What are Biggest Blunders in Wealth Transfer?

When it comes time to transfer what we’ve work so hard to accumulate, the way in which we transfer our wealth can have a big impact on how much of our wealth is actually received by our heirs and how much is transferred to the federal government.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Top 7 Tax Mistakes Made in Planning a Wealth Transfer” says that tax mistakes can mean losing a lot of hard earned money, if you’re not careful. Here are some of the biggest mistakes made in wealth transfer planning.

  1. IRD Taxes. Most people are unaware of this tax. It stands for “Income in Respect of the Decedent.” It’s the income tax your heirs will pay on tax-deferred assets, such as traditional IRAs, 401k’s and annuities. In many cases, these taxes will push heirs into a higher marginal tax bracket. You should plan to reduce or eliminate the IRD Tax, if you have a 401k, IRA or annuities. For example, if you gift IRA and 401k assets to charity and non-IRD assets to your heirs, you can save them in IRD Taxes! The use of a Charitable Remainder Trust can provide a tax-efficient way to create a “charitable stretch IRA” for your children or grandchildren.
  2. Charitable Giving Mistakes. Most people do charitable giving with after tax cash from their income. However, this isn’t the most efficient way to give. Gifting highly appreciated securities, real estate, or even business interests can give you a double tax benefit: it can eliminate capital gains taxes and still get the charitable tax deduction.
  3. Dying without a Comprehensive Estate Plan. About three-quarters of Americans die without a will. A will, by itself, subjects your assets (and your heirs) to probate. A well-designed estate plan can help reduce or eliminate both probate and estate taxes. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about creating a comprehensive estate plan for you or review the one you have.
  4. No (or Improper) Beneficiary Designations. This can result in a loss of inheritance for your family. With retirement accounts like IRAs or 401(k)s, properly designating beneficiaries is essential to avoid the loss of further income tax deferral at death. If you don’t have primary and contingent beneficiaries named on all your accounts, these assets will have to go through probate and could cost unnecessary IRD taxes.
  5. Improper Titling of Business Interests. A business is frequently titled only in the name of the business owning spouse. However, when that spouse dies, the business itself must go through the costly process of probate, which can create issues for the operation of the company.
  6. Bad Choices for Ownership & Beneficiary Designations on Life Insurance. Life insurance can be a great financial planning tool and provide liquidity. It can also be a great wealth transfer tool in estate planning or business planning. However, if the ownership and beneficiaries are done incorrectly, the life insurance benefits can be subject to estate taxes. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT).
  7. Giving the Wrong Assets to your Heirs. A common mistake that people make in wealth transfer planning, is to leave a percentage of their estate to their children, another to their grandchildren and another to their favorite charities (or Donor Advised Fund) in their will or via a trust. However, this isn’t the smartest way to distribute your assets from a tax perspective. Doing so could subject them to IRD taxes. Instead, use IRA (and other IRD assets such as 401k) for your gifts to charity and, give non-IRD assets (such as cash, real estate, life insurance, or a Roth IRA) to your children and grandchildren.

Reference: Forbes (Dec. 15, 2021) “Top 7 Tax Mistakes Made in Planning a Wealth Transfer”

How Do You Plan for the Death of a Spouse?

The COVID pandemic has become a painful lesson in how important it is to having estate plans in order, especially when a spouse becomes sick, incapacitated, or dies unexpectedly. With more than 400,000 Americans dead from the coronavirus, not every one of them had an estate plan and a financial plan in place, leaving loved ones to make sense of their estate while grieving. This recent article from Market Watch titled “How to get your affairs in order if your spouse is dying” offers five things to do before the worst occurs.

Start by gathering information. Make all of your accounts known and put together paperwork about each and every account. Look for documents that will become crucial, including a durable power of attorney, an advanced health care directive and a last will. Gather paperwork for life insurance policies, investment portfolios and retirement accounts. Create a list of contact information for your estate planning attorney, accountant, insurance agent, doctors and financial advisors and share it with the people who will be responsible for managing your life. In addition, call these people, so they have as much information as possible—this could make things easier for a surviving spouse. Consider making introductions, via phone or a video call, especially if you have been the key point person for these matters.

Create a hard copy binder for all of this information or a file, so your loved ones do not have to conduct a scavenger hunt.

If there is an estate plan in place, discuss it with your spouse and family members so everyone is clear about what is going to happen. If your estate plan has not been updated in several years, that needs to be done. There have been many big changes to tax law, and you may be missing important opportunities that will benefit those left behind.

If there is no estate plan, something is better than nothing. A trust can be done to transfer assets, as long as the trust is funded properly and promptly.

Confirm beneficiary designations. Check everything for accuracy. If ex-spouses, girlfriends, or boyfriends are named on accounts that have not been reviewed for decades, there will be a problem for the family. Problems also arise when no one is listed as a beneficiary. Beneficiary designations are used in many different accounts, including retirement accounts, life insurance policies, annuities, stock options, restricted stock and deferred compensation plans.

Many Americans die without a will, known as “intestate.” With no will, the court must rely on the state’s estate laws, which does not always result in the people you wanted receiving your property. Any immediate family or next of kin may become heirs, even if they were people you with whom you were not close or from whom you may even have been estranged. Having no will can lead to estate battles or having strangers claim part of your estate.

If there are minor children and no will to declare who their guardian should be, the court will decide that also. If you have minor children, you must have a will to protect them and a plan for their financial support.

Create a master list of digital assets. These assets range from photographs to financial accounts, utility bills and phone bills to URLs for websites. What would happen to your social media accounts, if you died and no one could access them? Some platforms provide for a legacy contact, but many do not. Prepare what information you can to avoid the loss of digital assets that have financial and sentimental value.

Gathering these materials and having these conversations is difficult, but they are a necessity if a family member receives a serious diagnosis. If there is no estate plan in place, have a conversation with an estate planning attorney who can advise what can be done, even in a limited amount of time.

Reference: Market Watch (Jan. 22, 2021) “How to get your affairs in order if your spouse is dying”