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”

High Interest Rates Have an Impact on Estate Planning

The Section 7520 rate has been low for the past 15 years and presented many opportunities for good planning. What happens when inflation has returned and rates are moving up, asks a recent article titled “Estate Planning Techniques in a High—Interest—Rate Environment” from Bloomberg Tax.

The Section 7520 rate is the interest rate for a particular month as determined by the IRS. It is 120 percent of the applicable federal midterm rate (compounded annually) for the month in which the valuation date falls and rounded to the nearest two-tenths of a percent. It is used for actuarial planning, to discount the value of annuities, life estates and remainders to present value, and is revised monthly.

In January 2022, the 7520 rate was at 1.6%, but as interest rates increased, it shot up and in December 2022 was 5.2%. This was a 225% increase—unprecedented in the history of the 7520 rate. However, there are four key planning concepts which may make 2023 a little brighter for estate planning attorneys and their clients.

Higher inflation equals higher exemptions. Certain inflation adjusted exemptions and exclusions increased on January 1, 2023. The federal transfer tax exemption rose by $860,000 to $12.92 million, and the annual gift tax exclusion increased to $17,000 from $16,000 in 2022.

These increases give wealthy families the opportunity to make generous new gifts to family members without triggering any transfer taxes. Those who have fully used transfer tax exemptions may wish to consider making additional transfers.

Shift charitable giving to CRTs for higher interest rates. People who might have started Charitable Lead Trusts should instead look at Charitable Remainder Trusts. With both CLTs and CRTs, the value of the income and remainder interests are calculated using the 7520 rate. The key difference, for estate planning purposes, is the impact of a rising rate on the amount of the available charitable deduction.

The return of the QPRT. Qualified Personal Residence Trusts have been hibernating for years because of low interest rates. However, the time has come to return them to use for wealth transfer. A QPRT lets a person transfer a residence at a discounted value, while retaining the right to occupy the residence for a number of years. The 7520 rate is used to determine the value of the owner’s retained interest. The higher the rate, the more value retained by the owner and the smaller the amount of the taxable gift to the remainder beneficiaries, usually the owner’s children.

GRATs still have value. A Grantor Remainder Trust should still be considered in estate planning. A GRAT is more appealing in a low interest environment. However, a GRAT can still be useful when rates are rising. The success or failure of the GRAT usually depends on whether the assets transferred to the GRAT appreciate in value at a rate exceeding the 7520 rate, since the excess appreciation is transferred to the remainder beneficiaries gift tax-free. A GRAT can also be structured as a zeroed-out GRAT. This means that the transfer of assets to the GRAT doesn’t use any of the grantor’s transfer tax exemption or result in any gift tax due. This is still of value to a person who owns assets with significant growth potential, like securities likely to rebound quickly from depressed 2022 values.

Reference: Bloomberg Tax (Dec. 23, 2022) “Estate Planning Techniques in a High—Interest—Rate Environment”

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”

Can You Prevent Will from Being Contested?

The best planning doesn’t preclude disappointed family members and hangers-on from trying to get what they consider their “fair share” of an estate or will.

There are some steps you can take to avoid this happening to your estate, says a recent article, “Counterattack: Tips for Thwarting a Will Contest,” from Kiplinger.

Traditionally, an in terrorem provision is added, known as a “no-contest” clause to a will or a revocable trust to discourage attacks. If triggered, it can cause an heir to lose their entire inheritance if the person is excluded from a will or trust, or if the person challenges the appointment of the personal representative or trustee or claims to be a creditor when the probate court has denied this status.

However, the no-contest provision isn’t always permitted. They are unenforceable in Florida and Indiana. In some courts, states may refuse to enforce them under certain fact scenarios. There are other ways to achieve the goal of excluding an heir or maintaining a firm grip on the estate.

Authorize personal representative or trustee to pay the cost of a potential contest. In some states, personal representatives and trustees are authorized to litigate on behalf of an estate or trust or retain attorneys to do so. Even when a potential heir is omitted from a will or trust, knowing the assets of the estate will be used for litigation expenses and will shrink the size of the estate is enough to deter some litigious people.

Require mediation for any disputes. Some states allow the use of mediation, arbitration, or alternative dispute resolutions to resolve issues. A will could require a potential challenger to use an alternative to litigation and provide guidelines for dispute mediation, from determining how mediators will be selected, whether the process should be adjudicatory or collaborative and the scope, timing and nature of mediation.

Establish a “litigation holdback fund.” Instead of forfeiting the entire interest in the estate by filing a lawsuit, the beneficiary’s interest in the estate could be escrowed, with access restricted during a will contest. When eventually paid to the beneficiary, the interest would be reduced by the cost of litigation.

Create a separate trust for a contentious beneficiary. The law requires beneficiaries the right to request a complete copy of the trust agreement created for their benefit. By creating revocable trusts for each beneficiary, the beneficiary named in one trust will not see the contents of the trust for other beneficiaries. This could prevent a disgruntled person from comparing their trust to another, but there is a risk of a beneficiary alleging a fraudulent transfer in creating separate trusts.

What else can you do to prevent a will contest?

  • Have the testator/settlor undergo an examination by two physicians to eliminate any charges of incapacity and provide the physician’s signed statements as scheduled to the will or trust.
  • Include a statement of intent from the testator/settlor about the estate plan to demonstrate their intentions.
  • Video the execution of the will or trust. Explain the dispositive scheme and inclusion of beneficiaries and obtain a signed statement from each witness and notary. Have a third party certify the video’s authenticity.

If you are concerned about protecting your estate plan, it’s best to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to review your estate plan for any potential vulnerabilities. A plan in advance could save all concerned from the headache and expense of an estate battle.

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 10, 2022) “Counterattack: Tips for Thwarting a Will Contest”

What Is the Point of a Trust?

A trust is an agreement made when a person, referred to as the trustor or grantor, gives a third party, known as the trustee, the authority to hold assets for the trust beneficiaries. The trustee is in charge of the trust and responsible for executing the trust’s instructions as per the language in the trust, explains a recent article from The Skim, “What is a Trust? (Spoiler: They’re Not Just for the Wealthy).”

Some examples of how trusts are used: if the grantor doesn’t want beneficiaries to have access to funds until they reach a certain age, the trustee will not distribute anything until the age as directed by the trust. The funds could also be solely used for the beneficiaries’ health care needs or education or whatever expense the grantor has named, the trustee decides when the funds should be released.

Trusts are not one-size-fits-all. There are many to choose from. For instance, if you wanted the bulk of your assets to go to your grandchildren, you might use a Generation-Skipping Trust. If you think your home’s value may skyrocket after you die, you might want to consider a Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT) to reduce taxes.

Trusts fall into a few categories:

Testamentary Trust vs. Living Trust

A testamentary trust is known as a “trust under will” and is created based on provisions in the will after the grantor dies. A testamentary trust fund can be used to make gifts to charities or provide lifetime income for loved ones.

In most cases, trusts don’t have to go through the probate process, that is, being validated by the court before beneficiaries can receive their inheritance. However, because the testamentary trust is tied to the will, it is subject to probate. Your heirs may have to wait until the probate process is completed to receive their inheritance. This varies by state, so ask an estate planning attorney in your state.

Living trusts are created while you are living and are also known as revocable trusts. As the grantor, you may make as many changes as you like to the trust terms while living. Once you die, the trust becomes an irrevocable trust and the terms cannot be changed. There’s no need for the trust to go through probate and beneficiaries receive inheritances as per the directions in the trust.

What are the key benefits of creating a trust? A trust doesn’t always need to go through probate and gives you greater control over the assets. If you create an irrevocable trust and fund it while living, your assets are removed from your probate estate, which means whatever assets are moved into the trust are not subject to estate taxes.

Are there any reasons not to create a trust? There are costs associated with creating a trust. The trust must also be funded, meaning ownership documents like titles for a car or deeds for a house have to be revised to place the asset under the control of the trust. The same is true for stocks, bank accounts and any other asset used to fund the trust.

For gaining more control over your assets, minimizing estate taxes and making life easier for those you love after you pass, trusts are a valuable tool. Speak with your estate planning attorney to find out which trust works best for your situation. Your estate plan and any trusts should complement each other.

Reference: The Skim (Oct. 26, 2022) “What is a Trust? (Spoiler: They’re Not Just for the Wealthy)”

What Happens When Inheritances are Unequal?
Strong quarrel between elderly mother and her adult daughter

What Happens When Inheritances are Unequal?

In this case, one brother left New York and had nothing to do with his brother for the rest of their lives. Uneven inheritances almost always lead to poor feelings between siblings, says a recent article “Where There’s a Will, There Can Be a War” from Next Avenue.

Wills have a way of frustrating a basic desire for equal treatment among siblings. If an older sibling works in the family business and receives full control of it in the will, siblings who inherit non-voting stock are likely to feel slighted, even if they never set foot in the business. Can this be avoided?

There are a few ways to avoid this kind of outcome. One option is to name each child as a beneficiary of a life insurance policy equal to the value of the stock passed to the oldest child. In this way, all children will feel they have been fairly treated.

If one child lives closest to the parents and takes on their care in their later years, the parents often leave this child the majority of their estate. It would be helpful for parents to explain this to the other siblings, so they understand why this has been done. A family meeting in person or online to explain the parent’s decision may be helpful. This gives the children time to process the information. Learning it for the first time after the parents die can be a surprise. Combining the surprise with grief is never a good idea.

For some families, an estate planning attorney can be helpful to serve as a mediator and/or buffer when this news is shared.

In some states, wills and trusts can include no-contest clauses. These forbid beneficiaries to receive any inheritance, if they challenge the will after the death of the parent. If one child receives more than another child, the other child could lose the smaller amount if they contest the will. Some attorneys recommend leaving the children enough to make it worth their while not to engage in litigation.

When unequal is fair. There are times when uneven inheritances are entirely fair. One child may have a substance abuse issue, or one may earn a six-figure salary while the other is eking out a living in a low-paying position. The parents may wish to leave more to a struggling family member and the other child may actually be relieved because the sibling will not need their financial assistance. A conversation with the family may eliminate confusion and clarify intent.

In all cases, the heirs and those who expect to be heirs must remember the estate planning attorney who creates the will or trust works for the parent and not for them. It’s the estate planning attorney’s role to counsel their clients, which they can do best if they have the complete picture of how the family dynamics operate.

Reference: Next Avenue (Oct. 13, 2022) “Where There’s a Will, There Can Be a War”

Factors to Consider when Picking Executor, Trustees and POAs

Having your estate planning documents created with an experienced professional is important, as is naming the people who will be putting your plan into action. A key sticking point is often deciding who is the right person for the role, says an article from Nasdaq titled “Estate Planning: 5 Tips to Pick Trustees, Executors and POAs.” It helps to stop thinking about how people will feel if they are not selected and focus instead on their critical thinking and decision making abilities.

Consider who will have the time to help. Having adult children who are highly successful in their professions is wonderful. However, if they are extremely busy running a business, leading an organization, etc., will their busy schedules allow the flexibility to help? A daughter with twins may love you to the moon and back. However, will she be able to handle the tasks of estate administration?

Take these appointments seriously. Selecting someone on an arbitrary basis is asking for trouble. Just because one child is older doesn’t necessarily mean they are capable of managing your estate. Making a decision based on gender can be equally flawed. Naming agents and executors with financial acumen is more important than giving your creative child the chance to learn how to manage money through your estate.

Don’t make the process more complicated. There are many families where parents name all the siblings to act on their behalf, so no one feels left out. This usually turns into an estate disaster. An odd number of siblings can lead to one group winning decisions by sheer numbers, while aggressive, win-at-all-costs siblings—even if it’s just two of them—can lead to delayed decisions and family divisions.

Name the right person for right now. Younger people who don’t yet have children often aren’t sure who their best agent might be. Picking a parent may become problematic, if the parent becomes sick or dies. Naming a close friend in your thirties may need updating if your friendship wanes. Make it simple: appoint the best person for today, with the caveat of updating your agents and documents as time goes on and circumstances change. Remember, circumstances always change.

Consider the value of a professional trustee or fiduciary. The best person to be a trustee, executor or power of attorney may not always be a family member or friend. If a trustee is one sibling and the beneficiary of the trust is another sibling who can’t manage money, the relationship could suffer. If a large estate includes generational trusts and complex ownership structures, a professional may be better suited to deal with management and tax issues.

The value of having an estate plan cannot be overstated. However, the importance of who will be appointed to oversee and administer the estate is equally important. The success of an estate plan often rests on the people who are assigned to handle their respective tasks.

Be candid when speaking with an experienced estate planning attorney about the people in your life and their abilities to manage the roles.

Reference: nasdaq (Sep. 4, 2022) “Estate Planning: 5 Tips to Pick Trustees, Executors and POAs”

How Does an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust Work?

Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts (ILITs) are a common planning tool. However, buying the policy at the wrong time, leaving out Crummey withdrawal rights and ignoring administrative costs are commonly made mistakes. Being aware of these snares is important to make the ILIT effective, says a recent article titled “Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts in Estate Planning: Common Pitfalls” from Think Advisor.

Purchasing a new policy outside of the ILIT is a commonly made error. If you purchase a new life insurance policy and then transfer it to the ILIT, the death benefit will be included in your estate for estate tax purposes if you die within three years of the transfer. This undoes any estate tax advantages of the insurance policy and the trust.

IRS Section 2035 causes estate tax inclusion for anyone who transfers or otherwise gives up power over a life insurance policy within three years of death. However, there are ways to address this. If you first establish and fund the ILIT first, so the ILIT is the entity purchasing the policy directly, the death benefit is excluded from your estate regardless of how long you live after the purchase date.

Another error concerns the “Crummy Protocol.” Unless or until the premiums on a life insurance policy are fully paid or are self-sustaining through a draw on the cash surrender value, the insured must make gifts to the ILIT to pay for the premiums. People often like to use their annual gift tax exclusion to make contributions. However, to qualify the gifts for the annual gift tax exclusion, the beneficiaries of the ILIT must have the right to withdraw certain amounts transferred into the ILIT.

Failing to include the required withdrawal rights may eliminate the ability to offset gifts by the annual exclusion right. Even if the ILIT includes Crummey withdrawal rights, you won’t be able to take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion if the beneficiaries are not informed of their withdrawal rights each time an eligible contribution is made to the ILIT.

Your estate planning attorney will advise you as to how this occurs from a procedural perspective. You’ll want them to review it before it is signed to confirm it includes Crummey withdrawal rights and to help you establish procedures for providing the requisite notice and waiting the required period each time a gift is made.

Lastly, ILITs often have limited assets since they may only be funded with the insurance policy and the amount needed to pay the premiums. Therefore, if the ILIT has any administrative expenses, like accounting, legal or trustee funds, there may be insufficient assets in the ILIT to pay them.

If you pay the expenses directly, they will be considered as making a gift for gift tax purposes, because you will be deemed to have first transferred to the ILIT any amounts paid on its behalf. Avoid this issue by funding your ILIT with the necessary money to pay premiums and administrative costs. If the class of beneficiaries holding Crummey withdrawal rights is broad enough, this may be done solely through annual exclusion gifts.

Reference: Think Advisor (Sep. 29, 2022) “Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts in Estate Planning: Common Pitfalls”