Legacy Planning for Farm and Ranch Families

An inheritance is more than money or property, especially when it comes to family farms, ranches and businesses. Many survive for multiple generations, says the Woodward News in the article “Plenty to consider in legacy planning,” but it takes planning.

Knowing that one day your grandchildren, and hopefully their children, will walk the land their great-grandparents did, and take the same satisfaction in knowing that the work they do, is a part of our country’s economy. Every family’s situation is different but one thing they all share in common, is that succession goals need to be evaluated critically, even though there is great emotion involved in passing on a legacy.

Dividing assets, sharing control and management decisions and transferring ownership are all things that must be examined and formalized as part of a succession plan.

For starters, determine the overall goal. Every family’s goals are different. Should assets be held for end-of-life-care for aging parents, passed on to children, donated to charity or are they needed to ensure the successful transition of the business to the next generation?

People work hard their whole lives to accumulate assets, so it’s important to have a legacy plan.  In this way, everything you’ve worked for is preserved for the next generation or available for your needs as you age.

In 2019, gift and estate tax exemptions are up dramatically, but strategic planning still needs to be done.

For farm families, the Farm Journal Legacy Project offers printable downloads, including a succession planning action guide, family meeting agenda, conversation starters and a goals clarification worksheet.

Family meetings will need to tackle some topics that may benefit from the presence of an estate planning attorney, who is experienced with family farms and succession planning.

  • How will the transfer of property, including farm equipment, property, and livestock, be done with minimal taxes due?
  • How can the non-farming members of the family receive their fair share of their inheritance, without taking away valuable resources needed to keep the farm or ranch going?
  • What resources will be available for the older parents to live on, when they retire?
  • Can the farm support multiple generations?

Succession planning that works best, begins long before the farm family is thinking about retirement. Determining roles and responsibilities and setting accountability for those roles must start happening long before the oldest generation steps away from the day-to-day operations of the farm or ranch.

Reference: Woodward News (Jan. 2, 2019) “Plenty to consider in legacy planning”

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Am I Too Young to Start Thinking About Estate Planning?
Protect your children with an estate plan

Am I Too Young to Start Thinking About Estate Planning?

Many people believe they’re too young to begin thinking about estate planning. Others say they don’t have significant enough assets to make the process of planning worthwhile.

However, the truth is that everyone needs estate planning. If you have any assets, and you intend to give those assets to a loved one, you need to have a plan.

Forbes’s article, “Reviewing Your Financial And Estate Planning Checklist,” examines some important topics in estate planning.

The first of topic is a durable power of attorney for property, finances and health care. This document allows you to designate a trusted individual to make decisions and take action on your behalf with matters relating to each of the three areas above.

In addition to the importance of having all powers of attorney readily available, in case you become incapable of making decisions, beneficiary designations should also be looked at frequently to update any changes to family situations, like a birth or adoption, death, marriage or divorce.

Another topic to address is a living trust. A trust will give direction regarding where and how the assets are dispersed when you die. A great reason to use a living trust is that the assets in a trust do not pass through probate court, which can be an expensive and time-consuming process.

Another area is digital assets. It’s critical for your heirs to have access to digital files, passwords and documents. This can be easy to overlook. Create a list of your digital assets, including social media accounts, online banking accounts and home utilities you manage online. Include all email and communications accounts, shopping accounts, photo and video sharing accounts, video gaming accounts, online storage accounts, and websites and blogs that you manage. This list should be clear and updated for your heirs to access.

If we fail to plan for these somewhat uncomfortable topics, the outcome will be stressful and expensive for our heirs.

Reference: Forbes (January 4, 2019) “Reviewing Your Financial And Estate Planning Checklist”

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Four Retirement Issues for 2019

A host of new retirement savings options will be on the horizon for millions of Americans whose workplace does not offer 401(k) plans, says The New York Times in “For American Workers, 4 Key Retirement Issues to Watch in 2019.” The article takes a broad view of retirement policy topics, covering everything from Congress working on a plan to stop sharp cuts in traditional pensions, to the SEC’s battle over fiduciary responsibilities to protect investors and the possible expansion of Social Security.

Here are some of the highlights:

Workplace Savings Plans. Features like automatic enrollment and matching employer contributions make these plans a great way to help save for retirement. However, a third of workers in the private sector don’t have access to these plans. In 2019, some states are starting programs to automatically sign up workers who don’t have access to these plans at work. Employers in some states will be required to set up automatic payroll deductions, although they won’t have to make matching contributions.

Congress is expected to work on legislation that would make it easier for employers to create and join a single 401(k) plan that they could offer. This “open multiple-employer plan” would be offered by private plan custodians. It may take a while for this to get up and running.

Pension Insolvency Crisis. A special congressional committee is working on heading off an insolvency crisis that could lead to big cuts in pension benefits for millions of workers. More than 10 million workers and retirees are covered by multi-employer plans, which are severely underfunded. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a federal insurance program for pensions, will run out of money by 2025, if nothing changes. This is a complex problem, with no easy solution.

Protecting Investors. This battle over requiring fiduciary standards by brokers has been going on for a while. It centers on requiring brokers and others to put customer’s financial interests first. A rule from the Department of Labor from the Obama era never made it past opposition from the financial services and insurance industries. A proposed new rule from the Securities and Exchange Commission would require brokers to put their customer’s financial interests ahead of their own. However, it does not require them to act as fiduciaries. Consumers advocates are against this rule, believing that it does not go far enough.

Expanding Social Security. Expansion legislation in the Larson Bill from has more than 170 co-sponsors in the House. The bill includes a 2% increase in benefits, a generous annual COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) and higher minimum benefits for low-income workers. How are we paying for these increases? The cap on wages subject to taxation and a gradually phased-in higher payroll tax are the sources.

Regardless what happens (or does not happen) in Washington, if retirement is in your future, 5 or 50 years from now, this is the year to have your estate plan created and ramp up your savings.

Resource: The New York Times (Dec. 23, 2018) “For American Workers, 4 Key Retirement Issues to Watch in 2019”

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Thinking about Giving It All Away? Here’s What You Need to Know

There are some individuals who just aren’t interested in handing down their assets to the next generation when they die. Perhaps their children are so successful, they don’t need an inheritance. Or, according to the article “Giving your money away when you die: 10 questions to ask” from MarketWatch, they may be more interested in the kind of impact they can have on the lives of others.

If you haven’t thought about charitable giving or estate planning, these 10 questions should prompt some thought and discussion with family members:

Should you give money away now? Don’t give away money or assets you’ll need to pay your living expenses, unless you have what you need for retirement and any bumps that may come up along the way. There are no limits to the gifts you can make to a charity.

Do you have the right beneficiaries listed on retirement accounts and life insurance policies? If you want these assets to go to the right person or place, make sure the beneficiary names are correct. Note that there are rules, usually from the financial institution, about who can be a beneficiary—some require it be a person and do not permit the beneficiary to be an organization.

Who do you want making end-of-life decisions, and how much intervention do you want to prolong your life? A health care power of attorney and living will are used to express these wishes. Without these documents, your family may not know what you want. Healthcare providers won’t know and will have to make decisions based on law, and not your wishes.

Do you have a will? Many Americans do not, and it creates stress, adds costs and creates real problems for their family members. Make an appointment with an estate planning attorney to put your wishes into a will.

Are you worried about federal estate taxes? Unless you are in the 1%, your chances of having to pay federal taxes are slim to none. However, if your will was created to address federal estate taxes from back in the days when it was a problem, you may have a strategy that no longer works. This is another reason to meet with your estate planning attorney.

Does your state have estate or inheritance taxes? This is more likely to be where your heirs need to come up with the money to pay taxes on your estate. A local estate planning attorney will be able to help you make a plan, so that your heirs will have the resources to pay these costs.

Should you keep your Roth IRA for an heir? Leaving a Roth IRA for an heir, could be a generous bequest. You may also want to encourage your heirs to start and fund Roth IRAs of their own, if they have earned income. Even small sums, over time, can grow to significant wealth.

Are you giving money to reputable charities? Make sure the organizations you are supporting, while you are alive or through your will, are using resources correctly. Good online sources include GuideStar.org or CharityNavigator.org.

Could you save more on taxes? Donating appreciated assets might help lower your taxes. Donating part or all your annual Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) can do the same, as long as you are over 70½ years old.

Does your family know what your wishes are? To avoid any turmoil when you pass, talk with family members about what you want to happen when you are gone. Make sure they know where your estate planning documents are and what you want in the way of end-of-life care. Having a conversation about your legacy and what your hopes and dreams are for family members, can be eye-opening for the younger members of the family and give you some deep satisfaction.

Reference: MarketWatch (Oct. 30, 2018) “Giving your money away when you die: 10 questions to ask”

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What Should I Think About Before the Baby Comes?

Prince William Living’s recent article, “Baby on the Way? Here’s How You Can Prepare Financially,” says that as you plan to welcome your child, consider these seven tips that can help you decide how to provide your family with the lifestyle you desire.

Examine your career. A new baby may cause you to think differently about your career goals—you may seek a promotion, a job with a higher salary or better benefits, or more education. Perhaps you or your spouse want to decrease your hours or become a stay-at-home parent. If you are thinking about changing your job status, examine the effect it may have on your take-home pay, retirement nest egg and benefits.

Lifestyle changes. Look at how your baby will affect your day-to-day activities. If your perfect lifestyle involves a new car or home, talk to a financial professional about whether to make the move now or in the future.

Childcare expenses. Nearly one-third of parents spend 20% or more of their income on childcare. In some states, the cost for a year of care can be more than one year of college!

Tuition. Private elementary or secondary school often costs money, and the price of a college education continues to rise at a pace faster than inflation. The 2017 tax reform expanded the use of 529 plans, so you can now withdraw up to $10,000 federal income tax-free per beneficiary, per year to pay for kindergarten through 12th grade tuition at a public, private or religious school.

Review your financial position. Unanticipated events can impact your finances at any time. Resolve to build or maintain an emergency fund that could cover three to six months of expenses.  You should also prioritize your retirement savings. After your baby arrives, update your estate plan and insurance coverage as needed.

Consider family values. Consider how you want to teach your child about financial responsibility. Being intentional early, can help create clear expectations and ensure that you and your spouse are on the same page.

The family bucket list. Look at what activities matter to you and add them into your financial plan. Taking an annual vacation or having a vacation home are common goals for many families.

Adding a new member to your family has a way of putting your priorities into perspective. Use these reminders to plan accordingly. Don’t forget that you’ll need an estate plan now that your family is growing. Your will should name a guardian in case something happens to you and your spouse. If there is no will, or no guardian named, the state will decide who will raise your child. Talk with an estate planning attorney to make sure that your planning for the future is complete.

Reference: Prince William Living (December 2018) “Baby on the Way? Here’s How You Can Prepare Financially”

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What If Mom’s Executor Won’t Sell the House?

What if the father died first, then the mother? They both wrote identical wills and named the youngest child as executor. The middle child was named as the alternate. The will states that if the first executor can’t or won’t carry out the duties of the will, then the alternate executor takes over. It also states that within six months after the mother’s death, the home should be sold, and the proceeds divided evenly between all three siblings.

Time passes, and now it’s been now a year after her death. The oldest child is occupying the house—but he can’t qualify for a mortgage or buy the other two kids out of their shares.

Is the alternate executor permitted to just assume the executor duties and sell the home?

nj.com weighs in with a recent article, “Family fights over mom’s will when executor won’t sell the house. What’s next?” According to the article, being named in the will doesn’t give you the automatic right to serve as executor.

If an individual is named as successor executor in the will, there must be two steps taken, before he can assume the administration of the estate.

In this situation, the youngest brother, as the current executor, must either resign or be removed.

The easiest, quickest and least costly option is for him to voluntarily step aside. However, he obviously has to agree to it.

The second option is to go to court and ask the Chancery Court judge to remove him.

To be successful in removing the executor, a person must show the Chancery Court judge that the executor is refusing to take the necessary action, as directed by the mother’s will. If the judge is convinced, she can remove the youngest brother by court order.

The middle child would then need to be appointed by the judge as the new executor.

Typically, when a person is named as the alternate, it isn’t a problem. It’s merely an administrative process. The middle child would have to go to the probate court and sign the required paperwork.

Reference: nj.com (December 27, 2018) “Family fights over mom’s will when executor won’t sell the house. What’s next?”

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How Do I Contest a Will?
Will contest

How Do I Contest a Will?

The ways that children of a first marriage can contest a will fall into several scenarios. However, in order to do so, a person must have “standing.” Typically, a person has standing in two situations, explains nj.com in its recent article, “Can children from a first marriage contest a will?”

One way is when the individual is the decedent’s heir at law and would inherit under the laws of intestacy if the will were declared invalid. Another way a person could have standing, is if there were a prior will in which the person is a named beneficiary, and the prior will would be reinstated, if the subsequent will were set aside.

For example, in Mississippi, probate laws take blended families into consideration. If a person dies without a will and has descendants, like children or grandchildren who are not descendants of the surviving spouse, then several things would happen. The surviving spouse would inherit a child’s share of the estate. The descendants from outside the marriage would then inherit the remainder of the estate in equal shares.

Let’s say George and Gracie were married and had baby Benny. After George and Gracie divorce, George marries Phyllis. If George dies intestate—without a will—then Benny would inherit one-half of his estate. If George dies with a will, Benny has standing to challenge the validity of the will.

As a practical matter, Benny should only challenge the will, if he’d stand to inherit more under intestacy than under the will, and he has a valid challenge justifying that the will be set aside.

The four most common challenges to a will are lack of capacity, improper execution, fraud and undue influence/duress.

It’s not uncommon for will contests to be successful. However, it really depends on the facts and circumstances of each specific case. For example, Benny would have a much tougher time proving undue influence, if John and Phyllis were similar in age and married for 30 years prior to George’s death, than if Phyllis was 50 years younger than George, and he had some level of dementia.

Reference: nj.com (December 11, 2018) “Can children from a first marriage contest a will?”

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Why are Heirlooms the Source of Family Conflict in Probate?
Family jewelry and guns are often the source of controversy after a parent dies.

Why are Heirlooms the Source of Family Conflict in Probate?

When a family member dies, personal items and heirlooms can be the cause of significant conflict among family members, The Guardian says in its recent article, “When It Comes To Heirlooms, It’s Personal.” Many of these hotly-disputed items may have little to no monetary value. However, that doesn’t make them any less important to those family members who treasure their “priceless” emotional value.

A person can typically leave his estate to whomever he wants, provided that it satisfies the obligations to a spouse and dependents. There are several ways to ensure that an estate is equitably distributed, according to the wishes of the deceased. However, making decisions on personal effects and family heirlooms is often one of the hardest parts of the estate planning process.

Here’s what can you do to make sure the cherished personal property you wish to leave to your heirs doesn’t become the focal point for future disputes:

  • Avoid any surprises. Avoid potential conflicts by sharing with your family the contents of your will and your reasons for the way that you’ve decided to distribute your assets, so there are no surprises after you are gone.
  • Know what “fairness” means. Fairness doesn’t always mean “equal.” That is especially true when it comes to your personal items and heirlooms. Decide what “fairness” means to each of your family members, and if you agree, distribute your items accordingly.
  • Talk about your special assets. Create a list of the items you want to bequeath and ask your family who should get what.
  • Get appraisals and consultations. Have your personal property appraised and consult with your heirs to be certain that the items you bequeath are appropriately valued–both monetarily and emotionally.
  • Create a list. Attach to your will a letter that lists your personal property items and the heirs you want to receive them. The letter won’t be enforceable as part of your will, unless you incorporate it into the terms of the will.
  • Make choice now. While you’re still alive, list your personal items and have your heirs take turns choosing what they want.
  • Choose later. If you don’t want your heirs to select your personal items in advance but still prefer they are the ones who chose, leave a direction in your will that your heirs are to take turns, until all of the items have been chosen.

Reference: The Guardian (December 23, 2018) “When It Comes To Heirlooms, It’s Personal”

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