Your Values ~ Our Guidance
Your Family ~ Our Experience
Your Legacy ~ Our Commitment

Category: Estate Planning

Do Gifts Count Toward Estate Taxes?

With all of the talk about changes to estate taxes, estate planning attorneys have been watching and waiting as changes were added, then removed, then changed again, in pending legislation. The passage of the infrastructure bill in early November may mark the start of a calmer period, but there are still estate planning moves to consider, says a recent article “Gift money now, before estate tax laws sunset in 2025” from The Press-Enterprise.

Gifts are used to decrease the taxes due on an estate but require thoughtful planning with an eye to avoiding any unintended consequences.Save on Taxes with Charitable Planning

The first gift tax exemption is the annual exemption. Basically, anyone can give anyone else a gift of up to $15,000 every year. If giving together, spouses may gift $30,000 a year. After these amounts, the gift is subject to gift tax. However, there’s another exemption: the lifetime exemption.

For now, the estate and gift tax exemption is $11.7 million per person. Anyone can gift up to that amount during life or at death, or some combination, tax-free. The exemption amount is adjusted every year. If no changes to the law are made, this will increase to roughly $12,060,000 in 2022.

However, the current estate and gift tax exemption law sunsets in 2025. This will bring the exemption down from historically high levels to the prior level of $5 million. Even with an adjustment for inflation, this would make the exemption about $6.2 million. This will dramatically increase the number of estates required to pay federal estate taxes.

For households with net worth below $6 million for an individual and $12 million for a married couple, federal estate taxes may be less of a worry. However, there are state estate taxes, and some are tied to federal estate tax rates. Planning is necessary, especially as some in Congress would like to see those levels set even lower.

Let’s look at a fictional couple with a combined net worth of $30 million. Without any estate planning or gifting, if they live past 2025, they may have a taxable estate of $18 million: $30 million minus $12 million. At a taxable rate of 40%, their tax bill will be $7.2 million.

If the couple had gifted the maximum $23.4 million now under the current exemption, their taxable estate would be reduced to $6.6 million, with a tax bill of $2,520,000. Even if they were to die in a year when the exemption is lower than it was at the time of their gift, they’d save nearly $5 million in taxes.

There are a number of estate planning gifting techniques used to leverage giving, including some which provide income streams to the donor, while allowing the donor to maintain control of assets. These include:

Discounted Giving. When assets are transferred into an entity (commonly a limited partnership or limited liability company), a gift of a minority interest in the entity is generally given a discounted value, due to the lack of control and marketability.

Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts. The donor transfers assets to the trust and retains right to a payment over a period of time. At the end of that period, beneficiaries receive the assets and all of the appreciation. The donor pays income tax on the earnings of the assets in the trust, permitting another tax-free transfer of assets.

Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts. A donor sets up a trust, makes a gift of assets and then sells other assets to the trust in exchange for a promissory note. If this is done correctly, there is a minimal gift, no gain on the sale for tax purposes, the donor pays the income tax and appreciation is moved to the next generation.

These strategies may continue to be scrutinized as Congress searches for funding sources, but in the meantime, they are still available and may be appropriate for your estate. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to see if these or other strategies should be put into place.

Reference: The Press-Enterprise (Nov. 7, 2021) “Gift money now, before estate tax laws sunset in 2025”

Is a Cup of Joe Help Healthy for Seniors?

Nutrition experts and medical researchers are finding all kinds of reasons to recommend indulging in a cup of joe— most based on the fact that coffee is the single greatest contributor to total antioxidant intake, says AARP’s article entitled “Five Surprising Health Benefits of Coffee.”

“Coffee is abundant in bioactive compounds that promote health,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic. As she explains, research published in The New England Journal of Medicine shows that these compounds may improve the gut microbiome (made up of healthy bacteria that aid in digestion and boost immunity) and reduce what’s called oxidative stress, which occurs when free radicals outnumber antioxidants in a way that leads to disease-causing cellular damage in the body. “The beans also have a deep rich hue, and we know that the deeper the color of a plant, the more benefits we can expect for health.”

However, moderation is the key. Three to five eight-ounce cups of coffee — or up to 400 mg of caffeine — per day can be part of a healthy diet. That is plain black coffee, not cappuccinos, lattes and macchiatos. Those are high in calories, sugar and fat. Let’s look at five health benefits of coffee that give you even more reason to enjoy your next cup.

  1. Lowers Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes. A large review of studies published in Nutrition Reviews found that your risk of developing type 2 diabetes drops by 6% for each cup you drink per day. That’s because coffee is packed with phytochemicals that may act as antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, insulin-sensitivity boosters and more. The same goes for decaffeinated brews. A study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine found that those who drank two to three cups of filtered coffee a day — as opposed to unfiltered coffee (made with a pod, an espresso machine, or a French press) had a 60% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than people who drank less than one cup of filtered coffee a day. Those drinking unfiltered coffee didn’t see such a reduction in risk.
  2. Heart Protection. A review of three major studies published recently in Circulation: Heart Failure found that drinking one or more cups of plain caffeinated coffee a day may reduce your risk for heart failure. (Decaf didn’t yield the same benefits.) Among those without diagnosed heart disease, researchers found that drinking up to three cups of coffee a day was associated with a lower risk of stroke, death from cardiovascular disease and death from any cause.

If possible, though, drink filtered coffee because unfiltered coffee contains two compounds that raise LDL cholesterol in some people, and high levels of LDL cholesterol increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.

  1. Boosts brain health. Some research suggests that regular caffeine consumption may offer brain health benefits. In one study of people ages 65 to 84, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, those who drank a cup or two of coffee daily had a lower rate of mild cognitive impairment than those who never or rarely consumed coffee. Other studies suggest coffee may also protect against Parkinson’s disease. However, some research shows that having over five or six cups a day may have an adverse health impact on the brain.
  2. Improves your mood. Drinking coffee may reduce your risk of depression by nearly one-third, according to research from Harvard Medical School. The effect may be related to coffee’s anti-inflammatory properties. Coffee also has phytochemicals that feed the good bacteria in our guts. The good bacteria may produce or enhance other compounds that act on the brain and have beneficial effects on mood.
  3. Maximizes workouts. Downing a cup before exercise can make a difference in your workout because coffee improves circulation, endurance and muscular strength. It also may reduce pain, according to a review of research published in 2019 in Sports Medicine. However, it is important to recognize that coffee can also act as a diuretic.

Reference: AARP (Sep. 20, 2021) “Five Surprising Health Benefits of Coffee”

How Long Is Probate?

Yahoo Finance’s article entitled “How Long Does Probate Take?” gives us an overview of the main things you need to understand about the probate process, so you can prepare.

During probate, a judge determines the way in which to distribute assets to heirs. The court will also authenticate the will (if there is one) and appoint an executor of estate to supervise the probate process. Probate procedures depend to a large part on the state the decedent lived in and the type of estate he or she had.

After authenticating the decedent’s will and appointing an executor, the executor locates and assesses all the property owned by the deceased. If there are any debts, the executor uses estate assets to pay these. The remaining estate is then distributed to the heirs.

The probate process takes time to make certain that everything is done according to the law. As a result, it can take from a few months up to over a year. There’s a long list of variables that can contribute to the duration. A few of the common factors are discussed below.

Estate Size: An estate’s size contributes significantly to the time in probate. Most states use the total value of the estate to determine its size. This depends on state laws and the type of assets included in the estate. Many states now have a small estate probate process, and some waive it altogether for low-value properties. The state may have a small estate limit of a certain dollar amount. The executor or beneficiaries can complete a Small Estate Claim Form or an Affidavit for Transfer of Personal Property to avoid probate for estates below that value.

Multiple beneficiaries: If an estate has a number of heirs, it may gum up the works. Multiple beneficiaries can slow down the probate proceedings because disputes can drag out an otherwise smooth legal process. Disagreements among family members or other heirs can result in delays or even a total halt.

No Will: If a person dies without a will, it means that there’s no guidance from the decedent. As a result, the court and executor have to work through the estate and distribution from scratch.

Debts: Taxes and debts are major factors in the time needed to close an estate. Creditors must be paid before the beneficiaries can receive anything. When a person dies, his or her creditors must receive formal notice. They have a deadline to make a claim for money the estate owed. The longer the claims period, the longer the delay in the probate process.

Taxes: Taxes on an estate also can take a while to process. The estate must receive a closing letter from the IRS and the state taxing authority to close out the probate process. This can take up to six months.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Sep. 27, 2021) “How Long Does Probate Take?”

Do College Kids Need Estate Planning?

The topic of estate planning is frequently overlooked in the craze to get kids to college.

When your child leaves home, it’s important to understand that legally you may not hold the same rights in your relationship that you did for the first 18 years of your child’s life.

Wealth Advisor’s article entitled “Estate Planning Documents Every College Student Should Have in Place” says that it’s crucial to have these discussions as soon as possible with your college student about the plans they should put into place before going out on their own or heading to college. An experienced estate planning attorney can give counsel on the issues concerning your child’s physical health and financial well-being.

When your child turns 18, you’re no longer your child’s legal guardian. Therefore, issues pertaining to his or her health can’t be disclosed to you without your child’s consent. For instance, if your child is in an accident and becomes temporarily incapacitated, you couldn’t make any medical decisions or even give consent. As a result, you’d likely be denied access to his or her medical information. Ask your child to complete a HIPAA release. This is a medical form that names the people allowed to get information about an individual’s medical status, when care is needed. If you’re not named on their HIPAA release, it’s a major challenge to obtain any medical updates about your adult child, including information like whether they have been admitted to a hospital.

In addition, your child also needs to determine the individual who will manage their healthcare decisions, if they’re unable to do so on their own. This is done by designating a healthcare proxy or agent. Without this document, the decision about who makes choices regarding your child’s medical matters may be uncertain.

Your child should ensure his or her financial matters are addressed if he or she can’t see to them, either due to mental incapacity or physical limitations, such as studying abroad. Ask that you or another trusted relative or friend be named agent under your child’s financial power of attorney, so that you can help with managing things like financial aid, banking and tax matters.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Sep. 24, 2021) “Estate Planning Documents Every College Student Should Have in Place”

Can Cryptocurrency Be Inherited?

Cryptocurrency accounts are not like any traditional investment accounts. However, their growing prevalence and value means they need to be considered for more and more estate plans, especially when they take an enormous leap in value. These accounts are more vulnerable, according to the recent article “Millennial Money: What happens to your crypto if you die?” from The Indiana Gazette, and in most cases, there’s no way to name a beneficiary for your crypto accounts.

If you store your cryptocurrency on a physical device at home and a few friends know your key—the crypto password that grants access to a crypto wallet—one of those friends could very easily wander into your home and steal your crypto without you even noticing.

On the flip side, if you don’t share your key with anyone and become incapacitated or die, your crypto assets could be lost forever. Knowing how to store these assets safely and communicate your wishes for loved ones is extremely important, more so than for traditional assets.

How is crypto stored? Crypto “wallets” are digital wallets, managed on an app or a website, or kept on a thumb drive (also known as a memory stick). How you store crypto depends in part on how you intend to use it.

A “Hot Wallet” is used to buy and sell crypto. They are usually free and convenient but may not be as secure as other methods because they are always connected to the internet.

“Cold Wallets” are used to store crypto for a longer period of time, like a deep freezer.

The Hot Wallet is more like a checking account, with money moving in and out. The Cold Wallet is like a savings account, where money is kept for a longer period of time. You can have both, just as you probably have both a checking and savings account.

Whoever holds the “keys” to the wallets—whoever has custody of the password, which is a series of randomly generated numbers and letters—has access to your cryptocurrency. It might be just you, a third-party crypto exchange, or a hybrid of the two. Consider the third-party exchange a temporary and risky solution, as you don’t have control of the keys and exchanges do get hacked.

Naming a beneficiary in your will and adding a document to your estate plan containing an inventory of cryptocurrency and any passwords, PINs, keys and instructions to find your cold wallet is part of an estate plan addressing this new digital asset class.

Do not under any circumstances include any of the crypto information in your will. This document becomes part of the public record when filed in court and giving this information is the same as sharing your checking, saving and investment account information with the general public.

Some platforms, like Coinbase, have a process in place for next of kin, when an owner dies. Others do not, so it’s up to the crypto owner to make plans, if they want assets to be preserved and passed to another family member.

Preparing for cryptocurrency is much the same as preparing for the rest of your estate plan. Keep the plan updated, especially after big life events, like marriage, divorce, birth, or death. Keep instructions up to date, so the executor and beneficiaries know what to do. Bear in mind that crypto wallets need occasional updates, like every other kind of digital platform.

Reference: The Indiana Gazette (Nov. 7, 2021) “Millennial Money: What happens to your crypto if you die?”

How Do You Split Estate in a Blended Family?

Blended Family word cloud on a white background.

When it comes to blended families and estate planning, there are no guarantees, especially concerning estate planning. However, there are some classic mistakes to avoid, reports this recent article from AARP titled “Remarried With Children? 5 Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid.”

Most people mean well. They want to protect their spouses and hope that their heirs will share in any proceeds when the second spouse dies. They want all the children to be happy. They also hope that the step siblings will still regard each other as “siblings” after the parents are passed. However, there are situations where children get shut out of their inheritance or an ex-spouse inherits it all, even if that wasn’t the plan. Here are five mistakes to avoid:

#1: Not changing named beneficiaries. People neglect to update their wills and beneficiary designations. This is something to do immediately, before or after the wedding. By changing the name of the beneficiary on your 401(k), for instance, it passes directly to the surviving spouse without probate. All financial accounts should be checked, as should life insurance beneficiaries. You can designate children as secondary beneficiaries, so they receive assets, in the event that both parents die.

While you’re doing that, update legal directives: including the medical power of attorney and the power of attorney. That is, unless you’d like your ex to make medical and financial decisions for you!

#2 Not updating your will. Most assets pass through the will, unless you have planned otherwise. In many second marriages, estate planning is done hoping the spouse inherits all the assets and upon their death, the remaining assets are divided among all of the children. There is nothing stopping a surviving spouse from re-writing their will and for the late spouses’ children to be left without anything from their biological parent. An estate planning attorney can explore different options to avoid this from occurring.

#3 Treating all heirs equally. Yes, this is a mistake. If one person came to the marriage with significantly more assets than another, care must be taken if the goal is to have those assets remain in the bloodline. If one person owned the house, for instance, and a second spouse and children moved into the house, the wish might be to have only the original homeowner’s children inherit the proceeds of the sale of the house. The same goes for pension and retirement accounts.

#4 Waiting to give until you’ve passed. If you are able to, it may be worth gifting to your heirs while you are still living, rather than gifting through a will. You may give up to $15,000 per person or $30,000 to a couple without having to pay a federal gift tax. Recipients don’t pay tax on most gifts. Let’s say you and your spouse have four children and they are all married. You may give each child and their spouse $30,000, without triggering any taxes for you or for them. It gets better: your spouse can also make the same size gift. Therefore, you and your spouse can give $60,000 to each couple, a total of $240,000 per year for all eight people and no taxes need be paid by anyone. This takes assets out of your estate and is not considered income to the recipients.

#5 Doing it yourself. If you’re older with a second marriage, ex-spouses, blended families and comingled assets, your estate planning will be complicated. Add a child with special needs or an aging parent and it becomes even more complex. Trying to create your own estate plan without a current and thorough knowledge of the law (including tax law) is looking for trouble, which is what you will leave to your children. The services of an estate planning attorney are a worthwhile investment, especially for blended families.

Reference: AARP (July 9, 2021) “Remarried With Children? 5 Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid”

What Do I Need in My Estate Plan?

Digital Journal’s recent article entitled “What is an Estate Plan and What are its Benefits?” explains that an estate plan usually includes the following:

  • A will;
  • A financial power of attorney and a medical power of attorney (with consent);
  • A living will; and perhaps
  • A living trust.

You also need an experienced estate planning attorney who understands the possible strategies that are available to you for your family.

Angry judge with gavel makes verdict for law

There are many significant benefits to establishing an effective estate plan, including deciding who will inherit specific assets, possessions, or valuables; and designating guardians for minor children; and avoid or minimizing taxes.

Without an estate plan, heirs must go through a very stressful probate process, which can take years. It can also be expensive. With a will, you can protect your young children and ensure that they

are cared for by designating a guardian. Without a will, the court decides who will care for your children.

You can also stop fights before they start with an estate plan. One sibling—for whatever reason—may think he or she deserves more than the others. Such disagreements can easily wind up in court, with family members fighting each other and costing thousands in legal fees.

With an effective estate plan, you can make certain your assets are handled the way you intended if you were to become mentally incapacitated or pass away. You can choose who will be in charge of your medical affairs, financial affairs, and even specific assets such as a small business. If a business owner doesn’t have an estate plan, state law would determine who would be in control of the business.

A big question for a small business owner is who will oversee the business if he or she becomes incapacitated or dies. A key is determining the best strategy after the death of the owner. A business succession plan is critical.

Reference: Digital Journal (Sep. 2, 2021) “What is an Estate Plan and What are its Benefits?”

What is the Difference between a Trust and a Will?

Trusts and wills are two different ways to distribute and control your assets after your death. They have some key differences. Family trusts and wills are both worthwhile estate planning tools that can make sure your assets are protected and will pass to heirs the way you intended, says MSN’s recent article entitled “Family Trusts vs. Wills: What Are the Differences Between These Estate-Planning Options?”

This article tells you what you need to know about the differences between family trusts and wills to help you avoid estate planning mistakes.

Remember that without a will, the state probate laws will determine what happens to your assets. It may or may not be what you want. In contrast, a will lets you state to whom you want to distribute your assets.

Note that a trust permits the grantor (the person making the trust) to do what he or she wants with the assets. A trust also avoids probate.

A family trust is a wise choice for those who want to provide for the management of their assets if they become incapacitated, people interested in keeping information about their assets and who inherits those assets private and those who have a significant number of assets or a large estate. Here are some other situations in which a family trust would be appropriate to use:

  • Asset protection from creditors and divorce
  • For disabled beneficiaries who need to qualify for government benefits
  • For tax-planning; and
  • For cost and time efficiency over a lengthy probate process.

Everyone should have a will. It’s a way to leave bequests, nominate guardians for a minor child and an executor.

If you have a family trust, you still need a will. There may be some assets not owned by the trust, such as vehicles and other personal property. There may also be payments due you at your death. Those assets must go through probate, if not arranged to avoid probate.

Once that process is complete, the assets are distributed to the family trust and are governed by its provisions. This is what is known as a “pour-over will” because the assets “pour over” to the family trust.

Contact an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss the estate planning options available for you and your situation.

Reference: MSN (Aug. 27, 2021) “Family Trusts vs. Wills: What Are the Differences Between These Estate-Planning Options?”

What Happens If You Inherit a House with a Mortgage?

Nice one-family house with a porch

Nothing in life is certain, except death and taxes, says the old adage. The same could be said about mortgages. Did you know that the word “mortgage” is taken from a French term meaning “death pledge?” A recent article titled “What happens to your mortgage when you die?” from bankrate.com explains the options for homeowners who wonder what might happen to their home, mortgage and loved ones, after they die.

When a homeowner dies, their mortgage lives on. The mortgage lender still needs to be repaid, or the lender could foreclose on the home when payments stop, regardless of the reason. The same is true if there are outstanding home equity loans or lines of credit attached to the property.

If there is a co-borrower or co-signer, the other person must continue making payments on the mortgage. If there is no co-signer, the executor of the estate is responsible for making mortgage payments from estate assets.

If the home is left to an heir through a will, it’s up to the heir to decide what to do with the home and the mortgage. If the lender and the terms of the mortgage allow it, the heir can assume the mortgage and make payments. The heir might also arrange for the property to be sold.

A sole heir should reach out to the mortgage company and discuss their options, after conferring with the family’s estate planning attorney. To assume the loan, the mortgage must be transferred to the heir. If the property is sold, proceeds from the sale are used to pay off the loan.

Heirs do not need to requalify for the mortgage on a loan they inherited. This can be a good opportunity for someone with bad credit to repair that credit, if they can stay current on the mortgage. If the heir wants to change the terms of the mortgage, they will need to qualify for a new loan and meet all of the lending institution’s eligibility requirements.

Proof that a person is the rightful inheritor of the property or executor of the estate may be required. The mortgage lender will typically have a process to specify what documents are needed. If the lender is not cooperative or balks at any requests, the estate planning attorney will be able to help.

If you own a home, it is very important to plan for the future and that includes making decisions about what you want to happen to your home, if you are too ill to manage your affairs or for when you die. You’ll need to document your wishes through estate planning.  Our firm is qualified and ready to assist you, contact us to get started.

Reference: Bankrate.com (July 9, 2021) “What happens to your mortgage when you die?”

Subscribe!
eNewsletter & Blog Digest

Ask a Question!
Contact Us