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Estate Planning Blog

Serving Clients Throughout North Central Missouri

Retirement Planning

When Should I Update My Estate Plan?

Estate planning documents, including wills, trusts, power of attorney and related documents, are designed to reflect life, which inevitably includes a steady stream of changes. Tax laws change, as do families and relationships. A recent article from The Press-Enterprise titled “Avoid probate and audit an estate plan regularly” recommends a review with your estate planning attorney every three to five years. A lot happens in three to five years, including national elections and federal tax legislation.

Start by considering the people you have named to serve after you are incapacitated or after death, including your executor, guardian for minor children, trustee, power of attorney, healthcare proxy and successor trustee. Do you still want those people in their respective roles? Are they still willing to act on your behalf? If they have moved away or have died, you will need to identify new people and update your estate plan.

Has your estate plan stayed current? Some attorneys take a walk down memory lane when they review estate plans, as planning strategies change over the years, reflecting tax laws and social expectations. An old trust might have a provision requiring a division of the trust into two shares at the first spouse’s death. This was done so both spouses’ estate tax exemptions were used. However, the law changed in 2011 and now the surviving spouse automatically preserves the deceased spouses’ estate tax exemption for later use. Dividing the assets into two separate trusts is no longer necessary.

Depending upon your situation, there may be reasons to retain this or other out-of-date provisions.  However, you will not know until you review the documents with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Do your trusts accomplish your current goals? If your trusts were created to protect a spendthrift heir who has now become a model fiscal citizen, you may want to make changes. If you have left your assets outright to beneficiaries and one has entered into a questionable marriage, it is time to protect your beneficiary by having a trust created.

Beneficiary designations should be reviewed every time an estate plan is reviewed. It is likely that you own several assets controlled by beneficiary designations. These may include annuities, life insurance, IRAs, Roth IRAs, investment accounts and many other assets. The beneficiary designation always supersedes the will. Estate planning attorneys, insurance agents and financial advisers see this go wrong all the time.

No matter what your will says, if the name on the beneficiary designation is alive, they will receive the asset. It does not matter if you have not spoken to them in twenty years, or the divorce was ten years ago. This issue is not just about keeping your ex’s hands out of your estate. Here is a good example: a spouse names a now-deceased husband as the beneficiary of an IRA. No contingent beneficiary was named, and no new beneficiary form was updated after the husband died. When the second spouse dies, the default beneficiary of the IRA, worth around $500,000, is the estate. Instead of being distributed directly to a beneficiary, the funds are now part of the probate estate. The IRA will end up in the living trust through a pour-over will stating “I leave everything to my trust.” A simple update could have avoided legal fees, executor fees and delays.

Your estate plan is only as good as its last review. Getting comfortable with the concept of reviewing it every three to five years will protect your goals and your family.

Reference: The Press-Enterprise (Feb. 6, 2022) “Avoid probate and audit an estate plan regularly”

 

estate planning

How Do I Talk to My Parents About Estate Planning?

Failing to draft an estate plan can mean a pair of obstacles when a parent dies. First, it can leave you scrambling to unravel their financial picture while trying to grieve. Second, it can be expensive.

MarketWatch’s recent article entitled “It’s easy to put it off, but here’s why you should talk to your parents about estate planning, and how to start the conversation” says that a wise way to avoid both scenarios is to begin talking with your parents about estate planning. While this can sound like a job just for the uber-rich, it is really an essential process that ensures clear directives exist for all sorts of situations that accompany the end of life.

An estate plan is a chance to set mindful intentions about life’s inevitabilities.  It is, therefore, a great idea to ask your parents to take account of their assets and belongings. This is not just about the numbers and paperwork—it is a chance to gauge preparedness.

Start by asking your parent(s) the following:

  • Who do you want as your primary caregiver?
  • How will we pay for health care expenses?
  • What are your medical care preferences?
  • Which of us should make medical decisions on your behalf?
  • How should we handle your property when you die?
  • Do you have any valuable items that you want to be handled in a special way?
  • Where are your most important documents and do we have access to all of your digital records?

Inheritance often require probate. However, if the right legal documents are in place, it can be a relatively quick and painless process. When someone dies intestate (without a will), it can sticky and get tricky. Understand that the state has its own rules for dying without a will. Depending on the situation, you might need to hire a probate attorney because there will be legal proceedings. Therefore, make certain that your parents have a will and that beneficiaries are clearly stated in all policies and documents. It is a preventative measure that can pay dividends.

Remember that when wealth is transferred (or assets are passed from one person to another), taxes are often inevitable. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to minimize liability.

Reference: MarketWatch (Dec. 29, 2021) “It’s easy to put it off, but here’s why you should talk to your parents about estate planning, and how to start the conversation”

 

personal injury

How Do I Protect Myself and My Children in a Second Marriage?

In first marriages, working together to raise children can solidify a marriage. However, in a second marriage, the adult children are in a different position altogether. If important estate planning issues are not addressed, the relationship between the siblings and the new spouses can have serious consequences, according to a recent article titled “Into the Breach; Getting Married Again?” from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Chief among the issues center on inheritances and financial matters, especially if one of the parties has the bulk of the income and the assets. How will the household expenses be shared? Should they be divided equally, even if one spouse has a significantly higher income than the other?

Other concerns involve real estate. If both parties own their own homes, in which house will they live? Will the other home be used for rental income or sold? Will both names be on the title for the primary residence?

Planning for incapacity also becomes more complex. If a 90-year-old man marries a 79-year-old woman, will his children or his spouse be named as agents (i.e., attorneys in fact) under his Power of Attorney if he is incapacitated? Who will make healthcare decisions for the 79-year-old spouse—her children or her 90-year-old husband?

There are so many different situations and family dynamics to consider. Will a stepdaughter end up making the decision to withdraw artificial feeding for an elderly stepmother, if the stepmother’s own children cannot be reached in a timely manner? If stepsiblings do not get along and critical decisions need to be made, can they set aside their differences to act in their collective parent’s best interests?

The matter of inheritances for second and subsequent marriages often becomes the pivot point for family discord. If the family has not had an estate plan created with an experienced estate planning attorney who understands the complexities of multiple marriages, then the battles between stepchildren can become nasty and expensive.

Do not discount the impact of the spouses of adult children. If you have a stepchild whose partner feels they have been wronged by the parent, they could bring a world of trouble to an otherwise amicable group.

The attorney may recommend the use of trusts to ensure the assets of the first spouse to die eventually make their way to their own children, while ensuring the surviving spouse has income during their lifetime. There are several trusts designed to accomplish this exact scenario, including one known as SLAT—Spousal Lifetime Access Trust.

Discussions about health care proxies and power of attorney should take place well before they are needed. Ideally, all members of the family can gather peacefully for discussions while their parents are living, to avoid surprises. If the relationships are rocky, a group discussion may not be possible and parents and adult children may need to meet for one-on-one discussions. However, the conversations still need to take place.

Second marriages at any age and stage need to have a prenuptial and an estate plan in place before the couple walks down the aisle to say, “I do…again.”

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (March 1, 2022) “Into the Breach; Getting Married Again?”

 

IMS-Logo-Sig

Cryptocurrency and Estate Planning: What Executors Need to Know

Millennials are not the only ones investing in cryptocurrency. In a recent article titled “Help! My dad is investing in cryptocurrency” from Monterey Herald, a woman is worried about her elderly father investing in this new type of money. She is concerned for both his financial well-being and for what she may have to address when it is time to distribute his estate to her siblings.

Crypto, or cryptocurrency, is more than a passing fad. It has become an alternative purchasing and investment tool, with more than 8,000 different types of crypto available, representing billions in assets. You can use crypto to buy a Tesla automobile, an airplane or real estate. Regulations have recently been issued to permit banks to take custody of digital currency. One credit card company is even developing a card to allow consumers to spend digital cash using a credit or debit card.

Perhaps the ultimate recognition of this new currency comes from the IRS, which now requires owners to report income and capital gains earned on the sale of crypto and assess taxes on it, the same as other traditional types of investments.

As the executor of her father’s will, the woman mentioned above will be responsible for distributing her father’s entire estate, including the cryptocurrency. As a fiduciary, she will have to learn what it is and how to manage it.

When people buy crypto, they receive a digital key. This is usually a string of numbers, symbols and letters representing the asset on a secure ledger. The key cannot be replaced, and if it is lost, so are the crypto holdings. There are many different ways to store this key, so the daughter needs to know where the key is stored and how to access it.

The best way forward would be for the daughter to spend time with her father learning about cryptocurrency, what types he owns and how they are secured. Their conversation should also address his wishes for the investment. Does he want his grandchildren to receive it as crypto, or would he prefer to liquidate it before he dies and place it in a trust? Does he want her to liquidate it after he dies, and have it become part of his estate?

When it is time to settle the estate, if the crypto has not been liquidated into cash, she will need to value the assets at his date of death, like any other investment and may either sell the currency or distribute it to his beneficiaries. If the estate is valued at more than $12.06 million, federal estate taxes will need to be paid on all assets, including the cryptocurrency. There may also be state estate taxes due.

She should also speak with an estate planning attorney about cryptocurrency, and also read his will to learn if the cryptocurrency is included. If he does not have a will or an estate plan, now is the time to make an appointment with an estate planning attorney and get that in order.

Being an executor used to require learning about possessions like art or jewelry collections or fine rugs. Today, the executor needs to add a cryptocurrency education to their task list.

Reference: Monterey Herald (Feb. 19, 2022) “Help! My dad is investing in cryptocurrency”

 

Extended-Family

How Can I Obtain a Power of Attorney for My Dad?

Tyron Daily Bulletin’s recent article entitled “How to get power of attorney for a loved one” says the person granting you that power, known as the “principal,” must designate you as the agent (also known as attorney in fact) to have the powers specified in the POA document. it must be signed by the principal while he or she is sound of mind.

Talk to an elder law attorney so understand what your state laws say about powers of attorney. Note that you cannot get a POA if someone is already incapacitated because the principal of the POA must be able to sufficiently comprehend what a POA document represents and the effects of signing it. He or she must clearly communicate their intentions.

The agent of a POA must always act in the best interests of the principal. This can include managing the principal’s financial interests or overseeing the principal’s healthcare and may make decisions about their care and treatment.

There are several things as POA that you cannot do:

  • Create a contract to get paid for personal services provided to the principal
  • Vote in place of the principal
  • Create or alter the principal’s will
  • Designate another as the agent on behalf of the principal; and
  • Do anything that is not in the principal’s best interests.

Even if the principal is in good health now, it is smart to plan for potential challenges. You never know when an injury or illness may take away that person’s capacity to manage finances or make important decisions about medical care. The most opportune time to start considering power of attorney is before a parent or loved one requires any caregiving.

Talk with an elder law attorney about establishing a POA. Remember, the principal must be part of the conversation and cannot be mentally incapacitated.

Reference: Tyron Daily Bulletin (March 7, 2022) “How to get power of attorney for a loved one”

 

Approaching Retirement

What are Penalties When Contributing to or Withdrawing From Retirement Accounts?

Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “3 Tax Penalties That Can Ding Your Retirement Accounts” reviews some penalties to avoid when contributing to or withdrawing from retirement accounts.

Excess IRA Contribution Penalty. Building a large amount of retirement savings is a super goal. However, contributing too much to an IRA can cost you. It is possible to commit this offense by (i) contributing an amount of money that exceeds the applicable annual contribution limit for your IRA; or (ii) improperly rolling over money into an IRA.

What happens if you get a little too eager to build a nest egg and make one of these mistakes? The IRS says that excess contributions are taxed at 6% per year provided the excess amounts remain in the IRA. The tax cannot be more than 6% of the combined value of all your IRAs as of the end of the tax year.

The IRS offers a remedy to fix your mistake before any penalties will be applied: you must withdraw the excess contributions — and any income earned on those contributions — by the due date of your federal income tax return for that year. Therefore, if you contributed too much to an IRA for 2021, you have until April 18, 2022, to withdraw the excess and thus avoid a penalty.

Early Withdrawal Penalty. Taking money out too soon from a retirement account is another potentially big error. If you withdraw cash from your IRA before the age of 59½, you might be subject to paying income taxes on the money, plus an additional 10% penalty. The IRS says, however, that there are several scenarios in which you are allowed to take early IRA withdrawals without penalties. For example, if you lose a job, you are allowed to tap your IRA early to pay for health insurance premiums.

The same penalties apply to early withdrawals from retirement plans like 401(k)s. However, there are again exceptions to the rule that allow you to make early withdrawals without penalty.  The exceptions that let you to make early retirement plan withdrawals without penalty sometimes differ from the exceptions that allow you to make early IRA withdrawals without penalty.

Missed RMD Penalty. Retirement plans are neat because they let you to defer paying taxes on your contributions and income gains for decades. However, the IRS is eventually going to want its share of that cash. Taxpayers were previously obligated to take required minimum distributions — also known as RMDs — from most types of retirement accounts beginning the year they turn 70½. However, the Secure Act of 2019 raised that age to 72. The consequences of failing to make these mandatory withdrawals still apply. If you do not take your RMDs starting the year you turn 72, you face harsh penalties, and you may have to pay a 50% excise tax on the amount not distributed as required.

Remember that the RMD rules do not apply to Roth IRAs. You can leave money in your Roth IRA indefinitely, but another part of the Secure Act says your heirs have to be careful if they inherit your Roth IRA.

Reference: Money Talks News (March 1, 2022) “3 Tax Penalties That Can Ding Your Retirement Accounts”

 

personal injury

Why Is Estate Planning Review Important?

Maybe your estate plan was created when you were single, and there have been some significant changes in your life. Perhaps you got married or divorced.

You also may now be on better terms with children with whom you were once estranged.

Tax and estate laws can also change over time, requiring further updates to your planning documents.

WMUR’s recent article entitled “The ‘final’ estate-planning step” reminds us that change is a constant thing. With that in mind, here are some key indicators that a review is in order.

  • The value of your estate has changed dramatically
  • You or your spouse changed jobs
  • Changes to your income level or income needs
  • You are retiring and no longer working
  • There is a divorce or marriage in your family
  • There is a new child or grandchild
  • There is a death in the family
  • You (or a close family member) have become ill or incapacitated
  • Your parents have become dependent on you
  • You have formed, purchased, or sold a business;
  • You make significant financial transactions, such as substantial gifts, borrowing or lending money, or purchasing, leasing, or selling assets or investments
  • You have moved
  • You have purchased a vacation home or other property in another state
  • A designated trustee, executor, or guardian dies or changes his or her mind about serving; and
  • You are making changes in your insurance coverage.

Reference: WMUR (Feb. 3, 2022) “The ‘final’ estate-planning step”

 

OLoughlin Office

When Can Estate Assets Be Distributed?

Just as an individual pays taxes, so do estates. An estate is required to file an annual income tax return for each calendar year it is open, even if only for part of the year. This is in addition to the estate tax return and the decedent’s final tax return, explains a recent article “The Dangers Of Distributing Estate Assets Too Soon” from Forbes.

The estate tax return is based on the assets in the estate, the income received and deductible expenses paid during the calendar year. Only one estate tax return is required. However, as long as the estate is open, an annual estate income tax return needs to be filed.

To minimize income, many executors distribute income to beneficiaries shortly after it comes into the estate. The estate takes a deduction for the income distributed to beneficiaries in the same year it is received by the estate. Beneficiaries are required to include the distribution in their gross income.

However, if the estate does not distribute income before the end of the year, the estate will owe income taxes. There are further complexities to be aware of, including what happens if an executor receives unexpected income or does not know the tax impact of certain transactions. The estate has to pay taxes, but what happens if all assets have been distributed?

The estate still owes those taxes.

The executor may be personally liable for paying the taxes.

If some of the expenses the estate pays are not deductible, but the executor thinks they are, then the estate will have an income tax liability, possibly without the cash to pay it.

The estate often receives property taxable as income if it is not distributed to beneficiaries, like a stock dividend. The estate receives the stock, and its taxable income based on the value at the date of the distribution.

If the estate does not distribute the stock to beneficiaries until later in the year and the stock’s value declines, the estate is still required to recognize the income equal to the stock’s value on the date it was received. If the executor deducts the lower value of the stock, then the estate will be liable for the income tax on the difference.

In some cases, these kinds of issues can be prevented by maintaining a certain level of cash in the estate account until the final estate tax return is filed. The beneficiaries receive distributions once all of the taxes—estate income, estate and final individual or final joint—are paid.

For larger or more complex estates, it is wise to have a tax discussion with the estate planning attorney, the family CPA and the executor, so all parties are prepared for tax liabilities in advance.

Reference: Forbes (Feb. 16, 2022) “The Dangers Of Distributing Estate Assets Too Soon”

 

estate planning and elder law

What Happens when Bitcoin Holders Die?

If you have $10 in a cryptocurrency wallet or $1 million stashed offline in cold storage, you need a plan to help your next of kin gain access when you die, especially if heirs are not familiar with the brave new world of digital money. That’s the no-nonsense message from a recent article titled “What Happens to Your Crypto When You Die? Make a Plan, Or Lose Your Investments Forever” from Next Advisor. It is estimated that early buyers of cryptocurrency have already lost millions or billions because they died without a succession plan or lost their wallet keys and were not able to access their accounts.

Cryptocurrency is not small change today. It is here to stay.

If you own cryptocurrency, you need to incorporate it into your estate plan. Crypto estate planning is a balance between keeping the assets secure and accessible at the same time. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are decentralized, meaning they are not issued by any country’s central banking authority. Unless another person has the right information to access the account, the assets will be gone permanently when you die. There is no paper trail and no 800-number to call.

The first step is to set up proper storage for the crypto and any other digital assets, like NFTs (non-fungible tokens) under a number of layers of security. You will need to set up tiered back-up accounts to store these assets, with varying layers of security.

If you buy and sell crypto on an exchange, loved ones may be able to access the exchange by signing into the company’s portal, similar to ones commonly used for banking, accounting, or financial investments. They need to know your password and username and will probably need access to your cell phone and email to receive a two-step verification code.

However, if you have significant sums of cryptocurrencies, you will need a more secure back-up option, which will be harder for executors to access. You will need to give your executor a crypto education as well as an estate plan.

There are centralized crypto exchanges, like Coinbase. There are hot wallets, also known as mobile wallets, that are not on a centralized platform and require a 12 or 24 word secret seed phrase to gain access. There’s also cold storage, which works like a digital safe via a USB drive. A 12 or 24 word secret seed phrase is also needed to recover or backup account information.

Your plan to pass these assets to the executor includes a physical copy of security phrases and a physical fireproof, waterproof lock box. Secure your cold storage hardware wallet—a private wallet key with a 12 or 24 word secret seed phrase—in the lockbox and make sure your executor knows the location of the safe and how to access it. Then, in one or preferably more than one separate location, store physical documents describing each digital wallet.

Describe each wallet in detail: is it an exchange, mobile wallet, or hardware wallet? Include all of the security keys, seed phrases, usernames, password information with instructions for each, including cell phone codes for the mobile wallets on your phone. Do not store anything on the internet.

You will likely need to educate family members about how crypto and other digital assets work.  They may not be comfortable with this new kind of asset. An alternative is to liquidate digital currency into more traditional assets, by transferring the crypto from the wallet into a centralized exchange, then selling it for U.S. dollars. There will be taxes due, since the IRS recognizes selling crypto as selling assets.

Reference: Next Advisor (Feb. 17, 2022) “What Happens to Your Crypto When You Die? Make a Plan, Or Lose Your Investments Forever”

 

estate planning

Can Grandchildren Receive Inheritances?

Wanting to take care of the youngest and most vulnerable members of our families is a loving gesture from grandparents. However, minor children are not legally allowed to own property.  With the right strategies and tools, your estate plan can include grandchildren, says a recent article titled “Elder Care: How to provide for your youngest heirs” from the Longview News-Journal.

If a beneficiary designation on a will, insurance policy or other account lists the name of a minor child, your estate will take longer to settle. A person will need to be named as a guardian of the estate of the minor child, which takes time. The guardian may not be the child’s parent.

The parent of a minor child may not invest and grow any funds, which in some states are required to be deposited in a federally insured account. Periodic reports must be submitted to the court, and audits will need to be done annually. Guardianship requires extensive reporting and any monies spent must be accounted for.

When the child becomes of legal age, usually 18, the entire amount is then distributed to the child. Few children are mature enough at age 18, even though they think they are, to manage large sums of money. Neither the guardian nor the parent nor the court has any say in what happens to the funds after they are transferred to the child.

There are many other ways to transfer assets to a minor child to provide more control over how the money is managed and how and when it is distributed.

One option is to leave it to the child’s parent. This takes out the issue of court involvement but may has a few drawbacks: the parent has full control of the asset, with no obligation for it to be set aside for the child’s needs. If the parents divorce or have debt, the money is not protected.

Many states have Uniform Transfers to Minors Accounts. In Pennsylvania, it is PUTMA, in New York, UTMA and in California, CUTMA. Gifts placed in these accounts are held in custodianship until the child reaches 18 (or 21, depending on state law) and the custodian has a duty to manage the property prudently. Some states have limits on the amount in the accounts, and if the designated custodian passes away before the child reaches legal age, court proceedings may be necessary to name a new custodian. A creditor could file a petition with the court if there is a debt.

For most people, a trust is the best option for placing funds aside for a minor child. The trust can be established during the grandparent’s lifetime or through a testamentary trust after probate of their will is complete. The trust contains directions as to how the money is to be spent: higher education, summer camp, etc. A trustee is named to manage the trust, which may or may not be a parent. If a parent is named trustee, it is important to ensure that they follow the directions of the trust and do not use the property as if it were their own.

A trust allows the assets to be restricted until a child reaches an age of maturity, setting up distributions for a portion of the account at staggered ages, or maintaining the trust with limited distributions throughout their lives. A trust is better to protect the assets from creditors, more so than any other method.

A trust for a grandchild can be designed to anticipate the possibility of the child becoming disabled, in which case government benefits would be at risk in the event of a lump sum payment.

There are many options for leaving money to a minor, depending upon the family’s circumstances. In all cases, a conversation with an experienced estate planning attorney will help to ensure any type of gift is protected and works with the rest of the estate plan.

Reference: Longview News-Journal (Feb. 25, 2022) “Elder Care: How to provide for your youngest heirs”