That Last Step: Trust Funding

Neglecting to fund trusts is a surprisingly common mistake, and one that can undo the best estate and tax plans. Many people put it on the back burner, then forget about it, says the article “Don’t Overlook Your Trust Funding” from Forbes.

Done properly, trust funding helps avoid probate, provides for you and your family in the event of incapacity and helps save on estate taxes.

Creating a revocable trust gives you control. With a revocable trust, you can make changes to the trust while you are living, including funding. Think of a trust like an empty box—you can put assets in it now, or after you pass. If you transfer assets to the trust now, however, your executor won’t have to do it when you die.

Note that if you don’t put assets in the trust while you are living, those assets will go through the probate process. While the executor will have the authority to transfer assets, they’ll have to get court approval. That takes time and costs money. It is best to do it while you are living.

A trust helps if you become incapacitated. You may be managing the trust while you are living, but what happens if you die or become too sick to manage your own affairs? If the trust is funded and a successor trustee has been named, the successor trustee will be able to manage your assets and take care of you and your family. If the successor trustee has control of an empty, unfunded trust, a conservatorship may need to be appointed by the court to oversee assets.

There’s a tax benefit to trusts. For married people, trusts are often created that contain provisions for estate tax savings that defer estate taxes until the death of the second spouse. Income is provided to the surviving spouse and access to the principal during their lifetime. The children are usually the ultimate beneficiaries. However, the trust won’t work if it’s empty.

Depending on where you live, a trust may benefit you with regard to state estate taxes. Putting money in the trust takes it out of your taxable estate. You’ll need to work with an estate planning attorney to ensure that the assets are properly structured. For instance, if your assets are owned jointly with your spouse, they will not pass into a trust at your death and won’t be outside of your taxable estate.

Move the right assets to the right trust. It’s very important that any assets you transfer to the trust are aligned with your estate plan. Taxable brokerage accounts, bank accounts and real estate are usually transferred into a trust. Some tangible assets may be transferred into the trust, as well as any stocks from a family business or interests in a limited liability company. Your estate planning attorney, financial advisor and insurance broker should be consulted to avoid making expensive mistakes.

You’ve worked hard to accumulate assets and protecting them with a trust is a good idea. Just don’t forget the final step of funding the trust.

Reference: Forbes (July 13, 2020) “Don’t Overlook Your Trust Funding”

What Does a Successor Trustee Do?

This is a common concern of people when they learn they have been named as a successor trustee, says nwi.com in the article “Estate Planning: The role of a successor trustee.” The first thing to do? Verify that you are a successor trustee and what authority and powers you have. If the settler is disabled, rather than deceased, you’ll need to be sure that you have complied with any requirements to take the position.

The trust that names you as a successor trustee is likely where you will find details of what you must obtain to assume the authority. For example, you may need to have a letter from a physician stating that the settler is incapacitated and can no longer manage his own affairs.

If the settlor is deceased, establishing your authority as successor trustee is easier. Usually, all you’ll need is a death certificate.

Once this has been established, you’ll need to be able to prove that you have this role. Usually this is done through the use of an Affidavit of Trust and Acceptance and Oath. An estate planning attorney will be able to help you with these documents. Some affidavits affirm until the “pain and penalty of perjury that the affiant is the successor trustee” and that you are accepting the designation and agree to serve under the terms of the trust and the laws of your state.

Different estate planning attorneys may approach this differently. Some may use a “certificate of trust,” while others will simply rely on the trust agreement. The important thing is that the successor trustee’s authority is demonstrable.

Once the successor trustee has established that he is appointed properly, he can start administering the trust.

What about selling the family home? Real estate transfers are handled through the local government. To sell a home, you’ll need to transfer the deed, so you will need the deed to the home.

When a successor trustee transfers real estate, a copy of the affidavit of his appointment as the successor trustee and relevant documents could be recorded with the transfer documents. The transfer needs to be approved by a title examiner, and the examiner will want proof that the person in charge of the transaction has the legal authority to do so.

Other assets are transferred in a similar fashion. The asset holder is contacted, a copy of the affidavit and proof of designation as a successor trustee will be needed.

Some estate planning attorneys will add a letter of instruction to the successor trustee providing them with helpful information and tips about estate administration.

Reference: nwi.com (Jan. 12, 2020) “Estate Planning: The role of a successor trustee”

Business Owners Should Start End-Game Planning Now
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Business Owners Should Start End-Game Planning Now

Most parents understand that the ultimate goal of child-rearing is to help a child become an independent adult. For the business owner, this means building a business that would continue after they have retired or passed away. However, when it comes to estate planning, says the article “Why Business Owners Should Think About Estate Planning Sooner Than Later,” from Forbes, many business owners think only about their personal assets and their children.

For a successful business owner who wants to see their business continue long after they have moved on to the next chapter in their lives, the best time to start succession planning is now.

Succession and estate planning should not be something you wait to do until the end of your life. Most people make this mistake. They don’t want to think about their own mortality or what will happen after they’ve died. Very rarely do people realize the value of estate planning and succession planning when they are engaged in a start-up or when their companies are just getting solid footing. They are too busy with the day-to-day concerns of running a business than they are with developing a succession plan.

However, any estate planning attorney who has been practicing for more than a few years knows that this is a big mistake. Securing assets and business planning sooner, not later, is a far better way to go.

Business continuity is the first concern for entrepreneurs. It’s not an easy topic. It’s far better to have this addressed when the owner is well and the business is flourishing. Therefore, the business owner is making decisions and not others, who may be emotionally invested but not knowledgeable about the business.

A living trust and will can put in place certain parameters that a trustee can carry out. This should include naming the individuals who are trusted to make decisions. Having those names and decisions made will minimize the amount of arguing between recipients of assets. Let them be mad at you for your choices, rather than squabbling between each other.

Create a business succession plan that designates successor trustees who will be in charge of managing the business, in the event of the owner’s incapacity or death. A power of attorney document is used to nominate a fiduciary agent to act on your behalf if you should become incapacitated, but a trust should be considered to provide for a smoother transition of the business to successor trustees.

By transferring a business to a trust, the inconvenience and costs of probate may be avoided and assets will be passed along to chosen beneficiaries. Timely planning also preserves business assets, since they can take advantage of advanced tax planning strategies.

Estate and succession planning is usually not top-of-mind for young business owners, but it is essential planning. Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney to get yourself and your business ahead of the game.

Reference: Forbes (Dec. 30, 2019) “Why Business Owners Should Think About Estate Planning Sooner Than Later”

Start the New Year with Estate Planning To-Do’s

Families who wish their loved ones had not created an estate plan are far and few between. However, the number of families who have had to experience extra pain, unnecessary expenses and even family battles because of a lack of estate planning are many. While there are a number of aspects to an estate plan that take some time to accomplish, The Daily Sentinel recommends that readers tackle these tasks in the article “Consider These Items As Part of Your Year-End Plan.”

Review and update any beneficiary designations. This is one of the simplest parts of any estate plan to fix. Most people think that what’s in their will controls how all of their assets are distributed, but this is not true. Accounts with beneficiary designations—like life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and some bank accounts—are controlled by the beneficiary designation and not the will.

Proceeds from these assets are based on the instructions you have given to the institution, and not what your will or a trust directs. This is also true for real estate that is held in JTWROS (Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship) and any real property transferred through the use of a beneficiary deed. The start of a new year is the time to make sure that any assets with a beneficiary designation are aligned with your estate plan.

Take some time to speak with the people you have named as your agent, personal representative or successor trustee. These people will be managing all or a portion of your estate. Make sure they remember that they agreed to take on this responsibility. Make sure they have a copy of any relevant documents and ask if they have any questions.

Locate your original estate planning documents. When was the last time they were reviewed? New laws, and most recently the SECURE Act, may require a revision of many wills, especially if you own a large IRA. You’ll also want to let your executor know where your original will can be found. The probate court, which will review your will, prefers an original. A will can be probated without the original, but there will be more costs involved and it may require a few additional steps. Your will should be kept in a secure, fire and water-safe location. If you keep copies at home, make a note on the document as to where the original can be found.

Create an inventory of your online accounts and login data for each one. Most people open a new account practically every month, so keep track. That should include email, personal photos, social media and any financial accounts. This information also needs to be stored in a safe place. Your estate planning document file would be the logical place for this information but remember to update it when changing any information, like your password.

If you have a medical power of attorney and advance directive, ask your primary care physician if they have a means of keeping these documents, and explain how you wish the instructions on the documents to be carried out. If you don’t have these documents, make them part of your estate plan review process.

A cover letter to your executor and family that contains complete contact information for the various professionals—legal, financial, and medical—will be a help in the case of an unexpected event.

Remember that life is always changing, and the same estate plan that worked so well ten years ago, may be out of date now. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney in your state who can help you create a plan to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Reference: The Daily Sentinel (Dec. 28, 2019) “Consider These Items As Part of Your Year-End Plan”

The Conversation with Your Doctor, Estate Planning Lawyer and Family Members

Everyone needs to have an annual checkup, taking stock of their health with their primary physician and making sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to instructions for health care and an advanced healthcare directive, also known as a living will. When people sign their last will and testament, everyone breathes a big sigh, says The Huntsville Item’s article “Make sure you talk to your doctor and family.” But that’s not the end of estate planning.

Your primary care provider needs to know what your wishes are, as well as your spouse and children. The best way to make sure they have this information, in addition to having a conversation, is to bring a copy of an advanced healthcare directive or living will with you to your next check up and talk with your doctor about it. Ask them to keep a copy on file.

It’s a good idea to give a copy of the Medical Power of Attorney and Medical Directive to Physicians and Family to each primary care physician, and a copy to the healthcare agents you have selected.  Don’t forget to keep a copy or two in your records to take with you, if you ever have to go to the hospital. The signed original should be kept with all of your estate planning documents—in a safe place in your home, possibly in a fireproof safe.

Make sure to tell a few family members where these documents are, in case of an emergency.

The hardest part of estate planning is not usually picking the right fiduciaries or deciding how to distribute assets among loved ones. The hardest part is almost always having these conversations with family and loved ones.

It can be so daunting that families often don’t have these important discussions. Here’s the problem: avoiding the conversation doesn’t mean the issues go away. More family infighting takes place after a death than any other time. Emotions are running high, old wounds are opened, and unresolved issues, especially between siblings, come pouring out. If the parent who has died has always been the one who made peace between everyone, that buffer is gone.

Having this discussion in a low-pressure, non-emergency time, is something that every parent should do for their children. Consider a family gathering where the underlying agenda is to get everyone comfortable with the concept of talking about what the future holds. It doesn’t have to be a formal meeting; a casual family get-together is more likely comfortable for everyone.

If the conversations are taking place in a casual manner over an extended period of time, a lot of ground can be covered with less tension and stress. Getting people used to the idea that you know that you are not going to live forever, and you want to be sure they are taken care of, may make it easier for everyone when the time does come.

In some families, these conversations begin when all are invited to attend a family meeting with the estate planning attorney to discuss wills, powers of attorney and medical power of attorney. Sometimes having this conversation with an experienced professional can take some of the sting out of planning for the future.

Reference: The Huntsville Item (June 30, 2019) “Make sure you talk to your doctor and family”

 

Can a Trust Be Amended?

A son has contacted an elder law estate planning attorney now that mom is in a nursing home and he’s unsure about many of the planning issues, as reported by the Daily Republic. The article, “Amending trust easier if parents can make informed decision,” describes the family’s situation.

There is one point to consider from the start. If the son been involved in the planning from the start, in a family meeting with the attorney and discussions with his parents, he might have less uncertainty about the plan and the details.

As for the details: the parents are in their 90s, with some savings, a few annuities, a CD and a checking account. They also have five acres of land, which has their home and a duplex on it and 12 additional acres, with a rental property on it. Everything they own has been placed in a family trust. The son wants to be able to pay her bills and was told that he needs to have a power of attorney and to be named trustee to their trust.

He reports that his parents are good with this idea, but he has a number of concerns. If they are sued, will he be personally liable? Would the power of attorney give him the ability to handle their finances and the real estate in the trust?

If his parents have a revocable or living trust, there are provisions that allow one or more persons to become the successor trustees, in the event that the parent becomes incapacitated or dies.

What happens when they die, as they each leave each other their share of the assets? The son would become the trustee, when the last parent passes.

Usually the power of attorney is created when the trust is created, so that someone has the ability to take control of finances for the person. See if the trust has any of these provisions—the son may already be legally positioned to act on his parents’ behalf. The trust should also show whether the successor trustee would be empowered to sell the real estate.

Trusts can be drafted in any way the client wants it written, and the successor trustee receives only the powers that are given in the document.

As for the liability, the trustee is not liable to a buyer during the sale of a property. There are exceptions, so he would need to speak with an estate planning attorney to help with the sale.

More specifically, assuming the trust does not name the son as a successor trustee and also does not give the son power of attorney, the bigger question is are the parents mentally competent to make important decisions about these documents?

Given the age of these parents, an attorney will be concerned, rightfully so, about their competency and if they can freely make an informed decision, or if the son might be exercising improper influence on them to turn over their assets to him.

There are a few different steps that can be taken. One is for the son, if he believes that his parents are mentally competent, to make an appointment for them with an estate planning attorney, without the son being present in the meeting, in order to determine their capacity and wishes. If the attorney is not sure about the influence of the son, he or she may want to refer the parents for a second opinion with another attorney.

If the parents are found not competent, then the son may need to become their conservator, which requires a court proceeding.

Planning in advance and discussing these issues are best done with an experienced estate planning attorney, long before the issues become more complicated and expensive to deal with.

Reference: Daily Republic (Aug. 10, 2019) “Amending trust easier if parents can make informed decision”