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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.

Avoiding Probate

Estate planning attorneys are often asked if one of the goals of an estate plan is avoiding probate, regardless of the cost. The answer to that question is no, but a better question is the more even-tempered “Should I try to avoid probate?” In that case, the answer is “It depends.” A closer look at this question is provided in the recent article from The Daily Sentinel, “Estate Planning: Is Probate Something to Avoid at All Costs?”

Probate is not always a nightmare, depending upon where a decedent lived. Probate is a court process conducted by judges, who usually understand the difficulty executors and families are facing, and their support staff who genuinely care about the families involved. This is not everywhere, but your estate planning attorney will know what your local probate court is like. With that in mind, there are certain pitfalls to probate and there are situations where avoiding probate does make sense for your family.

In the case where it makes sense to avoid probate, whatever planning strategy is being used to avoid probate must be carefully evaluated. Does it make sense, or does it create further issues? Here’s an example of how this can backfire. A person provided their estate planning attorney with a copy of an Enhanced Life Estate Deed, which is a deed that transfers property to a designated person (called a “grantee”) immediately upon the death of the person who signed the deed (called a “grantor”).

The deed had been signed and recorded properly with the recorder’s office, just as a typical deed would be during the sale of a home. Note that an Enhanced Life Estate Deed does not transfer the title of ownership, until the grantor dies.

Here’s where things went bad. No one knew about the deed, except for the grantor and the grantee. The remainder of the estate plan did not mention anything about the Enhanced Life Estate Deed. When the grantor died, ownership of the property was transferred to the grantee. However, the will contained conflicting instructions about the property and who was to inherit it.

Instead of avoiding probate, the grantor’s estate was tied up in court for more than a year. The family was torn apart, and the costs to resolve the matter were substantial.

Had the deceased simply relied upon the probate process or coordinated the transfer of ownership with his estate planning attorney, the intended person would have received the property and the family would have been spared the cost and stress. Sticking with the use of a last will and testament and the probate process would have protected everyone involved.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help determine the best approach for the family, with or without probate.  Let us help you plan to avoid probate.

Reference: The Daily Sentinel (Oct. 3, 2020) “Estate Planning: Is Probate Something to Avoid at All Costs?”

 

Planning for Social Security Benefits

Planning for Social Security benefits can save you a lot of money.  You’re entitled to your full monthly Social Security benefit based on your earnings history when you hit your full retirement age (“FRA”).

Your FRA is either 66, 67, or somewhere in between, depending on when you were born. However, you can enroll in Social Security as early as age 62.

However, for each month you claim benefits ahead of FRA, it reduces the amount for the rest of your life.

Motley Fool’s recent article entitled “3 Reasons to Claim Social Security Benefits Early” says it may pay to enroll early, if one of these situations applies to you.

  1. You need cash ASAP. It’s not uncommon for seniors to lose their jobs and have a hard time securing employment again. Others are forced to stop working due to health issues (either theirs or that of a family member).

If you require money immediately, then you might not have the option of weighing whether claiming Social Security early is a good idea. You’ll just have to go ahead to get by.

It’s better to claim your benefits early at a lower rate, than adding costly debt to survive.

  1. Your health is a concern. Social Security is supposed to pay you the same total lifetime benefit. As a result, filing early will give you less money each month, but more years of benefits. This, in effect, simply means stretching that total payout for a longer time period. If you delay, it will have the opposite effect. You get a bigger monthly benefit but over fewer years.

This formula is designed so you break even, if you live an average lifespan. However, if your health isn’t good, and you don’t expect to live all that long, then filing for benefits early could be the right move. This could ensure that Social Security ultimately pays you the largest amount of money.

  1. You want to have fun in retirement, while you’re younger. Filing for benefits before your FRA may let you really enjoy travel and other experiences, while your health permits. However, if you don’t have a lot of retirement savings, you may need to wait on filing for benefits to avoid financial difficulties later on. However, with a good-size nest egg, it pays to claim your money when it will do you the most good.

Take the time to consider your options for claiming your benefits. Planning for Social Security benefits will help you to avoid regretting your choice. Consult with a financial advisor with expertise and experience in retirement planning.  Let us help you plan.

Reference: Motley Fool  (Oct. 6, 2020) “3 Reasons to Claim Social Security Benefits Early”

 

Healthcare in Retirement?

Of the many expenses for retirees, healthcare in retirement can be one of the biggest. There are Medicare premiums and prescription drugs. These healthcare expenses can take up a large part of your retirement savings. Some projections say that the average 65-year-old man today will spend $189,687 on healthcare expenses in retirement, and a typical 65-year-old woman will spend $214,565. These figures don’t include long-term care, such as nursing home expenses.

Motley Fool’s recent entitled “How to Save Money on Healthcare in Retirement” explains that there are steps you can take to decrease your healthcare costs in retirement. Let’s look at a few ways to save money, when you’re limited to a fixed income.

  1. Use Medicare’s free preventive services. Medicare eligibility starts at age 65. Once enrolled, you have access to many no-cost benefits aimed at helping you stay healthy. However, many seniors don’t take advantage of these services and lose an opportunity to get ahead of health issues. Medicare enrollees get a free wellness visit with a doctor every year, and scheduling that could help avoid a separate bill later. Many critical health screenings are also free under Medicare, including mammograms and certain cancer screenings, diabetes testing and depression screenings. Taking advantage of these free services is a great way to keep your health in the best possible shape, which will lower your overall healthcare costs.
  2. Nip health issues in the bud. Small health issues can become big ones, if left unattended. An easy way to save money on healthcare in retirement, is to address medical issues before they get worse.
  3. Look at a Medicare Advantage Plan. One reason why healthcare in retirement is so expensive, is that many essential services aren’t covered under traditional Medicare, like dental care, vision services and hearing aids. If you opt for a Medicare Advantage plan, however, you might save money on these and other critical services. Medicare Advantage typically provides a wider range of benefits, and in some cases, you could wind up paying less for Medicare Advantage than traditional Medicare—with that improved coverage. Medicare Advantage can also save you money, by decreasing your out-of-pocket spending. Most of these plans put a cap on that figure, but traditional Medicare has no limits on your yearly costs.
  4. Compare the Best Prescription Drug Plan. If you take prescription drugs, you need to find a cost-effective plan. If you’re enrolled in traditional Medicare, you’ll need a separate Part D plan to cover your drug costs. However, not all plans are the same. Do some comparison shopping to see which plans offer the best deals, based on the medications you’re taking.
  5. Purchase Long-Term Care Insurance. At least 70% of seniors age 65 and over will require some type of long-term care in their lifetime. That’s why long-term care insurance is needed. The younger you are when you apply, the more likely you’re going to get approved and get the best rates.

Saving money on healthcare in retirement will let your nest egg last longer and buy you more freedom to enjoy your golden years. Learn about healthcare costs, so you’re ready to lower your expenses and avoid the financial stress that so many of today’s seniors face.  Let us help you plan your retirement and estate.

Reference: Motley Fool (May 19, 2020) “How to Save Money on Healthcare in Retirement”

 

Trusts And Life Insurance

A trust is a legal vehicle in which assets are legally titled and held for the benefit of another party, the beneficiary, explains Forbes’ recent article entitled “How To Fund A Trust With Life Insurance.” The article says that trusts are often funded with a life insurance policy. This will provide assets to be used after the death of the insured for the benefit of their family. If you are a parent of minor children, the combination of trusts and life insurance may be the best way to make certain that your children have their financial needs satisfied and also make sure the assets are used in ways you want.

Trusts are either revocable or irrevocable. A revocable living trust is the most frequently used type of trust. It has some major benefits, like the ability to avoid probate, which can be an expensive and lengthy process. Assets in a revocable trust are accessible much more quickly than those left through a will.  Because they’re revocable, the person who creates the trust (the grantor) can also make adjustments to the trust, as their situation changes.

A grantor will fund the trust with assets for the trust beneficiaries. For parents of minor children, life insurance is an inexpensive tactic to make certain that your children are cared for after your death. Typically, each parent buys a life insurance policy, and in a two-parent household, usually each spouse names the other as the primary beneficiary with a revocable living trust as the contingent beneficiary.

If the second parents were to die, the life insurance policies would pay to the trust. The trustee would manage the trust assets for the minor children. Funding a trust with life insurance also benefits heirs, because it provides liquidity right after your death. Other assets like investment accounts and real estate can be very illiquid or have tax consequences. As a result, it can take a while to get to that equity.

On the other hand, term life insurance is a fast and tax-free funding way to build a trust. Purchase a term life policy that will last until your children are adults and out of college. In using life insurance with your children as beneficiaries of the trust, you also have some control over the assets. If you name minor children as beneficiaries on a life insurance policy, they won’t be able to use the money until they are an adult. Some children may also not be financially responsible enough to manage money as young adults in their 20s.

If you already own a life insurance policy and want to create a trust, you can transfer ownership of the policy to the trust. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Forbes (Sep. 17, 2020) “How To Fund A Trust With Life Insurance”

 

Everyone Needs an Estate Plan

Many people think you have to be a millionaire to need an estate plan and investing in one is too costly for an average American. Not true! People of modest means actually need an estate plan more than the wealthy to protect what they have. A recent article from TAPinto.net explains the basics in “Estate Planning–Getting Your Affairs in Order Does Not Need to be Complicated or Expensive.”

Everyone needs an estate plan consisting of the following documents: a Last Will and Testament, a General Durable Power of Attorney and an Advance Medical Directive or Living Will.

Unless your estate is valued at more than $11.58 million, you may not be as concerned about federal estate taxes right now, but this may change in the near future. Some states, like Florida, don’t have any state estate tax at all. There are states, like Pennsylvania, which have an “inheritance” tax determined based on the relationship the person has with the decedent. However, taxes aren’t the only reason to have an estate plan.

If you have young children, your will is the legal document used to tell your personal representative and the court who you want to care for your minor children by naming their guardian. The will is also used to explain how your minor children’s inheritance should be managed by naming trustees.

Why do you need a Durable Power of Attorney? This is the document that you need to name a person to be in charge of your affairs, if you become incapacitated and can’t make or communicate decisions. Without a DPOA in place, no one, not even your spouse, has the legal authority to manage your financial and legal affairs. Your family would have to go to court and file a guardianship action, which can be expensive, take time to complete and create unnecessary stress for the family.

Advance Medical Directives, also known as a Designation of Health Care Surrogate and Living Will, is used to let a person of your choice make medical decisions, if you are unable to do so. This is a very important document to have, especially if you have strong feelings about being kept alive by artificial means. The Advance Medical Directive gives you an opportunity to express your wishes for end of life care, as well as giving another person the legal right to make medical decisions on your behalf. Without it, a guardianship may need to be established, wasting critical time if an emergency situation occurs.

Most people of modest means need only these three documents, but they can make a big difference to protect the family. If the family includes disabled children or individuals, owns a business or real estate, there are other documents needed to address these more complex situations. However, simple or complex, your estate and your family deserve the protection of an estate plan.

Let us help you with your Estate Plan.

Reference: TAPinto.net (Sep. 23, 2020) “Estate Planning–Getting Your Affairs in Order Does Not Need to be Complicated or Expensive”

 

Planning With Digital Assets

One of the challenges facing estate plans today is a new class of assets, known as digital property or digital assets. When a person dies, what happens to their digital lives? According to the article “Digital assets important part of modern estate planning” from the Cleveland Jewish News, digital property needs to be included in an estate plan, just like any other property.

What is a digital asset? There are many, but the basics include things like social media—Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat—as well as financial accounts, bank and investment accounts, blogs, photo sharing accounts, cloud storage, text messages, emails and more. If it has a username and a password and you access it on a digital device, consider it a digital asset.

Business and household files stored on a local computer or in the cloud should also be considered as digital property. The same goes for any cryptocurrency; Bitcoin is the most well-known type, and there are many others.

The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) has been adopted by almost all states to provide legal guidance on rights to access digital property for four (4) different types of fiduciaries: executors, trustees, agents under a financial power of attorney and guardians. The law allows people the right to grant not only their digital property, but the contents of their communications. It establishes a three-tier system for the user, the most important part being if the person expresses permission in an online platform for a specific asset, directly with the custodian of a digital platform, that is the controlling law. If they have not done so, they can provide for permission to be granted in their estate planning documents. They can also allow or forbid people to gain access to their digital property.

If a person does not take either of these steps, the terms of service they agreed to with the platform custodian governs the rights to access or deny access to their digital property.

It’s important to discuss this new asset class with your estate planning attorney to ensure that your estate plan addresses your digital property. Having a list of your digital property is a first step, but it’s just the start. Leaving the family to fight with a tech giant to gain access to digital accounts is a stressful legacy to leave behind.

Let us help you address digital assets in your estate plan.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (Sep. 24, 2020) “Digital assets important part of modern estate planning”

 

Review Your Estate Plan

This post will touch on why it is important to review your estate plan. Transferring the management of assets if and when you are unable to manage them yourself because of disability or death is the basic reason for an estate plan. This goes for people with $100 or $100 million. Whether you know it or not, you already have an estate plan, because every state has laws addressing how assets are managed and who will inherit your assets, known as the Laws of Intestacy, if you do not have a will created. However, the estate plan created by your state’s laws might not be what you want, explains the article “Auditing Your Estate Plan” appearing in Forbes.

To take more control over your estate, you’ll want to have an estate planning attorney create an estate plan drafted to achieve your goals. To do so, you’ll need to start by defining your estate planning objectives. What are you trying to accomplish?

  • Provide for a surviving spouse or family
  • Save on income taxes now
  • Save on estate and gift taxes later
  • Provide for children later
  • Bequeath assets to a charity
  • Provide for retirement income, and/or
  • Protect assets and beneficiaries from creditors.

You should review your estate plan, especially if you haven’t done so in more than three years. It will show whether any of your goals have changed. You’ll need to review wills, trusts, powers of attorney, designations of healthcare surrogate, beneficiary designation forms, insurance policies and joint accounts.

Preparing for incapacity is just as important as distributing assets. Who should manage your medical, financial and legal affairs? Designating someone, or more than one person, to act on your behalf, and making your wishes clear and enforceable with estate planning documents, will give you and your loved ones security. You are ready, and they will be ready to help you, if something unexpected occurs.

There are a few more steps, if your estate plan needs to be revised:

  • Make the plan, based on your goals,
  • Engage the people, including an estate planning attorney, to execute the plan,
  • Have a will updated and executed, along with other necessary documents,
  • Re-title assets as needed and complete any changes to beneficiary designations, and
  • Review your estate plan every few years and more frequently if there are large changes to tax laws or your life circumstances.

Let us help you review your estate plan.  Call us at (941) 473-2828.

Reference: Forbes (Sep. 23, 2020) “Auditing Your Estate Plan”

 

Funding a Trust with Life Insurance

How would funding a trust with life insurance work, and could it be a good option for you? A recent article in Forbes “How to Fund a Trust With Life Insurance” explains how this works. Let’s start with the basics: a trust is a legal entity where one party, the trustee, holds legal title to the assets owned by the trust, which is managed for the good of the beneficiary. There can be more than one person who benefits from the trust (beneficiaries) and there can be a co-trustee, but we’ll keep this simple.

Trusts are often funded with a life insurance policy. The proceeds of the policy provide the beneficiary with assets that are used after the death of the insured. This is especially important when the beneficiaries are minor children and the life insurance has been purchased by their parents. Funding a trust with the insurance policy offers more control over how funds are used.

What kind of a trust should you consider? All trusts are either revocable or irrevocable. There are pros and cons to both. Irrevocable trusts are better for tax purposes, as they are not included as part of your estate. However, with an $11.58 million federal exemption in 2020, most people don’t have to worry about federal estate taxes. With a revocable trust, you can make changes to the trust throughout your life, while with an irrevocable trust, only a trustee can make changes.

Note that, in addition to federal taxes, most states have estate taxes of their own, and a few have inheritance taxes. When working with an estate planning attorney, they’ll help you navigate the tax aspect as well as the distribution of assets.

Revocable trusts are the most commonly used trust in estate planning. Here’s why:

  • Revocable trusts avoid probate, which can be a costly and lengthy process. Assets left in the revocable trust pass directly to the heirs, far quicker than those left through the will.
  • Because they are revocable, the creator of the will can make changes to the trust as circumstances change. This flexibility and control make the revocable trust more attractive in estate planning.

If you are funding a trust with life insurance, be sure the policy permits you to name beneficiaries, and be certain to name beneficiaries. Missing this step is a common and critical mistake. The beneficiary designations must be crystal clear. If there are two cousins who have the same name, there will need to be a clear distinction made as to who is the beneficiary. If someone changes their name, that change must be reflected by the beneficiary designation.

There are many other types of trusts, including testamentary trusts and special needs trusts. Your estate planning attorney will know which trust is best for your situation. Make sure to fund the trust and update beneficiary designations, so the trust will achieve your goals.

Let us help you with funding a trust.

Reference: Forbes (Sep. 17, 2020) “How to Fund a Trust With Life Insurance”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Attorney, Power of Attorney, Will, Trust, Life Insurance, Trustee, Beneficiary, Testamentary, Special Needs, Revocable, Irrevocable

Gift Planning In Estate Planning

The time period available to take advantage of the high transfer tax exemption gift planning has driven many to make or give more serious thought to making large gifts, while exemptions are certain. However, not everyone is ready or able to give away large amounts of wealth, in case they may be needed in the future. For those who are concerned about needing these assets, there are some strategies that can build flexibility into gift planning, reports the article “Five Ways to Build Flexibility Into Your Gift Planning” from Financial Advisor Magazine.

Spousal Lifetime Access Trust, or SLAT, is one option for married couplies. This is a type of irrevocable trust that includes the grantor’s spouse as one of the beneficiaries. The couple can enjoy the gift tax exemption, because the trust is funded while one spouse is living, but they can also have access to the trust’s assets because the grantor’s spouse may receive both income and principal distributions. A few things to keep in mind when discussing this with your estate planning attorney:

  • If both spouses want to create a SLAT, be careful not to make the trusts identical to one another. If they are created at the same time, funded with the same amount of assets and contain the same terms, it is possible they will not withstand scrutiny.
  • The term “spouse” has some flexibility. The spouse could be the current spouse, the current spouse and a future spouse, or a future spouse for someone who is not yet married.

Special Power of Appointment is a power granted to a person to direct trust assets to a specified person or class of people (other than the power holder, the estate of the power holder or the creditors of either one). This gift planning strategy allows the holder to direct distributions to one or more people, change the beneficiaries of the trust and/or change the terms of the trust, as long as the changes are consistent with the power of appointment. Note the following:

  • The permissible appointees of a power of appointment can be broad or narrow, and the grantor may even be a permissible appointee for outright distributions.
  • If the grantor is a permissible appointee, special care must be taken when naming the power holder(s) to avoid any challenge that the trust was always intended for the grantor. The trust may need to have multiple power holders, or a third party, to agree to any distributions.

A Trust Protector is a person who has powers over the trust but is not a trustee. This is an increasingly popular option, as the trust protector has the ability to address issues and solve problems that were not anticipated when the trust was created. The Trust Protector may often remove or replace trustees, make changes to beneficiaries, divide the trust, change administrative provisions, or change trust situs.

A Disclaimer is a gift planning tool used when a gift recipient renounces part or all of a gift transferred to them. When a gift is made to a trust, the trust instrument is used to specify how the assets are to pass, in the event of a disclaimer. If the grantor makes a gift to the trust but is then concerned that the gift is unnecessary or the grantor might need the assets back, the trust can provide that the assets revert to the grantor in the event of the disclaimer.

Planning with Promissory Notes is another way to include flexibility in the timing, implementation and amount of gift planning. An asset is sold by the grantor to a grantor trust in exchange for a promissory note. There are no income tax consequences, as the sale is to a grantor trust. If the sale is for full market value, there is no gift. The grantor gets to decide when, and if, to make a gift with the promissory note.

Speak with your estate planning attorney to determine which, if any, of these strategies is the right fit for you and your family. While it is impossible to know exactly when and how the federal exemptions will change, there are many different tools that can be used while waiting for any changes.

Reference: Financial Advisor Magazine (Sep. 10, 2020) “Five Ways to Build Flexibility Into Your Gift Planning”

 

Pablo Picasso’s Estate Planning Disaster

Pablo Picasso’s probate was a perfect example of an estate planning disaster.  Picasso left behind 1,885 paintings, 1,228 sculptures, 7,089 drawings, as well as tens of thousands of prints, thousands of ceramic works and 150 sketchbooks when he passed away in 1973. He owned five homes and a large portfolio of stocks and bonds. “The Master” fathered four children with three women. He was also thought to have had $4.5 million in cash and $1.3 million in gold in his possession when he died. Once again, Picasso did not leave a will. Distributing his assets took six years of contentious negotiations between his children and other heirs, such as his wives, mistresses, legitimate children and his illegitimate ones.

Celebrity Net Worth’s recent article entitled “When Pablo Picasso Died He Left Behind Billions Of Dollars Worth Of Art … Yet He Left No Will” explains that Picasso was creating art up until his death. Unlike most artists who die broke, he had been famous in his lifetime. However, when he died without a will, people came out of the woodwork to claim a piece of his valuable estate. Only one of Picasso’s four children was born to a woman who was his wife. One of his mistresses had been living with him for decades. She had a direct and well-documented influence on his work. However, Picasso had no children with her. Talk about an estate planning disaster.

A court-appointed auditor who evaluated Picasso’s assets after his death said that he was worth between $100-$250 million (about $530 million to $1.3 billion today, after adjusting for inflation). In addition to his art, his heirs were fighting over the rights to license his image rights. The six-year court battle cost $30 million in legal fees to settle. But it didn’t settle for long, as the heirs began fighting over the rights to Picasso’s name and image. In 1989, his son Claude sold the name and the image of Picasso’s signature to French carmaker Peugeot-Citroen for $20 million. They wanted to release a sedan called the “Citroen Xsara Picasso.” However, one of Picasso’s grandchildren tried to halt the sale because she disagreed with the commission paid to the agent who brokered the deal—but oddly enough, the consulting company was owned by her cousin, another Picasso.

Claude created the Picasso Administration in Paris in the mid-90s. This entity manages the heirs’ jointly owned property, controls the rights to exhibitions and reproductions of the master’s works, and authorizes merchandising licenses for his work, name and image. The administration also investigates forgeries, illegal use of the Picasso name and stolen works of art. In the 47 years since his death, Picasso has been the most reproduced, most exhibited, most stolen and most faked artist of all time.

Pablo Picasso’s heirs are all very well off as a result of his art despite his estate planning disaster. His youngest daughter, Paloma Picasso, is the richest, with $600 million. She’s had a successful career as a jewelry designer.  She also enjoys her share of her father’s estate.

Let us help you prevent an estate planning disaster.

Reference: Celebrity Net Worth (Sep, 13, 2020) “When Pablo Picasso Died He Left Behind Billions Of Dollars Worth Of Art … Yet He Left No Will”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Wills, Intestacy, Probate Court, Inheritance, Asset Protection, Will Changes, Will Contest, Power of Attorney