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Estate Planning Blog

Serving Clients Throughout North Central Missouri

estate planning and elder law

What Happens When Property Is Owned Jointly and an Owner Dies?

When property is owned jointly, the property may pass automatically to the other owner, passing without going through probate, according to a recent article titled “Everything you need to know about jointly owned property and wills” from TBR News Media

Your will only concerns assets in your name alone without a designated beneficiary. Let’s say you have a joint checking account with another person. On your death, the account automatically becomes the property of the surviving owner. This is outside of probate, and any directions in your will won’t apply.

Real estate is most commonly owned jointly, in several different ways and each with its own set of laws.

Joint Tenancy or Joint Tenancy with Rights of Survivorship. On the death of a joint owner, the owner’s share goes to the surviving joint owner. Simple. The main advantage is the avoidance of probate, which can be costly and take months to complete.

Tenancy by the Entirety. This type of joint ownership is only available between spouses and is not used in all states. A local estate planning attorney will be able to tell you if you have this option. As with Joint Tenancy, when the first spouse passes, their interest automatically passes to the surviving spouse outside of probate.

There are additional protections in Tenancy by the Entirety making it an attractive means of ownership. One spouse may not mortgage or sell the property without the consent of the other spouse, and the creditor of one spouse can’t place a lien or enforce a judgment against property held as tenants by the entirety.

Tenancy in Common. This form of ownership has no right of survivorship and each owner’s share of the property passes to their chosen beneficiary upon the owner’s death. Tenants in Common may have unequal interests in the property, and when one owner dies, their beneficiaries will inherit their share and become co-owners with other Tenants.

The Tenant in Common share passes the persons designated according to their will, assuming they have one. This means the decedent’s executor must “probate” the will and file a petition with the court. However, a Tenant in Common may be able to avoid probate if their share of the property is held in trust, in which case the terms of the trust and not their will controls how the property passes at death. In this case, there’s no need for any court involvement.

There may be capital gains consequences when transferring ownership interests during and after life. Such gifts should never be made without speaking with an estate planning attorney. One of the more common errors occurs when the testator fails to account for the different types of ownership and how assets pass through the will. A comprehensive estate plan, created by an experienced estate planning attorney, ensures that both probate and non-probate assets work together.

Reference: TBR News Media (Dec. 27, 2022) “Everything you need to know about jointly owned property and wills”

 

estate planning for singles

Do I Need a Spendthrift Trust?

There are situations when you want to care for your children in your will. However, you know they’d just blow their inheritance in just a few years. That’s when a spendthrift trust is useful. This type of trust has restrictions that protect immature heirs from both themselves and potential creditors.

US News’ recent article entitled “What Is a Spendthrift Trust?” explains that a spendthrift trust lets you  leave funds to a beneficiary, without giving them full control over those funds. Instead, a trustee is given the authority to distribute funds for the benefit of a beneficiary.

This type of trust is created to protect a beneficiary from squandering the wealth bequeathed to them or was left to them

Speak with an estate attorney and talk in detail about your concerns. Ask the attorney to draft this document for you.

The attorney can write into the trust certain rules, such as that an heir may be required to reach a certain age before they start receiving payments, or that the heir receives installments at certain life stages.

If you have an heir or someone you want to leave an inheritance who is immature, irresponsible, or underage, a spendthrift trust can give you some control and power over how and when the money is spent.

A spendthrift trust can also try to limit access to the funds by creditors. The objective is to keep other people from accessing the funds set aside for the beneficiary.

It’s the goal of the original trust creator to protect their beneficiary’s assets from other people. This might be a creditor or even an ex-spouse.

Note that the laws regarding spendthrift trusts vary from state to state, so work with a local estate planning attorney.

The ability of a creditor to access assets in the trust will to depend on state law. Every state has different rules regarding their respect for the spendthrift trust.

One of the critical tasks in setting up a successful spendthrift trust is the person who is named as the trustee of the funds. That person can have some discretion when distributing the funds, so it needs to be an individual you can trust over the long term. That’s why partnering with an experienced estate planning attorney who’s truly an expert in that field is so important.

Reference: US News (June 28, 2022) “What Is a Spendthrift Trust?”

 

estate planning

Some Expenses are Paid by Estate and Some by Beneficiary

Settling an estate can be complex and time-consuming—it all depends on how much “estate planning” was done. According to a recent article from yahoo! Finance titled “What Expenses Are Paid by the Estate vs. Beneficiary?,” the executor is the person who creates an inventory of assets, determines which expenses need to be paid and distributes the remainder of the estate to the deceased’s beneficiaries. How does the executor know which monies are paid by the estate and which by the beneficiaries?

First, let’s establish what kind of expenses an estate pays. The main expenses of an estate include:

Outstanding debts. The executor has to notify creditors of the decedent’s death and the creditors then may make a claim against the estate. Because a person dies doesn’t mean their debts disappear—they become the debts of the estate.

Taxes. There are many different taxes to be paid when a person dies, including estate, inheritance and income tax. The federal estate tax is not an issue, unless the estate value exceed the exemption limit of $12.92 million for 2023. Not all states have inheritance taxes, so check with a local estate planning attorney to learn if the beneficiaries will need to pay this tax. If the decedent has an outstanding property tax bill for real estate property, the estate will need to pay it to avoid a lien being placed on the property.

Fees. There are court fees to file documents including a will to start the probate process, to serve notice to creditors or record transfer of property with the local register of deeds. The executor is also entitled to collect a fee for their services.

Maintaining real estate property. If the estate includes real estate, it is likely there will be expenses for maintenance and upkeep until the property is either distributed to heirs or sold. There may also be costs involved in transporting property to heirs.

Final expenses. Unless the person has pre-paid for all of their funeral, burial, cremation, or internment costs, these are considered part of estate expenses. They are often paid out of the death benefit associated with the deceased person’s life insurance policy.

What expenses does the estate pay?

The estate pays outstanding debts, including credit cards, medical bills, or liens.

  • Appraisals needed to establish values of estate assets
  • Repairs or maintenance for real estate
  • Fees paid to professionals associated with settling the estate, including executor, estate planning attorney, accountant, or real estate agent
  • Taxes, including income tax, estate tax and property tax
  • Fees to obtain copies of death certificates

The executor must keep detailed records of any expenses paid out of estate assets. The executor is the only person entitled by law to see the decedent’s financial records. However, beneficiaries have the right to review financial estate account records.

What does the beneficiary pay?

This depends on how the estate was structured and if any special provisions are included in the person’s will or trust. Generally, expect to pay:

  • Final expenses not covered by the estate
  • Personal travel expenses
  • Legal expenses, if you decide to contest the will
  • Property maintenance or transportation costs not covered by the estate

Some of the expenses are deductible, and the executor must use IRS Form 1041 on any estate earning more than $600 in income or which has a nonresident alien as a beneficiary.

An estate planning attorney is needed to create a comprehensive estate plan addressing these and other issues in advance. If little or no planning was done before the decedent’s death, an estate planning attorney will also be an important resource in navigating through the estate’s settlement.

Reference: yahoo! finance (Dec. 29, 2022) “What Expenses Are Paid by the Estate vs. Beneficiary?”

 

estate planning and elder law

Are Testamentary Trusts a Good Idea?

Not everyone wants to leave everything to their heirs without restrictions. Some want to protect money inherited from their own parents for their children or want to keep an irresponsible child from squandering an inheritance. For people who want more control over their assets, a testamentary trust might be useful, according to the recent article “What Is a Testamentary Trust and How Do I Create One? from U.S. News & World Report. A testamentary trust can also be used to leave assets to minor children, who may not legally inherit wealth directly.

However, your estate planning attorney may have some other, better tools for you.

A testamentary trust is a trust created to hold assets created in a last will and testament. It does not become active until after a person dies and the will has been validated by probate court. Once this has happened, the trust is activated and the decedent’s assets are placed into the trust. At this point, the trustee is in charge of the trust’s management and asset distribution.

A testamentary trust is different from a living trust. The living trust, also known as a revocable trust, is created while the grantor (the person making the trust) is still living. When the person dies, the revocable living trust doesn’t go through probate and assets are distributed according to the directions in the trust.

Both testamentary and living or revocable trusts are used in estate planning. However, the living trust may have far more flexibility and be easier to manage for a very simple reason: testamentary trusts are part of the probate process, administered through probate for as long as they are in effect.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both kinds of trusts. The testamentary trust is often used to manage assets for minor children. It’s also a good tool if you’re worried about an adult child getting divorced and keeping the family money in the family. The long-term court oversight is more protective, which may be desirable, but it can also be more expensive.

The best reason for a testamentary estate? They are faster to set up.  However, after death they create more work for the remaining family members.

Your will must contain specific directions for what assets go into the testamentary trust. Assets with beneficiary designations, such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts, don’t go into any trusts, unless a trust is designated as the beneficiary of the policy or account. They are instead distributed directly to beneficiaries outside of the probate estate.

Changing or annulling a testamentary trust is relatively easy while you are living—simply update your will to reflect your new wishes.  However, once you have passed, the testamentary trust becomes irrevocable and may not be changed.

Which is best for your situation? Your estate planning attorney will evaluate these and other estate planning tools to find the best solutions to protect you and your family.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (July 14, 2022) “What Is a Testamentary Trust and How Do I Create One?

 

elder law

Do You Need a Power of Attorney?

Did you know estate planning attorneys recommend anyone over age 18 have a power of attorney? Without one, even a long-married spouse may not be able to make financial or medical decisions if their spouse became incapacitated, according to a recent article “How to Set Up a Power of Attorney” from U.S. News & World Report. Naming someone and having the documents created to make them a Power of Attorney (POA) is part of creating an estate plan.

If someone becomes incapacitated, someone else—a family member or the state—has to be able to make decisions on their behalf. People hesitate sometimes, as they’re not sure about giving someone the power to make decisions. However, lacking one leads to problems in emergent situations.

While the 18-year-olds are usually the most upset when they learn their parents wish to be named as their POA, it is because they don’t realize how mom and dad have no legal authority over them once they become legal adults.

State laws vary for powers of attorney, so it is important to work with a local estate planning attorney who can create a POA specific to your needs and following the laws of your state.

How to get started with a Power of Attorney

The first, and possibly hardest, part of a POA is determining who should be named. The individual needs to be responsible, trustworthy and calm in emergency situations. Just because someone is related to you doesn’t necessarily qualify them to serve in this role. You should also name a secondary POA, in case the first is unable or unwilling to act on your behalf.

Next, have your estate planning attorney draft the document, which typically works in connection with other estate planning documents including your will, health care proxy and HIPAA release forms. You should have a Power of Attorney for finances and a Health Care Power of Attorney for medical care.

Be careful about what happens to copies of the documents and where they are stored. Some estate planning attorneys create documents to be stored in a fire and water-proof box at home, in the safety deposit box at a bank, or in the attorney’s fireproof safe. Others say you should never put important documents in a safety deposit box in a bank, because if the documents are needed and the bank is closed, the person won’t be able to step up and act.

The POA needs to be kept up to date, just like any part of your estate plan. Some financial institutions will refuse to honor a POA if they consider it out of date. Every three to five years, this document should be updated. It should also be updated if the person named POA becomes incapacitated, dies, or moves to another state.

Should You Have a Durable Power of Attorney?

Powers of attorney typically end when a person becomes incapacitated, which is exactly when you want to have a POA. A Durable Power of Attorney can make decisions on your behalf, even if you become incapacitated.

What is a Springing Power of Attorney?

Power of attorney for finances or healthcare can be effective immediately when the documents are signed or take effect under predetermined circumstances, such as when the principal becomes incapacitated. This is known as a springing power of attorney because it “springs” into effect at a specific time. It seems like a good idea, but a word of caution: the springing power of attorney requires a doctor’s evaluation of incapacity. This often takes time, which can be the one thing you don’t have in an urgent situation.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (July 21, 2022) “How to Set Up a Power of Attorney”

 

IMS-Logo-Sig

How Do I Contest a Will?

As a beneficiary of a will, if you don’t agree with how the assets are being distributed, you may have grounds for contesting the will. MSN’s recent article entitled “Contesting a Will? You Might Not Need a Lawyer” says to do this you must have a legitimate legal reason to challenge the will, such as one of the most common arguments:

  • Lack of mental capacity. If the person making the will (the “testator”) wasn’t “of sound mind,” he or she may not understand their decisions. The testator must be able to understand what they own, who their natural heirs are and what they are giving and to whom.
  • Fraud, undue influence, or forgery. Some people are tricked into signing a will, are forced to create a will under duress, or have their signature forged.
  • Multiple wills. In this situation, the one that was made most recently is often the one that the courts will decide is valid. However, wills created immediately before death may be contested due to undue influence, lack of mental capacity, or other reasons.
  • The state requirements aren’t met. Every state has specific requirements as to what must be in a will, the way in which it’s signed and the number of witnesses required. If these elements aren’t met, then the will may not be valid.
  • Location. Some states may not recognize wills created in another state.

To contest the will, you must have legal standing, which means you must meet one of these requirements:

  • A prior will designates you as a beneficiary;
  • The current will designates you as a beneficiary;
  • You’re the beneficiary of a more recent will made after the one in question; or
  • You would be an heir if there was no will, and the state’s laws of intestacy were applied.

Your attorney will next file a petition in the state probate court where the estate is under probate. This tells the probate court and the estate that you are contesting the will. If your case is not settled, it goes to court where you’ll make your argument as to why the will should be changed. The court will decide the outcome of your case.

A way to keep family members  from fighting over an estate is add a no-contest clause into the will. This disinherits anyone who challenges a will, if their challenge fails. In order words, if you don’t win your challenge, you get nothing from the estate.

Reference: MSN (May 30, 2022) “Contesting a Will? You Might Not Need a Lawyer”

 

elder care

What’s the Difference between a Living Will and a DNR Order?

A living will and a Do Not Resuscitate Order, known as a DNR, are very different documents. However, many people confuse the two. They both address end of life issues and are used in different settings, according to the article “One Senior Place: Know the difference between ‘living will’ and ‘do not resuscitate’” from Florida Today.

What is a Living Will?

A living will is a written statement describing a person’s wishes about receiving life-sustaining medical treatment in case of a terminal illness if they are near death or in a persistent vegetative state. This includes choices such as whether to continue the use of artificial respiration, a feeding tube and other highly intensive means of keeping a person alive.

The living will is used to make your wishes clear to loved ones and to physicians. It is prepared by an estate planning elder care attorney, often when having an estate plan created or updated. To ensure it is valid and the instructions can be carried out, be sure to have this document created properly.

What is a DNR?

A DNR is a medical directive used to convey wishes to not be resuscitated in the event of respiratory or cardiac arrest. This document needs to be signed by both the patient and their treating physician. It’s often printed on brightly colored paper, so it can be easily found in an emergency.

The DNR should be placed in a location where it can be easily and quickly found. In nursing homes, this is typically at the head or foot of the bed. At home, it’s often posted on the refrigerator.

The DNR needs to be immediately available to ensure that the patient’s last wishes are honored.

A key mistake made by well-meaning family members is to have the DNR with someone else, rather than at home or at the bedside of the patient. If the DNR cannot be found and emergency medical responders arrive on scene, they are legally bound to provide CPR or other medical care to revive the patient.

When the DNR is available, the emergency responders generally will not initiate CPR if they find the patient in cardiopulmonary arrest or respiratory arrest. They may instead provide comfort care, including administering oxygen and pain management.

If a person is admitted to the hospital, their living will is placed on the chart. Depending on the state’s laws, a certain number of physicians must agree the patient is in a persistent vegetative state or has an end-state condition and can no longer communicate. At that point, the terms of the living will are followed.

In addition to having these documents created with your estate plan, make sure that family members know where they can be found.

Reference: Florida Today (July 19, 2022) “One Senior Place: Know the difference between ‘living will’ and ‘do not resuscitate’”

 

estate planning help

Who Inherited Chadwick Boseman’s Estate?

Nearly 70% of Americans still don’t have a will or living trust in place, despite all the events of the past few years, according to a survey from Caring.com published in 2022. Even more revealing, 16% don’t think they need a will by age 45. They’re making a grave mistake, for more than a few reasons.

A recent article from NBC News titled “What happened to Chadwick Boseman’s $2.3 million estate is an exception, not the rule” looks at a few different reasons why wills, trusts and estate planning in general are so important for families.

Chadwick Boseman, known for his roles in Marvel’s “Black Panther,” “42,” and other award-winning movies, knew he was very sick for many years, yet he did not have a will created. Boseman was only 43 when he died in 2020. A Gallup poll from 2021 indicated only 36% of Americans between ages 30—49 had a will detailing how they want their assets distributed after death.

When a loved one dies without a will, many families become embroiled in battles lasting years, fracturing families and breaking more than a few hearts along the way. The fights aren’t always about big money either. Even small estates can engender family feuds.

Boseman’s family is the rare exception. His widow Taylor Simone Ledward asked the court to divide his estate evenly between herself and his parents. Compared to other entertainers—Prince is a powerful example of how badly things can go—this is a relatively happy ending.

However, the Boseman case is not without significant lessons.

First, Boseman kept his private life very private. He dated Taylor Simone Ledward for years, with little of the fanfare that accompanies most Hollywood romances. He was also ill with colon cancer for several years, and few people outside of his family knew he was sick.

However, because of the lack of planning, we know a lot more about Boseman than we would if he had an estate plan. His documents became part of the public record. We know his widow had to petition the court to be named as his administrator with limited authority over his estate and filed a probate case in Los Angeles.

We also know Boseman’s estate had to pay higher court fees because there was no will, reducing his estate from $3.8 million to $2.5 million. It’s always more expensive not to have a will than to have a will.

Dying without a will means the laws of the state determine how the estate’s assets are distributed. If parents die without a will, the court will determine who will raise the couple’s children by naming a guardian. Without a will, heirs will also be forced to devote time, money and emotional energy to settle the estate.

Taking the time to have an estate plan prepared with an experienced estate planning attorney is an act of love for those you care about. It preserves your privacy, minimizes costs and allows loved ones to focus on what truly matters.

Reference: NBC News (July 1, 2022) “What happened to Chadwick Boseman’s $2.3 million estate is an exception, not the rule”

 

estate planning for singles

Who Should Be Your Executor?

While the executor is usually a spouse or close family member, you can name anyone you wish to be your executor. A bank, estate planning attorney, or professional trustee at a trust company may also serve as the executor, according to a recent article from Twin Cities-Pioneer Press titled “Your Money: What you need to know about naming an executor.”

Regardless of who you select, the person has a legal duty to be honest, impartial, financially responsible and to put your interests ahead of their own. This person and one or two backup candidates should be named in your will, just in case the primary executor declines or is unable to serve.

How does someone become an executor? When your will is entered into probate, the court checks to be sure the person you name meets all of your state’s legal requirements. Once the court approves (and usually the court does), then their role is official and you executor can get to work.

The executor has many responsibilities. You can help your executor do a better job by making sure that financial and personal business documents are organized and readily available. Here are some, but not all, of the executor’s tasks:

  • Making an inventory of all assets and liabilities
  • Giving notice to creditors: credit card companies, banks, mortgage companies, etc.
  • Filing a final personal tax return and filing the estate tax return
  • Paying any debts and taxes
  • Distributing assets according to the directions in the will and in compliance with state law
  • Preparing and submitting a detailed report to the court of how the estate was settled

If there is no will, or if no executor is named in the will, or if the executor can’t serve, the court will appoint a professional administrator to settle your estate. It won’t be someone you know. Your family may not like all of the decisions made on your behalf, but there won’t be any options available.

Does an executor get paid? A family member may or may not wish to be paid. However, given how much time it takes to settle an estate, you might feel it’s fair for them to be compensated. The amount varies depending on where you live, but you can leave the person between 1% to 8% of your total estate. A professional administrator will likely cost considerably more.

How do you document your estate to help out the executor? If you think this task is too onerous, imagine how a family member will feel if they have to conduct a scavenger hunt to identify assets and debts. If a professional administrator ends up doing this work, it will take a bigger bite out of your estate and leave loved ones with a smaller inheritance.

Start by making a list of all of your assets and liabilities, plus a list of all advisors who help with the business side of your life. Recent tax returns will be helpful, as will contact information for your estate planning attorney, CPA and financial advisor. You should include retirement accounts, life insurance policies and any assets without beneficiary designations.

Reference: Twin Cities-Pioneer Press (June 25, 2022) “Your Money: What you need to know about naming an executor”

 

Caring-Hands

What Should I Know About Buying Funeral Services?

People usually don’t buy funeral services frequently, so they’re unfamiliar with the process. Add to this the fact that they’re typically bereaved and stressed, which can affect decision-making, explains Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, an advocacy group. In addition, people tend to associate their love for the dead person with the amount of money they spend on the funeral, says The Seattle Times’ recent article entitled “When shopping for funeral services, be wary.”

“Grieving people really are the perfect customer to upsell,” Slocum said.

The digital age has also made it easier to contact grieving customers. Federal authorities recently charged the operator of two online cremation brokerages of fraud. The operator misled clients and even withheld remains to force bereaved families to pay inflated prices.

The Justice Department, on behalf of the Federal Trade Commission, sued Funeral & Cremation Group of North America and Legacy Cremation Services, which operates under several names and the companies’ principal, Anthony Joseph Damiano. The companies, according to a civil complaint, sell their funeral services through the websites Legacy Cremation Services and Heritage Cremation Provider.

These companies pretend to be local funeral homes offering low-cost cremation services. Their websites use search engines that make it look like consumers are dealing with a nearby business. However, they really act as middlemen, offering services and setting prices with customers, then arranging with unaffiliated funeral homes to perform cremations.

The lawsuit complaint says these companies offered lower prices for cremation services than they ultimately required customers to pay and arranged services at locations that were farther than advertised, forcing customers to travel long distances for viewings and to obtain remains.

“In some instances when consumers contest defendants’ charges,” the complaint said, the companies “threaten not to return or actually refuse to return” remains until customers pay up.

Mr. Slocum of the Funeral Consumers Alliance recommends contacting several providers — in advance, if possible, so you can look at the options without pressure. And ask for the location of the cremation center and request a visit. Also note that cremation sites in the U.S. are frequently not located in the same place as the funeral home and may not be designed for consumer tours.

Note that the FTC’s Funeral Rule predates the internet and doesn’t require online price disclosure. Likewise, most states don’t require this either.

Last year during the pandemic, the government issued a warning about fraud related to the funeral benefits. They said FEMA had reports of people receiving calls from strangers offering to help them “register” for benefits.

Reference: Seattle Times (May 15, 2022) “When shopping for funeral services, be wary”