Estate Planning Blog

Big Eight: Retirement Mistakes to Avoid

“You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.” George Bernard Shaw

“Living each day as if it were your last doesn’t mean your last day of retirement on a remote island. It means to live fully, authentically and spontaneously with nothing being held back.” Jack Canfield

During our working lives, we have a cash flow called a “paycheck” that we rely on. A similar cash flow occurs when we retire and start the process of “deaccumulation” or creating income streams from sources that include our retirement funds. However, generating enough income to enjoy a comfortable retirement requires managing that cash flow successfully, says CNBC.com in the article “Here are 8 costly retirement mistakes to avoid.”

Preparing for the risk of a bear market. If markets take a nosedive the year you retire and you stick with your plan to withdraw four percent from your portfolio, your plan is no longer sustainable. Better: have an emergency fund in place, so you don’t have to tap investment accounts until the market recovers.

Investing with inflation in mind. We have been in such a low inflation environment for so long, that many have forgotten how devastating this can be to retirement portfolios. You may want to have some of your money in the market, so you can continue to get rates above any inflation. If inflation runs about 3.5% annually, a moderate portfolio returning 6% or 7% keeps up with inflation, even after withdrawals.

What about interest rates and inadequate returns on safer investments? This is a tricky one, requiring a balance between each person’s comfort zone and the need to grow investments. Current fixed-income returns lag behind historical performance. Some experts recommend that their clients look into high-dividend stocks, as an alternative to bond yields.

Be ready for longevity. Worries about outliving retirement savings are due to a longer overall life expectancy. There’s a good chance that many people alive today, will make it to 95.  One strong tactic is to delay taking Social Security benefits until age 70, to maximize the monthly benefit.

NOT to dump stocks in a temporary downturn. Without strong stomachs and wise counsel, individual investors have a long history of dumping stocks when markets turn down, amplifying losses. We are emotional about our money, which is the worst way to invest. Try working with a financial advisor to remove the emotion from your investments.

Don’t withdraw too much too soon. It looks like a lot of money, doesn’t it? However, even 4% may be too much to take out from your investments and retirement accounts. It all depends upon what other sources of income you have and how markets perform. Be careful, unless going back to work in your seventies is on your bucket list.

Prepare for cognitive decline. This is way harder to conceive of than inflationary risks, but it becomes a real risk as we age. Even a modest level of age-related cognitive impairment, can make managing investments a challenge. Have a discussion with family members, your estate planning attorney and a financial advisor about deciding who will manage your investments, when you are no longer able.

Are you ready for health care costs? If at all possible, wait until 65 to retire, so you will be eligible for Medicare. Even when you have this coverage in place, there may still be considerable expenses that are not covered by Medicare. If you don’t have long-term care insurance, get it as soon as possible. In the event you are not qualified plan to qualify for medicaid to assist with long term care costs.

Reference: CNBC.com (March 5, 2019) “Here are 8 costly retirement mistakes to avoid.”

 

What Happens to Social Security when Your Spouse Dies?

The United States Social Security Administration is an independent agency of the U.S. federal government that administers Social Security, a social insurance program consisting of retirement, disability, and survivors’ benefits. Wikipedia

If a movie is really working, you forget for two hours your Social Security number and where your car is parked. You are having a vicarious experience. You are identifying, in one way or another, with the people on the screen. Roger Ebert

Millie is right to be concerned. She is worried about what will happen with their Social Security checks, who she needs to notify at their bank, how to obtain death certificates and how complicated it will be for her to obtain widow’s benefits. Many answers are provided in the article “Social Security and You: What to do when a loved one dies” from Tuscon.com.

First, what happens to the Social Security monthly benefits? Social Security benefits are always one month behind. The check you receive in March, for example, is the benefit payment for February.

Second, Social Security benefits are not prorated. If you took benefits at age 66, and then turned 66 on September 28, you would get a check for the whole month of September, even though you were only 66 for three days of the month.

If your spouse dies on January 28, you would not be due the proceeds of that January Social Security check, even though he or she was alive for 28 days of the month.

Therefore, when a spouse dies, the monies for that month might have to be returned. The computer-matching systems linking the government agencies and banks may make this unnecessary, if the benefits are not issued. Or, if the benefits were issued, the Treasury Department may simply interrupt the payment and return it to the government, before it reaches a bank account.

There may be a twist, depending upon the date of the decedent’s passing. Let’s say that Henry dies on April 3. Because he lived throughout the entire month of March, that means the benefits for March are due, and that is paid in April. Once again, it depends upon the date and it is likely that even if the check is not issued or sent back, it will eventually be reissued. More on that later.

Obtaining death certificates is usually handled by the funeral director, or the city, county or state bureaus of vital statistics. You will need more than one original death certificate for use with banks, investments, etc. The Social Security office may or may not need one, as they may receive proof of death from other sources, including the funeral home.

A claim for widow’s or widower’s benefits must be made in person. You can call the Social Security Administrator’s 800 number or contact your local Social Security office to make an appointment. What you need to do, will depend upon the kind of benefits you had received before your spouse died.

If you had only received a spousal benefit as a non-working spouse and you are over full retirement age, then you receive whatever your spouse was receiving at the time of his or her death. If you were getting your own retirement benefits, then you have to file for widow’s benefits. It’s not too complicated, but you’ll need a copy of your marriage certificate.

Widow’s benefits will begin effective on the month of your spouse’s death. If your spouse dies on June 28, then you will be due widow’s benefits for the entire month of June, even if you were only a widow for three days of the month. Following the example above, where the proceeds of a check were withdrawn, those proceeds will be sent to your account. Finally, no matter what type of claim you file, you will also receive a one-time $255 death benefit.

Reference: Tuscon.com (March 13, 2019) “Social Security and You: What to do when a loved one dies”

 

What is an Advance Directive and Do I Need One?

“The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”  Voltaire

“Once a patient goes brain dead and relatives sign his organ donation consent form, he will get the best medical treatment of his life. A hospital code blue may be a call for doctors to rush to the bedside of a beating heart cadaver who needs his or her heart defibrillated.”  Dick Teresi, The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers–How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death

As an agent appointed by a Health Care Proxy, you will have the right to make the following types of decisions: Choices about medical care, including medical tests, medicine, or surgery. …

These are difficult questions to think about. However, they are very important, as every estate planning attorney knows. Should you ever become unable to speak for yourself, reports the Enid News & Eagle in the article “Veteran Connection: What you should know about advance directives,” there is a way to make a plan, so your wishes are known to another person or persons and by legally conveying them in advance, making sure you have a say, even when you don’t have a voice.

The advance directive helps family members and your doctors understand your wishes about medical care. The wishes you express through these two documents described below, require reflection on values, beliefs, views on medical treatments, quality of life during intense medical care and may even touch on spiritual beliefs.

The goal is to prepare so your wishes are followed, when you are no longer able to express them. This can include situations like end-of-life care, the use of a respirator to breathe for you, or who you want to be in the room with you, when you are near death.

It should be noted that an advance directive also includes a mental health component, that extends to making decisions on your behalf when there are mental health issues, not just physical issues.

There are three types of documents: a durable power of attorney for health care, a health care proxy and a living will.

The durable power of attorney for health care lets you name a person you trust to make health care decisions when you cannot make them for yourself. This person is called your health care agent and will have the legal right to make these decisions. If you don’t have this in place, your doctor will decide who should speak for you. They may rely on order of relationships: a legal guardian, spouse, adult child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild or a close friend.

A living will is the document that communicates what kind of health care you want, if you become ill and cannot make decisions for yourself. This helps your named person and your doctor make decisions about your care that align with your own wishes.

Another very important part of this issue: the conversation with the people who you want to be on hand when these decisions have to be made. Are they willing to serve in this capacity? Can they make the hard decisions, especially if it’s what you wanted and not what they would want? Do you want a spouse to make these decisions on your behalf? Many people do that, but you may have a trusted family member or friend you would prefer, if you feel that your spouse will be too overwhelmed to follow your wishes.

Reference: Enid News & Eagle (March 13, 2019) “Veteran Connection: What you should know about advance directives”

 

What is the Best Way to Leave an Inheritance to a Grandchild?

“A mother becomes a true grandmother the day she stops noticing the terrible things her children do because she is so enchanted with the wonderful things her grandchildren do.” Lois Wyse

“What a bargain grandchildren are! I give them my loose change, and they give me a million dollars worth of pleasure.” Gene Perret

Leaving money or real estate to a child under the age of 18 requires careful handling, usually under the guidance of an estate planning attorney. The same is true for money awarded by a court, when a child has received property for other reasons, like a settlement for a personal injury matter.

According to the article “Gifts from Grandma, and other problems with children owning property” from the Cherokee-Tribune & Ledger News, if a child under age 18 receives money as an inheritance through a trust, or if the trust states that the asset will be “held in trust” until the child reaches age 18, then the trustee named in the will or trust is responsible for managing the money.

Until the child reaches age 18, the trustee is to use the money only for the child’s benefit. The terms of the trust will detail what the trustee can or cannot do with the money. In any situation, the trustee may not benefit from the money in any way.

The child does not have free access to the money. Children may not legally hold assets in their own names. However, what happens if there is no will, and no trust?

A child could be entitled to receive property under the laws of intestacy, which defines what happens to a person’s assets, if there is no will. Another way a child might receive assets, would be from the proceeds of a life insurance policy, or another asset where the child has been named a beneficiary and the asset is not part of the probate estate. However, children may not legally own assets. What happens next?

The answer depends upon the value of the asset. State laws vary but generally speaking, if the assets are below a certain threshold, the child’s parents may receive and hold the funds in a custodial account. The custodian has a duty to manage the child’s money, but there isn’t any court oversight.

In Georgia, the threshold is $15,000. Check with a local estate planning attorney to determine your state’s limitations.

If the asset is valued at more than $15,000, or whatever the threshold is for the state, the probate court will exercise its oversight. If no trust has been set up, then an adult will need to become a conservator, a person responsible for managing a child’s property. This person needs to apply to the court to be named conservator, and while it is frequently the child’s parent, this is not always the case.

The conservator is required to report to the probate court on the child’s assets and how they are being used. If monies are used improperly, then the conservator will be liable for repayment. The same situation occurs, if the child receives money through a court settlement.

Making parents go through a conservatorship appointment and report to the probate court is a bit of a burden for most people. A properly created estate plan can avoid this issue and prepare a trust, if necessary, and name a trustee to be in charge of the asset.

Another point to consider: turning 18 and receiving a large amount of money is rarely a good thing for any young adult, no matter how mature they are. An estate planning attorney can discuss how the inheritance can be structured, so the assets are used for college expenses or other important expenses for a young person. The goal is to not distribute the funds all at once to a young person, who may not be prepared to manage a large inheritance.

Reference: Cherokee-Tribune & Ledger News (March 1, 2019) “Gifts from Grandma, and other problems with children owning property”

Digital Assets in Estate Planning: The Brave New World of Estate Planning

“They say that every time a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin and the world holds its breath.” – Varys to Jon

“The master of coin must be frugal.” —Varys to Eddard Stark

Cryptocurrency is almost mainstream, despite its complexity, says Insurance News Net in the article “Westchester County Elder Law Attorney… Sheds Light on Cryptocurrency in Estate Planning.” The IRS has made it clear that as far as federal taxation is concerned, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are to be treated as property. However, since cryptocurrency is not tangible property, how is it incorporated into an estate plan?

For starters, recordkeeping is extremely important for any cryptocurrency owner. Records need to be kept that are current and income taxes need to be paid on the transactions every single year. When the owner dies, the beneficiaries will receive the cryptocurrency at its current fair market value. The cost basis is stepped up to the date of death value and it is includable in the decedent’s taxable estate.

Here’s where it gets tricky. The name of the Bitcoin or cryptocurrency owner is not publicly recorded. Instead, ownership is tied to a specific Bitcoin address that can only be accessed by the person who holds two “digital keys.” These are not physical keys, but codes. One “key” is public, and the other key is private. The private key is the secret number that allows the spending of the cryptocurrency.

Both of these digital keys are stored in a “digital wallet,” which, just like the keys, is not an actual wallet but a system used to secure payment information and passwords.

One of the dangers of cryptocurrency is that unlike other financial assets, if that private key is somehow lost, there is no way that anyone can access the digital currency.

It should also be noted that cryptocurrency can be included as an asset in a last will and testament as well as a revocable or irrevocable trust. However, cryptocurrency is highly volatile, and its value may swing wildly.

The executor or trustee of an estate or trust must take steps to ensure that the estate or the trust is in compliance with the Prudent Investor Act. The holdings in the trust or the estate will need to be diversified with other types of investments. If this is not followed, even ownership of a small amount of cryptocurrency may lead to many issues with how the estate or trust was being managed.

Digital currency and digital assets are two relatively new areas for estate planning, although both have been in common usage for many years. As more boomers are dying, planning for these intangible assets has become more commonplace. Failing to have a plan or providing incorrect directions for how to handle digital assets, is becoming problematic for many individuals.

Speak with an estate planning attorney who has experience in digital and non-traditional assets to learn how to protect your heirs and your estate from losses associated with these new types of assets.

Reference: Insurance News Net (Feb. 25, 2019) “Westchester County Elder Law Attorney… Sheds Light on Cryptocurrency in Estate Planning”

There’s A Reason Why There are Laws about Wills and Estates

“To him that will, ways are not wanting.” Jackal Prudentusm by George Herbert

“I have wondered at times what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through the US Congress.”  Ronald Regan

A person makes three wills over the course of his lifetime.  The first will dealt with all of the assets of the person and accounted for all family members but was not executed properly.  A second will was created a few years later with different specific instructions. The third will changed the content of the second will but was not witnessed.

If this scenario sounds like something from a lawyer’s bar exam, that would be about right. It sounds like the first will should be in control, since his intentions were made clear in the first will, even if it was not executed correctly. This was explained by nwi.com in the article “Estate Planning: Will formalities are important.” However, there are many different factors that go into determining which of these three wills should be the one that the court accepts. This is a good illustration of why a will should be prepared with the help of an estate planning attorney.

First, is the third will valid? If there were no witnesses, it seems very clear that it is not. Except for very unusual circumstances, a will is only valid if it is in writing, signed by the person who is its “creator,” which is the “testator,” and witnessed by not one but two witnesses.

The next question is, how about that second will? Is it valid? Was the second will revoked, when the third was created, even though it was not properly executed?

There are two basic ways to revoke a will: physical destruction or written instrument. If the will was not destroyed, then the revocation of the second is considered to have occurred by the creation of the third will. Most wills contain a recital revoking all previous wills and codicils, which serves as a written revocation.

However, there’s a problem. Because the third will is most likely void, then it could not have revoked the second will. Will revocations also need to be witnessed, and since the third will was not witnessed, the recital contained in the third will revoking the prior wills is also void.

It, therefore, seems that the second will is valid in this situation. We say it seems, because there may be other factors that might also make the second will invalid, perhaps it was destroyed when the third will was created: we don’t have all the facts.

The lesson from this article is that when it comes to wills, trusts and estate plans, the formalities really do matter. Procedures and formalities are considered more important than intent.

Another story that illustrates that point comes from an attorney who was involved in an estate matter where the person who made the will tried to take out several beneficiaries, by taking a razor blade to the document and physically removing their names from the will. The estate battle began after he died. The intention was clear—to remove the beneficiaries from the will. However, because the proper formalities were not followed, the beneficiaries were not properly removed from the will and they received their bequests after all.

If you have a will and estate plan and you wish to make changes to it, sit down with an estate planning attorney to discuss the changes you want to make, and have the documents properly revised, following all the required steps. Don’t try to do this yourself: your wishes may not be followed otherwise.

Reference: nwi.com (March 10, 2019) “Estate Planning: Will formalities are important”

 

Why Do I Need an Estate Plan?

“Some are sad.
And some are glad.
And some are very, very bad.
Why are they Sad and glad and bad?
I do not know.
Go ask your dad.”
― Dr. Seuss, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

“A will can save one’s family from being put into a quagmired pit of legal conundrum, in case of death (which may even be untimely).”
― Henrietta Newton Martin

Did you know that more than half of American adults—and 78% of millennials—don’t have any basic estate planning documents like a will or living trust?

It may not be that much of a shock, since younger adults tend to put off thoughts of estate planning. However, even if you don’t have children or many assets yet, you can benefit from creating an estate plan now.

Forbes’s recent article, “6 Reasons Why You Should Have An Estate Plan,” provided six reasons why you should have an estate plan at any point in life:

  1. Plan for Your Own Needs. A big step in the estate planning process, is deciding who will make decisions on your behalf, if you’re unable to do so yourself. If you become incapacitated, a revocable trust will hold assets for your benefit, while you’re alive and name the individuals you want to receive your property when you pass. Designating an agent under a durable power of attorney to act on your behalf when it comes to financial and legal matters, if you become physically or mentally disabled, can help make certain that any decisions made, are in your best interest. If you can’t make medical decisions for yourself, you should have a healthcare proxy, agent or power of attorney, HIPAA release, and living will.
  2. Decide How to Dispose of Your Wealth. A will names an executor or personal representative who’s responsible for the administration of your estate after you die. He or she distributes property, as you determine in your will. If you have minor children, you can also designate a guardian to care for them in your will. Any life insurance, retirement accounts, or annuities require you to name beneficiaries, so they don’t need to be included in a will.
  3. Lessen Transfer Taxes. One goal of estate planning is to maximize the wealth you transfer to your beneficiaries, along with minimizing transfer taxes. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 expanded the amount individuals may give away at death—or during life—without any transfer taxes. The new law offers an increased exemption amount and portability. That means spouses can share one another’s exemption. You can make annual tax-free gifts up to $15,000 in 2019 (twice this amount for married couples). You can also pay medical and educational expenses for someone else without any gift tax.
  4. Include Charitable Giving. If you have philanthropic goals, an estate plan can help make certain that your objectives are satisfied. You can select a charity that’s important to you, choose the assets you want to donate, and decide—along with your attorney—the best way to make your gift.
  5. Protect Family Wealth. There can also be wealth protection benefits in estate planning through asset ownership arrangements, insurance, limited liability entities, irrevocable trusts and asset protection trusts. These are designed to protect your assets from creditors. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you decide, if one of these options is appropriate for your situation.
  6. Ready your Family to Receive Wealth. You can also prepare the next generation to receive wealth, which can also be helpful in preserving family wealth in the long run. Your estate plan can set out wealth planning goals, facilitate conversations about what wealth means to your family and educate your adult children about financial ideas and the ways in which they can get involved in creating and sustaining the family legacy.

Estate planning can be a formidable task, especially if you’re starting from ground zero. However, you can always engage an estate planning attorney to help you develop the documents you need to give you peace of mind about your financial affairs.

Reference: Forbes (February 22, 2019) “6 Reasons Why You Should Have An Estate Plan”

Beverly Hills 90210 Star Luke Perry Did Have an Estate Plan
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Adam Scull/photolink/REX/Shutterstock (9853112a) Luke Perry Luke Perry 1992 - 01 Jan 1992

Beverly Hills 90210 Star Luke Perry Did Have an Estate Plan

“I always felt like something of an outsider. But I identified with people on the screen. That made me feel like I wanted to be up on the screen too. I felt like eventually, I would get there.” Luke Perry

“It is not length of life, but depth of life.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Luke Perry’s death at age 52 from a condition that we think of as something that happens to older people, has made many people thinks differently about strokes. As reported in the Forbes article “Luke Perry Protected His Family With Estate Planning” Perry was savvy enough to do the proper estate planning, which made a difficult situation easier for his family.

Perry was heavily sedated following the first stroke and five days later, his family made the difficult decision to remove life support. It had become obvious that he was not going to recover, following a second stroke. He was surrounded by his children, 18-year-old Sophie, 21-year-old Jack, Perry’s fiancé, ex-wife, mother, siblings and others.

The decision to allow Luke Perry to die, when only a week earlier he had been alive and vibrant, could not have been easy. It appears that he had the correct legal documents in place, since the hospital allowed his family to make the decision to end life support. In California, those wishes are made in writing, using an Advance Directive or Health Care Proxy. Without those documents, his family would have needed to obtain an order from a probate court to permit the hospital to terminate life support, especially if there was any disagreement about this decision from family members.

That would have been a public and painful experience, making things harder for his family.

Perry reportedly had a will created in 2015 leaving everything to his two children. Earlier that year, he had become a spokesperson for screening for colorectal cancer. He had undergone a colonoscopy and learned that he had precancerous growths, which led him to advise others to do the same testing. According to friends, it was after this experience that Perry had a will created to protect his children.

It is thought (but not yet verified) that Perry had a reported net worth of around $10 million, so it’s likely that he created a revocable living trust, in addition to a simple will. If he had only a will, then his estate would have to go through probate court. It’s more likely that he had a trust, and if it was properly funded, then his assets could pass onto his children without any court involvement.

The only question at this time, is whether he made any provisions for his fiancé, Wendy Madison Bauer. Since the will was done in 2015, it’s unlikely that he included her in his estate plan. If they had married, she would have received rights that would not have been automatic but would have depended upon the wording of his will or trust, as well as whether the couple had signed any prenuptial agreements. If they had married and documents did not include an intent to exclude Bauer, she would have been entitled to one-third of his estate.

Luke Perry’s tragic death provides an important lesson for all of us. No one should wait until they are old enough to do estate planning. Perry’s cancer scare, in 2015, gave him the understanding of how quickly life can change, and by having an estate plan in place, he helped his family through a difficult time.

Reference: Forbes (March 8, 2019) “Luke Perry Protected His Family With Estate Planning”

 

Iconic Designer Leaves a Fortune for Beloved Cat

“The smallest feline is a masterpiece.” Leonardo da Vinci

“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” Terry Pratchett

The Burmese cat owned by Lagerfeld stands to inherit a sizable amount of the designer’s fortune, estimated at some $300 million, according to a report from CBS News titled “Karl Lagerfeld’s cat to inherit a fortune, but may not be richest pet.” The cat, named Choupette, was written into his will in 2015, according to the French newspaper Le Figaro.

Karl Otto Lagerfeld (September 10, 1933 – February 19, 2019) was a German creative director, fashion designer, artist, photographer, and caricaturist who lived in Paris. He was known as the creative director of the French fashion house Chanel, a position held from 1983 until his death, and was also creative director of the Italian fur and leather goods fashion house Fendi, and of his own eponymous fashion label. Wikipedia

Before Lagerfeld died on Feb. 19, the cat already had an income of her own, appearing in ads for cars and beauty products. She has nearly 250,000 followers on Instagram and is an ambassador for Opel, the French car maker. She is also the subject of two books. Choupette has had her own line of makeup for the beauty brand Shu Uemura.

Lagerfeld was a German citizen, but he and Choupette were residents of France, where the law prohibits pets from inheriting their human owner’s wealth. German law does permit a person’s wealth to be transferred to an animal.

There are three approaches that Lagerfeld might have taken to ensure that his beloved cat would be assured of her lifestyle, after his passing. One would have been to create a foundation, whose sole mission is to care for the cat, with a director who would receive funds for Choupette’s care.

A second way would be to donate money to an existing nonprofit and stipulate that funds be used for the cat’s care. A third would be to leave the cat to a trusted individual, with a gift of cash that was earmarked for her care.

It is not uncommon today for people to have pet trusts created to ensure that their furry friends enjoy a comfortable lifestyle, after their humans have passed. Estate laws in the U.S. vary by state, but they always require that a human have oversight over any funds or assets entrusted to a pet. Courts also have a say in this. There are reasonable limits on what a person can leave to a pet. A court may not honor a will that seeks to leave millions for the care of a pet. However, it has happened before.

Real estate tycoon Leona Hemsley left many people stunned, when she left $12 million for her Maltese dog. In 1991, German countess Carlotta Liebenstein left her dog Gunther IV a princely sum of $80 million. To date, Gunther remains number one on the “Top Richest Pets” list.

For pets who are beloved parts of regular families and not millionaires in their own right, an estate planning attorney will be able to help you plan for your pet’s well-being, if it should outlive you. Some states permit the use of a pet trust, and a no-kill shelter may have a plan for lifetime care for your pet. You’ll need to make a plan for a secure place for your pet and provide necessary funds for food, shelter, and medical care.

Reference: CBS News (Feb. 21, 2019) “Karl Lagerfeld’s cat to inherit a fortune, but may not be richest pet”

Why Should I Create a Trust If I’m Not Rich?

“Your true assets are the collections of your quality moments on the earth.”
― Amit Ray, Mindfulness Living in the Moment – Living in the Breath

Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you. —Shannon Adler

It’s probably not high on your list of fun things to do, considering the way in which your assets will be distributed, when you pass away. However, consider the alternative, which could be family battles, unnecessary taxes and an extended probate process. These issues and others can be avoided by creating a trust.

Barron’s recent article, “Why a Trust Is a Great Estate-Planning Tool — Even if You’re Not Rich,” explains that there are many types of trusts, but the most frequently used for these purposes is a revocable living trust. This trust allows you—the grantor—to specify exactly how your estate will be distributed to your beneficiaries when you die, and at the same time avoiding probate and stress for your loved ones.

When you speak with an estate planning attorney about setting up a trust, also ask about your will, healthcare directives, a living will and powers of attorney.

Your attorney will have retitle your probatable assets to the trust. This includes brokerage accounts, real estate, jewelry, artwork, and other valuables. Your attorney can add a pour-over will to include any additional assets in the trust. Retirement accounts and insurance policies aren’t involved with probate, because a beneficiary is named.

While you’re still alive, you have control over the trust and can alter it any way you want. You can even revoke it altogether.

A revocable trust doesn’t require an additional tax return or other processing, except for updating it for a major life event or change in your circumstances. The downside is because the trust is part of your estate, it doesn’t give much in terms of tax benefits or asset protection. If that was your focus, you’d use an irrevocable trust. However, once you set up such a trust it can be difficult to change or cancel. The other benefits of a revocable trust are clarity and control— you get to detail exactly how your assets should be distributed. This can help protect the long-term financial interests of your family and avoid unnecessary conflict.

If you have younger children, a trust can also instruct the trustee on the ages and conditions under which they receive all or part of their inheritance. In second marriages and blended families, a trust removes some of the confusion about which assets should go to a surviving spouse versus the children or grandchildren from a previous marriage.

Trusts can have long-term legal, tax and financial implications, so it’s a good idea to work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Barron’s (February 23, 2019) “Why a Trust Is a Great Estate-Planning Tool — Even if You’re Not Rich”