Why Is Communication Important in Estate Planning?

Successful transition of wealth from generation to generation is best accomplished when family members have a shared understanding of the overall use of the family wealth. While the initial wealth creators have final say about how their assets are distributed, awareness and agreement on the part of the receiving family members regarding how the wealth is used can help preserve assets as they move to the next generation.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Communication Can Be The Key To Creating Harmony In Multi-Generational Estate Planning” says that coming to an agreement can sometimes be difficult, especially if family members bring their own perspectives and values to the estate planning process. However, good communication can help head off potential multi-generational conflicts before they happen.

One of the most significant challenges in achieving multi-generational wealth preservation is that each individual and generation has a different outlook on wealth. Today’s families could include four or even five generations. This big gap in ages could mean differing perspectives on many topics, including:

  • Personal values. Family members may have different belief systems and values, including how they view work, social and political systems, relationships, and other topics.
  • Investing priorities. Some generations may give greater importance to socially conscious investing than others. This could create a conflict when it comes to how and where to invest.
  • Shifting economic environments. Older generations who have lived through various economic scenarios may have very different perspectives than younger generations, particularly those just coming of age in a time of high inflation and a slowing economy.
  • Communication. Not every generation or family member is comfortable talking openly about money, especially when it comes to sharing how much is involved and how to spend it.
  • View of the role of a financial advisor. Some family members may see a financial advisor as a trusted partner, and others may be more skeptical.

While these differences can create challenges in the estate planning process, you can resolve them and reach an agreement about how to best manage the family’s wealth. Begin with a plan designed for the long-term, spanning current and future generations that’s flexible to meet the family’s changing needs and shifting economic environments.

Reference: Forbes (April 18, 2022) “Communication Can Be The Key To Creating Harmony In Multi-Generational Estate Planning”

Should I have a Charitable Trust in My Estate Plan?

Charitable trusts can be created to provide a reliable income stream to you and your beneficiaries for a set period of time, says Bankrate’s recent article entitled “What is a charitable trust?”

Establishing a charitable trust can be a critical component of your estate plan and a rewarding way to make an impact for a cause you care deeply about. There are a few kinds of charitable trusts to consider based on your situation and what you may be looking to accomplish.

Charitable lead trust. This is an irrevocable trust that is created to distribute an income stream to a designated charity or nonprofit organization for a set number of years. It can be established with a gift of cash or securities made to the trust. Depending on the structure, the donor can benefit from a stream of income during the life of the trust, deductions for gift and estate taxes, as well as current year income tax deductions when the assets are donated to the trust.

If the charitable lead trust is funded with a donation of cash, the donor can claim a deduction of up to 60% of their adjusted gross income (AGI), and any unused deductions can generally be carried over into subsequent tax years. The deduction limit for appreciated securities or other assets is limited to no more than 30% of AGI in the year of the donation.

At the expiration of the charitable lead trust, the assets that remain in the trust revert back to the donor, their heirs, or designated beneficiaries—not the charity.

Charitable remainder trust. This trust is different from a charitable lead trust. It’s an irrevocable trust that’s funded with cash or securities. A CRT gives the donor or other beneficiaries an income stream with the remaining assets in the trust reverting to the charity upon death or the expiration of the trust period. There are two types of CRTs:

  1. A charitable remainder annuity trust or CRAT distributes a fixed amount as an annuity each year, and there are no additional contributions can be made to a CRAT.
  2. A charitable remainder unitrust or CRUT distributes a fixed percentage of the value of the trust, which is recalculated every year. Additional contributions can be made to a CRUT.

Here are the steps when using a CRT:

  1. Make a partially tax-deductible donation of cash, stocks, ETFs, mutual funds or non-publicly traded assets, such as real estate, to the trust. The amount of the tax deduction is a function of the type of CRT, the term of the trust, the projected annual payments (usually stated as a percentage) and the IRS interest rates that determine the projected growth in the asset that’s in effect at the time.
  2. Receive an income stream for you or your beneficiaries based on how the trust is created. The minimum percentage is 5% based on current IRS rules. Payments can be made monthly, quarterly or annually.
  3. After a designated time or after the death of the last remaining income beneficiary, the remaining assets in the CRT revert to the designated charity or charities.

There are a number of benefits of a charitable trust that make them attractive for estate planning and other purposes. It’s a tax-efficient way to donate to the charities or nonprofit organizations of your choosing. The charitable trust provides benefits to the charity and the donor. The trust also provides upfront income tax benefits to the donor, when the contribution to the trust is made.

Donating highly appreciated assets, such as stocks, ETFs, and mutual funds, to the charitable trust can help avoid paying capital gains taxes that would be due if these assets were sold outright.  Donations to a charitable trust can also help to reduce the value of your estate and reduce estate taxes on larger estates.

However, charitable trusts do have some disadvantages. First, they’re irrevocable, so you can’t undo the trust if your situation changes, and you were to need the money or assets donated to the trust. When you establish and fund the trust, the money’s no longer under your control and the trust can’t be revoked.

A charitable trust may be a good option if you have a desire to create a legacy with some of your assets. Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney about your specific situation.

Reference: Bankrate (Dec. 14, 2021) “What is a charitable trust?”

How to Protect Valuable Assets in Estate Planning

If you fail to take the necessary measures, you can lose your assets and property, which might cause financial challenges when you will not be working in retirement.

Legal Reader’s recent article entitled “How to Legally Protect Your Assets” says there are different strategies you can use to protect your personal assets.

This will help you to prepare for any eventuality. Let’s look at some of them:

A Family Trust. This may be one of the best strategies to protect your personal assets. A trust will help protect your assets when you lose all your money. A family trust can also provide tax benefits to family members in lower tax brackets. However, talk to an experienced estate planning attorney before setting up the trust to make the right decisions.

Start a Company. This may be an alternative to setting up a family trust, since your property will be more secure than when operating a sole proprietorship or a partnership business. This gives you a more secure future, even when you face financial challenges. However, there are many legalities in starting a company, so talk to an attorney.

Register Your Most Valuable Assets in the Name of the Low-risk Spouse. This tactic will make it difficult for a trustee or liquidator to gain access to the property in case of bankruptcy. However, ask an attorney to help you to structure the purchase to make certain that the low-risk partner’s name appears on the legal documents. An experienced estate planning attorney can also help you access benefits, such as Social Security and Medicaid.

These laws keep changing. You might miss an opportunity of getting long-term care planning, if you keep postponing a review with an experienced estate planning attorney.

As you spend your hard-earned cash, take some time to learn how to protect what you buy.  You should also use the legal strategies above to keep your property secure.

Reference: Legal Reader Jan. 26, 2022) “How to Legally Protect Your Assets” 

Will Moving to a New State Impact My Estate Planning?

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., baby boomers have been speeding up their retirement plans. Many Americans have also been moving to new states. For retirees, the non-financial considerations often revolve around weather, proximity to grandchildren and access to quality healthcare and other services.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Thinking of Retiring and Moving? Consider the Financial Implications First” provides some considerations for retirees who may set off on a move.

  1. Income tax rates. Before moving to a new state, you should know how much income you’re likely to be generating in retirement. It’s equally essential to understand what type of income you’re going to generate. Your income as well as the type of income you receive could significantly influence your economic health as a retiree, after you make your move. Before moving to a new state, look into the tax code of your prospective new state. Many states have flat income tax rates, such as Massachusetts at 5%. The states that have no income tax include Alaska, Florida, Nevada, Texas, Washington, South Dakota and Wyoming. Other states that don’t have flat income tax rates may be attractive or unattractive, based on your level of income. Another important consideration is the tax treatment of Social Security income, pension income and retirement plan income. Some states treat this income just like any other source of income, while others offer preferential treatment to the income that retirees typically enjoy.
  2. Housing costs. The cost of housing varies dramatically from state to state and from city to city, so understand how your housing costs are likely to change. You should also consider the cost of buying a home, maintenance costs, insurance and property taxes. Property taxes may vary by state and also by county. Insurance costs can also vary.
  3. Sales taxes. Some states (New Hampshire, Oregon, Montana, Delaware and Alaska) have no sales taxes. However, most states have a sales tax of some kind, which generally adds to the cost of living. California has the highest sales tax, currently at 7.5%, then comes Tennessee, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Mississippi and Indiana, each with a sales tax of 7%. Many other places also have a county sales tax and a city sales tax. You should also research those taxes.
  4. The state’s financial health. Examine the health of the state pension systems where you are thinking about moving. The states with the highest level of unfunded pension debts include Connecticut, Illinois, Alaska, New Jersey and Hawaii. They each have unfunded state pensions at a level of more than 20% of their state GDP. If you’re thinking about moving to one of those states, you’re more apt to see tax increases in the future because of the huge financial obligations of these states.
  5. The overall cost of living. Examine your budget to see the extent to which your annual living expenses might increase or decrease in your new location because food, healthcare and transportation costs can vary by location. If your costs are going to go up, that should be all right, provided you have the financial resources to fund a larger expense budget. Be sure that you’ve accounted for the differences before you move.
  6. Estate planning considerations. If this is going to be your last move, it’s likely that the laws of your new state will apply to your estate after you die. Many states don’t have an estate or gift tax, which means your estate and gifts will only be subject to federal tax laws. However, a number of states, such as Maryland and Iowa, have a state estate tax.

You should talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about the estate and gift tax implications of your move.

Reference: Forbes (Nov. 30, 2021) “Thinking of Retiring and Moving? Consider the Financial Implications First”

Is Your Home Your Largest Asset or Biggest Liability?

If you’re a homeowner who’s ready to retire, you’ve most likely worked to pay off the home, while dreaming of the day when you could relax and live a mortgage-free, life while enjoying the fruits of your labor. However, Real Simple’s recent article entitled “For Retirees, a Home Could Be Your Largest Asset—or Your Biggest Liability” provides important food for thought.

Signs Your Home Is Your Largest Asset. A home can be one of your biggest assets because of the equity that’s been built up. You’ll be able to pass it on to your heirs, and they get a step-up in cost basis to the current market value. This will significantly reduce capital gains taxes, if the home is later sold by your children. With that equity, you can take money out of the house in a home equity line of credit. If your 62 or older with a substantial amount of equity in your home, it can be used as collateral for a reverse mortgage.

Signs Your Home Is Your Biggest Liability. A home can be a liability when it’s worth considerably less than what you paid for it, especially if you have a mortgage. The last thing you want when you’re retiring is to be saddled with a debt that has no equity. Your home could be also considered a liability, if it falls under the category of an expense that you have to manage, such as a mortgage, homeowner’s insurance, municipal taxes, repair or renovation costs, or homeowner’s association fees.

Stay or Sell? Take a holistic approach to what you want in your retirement years and determine what importance you place on your living space. The answer to this is at the core of deciding if you need to downsize. If you decide to sell your home and downsize to something less expensive, be sure to save part of the proceeds from the home’s sale. You can use that money to fund traveling, hobbies, the cost of living, or any other project in retirement.

You should also try to be more objective in evaluating your home as an asset or a liability. Retirement-aged homeowners generally choose one of these options: (i) plan to pay off your mortgage before your target retirement date; (ii) get a reverse mortgage that pays out over a specified time period; (iii) rent out the home for cashflow or offset a monthly cash flow deficit, if you have a mortgage; or (iv) sell the home in the future.

If you decide to stay in your home, there are several ways to monetize home equity in retirement, such as needs-based government programs like property tax abatements or home improvement forgivable grant programs. As alternatives to a reverse mortgage, you could tap into loan products such as a home equity line of credit or a conventional mortgage loan.

Reference: Real Simple (Nov. 1, 2021) “For Retirees, a Home Could Be Your Largest Asset—or Your Biggest Liability”

What are Biggest Blunders in Wealth Transfer?

When it comes time to transfer what we’ve work so hard to accumulate, the way in which we transfer our wealth can have a big impact on how much of our wealth is actually received by our heirs and how much is transferred to the federal government.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Top 7 Tax Mistakes Made in Planning a Wealth Transfer” says that tax mistakes can mean losing a lot of hard earned money, if you’re not careful. Here are some of the biggest mistakes made in wealth transfer planning.

  1. IRD Taxes. Most people are unaware of this tax. It stands for “Income in Respect of the Decedent.” It’s the income tax your heirs will pay on tax-deferred assets, such as traditional IRAs, 401k’s and annuities. In many cases, these taxes will push heirs into a higher marginal tax bracket. You should plan to reduce or eliminate the IRD Tax, if you have a 401k, IRA or annuities. For example, if you gift IRA and 401k assets to charity and non-IRD assets to your heirs, you can save them in IRD Taxes! The use of a Charitable Remainder Trust can provide a tax-efficient way to create a “charitable stretch IRA” for your children or grandchildren.
  2. Charitable Giving Mistakes. Most people do charitable giving with after tax cash from their income. However, this isn’t the most efficient way to give. Gifting highly appreciated securities, real estate, or even business interests can give you a double tax benefit: it can eliminate capital gains taxes and still get the charitable tax deduction.
  3. Dying without a Comprehensive Estate Plan. About three-quarters of Americans die without a will. A will, by itself, subjects your assets (and your heirs) to probate. A well-designed estate plan can help reduce or eliminate both probate and estate taxes. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about creating a comprehensive estate plan for you or review the one you have.
  4. No (or Improper) Beneficiary Designations. This can result in a loss of inheritance for your family. With retirement accounts like IRAs or 401(k)s, properly designating beneficiaries is essential to avoid the loss of further income tax deferral at death. If you don’t have primary and contingent beneficiaries named on all your accounts, these assets will have to go through probate and could cost unnecessary IRD taxes.
  5. Improper Titling of Business Interests. A business is frequently titled only in the name of the business owning spouse. However, when that spouse dies, the business itself must go through the costly process of probate, which can create issues for the operation of the company.
  6. Bad Choices for Ownership & Beneficiary Designations on Life Insurance. Life insurance can be a great financial planning tool and provide liquidity. It can also be a great wealth transfer tool in estate planning or business planning. However, if the ownership and beneficiaries are done incorrectly, the life insurance benefits can be subject to estate taxes. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT).
  7. Giving the Wrong Assets to your Heirs. A common mistake that people make in wealth transfer planning, is to leave a percentage of their estate to their children, another to their grandchildren and another to their favorite charities (or Donor Advised Fund) in their will or via a trust. However, this isn’t the smartest way to distribute your assets from a tax perspective. Doing so could subject them to IRD taxes. Instead, use IRA (and other IRD assets such as 401k) for your gifts to charity and, give non-IRD assets (such as cash, real estate, life insurance, or a Roth IRA) to your children and grandchildren.

Reference: Forbes (Dec. 15, 2021) “Top 7 Tax Mistakes Made in Planning a Wealth Transfer”

Can I Use a Roth IRA in Estate Planning?

There are a number of reasons to consider Roth IRAs as part of your estate planning efforts, says Think Advisor’s recent article entitled “How and Why to Use Roth IRAs in Estate Planning.” Let’s take a look:

One of the biggest estate planning benefits of a Roth IRA is the fact that there are no required minimum distributions or RMDs. This is a big estate planning tool and lets the money in the Roth grow tax-free for the benefit of a surviving spouse or other beneficiaries. This also eliminates the taxes that would otherwise need to be paid on these distributions.

Because the rules for inherited IRAs for most non-spousal beneficiaries under the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (Secure) Act went into effect at the beginning of 2020, Roth IRAs have become a very viable estate planning tool because beneficiaries who aren’t classified as eligible designated beneficiaries must withdraw the entire amount of their inherited IRA within 10 years of inheriting it. The Act eliminated the ability to “stretch” inherited IRAs for IRAs inherited prior to 2020 for most non-spousal beneficiaries.

For inherited traditional IRAs, the whole amount will be taxed within 10 years of inheriting. The 10-year rule also applies to inherited Roth IRAs. However, if the original account owner satisfied the five-year requirement prior to his or her death, the withdrawals from the inherited Roth IRA are tax-free. It makes a Roth a beneficial estate planning tool because taxes that are bunched into a 10-year period can substantially erode the value of an inherited traditional IRA.

For those who already have a Roth, they’re set in terms of their spouse being able to inherit the account and use it as their own. For non-spousal beneficiaries, there’s a five-year rule. For those with a Roth 401(k), it’s important to roll this account over to a Roth IRA once you leave your employer to avoid RMDs.

For those who are eligible to do so, contributing to a Roth IRA each year can help you build a Roth balance to pass on to your beneficiaries. For those who have access to a Roth 401(k) account with an employer-sponsored plan or a solo 401(k) for the self-employed, contributing to a Roth 401(k) can offer a higher contribution limit with no income restrictions, when compared to a Roth IRA. The amount in the Roth 401(k) can later be rolled over to a Roth IRA with no tax consequences, which also avoids RMDs.

A Roth IRA conversion is a strategy to looking at for passing IRA assets to non-spousal beneficiaries, either directly or as contingent beneficiaries upon the death of a surviving spouse. It’s a good way for you to prepay taxes for beneficiaries. Beyond prepaying the taxes, the five-year rule can come into play if you didn’t previously have a Roth IRA.

Whether a Roth IRA conversion makes sense as an estate planning tool depends on several variables, including your current tax situation, your age and the taxes that would be incurred by the conversion. Roth IRAs have many potential benefits as a planning tool. With the Secure Act and the changing tax and estate landscape, a Roth IRA can play a key role in your estate planning in the right circumstances. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about whether it’s right for you.

Reference: Think Advisor (November 9, 2021) “How and Why to Use Roth IRAs in Estate Planning”

What Estate Planning Does My Child Need at 18?
Chocolate birthday cake with birthday candles.

What Estate Planning Does My Child Need at 18?

This 18th birthday milestone legally notes the transition from minors to official adults, bringing with it major changes in legal status, says NJ Family’s recent article entitled “What You Need to Know (Legally and Medically) On Your Teen’s 18th Birthday.”

Adults—even your 18-year-old— is entitled to privacy rights. This means that anyone not given explicit rights via a power of attorney and HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) release, among other important documents, can be denied info and access—even parents. Here’s what every family should have:

Power of Attorney. A power of attorney (POA) gives an agent (such as you as the parent) the authority to act on behalf of a principal (your adult child) in specific matters stated in the POA.

You can also have a POA for medical decisions and one for finances.

HIPAA Release. When kids become legal adults, they have a right to complete health privacy under HIPAA. That means no one can see their information without permission, even you!

Ask your child to sign a HIPAA release form (which is often included along with the medical power of attorney), to let their health providers share relevant information.

Wills. A simple Will is a good idea. It may also be a good time for you to review your estate plan to see how circumstances changed.

The wisest and safest way to get a credit card for your adult child is to add your child to your account. That way you can monitor transactions. Students also get an immediate bump in their credit score, which is important for renting apartments. However, the main point is to teach them skills and how to be responsible with money.

Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney about drafting all of the necessary legal documents for your newly-minted legally adult kid.

Reference: NJ Family (Oct. 6, 2021) “What You Need to Know (Legally and Medically) On Your Teen’s 18th Birthday”

When Should I Consult with an Elder Law Attorney?

Elder law attorneys assist seniors or their family caregivers with legal issues and planning that related to the aging process. These attorneys frequently help with tax planning, disability planning, probate and administration of an estate, nursing home placement and many other legal issues.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Hiring an Elder Law Attorney,” explains that elder law attorneys are specialists who work with seniors or caregivers of aging family members on legal matters that older adults face as they age. Many specialize in Medicaid planning to help protect a person’s financial assets, when they have Alzheimer’s disease or another debilitating illness that may require long-term care. They can also usually draft estate documents, including a durable power of attorney for health and medical needs, and even a trust for an adult child with special needs.

As you get older, there are legal issues you, your spouse or your family caregivers face. These issues can also change. For instance, you should have powers of attorney for financial and health needs, in case you or your spouse become incapacitated. You might also need an elder law attorney to help transfer assets, if you or your spouse move into a nursing home to avoid spending your life savings on long-term care.

Elder law attorneys can help with a long list of legal matters seniors frequently face, including the following:

  • Preservation and transfer of assets
  • Accessing health care in a nursing home or other managed care environment and long-term care placements
  • Estate and disability planning
  • Medicare, Social Security and disability claims and appeals
  • Supplemental insurance and long-term health insurance claims and appeals
  • Elder abuse and fraud recovery
  • Conservatorships and guardianships
  • Housing discrimination and home equity conversions
  • Health and mental health law.

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 4, 2021) “Hiring an Elder Law Attorney”

What If Account has No Named Beneficiary?

It’s not uncommon for a person to have a banking, retirement, or other investment account with no designated beneficiary when they pass away.

Beneficiaries can include spouses, children, other family members, friends and charities. Beneficiary designations can generally be added to assets, such as bank accounts, securities accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, savings bonds and a number of other assets. Designating a beneficiary will determine how an asset is distributed at the owner’s death– regardless of the provisions of the person’s will or trust.

The first step is to probate the will of a deceased, assuming she had one, says nj.com’s recent article entitled “My wife died and her account has no beneficiary. What’s next?”

When a person dies without a surviving beneficiary named for an account, the assets go to that person’s estate.

So, if a person left a will, the assets in the banking account would pass to the beneficiaries under that will.

If the decedent had no will, the beneficiaries would be dictated by the laws of the state in which the decedent resided. These are known as intestacy laws, and they describe who inherits if there’s no will.

An estate may have to go through the probate process before the decedent’s assets can be transferred to the will’s beneficiaries. It depends on the size of the decedent’s estate, and where he or she lived and died. States have what’s called a small estate limit: if an estate falls below that limit, no probate is required.

If you don’t need to go through probate, there’s a way for a beneficiary to request that a banking account be transferred without a court order. If an estate must go through probate, you’ll need a court order (which is how probate ends) to have the assets transferred to your name.

Reference: nj.com (Oct. 22, 2021) “My wife died and her account has no beneficiary. What’s next?”