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Estate Planning Blog

Serving Clients Throughout North Central Missouri

Extended-Family

How Do You Split Estate in a Blended Family?

When it comes to blended families and estate planning, there are no guarantees, especially concerning estate planning. However, there are some classic mistakes to avoid, reports this recent article from AARP titled “Remarried With Children? 5 Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid.”

Most people mean well. They want to protect their spouses and hope that their heirs will share in any proceeds when the second spouse dies. They want all the children to be happy. They also hope that the step siblings will still regard each other as “siblings” after the parents are passed. However, there are situations where children get shut out of their inheritance or an ex-spouse inherits it all, even if that wasn’t the plan. Here are five mistakes to avoid:

#1: Not changing named beneficiaries. People neglect to update their wills and beneficiary designations. This is something to do immediately, before or after the wedding. By changing the name of the beneficiary on your 401(k), for instance, it passes directly to the surviving spouse without probate. All financial accounts should be checked, as should life insurance beneficiaries. You can designate children as secondary beneficiaries, so they receive assets, in the event that both parents die.

While you’re doing that, update legal directives: including the medical power of attorney and the power of attorney. That is, unless you’d like your ex to make medical and financial decisions for you!

#2 Not updating your will. Most assets pass through the will, unless you have planned otherwise. In many second marriages, estate planning is done hoping the spouse inherits all the assets and upon their death, the remaining assets are divided among all of the children. There is nothing stopping a surviving spouse from re-writing their will and for the late spouses’ children to be left without anything from their biological parent. An estate planning attorney can explore different options to avoid this from occurring.

#3 Treating all heirs equally. Yes, this is a mistake. If one person came to the marriage with significantly more assets than another, care must be taken if the goal is to have those assets remain in the bloodline. If one person owned the house, for instance, and a second spouse and children moved into the house, the wish might be to have only the original homeowner’s children inherit the proceeds of the sale of the house. The same goes for pension and retirement accounts.

#4 Waiting to give until you’ve passed. If you are able to, it may be worth gifting to your heirs while you are still living, rather than gifting through a will. You may give up to $15,000 per person or $30,000 to a couple without having to pay a federal gift tax. Recipients don’t pay tax on most gifts. Let’s say you and your spouse have four children and they are all married. You may give each child and their spouse $30,000, without triggering any taxes for you or for them. It gets better: your spouse can also make the same size gift. Therefore, you and your spouse can give $60,000 to each couple, a total of $240,000 per year for all eight people and no taxes need be paid by anyone. This takes assets out of your estate and is not considered income to the recipients.

#5 Doing it yourself. If you’re older with a second marriage, ex-spouses, blended families and comingled assets, your estate planning will be complicated. Add a child with special needs or an aging parent and it becomes even more complex. Trying to create your own estate plan without a current and thorough knowledge of the law (including tax law) is looking for trouble, which is what you will leave to your children. The services of an estate planning attorney are a worthwhile investment, especially for blended families.

Reference: AARP (July 9, 2021) “Remarried With Children? 5 Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid”

 

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?”

 

Is Estate Planning for Everyone?

What Is Fair in a Second Marriage and Estate Planning?

The assets you and your second spouse bring into the marriage need to be carefully considered when revising your estate plan, says a recent article “Value of an Estate Plan Review With a Second Marriage” from Mondaq. If there are children from one or both partner’s prior marriages, those too need to be considered. If you plan on having children together, the estate plan needs to include this as well.

The best time to prepare this new estate plan would be before the wedding. This way, you can both go forward with the wedding and celebration with clear minds and hearts.

Start with a complete inventory of all assets and debts. List financial accounts, including investments, savings and checking accounts. Real estate and any personal assets, pensions and tax deferred retirement accounts should be included.

Review your wills, trusts, health care plans and directives, powers of attorney and any other estate planning documents at this time.

There may be assets that need to be retitled, and beneficiaries on all assets that permit designated beneficiaries should be updated at this time. Check to be sure a prior spouse is not the beneficiary of any life insurance or pensions. Any debts or liabilities that one partner brings to the marriage should be reviewed at this time. Comingling accounts and marriage will make both spouses responsible for each other’s debts, which should be discussed candidly.

Based on the inventory, one or the other partner may wish to have a prenuptial agreement to protect their individual financial interests. A prenuptial agreement may also be used to waive respective rights to each other’s property. These agreements are also used to serve as a means of retaining control of a business and defining premarital assets and debt.

When children are involved, decisions need to be made as to how assets are to be divided. Does one spouse want to leave their assets to their own children or to all of the children?

One way of addressing children in a second marriage is to create a separate marital trust to ensure that the new spouse receives the share of the assets you want them to have, while preserving your children’s inheritance. In the case of IRAs, it may be prudent to split them into separate IRAs among your spouse and children to protect the children’s inheritance.

When naming new beneficiaries, be aware that your new spouse may have mandatory rights to certain assets, such as qualified retirement plans. The only person who can inherit a Health Savings Account (HSA) without it becoming taxable, is your spouse. Remember to change this from your former spouse to the new spouse. Naming your children as the beneficiary would cause the account to be taxable on your death.

An estate planning attorney who has worked with second and subsequent marriages can help facilitate a discussion about structuring an estate plan. Working with a professional who knows how these situations are resolved can be a great help in getting the process started and keeping it moving forward.

Reference: Mondaq (March 2, 2021) “Value of an Estate Plan Review With a Second Marriage”

 

Is Estate Planning for Everyone?

Estate Planning for a Second Marriage and Blended Family

It takes a certain kind of courage to embark on second, third or even fourth marriages, even when there are no children from prior marriages. Regardless of how many times you walk down the aisle, the recent article “Establishing assets, goals when planning for a second marriage” from the Times Herald-Record advises couples to take care of the business side of their lives before saying “I do” again.

Full disclosure of each other’s assets, overall estate planning goals and plans for protecting assets from the cost of long-term care should happen before getting married. The discussion may not be easy, but it’s necessary: are they leaving assets to each other, or to children from a prior marriage? What if one wants to leave a substantial portion of their wealth to a charitable organization?

The first step recommended with remarriage is a prenuptial or prenup, a contract that the couple signs before getting married, to clarify what happens if they should divorce and what happens on death. The prenup typically lists all of each spouses’ assets and often a “Waiver of the Right of Election,” meaning they willingly give up any inheritance rights.

If the couple does not wish to have a prenup, they can use a Postnuptial Agreement (postnup). This document has the same intent and provisions as a prenup but is signed after they are legally wed. Over time, spouses may decide to leave assets to each other through trusts, owning assets together or naming each other as beneficiaries on various assets, including life insurance or investment accounts.

Without a pre-or postnup, assets will go to the surviving spouse upon death, with little or possibly nothing going to the children.

The couple should also talk about long-term care costs, which can decimate a family’s finances. Plan A is to have long-term care insurance. If either of the spouses has not secured this insurance and cannot get a policy, an alternate is to have their estate planning attorney create a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust (MAPT). Once assets have been inside the trust for five years for nursing home costs and two-and-a-half years for home care paid by Medicaid, they are protected from long-term care costs.

When applying for Medicaid, the assets of both spouses are at risk, regardless of pre- or postnup documents.

Discuss the use of trusts with your estate planning attorney. A will conveys property, but assets must go through probate, which can be costly, time-consuming and leave your assets open to court battles between heirs. Trusts avoid probate, maintain privacy and deflect family squabbles.

Creating a trust and placing the joint home and any assets, including cash and investments, inside the trust is a common estate planning strategy. When the first spouse dies, a co-trustee who serves with the surviving spouse can prevent the surviving spouse from changing the trust and by doing so, protect the children’s inheritance. Let’s say one of the couple suffers from dementia, remarries or is influenced by others—a new will could leave the children of the deceased spouse with nothing.

Many things can very easily go wrong in second marriages. Prior planning with an experienced estate planning attorney can protect the couple and their children and provide peace of mind for all concerned.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (Sep. 21, 2020) “Establishing assets, goals when planning for a second marriage”

 

personal injury

Can an Inheritance Lead to Trouble for Marriages?

Is an inheritance a blessing, or a curse? That’s the question from the recent article “When One Spouse Gets an Inheritance It Can Be Hard on a Marriage” posed by The Wall Street Journal. The emotional high of receiving an inheritance is often paired with legal issues. Emotional and life changing decisions can take a toll on the best of partnerships. Spouses may disagree with how assets should be used, or if an inheritance should be set aside for children from a prior marriage. The question of what happens to the inheritance in the case of death or divorce also needs to be addressed.

Couples are advised to start exploring these issues, with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney as soon as they know an inheritance is in their future. For starters, couples should learn about the legal issues surrounding inheritances. Most states recognize inheritances as separate property. However, if funds are co-mingled in a joint account, or the deed for an inherited house is in both names, it becomes more complicated to separate out, if necessary.

Couples who decide to use an inheritance for a large purchase need to be mindful of how the purchase is structured and recorded. Writing a check directly from an account dedicated to the inherited funds and keeping records to show the withdrawal is recommended. If a check needs to be drawn from a joint or single account, the inherited funds should only be placed in the account for a short period, preferably close to the time of purchase, so it is clear the funds were transferred solely for the purpose of the particular transaction.

It would be wise to obtain a written agreement between spouses, making it clear the money was contributed with the understanding if there is a sale of the property or a divorce, inherited funds and any appreciation would be credited back to the contributing spouse.

For one couple, a $100,000 inheritance received by a man in his mid-50s with adult children and a second spouse created friction. The man wanted to set the funds aside for his children from a prior marriage, and his wife felt hurt, because she had every intention of giving the money to his children in the event of her husband’s death. She didn’t see the need to keep things separate. However, when advisors ran a series of projections showing the wife would be well cared for in the event of his death, since most of his own $1 million estate was earmarked for her, she relented. They also helped her understand if she racked up big medical bills later in her own life or creditors went after the estate, the money would be better protected by keeping it separate.

Risks come with co-mingling inheritances. It is important for couples understand how this works. Another example: a couple who expected to receive a sizable inheritance and did not save for their own retirement. Instead, they used up the wife’s inheritance for their children’s college educations. When the husband filed for divorce, the wife was left with no access to her ex-husband’s expected large inheritance and had no retirement savings.

These are not easy conversations to have. However, couples need to look past the emotions and make business-like decisions about how to preserve and protect inheritances. It’s far easier to do so while the marriage is intact, then when a divorce or other unexpected life event shifts the financial event horizon.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (Sep. 13, 2020) “When One Spouse Gets an Inheritance It Can Be Hard on a Marriage”

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