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Serving Southwest Florida

Helping clients plan for their family's future, by creating an efficient, thoughtful and comprehensive estate plan that preserves their legacy and gives them peace of mind.

Estate Planning for Snowbirds

This post explains the need for new estate planning for snowbirds.

The U.S. Constitution requires states to give “full faith and credit” to the laws of other states. As a result, your will, trust, power of attorney, and health care proxy executed in one state should be honored in every other state.

Although that’s the way it should work, the practical realities are different and depend on the document, says Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Moving to a New State? Be Sure to Update Your Estate Plan.”

Your last will should still be legally valid in the new state. However, the new state may have different probate laws that make certain provisions of the will invalid.  In Florida, a personal representative must be a Florida resident or related to the person making the will.  This epitomizes the role of estate planning for snowbirds.

Powers of attorney and health care directives are authorized by each state in its statutes. As a result these estate planning documents may not be honored from state to state, and sometimes banks, medical professionals, and financial and health care institutions will refuse to accept the documents and forms. They may have their own, as is the case frequently with banks.

You should also know that the execution requirements of your estate planning documents may be different, depending on the state.  Florida requires that the maker of a will sign the document in the presence of two witnesses who also sign in the presence of each other and the maker.

Also, there are some states, such as Florida, that require witnesses on durable powers of attorney, and others that do not. A state that requires witnesses may not allow a power of attorney without witnesses to be used to convey real estate, even though the document is perfectly valid in the state where it was drafted and signed.  Again, this is another reason to engage in estate planning for snowbirds.

With health care proxies, other states may use different terms for the document, such as “durable power of attorney for health care” or “advance directive.”

When you move to a different state, it’s also a smart move to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to make certain that your estate plan in general is up to date. There are also other changes in circumstances—like a change in income or marital status—that can also have an impact on your estate plan. Moreover, there may be practical changes you may want to make. For example, you may want to change your trustee or agent under a power of attorney based on which family members will be closer in proximity.

For all these reasons, when you move out of state it’s wise to have an experienced estate planning attorney in your new home state review your estate planning documents and help with estate planning for snowbirds.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Jan. 26, 2021) “Moving to a New State? Be Sure to Update Your Estate Plan”

Communicating Your Estate Plan

This post stresses the importance of communicating your estate plan with your children.  Some $68 trillion will move between generations in the next two decades, reports U.S. News & World Report in the article “Discuss Your Estate Plan With Your Children.” Having this conversation with your adult children, especially if they are members of Generation X, could have a profound impact on the quality of your relationship and your legacy.

Staying on top of and communicating your estate plan with your children will also have an impact on how much of your estate is consumed by estate taxes. The historically high federal exemptions are not going to last forever—even without any federal legislation, they sunset in 2025, which isn’t far away.

One of the purposes of your estate plan is to transfer money as you wish. What most people do is talk with an estate planning attorney to create an estate plan. They create trusts, naming their child as the trustee, or simple wills naming their child as the executor. Then, the parents drop the ball.

Talk with your children about the role of trustee and/or executor. Help them understand the responsibilities that these roles require and ask if they will be comfortable handling the decision making, as well as the money. Include the Power of Attorney role in communicating your estate plan.

What most parents refuse to discuss with their children is money, plain and simple. Children will be better equipped, if they know what financial institutions hold your accounts and are introduced to your estate planning attorney, CPA and financial advisor.

You might at some point forget about some investments, or the location of some accounts as you age. If your children have a working understanding of your finances, estate plan and your wishes, they will be able to get going and you will have spared them an estate scavenger hunt.

If possible, hold a family meeting with your advisors, so everyone is comfortable and up to speed.  Advisors can help with communicating your estate plan.

Most adult children do not have the same experience with taxes as parents who have acquired wealth over their lifetimes. They may not understand the concepts of qualified and non-qualified accounts, step-up in cost basis, life insurance proceeds, or a probate asset versus a non-probate asset. It is critical that they understand how taxes impact estates and investments. By explaining things like tax-free distributions from a Roth IRA, for instance, you will increase the likelihood that your life savings aren’t battered by taxes.

Even if your adult children work in finance, do not assume they understand your investments, your tax-planning, or your estate. Even the smartest people make expensive mistakes, when handling family estates.

Communicating your estate plan is another way to show your children that you care enough to set your own ego aside and are thinking about their future. It’s a way to connect not just about your money or your taxes, but about their futures. Knowing that you purchased a life insurance policy specifically to provide them with money for a home purchase, or to fund a grandchild’s college education, sends a clear message. Don’t miss the opportunity to share that with them, while you are living.  Let us help you create and communicate your estate plan.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Feb. 17, 2021) “Discuss Your Estate Plan With Your Children”

Trust as Beneficiary of an IRA

Is naming a trust as beneficiary of an IRA a good plan? The IRA usually loses the benefit of tax deferral, due to the fact that it has to be distributed faster than in other scenarios. There are only a few cases when a trust as beneficiary can avoid this problem.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Should A Living Trust Be Beneficiary Of Your IRA?” explains that the general rule is when an IRA beneficiary isn’t an individual, the IRA must be distributed fully within five years. When a trust, an estate, or a business entity is named as beneficiary, the IRA must be distributed quickly, and it’s then taxed. However, there’s an exception when you name a trust that qualifies as a “look-through” or “see-through” trust under IRS rules. To draft this type of trust, work with an experienced estate planning attorney to be certain that it avoids the five-year rule. Even so, the IRA must be distributed to the trust within 10 years, in most instances.

Another exception says there may not be a penalty when you name your spouse’s revocable living trust as the beneficiary of an IRA. Consider a recent IRS ruling that involved a married couple. The husband owned an IRA and had started to take required minimum distributions (RMDs). He died and had named a trust as sole beneficiary of his IRA. The wife had previously established the trust and was the sole beneficiary and sole trustee of the trust. She could amend or revoke the trust and could distribute all income and principal of the trust for her own benefit. In effect, it was a standard revocable living trust that is primarily used to avoid probate. The widow wanted to exercise the spousal option for an inherited IRA to roll the IRA over to an IRA in her name. The move would give her a new start, letting her manage the IRA, without reference to her late husband’s IRA. She could begin her RMDs based on her own required beginning date and life expectancy. She also could designate her own beneficiaries of the IRA.

The widow asked the IRS to rule that the IRA could be rolled over tax free into an IRA in her name. She wanted to have the IRA balance distributed directly to her to roll it over to an IRA in her own name within 60 days. The IRS said that was okay, noting that she was the trustee and sole beneficiary of the trust. She was entitled to all income and principal of the trust. Moreover, she was the surviving spouse of the deceased IRA owner.

In this situation, the widow was the sole person for whose benefit the IRA is maintained. As such, she can take a distribution from the inherited IRA and roll it over to an IRA in her own name without having to include any of the distribution in gross income, provided the rollover was accomplished within 60 days of the distribution.

Although this was a good answer for the widow, you may not want to name a living trust or your estate as the beneficiary of your IRA, even under similar circumstances. She had to apply to the IRS for a private ruling to be sure of the tax results, which is an expensive and time-consuming process.

This can be very complicated, so talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about your specific situation.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Dec. 29, 2020) “Should A Living Trust Be Beneficiary Of Your IRA?”

Trusts and Probate

This post explores the relationship between a trust and probate. A living trust is a trust that’s created during a person’s lifetime, explains nj.com’s recent article entitled “Will a living trust help with probate and inheritance taxes?”

For example, Florida’s Uniform Trust Code governs the creation and validity of trusts. A real benefit of a trust is that its assets aren’t subject to the probate process.

Under Florida law, a revocable living trust is governed by Florida Statute § 736.0402. For a grantor to create a valid revocable trust in Florida, these elements are required:

  • The grantor must have capacity to create the trust
  • The grantor must indicate an intent to create a trust
  • The trust must have a definite beneficiary
  • The trustee must have duties to perform; and
  • The same person can’t be the sole trustee and sole beneficiary.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney and he or she will tell you that no matter where you’re residing, the element that most estate planning attorneys concentrate on is the first—the capacity to create the trust. In most states, the capacity to create a revocable trust is the same capacity required to create a last will and testament.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about the mental capacity required to make a will in your state. Some state laws say that it’s a significantly lower threshold than the legal standards for other capacity requirements, like making a contract.

However, if a person lacks capacity when making a will, then the validity of the will can be questioned. The person contesting the will has the burden to prove that the testator’s mental capacity impacted the creation of the will.

Note that the assets in a trust may be subject to income tax and may be includable in the grantor’s estate for purposes of determining whether estate or inheritance taxes are owed. State laws differ on this. There are many different types of living trusts that have different tax consequences, so you should talk to an experienced estate planning attorney to see if a living trust is right for your specific situation.

Reference: nj.com (Jan. 11, 2021) “Will a living trust help with probate and inheritance taxes?”

Increasing Your Social Security Benefits

Plans for increasing your Social Security benefits are a relatively new phenomenon. For decades, people received their monthly benefit check and that was it. However, in the late 1990s, a new law let seniors over age 66 work without any reduction in benefits, says the article “Social Security & You: Seniors obsess over ‘maximizing’ their Social Security” from Tuscon.com. The law led to loopholes that became known as “file and suspend” and “file and restrict.” In a nutshell, they allowed retirees to collect dependent spousal benefits on a spouse’s Social Security record, while delaying their own benefits until age 70.

Congress eventually realized that these loopholes violated the basic concept of the program. Benefits to spouses were always known as “dependent” benefits. To claim benefits as a spouse, you had to prove that you were financially dependent upon the other spouse to collect benefits on their record. However, the loophole let people who were the primary wage earner in the family claim benefits as a “dependent” of the other spouse. Five years ago, Congress closed that loophole.

More specifically, Congress closed the file-and-suspend strategy for increasing your Social Security benefits. It also put file-and-restrict on notice. If you turned 66 before January 2020, you could still wiggle through that loophole, and there are some people who are still eligible. That’s where the term “maximizing your benefits” originated.

Can you increase your Social Security benefits, if you don’t fit into the exception noted above? The only real strategy to maximizing your benefits is simply to wait. The equation is pretty simple. If you wait until your Full Retirement Age (FRA), you will receive 100% of your benefit rate. If you can wait until age 70, you’ll receive 132% of your benefit.

In some households, the higher income earner waits until age 70 to file for retirement, so that the surviving spouse will one day receive higher surviving spouse benefits.

But that’s not the best advice for everyone. If you or your spouse suffer from a chronic illness, it may not make sense to wait.

If you or your spouse have lost your jobs, as so many have because of the pandemic, then more important than increasing your Social Security benefits may be using it as the safety net that you need, until you are able to return to some kind of paid employment.

There may be other reasons why you might need to take your benefits earlier, even earlier than your FRA. Some households start taking their Social Security benefits at age 62, as a way to augment other income.  These consideration may outweigh increasing your Social Security benefits.

If you don’t already have a “My Social Security” account set up on the Social Security Administration’s portal, now is the time to do so. The Social Security Administration stopped sending annual statements years ago, but you can go into your account and download the statements yourself and start planning for your future.  An estate planning attorney can also help with this planning.

Reference: Tuscon.com (Feb. 10, 2021) “Social Security & You: Seniors obsess over ‘maximizing’ their Social Security”

The Probate Process

How you handle your property when you are living determines if and how your estate is administered during the probate process.  While you are living, you have the right to give anyone any property of your choosing. If you give your power to gift your property to another person, typically through a Power of Attorney, then that person is your agent and may give away your property, according to an article “Explaining the basic aspects probate” from The News-Enterprise. When you die, the Power of Attorney you gave to an agent ends, and they are no longer in control of your estate. Your “estate” is not a big fancy house, but a legal term used to define the total of everything you own.

Property that you owned while living, unless it was owned jointly with another person, or had a beneficiary designation giving the property to another person upon your death, is distributed through the probate process. However, probate administration requires a series of steps.

First, you need to have had created a will while you were living. Unlike most legal documents (including the Power of Attorney mentioned above), a will is valid when it is properly signed. However, it can’t be used until a probate case is opened at the local probate court. If the Court deems the will to be valid, the probate process is called “testate” and the executor named in the will may go forward with settling the estate (paying legitimate debts, taxes and expenses), before distributing assets.

If you did not have a will, or if the will was not prepared correctly and is deemed invalid by the court, the probate process is called “intestate” and the court appoints an administrator to follow the state’s laws concerning how property is to be distributed. You may not agree with how the state law directs property distribution. Your spouse or your family may not like it either, but the law itself decides who gets what.

After opening a probate case, the court will appoint a personal representative (or executor) to administer the probate process. The personal representative will have a legal notice published in the local newspaper, so any creditors can file a claim against the estate.  In Florida, the claims period (the amount of time the creditors have to file a claim after publishing the notice) is three months.

The personal representative will create a list of all of the property and the claims submitted by any creditors. It is their job to ensure that claims are valid and have been submitted within the correct timeframe. They will also be in charge of cleaning out your home, securing your home and other possessions, then selling the house and distributing your personal furnishings.

Depending on the size of the estate, the personal representative’s job may be time consuming and complex. If you left good documentation and lists of assets, a clean file system or, best of all, an estate binder with all your documents and information in one place, it can alleviate a lot of stress for your executor and help simplify the probate process. Personal representatives who are left with little information or a disorganized mess must undertake an expensive and burdensome scavenger hunt.

The personal representative is entitled to a fee for their work, which is usually a percentage of the estate.

The probate process ends when all of the property has been gathered, creditors have been paid and beneficiaries have received their distributions.

With a properly prepared estate plan, your property will be distributed according to your wishes, versus hoping the state’s laws will serve your family. You can also use the estate planning process to create the necessary documents to protect you during life, including a Power of Attorney and Advance Medical Directive.  Let us help you plan to avoid the probate process.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Feb. 2, 2021) “Explaining the basic aspects probate”

Death of a Spouse

Mourning the death of a spouse can be one of the hardest experiences one can face. The emotional aspects of grief can also be difficult enough without having to concern yourself whether you’re financially unprepared.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Financial planning considerations after the loss of a spouse” says that at the death of a spouse, there can be many impacts to the financial picture. These can include changes in income, estate planning and dealing with IRA and insurance distributions. The first step, however, is understanding and quantifying the financial changes that may happen when your spouse dies.

Income Changes – Social Security. A drop in income is frequently an unforeseen reality for many surviving spouses at the death of a spouse, especially those who are on Social Security benefits. For retirees without dependents that have reached full retirement age, the surviving spouse will typically get the greater of their social security or their deceased spouse’s benefits – but not both. For example, let’s assume Dirk and Melinda are receiving $2,000 and $1,500 per month in Social Security benefits, respectively. In the event Dirk dies, Melinda will no longer receive her benefit and will only receive Dirk’s $2,000 benefit. That is a 42% reduction in total social security income received.

Social Security benefits typically start at 62, but a widow’s benefit can be available at age 60 for the survivor or at 50 if the survivor is disabled within seven years of the spouse’s death. Moreover, unmarried children under 18 (up to age 19 if attending elementary or secondary school full time) of a worker who passes away may also be eligible to get Social Security survivor benefits.

Income Changes – Pension Benefits. This is another type of income that may be decreased because of the death of a spouse. Those eligible to receive a pension often choose little or no survivorship benefits, which results in a sudden drop in income. Therefore, a single life annuity pension payment will end at the worker’s death leaving the survivor with no additional benefits. However, a 50% survivor option will pay 50% of the worker’s benefit to the surviving spouse at their death. A surviving spouse needs to understand what, if any pension benefits will continue and the financial effect of these changes.

Spousal IRA Benefits. Spouses must understand their options for inherited retirement accounts at the death of a spouse. A spousal beneficiary can roll the funds to their own IRA account, which lets the spousal beneficiary delay Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) until age 72. In this case, the spousal beneficiary’s life expectancy is used to calculate future RMDs. This may be appropriate for those over 59½, but spousal beneficiaries under that age that require retirement account distributions may subject themselves to early withdrawal penalties, including a tax and a 10% early withdrawal penalty, even on inherited funds. Spouses younger than 59½ may consider rolling the account to a beneficial or inherited IRA for more flexibility. In this case, RMDs will be taken annually based upon the life expectancy of the beneficiary, with distributions avoiding the 10% penalty. Distributions greater than the RMD may also be taken, while still avoiding early withdrawal penalties. Inherited IRAs can be a great tool for spousal beneficiaries who need income now to help support their lifestyle but have not reached 59½.

Updating the Estate Plan of the Surviving Spouse. It is easy to forget to review your estate plan drafted before the death of your spouse. Check on this with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Updating Financial Planning Projections. You don’t want to make any major decisions after the death of a spouse, you can still review the numbers. Create a new financial plan to help provide clarity.

Reference: nj.com (Jan. 9, 2021) “Financial planning considerations after the loss of a spouse”

Living Trusts

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Will a living trust save time and money when settling an estate?” explains that, although probate avoidance is often thought of as a reason to have a living trust, generally speaking, many people who have living trusts also have what are known as “pour-over wills.”

The reason? Individuals frequently have assets that they have not placed into a living trust, such as tangible personal property. Those are things like furniture and household furnishings, a car, or a small bank account. It may also be necessary to open an estate because of unclaimed funds held by the state, a tax refund or return of insurance premiums.

Pour-over wills typically are written so the estate assets will pour over or pour into the living trust at the death of the person who created the trust.

Living trusts have the benefit of privacy and the elimination of challenges to the estate. A trust can also be used to separate assets acquired before a marriage; or as a vehicle to manage the assets of a person with diminished or lack of capacity, such as a person suffering from dementia.

It’s important to note that financial institutions can freeze up to 50% of the assets in an estate, until a tax waiver is obtained. However, tax waivers aren’t required to transfer legal ownership of trust assets after the death of the person who created the living trust. Therefore, financial institutions can’t similarly freeze up to half of the assets in a trust for that reason.

However, there can also be a few disadvantages to creating a trust. The cost of creating a revocable trust and a pour-over will is more than the cost of preparing just a will.

There may also be expenses involved with transferring assets, such as real property, into a living trust.

The legal fees incurred in administering a probate estate are almost always more than legal fees incurred in administering a trust after the death of the trust maker.

Moreover, the time it takes to settle an estate may be longer than what it takes to distribute trust assets. That is because it may take months to probate a will and obtain a tax waiver.

However, if the individual has relatively few assets that would be subject to probate, the cost of establishing a living trust may be more costly than administering an estate.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about whether a revocable living trust makes sense for your unique circumstances.

Reference: nj.com (Feb. 8, 2021) “Will a living trust save time and money when settling an estate?” 

Charitable Remainder Trusts and IRAs

A Charitable Remainder Trust can solve estate planning issues with Individual Retirement Accounts.  Since the mid-1970s, saving in a tax-deferred employer-sponsored retirement plan has been a great way to save for retirement, while also deferring current income tax. Many workers put some of their paychecks into 401(k)s, which can later be transferred to a traditional Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Others save directly in IRAs.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Worried about Passing Down a Big IRA? Consider a CRT” says that taking lifetime IRA distributions can give a retiree a comfortable standard of living long after he or she gets their last paycheck. Another benefit of saving in an IRA is that the investor’s children can continue to take distributions taxed as ordinary income after his or her death, until the IRA is depleted.

Saving in a tax-deferred plan and letting a non-spouse beneficiary take an extended stretch payout using a beneficiary IRA has been a significant component of leaving a legacy for families. However, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019 (the SECURE Act), which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, eliminated this.

Under the new law (with a few exceptions for minors, disabled beneficiaries, or the chronically ill), a beneficiary who isn’t the IRA owner’s spouse is required to withdraw all funds from a beneficiary IRA within 10 years. Therefore, the “stretch IRA” has been eliminated.

However, there is an option for extending IRA distributions to a child beyond the 10-year limit imposed by the SECURE Act: it’s a Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT). This trust provides for distributions of a fixed percentage or fixed amount to one or more beneficiaries for life or a term of less than 20 years. The remainder of the assets will then be paid to one or more charities at the end of the trust term.

Charitable Remainder Trusts can provide that a fixed percentage of the trust assets at the time of creation will be given to the current individual beneficiaries, with the remainder being given to charity, in the case of a Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust (CRAT). There is also a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT), where the amount distributed to the individual beneficiaries will vary from year to year, based on the changing value of the trust. With both trusts, the amount of the charity’s remainder interest must be at least 10% of the value of the trust at its inception.

Implementing a Charitable Remainder Trust to extend distributions from a traditional IRA can have tax advantages and can complement the rest of a comprehensive estate plan. It can be very effective when your current beneficiary has taxable income from other sources and resources, in addition to the beneficiary IRA.  It can also be effective in protecting the IRA assets from a beneficiary’s creditors or for planning with potential marital property, while providing the beneficiary a lengthy predictable income stream.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney, if one of these trusts might fit into your comprehensive estate plan.

Reference: Kiplinger (Feb. 8, 2021) “Worried about Passing Down a Big IRA? Consider a CRT”