What Do I Need to Know About Estate Planning After a Divorce?

The recent changes in the tax laws created increased year-end activity for those trying to finalize their divorces by December 31—prior to the effective date of the new rules.

The new tax laws stipulate that alimony is no longer deductible by the payor, and it’s no longer taxable by the receiver—this creates a negative impact on both parties. The payor no longer receives a tax deduction, and the receiver will most likely wind up with less alimony because the payor has more taxes to pay.

Forbes’ recent article, “9 Things You Need To Know About Estate Planning After Divorce” suggests that if you were one of those whose divorce was finalized last year, it’s time to revise your estate plan. It’s also good idea for those people who divorced in prior years and never updated their estate plans. Let’s look at some of the issues about which you should be thinking.

See your estate planning attorney. Right off the bat, send your divorce agreement to your estate planning attorney, so he or she can see what obligations you have to your ex-spouse in the event of your death.

Health care proxy. This document lets you designate someone to make health care decisions for you, if you were incapacitated and not able to communicate.

Power of attorney. If you had an old POA that named your ex-spouse, it should be revoked, and you should execute a new POA naming a friend, relative, or trusted advisor to act as your agent regarding your finances and assets.

Your will and trust. Ask your attorney to remove the provisions for your ex-spouse and remove your ex-spouse as the executor and trustee.

Guardianship. If you have minor children, you can still name your ex-spouse as the guardian in your will. Even if you don’t, your ex-spouse will probably be appointed guardian if you pass away, unless he or she is determined by the judge to be unfit. While you can select another responsible person, be sure to leave enough cash in a joint bank account (with the trusted guardian you name) to fund the litigation that will be necessary to prove your ex-spouse is unfit.

A trust for your minor children. If you don’t have a trust set up for your minor children, and your ex-spouse is the children’s guardian, he or she will have control of the children’s finances until they turn 18. You may ask your estate planning attorney about a revocable trust that will name someone else you select as the trustee to access and control these funds for your children, if you pass away.

Life insurance. You may have an obligation to maintain life insurance under the divorce agreement. Review this with your estate planning attorney and with your divorce attorney.

Beneficiary designations. Be certain that your 401K and IRA beneficiary designations are consistent with the terms of your divorce agreement. Have the beneficiary designations updated. If you still want to name your ex-spouse as the beneficiary, execute a new beneficiary designation dated after the divorce. It’s also wise to leave a letter of intent with your attorney, so your intentions are clear.

Prenuptial agreement. If you’re thinking about getting remarried, be certain you have a prenuptial agreement.

It’s a great time to settle these outstanding issues from your divorce and get your estate plan in order.

Reference: Forbes (January 8, 2019) “9 Things You Need To Know About Estate Planning After Divorce”

 

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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 Does George H.W. Bush’s Estate Look Like?

For a guy who was often derided as living in a bubble of “old money,” George H.W. Bush didn’t accumulate a whole lot of cash. However, he really didn’t need to. The whole point of dynastic wealth is that it creates a seamless support system from cradle to grave, says Wealth Advisor’s recent article, “American Dynasty: What G.H.W. Bush Leaves Behind (And Who Steps Up To Inherit).”

Bush begins near zero on paper, sells his oil company and lets the interest accumulate. When his father dies, he doesn’t record more than a $1 million windfall. At that time, these were still impressive numbers, but it wasn’t exactly dynastic money. For a Bush of his era, it’s just money. The real non-negotiable asset is the Maine summer home. He paid $800,000 cash for it when he joined the Reagan White House and sold his Texas place to raise the money. However, his 1031 exchange switching houses backfired, because he still claimed Texas residency and so got no tax break on the capital gain.

Interestingly, the Kennebunkport house hasn’t been passed on through inheritance for generations and has never been put into a trust. The relative willing to take on the house would buy it from the previous owner’s estate, but it’s currently assessed at $13 million. Purchasing it would trigger roughly a $12 million capital gain today and wipe out the entire estate tax exemption for he and Barbara.

However, President Bush had world-class tax planning, and the family lawyer in Houston has been with him since the 1980s. The house isn’t in a trust yet, but it’s owned by a shell partnership that plays a similar function.

Bush owned the partnership, and now that both George and Barbara are gone,  the partnership might roll into a trust to distribute shares in the house to the children. If that’s the case, provided the kids see value in keeping the house, the trust pays the bills. Otherwise, they will sell it one day and distribute the proceeds.

Presidential memorabilia is very valuable. Most of the President’s collection went to his library. Otherwise, there might not be a lot of cash because George didn’t live very lavishly. His government pension probably was used for his everyday expenses. Any cash left in that trust, might well have accumulated for the beneficiaries. However, interestingly, much of the income was given to the kids years ago. This may have made a big difference establishing them in lives of business and philanthropy.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (December 3, 2018) “American Dynasty: What G.H.W. Bush Leaves Behind (And Who Steps Up To Inherit)”

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Savvy Ways for Seniors to Give Away Their Money

You do not have to be a millionaire for your loved ones to squabble about things you give away. Families have split up over who received a necklace or the candlesticks. You could try to give everyone an equal portion, but that is seldom possible. Sentimental value is hard to measure. You might also have reasons to help one person more than another.

There is no need to worry. There are strategies you can use to keep the peace, without feeling that your relatives are dictating what you can do with your assets. Here are some savvy ways for seniors to give away their money and other items.

Analyze the needs of your children. Let’s say you already put your older children through college, but you have a much younger child who is not yet college-age. While your older children might feel that it is unfair for you to give your younger child more money than them, your older children already received more than the younger child, and he will need the money for college.

If you have a child with special needs, you might want to set up a special needs trust for her support. Funding such a trust might require a disproportionate division of assets.

If you have circumstances like these, talk to all your children now or leave a letter explaining what motivated you to make an unequal distribution. Without sufficient communication, your children might think that you played favorites. Some families harbor grudges for years, because they made incorrect assumptions.

If you still have concerns about resentment over unequal distributions, you might be able to keep a disgruntled relative from filing a will contest. In many states, you can include a “no contest” clause in your will. In short, these clauses provide that if someone contests the will, the contesting person forfeits what he would have inherited through the will.

Funding a child or grandchild’s college education now. If you do not want to wait until an uncertain date in the future to contribute to your child or grandchild’s education, you can do so now through a 529 plan. The most strategic way to do this is usually through a plan the child’s parent sets up, but you should check with your tax advisor. If the funds are for your child, you can set up the plan. For your grandchildren, you can contribute to the plan the child’s parent started.

The best way to pass along your stocks or mutual funds. It is important to be aware that the tax laws are constantly changing, so you should always check with your tax advisor about the current tax considerations. This blog does not purport to give tax advice.

That said, usually, the way to minimize taxes on stocks and mutual funds that you give to your loved ones, is to wait and give them to your heirs through your will or trust. You might have reasons to give them the assets now, however, and you want to manage the transfer without Uncle Sam taking more than he should.

After all, the less that you or the recipient have to pay in taxes on the transfer, the more value that remains for your loved one’s benefit. Sometimes it is more advantageous to give the actual stock, rather than to sell it and give the proceeds, after capital gains tax. After talking with your tax advisor, contact your brokerage firm to find out the steps you have to take to transfer your investments.

The laws are different in every state, so you should talk with an elder law attorney near you.

References:

AARP. “How to Give Your Money Away.” (accessed November 28, 2018) https://www.aarp.org/money/investing/info-2018/giving-money-to-family.html

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Should I Give Access to My Checking Account to My Adult Son in Case of an Emergency?

It’s not uncommon for an elderly parent to go to the bank to add a child to his or her bank account “in case something happens to me.”

The reason why most parents do this, is to give their child access to their money during an emergency. It sounds like it should be a pretty easy process. With proper planning, it can be. However, parents should know that simply making a child the joint owner of a bank account (or investment account or safe deposit box) can have unintended consequences. Sometimes this isn’t the best solution during a family crisis.

As Kiplinger’s recent article, “The Trouble with Joint Bank Accounts ‘Just in Case’” explains, the vast majority of banks set up all of their joint accounts as “Joint with Rights of Survivorship” (JWROS). This type of account ownership typically says that upon the death of either of the owners, the assets will automatically transfer to the surviving owner. However, this can create a few unexpected issues.

If Mom’s intent was for the remaining assets not spent during the family crisis to be distributed by the terms of a will, that’s not happening. That’s because the assets automatically transfer to the surviving owner. It doesn’t matter what Mom’s will says.

Remember that adding anyone other than a spouse could create a federal gift tax issue, depending on the size of the account. Anyone make a gift of up to $15,000 a year tax-free to whoever they wish, but if the gift is more than $15,000 and the beneficiary isn’t the spouse, it could trigger the need to file a gift tax return.

For example, if a parent adds a child to their $500,000 savings account, and the child predeceases the parent, half of the account value could be included in the child’s estate for tax purposes. The assets would transfer back to the parent, and, depending on the deceased’s state of residence, state inheritance tax could be due on 50% of the account value. In some states, the tax would be 4.5%, which would mean a state inheritance tax bill of more than $11,000.

However, if Mom’s intent in adding a joint owner to her account is to give her son access to her assets at her death, there’s a better way to do it. Most banks let you structure an account with a “Transfer on Death,” or TOD. With a TOD, if the beneficiary passes before the account owner, nothing happens. There’s no possibility of a state inheritance tax on 50% of the account value. When the account owner dies, the beneficiary has to supply a death certificate to the bank, and the assets will be transferred. These assets are transferred to a named beneficiary, so the time and expense of probating the will are also avoided, because named beneficiary designations supersede the will. This is the same for pensions, IRAs and life insurance policies.

Setting up an account as TOD doesn’t give the beneficiary access to the account, until the death of the account owner. Therefore, the change in titling isn’t considered a gift by the IRS, which eliminates the potential federal gift tax issue.

There’s no such thing as a joint retirement account because IRAs, 401(k)s, annuities, and the like can only have one owner—it’s not possible to make someone a joint owner. However, if a parent becomes incapacitated, they still often would like their child to have access to all their assets, in addition to their bank accounts. The answer for these is a financial power of attorney. This is a document that lets one or more people make financial decisions on your behalf. This document should be drafted by a qualified estate planning attorney.

It is important to understand that many financial institutions require a review process of a financial power of attorney appointment. The bank’s legal department may want to review the document before allowing the designated person to make transactions. This can take several weeks, so be sure that all financial institutions where you have accounts have a copy of your executed financial power of attorney. Have it in place before it’s needed.

Talk to your estate planning attorney about what you’re trying to do and let her guide you. Planning in advance will make things much easy for your loved ones, in case of an emergency.

Reference: Kiplinger (November 14, 2018) “The Trouble with Joint Bank Accounts ‘Just in Case’”

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How Do I Set Up a Trust?

Trust funds are often associated with the very rich, who want to pass on their wealth to future heirs. However, there are many good reasons to set up a trust, even if you aren’t super rich. You should also understand that creating a trust isn’t easy.

U.S. News & World Report’s recent article, “Setting Up a Trust Fund,” explains that a trust fund refers to a fund made up of assets, like stocks, cash, real estate, mutual bonds, collectibles, or even a business, that are distributed after a death. The person setting up a trust fund is called the grantor, and the person, people or organization receiving the assets are known as the beneficiaries. The person the grantor names to ensure that his or her wishes are carried out is the trustee.

While this may sound a lot like drawing up a will, they’re two different legal vehicles.

Trust funds have several benefits. A trust can reduce estate and gift taxes and keep assets safe. With a trust fund, you can establish rules on how beneficiaries spend the money and assets allocated through provisions. For example, a trust can be created to guarantee that your money will only be used for a specific purpose, like for college or starting a business.

A trust fund can also be set up for minor children to distribute assets to over time, such as when they reach ages 25, 35 and 45. A special needs trust can be used for children with special needs to protect their eligibility for government benefits.

At the outset, you need to determine the purpose of the trust because there are many types of trusts. To choose the best option, talk to an experienced estate planning attorney, who will understand the steps you’ll need to take, like registering the trust with the IRS, transferring assets to the trust fund and ensuring that all paperwork is correct. Trust law varies according to state, so that’s another reason to engage a local legal expert.

Next, you’ll need to name a trustee. Choose someone who’s reliable and level-headed. You can also go with a bank or trust company to be your trust fund’s trustee, but they may charge around 1% of the trust’s assets a year to manage the funds. If you go with a family member or friend, also choose a successor in case something happens to your primary trustee.

It’s not uncommon for people to have a trust written and then forget to add their assets to the fund. If that happens, the estate may still have to go through probate.

Another common issue is giving the trustee too many rules. General guidelines for use of trust assets is usually a better approach than setting out detailed rules.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (November 8, 2018) “Setting Up a Trust Fund”

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