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After Tax Reform, Is Estate Planning Still Necessary?

After Tax Reform, Is Estate Planning Still Necessary?

The new tax legislation raises the federal estate tax exemption to $11.2 million for individuals and $22.4 million for couples. The increase means that an exceedingly small number of estates (only about 1,800, nationally) will have to worry about federal estate taxes in 2018, according to estimates from the nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

So, you may be wondering, is estate planning even still necessary?

To put it simply: Yes!

Comprehensive estate planning does a lot more than guard against you owing federal estate taxes. Other than taxes, you and your family likely face a range of estate planning challenges, such as:

  • Distribution of your assets. Create your legacy with the help of tools like a trust and/or a last will and testament.
    • If you die without a will, state intestacy laws determine where your stuff goes. You lose control, and the people closest to you may feel hurt or may suffer financially.
    • If your estate plans do not include asset protection strategies, your lifetime of hard work and savings could be squandered needlessly.
    • Without an estate plan, your family may not be aware of all of the assets that you own.  Your hard earned money may end up with the California Department of Unclaimed Property, which is estimated to reach over $9 Billion in unclaimed property by mid-2018.
  • Cognitive impairment. Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other disorders could make handling your own affairs impossible or at least ill-advised. Executing a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA), for instance, allows you to choose a person, referred to as an agent or attorney-in-fact, to step in and manage your financial affairs on your behalf. Without this important document, your fate will be left to the public whims of the court in a proceeding called a Conservatorship (aka Living Probate).  If a family member hasn’t stepped in to Petition for Conservatorship, the court could appoint someone else—for instance, a public conservator.
  • Medical emergencies. What if you become unable to communicate your preferences regarding medical care yourself? Naming someone as your health care power of attorney under a medical Power of Attorney allows him or her to act as your voice for medical decisions. In addition, a Living Will and Advance Health Care Directives allows you to specify the types of life-sustaining treatment you do or do not want to receive.
  • Specific family situations. Life is unpredictable. You need to consider (and proactively deal with) challenges like the following:
    • If you have minor children, you can name a guardian for them and provide for their care through your estate plan. Without a named guardian, the decision of who raises your children will be left to a Judge.  The Judge will not know your family dynamics and who would be best to raise your children in the manner in which you intended.  Even worse, your children may even end up with the Department of Child Protective Services while the courts sort your affairs out.
    • If you care for a dependent with a debilitating condition, provide for her and protect her government benefits using tools like the Special Needs Trust (SNT).
    • If you’re married with children from a previous relationship, you need clear, properly prepared documents to ensure that your current spouse and children inherit according to your wishes.
  • Probate is the court-supervised process of the distribution of a deceased person’s assets. A veritable avalanche of paperwork, expense and stress awaits your loved ones during probate. But it doesn’t have to happen to your family! Through proper planning, you can keep all of your assets outside of probate to be distributed according to your wishes in a private Trust administration.

Estate Planning Involves Much More Than Minimizing Estate Taxes

Even prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, relatively few Americans needed to worry about the estate tax. However, virtually everyone faces one or more of the issues outlined above. Shockingly, a 2016 Gallup poll found that 56% of Americans do not even have a simple will. A 2017 poll conducted by Caring.com found similarly alarming news—a majority of U.S. adults (especially Gen-Xers and Millennials) do not have their estate plans in order.

We can help you get prepared for the future.  Please contact me to begin your plan and get the peace of mind you need.

This article is a service of Tara Cheever, Personal Family Lawyer®. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why I offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling my office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

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IRAs, Annuities and Guardianship: Providing for Your Minor Children after You Die

IRAs, Annuities and Guardianship: Providing for Your Minor Children after You Die

Deciding guardianship for your minor children may very well be the most vexing decision you’ll make regarding your estate planning. Not only must you trust the appointed guardian to raise your children as you’d want them raised, but you also need that person to be financially responsible with your children’s inheritance. For example, if you have an IRA or an annuity that you wish to pass to your minor children, how can you ensure those funds will be used properly—especially if the person you trust most to raise your kids isn’t necessarily the best with finances?

This question is multifaceted, so let’s unravel one aspect at a time.

The Question of Guardianship

Here’s the good news: The person who raises your minor children and the person who handles their inheritance don’t have to be the same person. If necessary, you can appoint one guardian to serve each function, naming one as the guardian of the person and another as the guardian of the estate. In this arrangement, you entrust one person with your children’s assets and another with their care, while enabling each to interact with the other. This dual guardianship model gives many parents peace of mind—knowing they don’t necessarily have to risk their children’s inheritance while ensuring that they are raised according to the family’s values.

Although guardianship of the estate is an option, for many families the best strategy for financially providing for the children is to use a trust. In that case, a trustee fulfills the responsibility that would otherwise belong to the guardian of the estate. The trust assets can be released to the children or the caregiver incrementally according to age and needs. For example, the trustee could distribute money for the children’s needs until age 18 and then manage for the money until the child is a financially mature adult. Your trustee may also exercise discretion in investing and distributing the funds for the children’s support, education, etc., coordinating with their physical guardian to ensure the children’s needs are met until they come of age. This can ensure that the assets are there when they’re needed for your family.

Passing an Annuity to the Children

Annuities pay out regular income—which can make them convenient vehicles to cover ongoing expenses for minor children. If you have set up an annuity for yourself or a spouse, you can name the children as beneficiaries, or you can also name a trust for the benefit of your children. If you are still paying into the annuity at the time of death, your children may receive the balance, or you may give a trustee the option of rolling the balance into another annuity to be paid out to the children at a later maturity date. If you are already receiving annuity payments yourself, the children may simply continue receiving these payments for the remainder of the term. Depending on your annuity contract, payouts may also be made lump sum. Annuities are a very flexible financial product with many different options. If you have annuity now, or if you are considering purchasing one, bring it up with me as we work on your estate plan so we can make sure it works with your will or trust seamlessly.

Transferring an IRA to the Children

Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) are also excellent vehicles to pass along wealth for minor children’s welfare—because, unlike most annuities, they have the ability to grow over time and can provide a lifetime of financial benefit to your children.

When you name the next generation as beneficiaries on an IRA, you effectively extend the IRA’s life expectancy. While the required minimum distribution payments to the children will be smaller than they would have been for you (since, according to the IRS’s rules, they have a longer life expectancy), the account balance can remain invested for growth over time. Your financial and tax advisor can evaluate your situation to help you decide which type of IRA (Roth or traditional) is the best option for your goals. And I can work with you to make sure that the IRA is fully protected against creditors, predators, and bad financial decision making with an IRA trust.

Planning for the welfare of minor children after your death is neither simple nor pleasant to consider, but it’s absolutely necessary for peace of mind. Determining the right person(s) to be the guardian of your children requires careful thought, but you don’t have to sacrifice your children’s inheritance for their proper care. With the right financial plan, you can manage both facets successfully. As always, I’m here to provide assistance and explain your options. Call my office for an appointment today.

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Why a Spendthrift Trust Can Be a Great Solution for Your Heirs

Why a Spendthrift Trust Can Be a Great Solution for Your Heirs

There are many tools that can be used when putting together your estate plan. One such tool is a trust.

A trust is a fiduciary arrangement, established by a grantor or trustor, which gives a third party (known as a trustee) the authority to manage assets on behalf of one or more persons (known as a beneficiaries). Since every situation is different, there are different types of trusts to ensure the best outcome for each beneficiary. One type of trust, known as a spendthrift trust, is commonly used to protect a beneficiary’s interest from creditors, a soon-to-be ex-spouse, or his or her own poor management of money. Generally, these trusts are created for the benefit of individuals who are not good with money, might easily fall into debt, may be easily defrauded or deceived, or have an addiction that may result in squandering of funds.

Spendthrift Trust Basics

Put simply, a spendthrift trust is for the benefit of someone who needs additional assistance managing or protecting his or her money.

The spendthrift trust gives an independent trustee complete control and authority to make decisions on how the funds in the trust may be spent and what payments to or for the benefit of the beneficiary are necessary according to the trust document. Under a spendthrift trust, the beneficiary is prohibited from spending the money before he or she actually receives distributions. These restrictions prevent the beneficiary from squandering their entire interest or having it garnished by the beneficiary’s creditors. The trustee controls the assets in the trust, including managing and investing the funds, once the trust is made irrevocable. Most trusts become irrevocable after the grantor has passed, but some are irrevocable from the start.

Creating a Spendthrift Trust

A spendthrift trust is created essentially in the exact same manner as any other trust. However, the vital difference of a spendthrift trust is that the trust instrument must contain the right language to invoke the law’s protection. A knowledgeable estate planning attorney like myself can provide guidance on how to best structure this provision, so it meets your family’s needs.

Like any trust, the benefits of a spendthrift trust can help avoid the delay and expense of probate as well as provide tax benefits and peace of mind. Of note, there are several states that limit a grantor from naming his or herself as a beneficiary under a spendthrift trust for the purposes of avoiding creditors.

Estate Planning Help

Creating a spendthrift trust is invaluable because it can give you peace of mind that your loved ones will be taken care of after your passing. If you are considering creating a spendthrift trust, or have any other estate planning questions, contact me today to explore your options.

This article is a service of Tara Cheever, Personal Family Lawyer®. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why I offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling my office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

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What is a Trust?

What is a Trust?

A trust is a legal creation set up to benefit someone or something. For example, some people set up trusts to benefit their children, their grandchildren, or even charities. It is easiest to understand if you think about three separate people being involved.

One person, called the grantor, funds the trust somehow, by placing money or other assets into it. Any type of asset may be used, such as money, bank accounts, cars, and even real estate.

The second person, who is known as the trustee, agrees to manage the assets. Once the assets are in this legally created trust, the trustee holds title to the assets. The third person, who is known as the beneficiary, receives the benefits of the trust. For example, the benefits might include interest paid on money in the trust, a monthly allowance, or even a place to live.

The use of trusts as a planning tool can provide many benefits, including the following:

  • Avoiding the formal probate process associated with transferring property using a will;
  • Protecting assets from creditors;
  • Caring for those who cannot care for themselves, such as minor children or those with special needs; and
  • Reducing tax liability.

Although it may seem confusing, a trust can even be set up to benefit the person who puts the assets into the trust. In other words, while there are three roles to be played, each role does not have to be played by separate and distinct people. One person can serve in more than one of the roles.

For instance, a person may place assets into a trust, select someone else to manage those assets, and then receive the benefits himself. To take that example one step further, the person who is both the grantor and the beneficiary could even be the trustee if the circumstances suited such a scenario.

How a trust is drafted and who plays each of these three roles depends on the goals of the person setting it up. Call my office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session, where I can explain trusts further and help identify the best strategies for you and your family.

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New Baby? Time to Create Your Estate Plan

New Baby? Time to Create Your Estate Plan

Estate planning is often one item that gets pushed back on nearly everyone’s to-do list. The reasons you might be delaying vary: lack of time, not thinking you have enough assets, not knowing how to start, or fear of contemplating death. Whatever the reason for not putting an estate plan together, it is important to understand that if you just had a baby or have minor children – now is the time to meet with me to implement an estate plan.

In general terms, an estate plan is a set of legal documents that outline your wishes on how your assets should be distributed and who is responsible for your dependents, in the event of your death or legal incapacity. An estate plan should be developed with a qualified estate planning attorney to ensure that it will work as intended and fully protect your family. Here’s how an estate plan can you protect the newest addition to your family.

Protect Your Children

Perhaps to top reason to put together an estate plan is to dictate who will care for your children in the event you and your spouse die early or become legally incapacitated and therefore unable to care for your kids. Your estate plan can designate someone you trust and who shares your values as a guardian of your minor children.  This is the person who will essentially be a surrogate parent and raise the children through adulthood. When selecting a guardian, it is important to choose people who will be willing participants in your estate plan, who share your values and parenting philosophy, and who you trust to raise your children.

Distribute Your Things

While some assets have purely financial value, others have deep emotional attachments. Not only will a properly funded trust-based estate will eliminate probate, it will promote family harmony and save time and money. As you may already know, probate is the court-supervised process of wrapping up a deceased person’s affairs. This consists of multiple steps, including presenting a deceased’s last will and testament (if they had one – otherwise the probate court uses the government’s default plan known as intestacy), gathering assets, paying off debts, and distributing what’s left over to the deceased’s heirs.  Essentially, a probate proceeding is a lawsuit against the estate for the benefit of the creditors.  Using a trust to provide specific instructions on distribution of assets can help ward off fights among surviving relatives and will keep your affairs private.  Additionally, special features in your trust, sometimes called lifetime trusts, also allow you provide long-term financial stability and support for your children. These lifetime trusts can prevent a financially immature young child from using up their inheritance.

Provide for Your Loved Ones

Beyond your children, creating an estate plan will inform your loved ones what final health care decisions should be made on your behalf in the event you become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions. Serving as healthcare proxy is an enormous responsibility for the person you name, but you can help lessen the burden by communicating your wishes about medical decisions. One significant advantage of properly planning is that your intentions can be clearly stated so that your surviving family members do not have to guess what your desires are.

Complete your Estate Planning

If you have experienced a recent life-event – such as a new baby, a work promotion, purchasing a home, moving to a new state, or any other milestone – you should discuss your situation with me, your Family Business Lawyer. If you already have a will or trust in place, it may make sense to update it to ensure it provides for your family and loved ones and ensure that your Trust is properly and fully funded, which is the legal term for transferring assets into you Trust.  To learn how estate planning can protect you, your newborn, and the rest of your family, contact me today.

This article is a service of Tara Cheever, Personal Family Lawyer®. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why I offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling my office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

 

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Which life events require an immediate estate plan update?

Which life events require an immediate estate plan update?

Estate planning is the process of developing a strategy for the care and management of your estate if you become incapacitated or upon your death. One commonly known purpose of estate planning is to minimize taxes and costs, including taxes imposed on gifts, estates, generation skipping transfer and probate court costs. However, your plan must also name someone who will make medical and financial decisions for you if you cannot make decisions for yourself. You also need to consider how to leave your property and assets while considering your family’s circumstances and needs.

Since your family’s needs and circumstances are constantly changing, so too must your estate plan. Your plan must be updated when certain life changes occur. These include, but are not limited to: marriage, the birth or adoption of a new family member, divorce, the death of a loved one, a significant change in assets, and a move to a new state or country.

Marriage: it is not uncommon for estate planning to be the last item on the list when a couple is about to be married – whether for the first time or not. On the contrary, marriage is an essential time to update an estate plan. You probably have already thought about updating emergency contacts and adding your spouse to existing health and insurance policies. There is another important reason to update an estate plan upon marriage. In the event of death, your money and assets may not automatically go to your spouse, especially if you have children of a prior marriage, a prenuptial agreement, or if your assets are jointly owned with someone else (like a sibling, parent, or other family member). A comprehensive estate review can ensure you and your new spouse can rest easy.

Birth or adoption of children or grandchildren: when a new baby arrives it seems like everything changes – and so should your estate plan. For example, your trust may not “automatically” include your new child, depending on how it is written. So, it is always a good idea to check and add the new child as a beneficiary. As the children (or grandchildren) grow in age, your estate plan should adjust to ensure assets are distributed in a way that you deem proper. What seems like a good idea when your son or granddaughter is a four-year-old may no longer look like a good idea once their personality has developed and you know them as a 25-year-old college graduate, for example.

Divorce: some state and federal laws may remove a former spouse from an inheritance after the couple splits, however, this is not always the case, and it certainly should not be relied on as the foundation of your plan. After a divorce, you should immediately update beneficiary designations for all insurance policies and retirement accounts, any powers of attorney, and any existing health care Agent and HIPAA authorizations. It is also a good time to revamp your will and trust to make sure it does what you want (and likely leaves out your former spouse).

The death of a loved one: sometimes those who are named in your estate plan pass away. If an appointed guardian of your children dies, it is imperative to designate a new person. Likewise, if your chosen executor, health care proxy or designated power of attorney dies, new ones should be named right away.

Significant change in assets: whether it is a sudden salary increase, inheritance, or the purchase of a large asset these scenarios should prompt an adjustment an existing estate plan. The bigger the estate, the more likely there will be issues over the disposition of the assets after you are gone. For this reason, it is best to see what changes, if any, are needed after a significant increase (or decrease) in your assets.

A move to a new state or country: for most individuals, it is a good idea to obtain a new set of estate planning documents that clearly meet the new state’s legal requirements. Estate planning for Americans living abroad or those who have assets located in numerous countries is even more complicated and requires professional assistance. It is always a good idea to learn what you need to do to completely protect yourself and your family when you move to a new state or country. I am here to help you get fully settled in and build a plan to protect you and your family.

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Do You Really Need a Trust?

Do You Really Need a Trust?

Although many people equate “estate planning” with having a will, there are many advantages to having a trust rather than a will as the centerpiece of your estate plan. While there are other estate planning tools (such as joint tenancy, transfer on death, beneficiary designations, to name a few), only a trust provides comprehensive management of your property in the event you can’t make financial decisions for yourself (commonly called legal incapacity) or after your death.  Do you really need a trust?

One of the primary advantages of having a trust is that it provides the ability to bypass the publicity, time, and expense of probate. Probate is the legal process by which a court decides the rightful heirs and distribution of assets of a deceased through the administration of the estate. This process can easily cost thousands of dollars and take more than a year to resolve. Or course, not all assets are subject to probate. Some exemptions include jointly owned assets with rights of survivorship as well as assets with designated beneficiaries (such as life insurance, annuities, and retirement accounts) and payable upon death or transfer on death accounts. But joint tenancy and designating beneficiaries don’t provide the ability for someone you trust to manage your property if you’re unable to do so, so they are an incomplete solution. And having a will does not avoid probate.

Of note, if your probate estate is small enough – or it is going to a surviving spouse or domestic partner – you may qualify for a simplified probate process in your state, although this is highly dependent on the state where you live and own property. In general, if your assets are worth $150,000 or more, you will likely not qualify for simplified probate and should strongly consider creating a trust. Considering the cost of probate should also be a factor in your estate planning as creating a trust can save you both time and money in the long run. Moreover, if you own property in another state or country, the probate process will be even more complicated because your family may face multiple probate cases after your death, one in each state where you owned property – even if you have a will. Beyond the cost and time of probate, this court proceeding that includes your financial life and last wishes is public record. A trust, on the other hand, creates privacy for your personal matters as your heirs would not be made aware of the distribution of your assets knowledge of which may cause conflicts or even legal challenges.

Another common reason to create a trust is to provide ongoing financial support for a child or another loved one who may not ever be able to manage these assets on their own. Through a trust, you can designate someone to manage the assets and distribute them to your heirs under the terms you provide. Giving an inheritance to an heir directly and all at once may have unanticipated ancillary effects, such as disqualifying them from receiving some form of government benefits, enabling and funding an addiction, or encouraging irresponsible behavior that you don’t find desirable. A trust can also come with conditions that must be met for the person to receive the benefit of the gift. Furthermore, if you ever become incapacitated your successor trustee – the person you name in the document to take over after you pass away – can step in and manage the trust’s assets, helping you avoid a guardianship or conservatorship (sometimes called “living” probate). This protection can be essential in an emergency or in the event you succumb to a serious, chronic illness. Unlike a will, a trust can protect against court interference or control while you are alive and after your death.

Trusts are not simply just about avoiding probate. Creating a trust can give you privacy, provide ongoing financial support for loved ones, and protect you and your property if you are unable to manage your own assets. Simply put, the creation of a trust puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to your assets and your wishes as opposed to leaving this critical life decision to others, such as a judge. To learn more about trusts – and estate planning in general, including which type of plan best fits your needs – contact me today.

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