How Does My Co-op Fit into My Estate Planning?

Parents bought a studio apartment in a New York City co-op for their adult son with special needs. He’s able to live independently with the support of an agency.

The couple asked the co-op board to let them transfer the property to an irrevocable trust, so when they die, the son will still have a place to live. However, the board denied their request.

An individual with special needs can’t inherit property directly, or he’ll no longer be able to receive the government benefits that support him. What should the parents do?

The New York Times’ recent article entitled “Can I Leave My Co-op to My Heirs?” explains that parents can leave a co-op apartment to their children in their will or in a trust. However, that doesn’t mean their heirs will necessarily wind up with the right to own or live in that apartment.

In most cases, a co-op board has wide discretion to approve or deny the transfer of the shares and the proprietary lease.

If the board denied the request, the apartment will be sold and the children receive the equity. Just because the will says, ‘I’m leaving it to my children,’ that doesn’t give the children the absolute right to acquire the shares or live there.

In some instances, the lease says a board won’t unreasonably withhold consent to transfer the apartment to a financially responsible family member. However, few, if any, leases extend that concept to include trusts.

The parents here could wait to have the situation resolved after their deaths, leaving clear directives to the executor of their estate about what to do should the board reject a request to transfer the property into a trust for their son. However, that leaves everyone in a precarious position, with years of uncertainty.

Another option is to sell the co-op now, put the proceeds in a special-needs trust and buy a condo through that trust. The son would then live there.

Unlike co-ops, condos generally allow transfers within estate planning, without requiring approval.

While this route would involve significant upheaval, the parents would have more peace of mind.

However, before buying the condo, an experienced estate planning attorney should review the building’s rules on transferring the unit.

Reference: New York Times (Oct. 1, 2022) “Can I Leave My Co-op to My Heirs?”

Do I Need to Name a Life Insurance Beneficiary?

When a loved one dies, there are questions to address, such as how to pay for a funeral and other death expenses. A life insurance policy may help. However, the deceased must have made sure the proper beneficiary is named.

If a beneficiary isn’t designated, some issues with the estate could arise, or the policy could go to the decedent’s estate. Likewise, the same is true if the one beneficiary preceded the decedent in death.

Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “What Happens If I Don’t Name a Life Insurance Beneficiary?” explains that a life insurance policy is a contract you enter into with a life insurance company.

When you set up your life insurance policy, you have the right to name one or more beneficiaries who’ll get the proceeds of the policy when you die. You pay premiums on the policy until your death, to guarantee your beneficiaries that right.

You might designate just one beneficiary to receive all the proceeds. In addition to the primary beneficiary, you can name contingent beneficiaries who will receive the proceeds of the policy if the primary beneficiary predeceases the policyholder.

It is important to add as much identifying information about your beneficiaries as possible, so they can be easily identified. It’s also important to keep your policy up to date on the information of your beneficiaries.

If there are no beneficiaries living, either the proceeds of the policy will enter the probate process, or the life insurance proceeds will pass to the decedent’s heirs-at-law who are those people who are close to the decedent and would probably inherit, if there was a beneficiary designation or will.

Heirs-at-law are also defined as those people who will inherit your assets, if you die intestate.

Dying without a beneficiary in place or leaving your estate as beneficiary of your policy have different rules in each state.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about your state’s rules and the rules of the life insurance company when you’re setting up your life insurance policy and will.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Dec. 10, 2022) “What Happens If I Don’t Name a Life Insurance Beneficiary?”

The Basics of Estate Planning

No matter how BIG or small your net worth is, estate planning is a process that ensures your assets are handed down the way you want after you die.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Estate Planning Basics” explains that everybody has an estate.

An estate is nothing more or less than the sum total of your assets and possessions of value. This includes:

  • Your car
  • Your home
  • Financial accounts
  • Investments; and
  • Personal property.

Estate planning is the process of deciding which people or organizations are to get your possessions or assets after you’ve died.

It’s also how you leave directions for managing your care and assets if you are incapacitated and unable to make financial or medical decisions. That is done with powers of attorney, a healthcare directive and a living will.

Your estate plan details who gets your assets. It also designates who can make critical healthcare and financial decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. If you have minor children, it also lets you designate their legal guardians, in case you die before they reach 18. It also allows you to name adults to safeguard their financial interests.

Your estate plan directs assets to specific entities or people in a legally binding manner. If you want your daughter to have your coin collection or your favorite animal rescue organization to get $500, it’s all mapped out in your plan.

You can also create a trust to safeguard a minor child’s assets until they reach a certain age. You can also keep assets out of probate. That way, your beneficiaries can easily access things like your home or bank accounts.

All estate plans should include documents that cover three main areas: asset transfer, medical needs and financial decisions. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help you create your  plan.

Reference: Forbes (Nov. 16, 2022) “Estate Planning Basics”

Should I Need a Trust in My Estate Plan?

Fed Week’s recent article entitled “Considerations for Including a Trust in Your Estate Plan” describes what a trust can offer. This includes the following:

  • Protection against possible incompetency. To protect yourself, you can create a trust and move your assets into it. You can be the trustee, so you’ll control the assets and enjoy the income.
  • Probate avoidance. Assets held in trust also avoid probate. In the documents, you can state how the trust assets will be distributed at your death.
  • Protection for your heirs. After your death, a trustee can keep trust assets from being squandered or lost in a divorce.

If your heirs are young, you can set up a trust to stay in effect until they are older and can handle their own finances. Another option is to keep the trust in effect for the lives of the beneficiaries.

A trust can be revocable or irrevocable. A revocable trust must be created during your lifetime. If you change your mind, you can revoke the trust and reclaim the assets as your own.

A revocable trust can offer incapacity protection and probate avoidance but not tax reduction.

An irrevocable trust can be created while you’re alive or at your death. A revocable trust may become irrevocable at your death.

Assets transferred into an irrevocable trust during your lifetime will be beyond the reach of creditors and divorce settlements. The same is true of assets going into an irrevocable trust at your death.

Your family members can be the beneficiaries of an irrevocable trust, while a trustee or co-trustees you’ve named will be responsible for distributing funds to those trust beneficiaries.

The trustee will be responsible for protecting assets.

Reference:  Fed Week (Oct. 5, 2022) “Considerations for Including a Trust in Your Estate Plan”

What Is Asset Protection Planning?

Yahoo’s recent article entitled “How to Protect Your Money, Even If You’re Not Rich” says that contrary to what many people believe, asset protection planning isn’t just for the wealthy. The estates of anyone, in any income group, can be sued or suffer from hefty taxation.

The following strategies can mitigate the effect of creditor claims and other issues on your wealth.

If you want and need to protect your assets, you should be proactive. However, if you have significant debt and few assets and you are subject to a lawsuit, it may be better to file for bankruptcy than to create an asset protection plan.

That’s because it’s only worth it if you have significant assets, although some events cannot be protected against. These include tax liens, mechanics liens, alimony judgments and child support claims.

A plan benefits these people the most:

  • Anyone with a significant amount of assets.
  • Anyone with a significant, recurring amount of credit card debt.
  • Homeowners underwater on their mortgage (your mortgage balance is greater than the value of your home).
  • Anyone whose profession carries with it a high probability of liability, such as doctors and attorneys.

Some assets aren’t subject to creditors, such as retirement accounts under the protection of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).

You may also legally preserve at least a portion of your home equity. Homes may be put in another individual’s name.

The goal of an asset protection plan is to set a level of legal separation between you and your assets. This allows you to legally shelter your assets from creditors without doing anything illegal.

Reference: Yahoo! (Nov. 6, 2022) “How to Protect Your Money, Even If You’re Not Rich”

Should I Look at I-Bonds for My Estate Plan?

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “What Are I-Bonds?” compiled answers to some frequently asked questions about series I bonds.

How is the interest rate determined? The composite rate has two parts: (i) a fixed rate that stays the same for the life of the bond; and (ii) an inflation rate based on the consumer price index (CPI). Each May and November, the U.S. Treasury Department announces a new fixed rate and inflation rate that apply to bonds issued during the following six months. The inflation rate changes every six months from the bond’s issue date.

How does interest accrue? They earn interest monthly from the first day of the month of the issue date, and interest is compounded semi-annually. Interest is added to the bond’s principal value. Note that you can’t redeem an I-Bond in the first year, and if you cash it in before five years, you forfeit the most recent three months of interest. If you check your bond’s value at TreasuryDirect.gov, within the first five years of owning it, the amount you’ll see will have the three-month penalty subtracted from it. As a result, when you buy a new bond, interest doesn’t show until the first day of the fourth month following the issue month.

How many I-Bonds can I buy? You can purchase up to $10,000 per calendar year in electronic bonds through TreasuryDirect.gov. You can also buy up to $5,000 each year in paper bonds with your tax refund. For those who are married filing jointly, the limit is $5,000 per couple.

How are I-Bonds taxed? I-Bond interest is free of state and local income tax. You can also defer federal tax until you file a tax return for the year you cash in the bond or it stops earning interest because it has reached final maturity (after 30 years), whichever comes first. You can also report the interest every year, which may be a good choice if you’d rather avoid one large tax bill in the future.

If you use the bonds’ proceeds to pay for certain higher-education expenses for your spouse, your dependents, or yourself, you may avoid federal tax. However, you must meet several requirements to be eligible. Among them, the bond owner must have been at least 24 years old by the issue date and have income that falls below specified limits.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 11, 2022) “What Are I-Bonds?”

Does My College Kid Need an Estate Plan?

When it comes to estate planning, we usually think of older adults. However, it’s a topic that we should also consider for college students.

WDIO’s recent article entitled “Estate planning is for college students too” reminds us that there’s a number of documents you can put into place in the case of an emergency.

Power of Attorney. There are two types of POAs. The financial power of attorney allows a named agent to make financial decisions on behalf of the college student, in the event they are unable to do so. A medical power of attorney names a healthcare agent.

These can have HIPAA language written into them that authorizes their medical provider to release information about them. Remember, if your student travels away from home for college, you may need a POA for that state.

Will. A typical college student might not have a lot of money. However, they do have their own stuff, and someone needs to make the decision regarding what happens to that stuff. Ask the student to name the parents as the executor of his or her will.

FERPA Waiver. FERPA stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Without this waiver, a parent has no authority to call the college and request information about your student if their over 18. With a waiver, you can request a transcript and student loan information.

HIPAA Waiver. A HIPAA waiver allows an adult child’s health information to be disclosed. It’s usually for medical facilities, doctors, schools, or any other person where they are in possession of the health information of a person where that individual authorizes the release of the information to a designated person.

Reference: WDIO (Sep. 28, 2022) “Estate planning is for college students too”

How Do I Ask My Parents About Their Estate Plan?
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How Do I Ask My Parents About Their Estate Plan?

Next Avenue’s recent article entitled “Mom, Do You Have a Will?” says that many older adults and their children don’t want to talk about death. Of course, you could simply ask your parents about their wishes. How do you make sure the transition after they have died is uncomplicated?

If you die with very few assets, and you only have one child, you may not need a will. However, if you want to leave something to a charity or a dear friend, you’ll need one. If you have more assets or more children, you should hire an experienced estate planning attorney to help.

If your parent is a part of a blended family it is even more important. That is because you want to avoid either a full or partial disinheritance of a surviving spouse or their children. It’s also important to prepare a will and appoint guardians, if there are minor children or adult children with special needs.

Wills are especially important if heirs might fight over the estate, or if you want certain assets to go to specific people.

In addition, single people should have a plan for their assets, especially if they’re in a committed relationship but not married. That’s because state inheritance laws don’t provide for a domestic partner to inherit.

A will is an important first step to make certain that a relationship is recognized before a loved one passes away, so the remaining partner can access their right to property or benefits.

If you die without a will, a situation known as intestate succession, your assets may be distributed according to state probate law. That schedule may differ from what you would want.

When asked if they have a will in place, some older adults will say they’re prepared. However, in truth they aren’t prepared at all. They may have a will that’s old and no longer relevant to their current situation or may have not signed or filed their will and other important estate planning papers.

Clarifying the status of older adults’ wills is critical to a smoother transition of assets and should be addressed when they’re of sound mind and clearly able to make their own decisions about their estates.

Reference: Next Avenue (Sep. 14, 2022) “Mom, Do You Have a Will?”

Is Your Business Included in Estate Plan?

Forbes’ recent article entitled “The Importance of Estate Planning When Building Your Business” says that every business that’s expected to survive must have a clear answer to this question. The plan needs to be shared with the current owners and management as well as the future owners.

The common things business owners use to put some protection in place are buy-sell agreements, key-person insurance and a succession plan. These are used to make certain that, when the time comes, there’s both certainty around what needs to happen, as well as the funding to make sure that it happens.

If your estate plan hasn’t considered your business interests or hasn’t been updated as the business has developed, it may be that this plan falls apart when it matters the most.

Buy-sell insurance policies that don’t state the current business values could result in your interests being sold far below fair value or may see the interests being bought by an external party that threatens the business itself.

If your agreements are not in place, or are challenged by the IRS, your estate may find itself with a far greater burden than anticipated.

Your estate plan should be reviewed regularly to account for changes in your situation, the value of your assets, the status of your (intended) beneficiaries and new tax laws and regulations.

There are a range of thresholds, exemptions and rules that apply. Adapting the plan to make best use of these given your current situation is well worth the effort. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about your plan.

Including your estate planning as part of your general financial planning and management will frequently provide a valuable guidance in terms of how best to set up and manage your broader financial affairs.

Financial awareness can not only inform how you grow your wealth now but also ensure that it gets passed on effectively. The same is also true of your business.

A tough conversation about what happens in these situations can be a reminder to management that over dependence on any key person is not something to take for granted.

Reference: Forbes (Sep. July 12, 2019) “The Importance of Estate Planning When Building Your Business”

What is a Life Estate?

A life estate is a type of property ownership that divides the control and ownership of a property. The person who creates the life estate for their home and assets is known as the “life tenant.” While a tenant retains control of the property, he or she shares ownership during their lifetime with the remainderman (the estate’s heir).

Quicken Loans’ recent article entitled “What Is A Life Estate And What Property Rights Does It Confer?” explains that while the life tenant lives, they’re in control of the property in all respects, except they can’t sell or encumber the property without the consent of the remaindermen. After the life tenant passes away, the remainderman inherits the property and avoids probate. This is a popular estate planning tool that automatically transfers ownership at the life tenant’s death to their heirs.

The life estate deed shows the terms of the life estate. Upon the death of the life tenant, the heir must only provide the death certificate to the county clerk to assume total ownership of the property.

Medicaid can play an essential role in many older adults’ lives, giving them the financial support needed for nursing facilities, home health care and more. However, the government considers your assets when calculating Medicaid eligibility. As a result, owning a home – or selling it and keeping the proceeds – could impact those benefits. When determining your eligibility for Medicaid, most states will use a five-year look-back period. This means they will total up all the assets you’ve held, sold, or transferred over the last five years. If the value of these assets passes above a certain threshold, you’ll likely be ineligible for Medicaid assistance.

However, a life estate can help elderly property owners avoid selling their home to pay for nursing home expenses. If your life estate deed was established more than five years before you first apply for benefits, the homeownership transfer would not count against you for Medicaid eligibility purposes.

To ensure you’re correctly navigating qualifying for Medicaid, it’s smart to discuss your situation with an attorney specializing in Medicaid issues.

Reference: Quicken Loans (Aug. 9, 2022) “What Is A Life Estate And What Property Rights Does It Confer?”