When Should I Review My Estate Plan?

As life changes, you need to periodically review your estate-planning documents and discuss your situation with your estate planning attorney.

WMUR’s recent article, “Money Matters: Reviewing your estate plan,” says a common question is “When should I review my documents?”

Every few years is the quick answer, but a change in your life may also necessitate a review. Major life events can be related to a marriage, divorce, or death in the family; a substantial change in estate size; a move to another state and/or acquisition of property in another state; the death of an executor, trustee or guardian; the birth or adoption of children or grandchildren; retirement; and a significant change in health, to name just a handful.

When you conduct your review, consider these questions:

  • Does anyone in your family have special needs?
  • Do you have any children from a previous marriage?
  • Is your choice of executor, guardian, or trustee still okay?
  • Do you have a valid living will, durable power of attorney for health care, or a do-not-resuscitate to manage your health care, if you’re not able to do so?
  • Do you need to plan for Medicaid?
  • Are your beneficiary designations up to date on your retirement plans, annuities, payable-on-death bank accounts and life insurance?
  • Do you have charitable intentions and if so, are they mentioned in your documents?
  • Do you own sufficient life insurance?

In addition, review your digital presence and take the necessary efforts to protect your online information, after your death or if you’re no longer able to act.

It may take a little time, effort, and money to review your documents, but doing so helps ensure your intentions are properly executed. Your planning will help to protect your family during a difficult time.

Reference: WMUR (January 24, 2019) “Money Matters: Reviewing your estate plan”

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Does Anyone Really Need a Trust?

The simplest definition of a trust is a three-party fiduciary relationship between the person who created the trust and the fiduciary for the benefit of a third party. The person who created the trust is known as the “Settlor” or “Trustor.” The fiduciary, known as the “Trustee,” is the person or organization with the authority to handle the asset(s). The trustee owes the duty of good faith and trust to the third party, known as the “Beneficiary.”

That is accurately described by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in the article titled “Do I need a trust?”

Trusts are created by the preparation of a trust document by an estate planning attorney. The trust can be made to take effect while the Trustor is alive — referred to as inter vivos or after the person’s death — testamentary.

The document can be irrevocable, meaning it can never be changed, or revocable, which means it can change from one type of trust to another, under certain circumstances.

Whether you even need a trust, has nothing to do with your level of assets. People work with estate planning attorneys to create trusts for many different reasons. Here are a few:

  • Consolidating assets during lifetime and for ease of management upon disability or death.
  • Avoiding probate so assets can be transferred with privacy.
  • Protecting a beneficiary with cognitive or physical disabilities.
  • Setting forth the rules of use for a jointly shared asset, like a family vacation home.
  • Tax planning reasons, especially when IRAs valued at more than $250,000 are being transferred to the next generation.
  • Planning for death, disability, divorce or bankruptcy.

There is considerable misinformation about trusts and how they are used. Let’s debunk a few myths:

An irrevocable trust means I can’t ever change anything. Ever. Even with an irrevocable trust, the settlor typically reserves options to control trust assets. It depends upon how the trust is prepared. That may include, depending upon the state, the right to receive distributions of principal and income, the right to distribute money from the trust to third parties at any time and the right to buy and sell real estate owned by the trust, among others. Depending upon where you live, you may be able to “decant” a trust into another trust. Ask your estate planning attorney, if this is an option.

I don’t have enough assets to need a trust. This is not necessarily so. Many of today’s retirees have six figure retirement accounts, while their parents and grandparents didn’t usually have that much saved. They had pensions, which were controlled by their employers. Today’s worker owns more assets with complex tax issues.

You don’t have to be a descendent of an ancient Roman family to need a trust. You must just have enough factors that makes it worthwhile doing. Talk with your estate planning attorney to find out if you need a trust. While you’re at it, make sure your estate plan is up to date. If you don’t have an estate plan, there’s no time like the present to tackle this necessary personal responsibility.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Jan. 28, 2019) “Do I need a trust?”

 

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Four Common Myths about Estate Planning

1) Myth: My spouse can make all of my healthcare and financial decisions because he/she is my spouse.

Reality: This is not always the case. To make sure your spouse can indeed make important medical decisions on your behalf, you should sign a durable power of attorney and a medical advance directive.

2) Myth: I’ve told my family how I want my affairs handled after I die. They’ll divide everything the way I want it divided.

Reality: Informal discussions about your affairs have no legal enforceability. Even if your immediate family does carry out your wishes, if  here is a remarriage or divorce, for instance, your estate could end up in the hands of people you never intended to be beneficiaries. A properly executed will and other estate planning documents are the only way you can ensure your estate ends up where you want it to go.

3) Myth: I signed a will before, so I don’t need to do it again.

Reality: An old will may not reflect your current goals. You or your children may have married or remarried. Your property holdings may have changed. A trust may now be the preferred method to safeguard your legacy because of changes in your circumstances and needs. The only way to know for sure is to have a comprehensive estate plan review.

4) Myth: I am not wealthy enough to need an estate plan.

Reality: Almost everyone will benefit from estate planning, which addresses non-wealth aspects of your legacy along with the financial aspects. Estate planning can ensure someone you trust will care for your children and pets after your death, and make sure treasured family heirlooms end up where you want them to go. Estate planning also can help you pass along your values.
Moreover, trusts are not just for the wealthy: In states that practice Medicaid recovery, for instance, your survivors may receive a large bill for Medicaid-funded nursing home care after your death, which can force the sale of assets like the family home. Some states even seize life insurance proceeds. Depending on your situation, a trust can prevent this from happening. The only way to know for sure is to visit with an estate planning attorney to obtain personalized advice for your situation.
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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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How Do I Find the Right Trustee for My Estate?

To be certain that your wishes are followed, many people create a trust. One of the tasks in this process is to designate the person who can best carry out your plans. That’s the trustee.

Kiplinger’s recent article, “How to Choose the Right Trustee for Your Estate,” explains that being a trustee means accepting specific duties and obligations. For example, this includes showing impartiality between the interests of the current and future beneficiaries, accurately accounting to all beneficiaries, wisely investing trust funds, managing trust property and adhering to the prohibition against self-dealing.

It’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your trustee and that she appreciates her responsibilities and personal liability to the trust beneficiaries. When considering a trustee, ask yourself these questions:

  • Can your trustee separate her personal feelings and interests from those of the beneficiaries and exercise sound judgment?
  • Will your trustee treat all the beneficiaries impartially?
  • Is your trustee financially savvy enough to analyze investments?
  • Will a child who is balancing her family and career have enough time to devote to serving as trustee?

Family members are closer to the beneficiaries and are more likely to understand their needs. A family member trustee may charge her costs to the trust but typically doesn’t charge an administrative fee. When a sibling is selected as trustee, it can enflame feelings and resentments among the beneficiaries. A relative without any trust experience may run into trouble, because of his ignorance. He will also be liable for any damages.

If you choose an attorney, accountant, or financial adviser, ask yourself these questions:

  • Can she understand the unique dynamics of your family?
  • What experience does she have as a trustee?
  • What are the administrative fees and costs associated with being a trustee?

You can also select a corporate trustee. Banks and trust companies provide professional fiduciary services and act independently. Opting for a corporate fiduciary may eliminate some of the conflicts in the family, while providing experienced and professional investment and administrative management. Think about these questions:

  • Will they invest the time to understand my family and their needs?
  • What are the corporate trustee’s standards?
  • Does the trustee understand the goals of my trust?
  • What are the corporate trustee’s fees?

Corporate trustees follow specific procedures to ensure unbiased and professional services.

Many of the answers to these questions will depend on the size and the nature of your trust. Talk to a trust attorney about all of the details.

Reference: Kiplinger (November 20, 2018) “How to Choose the Right Trustee for Your Estate”

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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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