Estate Planning Blog

Who Should I Name as Trustee?
Who Should I Name as Trustee?

Who Should I Name as Trustee?

Who Should I Name as Trustee? Who do you “trust” to make certain that your financial legacy lives on?

Kiplinger’s recent article, “Consider Your Trustee Carefully: It Makes a Difference,” advises you to remember that selecting a trustee should be thought of as more of a business decision than a personal one. A trust can be perfectly designed for success, but its goals may not be fully carried out, when a trustee lacks knowledge, dedication, or objectivity.

You should know the trustee’s fiduciary responsibilities to make an informed choice when selecting someone to perform the duties. Consider more than a person’s understanding and respect for your financial goals and values, because a trustee must also play a big part in investment management, tax planning and filing, making appropriate distributions to beneficiaries or for their benefit and protecting the trust’s assets.

The trustee must regularly review beneficiaries’ requests for money and decide when to approve or deny distributions, in accordance with the trust’s instructions. Making this decision can be difficult and stressful for someone with a personal connection to the beneficiary.

One option is a corporate trustee, like a trust company or bank trust department. They can provide an objective, third-party opinion based on the long-term objectives of the trust. A corporate trustee can serve as either the sole trustee or co-trustee of your trust. Naming a professional trustee, along with a trusted friend or family member may be a good move.

Using a corporate trustee can potentially diminish unanticipated family tension, and also enables the sharing of fiduciary responsibilities with the co-trustee. The co-trustees must act in concert, unless the trust allows one co-trustee to act alone. It also may let the corporate trustee make the tough decisions in this situation, without doing further harm to the family relationship of the personal co-trustee and beneficiary.

Choosing the right trustee(s) can help make certain that your financial legacy and intentions will be carried out, plus, it will be done professionally and objectively solely for your heirs’ benefit.

Reference: Kiplinger (October 14, 2019) “Consider Your Trustee Carefully: It Makes a Difference”

Who Should I Name as Trustee?

Remaining Even and Fair in Estate Distribution
Remaining Even and Fair in Estate Distribution

Remaining Even and Fair in Estate Distribution

Remaining Even and Fair in Estate Distribution.

Treating everyone equally in estate planning can get complicated, even with the best of intentions. What if a family wants to leave their home to their daughter, who lives locally, but wants to be sure that their son, who lives far away, receives his fair share of their estate? It takes some planning, says the Davis Enterprise in the article “Keeping things even for the kids.” The most important thing to know is that if the parents want to make their distribution equitable, they can.

If the daughter takes the family home, she’ll need to have an appraisal of the home done by a certified real estate appraiser. Then, she has options. She can either pay her brother his share in cash, or she can obtain a mortgage in order to pay him.

Property taxes are another concern. The taxes vary because the amount of the tax is based on the assessed value of the real property. That is the amount of money that was paid for the property, plus certain improvements. In California, property taxes are paid to the county on one percent of the property’s “assessed value,” also known as the “base year value” along with any additional parcel taxes that have become law. The base year value increases annually by two percent every year. This was created in the 1970s, under California’s Proposition 13.

Here’s the issue: the overall increase in the value of real property has outpaced the assessed value of real property. Longtime residents who purchased a home, years ago still enjoy low taxes, while newer residents pay more. If the property changes ownership, the purchase could reset the “base year value,” and increase the taxes. However, there is an exception when the property is transferred from a parent to a child. If the child takes over ownership of the home, they will have the same adjusted base year value as their parents.

If the house is going from parents to daughter, it seems like it should be a simple matter. However, it is not. Here’s where you need an experienced estate planning attorney. If the estate planning documents say that each child should receive “equal shares” in the home, each child receives a one-half interest in the home. If the daughter takes the house and equalizes the distribution by buying out the son’s share, she can do that. However, the property tax assessor will see that acquisition of her brother’s half interest in the property as a “sibling to sibling” transfer. There is no exclusion for that. The one-half interest in the property will then be reassessed to the fair market value of the home at the time of the transfer—when the siblings inherit the property. The property tax will go up.

There may be a solution, depending upon the laws of your state. One attorney discovered that the addition of certain language to estate planning documents allowed one sibling to buy out the other sibling and maintain the parent-child exclusion from reassessment. The special language gives the child the option to purchase the property from the other. Make sure your estate planning attorney investigates this thoroughly, since the rules in your jurisdiction may be different.

Reference: Davis Enterprise (Oct. 27, 2019) “Keeping things even for the kids”

 

What’s Everything I Need to Know About Wills?
What’s Everything I Need to Know About Wills?

What’s Everything I Need to Know About Wills?

What’s Everything I Need to Know About Wills?

Writing a will is a critical part of estate planning. A will contains your legally binding directions for the distribution of your property and responsibilities, when you pass away.

Like the title says, Money Check’s recent article, “Guide to Writing a Will: Everything You Need to Consider,” sets it all out—from soup to nuts.

Do it myself or hire an experienced estate planning attorney? It’s wiser to hire a qualified estate planning attorney to help you draft your will. There are many heartbreaking stories of people who decided to do it by themselves and missed important steps. If that’s the case, the probate judge will not recognize the will and will take control of the estate. Don’t let this happen to your family. Use a legal professional.

Name Your Heirs. List all of the people you want to include in your will. You can omit or include anyone you want. If you do want to leave out a certain family member, be sure you clearly indicate that in the will. You don’t have to explain why you decided to include or exclude family members from your will.

Name an Executor.  Select your attorney or a close family member as the executor.

Select a Guardian for your Children. Name a responsible and willing guardian for your minor children. You should also be sure to discuss your decision with the potential guardian.

Be Clear on the Assets Beneficiaries are to Receive. Avoid vagueness or questions in your will. Clearly explain who gets what. This will help avoid confusion and disputes among family. A thoroughly crafted will prevents stressful and upsetting situations from happening to your family, after your passing.

Include Your Final Wishes with the Will. You can leave your will and a final letter to your family with your executor. This is also called a letter of last instruction.

Get Your Witnesses. When you’re ready to sign your will, be sure to get two witness (or only one depending on your state’s laws) of legal age, over 18-years old, to sign the documents.

Keep Your Will Somewhere Safe and Accessible. Store your will in a safe place, where your family can get to it when you die.

Reference: Money Check (October 23, 2019) “Guide to Writing a Will: Everything You Need to Consider”

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Tailoring a Caregiving Plan to Your Family
Tailoring a Caregiving Plan to Your Family

Tailoring a Caregiving Plan to Your Family

Tailoring a Caregiving Plan to Your Family.

If you have a family member who needs ongoing assistance because of a disability, severe medical issue, or a chronic illness, you might need to create a schedule within the family for providing care to that loved one. Few of us can afford to hire a private nurse for a family member. Many people who need caregiving need someone available 24 hours a day, even if some of that time is watching over the person rather than providing medical attention.

Public assistance programs provide limited, if any services, so most families have to figure out who can pitch in and help care for the loved one. If you are like most people, you could use some suggestions on tailoring a caregiving plan to your family. Recent legislation could make that task easier.

The Inherent Problems of Caregiving

People who are already working full-time and raising their families, often end up taking shifts, along with other relatives. The situation can go on like this for years. The caregivers become exhausted, physically, emotionally and financially.

Resentment can build, if some of the family caregivers feel they are doing more than their share, while others are not doing their part. Years later, the primary caregivers can get accused of undue influence, if the person who received help gives a larger portion of the estate to the primary caregivers out of gratitude.

Why Congress is Paying Attention to the Challenges of Family Caregiving

Our population is aging. By 2026, the baby boomer generation will start to turn 80 years old. Many people in their eighties need long-term care, either in the home or a facility. The high numbers of baby boomers and the declining birthrates mean there will be more people needing family caregiving and fewer relatives available to provide those services.

Family caregiving takes a massive chunk out of our economy each year. Experts say 40 million people in the United States provide unpaid caregiving services to their adult loved ones, who have limitations in their daily activities. The experts on aging value these services at around $470 billion a year.

Another 3.7 million Americans take care of a disabled child under the age of 18. Some people have to provide caregiving for both an older adult and a child. People in the field estimate that about 6.5 million people in our country fall into this category.

The caregivers face immediate and long-term financial crises, because of the time they devote to the needs of their vulnerable loved ones. In the moment, the caregiver might have to cut back on work hours or leave a paying job to be there for the family member in need. Losing a paycheck and benefits, can put a caregiver into economic hardship. Many caregivers live in poverty in the future, because it was impossible to contribute to retirement savings or the Social Security system during the long years of caregiving.

Congress is working on measures to provide more public resources for family caregivers. The “Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act” contains strategies for state and communities to support caregiving families. Increased assessments and service planning dovetailed with education, supports and respite options can impact financial security and workplace issues of caregivers. The new law centers on both caregivers and people receiving the care.

References:

AARP. “Building a Family Caregiving Strategy to Align with the Real Needs of Families.” (accessed October 31, 2019) https://blog.aarp.org/thinking-policy/building-a-family-caregiving-strategy-to-align-with-the-real-needs-of-families

 

What Worries Retirees the Most?
What Worries Retirees the Most?

What Worries Retirees the Most?

What Worries Retirees the Most?

Retirees don’t want to run out of money. However, homeowners over 62 who have considerable equity in their homes may want to look at a strategy that can minimize their money anxiety. A reverse mortgage will let them tap into home equity, by providing funds to keep them financially stable. Could the reverse mortgage payments take a bite out of their Social Security or Medicare benefits?

Motley Fool’s recent article asks, “Can a Reverse Mortgage Impact Your Social Security or Medicare Benefits?” The article explains that reverse mortgages, also called home equity conversion mortgages (HECM), were created in 1980 to help seniors stay solvent, while remaining in their homes.

You know that in a regular mortgage, you pay the bank monthly installments. However, with a reverse mortgage, the bank pays you. You take out money against the equity in your home, and the loan doesn’t come due until you sell the home, move out of it, or die. The amount you can get is based on a formula that takes into account your age, the equity in your home, its market value and the interest rate you’ll be paying. You can get your reverse mortgage funds as a lump sum, a monthly payment, or a line of credit.

There are some drawbacks to a reverse mortgage. This type of loan can have big fees, including origination fees, closing costs (similar to a regular mortgage) and mortgage insurance premiums.  These fees can usually be rolled into the loan. It will, however, increase the amount the bank is entitled to receive once the loan ends.

A reverse mortgage isn’t for you, if you want to leave your home to your family. Perhaps they can pay off the balance of your HECM once you die or move out, but that could be costly. If you want to sell it (perhaps to simplify the splitting up of that inheritance), the share your heirs will receive from the proceeds may not be as much as you’d anticipated. If you’re having a hard time keeping up with the day-to-day costs of running the house, a reverse mortgage may not be the best option. However, if you’re just looking to add to your retirement income for peace of mind, it’s a decent financial planning tool to consider.

The good news is that it has no impact on your Social Security benefits, because the program is not means-tested. Therefore, the amount of income you have won’t affect your monthly benefit when you file. As a result, you don’t need to take Social Security into account when you’re thinking about this type of loan.

Likewise, Medicare is a non-means-tested program. However, a reverse mortgage can have an impact on Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, because those are based on your current financial assets. If you’re receiving either of those, talk to an elder law attorney or estate planning attorney to discuss how a reverse mortgage might have an effect on your specific circumstances.

Reference: Motley Fool (November 1, 2019) “Can a Reverse Mortgage Impact Your Social Security or Medicare Benefits?”

 

Making Inheritance Talks Easier
Making Inheritance Talks Easier

Making Inheritance Talks Easier

Making Inheritance Talks Easier.

Conversations about money and finances can be problematic for many families. Those very same people you grew up with, aren’t always on the same page, especially when the inheritance is the topic, says The New York Times in a recent article “Tips to Ease Family Inheritance Tensions.”

Find a common interest. You may be very different, but you also have a lot in common. The sibling relationship is a long-running one, so focus on preserving or repairing that relationship.

Bring in help to facilitate discussions. If family history makes it too difficult to manage, bring in an estate planning attorney or financial advisor to mediate the conversation. Having an unbiased person to run the show can keep things on track, make sure all viewpoints are recognized and help the group get to a productive conclusion.

Listen to each other. The simplest task may also be the hardest. It’s so easy to fall into old behavior patterns (i.e., the bossy older sister, the brother who goes along to get along). Don’t interrupt each other and check in to make sure everyone is feeling okay about how the conversation is going.

Advice to parents. Even if you don’t have a mega-wealthy family, you may all benefit from having an outside person, like an estate planning attorney or corporate trustee, to be named as a trustee. The more financially competent sibling could be the trust advisor, who can give advice but does not make the final decision. This keeps everyone a little more arm’s length from the decision making.

Talk with your family about money. Inheritances are frequent sources of friction among siblings. Not knowing how they are going to share in the family assets, how it is going to be structured and what expectations are, can create considerable tension within the family. Many families do not talk with their children about money, but that’s a big mistake. Not comfortable with the idea of a conversation? Then write down your motivation for your decisions about how the family wealth is going to be distributed and ask your estate planning attorney to make it part of your documents. It won’t be legally binding, but it may provide your children with some further insights.

Reference: The New York Times (Nov. 6, 2019) “Tips to Ease Family Inheritance Tensions.”

Making Inheritance Talks Easier.

Blended Families Need More Thoughtful Estate Plans
Blended Families Need More Thoughtful Estate Plans

Blended Families Need More Thoughtful Estate Plans

Blended Families Need More Thoughtful Estate Plans.

Estate planning for blended families is like playing chess in three dimensions: even those who are very good at chess can struggle with so many moving parts in so many dimensions. Preparing an estate plan requires careful consideration of family dynamics, and those are multiplied in blended families. This is another reason why estate plans need to be tailored for each family’s circumstances, as described in the article “Blended families have unique considerations in estate planning” from The News Enterprise.

The last will and testament is often considered the key document in an estate plan. But while the will is very important, it has certain limitations and a few commonly used estate planning strategies can result in unpleasant endings, if this is the only document used.

Spouses often leave everything to each other as the primary beneficiary on death, with all of their children as contingent beneficiaries. This is based on the assumption that the second spouse will remain in the family home, then will distribute any proceeds equally between the children, if and when they move or die. However, the will can be changed at any time before death, as long as the person making the will has mental capacity. If when the first spouse dies, the relationship with the surviving children is not strong, it is possible that the surviving spouse may have their will changed.

If stepchildren don’t have a strong connection with the surviving spouse, which occurs frequently when the second marriage occurs after the children are adults, things can go wrong. Their mutual grief at the passing of the first spouse does not always draw stepchildren and stepparents together. Often, it divides them.

The couple may also select different successor beneficiaries. The husband may name his wife first, then only his children in his will, while the wife may name her husband and then her children in her will. This creates a “survival race.” Winner takes all. The surviving spouse receives the property and the children of the spouse who passed won’t know when or if they will receive any assets.

Some couples plan on using trusts for property distribution upon death. This can be more successful, if planned properly. It can also be just as bad as a will.

Trust provisions can be categorized according to the level of control the surviving spouse has after the death of the first spouse. A trust can be structured to lock down half of the trust assets on the death of the first spouse. The surviving spouse remains as a beneficiary but does not have the ability to change the ultimate distribution of the decedent’s portion. This allows the survivor the financial support they need, giving flexibility for the survivor to change their beneficiaries for their remaining share.

Not all blended families actually “blend,” but for those who do, a candid discussion with all, possibly in the office of the estate planning attorney, to plan for the future, is one way to ensure that the family remains a family, when both parents are gone.

Reference: The News Enterprise (November 4, 2019) “Blended families have unique considerations in estate planning”

Blended Families Need More Thoughtful Estate Plans.

What Are the Rules About an Inheritance Received During Marriage?
What Are the Rules About an Inheritance Received During Marriage?

What Are the Rules About an Inheritance Received During Marriage?

What Are the Rules About an Inheritance Received During Marriage?

A good add-on to that sentence is something like, “provided that it is kept separate from marital assets.” To say it another way, when an inheritance or any other exempt asset (like a premarital asset) is “commingled” with marital assets, it can lose its exempt status. Another way to say this is inheritance is never marital property unless you take an action to convert it to marital property.

Trust Advisor’s recent article asks, “Do I Have To Divide The Inheritance I Received During My Marriage?” As the article explains, this is the basic rule, but it’s not iron-clad.

A few courts say that an inheritance was exempt, even when it was left for only a short time in a joint account. This can happen after a parent’s death. The proceeds of a life insurance policy that an adult child beneficiary receives, are put into the family account to save time in a stressful situation. You may be too distraught to deal with this issue when the insurance check arrives, so you or your spouse might deposit it into a joint account. However, in one case, the wife took the check and opened an investment account with the money. That insurance money deposited in the investment account was never touched, but the wife still wanted half of it when the couple divorced a few years later. However, in that case, the judge ruled that the proceeds from the insurance policy were the husband’s separate property.

The law generally says that assets exempt from equitable distribution (like insurance proceeds) may become subject to equitable distribution, if the recipient intends them to become marital assets. The comingling of these assets with marital assets may make them subject to a division in a divorce. However, if there’s no intent for the assets to become martial property, the assets may remain the recipient spouse’s property.

Courts will look at “donative intent,” which asks if the spouse had the intent to gift the inheritance to the marriage, making it a marital asset. Courts may look at a commingled inheritance for donative intent, but also examine other factors. This can include the proximity in time between the inheritance and the divorce. Therefore, if a spouse deposited an inheritance into a joint account a year before the divorce, she could argue that there should be a disproportionate distribution in her favor or that she should get back the whole amount. Of course, the longer amount of time between the inheritance and the divorce, the more difficult this argument becomes.

Be sure to speak with your estate planning attorney about the specific laws in your state. If there is a hint of trouble in the marriage, it might be wiser to simply open a new account for the inheritance.

Reference: Trust Advisor (October 29, 2019) “Do I Have To Divide The Inheritance I Received During My Marriage?”

 

Strategies for the “Sandwich” Generation
Strategies for the “Sandwich” Generation

Strategies for the “Sandwich” Generation

Strategies for the “Sandwich” Generation.

If you are taking care of your aging parents and still helping your own children, you are part of the “sandwich” generation. If you feel as if you will never be able to go off duty because of all the people who make demands on your time and money, here are some strategies for the “sandwich” generation.

Quite a few people start having children when they are in their forties. Your parents could already be in their sixties and seventies, when you have toddlers. By the time your children are in high school, you will be in your fifties with parents in their seventies or eighties. You should be focused on plowing lots of money into your retirement account. However, instead you find yourself pulled in many different directions, without the energy or resources you need for yourself.

How People with Adult Children Can Get Pulled at Both Ends: Strategies for the “Sandwich” Generation

You do not have to be raising young children to be in the sandwich generation. Your children might be adults but need financial help because of student loans or other financial pressures. Additional reasons you might need to assist your adult children include things like:

  • You have a child with a disability.
  • One of your children struggles with substance abuse.
  • You might have a child who does not manage his money well.
  • You have a twenty-something or older child, who is in graduate school.
  • You provide much of the childcare for or you raise one of your grandchildren.

These are only a few examples of the reasons you might find yourself having to lend a helping hand to your parents and your adult children.

The Financial Impact of Taking Care of Two Generations: Strategies for the “Sandwich” Generation

Any of these situations can put demands on your time, energy and finances. People who take care of their older parents and their own children often suffer as a result. For example, these caregivers drive everyone else to their medical appointments but do not have to time to go for routine checkups. There are not enough hours in the day to go for a walk to de-stress or get physical exercise. Sleep deprivation is common among “sandwichers.”

The financial impact of dual caregiving can be both short-term and long-term. If you are constantly picking up medications and groceries for your elderly parents and helping your children financially, you might find yourself having a cash flow strain. The time the double caregiving takes from your schedule can also make it impossible for you to engage in the amount of gainful employment you would like, so you can increase your retirement savings.

How to Handle the Stress and Exhaustion of Dual Caregiving: Strategies for the “Sandwich” Generation

You are not alone. Many people have walked this path before you. They offer these suggestions:

  • Contact your local government agencies, community groups, senior organizations and charitable entities to find as many resources as possible to take some of the weight off of your shoulders. Adult day programs, respite care and other services can be a godsend.
  • Find sources of funding to ease your financial strain. Your aging parents might qualify for more benefits than they currently receive. You can use the website Benefit Finder to locate additional financial help, like Medicare, Medicaid, veterans benefits and many other programs.
  • Change your expectations. Your house does not have to be perfect. Your teens can get rides with friends, or you can set up a carpool.
  • Set a daily sleep goal of at least seven hours and stick to it. You cannot help anyone, if you get so exhausted that your health deteriorates.
  • Try to find the humor in daily situations.

Remember, this stage and every stage is temporary. You are creating memories that you will treasure.

References:

HuffPost. “This Is What No One Told Me About Suddenly Joining The Sandwich Generation.” (accessed November 8, 2019) https://www.huffpost.com/entry/sandwich-generation-caring-for-kids-parents_n_5d24c00ee4b07e698c418fc9

Benefits.gov. “Benefit Finder.” (accessed November 14, 2019) https://www.benefits.gov/benefit-finder

 

What Is an Ethical Will and Do You Need One?
What Is an Ethical Will and Do You Need One?

What Is an Ethical Will and Do You Need One?

What Is an Ethical Will and Do You Need One?

When an estate planning attorney suggests that clients create ethical wills, they aren’t asking the clients to create another last will and testament. Instead, it is to create something that can explain their intentions to their loved ones. According to the article “How to create an ethical will” from Herald Net, a ethical will is also known as a legacy letter.

An Ethical will is a document that passes ethical values from one generation to the next. Rabbis and Jewish laypeople have continued to write ethical wills during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In recent years, the practice has been more widely used by the general public. Wikipedia

This can be a kind and loving gift to your family, since it allows you to express your feelings and thoughts. If you’re not accustomed to sharing your feelings, that will make it even more special to your loved ones. It’s an opportunity to say all the things you never felt comfortable saying. You may want to express your wishes, regrets and gratitude. You may also want to pass long the life lessons that have been valuable for you.

It is a way to share your ethical culture. Your values, life lessons, hopes and dreams for the future. You can share your blessings, love, and forgiveness with your family and friends. An ethical will is not a legal document.

An ethical will does not distribute your material wealth. It also provides an opportunity for you to explain how you came to the decisions you did about your will and the money and possessions you are passing along. You might want to explain why a certain child is being given a piece of artwork or why another is being left assets in a trust and not an outright gift.

If you are more comfortable with making a video, you can also do that. An audio or video recording often becomes a treasured piece of family history, since it allows generations who may have never met you to see and hear you.

Start by writing down some notes about what matters to you and what you think you might want to share with the family. Take your time. Remember you aren’t writing the Great American Novel but creating a gift of love; a heartfelt expression of what truly matters most in your life.

Once you’ve gathered your thoughts, move on to the next draft. Once it’s complete, to keep this document safe and in a secure location. If you have a waterproof and fireproof safe where you keep important papers in the home, the ethical will should also go in there. Remember that safe deposit boxes are sealed at death, so if you want your loved ones to read this, it should not go in the safe deposit box.

One last thought—some people like to share their ethical will with family and friends, while they are still living. This allows them to enjoy their reactions and have a discussion about whatever they have shared in the document. Others prefer to wait until after they have passed. It’s a very personal decision.

Talk with your estate planning attorney about how the ethical will works with your estate plan.  Make sure there’s nothing in the ethical will that contradicts your last will and testament. That could create problems for the family.

Reference: Herald Net (Nov. 6, 2029) “How to create an ethical will”