Why Is a Will So Important?

A 2020 Gallup poll found that less than half of Americans have a will or have made plans regarding how they would like their money and estate handled in the case of their death. The poll also showed that Americans ages 65 and up are the most likely to have one.

Yahoo News’ recent article entitled “How To Write A Will: The Importance Of A Will And Living Will” says that no matter your age, it’s important to have a will to be in control of what happens with your own assets. A will is a legal document that establishes a person’s wishes regarding the distribution of their assets — money, real estate, etc. — and the care of any minor children.

Without this type of legal document, the state law may control who gets your “probate” assets and when. Having one can save an enormous amount of time and money in estate administration and the process of having a guardian appointed for your minor children, if needed.

There’s a big difference between a will and a living will. A living will is a document that lets you state in advance how you want to be treated under certain medical situations, if you’re unable to make those decisions for yourself at a later time.

These differ by state law. However, they generally cover end-of-life decision-making and treatment options. General medical decisions unrelated to end of life care are typically covered in a health care power of attorney. Some states combine these two documents into one directive.

Unlike a living will, which specifically provides instructions for medical care during your lifetime, it lets you to decide in advance who you want to receive your assets upon your death, and who you want to be in charge of handling the administration of your estate. If you have minor children, it also allows you to nominate a guardian for them.

When creating a will, think about the “what,” the “who” and the “how.” To do so, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What assets do you have?
  • To whom do you want to leave them?
  • Who do you want to be in charge of making sure that happens?
  • Who do you want to be responsible for your minor children?
  • How do you want the assets transferred?

Reference: Yahoo News (Aug. 17, 2022) “How To Write A Will: The Importance Of A Will And Living Will”

IRS Extends Portability Election Option Deadline from Two to Five Years

The Internal Revenue Service recently issued a change to the rules regarding portability of a deceased spouse’s unused exclusion (DSUE), expanding the time period from two years to five years. As explained in the recent article “IRS Extends Portability Election” from The National Law Review, portability allows spouses to combine their exemption from estate and gift tax. Here’s how it works.

A surviving spouse may use the unused estate tax exemption of the deceased spouse to lower their tax liability. Let’s say Spouse A dies in 2022, when the estate tax exemption is $12.06 million. If, during Spouse A’s lifetime, they had only used $1 million of their exemption amount, Surviving Spouse B may elect portability to claim $11.06 million DSUE, as long as they file for the exemption within five years of the decedent’s date of death.

Prior to the rule change, the surviving spouse only had two years to claim the DSUE. The due date of an estate tax return is still required to be filed nine months after the decedent’s death or on the last day of the period covered by an extension, if one had been secured.

The IRS had previously extended the deadline to file for portability to two years. However, over time, the taxing agency found itself managing a large number of requests for private letter rulings from estates failing to meet the two year deadline. It was noted many of these requests for portability relief occurred on or before the fifth anniversary of a decedent’s date of death, which led to the current change.

How do I Elect Portability?

To elect portability, the executor (or personal representative) of the estate must file an estate tax return on or before the fifth anniversary of the decedent’s date of death. This estate tax return is a Form 706. The executor must note at the top of Form 706 that it is filed pursuant to Rev. Proc. 2022-32 to elect portability under Sec. 2010(C)(5)(A).

Eligibility to elect portability is not overly burdensome for most people. The decedent must have been a U.S. citizen or resident on the date of their death and the executor must not have been otherwise required to file an estate tax return. This means the decedent was under the estate tax exemption at the time of their death. With the current estate tax exemption now at $12.06 million for an individual, most people will find themselves well under the limit.

This new regulation expands the number of people who will be able to take advantage of the exemption and will help families pass wealth on to the next generation without incurring the federal estate tax. Speak with your estate planning attorney to be sure to elect portability when the first spouse passes, in order not to lose this exemption.

Reference: The National Law Review (Aug. 1, 2022) “IRS Extends Portability Election”

Who will Receive Naomi Judd’s Estate?

Country music legend Naomi Judd, who died in April, named her husband Larry Strickland as executor of her estate. She was married to Strickland for 33 years. According to court documents, he’ll have “full authority and discretion” over her estate and won’t need to have the “approval of any court” or permission from any beneficiary.

The Los Angeles Times’ recent article entitled “Naomi Judd reportedly left daughters Wynonna and Ashley out of her final will” says that the 76-year-old Judd prepared the will on Nov. 20, 2017.

The will also provides that Strickland is entitled to receive compensation for his executor duties and that he would be reimbursed for legal fees, disbursements and other “reasonable expenses” in the administration of Judd’s estate. Judd‘s brother-in-law, Reginald Strickland, and Wiatr & Associates President Daniel Kris Wiatr will serve as the estate’s co-executors.

Reports say that Wynonna isn’t happy with her mother’s will and “believes she was a major force behind her mother’s success.”

Naomi died from suicide on April 30a day before she and her daughter Wynonna, known as “The Judds,” were to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The daughters teamed up in their grief to tearfully accept the Hall of Fame honor for their late mother.

Wynonna later decided to tour despite her mother’s death. She enlisted some major stars to join her on the road.

In May, Ashley revealed that her mother had used a firearm and said she found her mother’s body when she was visiting her mom’s Tennessee home.

“Our mother couldn’t hang on to be recognized by her peers. That is the level of catastrophe of what was going on inside of her,” she told ABC’s Diane Sawyer. “Because the barrier between the regard in which they held her couldn’t penetrate into her heart and the lie the disease told her was so convincing.”

The Judds were known for songs including “Why Not Me,” “Love Can Build a Bridge” and “Mama He’s Crazy.”

Reference: Los Angeles Times (Aug. 1, 2022) “Naomi Judd reportedly left daughters Wynonna and Ashley out of her final will”

When Should I Hire an Estate Planning Attorney?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are Big Mistakes to Avoid in Estate Planning?

Whether it’s a change in domicile, the death of a family member, new grandchildren, or a significant change in assets, it is important to make sure you adjust your estate plan accordingly, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Updating Your Estate Plan? Don’t Make These Top Mistakes.”

  1. Updating a will or trust but forgetting to update ancillary documents. When updating an estate plan, people tend to home in on updating their wills and trusts without also having their powers of attorney, health care directives, or guardians reviewed. This prevents them from completing a full update to their estate planning. While these ancillary documents are good forever, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be reviewed and updated.
  2. Using flawed reasoning when selecting agents to act on your behalf. Some people choose their executors, trustees and other agents by trying to appoint all their children together or appointing agents by age or profession, instead of who is best suited to serve. The best person should live nearby and have the time to address issues you may need.
  3. Forgetting to update an estate plan when moving to another state. Estate planning documents drafted out-of-state, provided they were drafted with the legal requirements of that state, will be effective in all states. However, practically speaking, having out-of-state documents can complicate trust or estate administration, or the ability to exercise powers of attorney or health care directives. You should always update your plan when they move to another state to make certain that the plan functions correctly.
  4. Forgetting to create an asset cheat sheet or failing to keep that list updated. Most of us accumulate different assets and investments as we get older. It’s not uncommon for a person to have stocks, life insurance, annuities, securities, or other investments at many different institutions. When you update your estate plan, create a list of your accounts and assets and update that list as things change. Be sure to include the name and location of the account and the last four digits of the account number.

When making changes, if you avoid the above mistakes, it will ensure that your plan is properly updated and will not cause any unnecessary future complications.

Reference: Kiplinger (June 30, 2022) “Updating Your Estate Plan? Don’t Make These Top Mistakes”

Does Estate Administration Need to Be Supervised?

Probate is the legal process where the court approves the will and the executor so the estate may be distributed after a person dies. Probate is a familiar term to many, but supervised or unsupervised administration is less well known. The article “Estate Planning: Supervised and unsupervised probate administrations” from nwi.com explains how estate administration works.

Generally speaking, there are two different types of probate administration, as inferred by the article’s title: supervised and unsupervised. Depending on who you ask, there may also be a third, known as “informal probate.”

Not all assets are passed through probate. Bank accounts owned jointly pass directly to the other owner. A home owned with a Transfer on Death (TOD) deed is also considered a non-probate asset. This is not to say that non-probate assets cannot be brought into probate. There are instances where they can. However, it takes a bit of an effort and is pretty unlikely to occur.

Probate assets are assets with no surviving joint owner and no beneficiary designation. These types of assets require a proceeding to ensure that the correct person or entity receives it after the original owner dies.

A supervised probate administration requires extensive court involvement. Every action taken by the executor has to be approved. If the home is to be sold or a distribution made to beneficiaries, the executor has to obtain a court order authorizing it.

An unsupervised probate administration, just as it sounds, involves far less court involvement. The personal representative or executor is recognized as valid, creates an inventory of the assets and files the inventory with the court. Once the inventory is reviewed, the executor is told to administer the distribution of assets according to the terms of the will.

Beneficiaries have 90 days to object to the executor’s actions; although this may vary by state. Check with your estate planning attorney. If no one objects, the final account is approved and the executor is done.

With less court involvement, asset distribution proceeds at a faster rate, which is why many wills provide for it.

The “informal probate” mentioned earlier is an outlier. Its use varies by state and by jurisdiction. There’s no court involvement at all. This is mostly used for very, very small estates. Some argue it’s still probate, even if it’s informal, while others maintain it exists solely to avoid probate.

The nature of probate depends on many factors, including where the decedent lives, the size and complexity of the estate and whether or not there are many family members or others who might challenge the estate’s distribution. In some communities, probate is a quick and painless process. In others, it is long, expensive and stressful. Your estate planning attorney will know what your situation will be and help you and your family plan accordingly.

Reference: nwi.com (April 10, 2022) “Estate Planning: Supervised and unsupervised probate administrations”

What are the Most Important Estate Planning Documents?

Odds are that you know the benefits of having a last will and testament, and Forbes’ recent article entitled “Estate Documents You’ll Need Beyond A Last Will And Testament” says that, while this is a necessary aspect of your estate planning, it’s not the only documents you’ll want to have.

Let’s take a look at some of the other important estate planning documents.

A Living Trust. A living trust can limit the number of assets going through probate. Because a living trust is a revocable document, you can change it. A trust is designed to avoid or limit probate for the decedent’s assets, by creating a legally separate entity to hold property.

Living Will or Advance Directive. A living will or advance medical directive is often required by healthcare providers for certain medical procedures. However, this document should also be included within your estate plans. It tells your family and medical staff your wishes regarding lifesaving or life-prolonging medical procedures, in case you become unable to communicate with them.

Healthcare Power of Attorney. A power of attorney often consists of two documents. One is a healthcare power of attorney that lets you name someone to make healthcare decisions on your behalf. A power of attorney differs from the living will because your living will is only valid, if you’re unable to communicate your wishes.

Financial Power of Attorney. This document allows you to name a person to make financial decisions for you if you can’t and this doesn’t necessarily mean that you must be incapacitated. Many people use these when they are unavailable to sign documents.

Reference: Forbes (Feb. 18, 2022) “Estate Documents You’ll Need Beyond A Last Will And Testament”

How Do I Conduct an Estate Inventory?

When a loved one dies, it may be necessary for their estate to go through probate—a court-supervised process in which his or her estate is settled, outstanding debts are paid and assets are distributed to the deceased person’s heirs. An executor is tasked with overseeing the probate process. An important task for an executor is submitting a detailed inventory of the estate to the probate court.

Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “What Is Included in an Estate Inventory?” looks at the estate inventory. During probate, the executor is charged with several duties, including collecting assets, estimating the fair market value of all assets in the estate, ascertaining the ownership status of each asset and liquidating assets to pay off outstanding debts, if needed. The probate court will need to see an inventory of the estate’s assets before distributing those assets to the deceased’s heirs.

An estate inventory includes all the assets of an estate belonging to the individual who’s passed away. It can also include a listing of the person’s liabilities or debts. In terms of assets, this would include:

  • Bank accounts, checking accounts, savings accounts, money market accounts and CDs
  • Investment accounts
  • Business interests
  • Real estate
  • Pension plans and workplace retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s, 403(b)s and 457 plans
  • Life insurance, disability insurance, annuities and long-term care insurance
  • Intellectual property, such as copyrights, trademarks and patents
  • Household items
  • Personal effects; and

Here’s what’s included in an estate inventory on the liabilities side:

  • Home mortgages;
  • Outstanding business loans, personal loans and private student loans;
  • Auto loans associated with a vehicle included on the asset side of the inventory
  • Credit cards and open lines of credit
  • Any unpaid medical bills
  • Unpaid taxes; and
  • Any other outstanding debts, including unpaid court judgments.

There is usually no asset or liability that’s too small to be included in the estate inventory.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Feb. 15, 2022) “What Is Included in an Estate Inventory?”

What Needs to Be Reviewed in Estate Plan?

When it comes to drafting a will and other estate planning documents, note that you probably should revisit them many times before they actually are needed, advises, CNBC’s recent article entitled “Be sure to keep your will or estate plan updated. Here are 3 key reasons why.”

You should give these end-of-life legal papers a review at least every few years, unless there are reasons to do it more often. Things like marriage, divorce, birth or adoption of a child should necessitate a review. Coming into a lot of money (i.e., inheritance, lottery win, etc.) or moving to another state where estate laws differ from the one where your will was drawn up, mean that you should review your plan with an experienced estate planning attorney.

About 46% of U.S. adults have a will, according to a 2021 Gallup poll. If you are among those who have a will or full-blown estate plan, here are some things to review and why.

Even though your will is all about you, there are other people you need to rely on to carry out your wishes. This makes it important to review who you have named to be executor. He or she must liquidate accounts, ensure your assets go to the proper beneficiaries, pay any debts not discharged (i.e., taxes owed), and sell your home. You should also be sure that the guardian you have named to care for your children is still the person you would want in that position.

As part of estate planning, you may create other documents related to end-of-life issues, such as powers of attorney. The person who is given this responsibility for decisions related to your health care is frequently different from whom you would name to handle your financial affairs. You should look at both of those choices.

Even if you have experienced no major life events, those you previously chose to handle certain duties may no longer be your best option.

Remember that some assets pass outside of the will, including retirement accounts like a 401(k) plan, IRAs and life insurance policies. This means the person named as a beneficiary on those accounts will generally receive the money no matter what your will states. Bank accounts can have beneficiaries listed on a pay-on-death form, which your bank can supply.

If a beneficiary is not listed on those non-will items or the named person has already passed away (and there is no contingent beneficiary listed), the assets automatically go into probate.

Reference: CNBC (Jan. 27, 2022) “Be sure to keep your will or estate plan updated. Here are 3 key reasons why”

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)”