What’s the Latest with the Queen of Soul’s Estate?

Clearing the Queen of Soul’s tax debts could clear the way for her four sons to finally take over her post-death affairs and fully benefit from revenues flowing into her estate — which could be millions of dollars.

The Detroit Free Press reports in its recent article entitled “Aretha Franklin estate says $7.8 million IRS bill is paid; could spell windfall for sons” reports that Franklin’s tax burden had been an immovable hurdle as her heirs sorted out other estate matters — sometimes combatively — in Oakland County Probate Court following her 2018 death.

The IRS debt prevented the sons from receiving money, even while the late star’s music and movie projects generated big revenue in her name. The remaining tax liability was paid off in June with delivery of a cashier’s check to the IRS.

The IRS said that the singer’s estate had nearly $8 million in unpaid taxes, penalties and interest that had piled up during the previous seven years. The estate at last struck a deal with the IRS in April 2021 with an accelerated payoff schedule that also set up limited but regular payments to Franklin’s sons.

The IRS deal earmarked 45% of incoming Aretha Franklin revenue to pay down the standing tax balance. Another 40% was directed to an escrow account to handle taxes on newly generated income.

With the tax debt now purportedly off its back, the estate contends that most of the incoming cash should get distributed equally among the four sons each month. From that point, income tax obligations would be on each individual. Oakland County (MI) Probate Judge Jennifer Callaghan would have to approve the request.

In the meantime, there’s still the issue of multiple wills that were apparently signed by Franklin. That includes three handwritten documents discovered in her home in 2019.

A fourth will draft suddenly was discovered last year — a typed document prepared by a Troy law firm in 2017 but left unsigned by the star.

The documents contain conflicting instructions about Franklin’s wishes for her estate, including which heirs were to get what, and their emergence exacerbated tensions among sons Clarence, Edward, Teddy and Kecalf.

A trial to clear up the situation was planned for 2020 but was delayed due to the pandemic.

Reference: Detroit Free Press (July 11, 2022) “Aretha Franklin estate says $7.8 million IRS bill is paid; could spell windfall for sons”

When Should I Hire an Estate Planning Attorney?

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Should I Hire an Estate Planning Attorney Now That I Am a Widow?” describes some situations where an experienced estate planning attorney is really required:

Estates with many types of complicated assets. Hiring an experienced estate planning attorney is a must for more complicated estates. These are estates with multiple investments, numerous assets, cryptocurrency, hedge funds, private equity, or a business. Some estates also include significant real estate, including vacation homes, commercial properties and timeshares. Managing, appraising and selling a business, real estate and complex investments are all jobs that require some expertise and experience. In addition, valuing private equity investments and certain hedge funds is also not straightforward and can require the services of an expert.

The estate might owe federal or state estate tax. In some estates, there are time-sensitive decisions that require somewhat immediate attention. Even if all assets were held jointly and court involvement is unnecessary, hiring a knowledgeable trust and estate lawyer may have real tax benefits. There are many planning strategies from which testators and their heirs can benefit. For example, the will or an estate tax return may need to be filed to transfer the deceased spouse’s unused Federal Estate Unified Tax Credit to the surviving spouse. The decision whether to transfer to an unused unified tax credit to the surviving spouse is not obvious and requires guidance from an experienced estate planning attorney.

Many states also impose their own estate taxes, and many of these states impose taxes on an estate valued at $1 million or more. Therefore, when you add the value of a home, investments and life insurance proceeds, many Americans will find themselves on the wrong side of the state exemption and owe estate taxes.

The family is fighting. Family disputes often emerge after the death of a parent. It’s stressful, and emotions run high. No one is really operating at their best. If unhappy family members want to contest the will or are threatening a lawsuit, you’ll also need guidance from an experienced estate planning attorney. These fights can result in time-intensive and costly lawsuits. The sooner you get legal advice from a probate attorney, the better chance you have of avoiding this.

Complicated beneficiary plans. Some wills have tricky beneficiary designations that leave assets to one child but nothing to another. Others could include charitable bequests or leave assets to many beneficiaries.

Talk to an experienced attorney, whose primary focus is estate and trust law.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 5, 2022) “Should I Hire an Estate Planning Attorney Now That I Am a Widow?”

What Is a Marital Trust?

Marital trusts have multiple benefits for beneficiaries, including asset allocation and tax benefits.  They are worth looking at in your estate plan.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Guide To Marital Trusts” says that a marital trust is an irrevocable trust that allows you to transfer a deceased spouse’s assets to the surviving spouse without paying any taxes. The trust also protects assets from creditors and future spouses that the surviving spouse may encounter.

When the surviving spouse dies, the assets in the trust aren’t included as part of their estate. That will keep the taxes on their estate lower.

There are three parties involved in setting up, maintaining and ultimately passing along the trust, including a grantor, who is the person who establishes the trust; the trustee, who’s the person or organization that manages the trust and its assets; and the beneficiary. That’s the person who will eventually receive the assets in the trust, once the grantor dies.

A marital trust also involves the principal, which are assets initially put into the trust.

A marital trust doubles the couple’s estate tax exemption limit, especially when almost all assets are owned by one spouse. Estate tax refers to the federal tax that must be paid on someone’s estate after they die. The estate tax limit is how much of an estate will be tax-free. In 2022, the estate tax limit is $12.06 million, which means utilizing a marital trust would essentially double that amount to $24.12 million. Therefore, about $24 million of a couple’s net worth would be shielded from estate taxes by taking advantage of a marital trust.

A marital trust is also beneficial because it can provide income to the surviving spouse, tax-free.

Only a surviving spouse can be a beneficiary of a marital trust. When the surviving spouse dies, the trust will then be passed on to whomever the first spouse’s will or trust governs.

If keeping wealth within your family after you die is important, then a marital trust is an estate planning tool that will make certain that individuals outside of your family don’t have access to the wealth. You can put a variety of assets into a marital trust, including property, retirement accounts and investment accounts.

A marital trust is one legal tool to consider using when planning for a blended family.

Reference: Forbes (June 30, 2022) “Guide To Marital Trusts”

What’s Involved with Being a Trustee?

There’s an old saying that the two best days in a boat owner’s life are the day they buy their boat and the day they sell it.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “How To Be An Effective Trustee” says that a similar notion applies to being a trustee – it’s an honor to be named and then a huge relief when it’s over. That’s because being a trustee is difficult.

Remember that a trust is a fiduciary relationship in which one party (the trustor) gives another party (the trustee) the right to hold title to property or assets for the benefit of a third party (the beneficiary). Trusts are created to provide legal protection for the trustor’s assets, to make certain those assets are distributed according to the wishes of the trustor, and to save time, reduce paperwork and, in some cases, avoid or reduce inheritance or estate taxes.

Being a trustee requires knowledge about a wide range of topics, including:

  • The trustee’s fiduciary duties, which include loyalty, impartiality, duty of care, protection of trust property, enforcement of claims and the duty to inform and account to beneficiaries, among others (violation of these duties exposes the trustee to liability).
  • Understanding the details of the trust, like the specifics of the distribution instructions.
  • Investments and the ability to engage and monitor investment managers.
  • Administrative matters, such as record keeping and principal and income accounting.
  • Estate planning, trusts and the basics of the estate, gift and generation skipping taxes.
  • Income tax, including how trusts are taxed both by the federal government and the state.

A trustee must also be able to productively communicate and work with the beneficiaries on their financial wellness and distribution needs, which is an area that can be full of conflict.

It’s a daunting list. Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney to discussion your situation in detail.

Reference: Forbes (May 31, 2022) “How To Be An Effective Trustee”

How Does My Inherited IRA Fit into Estate Planning?

The Secure Act (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act) was signed into law on Dec. 20, 2019 and includes many reforms that could make saving for retirement easier and more accessible for many Americans, says CNBC’s recent article entitled “Did you know inherited qualified retirement accounts must be liquidated in 10 years? If you didn’t, you are not alone.” However, the Secure Act made a major change for beneficiaries of individual retirement accounts, inherited IRAs and 401(k) plans.

The Act requires that inherited qualified retirement accounts must be liquidated within 10 years. Therefore, if you inherit an IRA or a 401(k) plan from someone other than your spouse, it could affect your retirement savings plans or strategies to transfer wealth to future generations.

Before this, if you inherited an IRA or 401(k), you could “stretch” your taxable distributions and tax payments out over your life expectancy. However, for IRAs inherited from original owners that passed away on or after January 1, 2020, the new law now requires most beneficiaries to withdraw assets from an inherited IRA or 401(k) plan within 10 years following the death of the account holder.

Retirees whose taxable income is less than their heirs’ – which is the case for most retirees – should at least consider whether it makes sense to take a different approach if they were to draw down their qualified assets more aggressively and keep larger non-qualified account balances, their tax obligation could be far less than what their higher-earning heirs may pay in the future.

They also could make strategic withdrawals from non-qualified accounts to ensure that their rate doesn’t go up significantly. That means reaching the limits of one bracket without going into the next one.

Moreover, because their non-qualified accounts receive a step-up in basis, this would reduce their heirs’ tax burden even further. That is because the gains on these accounts are taxed based on the value when the benefactor dies.

However, it’s true that not everyone will embrace a new plan like this. You may feel like you’ve saved and invested for decades and, therefore, shouldn’t have to worry about whether your adult child must pay a bit more in taxes each year.

However, to reiterate, we’re not talking about pennies on the dollar. The stakes for some could be well over $100,000. Just as many put in place estate-planning strategies to protect more of their wealth, it’s at least worth sitting down with an estate planning attorney to consider whether it makes sense to do the same when it comes to the implications of the Secure Act.

Reference: CNBC (Feb. 8, 2022) “Did you know inherited qualified retirement accounts must be liquidated in 10 years? If you didn’t, you are not alone”

Is Putting a Home in Trust a Good Estate Planning Move?

A typical estate at death will include a personal residence. It’s common for a large estate to also include a vacation home, or family retreat. Leaving real property in trust is common.

Estate plans that include a revocable trust will fund the trust by a pour-over, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Should You Own Your Home in Your Trust?”

A settlor (the person establishing a trust) often will title their home to the revocable trust, which becomes irrevocable at death.

Another option is a Qualified Personal Residence Trust, which is irrevocable, to gift a valuable home to a trust for the settlor’s children. With a QPRT, the house is passed over a term of years while the original owner continues to live there, so the gift passes with little or no gift or estate tax.

Some trusts arising from a decedent estate will hold the home belonging to the settlor without any instructions for its disposal or retention. Outside of very large trusts, a requirement to actually purchase homes for beneficiaries in the trust is far less common.

It is more common in a large trust to have terms that let the trustee buy a home for a beneficiary outside the trust or keep the settlor’s home in the trust for a beneficiary’s use, including purchasing a replacement home when requested.

The trustee will hopefully propose a plan that will satisfy the beneficiary without undue risk to the trust estate or exceeding the trustee’s powers. The most relevant considerations for homeownership in a trust are:

  • The competing needs of other trust beneficiaries
  • The purchase price and costs of maintaining the home
  • The size of the trust as compared to those costs
  • Other sources of income and resources available to the beneficiary; and
  • The interests of the remaindermen (beneficiaries who will take from the trust when the current beneficiaries’ interests terminate).

The terms of the trust may require the trustee to ignore some of these considerations.

Each situation requires a number of decisions that could expose the trustee to a charge that it has acted imprudently.

Those who want to create a trust should work with an experienced estate planning attorney to avoid any issues.

Reference: Kiplinger (Feb. 8, 2022) “Should You Own Your Home in Your Trust?”

How Do I Talk to My Parents About Estate Planning?

Failing to draft an estate plan can mean a pair of obstacles after a parent’s death. First, it can leave you scrambling to unravel their financial picture while trying to grieve. Second, it can be expensive.

MarketWatch’s recent article entitled “It’s easy to put it off, but here’s why you should talk to your parents about estate planning, and how to start the conversation” says that a wise way to avoid both scenarios is to begin talking with your parents about estate planning. While this can sound like a job just for the uber-rich, it is really an essential process that ensures clear directives exist for all sorts of situations that accompany the end of life.

An estate plan is a chance to set mindful intentions about life’s inevitabilities.  It is, therefore, a great idea to ask your parents to take account of their assets and belongings. This is not just about the numbers and paperwork—it is a chance to gauge preparedness.

Start by asking your parent(s) the following:

  • Who do you want as your primary caregiver?
  • How will we pay for health care expenses?
  • What are your medical care preferences?
  • Which of us should make medical decisions on your behalf?
  • How should we handle your property when you die?
  • Do you have any valuable items that you want to be handled in a special way?
  • Where are your most important documents and do we have access to all of your digital records?

Inheritance often require probate. However, if the right legal documents are in place, it can be a relatively quick and painless process. When someone dies intestate (without a will), it can sticky and get tricky. Understand that the state has its own rules for dying without a will. Depending on the situation, you might need to hire a probate attorney because there will be legal proceedings. Therefore, make certain that your parents have a will and that beneficiaries are clearly stated in all policies and documents. It is a preventative measure that can pay dividends.

Remember that when wealth is transferred (or assets are passed from one person to another), taxes are often inevitable. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to minimize liability.

Reference: MarketWatch (Dec. 29, 2021) “It’s easy to put it off, but here’s why you should talk to your parents about estate planning, and how to start the conversation”

Do You Need a Revocable or an Irrevocable Trust?

Many seniors planning for the future may want to place their home in a trust for their children.

This is especially true if the house is paid off, and free and clear of a mortgage.

However, what would happen if the home were placed in a trust and the senior then decides to sell it?

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Can I sell my house after I put it in a trust?” explains that there are two primary types of trusts: revocable and irrevocable. In this situation, placing the home in a revocable trust may be a wise option.

The assets in a revocable trust avoid probate but stay in the grantor’s control. That is because you can always change the terms of the trust or terminate the trust. With a revocable trust, the terms can be altered or canceled dependent on the grantor (also known as the trustmaker, settlor, or trustor) of the trust.

During the life of the trust, income earned is given to the grantor, and only after death does property transfer to the beneficiaries.

A grantor can be the trustee. In that way, the grantor is still able to live in the home and sell it and dispose of it as they want upon death.

Assets in a revocable trust are available to creditors and are subject to estate taxes upon death.

In contrast, an irrevocable trust cannot be changed or altered once it is established. In fact, the trust itself becomes a legal entity that owns the assets placed in it.

Because the grantor no longer controls those assets, there are certain tax advantages and creditor protections.

An irrevocable trust is best used for transferring high-value assets that could cause gift or estate tax issues in the future.

Trust are very complicated, so in any situation consult with an experienced estate planning attorney about whether to use a trust and to make certain that you create the best trust for your specific situation.

Reference: nj.com (Feb. 25, 2022) “Can I sell my house after I put it in a trust?”

What Can a Trust Do for Me and My Family?

A trust is defined as a legal contract that lets an individual or entity (the trustee) hold assets on behalf of another person (the beneficiary). The assets in the trust can be cash, investments, physical assets like real estate, business interests and digital assets. There is no minimum amount of money needed to establish a trust.

US News’ recent article entitled “Trusts Explained” explains that trusts can be structured in a number of ways to instruct the way in which the assets are handled both during and after your lifetime. Trusts can reduce estate taxes and provide many other benefits.

Placing assets in a trust lets you know that they will be managed through your instructions, even if you’re unable to manage them yourself. Trusts also bypass the probate process. This lets your heirs get the trust assets faster than if they were transferred through a will.

The two main types of trusts are revocable (known as “living trusts”) and irrevocable trusts. A revocable trust allows the grantor to change the terms of the trust or dissolve the trust at any time. Revocable trusts avoid probate, but the assets in them are generally still considered part of your estate. That is because you retain control over them during your lifetime.

To totally remove the assets from your estate, you need an irrevocable trust. An irrevocable trust cannot be altered by the grantor after it’s been created. Therefore, if you’re the grantor, you can’t change the terms of the trust, such as the beneficiaries, or dissolve the trust after it has been established.

You also lose control over the assets you put into an irrevocable trust.

Trusts give you more say about your assets than a will does. With a trust, you can set more particular terms as to when your beneficiaries receive those assets. Another type of trust is created under a last will and testament and is known as a testamentary trust. Although the last will must be probated to create the testamentary trust, this trust can protect an inheritance from and for your heirs as you design.

Trusts are not a do-it-yourself proposition: ask for the expertise of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: US News (Feb. 7, 2022) “Trusts Explained”

What Is Elder Law?

WAGM’s recent article entitled “A Closer Look at Elder Law“ takes a look at what goes into estate planning and elder law.

Wills and estate planning may not be the most exciting things to talk about. However, in this day and age, they can be one of the most vital tools to ensure your wishes are carried out after you’re gone.

People often don’t know what they should do, or what direction they should take.

The earlier you get going and consider your senior years, the better off you’re going to be. For many, it seems to be around 55 when it comes to starting to think about long term care issues.

However, you can start your homework long before that.

Elder law attorneys focus their practice on issues that concern older people. However, it’s not exclusively for older people, since these lawyers counsel other family members of the elderly about their concerns.

A big concern for many families is how do I get started and how much planning do I have to do ahead of time?

If you’re talking about an estate plan, what’s stored just in your head is usually enough preparation to get the ball rolling and speak with an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney.

They can create an estate plan that may consists of a basic will, a financial power of attorney, a medical power of attorney and a living will.

For long term care planning, people will frequently wait too long to start their preparations, and they’re faced with a crisis. That can entail finding care for a loved one immediately, either at home or in a facility, such as an assisted living home or nursing home. Waiting until a crisis also makes it harder to find specific information about financial holdings.

Some people also have concerns about the estate or death taxes with which their families may be saddled with after they pass away. For the most part, that’s not an issue because the federal estate tax only applies if your estate is worth more than $12.06 million in 2022. However, you should know that a number of states have their own estate tax. This includes Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, plus Washington, D.C.

Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania have only an inheritance tax, which is a tax on what you receive as the beneficiary of an estate. Maryland has both.

Therefore, the first thing to do is to recognize that we have two stages. The first is where we may need care during life, and the second is to distribute our assets after death. Make certain that you have both in place.

Reference: WAGM (Dec. 8, 2021) “A Closer Look at Elder Law“