Some Assets Better Left Outside of Will – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A will is a document of last resort to transfer assets. There are many ways to transfer assets that would preempt the terms of a will. AARP’s recent article entitled “The Legal Limits of Your Will” provides a list of some major assets that often fall outside a will’s scope, along with tips for getting them to the people or organizations you want.

Retirement accounts. Those named as beneficiaries will get those assets, no matter what the will says. That’s because a beneficiary designation already informed the plan administrator how to handle the asset after your death. There’s no need for probate court involvement.

Life insurance policies. A life insurance policy’s beneficiary listing, not the will, determines who gets the proceeds. However, some states automatically revoke the beneficiary designation of an ex-spouse on a life insurance policy.

Bank accounts. If an account is titled as transfer on death (TOD), payable on death (POD) or joint tenancy with right of survivorship (JTWROS), those designations generally override the will. The account’s signature card would show if any of these designations applies. Ask the bank to look up your card if you aren’t sure. For individual accounts titled TOD or POD, the beneficiary can go to the bank with a death certificate (or death certificates) and proof of identity to transfer or collect the funds. JTWROS accounts become the property of the surviving account holder, who will need to show the bank a death certificate for the other account holder.

Real estate. If two spouses own a home jointly with right of survivorship or as tenants by the entirety, the property automatically is transferred to the remaining spouse without a court’s involvement. Real estate can also be transferred outside a will in certain states through a TOD deed, in which you name the beneficiary on the property.

Trusts. Any asset in a trust isn’t governed by a will. Therefore, trusts are another tool for distributing assets outside of probate court. However, after a trust is created, you must retitle accounts, change beneficiaries, or take other measures so that each asset you want to put into the trust will actually end up there.

Reference: AARP (September 29, 2022) “The Legal Limits of Your Will”

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Could Your Estate Plan Be a Disaster? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

You may think your estate plan is all set. However, it might not be. If you met with your attorney when your children were small, and your children are now grown and have children of their own, your estate could be a disaster waiting to happen, says a recent article “Today’s Business: Your estate plan—what could go wrong?” from the New Haven Register.

Most estate planning attorneys encourage their clients to revisit their estate plan every three to five years, with good reason. The size of your estate may have changed, you may have experienced a health issue, or you may have a new child or a grandchild. There may be tax law changes, statutes may have been updated and the plan you had three to five years ago may not accomplish what you want it to.

Many people say they “have nothing” and their estate is “simple.” They might also think “my spouse will get everything anyway.” This is wrong 99% of the time. There are unintended consequences of not having a will—accounts long forgotten, an untimely death of a joint owner, or a 40-year-old car with a higher value than anyone ever expected.

Your last will and testament designates who receives your assets and provides for any minors. A will can also help protect your wishes from a challenge by unwanted heirs after your passing.

The federal estate tax exemption today is $12.6 million, but if your will was created to minimize estate taxes when the exemption was $675,000, there may be unnecessary provisions in your plan. Heirs may be forced to set up inherited trusts or even sub-trusts. With today’s current exemption level, your plan may include trusts that no longer serve any purpose.

When was the last time you reviewed your will to see whether you still want the same people listed to serve as guardians for minor children, executors, or trustees? If those people are no longer in your family, or if the named person is now your ex, or if they’ve died, you have an ineffective estate plan.

Many adults believe they are too young to need an estate plan, or they’ve set up all of their assets to be owned jointly and, therefore, don’t need an estate plan. If one of the joint owners suffers a disability and is receiving government benefits, an inheritance could put all of their benefits at risk. Minor children might inherit your estate. However, the law does not permit minors to inherit assets, so someone needs to be named to serve as their conservator. If you don’t name someone, the court will, and it may not be the person you would choose.

What about using a template from an online website? Estate planning attorneys are called in to set things right from online wills with increasing frequency. The terms of a will are governed by state law and often these websites don’t explain how the document must be aligned with the statutes of the state where it is signed. Estate plans are not one-size-fits-all documents and a will deemed invalid by the court is the same as if there were no will at all.

If you don’t have an estate plan, if your estate plan is outdated, or if your estate plan was created using an online solution, your heirs may inherit a legal quagmire, in addition to your coin collection. Give yourself and them the peace of mind of knowing you’ve done the right thing and contact us to have your will updated or created with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Reference: New Haven Register (Oct. 29, 2022) “Today’s Business: Your estate plan—what could go wrong?”

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What Estate Planning Can a Nursing Home Resident Do? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

It can be difficult trying to understand the estate settlement process. It’s a system so arcane and frustrating that it can take months to complete. Family members must deal with probate, taxes, assets and debts — all while navigating their grief.

McKnight’s Senior Living’s recent article entitled “5 estate-planning steps your residents should know” says “it doesn’t have to be that hard, especially if the estate owner helps organize the estate before the time comes. While you already might know some steps, the list of things to consider will prove useful. Handling those steps in life is the kindest thing a person, especially a resident of a care facility, can do for his or her family. That’s because these steps are far more difficult for an executor to complete, if they have not been thoughtfully planned.

  1. Name an executor. The first thing is to choose the person who will carry out the terms of the last will and testament. A senior should make certain this individual is able to take on such a complex role and notify them in advance. A critical part of the process for a care facility resident, depending on their circumstances, can be creating joint accounts with the executor. Doing this can ensure that money won’t be trapped in probate after the resident’s passing. Beware: there are risks associated with this approach because the surviving joint owner becomes the legal owner and may use it personally rather than for estate expenses.
  2. Create a list of assets and liabilities. Collect all important records on paper or in a digital vault for the executor to reference and fulfill when needed. This should include a list of all digital accounts, debts owed and to whom, any valuable and sentimental items, as well as assets passing outside of probate by joint ownership, beneficiary designations and title in trust. When questions arise, the executor won’t have to sift through documents and get frustrated if an important document or asset can’t be found.
  3. Determine how the estate should be distributed. The resident should have an estate distribution plan that can be added to the will to help lessen the burden on the executor.
  4. Draft a last will. When the last will is created, the resident should ensure that loved ones and beneficiaries are aware of the terms, so there are no issues. Make sure that the will can be authenticated easily later. Keep it in a central place with other important documents.
  5. Prepare for probate. Probate is the process of authenticating the last will. It lets debts and assets move from the deceased’s estate to the executor. Every state has its own probate rules. A resident must be aware of two primary things. First, finding the right probate court. If the resident has moved recently or lives in a senior living community far from his or her original home, then probate may be required in the new state rather than the state they call “home.” Second, the resident must understand and plan for probate-related fees.

There are ways to avoid probate, to include those mentioned earlier in this post, such as placing assets in a trust. Contact us to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about probate avoidance tactics, if you want to explore options to simplify the estate settlement process.

Reference: McKnight’s Senior Living (Sep. 29, 2022) “5 estate-planning steps your residents should know”

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

Does My College Kid Need an Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

When it comes to estate planning, we usually think of older adults. However, it’s a topic that we should also consider for college students.

WDIO’s recent article entitled “Estate planning is for college students too” reminds us that there’s a number of documents you can put into place in the case of an emergency.

Power of Attorney. There are two types of POAs. The financial power of attorney allows a named agent to make financial decisions on behalf of the college student, in the event they are unable to do so. A medical power of attorney names a healthcare agent.

These can have HIPAA language written into them that authorizes their medical provider to release information about them. Remember, if your student travels away from home for college, you may need a POA for that state.

Will. A typical college student might not have a lot of money. However, they do have their own stuff, and someone needs to make the decision regarding what happens to that stuff. Ask the student to name the parents as the executor of his or her will.

FERPA Waiver. FERPA stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Without this waiver, a parent has no authority to call the college and request information about your student if they are over 18. With a waiver, you can request a transcript and student loan information.

HIPAA Waiver. A HIPAA waiver allows an adult child’s health information to be disclosed. It’s usually for medical facilities, doctors, schools, or any other person where they are in possession of the health information of a person where that individual authorizes the release of the information to a designated person.

If you have a child in college, contact us to schedule a time for your child to discuss creating an estate plan with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Reference: WDIO (Sep. 28, 2022) “Estate planning is for college students too”

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

Top 10 Success Tips for Estate Planning – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Unless you’ve done the planning, assets may not be distributed according to your wishes and loved ones may not be taken care of after your death. These are just two reasons to make sure you have an estate plan, according to the recent article titled “Estate Planning 101: 10 Tips for Success” from the Maryland Reporter.

Create a list of your assets. This should include all of your property, real estate, liquid assets, investments and personal possessions. With this list, consider what you would like to happen to each item after your death. If you have many assets, this process will take longer—consider this a good thing. Don’t neglect digital assets. The goal of a careful detailed list is to avoid any room for interpretation—or misinterpretation—by the courts or by heirs.

Meet with an estate planning attorney to create wills and trusts. These documents dictate how your assets are distributed after your death. Without them, the laws of your state may be used to distribute assets. You also need a will to name an executor, the person responsible for carrying out your instructions.

Your will is also used to name a guardian, the person who will raise your children if they are orphaned minors.

Who is the named beneficiary on your life insurance policy? This is the person who will receive the death benefit from your policy upon your death. Will this person be the guardian of your minor children? Do you prefer to have the proceeds from the policy used to fund a trust for the benefit of your children? These are important decisions to be made and memorialized in your estate plan.

Make your wishes crystal clear. Legal documents are often challenged if they are not prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney or if they are vaguely worded. You want to be sure there are no ambiguities in your will or trust documents. Consider the use of “if, then” statements. For example, “If my husband predeceases me, then I leave my house to my children.”

Consider creating a letter of intent or instruction to supplement your will and trusts. Use this document to give more detailed information about your wishes, from funeral arrangements to who you want to receive a specific item. Note this document is not legally binding, but it may avoid confusion and can be used to support the instructions in your will.

Trusts may be more important than you think in estate planning. Trusts allow you to take assets out of your probate estate and have these assets managed by a trustee of your choice, who distributes assets directly to beneficiaries. You don’t have to have millions to benefit from a trust.

List your debts. This is not as much fun as listing assets, but still important for your executor and heirs. Mortgage payments, car payments, credit cards and personal loans are to be paid first out of estate accounts before funds can be distributed to heirs. Having this information will make your executor’s tasks easier.

Plan for digital assets. If you want your social media accounts to be deleted or emails available to a designated person after you die, you’ll need to start with a list of the accounts, usernames, passwords, whether the platform allows you to designate another person to have access to your accounts and how you want your digital assets handled after death. This plan should be in place in case of incapacity as well.

How will estate taxes be paid? Without tax planning properly done, your legacy could shrink considerably. In addition to federal estate taxes, some states have state estate taxes and inheritance taxes. Talk with your estate planning attorney to find out what your estate tax obligations will be and how to plan strategically to pay the taxes.

Plan for Long Term Care. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that about 70% of Americans will need some type of long-term care during their lifetimes. Some options are private LTC insurance, government programs and self-funding.

The more planning done in advance, the more likely your loved ones will know what to do if you become incapacitated and know what you wanted when you die.  Contact us to begin working on your estate plan with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys today.

Resource: Maryland Reporter (Sep. 27, 2022) “Estate Planning 101: 10 Tips for Success”

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

Is Your Business Included in Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Forbes’ recent article entitled “The Importance of Estate Planning When Building Your Business” says that every business that’s expected to survive must have a clear answer to this question. The plan needs to be shared with the current owners and management as well as the future owners.

The common things business owners use to put some protection in place are buy-sell agreements, key-person insurance and a succession plan. These are used to make certain that, when the time comes, there’s both certainty around what needs to happen, as well as the funding to make sure that it happens.

If your estate plan hasn’t considered your business interests or hasn’t been updated as the business has developed, it may be that this plan falls apart when it matters the most.

Buy-sell insurance policies that don’t state the current business values could result in your interests being sold far below fair value or may see the interests being bought by an external party that threatens the business itself.

If your agreements are not in place, or are challenged by the IRS, your estate may find itself with a far greater burden than anticipated.

Your estate plan should be reviewed regularly to account for changes in your situation, the value of your assets, the status of your (intended) beneficiaries and new tax laws and regulations.

There are a range of thresholds, exemptions and rules that apply. Adapting the plan to make best use of these given your current situation is well worth the effort. Contact us to talk to one of our experienced estate planning attorneys about your plan.

Including your estate planning as part of your general financial planning and management will frequently provide a valuable guidance in terms of how best to set up and manage your broader financial affairs.

Financial awareness can not only inform how you grow your wealth now but also ensure that it gets passed on effectively. The same is also true of your business.

A tough conversation about what happens in these situations can be a reminder to management that over dependence on any key person is not something to take for granted.

Reference: Forbes (Sep. July 12, 2019) “The Importance of Estate Planning When Building Your Business”

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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

The Difference between Revocable and Irrevocable Trust – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A living trust can be revocable or irrevocable, says Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts: Which Is Better?” And not everyone needs a trust. For some, a will may be enough. However, if you have substantial assets you plan to pass on to family members or to charity, a trust can make this much easier.

There are many different types of trusts you can establish, and a revocable trust is a trust that can be changed or terminated at any time during the lifetime of the grantor (i.e., the person making the trust). This means you could:

  • Add or remove beneficiaries at any time;
  • Transfer new assets into the trust or remove ones that are in it;
  • Change the terms of the trust concerning how assets should be managed or distributed to beneficiaries; and
  • Terminate or end the trust completely.

When you die, a revocable trust automatically becomes irrevocable, and no further changes can be made to its terms. An irrevocable trust is permanent. If you create an irrevocable trust during your lifetime, any assets you transfer to the trust must stay in the trust. You can’t add or remove beneficiaries or change the terms of the trust.

The big advantage of choosing a revocable trust is flexibility. A revocable trust allows you to make changes, and an irrevocable trust doesn’t. Revocable trusts can also allow your heirs to avoid probate when you die. However, a revocable trust doesn’t offer the same type of protection against creditors as an irrevocable trust. If you’re sued, creditors could still try to attach trust assets to satisfy a judgment. The assets in a revocable trust are part of your taxable estate and subject to federal estate taxes when you die.

In addition to protecting assets from creditors, irrevocable trusts can also help in managing estate tax obligations. The assets are owned by the trust (not you), so estate taxes are avoided. Holding assets in an irrevocable trust can also be useful if you’re trying to qualify for Medicaid to help pay for long-term care and want to avoid having to spend down assets.

But again, you can’t change this type of trust and you can’t act as your own trustee. Once the trust is set up and the assets are transferred, you no longer have control over them.

Contact us to speak with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys to see if a revocable or an irrevocable trust is best or whether you even need a trust at all.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Sep. 10, 2022) “Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts: Which Is Better?”

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

Problems Created When No Will Is Available – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Ask any estate planning attorney how much material they have for a book, or a movie based on the drama they see from family squabbles when someone dies without a will. There’s plenty—but a legal requirement of confidentiality and professionalism keeps those stories from circulating as widely as they might. This may be why more people aren’t as aware as they should be of how badly things go for loved ones when there’s no will, or the will is improperly drafted.

Disputes range from one parent favoring one child or children engaged in fierce fighting over personal possessions when there’s no will specifying who should get what, or providing a system for distribution, according to a recent article titled “Estate planning: 68% of Americans lack a will” from New Orleans City Business.

People don’t consider estate planning as an urgent matter. The pace of life has become so hectic as to push estate planning appointments to the next week, and the next. They also don’t believe their estates have enough value to need to have a will, but without a will, a modest estate could evaporate far faster than if an estate plan were in place.

The number of people having a will has actually decreased in the last twenty years. A few sources report the number keeps dipping from 50% in 2005, 44% in 2016 and 32% in 2022. In 2020, more Americans searched the term “online will” than in any other time since 2011.

Younger people seem to be making changes. Before the pandemic, only 16% of Americans ages 18-34 had a will. Today caring.com reports 24% of these young adults have a will. Maybe they know something their elders don’t!

One thing to be considered when having a will drafted is the “no contest clause.” Anyone who challenges the will is immediately cut out of the will. While this may not deter the person who is bound and determined to fight, it presents a reason to think twice before engaging in litigation.

Many people don’t know they can include trust provisions in their wills to manage family inheritances. Trusts are not just for super wealthy families but are good planning tools used to protect assets. They are used to control distributions, including setting terms and conditions for when heirs receive bequests.

Today’s will must also address digital assets. The transfer and administration of digital assets includes emails, electronic access to bank accounts, retirement accounts, credit cards, cryptocurrency, reward program accounts, streaming services and more. Even if the executor has access to log-in information, they may be precluded from accessing digital accounts because of federal or state laws. Wills are evolving to address these concerns and plan for the practicalities of digital assets.

Contact us to design your estate plan with one our experienced estate planning attorneys today.

Reference: New Orleans City Business (Sep. 8, 2022) “Estate planning: 68% of Americans lack a will”

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

There are Less Restrictive Alternatives than Guardianship – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The benefit of restrictive alternatives to guardianships is that they don’t require court approval or judicial oversight. They are also much easier to set up and end.

The standard for establishing incapacity is also less rigorous than the standard required for a guardianship, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort – Consider These Less Draconian Options First.”

Limited guardianships. A guardianship takes away an individual’s right to make decisions, just as full guardianships do, but they are specific to only some aspects of the person’s life. A limited guardianship can be established to manage an individual’s finances and estate or to control medical and health care decisions. These types of guardianships still require court approval and must be supported by a showing of incapacity.

Powers of attorney. Powers of attorney can be established for medical or for financial decisions. A second set of eyes ensures that financial decisions are well-considered and not harmful to the individual or his or her estate. A medical power of attorney can allow an agent to get an injunction to protect the health and well-being of the subject, including by seeking a determination of mental incapacity. A durable power of attorney for health care matters gives the agent the right to make medical decisions on behalf of the subject if or when they are unable to do so for themselves. Unlike a guardianship, powers of attorney can be canceled when they are no longer needed.

Assisted decision-making. This agreement establishes a surrogate decision-maker who has visibility to financial transactions. The bank is informed of the arrangement and alerts the surrogate when it identifies an unusual or suspicious transaction. While this arrangement doesn’t completely replace the primary account holder’s authority, it creates a safety mechanism to prevent exploitation or fraud. The bank is on notice that a second approval is required before an uncommon transaction can be completed.

Wills and trusts. These estate planning documents let people map out what will happen in the event they become incapacitated or otherwise incapable of managing their affairs. Trusts can avoid guardianship by appointing a friend or relative to manage money and other assets. A contingent trust will let the executor manage assets if necessary. For seniors, it may be wise to name a co-trustee who can oversee matters and step in should the trustor lose the capacity to make good decisions.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 7, 2022) “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort – Consider These Less Draconian Options First”

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