over the trust property, according to the instructions provided by the trustor. It can be less expensive, because there are no fees that may be incurred in probate. Everything also moves faster.

Protection of your privacy. A living trust is much more private, because it does not have to go through the probate court and will not become public record. In contrast, a will becomes public record, that anyone can request to view as a court record.

A trust is for more than death. A living trust can be invoked at other times before death. The creator can add specific stipulations and conditions to the living trust to designate when the trustee can take over the management of property and finances.

More difficult to challenge. A will can be contested in court, if a family member thinks that he or she is entitled to more of your assets than was outlined in the will. A judge can rule that your will is not valid, and the contesting family member can possibly get more than you intended. With a living trust, there is much less chance that this will happen.

Creating a living trust takes legal expertise, so work with an experienced estate planning attorney. You can then discuss an entire estate planning strategy.

Reference: kake.com (April 20, 2020) “What Are the Advantages of Creating a Living Trust for My Family?”

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Do I Need to Be Wealthy to Set Up a Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Trust funds are intended to let a person’s money continue to be useful, after they pass away. However, they are not only useful for ultra-high-net-worth individuals. Many people can benefit from the use of a trust.

Investopedia’s recent article entitled “How to Set Up a Trust Fund if You’re Not Rich” says that you can place cash, stock, real estate, or other valuable assets in your trust. Work with a trust attorney, decide on the beneficiaries, and set any instructions or restrictions. With an irrevocable trust, you do not have the ability to dissolve the trust, if you change your mind later on. Once you place property in the trust, it is no longer yours but is under the care of a trustee. Because the assets are no longer yours, you do not have to pay income tax on any money made from the assets, and with an estate planning attorney’s guidance, the assets can be exempt from estate and gift taxes.

Tax exemptions are a main reason that some people set up an irrevocable trust. If you, the trustor (the person establishing the trust) is in a higher income tax bracket, creating an irrevocable trust lets you remove these assets from your net worth and move into a lower tax bracket.

If you do not want to set up a trust, there are other options. However, they do not give you as much control over your property. As an alternative or in addition to a trust, you can have an attorney draft your will. With a will, your property is subject to more taxes, and its terms can easily be contested in probate. You also will not have much control over how your assets are used.

Similar to a 529 college-savings plan, UGMA/UTMA custodial accounts are designed to let a person use the funds for education-related expenses. You can use an account like this to gift a certain amount up to the maximum gift tax or fund maximum to reduce your tax liability, while setting aside funds that can only be used for education-related expenses. The downside to UGMA/UTMA Custodial Accounts and 529 plans is that money in the minor’s custodial account is considered an asset. This may make them ineligible to receive need-based financial aid.

For those who do not have a high net-worth but want to leave money to children or grandchildren and control how that money is used, a trust may be a good option. Talk it over with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Investopedia (Dec. 12, 2019) “How to Set Up a Trust Fund if You’re Not Rich”

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Why Is Estate Planning more Complicated with a ‘Gray Divorce’? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The increasing divorce rates among Americans over the age of 50 is a problem, because minimizing discord among beneficiaries is one of the top three reasons why people engage in estate planning.

The Clare County Review’s recent article entitled “Rising Gray Divorce Rates Are Making Estate Planning Problems More Complicated” notes that along with prolonged life expectancy and rising healthcare costs, this upward trend in couples divorcing after the age of 50 has created activity and interest in estate planning.

According to the CDC, the divorce rate in the United States is 3.2 per 1,000 people. The ‘first divorce rate,’ or the number of marriages that ended in divorce per 1,000 first marriages for women 18 and older, was 15.4 in 2016, according to research by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at the Bowling Green State University. As noted earlier, black women experience divorce at the highest rate, 26.1 per 1,000, and the rate is lowest for Asian women at 9.2 per 1,000.  In Michigan, the current divorce rate is 9%, but Tennessee is way up at 43%.

Gray divorce is adding another level of complexity to estate planning that already happens with blended families, designation of heirs and changing domestic structures. Therefore, it is more crucial than ever to proactively review and discuss the estate plans with your estate planning attorney on an ongoing basis.

According to the TD Wealth survey, 39% of respondents said that divorce effects the costs of retirement planning and funding the most. Another 7% said that divorce impacts those responsible for enacting a power of attorney and 6% said divorce impacts how Social Security benefits will be determined.

It is important to communicate the estate plan with family members to reduce family conflict during the divorce process.

The divorce process is complicated at any age. However, for divorcing couples over the age of 50, the process can be especially tough because the spouse is frequently designated as a beneficiary on many, if not all, documents. Each of these documents will need to change to show new beneficiaries after the divorce has been finalized. It means that wills, trusts, retirement accounts, life insurance policies and listed assets will need to be revised.

Reference: Clare County Review (Feb. 10, 2020) “Rising Gray Divorce Rates Are Making Estate Planning Problems More Complicated”

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What’s the Best Way to Provide for My Family when I’m Gone? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The estate planning process should begin when you are at least 18 years old, of sound mind and as free as possible from emotional stress, suggests Essence’s recent article entitled “Death And Money: How To Protect And Provide For The Loved Ones You Leave Behind.” You do not want to do this kind of planning when you are on your sickbed or when your mental capabilities are in decline.

If you are new to estate planning, here are the necessary steps to ensure you start the process on the right foot. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to be certain that your plan is correct and legal.

A will. This is a legal document that details how to distribute your property and other assets upon death. A will can also nominate guardians for minor children. Without this, the state will dictate how to distribute your assets to your beneficiaries, according to the laws of intestate succession. If you already have a will, be sure it is updated to reflect an accurate listing of assets and beneficiaries that may be changed with a divorce, financial changes, or the birth or adoption of a child.

Life insurance. This is a great idea to protect and provide for your family when you are gone. Life insurance pays out money either upon your death or after a set period. Even if you have a life insurance policy as an employee benefit, this coverage is not portable, which means it does not follow you when you switch jobs. This can result in gaps in coverage at times when you may need it most.

Work with a legal professional. Estate planning is not a DIY project, like cleaning the garage. You should have the counsel and assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney to help you create a comprehensive estate plan. An estate planning attorney can also coordinate with your financial advisor to manage your estate’s finances, such as making recommendations and funding investment, retirement and trust accounts.

An estate planning attorney also can make sure that all of your beneficiaries and secondary beneficiaries are up-to-date on your investment accounts, pensions and insurance policies. An estate planning attorney will also help you with the best options for maintaining your estate after death or in the event of incapacity. In addition to preparing a will, your attorney can create a living trust that details your desires regarding your assets, your dependents and your heirs while you are still alive. He can also draw up your power of attorney for your health care, verify property titles and create legal document to ensure a succession plan for your business.

Finally, an estate planning attorney or probate attorney can help the personal representative or executor of an estate with closing responsibilities setting up an estate account, tax filings and paying the final distributions to beneficiaries.

A key to estate planning is to get (and stay) organized. Know the location and passwords (if applicable) of all your important legal and financial documents. You should also communicate the location of these files to trusted family members and to your estate planning or probate attorney.

Reference: Essence (Jan. 29, 2020) “Death And Money: How To Protect And Provide For The Loved Ones You Leave Behind”

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How Do I Reduce My Blended Family Fighting Concerning My Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The IRS recently announced that in 2020, the first $11.58 million of a taxable estate is free from federal estate taxes. Therefore, a vast majority of estates won’t have to pay federal estate taxes. However, a TD Wealth survey at the 53rd Annual Heckerling Institute on Estate Planning found that family conflict was identified as the leading threat to estate planning.

Investment News’ recent article, “Reducing potential family conflicts,” explains that a blended family can result from multiple marriages, children from a current or former marriage, or children involved in multiple marriages. There are more “blended families” in the U.S. than ever before. More fighting over estate planning occurs in blended families.

The key element in any conflict resolution is open and honest communication. It’s especially the case, when it involves a blended family. In many instances, it’s best to explain a proposed estate plan to the family in advance.

If anyone objects, listen to their point of view and try to be empathetic to their position. You may wind up with a compromise, or, if no changes are made, at least the family member had an opportunity to air their grievances.

One potential solution to minimize conflicts within a blended family may be a prenuptial agreement. The agreement is signed prior to the marriage and outlines the financial rights of each spouse, in the event of a divorce or death. Prenups are particularly useful in second marriages, especially when there is a disparity in age and wealth between the parties.

However, not every married couple in a blended family has a prenuptial agreement. Even if they do, blended families can still have family conflicts in estate planning.

It is important to remember communication, reducing the chances of a will contest with a “no-contest” clause, asking your attorney about a revocable living trust and compromise.

Estate planning can be particularly difficult for blended families. Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney about the techniques that can help reduce potential family conflicts.

Reference: Investment News (December 9, 2019) “Reducing potential family conflicts”

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How Can I Make Amendments to an Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

If you want to make changes to your estate plan, don’t think you can just scratch out a line or two and add your initials. For most people, it’s not that simple, says the Lake County Record-Bee’s recent article “Amending estate planning documents.” If documents are not amended correctly, the resulting disappointment and costs can add up quickly.

If you live in California, for example, a trust can be amended using the method that is stated in the trust, or alternatively by using a document—but not the will—that is signed both by the settlor or the other person holding the power to revoke the trust and then delivered to the trustee. If the trust states that this method is not acceptable, then it cannot be used.

In a recent case, the deceased settlor made handwritten notes—he crossed out existing trust language and handwrote his revisions to a recently executed amendment to his trust. Then he mailed this document, along with a signed post-it note stuck on the top of the document, to his attorney, requesting that his attorney draft an amendment.

Unfortunately, he died before the new revision could be signed. His close friend, the one he wanted to be the beneficiary of the change, argued that his handwritten comments, known as “interlineations,” were as effective as if his attorney had actually completed the revision and the document had been signed properly. He further argued that the post-it note that had a signature on it, satisfied the requirement for a signature.

The court did not agree, not surprisingly. A trust document may not be changed just by scribbling out a few lines and adding a few new lines without a signature. A post-it note signature is also not a legal document.

Had he signed and dated an attachment affirming each of his specific changes made to the trust, that might have been considered a legally binding amendment to his trust.

A better option would be going to the attorney’s office and having the documents prepared and executed.

What about changes to a will? Changing a will is done either through executing a codicil or creating and executing a new will that revokes the old will. A codicil is executed just the same way as a will: it is signed by the testator with at least two witnesses, although this varies from state to state. Your estate planning attorney will make sure that the law of your state is taken into consideration when preparing your estate plan.

If you live in a state where handwritten or holographic wills are accepted, no witnesses are required and changes to the will can be made by the testator directly onto the original without a new signature or date. Be careful about a will like this. Even if legal, it can lead to estate challenges and family battles.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney if you decide that your will needs to be changed. Having the documents properly executed in a timely manner ensures that your wishes will be followed.

Reference: Lake County Record-Bee (October 5, 2019) “Amending estate planning documents.”

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What Does a Probate Attorney Really Do? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

If you’ve recently experienced the death of a loved one, you may have spent a lot of time and money dealing with their estate and trying to get their assets out of probate.

KAKE.com’s recent article, “Do I Need to Hire a Probate Lawyer?: The Top Signs You Should Lawyer Up” says that trying to do this on your own can often be time-consuming and expensive. That’s why it’s smart to have a probate lawyer working with you.

A probate or estate planning lawyer is one who specializes in issues related to a deceased person’s estate. They have a broad range of responsibilities, which includes the following:

  • Guiding people through the probate process;
  • Advising the beneficiaries of an estate;
  • Representing beneficiaries if they become involved in lawsuits related to the estate; and
  • Helping with challenges to the validity of the deceased’s will.

If you’re unsure about hiring a lawyer, consider whether you’re dealing with any of these issues in your case:

A Will Contest. This is when another beneficiary challenges the will. If someone contests the will, it will drag out the process and could put you at risk of losing what your loved one wanted for you to have.

Divided Assets. When split assets are part of an estate, things get complicated, especially when you have intangible assets. To avoid trouble, hire a lawyer who can help navigate the division of these assets and make certain that everything is handled in a fair manner.

An Estate Doesn’t Qualify for the Simple Probate Process. Probate can be extremely complicated. Depending on the size of the estate, it may qualify for simpler procedures that are completed relatively quickly. If this isn’t the case for the estate at issue, you should get a probate attorney to help you.

There’s Considerable Debt. If your loved one died with many debts, the estate will need to be used to pay those off. This can be tricky to manage on your own. An experienced attorney will help you make sure everything gets paid off and can negotiate debts to ensure you and the other beneficiaries receive as much from the estate as possible.

There’s Estate Tax Due. While most estates don’t have to pay any federal taxes, some states have their own estate taxes that apply to estates worth $1 million or more. It’s not an easy process, so it’s a good idea to work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

There’s a Business in the Estate. You need to ask an attorney to you sort this out because this will include the process of appraising, managing and selling a business of the deceased owner.

If any of these situations apply to you, hire an attorney with the necessary qualifications to deal with estates and the probate process.

Reference: KAKE.com (August 9, 2019) “Do I Need to Hire a Probate Lawyer?: The Top Signs You Should Lawyer Up”

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