Where Do You Score on Estate Planning Checklist?

Make sure that you review your estate plan at least once every few years to be certain that all the information is accurate and updated. It’s even more necessary if you experienced a significant change, such as marriage, divorce, children, a move, or a new child or grandchild. If laws have changed, or if your wishes have changed and you need to make substantial changes to the documents, you should visit an experienced estate planning attorney.

Kiplinger’s recent article “2021 Estate Planning Checkup: Is Your Estate Plan Up to Date?” gives us a few things to keep in mind when updating your estate plan:

Moving to Another State. Note that if you’ve recently moved to a new state, the estate laws vary in different states. Therefore, it’s wise to review your estate plan to make sure it complies with local laws and regulations.

Changes in Probate or Tax Laws. Review your estate plan with an experienced estate planning attorney to see if it’s been impacted by changes to any state or federal laws.

Powers of Attorney. A power of attorney is a document in which you authorize an agent to act on your behalf to make business, personal, legal, or financial decisions, if you become incapacitated.  It must be accurate and up to date. You should also review and update your health care power of attorney. Make your wishes clear about do-not-resuscitate (DNR) provisions and tell your health care providers about your decisions. It is also important to affirm any clearly expressed wishes as to your end-of-life treatment options.

A Will. Review the details of your will, including your executor, the allocation of your estate and the potential estate tax burden. If you have minor children, you should also designate guardians for them.

Trusts. If you have a revocable living trust, look at the trustee and successor appointments. You should also check your estate and inheritance tax burden with an estate planning attorney. If you have an irrevocable trust, confirm that the trustee properly carries out the trustee duties like administration, management and annual tax returns.

Gifting Opportunities. The laws concerning gifts can change over time, so you should review any gifts and update them accordingly. You may also want to change specific gifts or recipients.

Regularly updating your estate plan can help you to avoid simple estate planning mistakes. You can also ensure that your estate plan is entirely up to date and in compliance with any state and federal laws.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 28, 2021) “2021 Estate Planning Checkup: Is Your Estate Plan Up to Date?”

Should I Try Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning?

US News & World Report’s recent article entitled “6 Common Myths About Estate Planning explains that the coronavirus pandemic has made many people face decisions about estate planning. Many will use a do-it-yourself solution. Internet DIY websites make it easy to download forms. However, there are mistakes people make when they try do-it-yourself estate planning.

Here are some issues with do-it-yourself that estate planning attorneys regularly see:

You need to know what to ask. If you’re trying to complete a specific form, you may be able to do it on your own. However, the challenge is sometimes not knowing what to ask. If you want a more comprehensive end-of-life plan and aren’t sure about what you need in addition to a will, work with an experienced estate planning attorney. If you want to cover everything, and are not sure what everything is, that’s why you see them.

More complex issues require professional help. Take a more holistic look at your estate plan and look at estate planning, tax planning and financial planning together, since they’re all interrelated. If you only look at one of these areas at a time, you may create complications in another. This could unintentionally increase your expenses or taxes. Your situation might also include special issues or circumstances. A do-it-yourself website might not be able to tell you how to account for your specific situation in the best possible way. It will just give you a blanket list, and it will all be cookie cutter. You won’t have the individual attention to your goals and priorities you get by sitting down and talking to an experienced estate planning attorney.

Estate laws vary from state to state. Every state may have different rules for estate planning, such as for powers of attorney or a health care proxy. There are also 17 states and the District of Columbia that tax your estate, inheritance, or both. These tax laws can impact your estate planning. Eleven states and DC only have an estate tax (CT, HI, IL, ME, MA, MN, NY, OR, RI, VT and WA). Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have only an inheritance tax. Maryland has both an inheritance tax and an estate tax.

Setting up health care directives and making end-of-life decisions can be very involved. It’s too important to try to do it yourself. If you make a mistake, it could impact the ability of your family to take care of financial expenses or manage health care issues. Don’t do it yourself.

Reference: US News & World Report (July 5, 2021) “6 Common Myths About Estate Planning”

How Do I Sell a Home in an Irrevocable Trust?
Home For Sale Real Estate Sign and Beautiful New House.

How Do I Sell a Home in an Irrevocable Trust?

A trustee who sells a home in irrevocable trust for a parent who died should know that generally, assets transferred to an irrevocable trust will be deemed a completed gift and will not be included in an estate for estate tax purposes.

Lehigh Valley Live’s recent article entitled “What happens to tax on a home sold from a trust?” explains that this means there wouldn’t be a step-up in basis to the fair market value upon the decedent’s death.

Remember that an irrevocable trust is a type of trust in which its terms can’t be modified, amended, or terminated without the permission of the grantor’s named beneficiary or beneficiaries.

Irrevocable trusts have tax-shelter benefits that revocable trusts to don’t.

However, an irrevocable trust can be created so that the settlor (the creator) of the trust keeps certain rights and powers, so that gifts to the trust are incomplete.

In that instance, the assets are included in the settlor’s estate upon death and obtain a step-up in basis upon the decedent’s death.

If the trust sells the asset in the trust, the trust may need to file Form 1041, U.S. Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts, and the trust may be required to pay a tax.

If the trust distributes any income to the beneficiaries in the same tax year it receives that income, the income is passed through to the beneficiaries, and the beneficiaries must report it on the beneficiaries’ individual tax returns (Form 1040) and pay any tax due.

It’s generally a good idea to report and pay tax at the individual rate instead of at the trust or estate level.

That’s because the trust or estate will begin to pay tax at the highest rate at only $13,150. In comparison, an individual doesn’t pay tax at the highest rate until his or her income exceeds over $440,000.

Note that an irrevocable trust is a more complex legal arrangement than a revocable trust. As a result, there might be current income tax and future estate tax implications when using this type of trust. It’s wise to seek the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Lehigh Valley Live (Aug. 16, 2021) “What happens to tax on a home sold from a trust?”

What are My Best Estate Planning Moves?

Tickertape’s recent article “5 Estate Planning Tips That Aren’t Just for the Wealthy” explains that a common misconception is that estate planning isn’t necessary if your estate assets amount to less than the 2021 federal estate tax exemption of $11.7 million per individual.

But most of us can benefit from estate planning. This can help protect your assets for your heirs. Estate planning includes creating a last will or revocable living trust, making certain that you have the right beneficiaries, and creating a health care directive. Creating a solid estate plan can decrease the odds that your family will have to deal with a problematic probate and reduce the amount of money because of unneeded taxes.

Create a Will. A last will is one way to let people know how you want your assets taken care of after you die. Plus, a last will should include information about who should act as guardians for minor children and care for any pets. Talk to an estate planning attorney about the specific laws for probate to make sure you do it correctly.

Name Your Beneficiaries. Review your beneficiary designations and make sure they’re up to date. When there’s a major life change, you should look at your beneficiary designations (e.g., life insurance and retirement funds), update your last will, and make sure everything matches. This includes charities as well as individuals. There are estate planning strategies designed to help you pass your assets on, but none of these will help if you don’t have your beneficiaries properly designated and assets aligned with your estate plan.

Ask Your Attorney About a Trust. A fully funded revocable living trust can be great tool to pass your assets on while potentially helping your heirs avoid probate. There are many different types of trusts that can be used to provide a variety of benefits. Much depends on your situation, so work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Power of Attorney. Estate planning also includes documents in the event you become incapacitated. Signing a power of attorney allows an agent to make decisions on your behalf if you’re incapacitated. Find a person you trust to handle these decisions and have an estate planning attorney prepare the legal documents to ensure that everything is correct.

Think About Giving Now. You don’t need to wait until you’re gone to provide resources to your family. In 2021, you can give up to $15,000 to each recipient without paying the gift tax. If you’re married, each spouse can give $15,000. When you give to charity now, instead of waiting until you pass, you may claim a tax deduction, whether you donate directly, give stock, or set up a donor-advised fund. This allows you to benefit now—along with your beneficiaries.

Reference: Tickertape (June 25, 2021) “5 Estate Planning Tips That Aren’t Just for the Wealthy” 

When Should I Terminate an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT)?

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Should I terminate this trust and do I need a will?” looks at the situation where a person created a revocable and an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) to take care of his family after his death.

However, now everyone in the family is financially independent and the value of his estate is far below the 2021 taxable threshold of $11.7 million.

Should he end the trusts and simply designate his children as beneficiaries of his investment accounts and life insurance?

The purpose of an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) is to own and control term or permanent life insurance policies, so the policy proceeds aren’t part of the insured’s taxable estate upon death.

In this situation, the ILIT was funded with a term policy that’s set to expire soon. As a result, it may be easier to let the policy owned by the ILIT expire.

If that happens, the ILIT would be immaterial. Note that the terms of the ILIT will dictate the procedure for the termination of the trust. This can be simple or difficult. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney to examine the trust’s language.

A revocable living trust lets the individual creating the trust control the assets in the trust and avoid probate.

This type of trust can also be used to manage the trust assets by a successor trustee, if the grantor who created the trust becomes incapacitated.

An experienced estate planning attorney will know the state laws that regulate trusts, so consult with him or her. For example, banks in New Jersey may freeze 50% of the assets in an estate upon the owner’s death to make certain that any estate or inheritance taxes due are paid. In the Garden State, a tax waiver must be obtained to lift the freeze. However, the assets in a trust aren’t subject to a similar freeze.

At the grantor’s death, a trustee must pay income tax, if the gross income of the trust reaches the threshold. However, the trust may not accumulate gross income of $600, if the assets are distributed outright to the beneficiaries soon after the death of the grantor.

Reference: nj.com (June 15, 2021) “Should I terminate this trust and do I need a will?”

Tell Me again Why Estate Planning Is So Important

The Legal Reader’s recent article entitled “The Importance of Estate Planning” explains that estate planning is not just for the rich.

If you don’t have a comprehensive estate plan, it could mean headaches for your family left to manage things after you die, and it can be expensive and have long-lasting impact.

Here are four reasons why estate planning is critical, and you need the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Estate plan beneficiaries. Middle-class families must plan in the event something happens to the bread earner. You might be only leaving behind one second home, but if you don’t decide who is to receive it, things might become complicated. The main purpose of estate planning is to allocate heirs to the assets. If you have no estate plan when you die, the court decides who gets the assets.

Protection for minor children. If you have small children, you must prepare for the worst. To be certain that your children receive proper care if they are orphaned, you must name their guardians in your last will. If you don’t, the court will do it!

It can save on taxes. Estate planning can protect your loved ones from the IRS. A critical aspect of estate planning is the process of transferring assets to the heirs to generate the smallest tax burden for them. Estate planning can minimize estate taxes and state inheritance taxes.

Avoid fighting and headaches in the family. No one wants fighting when a loved one dies. There might be siblings who might think they deserve much more than the other children. The other siblings might also believe that they should be given the charge for financial matters, despite the fact that they aren’t good with debts and finances. These types of disagreements can get ugly and lead to court. Estate planning will help in creating individualized plans.

Work with an experienced estate planning attorney and see how estate planning can help your specific situation.

Reference: The Legal Reader (May 10, 2021) “The Importance of Estate Planning”

Do You have to Go through Probate when Someone Dies?

Probate involves assets, debts and distribution. The administration of a probate estate involves gathering all assets owned by the decedent, all claims owed to the decedent and the payments of all liabilities owed by the decedent or the estate of the decedent and the distribution of remaining assets to beneficiaries. If this sounds complicated, that’s because it is, according to the article “The probate talk: Administrators, creditors and beneficiaries need to know” from The Dallas Morning News.

The admission of a decedent’s will to probate may be challenged for up to two years from the date it was admitted to probate. Many people dismiss this concern, because they believe they have done everything they could to avoid probate, from assigning beneficiary designations to creating trusts. Those are necessary steps in estate planning, but there are some possibilities that executors and beneficiaries need to know.

Any creditor can open a probate estate and sue to pull assets back into the estate. A disappointed heir can sue the executor/administrator and claim that designations and transfers were made when the decedent was incapacitated, unduly influenced or the victim of fraud.

It’s very important that the administrator handles estate matters with meticulous attention to detail, documenting every transaction, maintaining scrupulous records and steering clear of anything that might even appear to be self-dealing. The administrator has a fiduciary duty to keep the beneficiaries of the estate reasonably informed of the process, act promptly and diligently administer and settle the estate.

The administrator must also be in a position to account for all revenue received, money spent and assets sold. The estate’s property must not be mixed in any way with the administrator’s own property or funds or business interests.

The administrator may not engage in any self-dealing. No matter how easily it may be to justify making a transaction, buying any of the estate’s assets for their own benefit or using their own accounts to temporarily hold money, is not permitted.

The administrator must obtain a separate tax identification number from the IRS, known as an EIN, for the probate estate. This is the identification number used to open an estate bank account to hold the estate’s cash and any investment grade assets. The account has to be properly named, on behalf of the probate estate. Anything that is cash must pass through the estate account, and every single receipt and disbursement should be documented. There’s no room for fuzzy accounting in an estate administration, as any estate planning lawyer will advise.

Distributions don’t get made, until all creditors are paid. This may not win the administrator any popularity contests, but it is required. No creditors are paid until the taxes are paid—the last year’s taxes for the last year the decedent was alive, and the estate taxes. The administrator may be held personally liable, if money is paid out to creditors or beneficiaries and there’s not enough money in the estate to pay taxes.

If the estate contains multiple properties in different states, probate must be done in all of those different states. If it is a large complex estate, an estate planning attorney will be a valuable resource in helping to avoid pitfalls, minor or major.

Reference: The Dallas Morning News (May 16, 2021) “The probate talk: Administrators, creditors and beneficiaries need to know”

What Does Tax Proposal Mean for Estate Planning?

The president’s tax plan proposes to nearly double the top tax rate on capital gains and eliminate a tax benefit on appreciated assets, known as the “step-up in basis.”

CNBC’s recent article entitled “Wealthy may face up to 61% tax rate on inherited wealth under Biden plan” reports that the combined tax rate would be the highest in nearly a century.

Some more well-off families could face combined tax rates of as much as 61% on inherited wealth under President Biden’s tax plan.

It is not known if President Biden’s plan can get through Congress, even with changes. Many moderate Democrats are likely to resist his proposal to raise the capital gains rate to 39.6%, as well as the plan to eliminate the step-up. Moreover, just a small number of the wealthiest taxpayers would ever see a rate of 61%. Most of us others would try to avoid this hike with tax and estate planning.

According to analysis by the Tax Foundation, families who own a business or a large amount of stock and want to transfer the assets to heirs could see a dramatic tax change.

For instance, you are an entrepreneur who started a business decades ago, that is now worth $100 million. Under the current tax law, the business would pass to the family without a capital gains tax—the value of the business would be “stepped-up,” or adjusted to its current value and the heirs would only pay a capital gain, if they later sold at a higher valuation. However, under President Biden’s plan, the family would immediately owe a capital gains tax of $42.96 million upon death (capital gains rate of 39.6%, plus the net investment income tax of 3.8%, minus the $1 million exemption).

If the estate tax remains unchanged, the family would also have an estate tax of 40% on the $57.04 million of remaining value of the assets. Including exemptions, the estate tax would amount to $18.13 million.

The combined estate tax and capital gains tax liability would total $61.10 million, reflecting a combined effective tax rate of just over 61% on the original $100 million asset. The rate rises, when including potential state capital gains and estate taxes.

However, experts say that if the step-up is eliminated, Congress would likely eliminate or overhaul the estate tax.

Reference: CNBC (May 3, 2021) “Wealthy may face up to 61% tax rate on inherited wealth under Biden plan”

What Is the Tax-Law Exception for 529 College Plans in 2021?

Grandparents might use this tactic to dramatically reduce their estate, without using any of their lifetime exemption if they meet some conditions, explains Financial Advisor’s recent article entitled “Tax Break Adds Perk To 529 College Plans.” That’s five years’ worth of the standard $15,000 annual exclusion that normally applies to 2021 gifts. Your spouse can also make the same gift.

You could give a five-year gift of $150,000 per couple and report it on a gift tax return. This uses none of your exemption. You should fund the educations of grandchildren or children, while they are young. If they end up being academic stars or athletes, scholarships can be adjusted against the 529 plan. If they choose not to go to college, you can select a new beneficiary. It is a smart way to frontload the 529 and take advantage of the tax-free growth.

Income earned in any qualified distributions from a 529 are typically not taxed, except under some states’ special rules. Non-qualified distributions are taxed and subject to a 10% penalty. Note that a 529 withdrawal to pay for health insurance or other medical expenses is a non-qualified distribution.

Many people get befuddled by filing a gift tax return. They think a tax is due. However, in fact, it is just a letter to the IRS informing them that you are using some of your lifetime exemption now.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 also permitted 529 money to be used for tuition for grades K-12. Therefore, frontloading the contribution makes for potentially faster accumulation of assets in the plan, which could be helpful due to the shorter timeframe between funding and use.

There are some conditions to note in the current political climate. If a donor funds a plan with $75,000 for the benefit of an individual, that donor could not give that person any additional gifts over the five years without using their lifetime exemption (now $11.7 million per person). If that exemption amount were to be reduced, it is possible that a person will have used up their lifetime exemption and would not be able to give additional gifts above the annual exclusion without paying gift tax.

This tax break comes with another catch: if the donor dies within the five years, the balance reverts back to the deceased donor’s estate.

You should know that the downside is limited investment options. Plans are generally conservative, so you do not lose your principal. There also may be high fees and costs. The plans often impede students who apply for financial aid, though not as much as some other investment holdings.

Reference: Financial Advisor (May 3, 2021) “Tax Break Adds Perk To 529 College Plans”

How to Avoid Probate

Avoiding probate and minimizing estate taxes are sound estate planning goals, but they shouldn’t be the only focus of an estate plan.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “How can we avoid probate and avoid taxes for our children?” says that proper estate planning is a much broader discussion you should have with a qualified estate attorney. However, the article offers some topics to discuss with an attorney, who can review all the specifics of your situation.

Probate is the legal process for settling the debts, taxes and last expenses of a deceased person and distributing the remaining assets to his or her heirs. The costs and time needed to settle an estate can be burdensome in some states. However, steps can be taken to significantly limit probate.

Without any special planning, there are a few types of assets that can be transferred outside of probate. Items owned jointly with rights of survivorship (JTWROS) automatically become the sole property of the survivor at the first joint owner’s death. This property doesn’t go through probate.

Accounts with beneficiary designations, like retirement accounts, annuities, and life insurance policies also pass outside probate. There is a payable on death (POD) feature that provides for a beneficiary designation on non-retirement accounts (like a bank account), so POD accounts can also be transferred outside of probate.

You can also create a living trust and transfer assets into the trust during your lifetime to avoid probate. Since the trust document dictates the way in which assets are distributed upon the death of the grantor rather than the will, probate is not needed here either.

In addition, ancillary probate is a second, simultaneous process that is needed when real estate is owned in a state outside the decedent’s state of residence.

Placing out-of-state real estate in a living trust is a useful way to avoid ancillary probate. You can also place the out-of-state real estate in a Limited Liability Company (LLC), so the estate owns an interest in an LLC rather than real property. That way, the entire probate process can be handled in the decedent’s state of residence. However, talk to an experienced estate planning attorney to review which of these options — or perhaps another option — would be best for your unique situation and goals.

Other types of trusts, whether created during your lifetime or at your death, can provide creditor protection and ensure that an inheritance stays in the family, as well as help minimize estate taxes.

Under current law, federal estate tax is only due if your estate is worth more than $11.7 million (double that if you are married). A few states also have an estate tax. Other states also have an inheritance tax, but in many instances it does not apply to amounts left to the decedent’s closest relatives, including their children.

Reference: nj.com (March 24, 2021) “How can we avoid probate and avoid taxes for our children?”