Tax

Still Wondering Why You Need to Review Your Estate Plan?

One of the most common mistakes in estate planning is thinking of the estate plan, as being completed and never needing to be reviewed. That is similar to taking your car for an oil change and then simply never returning for another oil change. The years go by, your life changes and you need to review your estate plan.

The question posed by the New Hampshire Union Leader in the article “It’s important to periodically review your estate plan” is not if you need to have your estate plan reviewed, but when.

Most people get their original wills and other documents from their estate planning attorney, put them into their safe deposit box or a fire-safe file drawer and forget about them. There are no laws governing when these documents should be reviewed, so whether or when to review the estate is completely up to the individual. That often leads to unintended consequences that can cause the wrong person to inherit, fracture the family and leave heirs with a large tax liability.

A better idea: review your estate plan on a regular basis. For some people with complicated lives and assets, that means once a year. For others, every three or four years works. Some reviews are triggered by changes in life, including:

  • Marriage or divorce
  • Death
  • Large changes in the size of the estate
  • A significant increase in debt
  • The death of an executor, guardian or trustee
  • Birth or adoption of children or grandchildren
  • Change in career, good or bad
  • Retirement
  • Health crisis
  • Changes in tax laws
  • Changes in relationships to beneficiaries and heirs
  • Moving to another state or purchasing property in another state
  • Receiving a sizable inheritance

What should you be thinking about, as you review your estate plan? Here are some suggestions:

Have there been any changes to your relationships with family members?

Are any family members facing challenges or does anyone have special needs?

Are there children from a previous marriage and what do their lives look like?

Are the people you named for various roles—power of attorney, personal representative, guardian and trustees—still the people you want making decisions and acting on your behalf?

Does your estate plan include a durable power of attorney for healthcare, a valid living will, or if you want this, a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order?

Has your estate plan addressed the possible need for Medicaid?

Do you know who your beneficiary designations are for your accounts and are your beneficiary designations still correct? Your beneficiaries will receive assets outside of the will and nothing you put in the will can change the distribution of those assets.

Have you aligned your assets with your estate plan? Do certain accounts pass directly to a spouse or an heir? Have you funded any trusts?

Finally, have changes in the tax laws changed your estate plan? Your estate planning attorney should look at your state, as well as federal tax liability.

Just as you can’t plant a garden once and expect it to grow and bloom forever, your estate plan needs to be reviewed, so that it can protect your interests as your life and your family’s life changes over time. Our experienced estate planning attorneys can review your existing estate plan to determine if your goals are still being met.


Reference: New Hampshire Union Leader (Jan. 12, 2019) “It’s important to periodically review your estate plan”

Why Do I Need Estate Planning If I’m Not Rich?

Many people spend more time planning a vacation than they do thinking about who will inherit their assets after they pass away. Although estate planning isn’t an enjoyable activity, without it, you don’t get to direct who gets everything for which you’ve worked so hard.

Investopedia asks you to consider these four reasons why you should have an estate plan to avoid potentially devastating results for your heirs in its article “4 Reasons Estate Planning Is So Important.”

Wealth Won’t Go to Unintended Beneficiaries. Having an estate plan may have been once considered something only rich people needed, but that’s changed. Everyone now needs to plan for when something happens to a family’s breadwinner(s). The primary part of your estate plan is naming heirs for your assets. Without an estate plan, the courts will decide who will receive your property.

Protection for Families With Young Children. If you are the parent of small children, you need to have a will to ensure that your children are taken care of. You can designate their guardians if both parents die before the children turn 18. Without a will and guardianship clause, a judge will decide this important issue.

Avoid Taxes. Having an estate plan is also about protecting your loved ones from the IRS. A comprehensive estate plan transfers assets to your family, with an attempt to create the smallest tax burden for them as possible. A little planning can reduce much or even all of their federal and state estate taxes or state inheritance taxes. There are also ways to reduce the income tax beneficiaries might have to pay. However, without an estate plan, the amount your heirs will owe the government could be substantial.

No Family Fighting (or Very Little). One sibling may believe she deserves more than another. This type of fighting can turn ugly and end up in court, pitting family members against each other. However, an estate plan enables you to choose who controls your finances and assets, if you become mentally incapacitated or after you die. It also will go a long way towards settling any family conflict and ensuring that your assets are handled in the way you wanted.

To protect your assets and your loved ones when you no longer can do it, you’ll need an estate plan. Without one, your family could see large tax burdens, and the courts could say how your assets are divided, or even who will care for your children. We invite you to request a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.


Reference: Investopedia (May 25, 2018) “4 Reasons Estate Planning Is So Important”

No Estate Taxes? You Still Need an Estate Plan

Increases in the estate tax exemption has an impact on how some people are thinking about life insurance, says ThinkAdvisor in the article “Estate Planning Is Still Important.” However, before making any changes, consider the larger picture and think long, not short, term.

Let’s start with why many people buy life insurance policies. As young parents, they buy life insurance so a surviving spouse and family will be able to continue to live in their home, pay the mortgage and send children to college. Another reason for life insurance is to cover the cost of estate taxes.

Remember the new higher estate tax exemption is federal. Your heirs may still have state estate taxes and inheritance taxes, depending upon where you live. Having an insurance policy will still help with the costs of settling an estate and paying any taxes that are due.

The new tax exemption also has a sunset date. The year 2026 may seem far away. However, it will arrive, while we are busy with our lives. It may be much harder and more expensive for an individual to purchase a life insurance policy in 2026 than it is right now.

If someone is very old or in ill health, they have a different window of time for planning. However, if you are in your middle years or relatively healthy, now is not the time to put off purchasing life insurance or to let an existing policy lapse.

We know that political landscapes change. If they do, and you want to buy a policy, there may be additional obstacles in the future.

Life insurance also serves as a tool for your estate. If your estate plan seeks to distribute an inheritance equally from assets in a traditional IRA, life insurance can become an equalizer. Let’s say one child is in a much higher tax bracket than the others. Upon receiving the IRA, they will have to pay more in taxes than the others. The child in the lower bracket will end up with a larger sum of money, having lower taxes on their inheritance. This could lead to sibling arguments, which are not uncommon when brothers and sisters become heirs. The insurance policy proceeds can be used to make up the difference.

Another point to consider is who owns the insurance policy? If it is owned by a trust, you may not have the legal right to make a change. If the trustee does not agree that the policy should be liquidated or canceled, they may not allow the change to go forward.

Our estate planning attorneys will be able to review your life insurance policies when they review your overall estate plan. Each part of an estate plan works best when all parts work in concert.


Reference: ThinkAdvisor (Jan. 11, 2019) “Estate Planning Is Still Important”

Who Pays What Taxes on an Inherited IRA?

The executor of a person’s estate must take on the important responsibility of ensuring that the deceased person’s last wishes are carried out, concerning the disposition of their property and possessions. There are times when investments and savings are part of that estate.

An individual may have an IRA that designates the beneficiary or her estate as her heir. An inherited IRA is not like other assets. Executors must be aware of what to do when withdrawing the IRA into the estate account, particularly about how will these funds will be taxed.

nj.com’s recent article asks “Who pays taxes on this inherited IRA?” It explains that the distributions from an IRA are treated as ordinary income by the federal tax code.

The will must be probated, and it may stipulate that the money from the IRA is to be given to the deceased’s children.

These distributions to the children are taxed at their marginal tax rates. However, it is important to note that when an estate is an IRA beneficiary, the entire account must be withdrawn within five years.

If the executor moves the IRA directly into inherited IRAs for each of the beneficiary children, the beneficiaries would be responsible for paying the taxes.

If the executor withdraws the IRA assets, then the executor would pay the taxes from the estate assets.

You will need to speak with the custodian of the IRA to find out what is and is not permitted regarding distribution: are they allowed to roll the IRA into a beneficiary IRA, or can they divide the account into separate IRAs for the beneficiaries? The distribution must take place within five years, so keep that in mind when discussing options and goals for the IRA and the heirs. Our estate planning attorneys can help you determine your best tax options for the inherited IRA when settling the estate.


Reference: nj.com (January 7, 2019) “Who pays taxes on this inherited IRA?”

How Do I Include Retirement Accounts in Estate Planning?

You probably made beneficiary designations for your retirement accounts, when you opened them. Remember: who you designated can affect your overall estate planning objectives. Because of this, when including your retirement assets in your estate, ask yourself if anything has changed in your life since then that would affect their status as your beneficiaries, as well as how they’d receive the retirement assets.

Investopedia’s recent article, “Include Your Retirement Accounts in Your Estate,” gives us some things to consider in the New Year.

Beneficiary Designations. Review your beneficiary designations after major life changes. If you fail to make these designations, the funds will most likely go into your estate—a horrible outcome from a tax and planning perspective. If your estate is named a beneficiary, your heirs must wait until probate is finished to access your retirement accounts. It is usually better to name an individual or a retirement plan trust as your beneficiary.

Protecting Retirement Funds With a Trust. Another option is to include a retirement plan trust in your estate planning, instead of giving your retirement funds directly to named individuals. This allows you more control over the distribution while protecting your heirs from additional paperwork and taxes. Trust distributions keep a beneficiary from accessing and spending their inheritance all at once. It’s also a good idea if your beneficiaries include minor children who shouldn’t have direct access to the money until they are adults. Be sure to consult with an estate planning attorney, because there are tax and other complexities associated with designating a trust as beneficiary.

Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). Your retirement plans have rules about when you are required to start taking distributions. For 401(k) accounts, you are required to start taking RMDs at age 70½. However, if you die and leave retirement plans and accounts to your heirs, these rules apply to them instead. A spousal beneficiary can roll over your retirement funds tax-free into their retirement plan and make their own distribution choices. However, other beneficiaries don’t have the same option. Tax treatment and distribution options vary, depending on who is receiving your retirement assets.

Tax Considerations. The biggest worry you need to address when designating retirement accounts as part of your estate plan, is how they’ll be taxed. Consider how to withdraw from these accounts while you’re alive and how to minimize tax consequences after you’ve passed.

Our estate planning attorneys have a strong understanding of retirement accounts and the tax and legal requirements of estate planning. By working with our attorneys, you can be certain your retirement assets are distributed to the proper beneficiaries with the least tax liability.


Reference: Investopedia (August 27, 2018) “Include Your Retirement Accounts in Your Estate”

Baby Boomers Will Leave Trillions of Dollars to Their Heirs

During the next 25 years, Americans will transfer an estimated $68 trillion to their heirs and charities. Seventy percent of that amount, almost $48 trillion, will pass from baby boomers and most of that ($32 trillion) will go to members of Generation X. Although Americans who are currently between the ages of 50 and 70 will distribute some of their assets during their lifetimes, the remainder will get transferred through their estates after they die.

Because baby boomers will leave trillions of dollars to their heirs, they and their beneficiaries should learn about the financial consequences of this magnitude of wealth transfer. Prudent planning can prevent massive losses from unnecessary taxes and other negative financial outcomes. Every dollar that you legally avoid paying to the government, is a dollar you can one day give to charity or your loved ones.

Tax Traps

You might want to help your adult children or your grandchildren now, rather than having to wait until you die. Unfortunately, giving large amounts of money to them while you are alive, can trigger gift taxes. Depending on the amount of the gift, you might find that a large chunk of your money went to the government, instead of to your loved ones.

How you leave your assets can also impact the tax consequences for your heirs. For example, if you have a traditional individual retirement account (IRA) and you leave its proceeds to a beneficiary who is not your spouse, there can be a significant tax bill. In addition, some financial accounts have burdensome transfer fees, so you should check into this issue before deciding what to do with your assets.

One way to minimize taxes for your heirs is to set up a trust. The laws are different in every state, and the applicable federal laws can change at any time. Be sure to you talk with our elder law attorneys to set up your estate in a manner that takes tax consequences into consideration. This article does not give tax advice. You should talk with your tax advisor.

Talk with Your Beneficiaries

Open communication is essential when formulating a wealth transfer plan for your family. Some of your children might already have financial security and would prefer that you give the assets you would leave them to their children instead.

Surprises are seldom a good idea. When a sizeable inheritance drops into a person’s lap without warning, the recipient often lacks the money management skills to handle the assets. This fact is why many lottery winners go broke within a year or two of winning millions. Talking with your heirs can give them time to mentally prepare and educate themselves on investments and other financial issues.

When you talk with your beneficiaries, you can suggest a team of professionals who can advise them on how to safeguard the assets they will receive. If not handled properly, for example, your loved ones could lose a substantial portion of the inheritance in a divorce.

Our local elder law attorneys can advise you on the regulations in our state and how they may differ from the general law of this article.


References:
AARP. “Boomers Will Pass Along Trillions, Mostly to Gen Xers.” (accessed December 29, 2018) https://www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-2018/generational-wealth-transfer.html

Why Do I Need an Estate Plan?

Investopedia’s recent article, “4 Reasons Estate Planning Is So Important,” says you should think about the following four reasons you should have an estate plan. According to the article, doing so can help avoid potentially devastating consequences for your family.

  1. An Estate Plan Keeps Your Assets from Going to Unintended Beneficiaries. Families need to plan in the event something unfortunate happens to a family’s breadwinner(s). A primary part of estate planning is choosing heirs for your assets. Without an estate plan, a judge will decide who gets your assets. This process can take years and can get heated. There’s no guarantee the judge will automatically rule that the surviving spouse gets everything.
  2. An Estate Plan Protects Your Young Children. If you are the parent of minor children, you need to name their guardians, in the event that both parents die before the children turn 18. Without including this in your will (in most, but not all states), the courts will make this decision.
  3. An Estate Plan Eliminates a Large Tax Burden for Your Heirs. Estate planning means protecting your loved ones—that also entails providing them with protection from the IRS. Your estate plan should transfer assets to your heirs and create the smallest tax burden as possible for them. Without a plan, the amount your heirs will owe the government could be substantial.
  4. An Estate Plan Reduces Family Headaches After You’ve Passed. There are plenty of horror stories about how the family starts fighting after the death of a loved one. You can avoid this. One way is to carefully choose who controls your finances and assets, if you become mentally incapacitated or after you die. This goes a long way towards eliminating family strife and making certain that your assets are handled in the way you want.

If you want to protect your assets and your loved ones after you’re gone, you need an estate plan. Without one, your heirs could face large tax burdens and the courts could decide how your assets are divided or who will care for your children. Our estate planning attorneys can help you create an estate plan to take care of your loved ones.


Reference: Investopedia (May 25, 2018) “4 Reasons Estate Planning Is So Important”

What are the Estate and Gift Tax Limits for 2019?

Forbes’ recent article, “IRS Announces Higher 2019 Estate And Gift Tax Limits,” explains that for the very rich, these new estate and gift tax limits are planning opportunities.

For the rest of us, they’re a reminder that even if you don’t have a taxable estate, you still need an estate plan.

The Trump tax cuts severely reduced the number of estates that will be subject to the federal estate tax this year. The tax reform doubles the exemption amount from a base level of $5 million per person.

There were just about 1,890 taxable estates in 2018, according to the Tax Policy Center, compared to 4,687 taxable estates in 2013 with a base $5 million exemption. There were 52,000 taxable estates in 2000, when the exemption was $675,000.

An unlimited marital deduction lets you leave all or part of your assets to your surviving spouse free of federal estate tax. However, to use your late spouse’s unused exemption (known as “portability”), you must elect it on the estate tax return of the first spouse to die—even when no tax is due. The issue is, if you don’t know what portability is and how to elect it, you could be surprised with a huge federal estate tax bill. That should be part of your conversation with your estate planning attorney.

If you live in one of the 17 states or DC that impose separate estate and/or inheritance taxes, there’s even more at risk. Death taxes sometimes start with the first dollar of an estate.

Several states planned to match the federal exemption amount for 2018. However, state legislators thought that the new doubled estate and gift tax exemption was just too high.

Most states haven’t released their inflation-adjusted numbers yet for 2019.

Speak to our estate planning attorneys to learn if or how the estate and gift tax limits affect you.


Reference: Forbes (November 15, 2018) “IRS Announces Higher 2019 Estate And Gift Tax Limits”

Mind the Gap: Estate Tax Cliff

“When the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act went into effect, many clients and advisors assumed that their days of worrying about the estate tax were largely over. Not so fast.”

The big news was that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act doubled the federal estate tax exemption to $11.18 million per person (and $22.36 million per couple, with portability). This enormous exemption increase gave many Americans who are in the highest of all tax brackets a reason to cheer. However, in reality, few wealthy Americans ever pay the tax. However, according to “Beware the Estate Tax Cliff,” an article appearing in Wealth Management, it’s not all good news. …

A Completely Different View of 401(k)s and Retirement Savings

“A 401(k) plan ensures that you have money to spend during your retirement years. However, there are reasons why a 401(k) stinks.”

It’s almost always enlightening to hear from a different perspective, even in finance. This article from Born2Invest, “Retirement planning: The downsides of your 401(k),” takes a somewhat contrarian view of retirement accounts in general and the use of 401(k)s in particular. We may not agree. However, it’s worth the read. …

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