How Does My Co-op Fit into My Estate Planning?

Parents bought a studio apartment in a New York City co-op for their adult son with special needs. He’s able to live independently with the support of an agency.

The couple asked the co-op board to let them transfer the property to an irrevocable trust, so when they die, the son will still have a place to live. However, the board denied their request.

An individual with special needs can’t inherit property directly, or he’ll no longer be able to receive the government benefits that support him. What should the parents do?

The New York Times’ recent article entitled “Can I Leave My Co-op to My Heirs?” explains that parents can leave a co-op apartment to their children in their will or in a trust. However, that doesn’t mean their heirs will necessarily wind up with the right to own or live in that apartment.

In most cases, a co-op board has wide discretion to approve or deny the transfer of the shares and the proprietary lease.

If the board denied the request, the apartment will be sold and the children receive the equity. Just because the will says, ‘I’m leaving it to my children,’ that doesn’t give the children the absolute right to acquire the shares or live there.

In some instances, the lease says a board won’t unreasonably withhold consent to transfer the apartment to a financially responsible family member. However, few, if any, leases extend that concept to include trusts.

The parents here could wait to have the situation resolved after their deaths, leaving clear directives to the executor of their estate about what to do should the board reject a request to transfer the property into a trust for their son. However, that leaves everyone in a precarious position, with years of uncertainty.

Another option is to sell the co-op now, put the proceeds in a special-needs trust and buy a condo through that trust. The son would then live there.

Unlike co-ops, condos generally allow transfers within estate planning, without requiring approval.

While this route would involve significant upheaval, the parents would have more peace of mind.

However, before buying the condo, an experienced estate planning attorney should review the building’s rules on transferring the unit.

Reference: New York Times (Oct. 1, 2022) “Can I Leave My Co-op to My Heirs?”

Can I Contest Dad’s Will While He’s Still Living?

The Maryland Daily Record’s recent article entitled “Wills cannot be challenged until testator dies, Md. appeals court says” explains the Court of Special Appeals said a will or revocable trust is only a draft document until its drafter, or testator, has died.

As a result, those challenging a living person’s will or trust would be merely “presumptive heirs” who have no legal standing to challenge a legal document that’s not yet final.

“Pre-death challenges to wills may be a waste of time – the testator might replace it with a new one, die without property, or the challenger might die before the testator,” Judge Andrea M. Leahy wrote for the Court of Special Appeals.

The appellate court’s decision was the second defeat for Amy Silverstone, whose legal challenge to her mother Andrea Jacobson’s will was dismissed by a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge for lack of standing.

Silverstone argued that it should be declared void based on her claim that her aunt unduly influenced her mother. The mother suffers from dementia and memory impairment.

This undue influence led Silverstone’s mother, Andrea Jacobson, to change her will in 2018 to expressly “disinherit” Silverstone and her son, Silverstone alleged.

The mother’s new will stated that Silverstone and her son shall not “in any way be a beneficiary of or receive any portion of the trust or the grantor’s estate.”

The disinheritance came amid a falling out between mother and daughter, according to court documents.

Silverstone’s challenge to the will and related trust is premature while her mother is alive, the court held.

Reference: The Maryland Daily Record (Dec. 12, 2022) “Wills cannot be challenged until testator dies, Md. appeals court says”

Can Executor Take the Money and Run?
Living trust and estate planning form on a desk.

Can Executor Take the Money and Run?

What if your executor or trustee decides to run off to the Bahamas with all your assets, leaving heirs with nothing? Ohio Farmer’s recent article entitled “What if trustee runs off with assets?” says that safeguards should be in place to protect the heirs of an estate.

The most common way to protect against this possibility is a fiduciary bond. An executor, trustee, or guardian would get a bond early in a probate case and file it with the court. The bond would remain in place while the fiduciary is serving his or her role. If the fiduciary absconds with estate assets, the bond is there to help the beneficiaries.

This expense would be covered by the fiduciary, who would need to find a bond company willing to issue it. The bond amount is connected to the value of personal property, such as financial accounts, vehicles and personal effects.

Do you need a bond to cover the value of land? No. The primary difference is that land can’t be picked up easily and moved, making a bond unnecessary. It’s also very hard to transfer land without extensive safeguards. In some cases, court permission is required for a transfer. To sell a farm or ranch, a title company might raise suspicion. Real estate-related actions are also often public record. In some cases, a court action can correct issues or order damages.

It’s possible to waive the requirement of a bond. That’s a default setting for bonds with estates, trusts, or guardianships. Most estate planning documents waive the bond requirement, because family members often serve as fiduciaries.

State law may also describe several situations where a bond isn’t required. However, if a party motions the court, and the judge thinks there’s good cause for a bond, one can be required for a fiduciary.

While a bond can provide some important protections for heirs, the likelihood of a fiduciary running off with assets is low. As a result, most administrations view the bond as an unnecessary step and expense.

However, if a family is concerned about the trustworthiness of a fiduciary, the bond requirement should be reinstated.

If an administration is pending, the family can petition the court to require a bond. Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to determine the role of bonds for your estate plan.

Reference: Ohio Farmer (Nov. 22, 2022) “What if trustee runs off with assets?”

Giving to My Favorite Charity in Estate Plan

If you’d like to leave some or all of your money to a charity, Go Banking Rates’ recent article entitled “How To Leave Your Inheritance to an Organization” provides what you need to know about a charitable donation as part of your estate plan.

  1. Make Sure the Organization Accepts Donations. Unless you have a formal agreement with the charity stating they’ll accept the inheritance, the confirmation isn’t a binding commitment. As a result, you should ask the organization if there’s any form language that they may want you to add to your will or trust as part of a specific bequest. If the charity isn’t currently able to accept this kind of donation, look at what they will accept or if other charities with a similar mission will accept it.
  2. Set the Amount You Want the Charity To Receive. Some people want to leave the estate tax exemption — the maximum amount that can pass without tax — to individuals and leave the rest to charity. Because the estate tax exemption is subject to change and the value of your assets will change, the amount the charity will get will probably change from when the planning is completed.
  3. Have a Plan B in the Event that the Charity Doesn’t Exist After Your Death. Meet with your estate planning attorney and decide what happens to the bequest if the organization you’re donating to no longer exists. You may plan ahead to pass along the inheritance to another organization and make sure it receives the funds. You could also have the inheritance go back into the general distributions in your will.
  4. State How You Want Your Gift to Be Used. If there is a certain way that you’d like the charity to use the inheritance, you can certainly inquire with the organization and learn more. Find out if the charity accepts this type of restriction, how long it may last and what happens if the charity no longer uses it for this purpose.

As you draft charitable planning provisions, make sure you do so alongside an experienced estate planning attorney.

The provisions in your will should be specific about your desires and provide enough flexibility to your personal representative, executor, or trustee to be modified based on the conditions at the time of your death.

Reference: Go Banking Rates (August 26, 2022) “How To Leave Your Inheritance to an Organization”

The Basics of Estate Planning

No matter how BIG or small your net worth is, estate planning is a process that ensures your assets are handed down the way you want after you die.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Estate Planning Basics” explains that everybody has an estate.

An estate is nothing more or less than the sum total of your assets and possessions of value. This includes:

  • Your car
  • Your home
  • Financial accounts
  • Investments; and
  • Personal property.

Estate planning is the process of deciding which people or organizations are to get your possessions or assets after you’ve died.

It’s also how you leave directions for managing your care and assets if you are incapacitated and unable to make financial or medical decisions. That is done with powers of attorney, a healthcare directive and a living will.

Your estate plan details who gets your assets. It also designates who can make critical healthcare and financial decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. If you have minor children, it also lets you designate their legal guardians, in case you die before they reach 18. It also allows you to name adults to safeguard their financial interests.

Your estate plan directs assets to specific entities or people in a legally binding manner. If you want your daughter to have your coin collection or your favorite animal rescue organization to get $500, it’s all mapped out in your plan.

You can also create a trust to safeguard a minor child’s assets until they reach a certain age. You can also keep assets out of probate. That way, your beneficiaries can easily access things like your home or bank accounts.

All estate plans should include documents that cover three main areas: asset transfer, medical needs and financial decisions. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help you create your  plan.

Reference: Forbes (Nov. 16, 2022) “Estate Planning Basics”

Should I Need a Trust in My Estate Plan?

Fed Week’s recent article entitled “Considerations for Including a Trust in Your Estate Plan” describes what a trust can offer. This includes the following:

  • Protection against possible incompetency. To protect yourself, you can create a trust and move your assets into it. You can be the trustee, so you’ll control the assets and enjoy the income.
  • Probate avoidance. Assets held in trust also avoid probate. In the documents, you can state how the trust assets will be distributed at your death.
  • Protection for your heirs. After your death, a trustee can keep trust assets from being squandered or lost in a divorce.

If your heirs are young, you can set up a trust to stay in effect until they are older and can handle their own finances. Another option is to keep the trust in effect for the lives of the beneficiaries.

A trust can be revocable or irrevocable. A revocable trust must be created during your lifetime. If you change your mind, you can revoke the trust and reclaim the assets as your own.

A revocable trust can offer incapacity protection and probate avoidance but not tax reduction.

An irrevocable trust can be created while you’re alive or at your death. A revocable trust may become irrevocable at your death.

Assets transferred into an irrevocable trust during your lifetime will be beyond the reach of creditors and divorce settlements. The same is true of assets going into an irrevocable trust at your death.

Your family members can be the beneficiaries of an irrevocable trust, while a trustee or co-trustees you’ve named will be responsible for distributing funds to those trust beneficiaries.

The trustee will be responsible for protecting assets.

Reference:  Fed Week (Oct. 5, 2022) “Considerations for Including a Trust in Your Estate Plan”

There are Ways to Transfer Home to Your Children

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “2 Clever Ways to Gift Your Home to Your Kids” explains that the most common way to transfer a property is for the children to inherit it when the parent passes away. An outright gift of the home to their child may mean higher property taxes in states that treat the gift as a sale. It’s also possible to finance the child’s purchase of the home or sell the property at a discount, known as a bargain sale.

These last two options might appear to be good solutions because many adult children struggle to buy a home at today’s soaring prices. However, crunch the numbers first.

If you sell your home to your child for less than what it’s worth, the IRS considers the difference between the fair market value and the sale price a gift. Therefore, if you sell a $1 million house to your child for $600,000, that $400,000 discount is deemed a gift. You won’t owe federal gift tax on the $400,000 unless your total lifetime gifts exceed the federal estate and gift tax exemption of $12.06 million in 2022, however, you must still file a federal gift tax return on IRS Form 709.

Using the same example, let’s look at the federal income tax consequences. If the parents are married, bought the home years ago and have a $200,000 tax basis in it, when they sell the house at a bargain price to the child, the tax basis gets split proportionately. Here, 40% of the basis ($80,000) is allocated to the gift and 60% ($120,000) to the sale. To determine the gain or loss from the sale, the sale-allocated tax basis is subtracted from the sale proceeds.

In our illustration, the parent’s $480,000 gain ($600,000 minus $120,000) is non-taxable because of the home sale exclusion. Homeowners who owned and used their principal residence for at least two of the five years before the sale can exclude up to $250,000 of the gain ($500,000 if married) from their income.

The child isn’t taxed on the gift portion. However, unlike inherited property, gifted property doesn’t get a stepped-up tax basis. In a bargain sale, the child gets a lower tax basis in the home, in this case $680,000 ($600,000 plus $80,000). If the child were to buy the home at its full $1 million value, the child’s tax basis would be $1 million.

Another option is to combine your bargain sale with a loan to your child, by issuing an installment note for the sale portion. This helps a child who can’t otherwise get third-party financing and allows the parents to charge lower interest rates than a lender, while generating some monthly income.

Be sure that the note is written, signed by the parents and child, includes the amounts and dates of monthly payments along with a maturity date and charges an interest rate that equals or exceeds the IRS’s set interest rate for the month in which the loan is made. Go through the legal steps of securing the note with the home, so your child can deduct interest payments made to you on Schedule A of Form 1040. You’ll have to pay tax on the interest income you receive from your child.

You can also make annual gifts by taking advantage of your annual $16,000 per person gift tax exclusion. If you do this, keep the gifts to your child separate from the note payments you get. With the annual per-person limit, you won’t have to file a gift tax return for these gifts.

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 23, 2021) “2 Clever Ways to Gift Your Home to Your Kids”

How Did Olivia Newton-John Plan Her Estate?

Olivia Newton-John was worth roughly $60 million at the time of her death on Aug. 8, 2022. However, she spent her last years giving as much as she could to charity, reports The Express’ recent article entitled “Olivia Newton-John fortune: Incredible final acts of generosity as inheritance split.”

Newton-John was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992. The Australian singer underwent extensive treatment including a partial mastectomy and was given a clean bill of health. However, in 2013, she was told she had breast cancer a second time and once again she beat the disease, getting another all-clear after treatment.

Soon after her second diagnosis, the singer founded the Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Centre, which reportedly cost $189 million at a Melbourne hospital. In 2015, she founded the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute and in 2020 launched the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund which sponsors research in herbal cancer treatments.

In 2017, she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer and began selling off parts of her impressive real estate portfolio which spanned multiple countries with all of the proceeds going towards her charities. She reportedly sold her incredible Australian home for $4.6 million.

Newton-John had originally purchased the 187-acre property in the eighties and rebuilt the home in the early 2000s.

Over the decades at the home, she is said to have planted 10,000 trees on the property and sold it with the intent that someone equally involved and loving of wildlife would continue her work.

She also wanted to sell her Californian horse ranch for $5.4 million. However, she later decided to instead live out her last days at the home and transferred the ownership to her husband John Easterling.

The singer married actor Matt Lattanzi in 1984 and gave birth to their only child Chloe Rose Lattanzi, now 36. Newton-John got married to John Easterling in 2008, who is reportedly expected to inherit her fortune alongside Chloe.

Reference: The Express (UK) (Sep. 26, 2022) “Olivia Newton-John fortune: Incredible final acts of generosity as inheritance split”

Does My College Kid Need an Estate Plan?

When it comes to estate planning, we usually think of older adults. However, it’s a topic that we should also consider for college students.

WDIO’s recent article entitled “Estate planning is for college students too” reminds us that there’s a number of documents you can put into place in the case of an emergency.

Power of Attorney. There are two types of POAs. The financial power of attorney allows a named agent to make financial decisions on behalf of the college student, in the event they are unable to do so. A medical power of attorney names a healthcare agent.

These can have HIPAA language written into them that authorizes their medical provider to release information about them. Remember, if your student travels away from home for college, you may need a POA for that state.

Will. A typical college student might not have a lot of money. However, they do have their own stuff, and someone needs to make the decision regarding what happens to that stuff. Ask the student to name the parents as the executor of his or her will.

FERPA Waiver. FERPA stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Without this waiver, a parent has no authority to call the college and request information about your student if their over 18. With a waiver, you can request a transcript and student loan information.

HIPAA Waiver. A HIPAA waiver allows an adult child’s health information to be disclosed. It’s usually for medical facilities, doctors, schools, or any other person where they are in possession of the health information of a person where that individual authorizes the release of the information to a designated person.

Reference: WDIO (Sep. 28, 2022) “Estate planning is for college students too”

How Do I Ask My Parents About Their Estate Plan?
Shot of a young couple talking with their parents over coffee at homehttp://195.154.178.81/DATA/istock_collage/0/shoots/784407.jpg

How Do I Ask My Parents About Their Estate Plan?

Next Avenue’s recent article entitled “Mom, Do You Have a Will?” says that many older adults and their children don’t want to talk about death. Of course, you could simply ask your parents about their wishes. How do you make sure the transition after they have died is uncomplicated?

If you die with very few assets, and you only have one child, you may not need a will. However, if you want to leave something to a charity or a dear friend, you’ll need one. If you have more assets or more children, you should hire an experienced estate planning attorney to help.

If your parent is a part of a blended family it is even more important. That is because you want to avoid either a full or partial disinheritance of a surviving spouse or their children. It’s also important to prepare a will and appoint guardians, if there are minor children or adult children with special needs.

Wills are especially important if heirs might fight over the estate, or if you want certain assets to go to specific people.

In addition, single people should have a plan for their assets, especially if they’re in a committed relationship but not married. That’s because state inheritance laws don’t provide for a domestic partner to inherit.

A will is an important first step to make certain that a relationship is recognized before a loved one passes away, so the remaining partner can access their right to property or benefits.

If you die without a will, a situation known as intestate succession, your assets may be distributed according to state probate law. That schedule may differ from what you would want.

When asked if they have a will in place, some older adults will say they’re prepared. However, in truth they aren’t prepared at all. They may have a will that’s old and no longer relevant to their current situation or may have not signed or filed their will and other important estate planning papers.

Clarifying the status of older adults’ wills is critical to a smoother transition of assets and should be addressed when they’re of sound mind and clearly able to make their own decisions about their estates.

Reference: Next Avenue (Sep. 14, 2022) “Mom, Do You Have a Will?”