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Estate Planning Blog

Serving Clients Throughout North Central Missouri

Approaching Retirement

Can I Be Certain My Estate Plan Is Successful?

Forbes’ recent article entitled“7 Steps to Ensure a Successful Estate Plan” listed seven actions to take for a good estate plan:

  1. Educate and communicate. A big reason estate plans aren’t successful, is that the next generation isn’t ready and they waste or mismanage the assets. You can reduce those risks and put your estate in a trust to allows children limited access. In addition, you can ensure that the children have a basic knowledge of and are comfortable with wealth. Children also benefit from understanding their parents’ philosophy about managing, accumulating, spending and giving money.
  2. Anticipate family conflicts. Family conflicts can come to a head when one or both parents pass, and frequently the details of the estate plan itself cause or exacerbate family conflicts or resentments. Many people just think that “the kids will work it out,” or they create conflicts by committing classic mistakes, like having siblings with different personalities or philosophies jointly inherit property or a business.
  3. Plan before making gifts. In many cases, gift giving is a primary component of an estate plan, and gifts can be a good way for the next generation to become comfortable handling wealth. Rather than just automatically writing checks, the older generation should develop a strategy that will maximize the impact of their gifts. Cash gifts can be spent quickly, but property gifts are more apt to be kept and held for the future.
  4. Understand the basics of the plan. Few people understand the basics of their estate plans, so ask questions and get comfortable with what your estate planning attorney is saying and recommending.
  5. Organize, simplify, and prepare. A major reason it takes a lot of time and expense in settling an estate, is that the owner didn’t make it easy for the executor. The owner may have failed to make information easy to locate. An executor must understand the details of the estate.
  6. Have a business succession plan. Most business owners don’t have a real succession plan. This is the primary reason why few businesses survive the second generation of owners. The value of a small business rapidly declines, when the owner leaves with no succession plan in place. A succession plan designates the individual who’ll run the business and who will own it, as well as when the transitions will happen. If no one in your family wants to run the business, the succession plan should provide that the company is to be sold when you retire or die. A business must be managed and structured, so it’s ready for a sale or inheritance, which frequently entails improving accounting and other information systems.
  7. Fund living trusts. A frequent estate planning error is the failure to fund a revocable living trust. The trust is created to avoid probate and establish a process under which trust assets will be managed. However, a living trust has no impact, unless it’s given legal title to assets. Be sure to transfer legal ownership of assets to the trust.

Reference: Forbes (May 21, 2021) “7 Steps to Ensure a Successful Estate Plan”

 

Retirement Planning

Succession Planning for Farm Transition and Estate Planning

If you think it’s bad that 60% of farmers don’t have a will, here’s what’s even worse: 89% don’t have a farm transfer plan, as reported in the recent article “10 Farm Transition and Estate Planning Mistakes from Farm Journal’s Pork Business. Here are the ten most commonly made mistakes farmers make. Substitute the word “family-owned business” for farm and the problems created are identical.

Procrastination. Just as production methods have to be updated, so does estate planning. People wait until the perfect time to create the perfect plan, but life doesn’t work that way. Having a plan of some kind is better than none at all. If you die with no plan, your family gets to clean up the mess.

Failing to plan for substitute decision-making and health care directives. Everyone should have power of attorney and health care directive planning. A business or farm that requires your day-in-day-out supervision and decision making could die with you. Name a power of attorney, name an alternate POA and have every detail of operations spelled out. You can have a different person to act as your agent for running the farm and another to make health care decisions, or the same person can take on these responsibilities. Consult with an estate planning attorney to be sure your documents reflect your wishes and speak with family members.

Failing to communicate, early and often. There’s no room for secrecy, if you want your farm or family business to transfer successfully to the next generation. Schedule family meetings on a regular basis, establish agendas, take minutes and consider having an outsider serve as a meeting facilitator.

Treating everyone equally does not fit every situation. If some family members work and live on the farm and others work and live elsewhere, their roles in the future of the farm will be different. An estate planning attorney familiar with farm families will be able to give you suggestions on how to address this.

Not inventorying assets and liabilities. Real property includes land, buildings, fencing, livestock, equipment and bank accounts. Succession planning requires a complete inventory and valuation of all assets. Check on how property is titled to be sure land you intend to leave to children is not owned by someone else. Don’t neglect liabilities. When you pass down the farm, will your children also inherit debt? Everyone needs to know what is owned and what is owed.

Making decisions based on incorrect information. If you aren’t familiar with your state’s estate tax laws, you might be handing down a different sized estate than you think. Here’s an example: in Iowa, there is no inheritance tax due on shares left to a surviving spouse, lineal descendants or charitable, religious, or educational institutions. If you live in Iowa, do you have an estate plan that takes this into consideration? Do you know what taxes will be owed, and how they will be paid?

Lack of liquidity. Death is expensive. Cash may be needed to keep the business going between the date of death and the settling of the estate. It is also important to consider who will pay for the funeral, and how? Life insurance is one option.

Disorganization. Making your loved ones go through a post-mortem scavenger hunt is unkind. Business records should be well-organized. Tell the appropriate people where important records can be found. Walk them through everything, including online accounts. Consider using an old-fashioned three-ring binder system. In times of great stress, organization is appreciated.

No team of professionals to provide experience and expertise. The saying “it takes a village” applies to estate planning and farm succession. An accountant, estate planning attorney and financial advisor will more than pay for their services. Without them, your family may be left guessing about the future of the farm and the family.

Thinking your plan is done at any point in time. Like estate planning, succession planning is never really finished. Laws change, relationships change and family farms go through changes. An estate plan is not a one-and-done event. It needs to be reviewed and refreshed every few years.

Reference: Farm Journal’s Pork Business (June 28, 2021) “10 Farm Transition and Estate Planning Mistakes

 

estate planning for Retirement

Aging Parents and Blended Families Create Estate Planning Challenges

Law school teaches about estate planning and inheritance, but experience teaches about family dynamics, especially when it comes to blended families with aging parents and step siblings. Not recognizing the realities of stepsibling relationships can put an estate plan at risk, advises the article “Could Your Aging Parents’ Estate Plan Create A Nightmare For Step-Siblings?” from Forbes. The estate plan has to be designed with realistic family dynamics in mind.

Trouble often begins when one parent loses the ability to make decisions. That’s when trusts are reviewed for language addressing what should happen, if one of the trustees becomes incapacitated. This also occurs in powers of attorney, health care directives and wills. If the elderly person has been married more than once and there are step siblings, it’s important to have candid discussions. Putting all of the adult children into the mix because the parents want them to have equal involvement could be a recipe for disaster.

Here’s an example: a father develops dementia at age 86 and can no longer care for himself. His younger wife has become abusive and neglectful, so much so that she has to be removed from the home. The father has two children from a prior marriage and the wife has one from a first marriage. The step siblings have only met a few times, and do not know each other. The father’s trust listed all three children as successors, and the same for the healthcare directive. When the wife is removed from the home, the battle begins.

The same thing can occur with a nuclear family but is more likely to occur with blended families. Here are some steps adult children can take to protect the whole family:

While parents are still competent, ask who they would want to take over, if they became disabled and cannot manage their finances. If it’s multiple children and they don’t get along, address the issue and create the necessary documents with an estate planning attorney.

Plan for the possibility that one or both parents may lose the ability to make decisions about money and health in the future.

If possible, review all the legal documents, so you have a complete understanding of what is going to happen in the case of incapacity or death. What are the directions in the trust, and who are the successor trustees? Who will have to take on these tasks, and how will they be accomplished?

If there are any questions, a family meeting with the estate planning attorney is in order. Most experienced estate planning attorneys have seen just about every situation you can imagine and many that you can’t. They should be able to give your family guidance, even connecting you with a social worker who has experience in blended families, if the problems seem unresolvable.

Reference: Forbes (June 28, 2021) “Could Your Aging Parents’ Estate Plan Create A Nightmare For Step-Siblings?”

 

estate planning

How to Prepare for Higher Taxes

Taxing the appreciation of property on gifting or at death as capital gains or ordinary income is under scrutiny as a means of raising significant revenue for the federal government. The Biden administration has proposed this but proposing and passing into law are two very different things, observes Financial Advisor in the article “How Rich Clients Should Prepare For A Biden Estate Tax Regime.”

The tax hikes are being considered as a means of paying for the American Jobs Act and the American Families Act. Paired with the COVID-19 relief bill, the government will need a total of $6.4 trillion over the course of a decade to cover those costs. Reportedly, both Republicans and Democrats are pushing back on this proposal.

A step-up in basis recalculates the value of appreciated assets for tax purposes when they are inherited, which is when the asset’s value usually is higher than when it was originally purchased. For the beneficiary, the step-up in basis at the death of the original owner reduces the capital gains tax on the asset. Taxes are reduced significantly, or in some cases, completely eliminated.

For now, taxpayers pay an estate tax on the value of the assets and the basis of appreciated assets is stepped up to fair market value. The plan under consideration would treat appreciated assets owned at the time of death as sold, which would trigger income tax and subject those assets to estate tax.

Biden’s proposal would also subject many families to the estate tax, which they would not otherwise face, since the federal estate tax exclusion is still historically high—$11.7 million for individuals and $23.4 million for married couples. Let’s say a widowed mother dies with a $3 million estate. Most of the value of the estate is the home she lived in with her spouse for the last four decades. Her estate would not owe any federal tax, but the deemed sale of a highly appreciated home would generate income tax liability.

The proposal allows a $1 million per individual and $2 million per married couple exclusion from gain recognition on property transferred by gift or owned at death. The $1 million per person exclusion is in addition to exclusions for property transfers of tangible personal property, transfers to a spouse, transfers to charity, capital gains on certain business stock and the current exclusion of $250,000 for capital gain on a personal residence.

How should people prepare for what sounds like an unsettling proposal but may end up at a completely different place?

For some, the right move is transferring properties now, if it makes sense with their overall estate plan. Regardless of what Congress does with this proposal, the estate tax exemption will sunset to just north of $5 million (due to inflation adjustments) from the current $11.7 million. However, the likelihood of the proposal passing in its present state is low. The best option may be to make any revisions focused on the change to the estate tax exemption levels.

Reference: Financial Advisor (June 28, 2021) “How Rich Clients Should Prepare For A Biden Estate Tax Regime”

 

Retirement Planning

Reviewing Estate Plans Matters

If your estate plan or your parent’s estate plan hasn’t been reviewed in the last four years—or the last forty years—it’s time for an estate plan check-up—sooner, not later. Besides the potential for costing a lot to correct, says a recent article in Forbes entitled “5 Reasons To Have Your Parents’ Estate Plan Reviewed,” the documents may no longer work to achieve your parent’s wishes.

Rather than fix a messy situation after death, have an experienced estate planning attorney review the documents now. Here’s why.

Stale documents are anathema to financial institutions. If a power of attorney is more than twenty years old, don’t expect it to be received well by a bank or brokerage house. The financial institution will probably want to get an affidavit from the attorney who originally created the document to attest to its validity. Start with a hunt to find said attorney, and then hope that nothing occurs between the time that you request the affidavit and the time it arrives. For one client, the unexpected death of a parent during this process created all kinds of headaches. A regular review and refresh of estate documents would have prevented this issue.

State laws change. Changes to state laws change how estates are handled. They may be positive changes that could benefit your parents and your family. Let’s say your mother’s will leaves all of the contents of her home to numerous people. Locating all of these people becomes costly, especially if the will needs to be probated. Many states now allow for a separate document that lets personal items be disposed of, without being part of the probated estate. However, if the will has not been reviewed in ten or twenty years, you won’t know about this option.

Languages in estate planning documents change. In addition to changes in the law, there are changes to language that may have a big impact on the estate. Many attorneys have changed the language they use for trusts based on the SECURE Act. If your parent has a retirement account payable to a trust, it is critical that this language be modified, so that it complies with the new law. Lacking these updates, your parent’s estate may be subject to an increase in taxes, fees, or penalties.

Estate laws change over time. Recent years have seen major changes to estate law, from the aforementioned SECURE Act to changes in federal exclusions and gift taxes. Is your parent’s estate plan (or yours) in compliance with the new laws? If assets have changed since the last estate plan was done, there may be tax law changes to be incorporated. Are there enough assets available to pay the taxes from the estate or the trusts? If many accounts pass by beneficiary designation, getting beneficiaries to come up with the cash to pay the tax bill may be problematic.

The decedent’s wishes may not be followed, if documents are not updated. Here’s an example. A man came to an estate planning attorney’s office with his father’s will, which had not been updated. His father died, having been predeceased by the father’s sister. The man was the only living child. He and his father had a mutual understanding that the son would inherit the entire estate on the death of his father. However, his father’s sister had also died, and the will stated that her children would receive the sister’s share. The man had to share his inheritance with estranged nieces and nephews. Had the will been reviewed with an attorney, this mishap could have been prevented very easily.

Reference: Forbes (May 25, 2021) “5 Reasons To Have Your Parents’ Estate Plan Reviewed”

 

estate planning

Fraudsters Continue to Target Elderly

The National Council on Aging reports that seniors lose an estimated $3 billion to financial scams, which is the worst possible time in life to lose money. There’s simply no time to replace the money. Why scammers target the elderly is easy to understand, as reported in the article “Scam Alert: 4 Types of Fraud That Target the Elderly (and How to Beat Them)” from Kiplinger. People who are 50 years and older hold 83% of the wealth in America, and households headed by people 70 years and up have the highest median net worth. That is where the money is.

The other factor: seniors were raised to mind their manners. An older American may feel it’s rude to hang up on a fast-talking scammer, who will take advantage of their hesitation. Lonely seniors are also happy to talk with someone. Scammers also target widows or divorced older women, thinking they are more vulnerable.

Here are the most common types of scams today:

Imposter scams. The thief pretends to be someone you can trust to trick you into giving them your personal information like a password, access to a bank account or Social Security number. This category includes phone calls pretending to be from the Social Security Administration or the IRS. They often threaten arrest or legal action. Neither the IRS nor the SSA ever call people to ask for personal information. Hang up!

Medicare representative. A person calls claiming to be a representative from Medicare to get older people to provide personal information. Medicare won’t call to ask for your Social Security number or to obtain bank information to give you new benefits. Phone scammers are able to “spoof” their phone numbers—what may appear on your caller ID as a legitimate office is not actually a call coming from the agency. Before you give any information, hang up. If you have questions, call Medicare yourself.

Lottery and sweepstakes scams. These prey on the fear of running out of money during retirement. These scams happen by phone, email and snail mail, congratulating the recipient with news that they have won a huge lottery or sweepstakes, but the only way to access the prize is by paying a fee. The scammers might even send a paper check to cover the cost of the fee, but that check will bounce. Once you’ve sent the fee money, they’ll pocket it and be gone.

What can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones? Conversations between generations about money become even more important as we age. If an elderly parent talks up a new friend who is going to help them, a red flag should go up. If they are convinced that they are getting a great deal, or a windfall of money from a contest, talk with them about how realistic they are being. Make sure they know that the IRS, Medicare and Social Security does not call to ask for personal information.

For those who have not been able to see elderly parents because of the pandemic, this summer may reveal a lot of what has occurred in the last year. If you are concerned that they have been the victims of a scam, start by filing a report with their state’s attorney general office.

Reference: Kiplinger (June 10, 2021) “Scam Alert: 4 Types of Fraud That Target the Elderly (and How to Beat Them)”

 

Near Retirement Planning

How are Charitable Contributions Used to Reduce Estate Taxes?

Increasing tax changes for the wealthy are coming, and motivation to find ways to protect the wealth is getting increased attention, according to a recent article from CNBC entitled “Here’s how to reduce exposure to tax increases with charitable contributions.” Charitable remainder trusts (CRTs) and Donor Advised Funds (DAFs) are options for people who are already charitably inclined. The CRT is complicated, requiring estate planning attorneys to create them and accountants to maintain them. The DAF is simpler, less expensive and is growing in popularity.

Both enable income tax deductions, in the current year or carried forward for five years, on cash contributions of up to 60% of the donors’ AGI and up to 30% of AGI on contributed assets. These contributions also reduce the size of taxable estates.

CRTs funnel asset income into a tax-advantaged cash stream that goes to the donor or another designated non-charitable beneficiary. The income stream flows for a set term or, if desired, for the lifetime of the non-charitable beneficiary. The trusts must be designed, so that at the end of the term, at least 10% of the funds remain to be donated to a charity, which must be designated at the outset.

No tax is due on proceeds from the sale of trust assets, until the cash makes its way to the non-charitable beneficiary. When assets are held by individuals, their sale creates capital gains tax in the year they are sold.

CRT donors can fund the trusts with highly appreciated assets, then manage them for optimal returns while minimizing tax exposure by adjusting the income stream to spread the tax burden over an extended period of time. If capital gains tax rates are raised by Congress, this would be even better for high earners.

DAFs do not allow dispersals to non-charitable beneficiaries. All gains must ultimately be donated to charity. However, the DAF provides advantages. They are easy to create and can be set up with most large financial service companies. Their cost is lower than CRTs, which have recurring fees for handling required IRS filings and trust management. Charges from financial institutions typically range from 0.1% to 1% annually, depending upon the size, and a custodial fee for holding the account.

DAFs can be created and funded by individuals or a family and receive a deduction that very same year. There is no hurry to name the charitable beneficiaries or direct donations. With a CRT, donors must name a charitable beneficiary when the trust is created. These elections are difficult to change in the future, since the CRT is an irrevocable trust. The DAF allows ongoing review of giving goals.

Funding a DAF can be done with as little as $5,000. The DAF contribution can include shares of privately owned businesses, collectibles, even cryptocurrency, as long as the valuation methods used for the assets meet IRS rules. Donors can get tax deductions without having to use cash, since a wide range of assets may be used.

The DAF is a good way for less wealthy individuals and families to qualify for itemizing tax deductions, rather than taking the standard deduction. DAF donations are deductible the year they are made, so filers may consolidate what may be normally two years’ worth of donations into a single year for tax purposes. This is a way of meeting the IRS threshold to qualify for itemizing deductions.

Which of these two works best depends upon your individual situation. With your estate planning attorney, you’ll want to determine how much of your wealth would benefit from this type of protection and how it would work with your overall estate plan.

Reference: CNBC (April 20, 201) “Here’s how to reduce exposure to tax increases with charitable contributions.”

 

married couples estate planning

Should Parents of Young Children Have a Trust?

Let’s say that there’s a young father with a wife and young son, who owns a home and a Roth IRA account, with a few stock investments. On the stock investments, he’s filled out the beneficiary designation forms passing all his assets to his wife and son, should anything happen to him.

This father owns his home is joint tenancy with right of survivorship with his wife.

Does he need to set up a separate trust, if most of his assets pass through beneficiary designations?

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Do I need a trust in case something happens to me?” says that leaving assets outright to a minor is typically a bad move. The son’s guardian and/or the court would take custody of the assets, both of which require significant court oversight and involvement.

The minor would also receive the assets upon attaining the age of majority, which in most states is age 18.

No one can tell what a young child will be like at the age of 18, especially after suffering the loss of their parents. Even if there are no significant issues, such as drug addiction or special needs, parents should think about what they’d have done with that much money at that age.

The best option is to leave assets in trust for the benefit of the minor son.

The trustee can manage and use the assets for the benefit of the young boy with limited court involvement.

The terms of the trust can also delay the point at which the assets can be distributed and ultimately paid over to the beneficiary, if at all.

For example, it’s not uncommon for a trust to stipulate that the beneficiary gets a third of the assets at 25, half of the remaining assets at 30 and the rest at age 35. However, other trusts don’t provide for such mandatory distributions and can hold the assets for the beneficiary’s lifetime, which has its advantages.

In some instances, the terms of the trust are included in a will. This creates a trust account after death, which is also called a testamentary trust.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney, who can assess your specific situation and provide guidance in creating an estate plan. The attorney can also make certain that trust assets are correctly titled and that beneficiary designations of retirement accounts and life insurance are correctly prepared, so the trust under the will receives those assets and not the minor individually.

Reference: nj.com (June 14, 2021) “Do I need a trust in case something happens to me?”

 

What are the Most Popular Estate Planning Scams?

The Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Beware of These Common Estate Planning Scams” advises you to avoid these common estate planning scams.

  1. Cold Calls Offering to Prepare Estate Plans. Scammers call and email purporting to be long lost relatives who’ve had their wallets stolen and are stranded in a foreign country. Seniors fall prey to this and will pay for estate planning documents. Any cold call from someone asking that money be wired to a bank account, in exchange for estate planning documents should be approached with great skepticism.
  2. Paying for Estate Planning Templates. For a one-time fee, some scammers will offer estate planning documents that may be downloaded and modified by an individual. While this may look like a great deal, avoid using these pro forma templates to draft individual estate plans. Such templates are rarely tailored to meet state-specific requirements.  Even for those templates that claim to be state-specific, they often fail to incorporate contingencies that are necessary for a comprehensive and complete estate plan. Instead, work with an experienced estate planning attorney.
  3. Not Requiring an Estate Plan. Although less of a scheme, some people think they do not need an estate plan. However, proper estate planning entails deciding who can make health care and financial decisions during life, in the event of incapacity. These documents help to minimize the need for family members to petition the Probate Court in certain situations.
  4. Paying High Legal Fees. Like many things in life, with an estate plan, you may get what you pay for. Paying money upfront to have your intentions memorialized in writing can minimize the expense. Heirs should be on guard if an attorney hired to administer an estate is charging exorbitant fees for what looks to be a well-prepared estate plan. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion in these situations.
  5. Signing Estate Planning Documents You Don’t Understand. Estate planning documents are designed to prepare for potential incapacity and for death. It is critical that your estate planning documents represent your intentions. However, if you don’t read them or don’t understand what you’ve read, you will have no idea if your goals are accomplished. Make certain that you understand what you’re signing. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to explain these documents to you clearly and will make sure that you understand each of them before you sign.

You can avoid these common scams by establishing a relationship with an experienced attorney you trust.

Reference: The Wealth Advisor (June 7, 2021) “Beware of These Common Estate Planning Scams”

 

Is Estate Planning for Everyone?

Can I Collect Social Security from an Ex-Spouse?

The divorce rate among Americans 50 and older has roughly doubled since the 1990s, and nearly tripled for those over 65. Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Yes, You Can Collect Social Security from an Ex-Spouse: Here’s How” explains that you can collect on your ex-spouse’s record if:

  • You’re at least 62 and single
  • You were married to your ex-spouse for at least 10 years
  • The benefit you are entitled to receive based on your own work history is less than the benefit you’d get based on your former spouse’s work history; and
  • Your ex-spouse qualifies for Social Security.

You can even begin drawing benefits before your ex-spouse has retired, provided he or she qualifies, and you’ve been divorced at least two years. You can receive up to 50% of the amount your former spouse would receive in benefits at their full retirement age (this is for all spouses, not just exes). This is not in addition to your own benefit. Your benefit has to be lower than half of your ex’s benefit for you to apply.

Many divorced spouses are eligible for the same survivor benefits as current spouses. This means you could get the full amount of your ex’s benefits, not just half. Your marriage has to have lasted at least 10 years, and the amount has to be greater than what you’d receive based on your own record.  There’s also another big difference: you can start getting survivor benefits at age 60, or 50 if you’re disabled.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) says that if you are divorced, when applying for benefits on your ex’s record, you will be asked questions about your name and work history. You may need to provide:

  • A birth certificate or other proof of birth.
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status, if you were not born in the United States.
  • S. military discharge paper(s), if you had military service before 1968.
  • W-2 forms(s) and/or self-employment tax returns for last year.
  • Your marriage certificate.
  • Your final divorce decree.

Speak with an experienced elder law attorney before deciding how and when to take Social Security.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 13, 2021) “Yes, You Can Collect Social Security from an Ex-Spouse: Here’s How”