How Does a Trust Work?

You’ve worked hard to accumulate financial assets. You’ll need them to support your retirement. However, what if you also want to pass them on to loved ones? Trusts are used to pass assets to the next generation and have many benefits, says a recent article titled “Passing assets through a trust—What to know” from the Daily Bulldog.

“Funded” trusts don’t go through probate, which can be time-consuming, costly, and public. Your last will and testament becomes a public document when it is filed in the courthouse. Anyone can see it, from people wanting to sell your home to thieves looking for victims. Trust documents are not public, so no one outside of the grantor and the trustee knows what is in the trust and when distributions will be made. A trust also gives you the ability to be very specific about who will inherit assets in the trust, and when.

An estate planning attorney will help establish trusts, ensuring they are compliant with state law. There are three key questions to address during the trust creation process.

Who will serve as a trustee? There are several key roles in trusts. The person who creates the trust is the grantor of the trust. They name the trustee—the person or company charged with managing the trust’s assets and carrying out the instructions in the trust. You might choose a loved one. However, if they don’t have the knowledge or experience to manage the responsibilities, you could also name a corporate fiduciary, such as a bank or trust company. These entities charge for their services and usually require a minimum.

When will distributions be made? As the grantor, you get to decide when assets will be distributed and the amount of the distribution. You might want to keep the assets in the trust until the beneficiary reaches legal age. You could also structure the trust to make distributions at specific ages, i.e., at 30, 35 and 40. The trust could even hold the assets for the lifetime of the beneficiary and only distribute earned income. A large part of this decision has to do with how responsible you feel the beneficiaries will be with their inheritance.

What is the purpose of the trust? The grantor also gets to decide how trust assets should be used. The trust could designate broad categories, such as health, education, maintenance and support. The trust can be structured so the beneficiary needs to ask the trustee for a certain amount of assets. Other options are to structure the trust to provide mandatory income, once or twice a year, or tie distributions to incentives, such as finishing a college degree or purchasing a first home.

An estate planning attorney will explain the different types of trusts and which one is best for your unique situation. There are many different types of trusts. You’ll want to be sure to choose the right one to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Reference: Daily Bulldog (Dec. 24, 202) “Passing assets through a trust—What to know”

Estate Planning for Different Ages and Stages of Life

Estate planning is a critical means of protecting your financial legacy, providing for loved ones, reducing taxes and preventing unnecessary expenses, says a recent article from The Seattle Times, “Estate planning needs vary at every stage of your life.” The reasons for an estate plan change depending on your stage of life. However, no matter what your income is, you need an estate plan.

There are certain events during life known as “trigger points” sparking reminders to either create an estate plan or update an existing one.

Welcoming a new member of the family. Estate planning often starts when a child is welcomed into the family, or when someone marries. An estate planning attorney can provide you with options based on your specific situation, so your will reflects your wishes and the laws of your state. An estate planning attorney will also guide you through other parts of the plan.

Once you have an estate plan in place, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that you and your loved ones are protected with a legal safety net.

Midlife challenges. The sandwich generation, typically people in their 40s and 50s, are busy raising children and helping parents as they age. Having a power of attorney for financial and medical matters is important for an adult child who is involved in their parent’s healthcare, if the child needs to be able to speak with physicians. Parents also need health care directives addressing end-of-life care, so loved ones know what their wishes are.

Parents will do their children a favor by telling them what they want and back up their wishes with the appropriate legal documents. This spares the children from having to figure out “what mom wanted” or fighting over “what dad really meant.”

Before and after retirement. The years just before and just after retirement are often when health issues crop up. Retirement is the right time to review estate planning documents and review named beneficiaries. The people you named ten, or even five, years ago to handle your estate may no longer be in your life. You may have new grandchildren you want to provide for. All of these matters need to be reviewed with an experienced estate planning attorney to be sure they reflect your wishes right now.

Updating an estate plan throughout the ups and downs of life ensures you’ll be able to enjoy the retirement you worked for and focus your attention on the present.

Reference: The Seattle Times (Oct. 17, 2022) “Estate planning needs vary at every stage of your life”

How Does a Business Owner Create an Exit Strategy?

Letting go of a business is not easy, says a recent article titled “Estate Planning Strategies for Business Owners Planning an Exit” from CEOWorld Magazine. Where the exit is to sell the business or retire, or the result of an unexpected events, its crucial to have an estate and succession plan.

When should you establish a plan? It should be early, perhaps even when you become a CEO. A long-term strategy is as important as short-term decisions. Not having an estate plan could mean your interest in the business goes through probate, which is both public and time consuming. The business may never recover from the distribution of assets and the exposure. No estate plan also means missed changes to leverage discount gifting or any other tax-reduction strategies.

Consider the following when talking with your estate planning attorney:

What is the exit strategy—to sell, be acquired or merged, have a family member take over, or sell to key employees?

How much money to do you need and want at the exit? Do you want to create a stream of income or a lump sum?

Do you have a charitable giving plan to reap tax advantages and support an organization with meaning to you? Structuring a gift far in advance avoids using a reduced fair market value and have it deemed as a cash gift.

Transferring the business to family members instead of selling to outside parties creates many different planning opportunities. With family members, emotions come into play, even though this is not always productive. If some offspring are not involved in the business, will they receive a share of the business? Do you want to equalize your inheritance? Assets can be divided by the use of trusts, for example.

You’ll want to work with an estate planning attorney with experience in creating a succession plan with a tax model. This is often overlooked in succession planning and can cause significant cash flow management issues as well as lost tax benefits.

Determine if you want to make gifts using business interests or sales proceeds early on and whether these gifts will go to family members or charities. The earlier the succession planning occurs, the more you can maximize the income and estate tax benefits.

Clarify your own retirement needs and goals. Business owners often fail to correctly calculate the expected investment income on after-tax proceeds from the sale of the business. Will it be sustainable enough for the lifestyle you want in retirement? If not, is there a way to structure the sale of the business to achieve your financial goal?

It’s never too late to plan for an exit strategy, and the earlier the planning, the higher the likelihood of a successful transition.

Reference: CEOWorld Magazine (Aug. 16, 2022) “Estate Planning Strategies for Business Owners Planning an Exit”

How Important Is It to have Long-Term Care Insurance?

It becomes especially important to plan for the future when the world around us seems so volatile and unpredictable. We can’t control future health care costs, but we can plan for them, says a recent article titled “Economic instability and the need to plan for long-term care” from The Indiana Lawyer. Failing to plan could mean lost assets and a lost legacy.

According to Genworth’s Cost of Care survey, from 2004 to 2021, the cost of long-term care has outpaced inflation by a large margin. Many of the increases were driven by supply and demand issues. There aren’t enough people to care for the growing population of people needing services, which will continue to be the case for at least the next decade. A total of 10,000 boomers turn 65 every day and 70% will require care and support services in their lifetimes.

How can assets be protected from long-term costs?

One of the most frequently used tools is an asset protection trust or an irrevocable trust. The irrevocable trust cannot be modified, amended, or terminated without permission of the grantor’s beneficiary or beneficiaries. Once the grantor transfers assets into the trust, the grantor no longer has the rights of ownership. The trust can be designed to minimize taxation, maximize access to long-term benefits and protect assets.

The trust must be drafted properly, so trust income and principal, if needed, can be accessed.

The timing is critical. Asset protection trusts must be created when there is no immediate health care crisis, and the grantor has no need for long-term care. The best trust is created when the person is in good health and of sound mind.

Those who are nearing retirement, passed retirement age or who may have health issues in the distant future and expect to need Medicaid in the future are best candidates for an asset protection trust.

Medicaid’s Five Year Look Back Period

Planning needs to be done at least five years in advance, as Medicaid looks at the applicant’s past five year’s finances to see if any assets were sold or gifted for under market value. Transferring assets to an irrevocable trust is treated as a gift and violates the five-year look back, making the person ineligible for Medicaid coverage. Nursing home care will have to be paid out-of-pocket until the person becomes eligible.

Asset protection strategies are available for those who need immediate protection of assets. However, they have to done quickly and correctly with an estate planning elder law attorney. People who have suffered a fall and have significant injuries or who have received a diagnosis of a difficult disease should speak with an elder law attorney in a timely manner. They’ll need to discuss preparing for a Medicaid application, what assets can be protected and steps they need to take. The earlier the plan is put into place, the better.

Reference: The Indiana Lawyer (Aug. 3, 2022) “Economic instability and the need to plan for long-term care”

Can Beneficiary Designations Be Challenged?

The demise of traditional pension plans in the U.S. has been followed by a surge in assets held in participant directed retirement accounts, like IRAs and 401(k)s. The responsibility for investment decisions now belongs to the owners, says a recent article “Did you really intend for your ex to get your IRA?” from Chattanooga Times Free Press. The owner is also responsible for beneficiary distributions after death, which doesn’t always go well.

Retirement accounts are outside of the probate estate. Therefore, assets pass to heirs directly. When people first enroll in a retirement plan or open an IRA account, it’s up to the account owner to stipulate who will receive the asset upon their death, known as the beneficiary. This sounds easy enough. The heirs don’t need to worry about probate and if the ownership transfer is done correctly, they can get some tax advantages from the accounts.

When the owner doesn’t pay attention to beneficiary designations, expensive problems occur.

Failing to name a beneficiary. This is the simplest and most commonly made mistake when enrolling in a company’s retirement plan or rolling assets into an IRA. More than a third of all IRA death claims submitted for processing are lacking a named beneficiary, according to a national retirement plan administrator company. Instead of assets passing directly to heirs, the IRA account flows into the estate and becomes subject to probate and estate taxes.

Once included in the estate, the assets are subject to the will. While IRA assets have up to ten years to be withdrawn, the time limit for distributions in an estate can be as short as five years, and the resulting taxes will be much higher. Even worse, the assets in the IRA are now available to creditors of the estate. Until the estate is fully distributed, it must pay tax returns. Even a modest IRA is going to generate more estate taxes than if it were outside of the estate.

If there is no will, the state decides where the assets go.

Failing to name contingent beneficiaries. If the account owner and primary beneficiary are both dead, there should be at least one contingent beneficiary named on the account. Lacking contingent beneficiaries, the account flows to the estate as if no beneficiary had been named.

Neglecting to update beneficiaries after major life events. Divorce and death happen. Account owners often forget to update beneficiary designations, leading to unintended recipients. In some states, but not all, a divorce decree nullifies the prior designation. However, don’t count on it. If the state does nullify the prior designation, the asset will flow into the probate estate.

Naming a minor as a beneficiary. Most state laws do not permit minors to inherit significant assets without the oversight of a conservator. If a conservator is named by the court, the inheritance will be reduced substantially by court fees and the conservator’s salary. This may not be the worst part, if the asset is big. Here’s what’s worse: at age 18 or 21, a young adult will inherit the entire amount, with no restrictions.

After you’ve updated your beneficiaries, consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to learn how to protect assets, including retirement accounts and pensions.

Reference: Chattanooga Times Free Press (July 9, 2022) “Did you really intend for your ex to get your IRA?”

What are the Advantages of a Business Trust?

Business owner’s heads are frequently filled with a steady stream of questions concerning day-to-day activities. Long-range planning questions about how to expand the business, set business priorities, identify vulnerabilities, etc., are lost in the flood of events requiring immediate action. However, business owners need to keep both details and the big picture in mind, according to a recent article “5 Ways Business Owners Can Use Trusts to Benefit Their Company” from Entrepreneur.

Three key questions for any business owner are: how can I minimize taxes, protect assets and what kind of legacy do I want to leave with my business? All three questions can be answered with two words: estate planning. Within estate planning, trusts are a well-known tool to tackle and solve these three issues.

A trust is a legal entity created when one party (grantor) gives another party (trustee) the right to hold title to property or assets for the benefit of a third party (beneficiaries). Trusts are used to provide protection for assets for individuals and businesses. For business owners, trusts protect beneficiaries and thwart potential creditors (including previous spouses) from gaining direct access to assets held within the trust.

All future growth of assets transferred to an irrevocable trust occurs outside of the estate. It will apply to your lifetime exemption, but all future growth occurs estate tax free. Let’s say a business owner transfers a business worth $3 million into an irrevocable trust and years later, the company is sold for $17 million. The increased value is not subject to estate taxes, saving family members a significant amount of money.

It should be noted these types of trusts needs to be created with an experienced estate planning attorney to achieve the desired goals.

Assets in a trust maintain privacy. For companies and individuals who live in the public eye, placing assets in trust means only the grantor and trustee need to know about the assets. A person who lives in a small city and owns a few restaurants may not want their personal financial matters to become known when they die. Wills become public documents when the estate is probated; trusts remain private.

Litigation arising from sales of small businesses are among the most common legal actions filed against business owners. By removing assets from ownership, the business owner receives another layer of protection. You can’t be sued for assets you don’t own.

Trusts are used in succession planning and should be created to align with business legacy objectives, whether the plan is to sell the company to outsiders, key employees or keep it in the family. Succession plans must be properly documented. This is done with the estate planning attorney, CPA and financial advisor working in tandem. A succession plan should also address the goals for the business owner’s life after the business is sold or transferred. Do they want to remain on the board of directors, do they require income from the business to maintain their costs of living?

Minimizing taxes. Preparing for a liquidity event is an excellent reason to consider creating a trust. Depending upon its structure and the laws of the estate, a business owned by a trust may minimize or avoid state income taxes on a substantial portion of the estate income tax.

A succession plan, like an estate plan, needs to be created long before it is needed. Ideally, a succession plan is created not long after a business is established and revised as time goes on. When the company attains certain milestones, the plan should be updated.

Reference: Entrepreneur (June 17, 2022) “5 Ways Business Owners Can Use Trusts to Benefit Their Company”

Should I Have a Roth IRA?

Roth IRAs are powerful retirement savings tools. Account owners are allowed to take tax-free distributions in retirement and can avoid paying taxes on investment growth. There’s little downside to a Roth IRA, according to a recent article “10 Reasons to Save for Retirement in a Roth IRA” from U.S. News & World Report.

Taxes are paid in advance on a Roth IRA. Therefore, if you are in a low tax bracket now and may be in a higher bracket later, or if tax rates increase, you’ve already paid those taxes. Another plus: all your Roth IRA funds are available to you in retirement, unlike a traditional IRA when you have to pay income tax on every withdrawal.

Roth IRA distributions taken after age 59 ½ from accounts at least five years old are tax free. Every withdrawal taken from a traditional IRA is treated like income and, like income, is subject to taxes.

When comparing the two, compare your current tax rate to what you expect your tax rate to be once you’ve retired. You can also save in both types of accounts in the same year, if you’re not sure about future tax rates.

Roth IRA accounts also let you keep investment gains, because you don’t pay income tax on investment gains or earned interest.

Roth IRAs have greater flexibility. Traditional IRA account owners are required to take Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from an IRA every year after age 72. If you forget to take a distribution, there’s a 50% tax penalty. You also have to pay taxes on the withdrawal. Roth IRAs have no withdrawal requirements during the lifetime of the original owner. Take what you need, when you need, if you need.

Roth IRAs are also more flexible before retirement. If you’re under age 59 ½ and take an early withdrawal, it’ll cost you a 10% early withdrawal penalty plus income tax. Roth early withdrawals also trigger a 10% penalty and income tax, but only on the portion of the withdrawal from investment earnings.

If your goal is to leave IRA money for heirs, Roth IRAs also have advantages. A traditional IRA account requires beneficiaries to pay taxes on any money left to them in a traditional 401(k) or IRA. However, those who inherit a Roth IRA can take tax-free withdrawals. Heirs have to take withdrawals. However, the distributions are less likely to create expensive tax situations.

Retirement savers can contribute up to $6,000 in a Roth IRA in 2022. Age 50 and up? You can make an additional $1,000 catch up contribution for a total Roth IRA contribution of $7,000.

If this sounds attractive but you’ve been using a traditional IRA, a Roth conversion is your next step. However, you will have to pay the income taxes on the amount converted. Try to make the conversion in a year when you’re in a lower tax bracket. You could also convert a small amount every year to maintain control over taxes.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (April 11, 2022) “10 Reasons to Save for Retirement in a Roth IRA”

Is It Important for Physicians to Have an Estate Plan?

When the newly minted physician completes their residency and begins practicing, the last thing on their minds is getting their estate plan in order. Instead, they should make it a priority, according to a recent article titled “Physicians, get your estate in order or the court will do it instead” from Medical Economics. Physicians accumulate wealth to a greater degree and faster than most people. They are also in a profession with a higher likelihood of being sued than most. They need an estate plan.

Estate planning does more than distribute assets after death. It is also asset protection. An estate planning attorney helps physicians, dentists and other medical professionals protect their assets and their legacies.

Basic estate planning documents include a last will and testament, financial power of attorney and a medical power of attorney. However, the physician’s estate is complex and requires an attorney with experience in asset protection and business succession.

During the process of creating an estate plan, the physician will need to determine who they would want to serve as a guardian, if there are minor children and what they would want to occur if all of their beneficiaries were to predecease them. A list should be drafted with all assets, debts, including medical school loans, life insurance documents and retirement or pension accounts, including the names of beneficiaries.

The will is the center of the estate plan. It will require naming a person, typically a spouse, to be the executor: the person in charge of administering the estate. If the physician is not married, a trusted relative or friend can be named. There should also be a second person named, in case the first is unable to serve.

If the physician owns their practice, the estate plan should be augmented with a business succession plan. The will’s executor may need to oversee decisions regarding the sale of the practice. A trusted friend with no business acumen or knowledge of how a medical practice works may not be the best executor. These are all important considerations. Special considerations apply when the “business” is a professional practice, so do not make any moves without expert estate planning assistance.

The will only controls assets in the individual’s name. Assets owned jointly, or those with a beneficiary designation, are not governed by the will.

Without a will, the entire estate may need to go through probate, which is a lengthy and expensive process. For one family, their father’s lack of a will and secrecy took 18 months and cost $30,000 in legal fees for the estate to be settled.

Trusts are an option for protecting assets. By placing assets in trust, they are protected from creditors and provide control in complex family situations. The goal is to create a trust and fund it before any legal actions occur. Transferring assets after a lawsuit has begun or after a creditor has attached an asset could lead to a physician being charged with fraudulent conveyance—where assets are transferred for the sole purpose of avoiding paying creditors.

Estate planning is never a one-and-done event. If a doctor starts a family limited partnership to transfer wealth to the next generation but neglects to properly maintain the partnership, some or all of the funds may be vulnerable.

An estate plan needs to be reviewed every few years and certainly every time a major life event occurs, including marriage, divorce, birth, death, relocation, or a significant change in wealth.

When consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney, a doctor should ask about the potential benefits of revocable living trust planning to avoid probate, maintain privacy and streamline the administration of the estate upon incapacity or at death.

Reference: Medical Economics (Feb. 22, 2022) “Physicians, get your estate in order or the court will do it instead”

Do You Have to Pay Taxes on Inherited IRAs?

If you’ve inherited an IRA, you won’t have to pay a penalty on early withdrawals if you take money out before age 59½. However, you may have to make those withdrawals earlier than you’d wanted. Doing so may trigger additional income taxes, and even push you into a higher tax bracket. The IRA has always been a complicated retirement account. While changes from the SECURE Act have simplified some things, it’s made others more stringent.

A recent article titled “How Do I Avoid Paying Taxes on an Inherited IRA?” from Aol.com explains how the traditional IRA allows tax-deductible contributions to be made to the account during your working life. If the IRA includes investments, they grow tax—free. Taxes aren’t due on contributions or earnings, until you make withdrawals during retirement.

A Roth IRA is different. You fund the Roth IRA with after-tax dollars, earnings grow tax free and there are no taxes on withdrawals.

With a traditional inherited IRA, distributions are taxable at the beneficiary’s ordinary income tax rate. If the withdrawals are large, the taxes will be large also—and could push you into a higher income tax bracket.

If your spouse passes and you inherit the IRA, you may take ownership of it. It is treated as if it were your own. Howwever, if you inherited a traditional IRA from a parent, you have just ten years to empty the entire account and taxes must be paid on withdrawals.

There are exceptions. If the beneficiary is disabled, chronically ill or a minor child, or ten years younger than the original owner, you may treat the IRA as if it is your own and wait to take Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) at age 72.

Inheriting a Roth IRA is different. Funds are generally considered tax free, as long as they are considered “qualified distributions.” This means they have been in the account for at least five years, including the time the original owner was alive. If they don’t meet these requirements, withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income. Your estate planning attorney will know whether the Roth IRA meets these requirements.

If at all possible, always avoid immediately taking a single lump sum from an IRA. Wait until the RMDs are required. If you inherited an IRA from a non-spouse, use the ten years to stretch out the distributions.

If you need to empty the account in ten years, you don’t have to withdraw equal amounts. If your income varies, take a larger withdrawal when your income is lower and take a bigger withdrawal when your income is higher. This can result in a lower overall tax liability.

If you’ve inherited a Roth IRA and funds were deposited less than five years ago, wait to take those funds out for at least five years. When the five years have elapsed, withdrawals will be treated as tax-free distributions.

One of the best ways for heirs to avoid paying taxes on an IRA is for the original owner, while still living, to convert the traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, paying taxes on contributions and earnings. This reduces the taxes paid if the owner is in a lower tax bracket than beneficiaries, and lets the beneficiaries withdraw funds as they want with no income tax burden.

Reference: Aol.com (Feb. 25, 2022) “How Do I Avoid Paying Taxes on an Inherited IRA?”

Do You Have to Go through Probate When Someone Dies?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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