Should I Add that to My Will?

In general, a last will and testament is an easy and straightforward way to state who gets what when you die and designate a guardian for your minor children, if you (and your spouse) die unexpectedly.

MSN’s recent article entitled “Things you should never put in your will” explains that you can be specific about who receives what. However, attaching strings or conditions may not work because there’s no one to legally enforce the terms. If you have specific details about how a person should use their inheritance, whether they are a spendthrift or someone with special needs, a trust may be a better option because you’ll have more control, even from beyond the grave.

Keeping some assets out of your will can actually benefit your future heirs because they’ll get their inheritance faster. When you pass on, your will must be “proven” and validated in a probate court prior to distribution of your property. This process takes some time and effort, if there are issues—including something in your will that doesn’t need to be there. For example, property in a trust and payable-on-death accounts are two types of assets that can be distributed to your beneficiaries without a will.

Don’t put anything in a will that you don’t own outright. If you jointly own assets with someone, they will likely become the new owner. For example, this applies to a property acquired by married couples in community property states.

Property in a revocable living trust. This is a separate entity that you can use to distribute your assets which avoids probate. When you title property into the trust, it is subject to the trust’s rules.  Because a trust operates independently, you must avoid inconsistencies and not include anything in your will that the trust addresses.

Assets with named beneficiaries. Some financial accounts are payable-on-death or transferable-on-death. They are distributed or paid out directly to the named beneficiaries. That makes putting them in a will unnecessary (and potentially troublesome, if you’re inconsistent). However, you can add information about these assets in your letter of instruction (see below). As far as bank accounts, brokerage or investment accounts, retirement accounts and pension plans and life insurance policies, assign a beneficiary rather than putting these assets in your will.

Jointly owned property. Property you jointly own with someone else will almost always directly pass to the co-owner when you die, so do not put it in your will. A common arrangement is joint tenancy with rights of survivorship.

Other things you may not want to put in a will. Businesses can be given away in a will, but it’s not the best plan. Wills must be probated in court and that can create a rough transition after you die. Instead, work with an experienced estate planning attorney on a succession plan for your business and discuss any estate tax issues you may have as a business owner.

Adding your funeral instructions in your will isn’t optimal. This is because the family may not be able to read the will before making arrangements. Instead, leave a letter of instruction with any personal wishes and desires.

Reference: MSN (Dec. 8, 2020) “Things you should never put in your will”

What Do I Need to Do to Calculate and Correct an Excess IRA Contribution?

It would be super if you could put all your money into a Roth and enjoy tax-free growth and withdrawals. However, Uncle Sam restricts the amount you can contribute annually, and eligibility is based on your income. However, if you make too much money, you might be able to use a work-around called a backdoor Roth.

Investopedia’s January article entitled “How to Calculate (and Fix) Excess IRA Contributions” says there’s also a contribution limit for traditional IRAs. However, these income limits concern deducting contributions on your taxes. If you violate a rule and make an ineligible, or excess, contribution, you’re looking at a 6% penalty on the amount each year, until you correct the mistake. However, note that Roth IRAs have an extra restriction: whether you can contribute up to the limit—or anything at all—depends on your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). If you contributed to a Roth when you made too much to qualify—or if you contributed more than you’re allowed to either IRA—you’ve made an excess contribution, which is subject to a 6% tax penalty.

The $6,000 (or $7,000) maximum is the combined total that you’re allowed to contribute to all your IRAs. Therefore, if you have a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA, your total contribution to those two accounts must be $6,000 (or $7,000). The amount you contribute can’t be more than your earned income for the year. If your earned income is $4,000, that’s the maximum you can contribute to an IRA.

The penalty of 6% of the excess amount must be paid when you file your income tax return. If you fail to fix the mistake, you’ll owe the penalty each year the excess remains in your account. If you’re not eligible to take a qualified distribution from your IRA to fix the mistake, you’ll pay an additional 10% early withdrawal penalty on earnings (interest). The IRS has a specific formula to calculate earnings (or losses) attributable to an excess contribution. There are several ways to fix an excess contribution to an IRA:

Withdraw the excess contribution and earnings. You can avoid the 6% penalty, if you withdraw the extra contribution and any earnings before your tax deadline. You are required to declare the earnings as income on your taxes. You may also owe a 10% tax for early withdrawal on the earnings, if you’re younger than 59½.

File an amended tax return (if you’ve already filed). If you remove the excess contribution and earnings and file an amended return by the October extension deadline, you can also avoid the 6% penalty.

Apply the excess to next year’s contribution. You’ll still owe the 6% tax this year, but you’ll at least stop paying once you apply the excess.

Withdraw the excess next year. If you don’t do one of the other options, you can withdraw the excess funds by Dec. 31 of the next year. You can leave the earnings, but you must remove the entire excess contribution to avoid that 6% penalty for the following year.

In addition to the formula, you must correct the excess from the same IRA. Therefore, if you have multiple IRAs, you can’t choose the IRA you want to “fix.” The last contribution is also an excess contribution. If you made multiple contributions to an IRA, the last is considered the excess contribution. Finally, you are able to distribute the entire balance to correct the excess. If the excess amount is the only contribution you made to the IRA—and no other contributions, distributions, transfers, or recharacterizations occurred in the IRA—you can fix the excess, by simply distributing the entire IRA balance by the applicable deadline.

Most people who make ineligible contributions to an IRA do so by accident, and you could contribute too much if you meet the following criteria:

  • You make more money, and it moves you up to an income eligibility range
  • You overlook a contribution you made earlier in the year; or
  • You contributed more than your earned income for the year.

In a good faith attempt to fund your retirement accounts, you could make an excess contribution. The IRS has considered that this may occur. The agency provides guidelines to help you correct the error.

Reference: Investopedia (Jan.  19, 2020) “How to Calculate (and Fix) Excess IRA Contributions”

What Happens If You Fail to Submit a Change of Beneficiary Form?

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “I’m being denied an inheritance. Can they do that?” explains the situation where an individual, Peter, was given a CD/IRA by a friend named Paul.

Paul told Peter that he wanted him to have it, in case anything happened to him. Paul was married and didn’t tell his wife about this. Paul’s wife was the beneficiary of several other accounts.

Paul told Peter to sign a document before he died, and they got it notarized.

Paul died somewhat unexpectedly, and Peter took the signed and notarized beneficiary designation form to the bank to see about collecting the money.

However, the bank told Peter that there was no beneficiary designation given to them prior to Pauls’ death.

Is there anything that Peter can do?

The article explains that it’s a matter of timing, and it’s probably too late. That’s because it looks like Paul failed to submit a written beneficiary change form to the financial institution prior to his death.

As a result, the financial institution must distribute the CD to the person or entities that otherwise would be entitled to receive it.

In most states, you can choose any IRA beneficiary you want. However, in nine community property states, you are required to name your spouse as your heir. If you want to name anyone else, your spouse must give written permission. The same laws apply, if you want to change your beneficiary designation.

The nine community property states are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

The only way for Peter to see the money, is if he can show that Paul intended for him to receive the asset. That bank doesn’t want to be sued by another person, who claims they’re entitled to the CD.

In this situation, it’s best to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney who can examine the specifics of this type of issue.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Nov. 24, 2020) “I’m being denied an inheritance. Can they do that?”

What Do You Do with a Big Inheritance?

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Death by inheritance: Windfall can cause complications” cautions that in a community property state, if you’re married, your inheritance is separate property. It will stay separate property, provided it’s not commingled with community funds or given to your spouse. That article says that it is much harder to do than it looks.

One option is for you and your spouse to sign a written marital agreement that states that your inheritance (as well as any income from it) remains your separate property. However, you have to then be careful that you keep it apart from your community property.

If your spouse doesn’t want to sign such an agreement, then speak to an attorney about what assets in your inheritance can safely be put into a trust. If you do this, take precautions to monitor the income and keep it separate.

Another route is to put your inheritance into assets held in only your name and segregate the income from them. This is important because income from separate property is considered community property.

Another tip as far as the overall management of the inheritance, is to analyze it by type of asset. IRAs and other qualified funds take very special handling to avoid unnecessary taxes or penalties. If you immediately cash out your inherited traditional IRA, you’ll forfeit a good chunk of it in taxes. If you don’t take the mandatory distribution of a Roth IRA, you’re going see a major penalty.

Inherited real estate has its own set of issues. If you inherited only part of a piece of real property, then you’ll have to work with the other owners as to its use, maintenance, and/or sale. For example, your parents’ summer home is passed to you and your three siblings. If things get nasty, you may have to file a partition suit to force a sale, if your siblings aren’t cooperative. Real estate can also be encumbered by an environmental issue, a mortgage, delinquent taxes, or some other type of lien.

Some types of assets are just a plain headache: timeshares, partnership, or entity interests that don’t have a buy-sell agreement, along with Title II weapons (which may be banned in your state).

You can also refuse an inheritance by use of a disclaimer. It’s a procedure where you decline to take part or all of an inheritance.

Finally, speak with an experienced estate planning attorney, so you can incorporate your inheritance into your own estate plan.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Nov. 10, 2020) “Death by inheritance: Windfall can cause complications”

Stretch Out IRA Distributions, Even Without ‘Stretch’ IRA

It’s sad but true: the SECURE Act took away the long lifetime stretch that so many IRA heirs enjoyed. It was a great efficiency tool for family wealth transfer, but there are ways to fill the gap. A recent article “3 Strategies That Dry Your Stretch IRA Tears” from InsuranceNewsNet.com explains what to do now that IRAs need to be cashed out within ten years of the original owner’s death.

There are a number of tax-efficient planning opportunities, falling into three basic categories: wealth replacement with life insurance, Roth planning and charitable opportunities.

The life insurance policy is straightforward: parents buy life insurance to close the gap between what the IRA could have been, if it had been stretched out over the heir’s lifetime. For parents who are in a lower tax bracket than their children, it might make sense for parents to take distributions out of their IRA and buy insurance with after-tax dollars. This method may also present an opportunity for parents to purchase life insurance with long-term care protection, if they have not already done so.

The “Slow Roth” strategy is for families who might not think they can benefit from a Roth, but they can—just not all at once. By converting an IRA to a Roth IRA over time, only in amounts that keep parents in the same tax bracket, and paying taxes on the conversion slowly and over time, the Roth IRA can be built up so when it is inherited, even though it has to be taken out within ten years after your death, it is income tax free.

The third strategy is for families already planning on making charitable gifts. A Qualified Charitable Distribution, or QDC, lets the owner make distributions directly from their IRA to qualified charities, up to $100,000 annually. Remember that the distribution must go directly to the charity and it cannot be used for a donation to a donor-advised fund or private foundation. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help determine if your charity of choice qualifies.

Finally, you can name a Charitable Remainder Trust as an IRA Beneficiary. This is not a do-it-yourself project and mistakes can be costly. By naming a CRT as a beneficiary of your IRA, you avoid taxes on the entire lump sum when the trust liquidates the IRA. At the same time, the income beneficiary of the trust can receive income from the CRT over their lifetime or a term that you determine. It can’t be more than twenty years from the date of death, but twenty years is a long time. The payments from the trust will be treated as taxable income, so be sure that this will work for the recipient. If you accidentally push them into a higher tax bracket, they may not be quite as grateful as you wanted.

Reference: InsuranceNewsNet.com (Oct. 28, 2020) “3 Strategies That Dry Your Stretch IRA Tears”

Is My Estate Plan Set with a Power of Attorney?

A June 2020 Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies survey showed that a mere 28% of retirees have a financial power of attorney (POA)—and many people don’t understand that there are two types of these advance directives that serve different purposes.

MarketWatch recently published an article “Does your estate plan use the right type of Power of Attorney for you?” that says knowing how both types work is crucial in the pandemic, especially in the event that you get sick with coronavirus.

A Durable Power of Attorney for Finance can be either “springing” or “immediate.” “Durable” refers to the fact that this Power of Attorney will endure after you have lost mental or physical capacities, whether temporary or permanent. It lists when the powers would be granted to the person of your choosing and the powers end at your death.

An “immediate” Durable Power of Attorney for Finance is effective, as soon as you sign the document. In contrast, a “springing” POA for Finance means two physicians must first examine you and confirm in writing that you can no longer manage independently.

Therefore, to begin paying your bills, your agent must have those two physicians’ letters, and he or she doesn’t automatically have the authority to ask for them.

When issues, such as doctors’ letters, are required before the agent you chose can serve you, ask your estate planning attorney for guidance.

An obstacle for a Durable Power of Attorney for Finance can come upon you very fast and possibly include you and your spouse at the same time. For example, you both might get COVID-19.

The powers granted by a typical POA for Finance are often broad and permit selling and buying assets; managing your debt, car and Social Security payments; filing your tax returns; and caring for any assets not named in a trust you may have, such as your IRA.

If you recover your capacity, your agent must turn everything back over to you when you ask.

Remember that your advance directive documents are only as good as the people who implement them. You should also make certain anyone named knows that they’ll have the job, if needed. They must know where to find your POA and all other important information.

Reference: MarketWatch (Oct. 9, 2020) “Does your estate plan use the right type of Power of Attorney for you?”

Does My Estate Plan Need an Audit?

You should have an estate plan because every state has statutes that describe how your assets are managed, and who benefits if you don’t have a will. Most people want to have more say about who and how their assets are managed, so they draft estate planning documents that match their objectives.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Auditing Your Estate Plan” says the first question is what are your estate planning objectives? Almost everyone wants to have financial security and the satisfaction of knowing how their assets will be properly managed. Therefore, these are often the most common objectives. However, some people also want to also promote the financial and personal growth of their families, provide for social and cultural objectives by giving to charity and other goals. To help you with deciding on your objectives and priorities, here are some of the most common objectives:

  • Making sure a surviving spouse or family is financially OK
  • Providing for others
  • Providing now for your children and later
  • Saving now on income taxes
  • Saving on estate and gift taxes in the future
  • Donating to charity
  • Having a trusted agency manage my assets, if I am incapacitated
  • Having money for my children’s education
  • Having retirement income; and
  • Shielding my assets from creditors.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about the way in which you should handle your assets. If your plan doesn’t meet your objectives, your estate plan should be revised. This will include a review of your will, trusts, powers of attorney, healthcare proxies, beneficiary designation forms and real property titles.

Note that joint accounts, pay on death (POD) accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, annuities and other assets will transfer to your heirs by the way you designate your beneficiaries on those accounts. Any assets in a trust won’t go through probate. “Irrevocable” trusts may protect assets from the claims of creditors and possibly long-term care costs, if properly drafted and funded.

Another question is what happens in the event you become mentally or physically incapacitated and who will see to your financial and medical affairs. Use a power of attorney to name a person to act as your agent in these situations.

If, after your audit, you find that your plans need to be revised, follow these steps:

  1. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to create a plan based on your objectives
  2. Draft and execute a will and other estate planning documents customized to your plan
  3. Correctly title your assets and complete your beneficiary designations
  4. Create and fund trusts
  5. Draft and sign powers of attorney, in the event of your incapacity
  6. Draft and sign documents for ownership interest in businesses, intellectual property, artwork and real estate
  7. Discuss the consequences of implementing your plan with an experienced estate planning attorney; and
  8. Review your plan regularly.

Reference: Forbes (Sep. 23, 2020) “Auditing Your Estate Plan”

Protecting Inheritance from the Taxman
Illustration of businessman with small income running away from tax paper monster

Protecting Inheritance from the Taxman

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “4 Ways to Protect Your Inheritance from Taxes” explains that inheritances aren’t considered income for federal tax purposes—whether it’s cash, investments or property. However, any subsequent earnings on the inherited assets are taxable, unless it comes from a tax-free source. You must report the interest income on your taxes. Any gains when you sell inherited investments or property are also taxable (but you can usually also claim losses on these sales). Remember that state taxes on inheritances vary, so ask an experienced estate planning attorney for details. Let’s look at fours steps you can take to protect your inheritance:

Look at the alternate valuation date. The basis of property in a decedent’s estate is the fair market value (FMV) of the property on the date of death, but the executor might use the alternate valuation date, which is six months after the date of death. This is only available, if it will decrease both the gross amount of the estate and the estate tax liability, typically resulting in a larger inheritance to the beneficiaries. If the estate isn’t subject to estate tax, then the valuation date is the date of death.

Use a trust. If you know you’re getting an inheritance, ask that they create a trust for the assets. A trust lets you to pass assets to beneficiaries after your death without probate.

Minimize retirement account distributions. Inherited retirement assets aren’t taxable, until they’re distributed. There are rules as to when the distributions must happen. If one spouse dies, the surviving spouse usually can take over the IRA as his or her own. Required minimum distributions (RMDs) would begin at age 72, just as they would for the surviving spouse’s own IRA. However, if you inherit a retirement account from someone not your spouse, you can transfer the funds to an inherited IRA in your name. You have to start taking minimum distributions the year of or the year after the inheritance, even if you’re not yet 72.

Make some gifts. It may be wise to give some of your inheritance to others. It will be a benefit to them, but it could also potentially offset the taxable gains on your inheritance with the tax deduction you get for donating to a charitable organization. If want to leave money to people when you die, you can give annual gifts to your beneficiaries while you’re still living up to a certain amount—$15,000 for to each person without being subject to gift taxes. Gifting also reduces the size of your estate, which can be important if you’re close to the taxable amount. Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney to be certain that you’re staying current with the frequent changes to estate tax laws.

Wealth Advisor (Sep. 15, 2020) “4 Ways to Protect Your Inheritance from Taxes”

What’s Involved in the Probate Process?

SWAAY’s recent article entitled “What is the Probate Process in Florida?” says that while every state has its own laws, the probate process can be fairly similar. Here are the basic steps in the probate process:

The family consults with an experienced probate attorney. Those mentioned in the decedent’s will should meet with a probate lawyer. During the meeting, all relevant documentation like the list of debts, life insurance policies, financial statements, real estate title deeds, and the will should be available.

Filing the petition. The process would be in initiated by the executor or personal representative named in the will. He or she is in charge of distributing the estate’s assets. If there’s no will, you can ask an estate planning attorney to petition a court to appoint an executor. When the court approves the estate representative, the Letters of Administration are issued as evidence of legal authority to act as the executor. The executor will pay state taxes, funeral costs, and creditor claims on behalf of the decedent. He or she will also notice creditors and beneficiaries, coordinate the asset distribution and then close the probate estate.

Noticing beneficiaries and creditors. The executor must notify all beneficiaries of trust estates, the surviving spouse and all parties that have the rights of inheritance. Creditors of the deceased will also want to be paid and will make a claim on the estate.

Obtaining the letters of administration (letters testamentary) obtained from the probate court. After the executor obtains the letter, he or she will open the estate account at a bank. Statements and assets that were in the deceased name will be liquidated and sold, if there’s a need. Proceeds obtained from the sale of property are kept in the estate account and are later distributed.

Settling all expenses, taxes, and estate debts. By law, the decedent’s debts must typically be settled prior to any distributions to the heirs. The executor will also prepare a final income tax return for the estate. Note that life insurance policies and retirement savings are distributed to heirs despite the debts owed, as they transfer by beneficiary designation outside of the will and probate.

Conducting an inventory of the estate. The executor will have conducted a final account of the remaining estate. This accounting will include the fees paid to the executor, probate expenses, cost of assets and the charges incurred when settling debts.

Distributing the assets. After the creditor claims have been settled, the executor will ask the court to transfer all assets to successors in compliance with state law or the provisions of the will. The court will issue an order to move the assets. If there’s no will, the state probate succession laws will decide who is entitled to receive a share of the property.

Finalizing the probate estate. The last step is for the executor to formally close the estate. The includes payment to creditors and distribution of assets, preparing a final distribution document and a closing affidavit that states that the assets were adequately distributed to all heirs.

Reference: SWAAY (Aug. 24, 2020) “What is the Probate Process in Florida?”

What If Grandma Didn’t Have a Will and Died from COVID-19?

The latest report shows about 1.87 million reported cases and at least 108,000 COVID-19-related deaths were reported in the U.S., according to data released by Johns Hopkins University and Medicine.

Here’s a question that is being asked a lot these days: What happens if someone dies “intestate,” or without having established a will or estate plans?

If you die without a will in California and many other states, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state “intestate succession” statutes.

Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “My loved one died without a will – now what?” explains that there are laws in each state that will dictate what happens, if you die without a will.

In Pennsylvania, the laws list the order of who receives upon your death, if you die without a will: your spouse, your children, and then your parents (if still alive), your siblings, and then on down the line to cousins, aunts and uncles, and the like. Typically, first on every state’s list is the spouse and the children.

You may also have some valuable assets that will not pass via your will and aren’t affected by your state’s intestate succession laws. Here are some of the common ones:

  • Any property that you’ve transferred to a living trust
  • Your life insurance proceeds
  • Funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement accounts
  • Any securities held in a transfer-on-death account
  • A payable-on-death bank account
  • Your vehicles held by transfer-on-death registration; or
  • Property you own with someone else in joint tenancy or as community property with the right of survivorship.

These types of assets will pass to the surviving co-owner or to the beneficiary you named, whether or not you have a will.

It’s quite unusual for the government to claim a deceased person’s estate. While it might be allowed in some states, it’s considered a last resort. Typically, we all have some relatives.

If you have a loved one who has died without a will, speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about your next steps.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (June 1, 2020) “My loved one died without a will – now what?”