Estate Planning: Funding A Special Needs Trust For Your Child
How to fund a special needs trust for your child.

Estate Planning: Funding A Special Needs Trust For Your Child

One of the toughest things about planning for a child with special needs is trying to calculate the amount of money it’s going to take to provide both while the parents are alive and after the parents pass away.

Kiplinger’s recent article asks “How Much Should Go into Your Special Needs Trust?” The article explains that it’s not uncommon for folks to have done some estate planning but not necessarily special needs estate planning. And they haven’t thought about how much money they should earmark to fund that trust someday and which assets would be the best to use.

Special needs estate planning involves creating a special needs trust that allows a person with a disability continue to receive certain public benefits. Typically, ownership of assets more than $2,000 would make the individual ineligible for certain public benefits. Assets held in a special needs trust don’t count toward this amount.

A child with special needs can generate multiple expenses. The precise amount will be based on the needs and lifestyle of the family and the child’s capabilities.

When the parents die, this budget must be increased because the things the parents did must be monetized.

A special needs trust usually isn’t funded until the parents’ death. Then, the trust would need to file a tax return each year and pay taxes.

There are also legal and trust administration expenses to think about. Public program benefits can in many cases offset many of the above-mentioned costs.

It’s vital to conduct a complete analysis of the future costs to provide for a child with special needs so that parents can start saving and making adjustments in their planning.

Speak with an elder law or estate planning attorney about special needs trusts.

Reference: Kiplinger (June 10, 2019) “How Much Should Go into Your Special Needs Trust?”

 

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”

 

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”

 

Are “Digital Assets” Part Of My Estate?
Don't forget about your digital assets.

Are “Digital Assets” Part Of My Estate?

Most of us have digital assets and online accounts. It’s time to think about what will happen to them when we die.

Estate planning attorneys are now talking with clients about their digital assets and leaving specific instructions about what to do with these online accounts and social media, after they pass.

There’s a trend of creating video messages to loved ones and posting them online for the family to see after they pass. Facebook has a feature that allows the page owner to set a legacy contact to manage the account, after the account owner has died. Other technologies are emerging to allow you to gather your digital assets and assign an individual or individuals to manage them after you die.

It is now just as important to think about what you want to happen to your digital assets, as it is to your tangible, earth-bound assets when you die. What’s also important: considering what you want to happen to your data, how accessible and enduring you want it to be and how it will be protected.

People in their older years have seen amazing leaps and changes in technologies. We’ve moved from transistor radios to VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray. We’ve gone from land line home phones to smart phones that have the same computing power or more than a desktop. The first social media site was launched in 1997, and websites like Myspace have come and gone.

Will the current websites and software still be available and commonly used in five, ten, fifty, or one hundred years? It’s impossible to know what the world will look like then. However, unless a plan is made for digital legacies, it’s unlikely that your digital assets will be accessible to others in the near and far future.

Here’s the problem: even if your executor does succeed in memorializing your Facebook page, will there be things on the page that you don’t want anyone to see after you’ve gone? There’s a wealth of data on social media to sift through, including items you may not want to be part of your digital legacy.

Consider the comparison to people who lived during previous ages. We may not be able to see their lives online, but they have left behind physical artifacts—letters, diaries, photographs—that we can hold in our hands and that tell us their stories. These artifacts will survive through the generations.

A digital estate plan can ensure that your data is managed by someone you trust. Talk with your estate planning attorney to learn how to put such a plan in place, when you are creating your legacy. Your last will and testament is a starting point in today’s digital world.

Reference: The Scotsman (May 16, 2019) The ghost in the machine—what will happen to online you after death?”

 

Will a Reverse Mortgage Help Me in Retirement?
Will a reverse mortgage help me in retirement?

Will a Reverse Mortgage Help Me in Retirement?

It’s not uncommon for a homeowner to take out a home equity line of credit or borrow against an existing one. This can provide the funds to pay some bills and stay afloat. Another option if you’re at least 62 with a home that’s not heavily mortgaged, is to take out a reverse mortgage. A reverse mortgage gives you tax-free cash. No repayments are due, until you die or move out of the house.

However, these loans are expensive, and not for those people who want to give their home to heirs, because most or all of the home’s equity may be eaten up by the loan principal and interest.

Fed Week’s recent article entitled “Considerations for Borrowing in Retirement” explains that reverse mortgages work best for seniors who need cash, who want to stay in their homes and who have few other options.

These HECM reverse mortgage loans are insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). They let homeowners convert their home equity into cash with no monthly mortgage payments. Borrowers are still required to continue to pay property taxes and insurance. They also must maintain the home, according to FHA guidelines.

People use reverse mortgage loans to pay for home renovations, as well as medical and daily living expenses. Some homeowners who have an existing mortgage will use their reverse mortgage loan to pay off their existing mortgage and get rid of their monthly mortgage payments.

When the homeowner moves, sells the house, or passes away, the loan becomes due. If the house is held until death, heirs have the option to take out a conventional mortgage, pay off the reverse mortgage and continue to live there.

Other options include loans against your life insurance or your securities portfolio.

It is imperative that you talk with a trusted advisor about how a reverse mortgage might fit into your situation. Book a call and become a client today.

Reference: Fed Week (May 16, 2019) “Considerations for Borrowing in Retirement”

 

Estate Planning For Singles

 

A woman is shopping, when suddenly she is struck by abdominal pains that are so severe she passes out in the store. When she comes to, an EMT is asking her questions. One of those questions is “Do you have a living will or a medical power of attorney?” That was a wake-up call for her and should be for other singles also, says Morningstar in the article “2 Estate-Planning Tools That Singles Should Consider.”

People who don’t have children or a married spouse, often think they don’t need any kind of estate plan. However, the truth is, they do. Estate planning when you are single, or have no beneficiaries, can be more important than estate planning as a married individual with children. For singles, power of attorney, medical power of attorney and a living will are especially important.

What is a Living Will? A living will is sometimes called an advance medical directive. It details your wishes, if you are in a situation where life-sustaining treatment is the only way to keep you alive. Would you want to remain on a respirator, have a feeding tube or have other extreme measures used? It’s not pleasant to think about. However, this is an opportunity for you to make this decision on your own behalf, for a possible future date when you won’t be able to convey your wishes. Some people want to stay alive, no matter what. Others would prefer to turn off any artificial means of life support.

This spares your loved ones from having to guess about what you might like to have happen.

What is a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare? This is a legal document that gives a person you name the ability to make decisions about healthcare for you, if you can’t. To some people, this matters more than a living will, because the durable power of attorney for healthcare can convey your wishes in situations, where you are not terminally ill, but incapacitated.

Find someone you trust, whose judgment you respect and have a long, serious talk with them. Talk about your preferences for blood transfusions, organ transplants, disclosure about your medical records and more. Doctors have a hard time when a group of relatives and friends are all trying to help, if there is no one person who has been named as your power of attorney for healthcare.  Read more about Healthcare Power of Attorneys here: https://www.elisabethpicklelaw.com/health-care-decisions-in-2019-require-a-medical-power-of-attorney/

What else does a single person need? The documents listed above are just part of an estate plan, not the whole thing. A single person should have a will or a trust, so that they can determine who they want to receive their assets upon death. They should also check on their beneficiary designations from time to time, so any insurance policies, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and any other assets that allow beneficiary designations are going to the correct person. Some accounts also do not permit non-spouses as beneficiaries. As unfair as this is, it does exist.

The takeaway here is that to protect yourself in a health care emergency situation, you should have these documents in place. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney. This is not a complicated matter, but it is an important one.

Reference: Morningstar (April 23, 2019) “2 Estate-Planning Tools That Singles Should Consider”

The Family Business: Tips On Passing To The Next Generation
Smooth transition of the family business

The Family Business: Tips On Passing To The Next Generation

Creating a succession plan for a family business needs awareness of more than just spreadsheets, says the article “How to plan for a smooth transition of your family business” from North Bay Business Journal. Family owned vineyards or farms face challenges, when one or two children have chosen to work in the family business. Sometimes there is preferential treatment, either with economics or voting and control of the business.

Estate planning attorneys can serve as sounding boards in creating a balance between what will be best for the family business and what will work to maintain peace and cohesiveness in the family. With experience in guiding families through this process, they are able to provide an unbiased view and can be helpful, when hard decisions need to be made.

Another part of the plan is having the family and the estate planning attorney meet with other professionals, such as a wealth manager and CPAs. This is especially helpful when the owners are reluctant to talk about what is happening in the family business with their children, before clarifying their own thoughts about the business.

Taking time to step back and gain some perspective before holding a family meeting where decisions are made, will give the owners more clarity.

A succession plan often starts a business plan. Once there is a plan for the future of the business, it’s an easier transition to financial and estate planning. Taking these steps, can help the business’ success. Any family business will run better when the numbers and projections for future growth are in place. Banks and other lenders look favorably on a company that has its financial reports in place.

This also permits tax planning to be done properly. In some cases, transferring a family business or other asset, while the owner is still living, can be beneficial in the long run, even with today’s higher federal estate tax exemptions.

Lifetime gifts can be a way to reduce estate taxes because making a gift today before there has been substantial appreciation, is one way to leverage the gift and estate tax exemption. Let’s say an asset is valued at $1 million, but at the time of your death it may be valued at $8 million. By giving it today, you can use less of your lifetime exemption.

To transfer the family business to one or more children and give them an opportunity to succeed on their own, through their own efforts, consider bringing them in as a responsible manager with some ownership.

A gradual approach in transferring control of a family business is a wise move, say experts. One family put their real estate holdings into an entity that gave some ownership interests to each of their children, but one of them was appointed as the manager.

Reference: North Bay Business Journal (April 9, 2019) “How to plan for a smooth transition of your family business”

 

Lifetime and Charitable Giving: A Generous Spirit is a Good Thing

Many people give generously throughout the year, for birthdays, to help children or grandchildren with college costs or just because they want to help family or friends. However, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader’s article “Lifetime (noncharitable) giving has many advantages—and not just for tax purposes.”

Lifetime giving means that you are more involved with giving, than if your giving occurs after you have died. Perhaps the best part of gifting with warm hands, is that you are able to enjoy seeing the recipient (donee) benefit from your gift. It’s a good feeling to see a person have his life enriched by your generosity.

It should also be noted that sometimes, giving away something can be a way of liberating yourself. With less property, there’s less for you to manage, insure or provide upkeep.

If you die with no will, the intestacy laws of your state will determine who gets what. With a will, you have the opportunity to make your intentions known clearly. However, since you will not be alive, you won’t be able to see the actual transfer of property. A beneficiary might decide that they don’t want an asset. It is also possible that someone who always told you that he loved the painting in the foyer of your home, may decide to sell it, instead of keeping it.

Lifetime giving lets you react to changing circumstances and provides some control over how your assets are distributed.

After your death, your property and your estate may go through probate, which in some states can be a lengthy process. Lifetime giving also reduces the costs associated with probate and estate administration, because they won’t be included in your estate at the time of death. Assets that come out of the probate estate, reduces the likelihood of estate creditors or dissatisfied heirs. Lifetime gifts are private, while probate is public.

However, there are also tax advantages. If your gifting program is structured correctly by an experienced estate planning attorney, income and estate taxes can be decreased. Generally, a gift is not taxable income to the donee. However, any income earned by the gift property or capital gain subsequent to the gift, is usually taxable. The donor holds the responsibility of paying state or federal transfer taxes imposed on the gift. There are four taxes to be aware of: the state gift tax, the state generation-skipping transfer tax, federal gift and estate taxes and the federal generation-skipping transfer tax.

Many people give, because they want to support charitable causes or help friends and family enjoy a higher quality of life. The need to reduce the size of an estate to lower estate taxes is now less prominent, since the federal estate tax exemption is so high. It should be kept in mind that the new tax laws regarding federal estate taxes end in 2025. That may seem far away, but it will be here soon enough.

Another way to give, is to help with college expenses. Any gift must be made directly to a qualified institution. Similarly, if you’d like to help a friend or family member with medical expenses, a gift needs to be made directly to the healthcare provider. Not only are these types of transfers exempt from federal gift and estate taxes, but they are outside of the $15,000 annual gift exclusion gift you can make to an individual in any given calendar year.

This is a simple overview of gifting. An estate planning attorney should be consulted to create a plan for giving, that aligns with your overall estate plan and tax management plan.

Reference: New Hampshire Union Leader (April 7, 2019) “Lifetime (noncharitable) giving has many advantages—and not just for tax purposes”

 

Should You Include a No-Contest Clause in Your Will?

It’s impossible to know what is in the heart and mind of the deceased, except to consult their last will and testament. However, when there is a suspicion that the last will and testament has been changed through undue influence, the care that went into the will might be undone cautions the Santa Cruz Sentinel in “No-contest clause throws kink into trust plan.”

The example given is of a woman whose mother was in the care of her niece, who was also the trustee of her mother’s trust. The mother modified the trust to give the niece her home, which is estimated to be worth about a fifth of the total estate value. The daughter notes that at the time these changes were made to the will, her mother was in hospice care and being given morphine. It does sound as if it could be influence because changes made to a will during a critical illness, especially in the presence of strong pain medication, are questionable.

Since the trust included a no-contest clause, the daughter wonders if it’s worth challenging the will for one-fifth of the estate to charge the niece with undue influence?

An undue influence claim needs to have three points:

  • A confidential relationship — that between the grandmother and the grandchild;
  • Active procurement — the granddaughter got her grandmother to amend the trust;
  • Unjust enrichment — the granddaughter’s inheritance was increased to more than she would have otherwise received.

If all three elements are met, then the burden of proof shifts to the niece to show that she was not doing anything wrong.

There may also be a lack of capacity claim, based on the medication. It may be that the grandmother was too medicated to understand what she was doing.

The no-contest clause does present a problem. If the will is challenged, the daughter is disinherited — but only if she loses. If she wins, that no-contest amendment is invalid, and the trust returns to what it was before the changes were made.

At one point, no contest clauses were so powerful that there was consideration given to not allowing them to be used in wills. In California, as of Jan. 1, 2010, a person may file a contest and if the judge determines that they had probable cause, they are not automatically disinherited.

In this case, if the facts would lead a reasonable person to conclude that there was undue influence, it’s likely that the daughter in this example would win. It would be up to the court to determine whether she should be disinherited. No-contest clauses are strictly construed by the courts, so unless the no-contest clause says that it applies to amendments, she may be okay.

There is one fact that she needs to ascertain, before moving forward. If the estate planning attorney met with the mother and prepared the amendment, then the attorney will be a neutral witness who will be able to testify to her mother’s mental capacity and her wishes.

It is not uncommon for people to change their wills to favor the person who spends their last weeks or days with them, as they prepare to die. One must wonder in this case, as to why the niece and not the daughter was with the grandmother at this time. Perhaps the two were very close, or perhaps the granddaughter was manipulating her grandmother. However, no one will ever truly know, except for the granddaughter and the deceased.

Reference: Santa Cruz Sentinel (March 3, 2019) “No-contest clause throws kink into trust plan”

 

What You Need to Know, If the Next Generation Is Inheriting the Family Farm

Understanding the tax liabilities for inheriting, buying or being gifted the family farm, is critical to avoid a costly financial misstep, says Capital Press in the article “The family farm is coming to you: What’s next?” You’ll need to work closely with your estate planning attorney and CPA to make sure you understand the basis in the real estate, especially if the property is sold and taxes will need to be paid. How you inherit the property, makes a big difference in the tax bill.

If you receive the property as a gift from parents while they are alive, then you retain their income tax basis in the property. If they inherited it also, they likely have a low tax basis. Farms with a basis of $50,000 that are now worth $2 million are not unusual. If the farm is sold, there will be a capital gains tax on the difference between the basis and the present value, which could be more than $600,000.

If you inherit the farm from a parent and then sell it for $2 million, its value at the time of their death, you would not have to pay a capital gains tax. That saves $600,000.

If you bought the farm from a parent’s trust or estate for $2 million, then you have a $2 million basis in the property and will probably not owe any property gains tax, if you eventually sell it for $2 million.

Just be sure that you comply with all reporting requirements. Failure to comply, means that a portion of the estate tax will have to be repaid.

If you own the farm without other family members, you should start planning your next steps. To whom do you want to pass the farm? If you want to keep the farm in the family, work with an attorney who is familiar with farm families, so that you can keep working the land and reduce any disputes.

Farmers often separate business operations from the land, with the operations held by one business and the land held by another entity. This allows the estate planning attorney to plan for succession in how operations and land are transferred to the next generation. It also provides asset protection, while you are alive.

Make sure that your farm succession plan and your estate plan are aligned. A common issue is finding that buy-sell documents don’t align with the will or trust. Some farmers use a revocable living trust as a will, so they can incorporate estate tax planning and transition the farm privately upon death.

Reference: Capital Press (March 24, 2019) “The family farm is coming to you: What’s next?”