Beneficiary Mistakes to Avoid

Planning for one’s eventual death can be a somber task. However, consider what would occur if you failed to plan: loved ones trying to figure out your intentions, a long and expensive legal battle with unintended heirs and instead of grieving your loss, wondering why you didn’t take care of business while you were living. Planning suddenly becomes far more appealing, doesn’t it?

A recent article from yahoo! finance, “5 Retirement Plan Beneficiary Mistakes to Avoid,” explains how to avoid some of the issues regarding beneficiaries.

You haven’t named a beneficiary for your retirement accounts. This is a common estate planning mistake, even though it seems so obvious. A beneficiary can be a person, a charity, a trust, or your estate. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help you identify likely beneficiaries and ensure they are eligible.

You forgot to review your beneficiary designations for many years. Most people have changes in relationships as they move through the stages of life. The same person who was your best friend in your twenties might not even be in your life in your sixties. However, if you don’t check on beneficiary designations on a regular basis, you may be leaving your retirement accounts to people who haven’t heard from you in decades and disinheriting loved ones. Every time you update your estate plan, which should be every three to five years, check your beneficiary designations.

You didn’t name your spouse as a primary beneficiary for a retirement account. When Congress passed the 2019 SECURE Act, the bill removed a provision allowing non-spousal beneficiaries to stretch out disbursements from IRAs over their lifetimes, also known as the “Stretch IRA.” A non-spouse beneficiary must empty any inherited IRA within ten years from the death of the account holder. If a minor child is the beneficiary, once they reach the age of legal majority, they are required to follow the rules of a Required Minimum Distribution. Having a spouse named as beneficiary allows them to move the inherited IRA funds into their own IRA and take out assets as they wish.

You named an estate as a beneficiary. You can name your estate as a beneficiary. However, it creates a significant tangle for the family who has to set things right. For instance, if you have any debt, your estate could be attached by creditors. Your estate may also go through probate court, a court-supervised process to validate your will, have your final assets identified and have debts paid before any remaining assets are distributed to heirs.

You didn’t create a retirement plan until late in your career. Retirement seems very far away during your twenties, thirties and even forties. However, the years pass and suddenly you’re looking at retirement without enough money set aside. Creating an estate plan early in your working life shifts your focus, so you understand how important it is to have a retirement plan.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help square away your beneficiary designations as part of your overall estate plan. The best time to start? How about today?

Reference: yahoo! finance (Dec. 19, 2022) “5 Retirement Plan Beneficiary Mistakes to Avoid”

Do I Need to Name a Life Insurance Beneficiary?

When a loved one dies, there are questions to address, such as how to pay for a funeral and other death expenses. A life insurance policy may help. However, the deceased must have made sure the proper beneficiary is named.

If a beneficiary isn’t designated, some issues with the estate could arise, or the policy could go to the decedent’s estate. Likewise, the same is true if the one beneficiary preceded the decedent in death.

Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “What Happens If I Don’t Name a Life Insurance Beneficiary?” explains that a life insurance policy is a contract you enter into with a life insurance company.

When you set up your life insurance policy, you have the right to name one or more beneficiaries who’ll get the proceeds of the policy when you die. You pay premiums on the policy until your death, to guarantee your beneficiaries that right.

You might designate just one beneficiary to receive all the proceeds. In addition to the primary beneficiary, you can name contingent beneficiaries who will receive the proceeds of the policy if the primary beneficiary predeceases the policyholder.

It is important to add as much identifying information about your beneficiaries as possible, so they can be easily identified. It’s also important to keep your policy up to date on the information of your beneficiaries.

If there are no beneficiaries living, either the proceeds of the policy will enter the probate process, or the life insurance proceeds will pass to the decedent’s heirs-at-law who are those people who are close to the decedent and would probably inherit, if there was a beneficiary designation or will.

Heirs-at-law are also defined as those people who will inherit your assets, if you die intestate.

Dying without a beneficiary in place or leaving your estate as beneficiary of your policy have different rules in each state.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about your state’s rules and the rules of the life insurance company when you’re setting up your life insurance policy and will.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Dec. 10, 2022) “What Happens If I Don’t Name a Life Insurance Beneficiary?”

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”

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”

What to Do When Your Spouse Dies

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “A Checklist for What to Do (and NOT Do) After Someone Dies” provides some worthwhile information to help you if you are faced with a death in the family and must organize the next steps.

Contact the funeral home. You need to make arrangements and ask them for 10 additional copies of the death certificate.

Call your attorney. They can help with the process.

Contact Social Security. Your Social Security benefits may change after a spouse’s death, so you’ll need to notify them.

Cancel their health insurance. If insurance is provided by the spouse’s former employer, you will need to contact them post death.

Contact the spouse’s pension company (if applicable). Depending on the pension plan option originally selected by your spouse, you may be eligible to get payments.

Contact the life insurance company and file a claim. This is a very easy process. Do this right away to receive the proceeds of the policy.

If your spouse one was a veteran, contact the Department of Veterans Affairs. Check with the VA to see if there are any benefits payable to you upon the death.

Notify all your financial institutions. Contact banks to change account names; credit cards to remove spouse or close accounts; mortgage companies, insurance companies and all other important bills to change them to the surviving spouse’s name only.

Contact your CPA. You will need to discuss taxes for this year.

Contact your financial adviser. You will need to change account titles, file beneficiary paperwork for IRAs, 401k(s) and other retirement accounts.

Retitle assets. Assets like real estate or cars in the spouse’s name should be retitled.

Prepare and probate the estate. If the estate doesn’t qualify for simplified procedures, then the assets must go through probate. Ask an attorney to help you.

Reference: Kiplinger (Aug. 24, 2022) “A Checklist for What to Do (and NOT Do) After Someone Dies”

How Do I Ask My Parents About Their Estate Plan?
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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?”

What is a Life Estate?

A life estate is a type of property ownership that divides the control and ownership of a property. The person who creates the life estate for their home and assets is known as the “life tenant.” While a tenant retains control of the property, he or she shares ownership during their lifetime with the remainderman (the estate’s heir).

Quicken Loans’ recent article entitled “What Is A Life Estate And What Property Rights Does It Confer?” explains that while the life tenant lives, they’re in control of the property in all respects, except they can’t sell or encumber the property without the consent of the remaindermen. After the life tenant passes away, the remainderman inherits the property and avoids probate. This is a popular estate planning tool that automatically transfers ownership at the life tenant’s death to their heirs.

The life estate deed shows the terms of the life estate. Upon the death of the life tenant, the heir must only provide the death certificate to the county clerk to assume total ownership of the property.

Medicaid can play an essential role in many older adults’ lives, giving them the financial support needed for nursing facilities, home health care and more. However, the government considers your assets when calculating Medicaid eligibility. As a result, owning a home – or selling it and keeping the proceeds – could impact those benefits. When determining your eligibility for Medicaid, most states will use a five-year look-back period. This means they will total up all the assets you’ve held, sold, or transferred over the last five years. If the value of these assets passes above a certain threshold, you’ll likely be ineligible for Medicaid assistance.

However, a life estate can help elderly property owners avoid selling their home to pay for nursing home expenses. If your life estate deed was established more than five years before you first apply for benefits, the homeownership transfer would not count against you for Medicaid eligibility purposes.

To ensure you’re correctly navigating qualifying for Medicaid, it’s smart to discuss your situation with an attorney specializing in Medicaid issues.

Reference: Quicken Loans (Aug. 9, 2022) “What Is A Life Estate And What Property Rights Does It Confer?”

Did Stevie Ray Vaughan have a Will?

MSN’s recent article entitled “Here’s Who Inherited Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Money After His Death” says that Stevie Ray Vaughan’s impact on rock is immeasurable. Many musicians have paid tribute or cited him as a reference, like John Mayer, Corey Stevens and more.

Vaughan died in a helicopter crash on Aug. 27, 1990. He died with no will or surviving spouse and children. In accordance with state law, his next of kin — his brother Jimmie Vaughan — received control of his estate and assets.

Surprisingly, Vaughan didn’t die with as much money as many people might’ve imagined. His estate totaled just $672,057.56. Given his legendary status in rock music, along with his very successful music career, this sum might seem rather small.

Along with these assets, the helicopter company that owned the helicopter Vaughan died in also paid out a settlement of $300,000 to the Vaughan family.

Some of his assets included stocks and bonds, physical goods like a Chevrolet Caprice, 34 guitars, various speakers and amps, along with royalties from songs.

The Austin Chronicle noted that Vaughan had also accrued $68,850 in debt.

As the beneficiary of the estate, Jimmie Vaughan receives money from all sales of his brother’s music. Interestingly, the Vaughan estate is actually making significantly more money with posthumous releases than it did when Vaughan was alive.

As the Phoenix New Times reports, the Vaughan estate, under Jimmie’s command, had released multiple posthumous albums a few years after Stevie’s death — albums like “The Sky Is Crying,” which is a compilation, and “Live at the El Mocambo.” “The Sky Is Crying” quickly became Vaughan’s best-selling album.

Some critics have questioned if Jimmie Vaughan is taking advantage of his brother’s fame for financial gain.

According to the Baltimore Sun, the sibling collaboration album “Family Style” also became a chart topper a mere month after Vaughan’s death. It seems that much of Vaughan’s discography reached its height of popularity long after the singer passed away. In any event, Stevie Ray Vaughan will continue to be a popular musician among fans for some time to come.

Reference: MSN (Aug. 4, 2022) “Here’s Who Inherited Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Money After His Death”

The Difference between Revocable and Irrevocable Trust

A living trust can be revocable or irrevocable, says Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts: Which Is Better?” And not everyone needs a trust. For some, a will may be enough. However, if you have substantial assets you plan to pass on to family members or to charity, a trust can make this much easier.

There are many different types of trusts you can establish, and a revocable trust is a trust that can be changed or terminated at any time during the lifetime of the grantor (i.e., the person making the trust). This means you could:

  • Add or remove beneficiaries at any time
  • Transfer new assets into the trust or remove ones that are in it
  • Change the terms of the trust concerning how assets should be managed or distributed to beneficiaries; and
  • Terminate or end the trust completely.

When you die, a revocable trust automatically becomes irrevocable and no further changes can be made to its terms. An irrevocable trust is permanent. If you create an irrevocable trust during your lifetime, any assets you transfer to the trust must stay in the trust. You can’t add or remove beneficiaries or change the terms of the trust.

The big advantage of choosing a revocable trust is flexibility. A revocable trust allows you to make changes, and an irrevocable trust doesn’t. Revocable trusts can also allow your heirs to avoid probate when you die. However, a revocable trust doesn’t offer the same type of protection against creditors as an irrevocable trust. If you’re sued, creditors could still try to attach trust assets to satisfy a judgment. The assets in a revocable trust are part of your taxable estate and subject to federal estate taxes when you die.

In addition to protecting assets from creditors, irrevocable trusts can also help in managing estate tax obligations. The assets are owned by the trust (not you), so estate taxes are avoided. Holding assets in an irrevocable trust can also be useful if you’re trying to qualify for Medicaid to help pay for long-term care and want to avoid having to spend down assets.

But again, you can’t change this type of trust and you can’t act as your own trustee. Once the trust is set up and the assets are transferred, you no longer have control over them.

Speak with an experienced estate planning or probate attorney to see if a revocable or an irrevocable trust is best or whether you even need a trust at all.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Sep. 10, 2022) “Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts: Which Is Better?”