estate planning attorney

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.

Keeping the Elderly Safe in the Pandemic

When it comes to keeping the elderly safe in the pandemic, a survey of our oldest generations showed they were found to be more distrustful of senior living and care operators than younger generations.

Nearly half (49.5%) of baby boomers said they don’t trust senior living and care providers to keep residents safe, while 43.9% of the Silent Generation reported the same distrust.

Younger people are more trusting: 42.3% of Generation X reported distrust, 31.8% of millennials and 38.2% of Generation Z.

McKnight Senior Living’s recent article entitled “41% don’t trust assisted living, nursing homes to keep residents safe during pandemic: survey” notes that 43.1% of baby boomers responded that they trust facilities “somewhat,” as did 51.4% of the Silent Generation respondents.

Some of this mistrust may come from the extensive media coverage of coronavirus deaths in nursing homes because senior residents are especially vulnerable to the illness.

Some say that it goes further than that: the quarantine and social distancing has added to families’ stress and anxiety over the safety and mental well-being of the seniors who live in these facilities because they aren’t able to visit as often as they want.

An online survey from ValuePenguin.com and LendingTree of more than 1,100 Americans recently found that COVID-19 has generated a rush of loneliness and worry among older adults.

According to the results, 36% of older adults feel lonelier than ever. In addition, more than 70% of seniors said that they have worries about the virus’ effects on their younger relatives. Those concerns were equally expressed by younger generations for their older relatives. Almost 50% of both age groups are worried that their relatives will catch the virus.

However, the pandemic looks to have a silver lining for family communications. An overriding sense of concern for the mental and physical health of elderly loved ones has led to more contact since the pandemic began.  Family members have become more involved with keeping the elderly safe.

Nearly 44% of the younger survey-takers stated they’ve spoken to their older relatives more frequently during the pandemic, about 25% of young people reported visiting their older relatives in person more frequently.

The top request from respondents aged 75 and older to their loved ones, is to call more frequently.

This increased communication can also lead to involving younger generations in the estate planning of their parents.

Reference: McKnight Senior Living (Sep. 11, 2020) “41% don’t trust assisted living, nursing homes to keep residents safe during pandemic: survey”

Suggested Key Terms: Elder Law Attorney, Long-Term Care Planning, Assisted Living, Nursing Home Care, Elder Care, Caregiving

Sharing Your Inheritance

Sharing your inheritance doesn’t sound like a bad idea, right?

However, Morningstar’s recent article entitled “3 Strategies to Consider When Sole Beneficiaries Want to Share the Wealth” says that there are a few hurdles to clear, such as the IRA administrator’s policies, income tax consequences, transfer tax consequences and the terms of the decedent’s will.

Here’s a scenario: Uncle Buck dies and leaves his IRA to his niece, Hope. Buck’s will leaves all his other assets equally to all three of his nieces: sisters Hope, Faith and Charity. However, the three agree that Buck’s IRA should be shared equally, like the rest of the estate. What do they do?

The Easy Way. Hope keeps the IRA, withdraws from it when she wants (and as required by the minimum distribution rules), pays the income tax on her withdrawals and makes cash gifts to Faith and Charity (either now or as she withdraws from the IRA) in an agreed upon the amount. It would mean giving her two sisters ⅓ of the after-tax value of the IRA. There is no court proceeding or issue with the IRA provider. There are no income tax consequences because Hope will pay the other girls only the after-tax value of the IRA distributions she receives. However, there’s a transfer tax consequence: Hope’s transfers would be considered as gifts for gift tax purposes because she has no legal obligation to share the IRA with the other nieces. Any gift over the annual exclusion amount in any year ($15,000 as of 2020) will be using up some of Hope’s lifetime gift and estate tax exemption. This easy method sharing your inheritance may work well for a not-too-large inherited IRA.

The Expensive Method: Reformation. If there is evidence that Buck made a mistake in filling out the beneficiary form, a court-ordered reformation of the document may be appropriate. Therefore, if Hope, Faith, and Charity have witnesses who would testify that the decedent told them shortly before he died, “I’m leaving all my assets equally to my three nieces,” it could be evidence that he made a mistake in completing the beneficiary designation form for the IRA. The court could order the IRA provider to pay the IRA to all three girls, and the IRS would probably accept the result. By accepting the result, the IRS would agree that the nieces should be equally responsible for their respective shares of income tax on the IRA and for taking the required distributions, and that no taxable gift occurred. However, as you might expect, the IRS isn’t legally bound by a lower state court’s order. If the reformation is based on evidence, the parties may want the tax results confirmed by an IRS private letter ruling, which is an expensive and time-consuming task.

The In-Between. The final possible solution for sharing your inheritance is a qualified disclaimer. Hope would “disclaim” two thirds of the IRA (and keep a third). A qualified disclaimer (made within nine months after Buck’s death) would be effective to move two thirds of the IRA (and the income taxes) from Hope without gift taxes. A qualified disclaimer involves a legal fee but no court or IRS involvement. As a result, it can be fairly simple and cost-effective. However, there may be an issue: when Hope disclaims two thirds of the IRA, that doesn’t mean the disclaimed share of the IRA automatically goes to the other nieces. Instead, the disclaimed portion of the IRA will pass to the contingent beneficiary of the IRA. Hope needs to see where it goes next, prior to signing the disclaimer. If there’s no contingent beneficiary named by Buck, the disclaimed portion will pass to the default beneficiary named in the IRA provider’s plan documents. That’s typically the decedent’s probate estate. If the disclaimed portion of the IRA passes to the uncle’s estate, and Hope is a one-third beneficiary of the estate, she will also need to disclaim her estate-derived share of the IRA. A “simple disclaimer” can be complicated, so ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help.

Even if Hope disclaims two thirds of the IRA, so that it passes to Faith and Charity through the estate, the other girls won’t receive as favorable income tax treatment as Hope. Hope inherits her share as designated beneficiary, while an estate (the assumed default beneficiary), which isn’t a designated beneficiary, can’t qualify for that.

Reference: Morningstar (Aug. 13, 2020) “3 Strategies to Consider When Sole Beneficiaries Want to Share the Wealth”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Wills, Probate Court, Inheritance, Asset Protection, Probate Attorney, Estate Tax, Gift Tax, Unified Federal Estate & Gift Tax Exemption, Beneficiary Designations, Required Minimum Distribution (RMD), Tax Planning, Financial Planning, IRA

The Truth About the Disinherited Child

Disinheriting a child as an heir happens for a variety of reasons. There may have been a long-running dispute, estrangement over a lifestyle choice, or not wanting to give assets to a child who squanders money. What happens when a will or trust has left a child without an inheritance is examined in an article from Lake County News, “Estate Planning: Disinherited and omitted children.”

Circumstances matter. Was the disinherited child born or adopted after the decedent’s estate planning documents were already created and executed? In certain states, including Florida, a child who was born or adopted after documents were executed (legally referred to as a “pretermitted child,” is by law entitled to a share in the estate. There are exceptions. Was disinheriting the child the decedent’s intent, and is there language in the will making that clear? Did the decedent give most or all of the estate to the other parent? Did the decedent otherwise provide for the disinherited child and was there language to that effect in the will? For example, if a child was the named beneficiary of a $1 million life insurance policy, it is likely this was the desired outcome.

Another question is whether the decedent knew of the existence of the child, or if they thought the child was deceased. In certain states, the law is more likely to grant the child a share of the estate.

Actor Hugh O’Brien did not provide for his children, who were living when his trust was executed. His children argued that he did not know of their existence, and had he known, he would have provided for them. His will included a general disinheritance provision that read “I am intentionally not providing for … any other person who claims to be a descendant or heir of mine under any circumstances and without regard to the nature of any evidence which may indicate status as a descendant or heir.”

The Appellate Court ruled against the children’s appeal for two reasons. One, the decedent must have been unaware of the child’s birth or mistaken about the child’s death, and two, must have failed to have provided for the unknown child solely because of a lack of awareness. The court found that his reason to omit them from his will was not “solely” because he did not know of their existence, but because he had no intention of giving them a share of his estate.

In this case, the general disinheritance provision defeated the claim by the disinherited children, since their claim did not meet the two standards that would have supported their claim.

This is another example of how an experienced estate planning attorney creates documents to withstand challenges from unintended outcomes. A last will and testament or revocable trust is created to defend the estate and the decedent’s wishes.

Reference: Lake County News (Aug. 22, 2020) “Estate Planning: Disinherited and omitted children”

 

What Do I Do After My Spouse’s Death?

Investment News’ recent article entitled “When a spouse passes away” provides some thoughts on how to prioritize the essential responsibilities after a spouse’s death, so grieving spouses aren’t overwhelmed with the number of tasks involved. This can include contacting insurance companies, Social Security, Medicare and banks, along with the funeral planning and dealing with family needs.

  1. Don’t go it alone. Get some help from your siblings, children, or friends. It is a stressful time, so don’t be afraid to recognize when you need help and assign some of the jobs. In most cases, family members will want the opportunity to help. This lets them participate in honoring the person you’ve lost and ensure that all responsibilities are fulfilled. It can include contacting family and friends and helping prepare for the funeral.
  2. Don’t rush. There are just a few things you need to accomplish within the first week, like planning for funeral services, looking into veteran benefits, if applicable, notifying friends and family and requesting 10 to 15 death certificates from the funeral home. That is because each financial institution or insurer will want an original death certificate. You should also be contacting your estate planning attorney for guidance, if there are any special things that need to be done according to your spouse’s will.

Within the first few weeks after the passing of your spouse, contact their health insurance provider and Medicare to tell them of your spouse’s death, so you can stop paying premiums. Call your spouse’s employer (if applicable, to ask if there were death benefits or other benefits or eligible pensions). Contact your financial adviser to review your financial accounts and confirm any automatic distributions that might be set up. Call life insurance companies, if your spouse had life insurance policies, as well as other insurance companies with which you have policies for property and casualty (home and auto), long-term care and disability coverage. Review bank accounts, bills and credit cards to confirm all expenses are either set up to be paid automatically or will be paid on time. You also need to have access to your spouse’s phone and email accounts to confirm that you are seeing and reviewing all financial notifications.

  1. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney. Your lawyer can help guide you through the most difficult time of your life. He or she will be able to advise on the issues you need to prioritize, especially to ensure that your finances are still in line, not only for you but for future generations. Make certain to include a family member or friend on your phone calls or meetings to help take notes and guide the conversation. That way, you don’t have to remember everything. Ask that these meetings are memorialized in a follow up email.
  2. Things will be different. After the services and the initial mourning period are over, you may be alone for some time. That’s a big change for many people who lose a spouse. Keep regular communication with friends and family. Consider grief counseling and make regular plans to get yourself out of the house.
  3. There can be a ton of paperwork. There will be busy work, like changing the name on car titles, utility bills, insurance policies, investment accounts, bank accounts and phone bills, as well as administering your family trusts and making updates to your own estate planning documents.

You need to give yourself plenty of time and space to grieve, rest and remember your loved one.

Reference: Investment News (Aug. 11, 2020) “When a spouse passes away”

 

What Is Estate Planning and Is It for Everyone?

A key objective of estate planning is to make certain that your assets go to those you want, rather than distant family. It also can minimize taxes, so your beneficiaries can keep more of your wealth. Finally, sound estate planning can decrease family fighting and provide clear end-of-life directives, if you become incapacitated before you die.

Bankrate’s recent article entitled “What is estate planning?” gives us a look at estate planning and why you absolutely need it, regardless of how much wealth you have. Here are a few of the most common elements of an estate plan and what you should consider.

Beneficiary designations. When you open a financial account, checking, savings, brokerage, or insurance account, you’ll be asked to name a beneficiary for the account. This person will get any funds from the account at your death. You can have multiple beneficiaries and should also name contingent beneficiaries in case the primary beneficiaries are not living when you pass away. Naming a beneficiary supersedes any other declaration in your estate.

Will. This is another key document in the estate plan. When you die, it instructs where your assets will go. Property that’s owned jointly, such as with a spouse, passes directly to the surviving owner(s). A Personal Representative will be appointed to carry out the will and manage the distribution of assets.

Trusts. This is a legal vehicle that allows a third party (the trustee) to hold assets for a beneficiary. They give you several estate planning options, including avoiding probate and privacy. Trusts also let you direct how your assets are distributed after your death. You can also name the trustee(s) to manage and direct the trust on your passing. Ask your experienced estate planning attorney to help you with your trust questions and to create one, if it is a good idea.

Living wills. In the event you become incapacitated, you should have a clear statement of your wishes. A living will states how you want to be treated during your end-of-life care, such as specific treatments to take or refrain from taking. A living will is often combined with a designation of health care surrogate, which can allow a surrogate to make decisions on behalf of the incapacitated individual.

Estate planning can help avoid many issues from arising, even if you don’t have a lot of money. By determining how you want to handle your estate before you die, you’ll save your loved ones a lot of effort, expense and stress concerning how your estate is distributed.

Reference: Bankrate (Aug. 3, 2020) “What is estate planning?”

 

Estate Planning for Asset Distribution

Without proper planning, your will determines who inherits your property—everything from your home, car, bank accounts and personal possessions. Your spouse may not necessarily be your heir—and that’s just one of many reasons to have an estate plan.

An estate plan avoids a “default” distribution of your possessions, says the recent article “Asset distribution when we die” from LimaOhio.com.

Let’s say someone names a nephew as the beneficiary of his life insurance policy. The life insurance company has a contractual legal responsibility to pay the nephew, when the policy owner dies. In turn, the nephew will be required to provide a death certificate and prove that he is indeed the nephew. This is an example of an asset governed by a contract, also described as a named beneficiary.

Assets that are not governed by a contract are distributed to whoever a person directs to get the asset in their will, aka their last will and testament. If there is no will, the state law will determine who should get the assets in a process known as “intestate probate.”

In this process, when there is a last will, the personal representative (or executor) is in charge of the assets. The personal representative is overseen by the probate court judge, who reviews the will and must give approval before assets can be distributed. However, the probate court’s involvement comes with a price, and it is not always a fast process. It is always faster and less costly to have an asset be distributed through a contract, like a trust or by having a beneficiary named to the asset.

If a will only provides limited instructions, the state’s law will fill in the gaps. Therefore, any assets that pass-through contracts will be distributed directly, assets noted in the will go through probate and anything else will go usually to the next of kin.

A better course of action is to have an estate attorney review all of your assets, determine who you want to receive your property and make up a plan to make this happen in a smooth, tax-efficient manner.

Reference: LimaOhio.com (Aug. 22, 2020) “Asset distribution when we die”

 

Estate Planning Needs for Every Stage

Many people decide they need an estate plan when they reach a certain age, but when an estate plan is needed is less about age than it is about stages in life, explains a recent article “Life stages dictate estate planning needs” from The News-Enterprise. Life’s stages can be broken into four groups, young with limited assets, young parents, getting close to retirement and post-retirement life.

Every adult should have an estate plan. Without one, we can’t determine who will take care of our financial and legal matters, if we are incapacitated or die unexpectedly. We also don’t have a voice in how any property we own will be distributed after death.

The first stage—a young individual with limited assets—includes college students, people in the early years of their careers and young couples, married or not. They may not own real estate or substantial assets, but they need a fiduciary and beneficiary. Distribution of assets is less of a priority than provisions for life emergencies.

Once a person becomes a parent, he or she needs to protect minor children or special needs dependents. Lifetime planning is still a concern, but protecting dependents is the priority. Estate planning is used in this stage to name guardians, set up trusts for children and name a trustee to oversee the child’s inheritance, regardless of size.

Many people use revocable living trusts as a means of protecting assets for minor dependents. The revocable trust directs property to pass to the minor beneficiary in whatever way the parents deem appropriate. This is typically done so the child can receive ongoing care, until the age when parents decide the child should receive his or her inheritance. The revocable trust also maintains privacy for the family, since the trust and its contents are not part of the probated estate.

The third stage of life includes people whose children are adults, who have no children or who are near retirement age and addresses different concerns, such as passing along assets to beneficiaries as smoothly as possible while minimizing taxes. The best planning strategy for this stage is often dictated by the primary type of asset.

For people with special situations, such as a beneficiary with substance abuse problems, or a person who owns multiple properties in multiple states or someone who is concerned about the public nature of probate, trusts are a critical part of protecting assets and privacy.

For people who own a primary residence and retirement assets, an estate plan that includes a will, a power of attorney and medical power of attorney may suffice. An estate planning attorney guides each family to make recommendations that will best suit their needs.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Aug. 25, 2020) “Life stages dictate estate planning needs”

 

How Can I Help with My Grandchild’s College Tuition?

To assist with college tuition for younger children or grandchildren, you may want to defer the receipt of funds, until the child or grandchild needs to pay for tuition down the road. You can make a gift into a custody account or into a trust that qualifies as a current gift under the Uniform Gifts to Minor’s Act, or you can fund a Qualified Tuition Plan under IRC Section 529.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Estate Planning Primer: Qualified Tuition Plans” explains that there are two kinds of 529 programs: prepaid plans and savings plans. The advantage of a 529 plan over a Unified Gift to Minors Act plan is that the earnings on the assets in the 529 plan aren’t taxed, until the funds are distributed. The distributions are also tax-free up to the amount of the student’s “qualified higher education expenses.”

Prepaid Programs: Some colleges let you buy tuition credits or certificates at the current tuition rates, even though your grandchild won’t be starting college for several years. This allows you to lock in today’s rates for her enrollment some years later. This move can resultant in substantial savings, since tuition continues to rise at most institutions.

Savings Programs: Similar to a Traditional IRA or a Roth IRA, tuition amounts covered by a savings plan are dependent on the investment performance of the money you have in the plan. If it grows, more cost can be covered. But if it declines, less will be covered. Therefore, it is good to be conservative, if the need for distributions is nearing soon.

Qualified Higher Education Expenses: Tuition (including up to $10,000 in tuition for an elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school), fees, books, supplies, and required equipment, as well as reasonable room and board are qualified expenses, if the student is enrolled at least half-time. Distributions in excess of qualified expenses are taxed to the student, if they represent earnings on the account. A 10% penalty tax is also imposed.

Beneficiary: The beneficiary of the program is specified when you start the funding. However, you are able to change the beneficiary or roll over the funds in the program to another plan for the same or a different beneficiary without income tax liability.

Eligible Schools: Any college, university, vocational school, or other post-secondary school eligible to participate in a student aid program of the Department of Education will be eligible schools for these programs.

The contributions made to the qualified tuition program are treated as gifts to the student. They qualify for the annual gift tax exclusion ($15,000 per person per year for 2020) adjusted annually for inflation. If your contributions in a year exceed the exclusion amount, you can elect to take the contributions into account over a five-year period starting with the year of the contributions.

Note that you may not be able to make the distributions from the program when a very young (or unborn) beneficiary goes to college, so name an alternative custodian, perhaps a parent of a grandchild, to make distributions for you.

Reference: Forbes (Aug. 5, 2020) “Estate Planning Primer: Qualified Tuition Plans”

 

Searching for Lower Taxes? Check State Laws

If you are among the many Americans making a move because of economics, a recent article from MarketWatch titled “Thinking about moving to a state with lower taxes? These are the mistake to avoid” has the information you need about the tax impact of your prospective new home state.

Moving to a state with no personal income tax is not the quick and easy answer it seems. You’ve got to look at ALL the taxes that apply to residents, from property taxes to estate and inheritance taxes.

Here’s a good example: Texas has no personal state income tax. Colorado has a flat 4.63% personal state income tax. Therefore, if you are working and have a good income, it makes sense that Texas would be your best option, right? Wrong.

The property tax rate on a home in some Colorado Springs neighborhoods is about 0.49% of the property’s actual value. Let’s say you move to one of these areas and buy a home for $500,000. Your annual property tax bill: $2,450. Let’s say your taxable income is $200,000. Your Colorado state income tax bill would be $9,260, and with the property tax, your tax bill would be $11,710. For that same $500,000 home in Dallas—your property tax would be $21,200 or about $17,800 if you are over age 65 or a surviving spouse. The higher property tax means that your annual tax bill is lower in Colorado.

What about after you die? Seventeen states and the District of Columbia impose their own estate tax or inheritance tax, and Maryland imposes both. Exemptions from the state estate tax are way below the current federal estate tax exemption. However, if you move to the wrong state, your estate could shrink dramatically from the state’s death taxes.

To clarify, an estate tax is charged against the entire taxable estate, regardless of who inherits from the estate. An inheritance tax is charged against people who receive inheritance. The rate usually depends upon their relationship to you.

Here are a few state estate taxes to consider:

  • Connecticut’s top estate tax rate is 12%, with a $5.1 million exemption allowed for 2020. The exemption increases to $7.1 million in 2021, and $9.1 million in 2022. Above $15 million of the estate tax value, the tax rate drops to 0%.
  • Hawaii’s top estate tax rate is 20%, and in 2020, there is a $5.49 million exemption.
  • In Illinois, the top tax rate is 16%, with a $4 million exemption in 2020.
  • Florida has NO estate tax.

Review the entire tax picture, before making this important decision. You should also confer with your estate planning attorney to learn how your estate’s structure—trusts and other estate planning tools—would work in a different state. Keep in mind that all of these tax exemptions, including the federal one, are likely to change as local, state and federal governments respond to the increased costs and lowered revenues brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reference: MarketWatch (Aug. 30, 2020) “Thinking about moving to a state with lower taxes? These are the mistake to avoid”

 

You Need More than a Will for Estate Planning

As the coronavirus continues to sweep across through the U.S. and the death tolls continue to rise, many people are starting to put their estate plans in place, as reported by CNBC.com in the article “A will doesn’t cover all your bases when it comes to end-of-life decisions. Here’s what else you need.”

It’s true–your will, or last will and testament, is just one of several legal documents you need to help loved ones know what your wishes are. If there is no will, all kinds of problems are created. If you have minor children and no will, the court will decide who will care for them. With no will, the laws of your state determine who will receive your assets—even if it’s a relative you’ve never met—or one you’ve loathed for decades.

For those who have partners but are not married, no will means your assets won’t go to them. They also won’t have legal standing to fight back. The courts typically pass assets on to your closest blood relatives. That might not be what you want.

However, a will is only one part of your entire estate plan. You don’t need to live on “an estate” to have an estate. Actually, your estate refers to everything you own—financial accounts, possessions, real estate and digital assets. Putting a plan in place for those assets helps lessen the chances your family will fracture when you have died. Your assets will also go where you want them. It’s a kindness to your loved ones.

A will lets you convey your wishes about who gets what when you die, except for assets that pass outside of a will. These are accounts where you have named a beneficiary, like insurance policies, retirement accounts and jointly owned property. The beneficiary designations and joint ownership (with rights of survivorship) always supersede your will, which is where many people make big mistakes. If you don’t update your beneficiary designations as you move through life, the wrong person might inherit significant assets. There also won’t be anything your intended heirs can do about it.

Another big part of your will involves choosing a person to be in charge of carrying out your intentions—the personal representative (or executor). This is a job that requires someone who is responsible, reliable and comfortable with handling financial and legal matters.

You’ll also need a health care directives, sometimes called designation of health care surrogate and living will, to outline your wishes, if you become incapacitated because of illness or injury. This gives loved ones the instructions they need if, for example, you are on life support and a decision has to be made about whether to continue or to let you pass. Don’t forget a Durable Power of Attorney. This document allows a person of your choice to carry out all of your financial and legal affairs on your behalf. You want to pick someone who is smart and trustworthy. They might need to do everything from selling your home to managing your investments.

Estate planning also includes preparing all of the important documents in your life, so that your executor can find them easily, including your will itself, other legal documents, information about bank accounts, investment accounts and even your Social Security number. The more organized you can be, the more easily your loved ones will be able to administer your estate.

If you want your children to receive money from you but are concerned about their ability to manage an inheritance, you may want to add a trust to your estate plan. Your assets go into the trust, instead of directly into their hands. You also name a trustee who will oversee the trust. The trustee will decide when your children receive the money, according to your instructions. The distribution could be tied to achieving certain goals—like graduating from college or getting their first apartment. Further, if the trust is a revocable living trust, all assets titled in the trust will avoid probate.

One last point: many people today are downloading estate planning forms from the internet. The problem is, you don’t know if they are up-to-date, or even admissible in your state. Every state has its own estate laws, and no one document works in all states. Working with an estate planning attorney who knows the laws in your state eliminates the risk that a judge will toss out your will, because it does not comply with state law.

Reference: CNBC.com (July 27, 2020) “A will doesn’t cover all your bases when it comes to end-of-life decisions. Here’s what else you need.”