Estate Planning Blog

Estate Planning Blog

Elisabeth Pickle Law, P.L.C.
Life Insurance As Part Of Your Estate Plan
Life insurance as income replacement in retirement plan.

Life Insurance As Part Of Your Estate Plan

You’re not alone if you don’t fully understand the value and benefits that life insurance can give you as part of a retirement plan. Kiplinger’s recent article, “Don’t Overlook Advantages of Making Insurance Part of Your Retirement Plan,” says many folks see life insurance as a way to protect a family from the loss of income in the event a breadwinner passes away during his or her working years.

If that’s your primary purpose in buying a life insurance policy, it’s a solid one. However, that income-replacement function doesn’t have to stop in retirement.

When a spouse passes away during retirement, the surviving spouse frequently struggles financially. Some living expenses might be less when there’s just one person in a household, but the reduction in costs rarely makes up for the drop in income. One of the two Social Security checks the couple was getting goes away, and a pension payment may also be lost or reduced 50% or 75%. Life insurance can be leveraged to make certain there’s sufficient cash to compensate for that missing income. This lets the surviving spouse maintain his or her standard of living in retirement.

There are several sections of the tax laws that give life insurance income tax and transfer tax benefits. For example, death benefits typically are paid income-tax-free to beneficiaries and may also be free from estate taxes, provided the estate stays under the taxable limit. Also, any benefits paid prior to the insured’s death because of chronic or terminal illness also are tax-free. This is called an accelerated death benefit (ADB) and is a pretty new option. If your insurance doesn’t have this coverage, it can probably be added as a rider.

Finally, cash values can grow within a permanent life insurance policy without being subject to income tax. Any cash values more than the policy owner’s tax basis can be borrowed income-tax-free as long as the policy stays in effect. But if you were to pass away prior to paying back your policy loan, the loan balance plus interest accrued is deducted from the death benefit given to the beneficiaries. This may be an issue if your beneficiaries require the entire amount of the intended benefit. When the loan remains unpaid, the interest that accrues is added to the principal balance of the loan. If the loan balance increases above the amount of the cash value, your policy could lapse. That means you could you risk termination by the insurance carrier. If a policy lapses or is surrendered, the loan balance plus interest is considered taxable, and the taxes owed could be pretty hefty based on the initial loan and interest accrued.

There are fees that can includes sales charges, administrative expenses, and surrender charges. That’s in addition to the cost of the insurance, which grows as you age.

Just because you’re retired doesn’t mean you don’t still need the protections and benefits life insurance can offer you and your family.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 10, 2019) “Don’t Overlook Advantages of Making Insurance Part of Your Retirement Plan”

 

How Transfer on Death Accounts Work
How transfer on death accounts work

How Transfer on Death Accounts Work

Even estates with wills usually do go to probate court. This is not a major issue in some states and an expensive headache in others. Learn more about probate here. By changing some accounts to transfer on death (TOD), you can avoid some assets going through probate, says Yahoo! Finance in the article “Transfer on Death (TOD) Accounts for Estate Planning.”

Here’s how it works:

A TOD account automatically transfers the assets to a named beneficiary, when the account holder dies. Let’s say you have a savings account with $100,000 in it. Your son is the beneficiary for the TOD account. When you die, the account’s assets transfer to him.

A more formal definition: a TOD is a provision of an account that allows the assets to pass directly to an intended beneficiary, the equivalent of a beneficiary designation. Note that the laws that govern estate planning vary from state to state, but most banks, investment accounts and even real estate deeds can become TOD accounts. If you own part of a TOD property, only your ownership share transfers.

TOD account holders can name multiple beneficiaries and split up assets any way they wish. You can open a TOD account to be split between two children, for instance, and they’ll each receive 50% of the holdings, when you pass.

One thing to bear in mind: the beneficiaries have no right or access to the TOD account, while the owner is living. The beneficiaries can change at any time, as long as the TOD account owner is mentally competent. Just as assets in a will can’t be accessed by heirs until you die, beneficiaries on a TOD account have no rights or access to a TOD account, until the original owner dies.

Simplicity is one reason why people like to use the TOD account. When you have a properly prepared will and estate plan, the process is far easier for your family members and beneficiaries. The will includes an executor, who is the person who takes care of distributing your assets and a guardian to take care of any minor children. Absent a will, the probate court will determine who the next of kin is and distribute your property, according to the laws of your state.

A TOD account usually requires only that a death certificate be sent to an agent at the account’s bank or brokerage house. The account is then re-registered in the beneficiary’s name.

Whatever is in your will does not impact the TOD account. If your will instructs your executor to give all of your money to your sister, but the TOD account names your brother as a beneficiary, any money in the account is going to your brother. Your sister will get any other assets.

Speak with an estate planning attorney about how a TOD account might be useful for your purposes.

Reference: Yahoo! Finance (June 26, 2019) “Transfer on Death (TOD) Accounts for Estate Planning”

 

How Dads and Moms Can Make Sure Their Families are Protected
Dads can protect their family with proper estate planning.

How Dads and Moms Can Make Sure Their Families are Protected

Forbes’ recent article, “How Fathers Can Make Sure Their Families Are Financially Protected” suggests that fathers consider taking the following steps to ensure their families are protected. The same advice applies to mothers too.

Do you have enough life insurance? Be sure you’re adequately insured, so your family won’t struggle to pay the bills without your income. Many employees only have enough life insurance from work to cover a year’s worth of salary, which may be enough for some families. However, if your spouse can’t make the mortgage payment on their own, and if they would be unwilling or unable to sell the home, you might want to at least make sure you have enough life insurance to pay off the mortgage. Once you know how much you need, buy a low-cost term policy for the maximum length of time you might need the coverage.

Are your beneficiaries updated on retirement accounts, annuities and life insurance policies? This is an often overlooked issue. An outdated beneficiary designation could result in your ex-spouse inheriting most of your assets, your latest child being disinherited, or your family having to pay higher taxes and probate fees than is necessary. Read more here.

Can you add a “payable on death” or a “transfer on death” form on any accounts? You can generally add beneficiaries to bank and investment accounts, saving your family from the time and cost of probate. In some states, you can add beneficiaries to your home and vehicles. Ask your bank for a “payable on death” form and your investment company for a “transfer on death” form.

Is your will drafted?  You need a will to name a guardian for your minor children in most states. It’s a good idea to have a qualified estate planning attorney help you.

Are you organized? Keep a record of where everything and everyone is. You can draft an “In Case of Emergency” folder that has copies of your will, revocable trust, life insurance policy and a summary of brokerage and bank accounts. Let your family know where to find it. You should also share your passwords to your digital accounts.

As a parent, you have an obligation to care for the financial well-being of your family. Part of this is making sure they’ll be protected, even if you’re not around.

Reference: Forbes (June 16, 2019) “How Fathers Can Make Sure Their Families Are Financially Protected”

 

Can We Talk About Death and Dying Or Nah?
Let's talk about death and dying.

Can We Talk About Death and Dying Or Nah?

Evolutionary psychologists think there’s an innate reason for people not wanting to discuss death and estate planning. They say our brains haven’t evolved much past a Stone Age mentality, where survival was our main concern. As a result, it makes sense that we would avoid any threatening situations and defend our existence.

Insurance News Net’s recent article, “What Human Behavior Tells Us About Estate Planning,” says that when people think of estate planning, they think about death, which is the ultimate threat. Because we’re programmed to secure our survival, thinking about our demise is counterintuitive. With this in mind, you can begin to see why more than half of Americans don’t have essential estate documents in place.

Some say that we have to be able to see and identify it, be motivated to act by pain or some negative stimulus and believe we can do something about it without feeling dumb in the process. However, estate planning hasn’t met any of these criteria. The need for estate planning feels remote, and, therefore, it isn’t visible or painful. Sometimes estate planning can be complicated and overwhelming, which can leave people feeling incapable and inept. The need to create an estate plan also feels chronic—a nagging problem people don’t want to address and want to avoid.

However, in the digital age, estate planning has become about more than just the systematic disposition of assets upon one’s death. With bank and email accounts, social media and other digital assets scattered throughout cyberspace, it has become necessary to find a way to connect our assets to us. There’s an immediate upside to spending time on organizing our financial lives: the peace of mind of knowing everything we have is accounted for. It’s intrinsically satisfying when we can bring our assets together under one virtual roof. Read more about estate planning in the digital world.

With comprehensive planning, we can benefit from being able to monitor every account with ease, giving us a full financial picture at a glance.

In addition, today we can capture stories and memories to create a living, breathing legacy. Remember, your legacy is about more than the money left behind—it’s also about sharing the values and valuables with the right people at the right time.

When we think about legacy planning as part of our lives, we change the narrative and estate planning becomes visible, solvable and non-chronic. It becomes something people embrace rather than avoid. Therefore, think of estate planning that way and speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to be certain your plan is comprehensive and up to date.

Reference: Insurance News Net (May 9, 2019) “What Human Behavior Tells Us About Estate Planning”

 

Prevent Problems Before They Happen
Proper estate planning prevents problems before they happen

Prevent Problems Before They Happen

Creating an estate plan, with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, can help prevent problems before they happen.  People gain clarity on larger issues, like who should inherit the family home, and small details, like what to do with the personal items that none of the children want. Until you go through the process of mapping out a plan, these questions can remain unanswered. However, according the East Idaho Business Journal, “Estate plans can help you answer questions about the future.”

Let’s look at some of these questions:

What will happen to my children when I die? You hope that you’ll live a long and happy life, and that you’ll get to see your children grow up and have families of their own. However, what if you don’t? A will is used to name a guardian to take care of your children, if their parents are not alive. Some people also use their wills to name a “conservator.” That’s the person who is responsible for the assets that any minor children might inherit.

Will my family fight over their inheritance? Without an estate plan, that’s a distinct possibility. Without a will, the entire estate goes through probate, which is a public process. Relatives and creditors can both gain access to your records and could challenge your will. Many people use and “fund” revocable living trusts to place assets outside of the will and to avoid the probate process entirely.

Who will take care of my finances, if I’m too sick? Estate planning includes documents like a durable power of attorney, which allows a person you name (before becoming incapacitated) to take charge of your financial affairs. Speak with your estate planning attorney about also having a medical power of attorney. This lets someone else handle health care decisions on your behalf.

Should I be generous to charities, or leave all my assets to my family? That’s a very personal question. Unless you have significant wealth, chances are you will leave most of your assets to family members. However, giving to charity could be a part of your legacy, whether you are giving a large or small amount. It may give your children a valuable lesson about what should happen to a lifetime of work and saving.

One way of giving, is to establish a charitable lead trust. This provides financial support to a charity (or charities) of choice for a period of time, with the remaining assets eventually going to family members. There is also the charitable remainder trust, which provides a steady stream of income for family members for a certain term of the trust. The remaining assets are then transferred to one or more charitable organizations.

Careful estate planning can help answer many worrisome questions. Just keep in mind that these are complex issues that are best addressed with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney. Read more here.

Reference: East Idaho Business Journal (June 25, 2019) “Estate plans can help you answer questions about the future.”

 

Family Fights over Personal Items or Artwork
How to avoid conflict when leaving personal items

Family Fights over Personal Items or Artwork

A few years after her death in 2014, Joan Rivers’ family put hundreds of her personal items up for auction at Christie’s in New York.

As The Financial Times reported in “Why an art collector’s estate needs tight planning,” a silver Tiffany bowl, engraved with her dog’s name, Spike, made headlines when it sold for thirty times its estimated price.

This shows how an auction house can generate a buzz around the estate of a late collector, creating demand for items that, had they been sold separately, might have failed to attract as much attention.

A problem for some art and collectible owners is that their heirs may feel much less passionately about the works, than the person who collected them.

A collector can either gift, donate or sell in their lifetime. He or she can also wait until they pass away and then gift, donate, or sell posthumously.

The way a collector can make certain his or her wishes are carried out or eliminate family conflicts after their death, is to take the decision out of the hands of the family, by placing an art collection in trust. Read more about trusts here.

The trust will have the collector’s wishes added into the agreement, and the trustees are appointed from the family and from independent advisers with no interest in a transaction taking place.

Many collectors like to seal their legacy, by making a permanent loan or gift of art works to a museum.However, their children can renege on these agreements, if they’re not adequately protected by trusts or other legal safeguards after a collector’s death.

Even with a trust or other legal structure put in place to preserve a legacy, the key to avoiding a fight over personal items after the death of the collector, is to have frank discussions about estate planning with the family well before the reading of the will. This can ensure that their wishes are respected.

Reference: Financial Times (June 20, 2019) “Why an art collector’s estate needs tight planning”

 

Leaving a Legacy Is Not Just about Money
Love locks as symbol for everlasting love

Leaving a Legacy Is Not Just about Money

A legacy is not necessarily about money, says a survey that was conducted by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch Ave Wave. More than 3,000 adults (2,600 of them were 50 and older) were surveyed and focus groups were asked about end-of-life planning and leaving a legacy. The article, “How to leave a legacy no matter how much money you have” from The Voice, shared a number of the participant’s responses.

A total of 94% of those surveyed said that a life well-lived, is about “having friends and family that love me.” 75% said that a life well-lived is about having a positive impact on society. A mere 10% said that a life well-lived is about accumulating a lot of wealth.

People want to be remembered for how they lived, not what they did at work or how much money they saved. Nearly 70% said they most wanted to be remembered for the memories they shared with loved ones. And only nine percent said career success was something they wanted to be remembered for.

While everyone needs to have their affairs in order, especially people over age 55, only 55% of those surveyed reported having a will. Only 18% have what are considered the three key essentials for legacy planning: a will, a health care directive and a durable power of attorney.

The will addresses how property is to be distributed, names an executor of the estate and, if there are minor children, names who should be their guardian. The health care directive gives specific directions as to end-of-life preferences and designates someone to make health care decisions for you, if you can’t. A power of attorney designates someone to make financial decisions on your behalf when you can’t do so, because of illness or incapacity.

An estate plan is often only considered when a trigger event occurs, like a loved one dying without an estate plan. That is a wake-up call for the family, once they see how difficult it is when there is no estate plan. What does an estate plan include? Read more here.

Parents age 55 and older had interesting views on leaving inheritances and who should receive their estate. Only about a third of boomers surveyed and 44% of Gen Xers said that it’s a parent’s duty to leave some kind of inheritance to their children. A higher percentage of millennials surveyed—55%–said that this was a duty of parents to their children.

The biggest surprise of the survey: 65% of people 55 and older reported that they would prefer to give away some of their money, while they are still alive. A mere 8% wanted to give away all their assets, before they died. Only 27% wanted to give away all their money after they died.

Reference: The Voice (June 16, 2019) “How to leave a legacy no matter how much money you have”

 

Arizona Funeral Homes And Potential Financial Abuse
Arizona Funeral Home

Arizona Funeral Homes And Potential Financial Abuse

U.S. Navy veteran Robert Heiskell was a quiet and reclusive man, whose wife had died years before. A concerned neighbor called the police, who on March 22, 2017, discovered the 80-year-old dead in his home.

AZ Central’s recent article, “Phoenix funeral home took control of dead people’s estates, then charged them excessive fees, complaints say,” reports that Heiskell didn’t have will, and no one claimed his body. A Phoenix area funeral home, Abel Funeral Services—under a contract with Maricopa County for indigent burial—retrieved his body and placed it in refrigeration, while they looked for the next of kin. That meant a meter began running on Heiskell’s funeral expenses.

When the county saw that Heiskell had too much money to qualify for indigent burial, funeral home owner Spencer McBride got court approval to become the personal representative of Heiskell’s estate and settle Heiskell’s financial affairs. The funeral home owner had done this many times for other estates.

By the time he was finished, McBride had racked up costs of more than $30,000 from Heiskell’s estate to his funeral home, according to court records. Compare that to the average cost of a funeral and burial of $7,360, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

While state law permits funeral home owners to act as both executors and creditors of an estate, many don’t care for the headaches. Now the Arizona Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers, which regulates the profession, is looking into several other complaints that McBride assumed control of estates and charged excessive fees for funeral services.

Three complaints in the past year claim that McBride did not exert a sufficient effort in locating the next of kin, while his funeral home charged estates excessive fees for funeral services. Another complaint didn’t dispute fees, but the family of an Air Force veteran was upset over a delay in burial.

Heiskell’s closest living relative, a cousin, questioned the bill and alleged that all but about $8,000 of the charges were “excessive.” This included fees to refrigerate Heiskell’s body for 115 days. The matter was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. In statements to the funeral board, McBride has denied using his position as personal representative for profit.

Even if you believe you have no heirs, it is important that you speak with a qualified estate planning attorney to create a mindful plan that tells people what you want to happen to your assets and personal belongings. Book a call today. 

Reference: AZ Central (June 21, 2019) “Phoenix funeral home took control of dead people’s estates, then charged them excessive fees, complaints say”

 

What Debts Must Be Paid During Probate?
Which debts do I pay during probate?

What Debts Must Be Paid During Probate?

Everything that must be addressed in settling an estate becomes more complicated, when there is no will and no estate planning has taken place before the person dies. Debts are a particular area of concern for the estate and the executor. What has to be paid, and who gets paid first? These are explained in the article “Dealing with Debts and Mortgages in Probate” from The Balance.

Probate is the process of gaining court approval of the estate and paying off final bills and expenses, before property can be transferred to beneficiaries. Dealing with the debts of a deceased person can be started, before probate officially begins.

Start by making a list of all of the decedent’s liabilities and look for the following bills or statements:

  • Mortgages
  • Reverse mortgages
  • Home equity loans
  • Lines of credit
  • Condo fees
  • Property taxes
  • Federal and state income taxes
  • Car and boat loans
  • Personal loans
  • Loans against life insurance policies
  • Loans against retirement accounts
  • Credit card bills
  • Utility bills
  • Cell phone bills

Next, divide those items into two categories: those that will be ongoing during probate—consider them administrative expenses—and those that can be paid off after the probate estate is opened. These are considered “final bills.” Administrative bills include things like mortgages, condo fees, property taxes and utility bills. They must be kept current. Final bills include income taxes, personal loans, credit card bills, cell phone bills and loans against retirement accounts and/or life insurance policies.

The executors and heirs should not pay any bills out of their own pockets. The executor deals with all of these liabilities in the process of settling the estate.

For some of the liabilities, heirs may have a decision to make about whether to keep the assets with loans. If the beneficiary wants to keep the house or a car, they may, but they have to keep paying down the debt. Otherwise, these payments should be made only by the estate.

The executor decides what bills to pay and which assets should be liquidated to pay final bills.

A far better plan for your beneficiaries, is to create a comprehensive estate plan that includes a will that details how you want your assets distributed and addresses what your wishes are. If you want to leave a house to a loved one, your estate planning attorney will be able to explain how to make that happen, while minimizing taxes on your estate.

Reference: The Balance (March 21, 2019) “Dealing with Debts and Mortgages in Probate”

 

Choosing a Trustee: Family or Professional?

Selecting a trustee to manage your estate after you pass away is an important decision. Depending on the type of trust you’re creating, the trustee will be in charge of overseeing your assets and the assets of your family. It’s common for people to choose either a friend or family member, a professional trustee or a trust company or corporate trustee for this critical role.

Forbes’s recent article, “How To Choose A Trustee,” helps you identify what you should look for in a trustee.

If you go with a family member or friend, she should be financially savvy and good with money. You want someone who is knows something about investing, and preferably someone who has assets of their own that they are investing with an investment advisor.

A good thing about selecting a friend or family member as trustee, is that they’re going to be most familiar with you and your family. They will also understand your family’s dynamics.  Family members also usually don’t charge a trustee fee (although they are entitled to do so).

However, your family may be better off with a professional trustee or trust company that has expertise with trust administration. This may eliminate some potentially hard feelings in the family. Another negative is that your family member may be too close to the family and may get caught up in the drama.They may also have a power trip and like having total control of your beneficiary’s finances.

The advantage of an attorney serving as a trustee, is that they have familiarity with your family, if you’ve worked together for some time. There will, however, be a charge for their time spent serving as trustee.

Trust companies will have more structure and oversight to the trust administration, including a trust department that oversees the administration. This will be more expensive, but it may be money well spent. A trust company can make the tough decisions and tell beneficiaries “no” when needed. It’s common to use a trust company, when the beneficiaries don’t get along, when there is a problem beneficiary or when it’s a large sum of money. A drawback is that a trust company may be difficult to remove or become inflexible. They also may be stingy about distributions, if it will reduce the assets under management that they’re investing. You can solve this by giving a neutral third party, like a trusted family member, the ability to remove and replace the trustee.

Talk to your estate planning attorney and go through your concerns to find a solution that works for you and your family.

Reference: Forbes (May 31, 2019) “How To Choose A Trustee”