Do Single People Need Estate Planning?

In evaluating your needs for estate planning, look at what might happen if you die intestate – that is, without a last will and testament. Your assets will likely have to go through the probate process, which means they’ll be distributed by the court according to the state intestate succession laws, says Hood County News’ recent article entitled “Even ‘singles’ need estate plans.”

Even if you do not have children, you may have a few nephews or nieces—or children of cousins or friends— to whom you would like to leave some of your assets. This can include automobiles, collectibles and family memorabilia. However, if everything you own goes through probate, there is no guarantee that these individuals will end up with what you wanted them to have.

If you want to leave something to family members or close friends, you will need to say this in your will. However, you also may want to provide support to one or more charitable organizations. You can just name these charities in your will. However, there may be options that could provide you with more benefits.

One option is a charitable remainder trust. With this option, you would transfer appreciated assets – such as stocks, mutual funds or other securities – into an irrevocable trust. The trustee, whom you have named (note that you could serve as trustee yourself) can then sell the assets at full market value, avoiding the capital gains taxes you would have to pay if you sold them yourself, outside a trust. If you itemize, you may be able to claim a charitable deduction on your taxes. The trust can purchase income-producing assets with the proceeds and provide you with an income stream for the rest of your life. At your death, the remaining trust assets will pass to the charities you have named.

There is also a third entity that is part of your estate plans: you. Everyone should make arrangements to protect their interests. However, without an immediate family, you need to be especially mindful of your financial and health care decisions. That is why, as part of your estate planning, you may want to include these two documents: durable power of attorney and a health care proxy.

A durable power of attorney allows you to name a person to manage your finances, if you become incapacitated. This is especially important for anyone who does not have a spouse. If you become incapacitated, your health care proxy (health care surrogate or medical power of attorney) lets you name another person to legally make health care decisions for you, if you cannot do so yourself.

Reference: Hood County News (Dec. 17, 2021) “Even ‘singles’ need estate plans”

Why Shouldn’t I Wait to Draft my Will?

There are countless reasons why people 50 and over fail to write a will, update a previous one, or make other estate planning decisions. Market Watch’s recent article entitled “We beat up 6 of your excuses for not writing a will (or updating an old one)” takes a closer look at those six reasons, and how to help overcome them.

Excuse No. 1: You have plenty of time. Sure, you know you need to do it. However, it’s an easy thing to move down on your priority list. We all believe we have time and that we’ll live to be 100. However, that’s not always the case. Set up an appointment with an experienced estate planning lawyer ASAP because what gets scheduled gets done.

Excuse No. 2: You don’t have a lot of money. Some think they have to have a certain amount of assets before estate planning matters. That isn’t true. Drafting these documents is much more than assigning your assets to your heirs: it also includes end-of-life decisions and deciding who would step in, if you were unable to make financial decisions yourself. It’s also wise to have up-to-date documents like a power of attorney and a living will in case you can’t make decisions for yourself.

Excuse No. 3: You don’t want to think about your death. This is a job that does require some time and energy. However, think about what could happen without an up-to-date estate plan. Older people have seen it personally, having had friends pass without a will and seeing the children fighting over their inheritance.

Excuse No. 4: It takes too much time. There’s a misconception about how time-consuming writing a will is. However, it really can be a fairly quick process. It can take as little as 2½ hours. First, plan on an hour to meet with the lawyer; an hour to review the draft; and a half-hour to sign and execute your documents. That is not a hard-and-fast time requirement. However, it is a fair estimate.

Excuse No. 5: You’d rather avoid making difficult decisions. People get concerned about how to divide their estate and aren’t sure to whom they should leave it. While making some decisions in your estate plan may seem final, you can always review your choices another time.

Excuse No. 6: You don’t want to pay an attorney. See this as investment in your loved ones’ futures. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney helps you uncover and address the issues you don’t even know you have. Maybe you don’t want your children to fight. However, there can be other issues. After all, you didn’t go to law school to learn the details of estate planning.

Reference: Market Watch (March 12, 2022) “We beat up 6 of your excuses for not writing a will (or updating an old one)”

What are Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes?

The Huffington Post’s recent article entitled “The Biggest Mistakes People Make In Their Wills, According To Estate Lawyers” explains that your last will and testament is one of the most important legal documents you’ll ever have. A will lets you state where you want your property, minor children and debts to go after you die. It also allows you to appoint an executor to carry out your wishes. The lack of a will is a common tragic mistake. Just about everyone over the age of 18 needs some estate planning. The following are some of the major estate planning mistakes:

  1. Assigning co-executors. You should name only one executor, with alternate executors. Many testators want to make all their children responsible for administering the estate. However, that’s a really bad idea. If you have two executors, and they don’t agree, who gets the final say? However, if you’re set on naming more than one, make it an odd number so it’s majority-rule.
  2. Thinking a will is all you need to avoid probate. Probate is the legal process of administering a person’s estate whether they die with a will or without one (i.e., “intestate”). Although a valid will can say where assets are allocated, it will likely not avoid the probate process if there are assets titled solely in your name. If you have a will in place, but a bank account doesn’t have a beneficiary designation, the assets likely have to go through the probate process before being distributed according to the terms of your will.
  3. Being too vague about items with sentimental value. When people pass away, relationships change. Money can change people. Children who got along so well when you were alive may not get along as well when you’re gone and not there to mediate between them. If you’re too general, a term may be based on interpretation. If people interpret it differently, there’s a problem. If you know that someone wants a specific item, write it down.
  4. Failing to update your will to reflect life changes. The biggest mistake people make when it comes to doing wills or estate plans is their failure to update those documents. There are a number of life events that require the documents to be updated, such as marriage, divorce and births of children. It is recommended that your estate plan be revisited every few years.
  5. Failing to hire an experienced estate planning attorney. It’s important to get your estate planning documents correct. This is because when the documents are executed, the difference between a good set of documents and those drafted by a non-attorney (or one who doesn’t practice in this area of law) can mean considerably more time, money and stress.

Reference: Huffington Post (March 8, 2022) “The Biggest Mistakes People Make in Their Wills, According to Estate Lawyers”

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”

Are Millennials Estate Planning?

According to new research, 72% of U.S. millennials (ages 25 to 40) with wills created them or updated them in the past year.

MSN’s recent article entitled “Here’s why millennials are so into end-of-life planning reports that more than two-thirds of millennials don’t have a will. While the pandemic brought greater attention to end-of-life planning among millennials, they’re still largely unprepared. According to the 1Password findings, 68% of millennials don’t have a will.

As a result, respondents say that descendants would lose access to an average of $22,500. Only 38% have clarity over who should handle their digital assets after they die. Among those who do have a will, here’s what sparked it:

  • COVID-19 crisis (55%);
  • Having a child (36%);
  • Death of a celebrity or public figure (22%); and
  • Buying a house (17%).

With a digital transfer, the primary concern for respondents is giving their executor login credentials to banking and financial accounts (67%).

About 57% of millennial respondents say granting access to social media accounts is more important than giving access to email, subscription and e-commerce accounts.

The pandemic also provided a wake-up call for millennials and their end-of-life planning. However, there are some areas of estate planning that are uncertain. The survey finds 51% of millennials will be responsible for the execution of their parents’ wills. However, only 36% have access to their parents’ online account passwords.

While about a third (34%) of respondents said they’ve talked with their parents about their digital assets in the past year, about half (52%) have never discussed it with their parents or can’t recall the conversation.

Among those who have handled the execution of wills, 63% say it was more challenging than they anticipated to access accounts after a death.

Reference: MSN (Dec. 13, 2021) “Here’s why millennials are so into end-of-life planning”

How Do I Give Assets to Minor Grandchildren in My Will?

If a married couple is creating its estate plan, then how does the couple leave the estate to non-adult grandchildren?

However, what if something were to happen to them before the grandchildren become adults? Can this couple make sure the minor grandchildren do not get control of any inheritance until they’re adults?

Can arrangements be made for any unborn grandchildren to be included?

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “How can I leave my money to my minor grandchildren when I die?” says that one way to solve these issues is to create a testamentary trust to provide for young beneficiaries whether they’re children, grandchildren, step-children, or unrelated beneficiaries. The terms of a testamentary trust are in your will. It is only established and funded after you pass away.

The terms of the trust generally provide instructions to the trustee about the ages at which distributions must be made, if any. These instructions also allow the trustee to make discretionary distributions of income and principal to the beneficiaries.

Beneficiaries do not need to be identified by name or need to be born at the time the will is written.  However, they must be able to be identified upon your death. As a result, you can provide a bequest to all of your grandchildren, whether or not they are born yet.

It doesn’t matter where your grandchildren live as far as estate planning is concerned. However, if they live outside the United States and the bequest is considerable, the laws of their home country should be addressed. This is because a big gift may cause adverse tax implications to the recipient.

For children, some states’ laws allow you to add a term in your will that penalizes any interested person — like an heir or beneficiary — for contesting the will.

However, if there’s probable cause initiating a proceeding concerning the estate, then the clause will not be enforced.

When a person names another as primary beneficiary, they should also name one or more contingent beneficiaries, so that if the first person predeceases him or her, they will not have to revise the will.

If you do not designate a contingent beneficiary, and an heir predeceases, the assets pass according to the state’s intestacy statute rather than according to the will.

Reference: nj.com (Dec. 9, 2021) “How can I leave my money to my minor grandchildren when I die?”

Do You Have to Go through Probate When Someone Dies?

Probate is a required court proceeding under certain circumstances, although the rules surrounding probate are slightly different from state to state. In Hawaii, if a person dies owning real estate in their own name or if the total value of personal property is worth more than $100,000, their estate must be probated. In other states that threshold may be lower. Most states require probate regardless of the estate’s value, unless the estate assets are arranged to avoid probate.

This is explained in a recent article “Estate Planning Insights—Understanding Probate” from The Hawaii Herald.

Probate also requires written notice to be sent to the persons named in the will and to persons who would have inherited, if there had been no will. This is a big reason why many people use trusts and other alternative estate planning strategies. In addition, a will becomes part of the public record when it goes through probate, so creditors and others can see your will and learn all about your estate. So can estranged family members, ex-spouses, people looking for sales leads and thieves!

If there is no will, assets are distributed according to the state’s law of intestacy. These laws specify who receives inheritances, based on kinship. If a will is deemed invalid by the court, then the will is discarded, as are your wishes, and the laws of intestacy take over. This is another reason to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to create a properly prepared will and estate plan.

Probate can be a time-consuming process, delaying the distribution of assets. If the estate is complex, the process could take years.

Certain assets do not go through probate. These includes assets held by two or more people as “joint tenants” or “tenants by the entirety.” Real estate, checking accounts, saving accounts, and investment accounts can be owned this way. However, there can be pitfalls. If one person has debts, creditors may come after the assets, regardless of who the original owner may be.

Assets with a named beneficiary do not go through probate. This includes life insurance, IRAs, 401(k)s, annuities, savings bonds, “Transfer on Death (TOD accounts) and “Pay on Death” (POD accounts). It is very important to review all beneficiary designations every few years. Someone you may have named as a co-owner twenty years ago may no longer be in your life, or you may want to change the beneficiary. If you do not make any changes, whoever you originally named on the account will receive the assets.

Trusts are used to avoid probate, while directing what will happen to assets when you die. A Revocable Living Trust allows you to maintain control over the assets while living, but because you still have control over the assets in the trust, they are considered a countable asset by Medicaid.

To protect your assets from going through probate and to prepare for possible long-term care needs, an estate planning attorney can create a plan, possibly including a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust (MAPT).

Reference: The Hawaii Herald (Jan. 21, 2022) “Estate Planning Insights—Understanding Probate”

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”

Should I Start Estate Planning Now?

The coronavirus has taken a toll on our finances, as well as our physical and mental health. As a result, it’s important to plan appropriately for your health care and financial needs in an estate plan to provide much-needed peace of mind, say Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “Estate Planning During a Pandemic – Quit Stalling.” The article lists the important components of a comprehensive estate plan:

Advance Health Care Directive. This is a written plan that states your wishes, in the event you can’t speak for yourself. Your wishes need to be in writing, and the document should be updated as your health changes. Review your advance health care directive with your doctor and the person you select as your health care proxy to be certain it’s completed correctly.

Health Care Power of Attorney. This legal document lets you name someone who can review your medical records and make decisions, such as how and where you should be treated. This would be applicable, if you were incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions for yourself.

Living Will. A living will is a type of advance health care directive that specifically states your end-of-life decisions in the event you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious. This covers specific medical treatments, like CPR, ventilation, pain management, tube feeding and organ and tissue donation.

Financial Power of Attorney. This document lets you name someone to help with your finances, if you become incapacitated and unable to do so. You can state how much control your power of attorney will have, like accessing accounts, selling stock and managing real estate.

Trusts. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about creating a trust to protect your assets as you pass them down to your heirs. If your children or grandchildren aren’t old enough or mature enough to handle their inheritance, you can set up a trust that provides them with a small amount of money each year, increasing that amount as they get older. You can also direct that the money be specifically used for an adult child’s mortgage or student loans.

Beneficiaries. Many people forget to update their life insurance policies, bank, brokerage accounts and retirement plans. These all have beneficiary forms, which supersede a will. These should be updated, along with your estate plan, every few years and after every major life change. That’s something like a marriage, divorce, death, adoption, or birth.

Make certain that you are reviewing and updating your estate plan when you review your retirement plan each year or so.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Oct. 31, 2021) “Estate Planning During a Pandemic – Quit Stalling”

Do Young Adults Need Estate Planning?
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Do Young Adults Need Estate Planning?

Estate planning has an image problem, particularly with younger generations, says The Financial Post’s November 15th article entitled, “The case for estate planning in your 20s: At any age, some things are dear to you.”

If your 22 and don’t own a home, aren’t married and don’t have any dependent children, writing a will may seem like a waste of time and money. However, if you ask yourself “what do you want to see happen to your treasures if you pass away?

With no estate plan, a young adult will have no say over what happens to their treasures one day.

A recent survey shows very few young adults have an up-to-date will. It is less than 20%.

One reason for this poor result is that the term “estate planning” makes the process seem inaccessible or irrelevant for anyone not of a certain age or with significant assets.

However, considering your wishes earlier in life when your needs are simpler can make the process feel more natural and manageable when your life — and needs — become more complex as you get older.

The pandemic is a reminder that none of us knows for sure if we will have a later.

Drafting a will gives you the power to decide where everything from your savings and investments to your sentimental belongings and even your pets will go when you pass away.

Many people wait until they get married, buy a house, or have kids to draft a will. However, every adult needs one. Think about what would happen to your assets and property, if something happens to you.

People with spouses often mistakenly assume everything will go to that person, if they have no will in place.

However, state law will dictate exactly what assets will go to their spouse, and what might go to other relatives, such as their parents. If that’s not how you would have wanted it to go, you’re out of luck.

Leaving an up-to-date record of your wishes is the best thing you can do for your family.

Reference: Financial Post (Nov. 15, 2021) “The case for estate planning in your 20s: At any age, some things are dear to you”