Why You Need a Secondary Beneficiary

A secondary beneficiary, sometimes called a contingent beneficiary, is a person or entity entitled to receive assets from an estate or trust after the estate owner’s death, if the primary beneficiary is unable or unwilling to accept the assets. Secondary beneficiaries can be relatives or other people, but they can also be trusts, charities or other organizations, as explained in the recent article titled “What You Need to Know About Secondary or Contingent Beneficiaries” from yahoo! life.

An estate planning lawyer can help you decide whether you need a secondary beneficiary for your estate plan or for any trusts you create. Chances are, you do.

Beneficiaries are commonly named in wills and trust documents. They are also used in life insurance policies and in retirement accounts. After the account owner dies, the assets are distributed to beneficiaries as described in the legal documents.

The primary beneficiary is a person or entity with the first claim to assets. However, there are times when the primary beneficiary does not accept the assets, can’t be located, or has predeceased the estate owner.

A secondary beneficiary will receive the assets in this situation. They are also referred to as the “remainderman.”

In many cases, more than one contingent beneficiary is named. Multiple secondary beneficiaries might be entitled to receive a certain percentage of the value of the entire estate. More than one secondary beneficiary may also be directed to receive a portion of an individual asset, such as a family home.

Estate planning attorneys may even name an additional set of beneficiaries, usually referred to as tertiary beneficiaries. They receive assets if the secondary beneficiaries are not available or unwilling to accept the assets. In some cases, estate planning attorneys name a remote contingent beneficiary who will only become involved if all of the primary, secondary and other beneficiaries can’t or won’t accept assets.

For example, a person may specify their spouse as the primary beneficiary and children as secondary beneficiaries. A more remote relative, like a cousin, might be named as a tertiary beneficiary, while a charity could be named as a remote contingent beneficiary.

Almost any asset can be bequeathed by naming beneficiaries. This includes assets like real estate (in some states), IRAs and other retirement accounts, life insurance proceeds, annuities, securities, cash and other assets. Secondary and other types of beneficiaries can also be designated to receive personal property including vehicles, jewelry and family heirlooms.

Naming a secondary beneficiary ensures that your wishes as expressed in your will are going to be carried out even if the primary beneficiary cannot or does not wish to accept the inheritance. Lacking a secondary beneficiary, the estate assets will have to go through the probate process. Depending on the state’s laws, having a secondary beneficiary avoids having the estate distribution governed by intestate succession. Assets could go to someone who you don’t want to inherit them!

Talk with your estate planning attorney about naming secondary, tertiary and remote beneficiaries.

Reference: yahoo! life (Jan. 4, 2023) “What You Need to Know About Secondary or Contingent Beneficiaries”

Some Expenses are Paid by Estate and Some by Beneficiary

Settling an estate can be complex and time-consuming—it all depends on how much “estate planning” was done. According to a recent article from yahoo! Finance titled “What Expenses Are Paid by the Estate vs. Beneficiary?,” the executor is the person who creates an inventory of assets, determines which expenses need to be paid and distributes the remainder of the estate to the deceased’s beneficiaries. How does the executor know which monies are paid by the estate and which by the beneficiaries?

First, let’s establish what kind of expenses an estate pays. The main expenses of an estate include:

Outstanding debts. The executor has to notify creditors of the decedent’s death and the creditors then may make a claim against the estate. Because a person dies doesn’t mean their debts disappear—they become the debts of the estate.

Taxes. There are many different taxes to be paid when a person dies, including estate, inheritance and income tax. The federal estate tax is not an issue, unless the estate value exceed the exemption limit of $12.92 million for 2023. Not all states have inheritance taxes, so check with a local estate planning attorney to learn if the beneficiaries will need to pay this tax. If the decedent has an outstanding property tax bill for real estate property, the estate will need to pay it to avoid a lien being placed on the property.

Fees. There are court fees to file documents including a will to start the probate process, to serve notice to creditors or record transfer of property with the local register of deeds. The executor is also entitled to collect a fee for their services.

Maintaining real estate property. If the estate includes real estate, it is likely there will be expenses for maintenance and upkeep until the property is either distributed to heirs or sold. There may also be costs involved in transporting property to heirs.

Final expenses. Unless the person has pre-paid for all of their funeral, burial, cremation, or internment costs, these are considered part of estate expenses. They are often paid out of the death benefit associated with the deceased person’s life insurance policy.

What expenses does the estate pay?

The estate pays outstanding debts, including credit cards, medical bills, or liens.

  • Appraisals needed to establish values of estate assets
  • Repairs or maintenance for real estate
  • Fees paid to professionals associated with settling the estate, including executor, estate planning attorney, accountant, or real estate agent
  • Taxes, including income tax, estate tax and property tax
  • Fees to obtain copies of death certificates

The executor must keep detailed records of any expenses paid out of estate assets. The executor is the only person entitled by law to see the decedent’s financial records. However, beneficiaries have the right to review financial estate account records.

What does the beneficiary pay?

This depends on how the estate was structured and if any special provisions are included in the person’s will or trust. Generally, expect to pay:

  • Final expenses not covered by the estate
  • Personal travel expenses
  • Legal expenses, if you decide to contest the will
  • Property maintenance or transportation costs not covered by the estate

Some of the expenses are deductible, and the executor must use IRS Form 1041 on any estate earning more than $600 in income or which has a nonresident alien as a beneficiary.

An estate planning attorney is needed to create a comprehensive estate plan addressing these and other issues in advance. If little or no planning was done before the decedent’s death, an estate planning attorney will also be an important resource in navigating through the estate’s settlement.

Reference: yahoo! finance (Dec. 29, 2022) “What Expenses Are Paid by the Estate vs. Beneficiary?”

What Is Included in an Estate Inventory?

The executor’s job includes gathering all of the assets, determining the value and ownership of real estate, securities, bank accounts and any other assets and filing a formal inventory with the probate court. Every state has its own rules, forms and deadline for the process, says a recent article from yahoo! Finance titled “What Do I Need to Do to Prepare an Estate Inventory for Probate,” which recommends contacting a local estate planning attorney to get it right.

The inventory is used to determine the overall value of the estate. It’s also used to determine whether the estate is solvent, when compared to any claims of creditors for taxes, mortgages, or other debts. The inventory will also be used to calculate any estate or inheritance taxes owed by the estate to the state or federal government.

What is an estate asset? Anything anyone owned at the time of their death is the short answer. This includes:

  • Real estate: houses, condos, apartments, investment properties
  • Financial accounts: checking, savings, money market accounts
  • Investments: brokerage accounts, certificates of deposits, stocks, bonds
  • Retirement accounts: 401(k)s, HSAs, traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, pensions
  • Wages: Unpaid wages, unpaid commissions, un-exercised stock options
  • Insurance policies: life insurance or annuities
  • Vehicles: cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats
  • Business interests: any business holdings or partnerships
  • Debts/judgments: any personal loans to people or money received through court judgments

Preparing an inventory for probate may take some time. If the decedent hasn’t created an inventory and shared it with the executor, which would be the ideal situation, the executor may spend a great deal of time searching through desk drawers and filing cabinets and going through the mail for paper financial statements, if they exist.

If the estate includes real property owned in several states, this process becomes even more complex, as each state will require a separate probate process.

The court will not accept a simple list of items. For example, an inventory entry for real property will need to include the address, legal description of the property, copy of the deed and a fair market appraisal of the property by a professional appraiser.

Once all the assets are identified, the executor may need to use a state-specific inventory form for probate inventories. When completed, the executor files it with the probate court. An experienced estate planning attorney will be familiar with the process and be able to speed the process along without the learning curve needed by an inexperienced layperson.

Deadlines for filing the inventory also vary by state. Some probate judges may allow extensions, while other may not.

The executor has a fiduciary responsibility to the beneficiaries of the estate to file the inventory without delay. The executor is also responsible for paying off any debts or taxes and overseeing the distribution of any remaining assets to beneficiaries. It’s a large task, and one that will benefit from the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: yahoo! finance (Dec. 3, 2022) “What Do I Need to Do to Prepare an Estate Inventory for Probate”

When Is a Family Limited Partnership Needed?

Being able to transfer wealth from one generation to the next is a good thing, especially now, when a big change is coming to the federal estate tax exemption amount, says a recent article titled “The Pros and Cons of Family Limited Partnerships” from The Wall Street Journal.

In 2022, estates valued at up to $12.06 million are exempt from federal taxes. However, on January 1, 2026, the exemption sinks to around $6 million, with adjustments for inflation. As a result, wealthy Americans are now re-evaluating their estate plans and many are turning to the Family Limited Partnership, or FLP, as a tax saving strategy.

An FLP can be tailored to suit every family’s needs. You don’t have to be ultra-wealthy for an FLP to make sense. An upper-middle class family owning a small business or real estate properties they’re not ready to sell could make good use of an FLP, as well as a real estate mogul owning properties in multiple states.

There are some caveats. The cost of setting up an FLP ranges from $8,000 to $15,000. However, it can go higher depending on the state of residence and the complexity of the partnership. There are annual operating costs, tax filings and appraisal fees. The IRS isn’t always fond of FLPs, because there is an institutional belief that FLPs are subject to abuse.

The FLP needs to be drafted with an experienced estate planning attorney, working in consultation with a CPA and financial advisor. This is definitely not a Do-It-Yourself project.

What makes these partnerships different from traditional limited partnerships is that all partners are family members. There are two kinds of partners: general and limited. The parents or grandparents are usually the general partners. They contribute the bulk of the assets, typically a small business, stock portfolio or real estate. Children are limited partners, with interests in the partnership.

The general partners control all of the investment and management decisions and bear the partnership liability, even though their ownership of assets can be as little as 1% or 2%. They make the day-to-day business decisions, including funds allocation and income distribution. The ability of the general partner to maintain control of the transferred assets is one of the FLP’s biggest advantage. The FLP reduces the taxable estate, while maintaining control of the assets.

Once the entity is created, assets can be transferred to the FLP immediately or over time, depending on the family’s plan. The overall goal is to get as much of the property out of the general partners’ taxable estate as possible. Assets in the FLP are divided and gifted to limited partners, although this is often a gift to a trust for the limited partners, who are the general partners’ descendants. Placing the assets in a trust adds another layer of protection, since the gift remains outside of the limited partner’s taxable estate as well.

To avoid a challenge by the IRS, the partnership must be conducted as a business entity. Meetings need to be scheduled regularly, with formal meeting minutes recorded properly. General partners are to be compensated for their services, and limited partners must pay taxes on their share of income from the partnership. The involvement of professionals in the FLP is needed to be sure the FLP remains compliant with IRS rules.

An alternative is to create a Family Limited Liability Company instead of a Family Limited Partnership. These can be created to operate much like an FLP, while also protecting partners from liability.

Partnerships are not for everyone. Your estate planning attorney will advise regarding whether an FLP or an FLLC makes more sense for your family.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 3, 2022) “The Pros and Cons of Family Limited Partnerships”

How Do You Stop a Sibling from Stealing an Inheritance?

If the parent does not have a will, there may be questions about which sibling should inherit what. This gets complicated fast. State law can define siblings’ rights after parents’ deaths, explains a recent article from yahoo!, “Can a Sibling Take Your Inheritance?”

An estate planning attorney can be a valuable resource, regardless of the size of the estate.

When a parent dies and there are multiple siblings, what they can inherit depends on a few factors:

  • Did the parent leave behind a will or were trusts created?
  • Is there a surviving spouse who can inherit?
  • What are the state’s inheritance laws?

For the most part, state inheritance laws give precedence to a surviving spouse ahead of any children. Some states grant children the legal right to inherit from a parent’s estate, even if they were not included in the will. However, most states allow parents to exclude children from their will, which can block them from inheriting anything.

How does a will determine siblings’ rights after the death of a parent? The will lets the person making the will specify how they want their assets to be distributed upon their death. The will, once deemed valid by the court, serves as the basis for dividing the estate.

If both parents died at the same time their estate would be divided among siblings according to the terms of the will. There are a few different ways this is done.

  • One child inherits the house and the contents, while the other siblings divide any remaining assets in the estate.
  • The executor sells the home and contents then splits the proceeds of the sale among siblings.
  • Each sibling receives specific property or assets from the estate
  • One child receives the entire contents of the estate, to the exclusion of others.

Estate planning becomes more complex when there are children from multiple marriages with different parents. Whether or not half-siblings receive the same inheritance as full siblings depends on state law.

If there is no will, state inheritance laws generally rely on a kinship order. In New York State, the first $50,000 in assets plus half of the remaining assets go to the surviving spouse first. The remainder is then distributed among any bloodline children.

Are siblings entitled to see the contents of wills or trusts? If they are beneficiaries, most states will permit a viewing of the will or trust documents. However, if someone is not listed in the will or a trust as a beneficiary, they don’t have an automatic right to review these documents.

If a sibling doesn’t agree with the terms of a will, or the distribution of assets, they could challenge a will in probate court. They can also petition the court to ask for a larger share of the estate. For instance, if one sibling was the primary caregiver for many years, providing financial and health care support, they would ask the court to take this into consideration.

An estate battle based on the distribution of property by a deceased parent can be avoided by having good communication between parents and siblings about the parent’s estate plan and their wishes. An experienced estate planning attorney creates plans for families to address their unique issues, and this can preclude sibling rivalry, which can sometimes get worse, not better, as the years go by.

Reference: yahoo! (November 30, 2022) “Can a Sibling Take Your Inheritance?”

Why Professionals and High Net Worth Families Need Estate Planning

Even those whose daily tasks bring them close to death on a daily basis can be reluctant to consider having an estate plan done. However, any high-income earner needs to plan their estate to protect assets and prepare for incapacity. Estate planning also makes matters easier for loved ones, explains a recent article titled “Physician estate planning guide” from Medical Economics. An estate plan gets your wishes honored, minimizes court expenses and maintains family harmony.

Having an estate plan is needed by anyone, at any age or stage of life. A younger professional may be less inclined to consider estate planning. However, it’s a mistake to put it off.

Start by meeting with an experienced estate planning attorney in your home state. Have a power of attorney drafted to give a trusted person the ability to make decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. Not having this legal relationship leads to big problems. Your family will need to go to court to have a conservatorship or guardianship established to do something as simple as make a mortgage payment. Having a POA is a far better solution.

Next, talk with your estate planning attorney about a last will and testament and any trusts you might need. A will is a simpler method. However, if you have substantial assets, you may benefit from the protection a trust affords.

A will names your executor and expresses your wishes for property distribution. The will doesn’t become effective until after death when it’s reviewed by the court and verified during probate. The executor named in the will is then appointed to act on the directions in the will.

Most states don’t require an executor to be notified in advance. However, people should discuss this role with the person who they want to appoint. It’s not always a welcome surprise, and there’s no requirement for the named person to serve.

A trust is created to own property outside of the estate. It’s created and becomes effective while the person is still living and is often described as “kinder” to beneficiaries, especially if the grantor owns their practice and has complex business arrangements.

Trusts are useful for people who own assets in more than one state. In some cases, deeds to properties can be added into one trust, streamlining and consolidating assets and making it simpler to redirect after death.

Irrevocable trusts are especially useful to any doctor concerned about being sued for malpractice. An irrevocable trust helps protect assets from creditors seeking to recover assets.

Not being prepared with an estate plan addressing incapacity and death leads to a huge burden for loved ones. Once the plan is created, it should be updated every three to five years. Updating the plan is far easier than the initial creation and reflects changes in one’s life and in the law.

Reference: Medical Economics (Nov. 30, 2022) “Physician estate planning guide”

Do I Need a Last Will and Testament?

Estate planning encompasses everything from planning for property distribution at death to preparing for incapacity, tax planning and guardian planning for minor children. An experienced estate planning attorney is involved with far more than a last will and testament. However, this is what most people think of when they sit down for their first meeting.

A recent article titled “Last Will and Testament” from mondaq examines what the last will and testament does and how it differs from trusts. These two are only part of a comprehensive estate plan.

A will is only effective upon death. Its directions are not followed while living or if a person becomes incapacitated. A will does not avoid probate, rather it ensures assets go to the people as directed by the person making the will. Without a will, assets are distributed according to the laws of the state, usually determined by kinship. A certain percentage will go to a spouse and another percentage will go to biological children. Unmarried partners and stepchildren have no legal right of inheritance.

The will is also the legal document used to name an executor, the person responsible for carrying out the directions in the will and managing the estate. The executor has a long list of duties, from making sure the will is validated by the court during probate to applying for an estate tax identification number with the IRS, opening an estate bank account, notifying Social Security of the decedent’s passing, paying debts, paying taxes for the individual and for the estate and distributing property,

The will is used to name a guardian for minor children. When planning has been done correctly, the guardian is provided with information about the children’s lives and financial planning has been done for the children’s support and for their education. A trust is usually used to hold assets for the benefit of the children, with a trustee named to manage funds.

Wills go through probate, which varies by state. Once the will is filed in court, it becomes a public document. Heirs must be notified, even those not included in the will. An alternative is creating and placing assets in a trust to protect privacy and manage and distribute property.

Trusts are not just for wealthy people. They are used to maintain privacy, as the assets in the trust do not pass through probate. The trustee is in charge of the trust and making distributions to beneficiaries. There are many different types of trusts; an experienced estate planning attorney will be able to recommend the optimal one for each client based on their situation.

The trust is effective upon its creation and is a separate legal entity and is also used to protect assets from creditors. Trusts are more complicated than traditional bank accounts. However, their ability to protect assets and maintain privacy make them a valuable part of any estate plan.

If a person becomes incapacitated, the trust remains in effect. If the trust is a revocable trust, meaning the grantor is able to change its terms as long as they are living and the grantor becomes incapacitated, a successor trustee can step in and manage the trust without court intervention.

Trusts do require diligence to create. Trust must be funded, meaning assets need to be retitled so they are owned by the trust. New accounts may need to be open, if retitling is not possible. Beneficiaries need to be established and terms need to be set. The trust can be created to fund a college education or for general use. However, terms need to be established.

A comprehensive estate plan protects the individual while they are living and protects the family after they have passed. It is a gift to those you love.

Reference: mondaq (Nov. 16, 2022) “Last Will and Testament”

Should You Agree to Being a Guardian?

Yes, it is an honor to be asked to be the guardian of someone’s children. However, you’ll want to understand the full responsibilities involved before agreeing to this life-changing role. A recent article from Kiplinger, “3 Key Things to Consider Before Agreeing to Be A Guardian in a Trust,” explains.

For parents, this is one of the most emotional decisions they have to make. Assuming a family member will step in is not a plan for your children. Naming a guardian in your will needs to be carefully and realistically thought out.

For instance, people often first think of their own parents. However, grandparents may not be able to care for a child for one or two decades. If the grandparent’s own future plan includes downsizing to a smaller home or moving to a 55+ community, they may not have the room for children. In a 55+ community, they may also not be permitted to have minor children as permanent residents.

What about siblings? A trusted aunt or uncle might be able to be a guardian. However, do they have children of their own, and will they be able to manage caring for your children as well as their own? You’ll also have to be comfortable with their parenting styles and values.

Other candidates may be a close friend of the family, who does not have children of their own. An “honorary” aunt or uncle who is willing to embark on raising your children might be a good choice.  However, it requires careful thought and discussion.

Financial Considerations. What resources will be available to raise the children to adulthood? Do the parents have life insurance to pay for their needs, and if so, how much? Are there other assets available for the children? Will you be in charge of managing assets and children, or will someone else be in charge of finances? You’ll need to be very clear about the money.

Legal Arrangements. Is there a family trust? If so, who is the successor trustee of the trust? What are the terms of the trust? Most revocable trusts include language stating they must be used for the “health, education, maintenance, and support of beneficiaries.” However, sometimes there are conditions for use of the funds, or some funds are only available for milestones, like graduating college or getting married.

Lifestyle Choices. You’ll want to have a complete understanding of how the parents want their children to be raised. Do they want the children to remain in their current house, and has an estate plan been made to allow this to happen? Will the children stay in their current schools, religious institutions or stay in the neighborhood?

In frank terms, simply loving someone else’s children is not enough to take on the responsibility of being their guardian. Financial resources need to be discussed and lifestyle choices must be clarified. At the end of the discussion, all parties need to be completely satisfied and comfortable. This kind of preparedness provides tremendous peace of mind.

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 17, 2022) “3 Key Things to Consider Before Agreeing to Be A Guardian in a Trust”

Who Should I Name as a Co-Trustee?

If you’ve already created a revocable trust, congratulations—that means you’ve taken steps to protect the people important to you and eliminated concerns they may have about what will happen when you’re gone. A recent article, “3 Things to Consider when Naming Co-Trustees,” from The Street, asks if you should name an adult child as your co-trustee.

Most people name themselves as a trustee of a revocable living trust, allowing themselves to maintain control over how the funds are managed. As children become adults, you may start including them in your estate planning discussions, which may lead them to propose a relatively straightforward idea: letting them serve alongside you, by being named as co-trustees.

This might make sense. However, it may not. You need to ask some hard questions.

First, are you and your adult child in alignment on financial matters? If you are conservative when it comes to money and investing, but your child is a free-wheeling, come-what-may person, then you definitely don’t want to have them as a co-trustee. Not only will you disagree on how assets are to be used, you may also find yourself in a situation where your assets are funding a lot of fun, which is likely not what you have in mind for assets in a revocable trust.

As the primary trustee of the revocable trust, you have the legal power to fire a co-trustee. This presents another obstacle. Firing your child, especially if you’re firing one child and replacing them with another child, could lead to a lot of family friction. Many estate planning attorneys have seen what happens when parents are reluctant to act, even when it is crystal clear they need to be fired.

Second, does their logistical status make this person a good co-trustee candidate? Location and even time zones are not as confining as they used to be. However, there is a real benefit to being able to show up in person if something goes wrong. What if there’s an issue processing something and the bank will not accept a document sent by email or fax, but requires an in-person signature?

Your trust might include language allowing each co-trustee to act independently of the other. However, this opens the door to your co-trustee being able to act unilaterally. If you’re still able to manage your own finances, you may not want to give up this amount of control to an adult child.

Would a co-trustee role with a child require you to revise the entire estate plan? For some trust creators, making one adult child their revocable living trust co-trustee means they need to change their estate plan to be fair to their other children. Sometimes they feel that another child should be named as a Power of Attorney or Health Care Power of Attorney.

“Fairness” or “keeping the peace” should never, ever, be a reason for children or other individuals to be named for estate planning roles. Each agent has a task to do in carrying out your wishes as directed by your last will and testament, POAs and trust documents. Naming a kid who’s a financial disaster as a co-trustee is asking for trouble. Naming someone who doesn’t share your beliefs about end-of-life treatment means your wishes are not likely to be followed.

However, it is possible to have your estate planning attorney create a workable co-trustee arrangement between you and an adult child. If they live close by, you mainly agree on financial matters and they can be available to you on short notice, it’s likely the arrangement will work. If there is no one who could serve, speak with your estate planning attorney about alternatives. For instance, making an adult child a successor trustee will let them step in if and when you are not able to manage your affairs, while you retain full and complete authority while you are still able to do so.

Reference: The Street (Oct. 11, 2022) “3 Things to Consider when Naming Co-Trustees”