Most people view estate planning as a single event. Regrettably, not true. Just as our lives - personal circumstances, what we own, and with whom we spend most of our time - are constantly evolving, our estate plan needs to similarly evolve.
When you hire an attorney for estate planning, help with a loved one’s estate, or other legal matter you want to make sure that the work gets done as quickly as possible and at the best possible value. Here are some tips to have the most useful and value-oriented law firm experience.
Most families lead far-flung and busy lives, meaning the only time they see one another face-to-face is around the dinner table during a handful of major holidays. The estate planning process is an opportunity to bring everyone together outside of those scheduled occasions—even if a child or grandchild has to attend via video chat.
Money may be the most talked about wealth contained within a person’s estate, but the riches of their experience and wisdom can mean even more to family members down the line. Reinforcement of family traditions can be built into your estate plan alongside your wishes regarding your money, property, and belongings. After all, what really makes a family a family is its values and traditions—not the way its finances read on paper.
Parents who develop an estate plan often do so to provide for their heirs financially. Many want to make sure hard-earned assets, family heirlooms, or closely held businesses stay within the family. Indeed, a common question is what cost-effective options are available to protect one’s children’s inheritance from a spouse in the event of untrustworthiness or divorce. Thankfully, there are many ways to structure your child’s inheritance to help ensure it will remain in the family for future generations. Here are a few available options.
Although Memorial Day has passed, it is important to honor those that have served our country. This time is also a good opportunity for members of the military and their loved ones to consider setting up an—or revising an existing—estate plan. Military families need to consider special estate-planning issues that others do not. This is particularly true when one or more family members are deployed overseas.
When a loved one suffers from a mental illness, one small comfort can be knowing that your trust can take care of them through thick and thin. There are some ways this can happen, ranging from the funding of various types of treatment to providing structure and support during his or her times of greatest need.
You come into the world a blank slate, and as you grow, you gain wisdom. You've planned your estate to leave physical assets to beneficiaries, so now think about leaving them something that’s just as important but less tangible: the hard-won wisdom you’ve accumulated over your life.
Substance addiction is by no means rare, impacting as many as one in seven Americans. Because of its prevalence, navigating a loved one’s addiction is a relatively common topic in everyday life. But you should also consider it when working on your estate planning. Whether the addiction is alcoholism, drug abuse, or behavioral like gambling, we all want our loved ones to be safe and experience a successful recovery. A properly created estate plan can help.
The idea that money from a trust could end up fueling those addictive behaviors can be a particularly troubling one. Luckily, it’s possible to frame your estate planning efforts in such a way that you’ll ensure your wealth has only a positive impact on your loved one during their difficult moments.
Funding For Treatment:
One of the ways your trust can have a positive influence on your loved one’s life is by helping fund their addiction treatment. If a loved one is already struggling with addiction issues, you can explicitly designate your trust funds for use in his or her voluntary recovery efforts. In extreme cases where an intervention of some sort is required to keep the family member safe, you can provide your trustee with guidance to help other family members with the beneficiary’s best interest by encouraging involuntary treatment until the problem is stabilized and the loved one begins recovery.
Incentive features can be included in your estate planning to help improve the behavior of the person in question. For example, the loved one who has an addiction can be required to maintain steady employment or voluntarily seek treatment in order to obtain additional benefits of the trust (such as money for a vacation or new car). Although this might seem controlling, this type of incentive structure can also help with treatment and recovery by giving a loved one something to work towards. This approach is probably best paired with funding for treatment (discussed above), so there are resources to help with treatment and then benefits that can help to motivate a beneficiary.
Lifetime Discretionary Trusts:
Giving your heirs their inheritance as a lump sum could end up enabling addiction or make successful treatment more difficult. Luckily, there’s a better way. Lifetime discretionary trusts provide structure for an heir’s inheritance. If someone in your life is (or might eventually) struggle with addiction, you can rest easy when you know the inheritance you leave can’t be accessed early or make harmful addiction problem worse.
Of course, you want to balance this lifetime protection of the money with the ability of your loved one to actually obtain money out of the trust. That’s where the critical consideration of who to appoint as a trustee comes in. Your trustee will have discretion to give money directly to your beneficiary or pay on your loved one’s behalf (such as a payment directly to an inpatient treatment center or payment of an insurance premium). When dealing with addiction, your trustee will need to have a firm grasp of what appropriate usage of the trust’s funds looks like. Appointing a trustee is always an important task, but it’s made even more significant when that person will be responsible for keeping potentially harmful sums of money out of the addicted person’s hands.
Navigating a loved one’s addiction is more than enough stress already without having to worry about further enablement through assets contained in your trust. Let us take some of the burden off your shoulders by helping you build an estate plan that positively impacts your loved one and doesn’t contribute to the problem at hand. That way, you can go back to focusing your efforts on the solution. Contact our office today to see how we can help.
If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
A well-crafted estate plan is comprised of many individual parts, and careful, trust-based estate planning is the best way to ensure the highest possible quality of life for you and your loved ones.
One way couples can make get the most mileage out of their estate plans is through community property trusts. This is a special type of trust that combines a couples jointly acquired assets as community property and can save a significant amount of taxes.
Why Community Property Trusts Are Beneficial:
The essential benefit of a Community Property Trust (“CPT”) is that the basis of community-owned property is stepped up when one member of the couple dies. Not only that—it also steps up the basis for the surviving spouse’s half of the property (rather than only half, which is what happens with “plain” jointly owned property). This means that the capital gains tax will take a much smaller percentage of the surviving spouse’s wealth when the property is sold.
The Limits Of Community Property Trusts:
There are two states in which CPT’s can be formed: Alaska and Tennessee. These trusts must be funded and have ongoing requirements to achieve their tax benefits. So, they are not a panacea and don’t necessarily fit every married couple’s situation.
How CPT’s Fit In With Other Estate Planning Strategies:
If your estate plan is robust and ready for all of life’s potential successes and challenges, it likely includes any number of revocable and irrevocable trusts, powers of attorney, long-term care directives, and miscellaneous probate-avoidance precautions.
Community property trusts can only work for the property you fund into them, meaning that you can and should have other strategies in place such as a revocable trust, will, power of attorney, etc. The same property cannot be managed under multiple trusts at the same time, so it is important for us to figure out which of your assets you’d like to set aside for other types of trusts before settling on the details of your CPT.
Community property trusts are not for everyone. However, if we can determine that setting one up is a realistic fit for you and your family, you can expect to save a large sum by avoiding taxes you would otherwise accrue. Schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Session with our office, to see whether this solution might be an effective addition to your other estate planning strategies.
If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
When it comes to your family’s legacy, every dollar you can save from tax collection counts. One way to keep your assets out of the hands of the IRS is the formation of community property trusts.
How Does A Community Property Trust (CPT) Work?
Community Property Trusts (“CPT’s”) save you money on taxes by adjusting or “stepping up” the basis of the entire property after the death of one member of the couple. When you and your spouse invest in property jointly—be it real estate, stocks, or other assets—it becomes what’s called community property if you live within nine applicable states. However, there are two states, Alaska and Tennessee, where community property can be utilized via the creation of a community property trust, even if you do not live in Alaska or Tennessee.
When couples work with their estate planning attorneys to create these trusts, they can take advantage of a double step-up on the property’s basis. The basis of the property is stepped-up to its current value for both members of the couple’s halves. This is different from jointly owned property which only receives the step-up on one-half of the property. That means capital gains taxes are much lower because the taxed amount is reduced thanks to the stepped-up basis. Community property helps couples reduce their income taxes after the death of a spouse.
Getting To Know Your Basic CPT Terminology:
First, let’s start with a few quick definitions of the financial terms you will need to know to get a sense of whether a community property trust is right for you.
1. Community Property
Assets a married couple acquires by joint effort during marriage if they live in one of the nine community property states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.
2. Community property trust:
A particular type of joint revocable trust designed for couples who own low-basis assets, enabling them to take advantage of a double step up. Tennessee or Alaska are the two places you can form these trusts.
What you paid for an asset. The value that is used to determine gain or loss for income tax purposes. A higher basis means less capital gains tax.
4. Stepped-up basis:
Assets are given a new basis when transferred by inheritance (through a will or trust) and are revalued as of the date of the owner’s death. The new basis is called a stepped-up basis. A stepped-up basis can save a considerable amount of capital gains tax when an asset is later sold by the new owner.
5. Double step-up:
Because of a tax loophole, community property receives a basis adjustment step-up on the entire property when one of the spouses dies. So, if a surviving spouse sells community property after the death of their spouse, the capital gain is based on the increase in value from the first spouse’s death (where the basis got adjusted on both spouses’ shares) to the value at the date of the sale. This allows the survivor to save money on capital gains tax liability.
One of the best parts of estate planning is that you get out so much more than you put in. In just a short amount of time, we can implement a community property trust that could save your spouse and family tens of thousands of dollars down the road. We are here to help make sure as little of your hard-earned property as possible ends up lost to taxation. Schedule your free consultation with us today, and set yourself up for a better tomorrow.
If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
Estate planning is the process of developing a strategy for the care and management of your estate if you become incapacitated or upon your death. One commonly known purpose of estate planning is to minimize taxes and costs, including taxes imposed on gifts, estates, generation skipping transfer and probate court costs. However, your plan must also name someone who will make medical and financial decisions for you if you cannot make decisions for yourself. You also need to consider how to leave your property and assets while considering your family’s circumstances and needs.
Since your family’s needs and circumstances are constantly changing, so too must your estate plan. Your plan must be updated when certain life changes occur. These include, but are not limited to the following Six: 1) Marriage, 2) The birth or adoption of a new family member, 3) Divorce, 4) The death of a loved one, 5) A significant change in assets, and 6) A move to a new state or country.
It is not uncommon for estate planning to be the last item on the list when a couple is about to be married - whether for the first time or not. On the contrary, marriage is an essential time to update an estate plan. You probably have already thought about updating emergency contacts and adding your spouse to existing health and insurance policies. There is another important reason to update an estate plan upon marriage. In the event of death, your money and assets may not automatically go to your spouse, especially if you have children of a prior marriage, a prenuptial agreement, or if your assets are jointly owned with someone else (like a sibling, parent, or other family member). A comprehensive estate review can ensure you and your new spouse can rest easy.
2. Birth Or Adoption Of Children Or Grandchildren:
When a new baby is born, it seems like everything changes—and so should your estate plan. For example, your trust may not “automatically” include your new child, depending on how it is written. So, it is always a good idea to check and add the new child as a beneficiary. As the children (or grandchildren) grow in age, your estate plan should adjust to ensure assets are distributed in a way that you deem proper. What seems like a good idea when your son or granddaughter is a four-year-old may no longer look like a good idea once their personality has developed and you know them as a 25-year-old college graduate, for example.
Some state and federal laws may remove a former spouse from an inheritance after the couple splits, however, this is not always the case, and it certainly should not be relied on as the foundation of your plan. After a divorce, you should immediately update beneficiary designations for all insurance policies and retirement accounts, any powers of attorney, and any existing health care proxy and HIPAA authorizations. It is also a good time to revamp your will and trust to make sure it does what you want (and likely leaves out your former spouse).
4. The Death Of A Loved One:
Sometimes those who are named in your estate plan pass away. If an appointed guardian of your children dies, it is imperative to designate a new person. Likewise, if your chosen executor, health care proxy or designated power of attorney dies, new ones should be named right away.
5. Significant Change In Assets:
Whether it is a sudden salary increase, inheritance, or the purchase of a large asset these scenarios should prompt an adjustment an existing estate plan. The bigger the estate, the more likely there will be issues over the disposition of the assets after you are gone. For this reason, it is best to see what changes, if any, are needed after a significant increase (or decrease) in your assets.
6. A Move To A New State Or Country:
For most individuals, it is a good idea to obtain a new set of estate planning documents that clearly meet the new state’s legal requirements. Estate planning for Americans living abroad or those who have assets located in numerous countries is even more complicated and requires professional assistance. It is always a good idea to learn what you need to do to completely protect yourself and your family when you move to a new state or country.
Estate planning [creating your Family Legacy Protection Plan] offers many ways to leave your wealth to your children, but it’s just as important to know what not to do. Here are some things that are all-too-common, but textbook examples of what not to do or try…
If you feel you have a good rapport with your family or don't have many assets, you might be tempted simply to tell your children or loved ones how to handle your estate when you’re gone. However, even if your family members wanted to follow your directions, it may not be entirely up to them. Without a written document, any assets you own individually must go through probate, and “oral wills” have no weight in court. It would most likely be up to a judge and the intestate laws written by the legislature, not you or your desired heirs, to decide who gets what. This is one strategy to not even try.
In lieu of setting up a trust, some people name their children as joint tenants on their properties. The appeal is that children should be able to assume full ownership when parents pass on, while keeping the property out of probate. However, this does not mean that the property is safe; it doesn't insulate the property from taxes or creditors, including your children’s creditors, if they run into financial difficulty. Their debt could even result in a forced sale of your property.
There’s another issue. Choosing this approach exposes you to otherwise avoidable capital gains taxes. Here’s why. When you sell certain assets, the government taxes you. But you can deduct your cost basis—a measure of how much you’ve invested in it—from the selling price. For example, if you and your spouse bought vacant land for $200,000 and later sell it for $315,000, you’d only need to pay capital gains taxes on $115,000 (the increase in value).
However, your heirs can get a break on these taxes. For instance, let’s say you die, and the fair market value of the land at that time was $300,000. Since you used a trust rather than joint tenancy, your spouse’s cost basis is now $300,000 (the basis for the heirs gets “stepped-up” to its value at your death). So, if she then sells the property for $315,000, she only pays capital gains on $15,000, which is the gain that happened after your death! However, with joint tenancy, she does not receive the full step-up in basis, meaning she’ll pay more capital gains taxes.
Giving Away the Inheritance Early:
Some parents choose to give children their inheritance early–either outright or incrementally over time. But this strategy comes with several pitfalls. First, if you want to avoid hefty gift taxes, you are limited to giving each child $14,000 per year. You can give more, but you start to use up your gift tax exemption and must file a gift tax return. Second, a smaller yearly amount might seem more like current expense money than the beginnings of your legacy, so they might spend it rather than invest. Third, if situations change that would have caused you to re-evaluate your allocations, it's too late. You don’t want to be dependent on them giving the cash back if you need it for your own needs.
Shortcuts and ideas like these may look appealing on the surface, but they can do more harm than good. Consult with an estate planner to find better strategies to prepare for your and your families' future.
Earlier this year, NBA team owner Gail Miller made headlines when she announced that she was effectively no longer the owner of the Utah Jazz or the Vivint Smart Home Arena. These assets, she said, were being placed into a family trust, therefore raising interest in an estate planning tool previously known only to the very wealthy—the dynasty trust.
Dynasty Trusts Explained:
A dynasty trust (also called a “legacy trust”) is a special irrevocable trust that is intended to survive for many generations. The beneficiaries may receive limited payments from the trust, but asset ownership remains with the trust for the period that state law allows it to remain in effect. In some states, a legal rule known as the Rule Against Perpetuities forces the trust to end 21 years after the death of the last known beneficiary. However, some states have revoked this limitation so, in theory, a dynasty trust can last forever.
Advantages and Disadvantages:
Wealthy families often use dynasty trusts as a way of keeping the money “in the family” for many generations. Rather than distribute assets over the life of a beneficiary, dynasty trusts consolidate the ownership and management of family wealth. The design of these trusts makes them exempt from estate taxes and the generation-skipping transfer tax, at least under current laws, so that wealth has a better ability to grow over time, rather than having as much as a 40-50% haircut at the death of each generation.
However, these benefits also come at the expense of other advantages. For example, since dynasty trusts are irrevocable and rely on a complex interplay of tax rules and state law; changes to them are much more difficult, or even potentially impossible as a practical matter, compared to non-dynasty trusts. Because change is very difficult or even impossible as a practical matter, the design of the dynasty trust needs to anticipate all changes in family structure (e.g. a divorce, a child's adoption) and assets (e.g. stock valuation, land appraisals), even decades before any such changes occur.
Is a Dynasty Trust Right for Your Family?
This trust usually makes the most sense for very wealthy families whose fortunes would be subject to large estate taxes. For multiple generations, it can defend estates from taxes, divorces, creditors or ill-advised spending habits. That said, if you desire to give your descendants more flexibility with their inheritance, a dynasty trust may not be right for you. To learn more about the pros and cons of this and other estate planning strategies, contact our office today.
There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.
Even with an estate plan, things can always happen that may cause confusion for the estate–or threaten the plan altogether. Below are three examples of worst-case scenarios and ways to demonstrate how a carefully crafted plan can address issues, from the predictable to the total surprise.
Scenario 1: Family Members Battle One Another:
Despite your best intentions, what happens if the people you care about most get into a knockdown, drag-out fight over your estate? Disputes over who should get what assets, how to interpret an unclear instruction from you, or how loved ones should manage your business can open old wounds.
Lawsuits between family members can drain your estate and tarnish your legacy. Family infighting can lead to less obviously dramatic problems as well. For instance, let’s say you name your daughter as the executor, and she holds a deep grudge against your youngest son. Your daughter cannot do something as drastic as rewriting your will to leave him out. However, she could drag her feet with the probate court, interpret the will “poorly” (unfairly privileging herself and your other son over your youngest), or engage in other shenanigans. In each of these cases, your youngest son would have to hire a lawyer and potentially get involved in a protracted legal battle. This is a bad outcome for everyone.
To prevent such scenarios, consider using an impartial (e.g. third party) trustee or executor. Moreover, speak with a qualified estate planning attorney to prepare for likely future conflicts among family members.
Scenario 2: Both Spouses Die Simultaneously:
Many estate plans transfer assets to a surviving spouse, but what happens if both spouses die at or near the same time? This situation may be even more complicated if both spouses have separately owned assets or if the size of the estate is significant. In that case, asset distribution may depend on who predeceased whom, the amount of estate tax paid, and other factors. There are, however, ways to address this in an estate plan making it easier for your family to understand your intent, including, as recently discussed in Motley Fool:
· A simultaneous death clause that automatically names one spouse as the first to die;
· A survivorship deferral provision, delaying transfer of assets to a surviving spouse, thus preventing double probate and estate taxes; and
· A so-called “Titanic” clause that names a final beneficiary in the event all primary beneficiaries die at once.
Scenario 3: Passing Away Overseas:
Expatriates may require specific expertise when creating an estate plan. If a death occurs outside the U.S., foreign laws may conflict with provisions of an American-made estate plan. As such, a plan may need to be reviewed both for the US and other nations’ laws. If you intend to live abroad for an extended period, as discussed in this New York Times article, it may be smart to draw up a second will consistent with those nations' laws, too. However, the starting point is completing your estate planning (will, trust, and other documents) here in the United States first.
If you have concerns as to whether your current estate plan is safeguarded against these three worst-case scenarios or anything else you might be worried about, we are here to help.
Comprehensive estate planning is more than your legacy after death, avoiding probate, and saving on taxes. Good estate planning includes a plan in place to manage your affairs if you become incapacitated during your life and can no longer make decisions for yourself.
What happens without an incapacity plan?
Without a comprehensive incapacity plan in place, your family will have to go to court to get a judge to appoint a guardian or conservator to take control of your assets and health care decisions. This guardian or conservator will make all personal and medical decisions on your behalf as part of a court-supervised guardianship or conservatorship. Until you regain capacity or die, you and your loved ones will be faced with an expensive and time-consuming guardianship or conservatorship proceeding. There are two dimensions to decision making that need to be considered: financial decisions and healthcare decisions.
Finances During Incapacity:
If you are incapacitated, you are legally unable to make financial, investment, or tax decisions for yourself. Of course, bills still need to be paid, tax returns still need to be filed, and investments still need to be managed.
Health Care During Incapacity:
If you become legally incapacitated, you won’t be able to make healthcare decisions for yourself. Because of patient privacy laws, your loved ones may even be denied access to medical information during a crisis and end up in court fighting over what medical treatment you should, or should not, receive (like Terri Schiavo’s husband and parents did, for 15 years).
You must have these five essential legal documents in place before becoming incapacitated so that your family is empowered to make decisions for you:
1. Durable Power of Attorney:
This legal document gives your agent [called your Attorney-in-Fact] the authority to pay bills, make financial decisions, manage investments, file tax returns, mortgage and sell real estate, and address other financial matters that are described in the document.
Financial Powers of Attorney come in two forms: “durable” and “springing.” A durable power of attorney goes into effect as soon as it is signed, while a springing power of attorney only goes into effect after you have been declared mentally incapacitated. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type, and we can help you decide which is best for your situation.
2. Revocable Family Trust:
This legal document has three parties to it: the person who creates the trust (you might see this written as “trustmaker,” “grantor,” or “settlor” — they all mean the same thing); the person who legally owns and manages the assets transferred into the trust (the “trustee”); and the person who benefits from the assets transferred into the trust (the “beneficiary”). In the typical situation, you will be the trustmaker, the trustee, and the beneficiary of your own revocable living trust. But if you ever become incapacitated, your designated successor trustee will step in to manage the trust assets for your benefit. Since the trust controls how your property is used, you can specify how your assets are to be used if you become incapacitated (for example, you can authorize the trustee to continue to make gifts or pay tuition for your grandchildren).
3. Advance Health Care Directive:
This legal document, also called a medical or Health Care Agent, gives your agent the authority to make healthcare decisions if you become incapacitated.
4. Living Will:
This legal document shares your wishes regarding end of life care if you become incapacitated. Although a living will isn’t necessarily enforceable in all states, it can provide meaningful information about your desires even if it isn’t strictly enforceable.
5. HIPAA authorization:
This legal document gives your doctor authority to disclose medical information to the agents selected by you. This is important because health privacy laws may make it very difficult for your agents or family to learn about your condition without this release. It is crucial that each fiduciary nominated in your estate plan that may need access to your HIPPA-protected health documents is granted such legal authority.
Is your incapacity plan up to date?
Once you get all of these legal documents for your incapacity plan in place, you cannot simply stick them in a drawer and forget about them. Instead, your incapacity plan must be reviewed and updated periodically and when certain life events occur such as moving to a new state or going through a divorce. If you keep your incapacity plan up to date and make the documents available to your loved ones and trusted helpers, it should work the way you expect it to if needed.
One misconception people have about life insurance is that naming beneficiaries is all you should do to ensure the benefits of life insurance will be available for a surviving spouse, children, or other intended beneficiary. Life insurance is an important estate planning tool, but without certain protections in place, there's no guarantee that your spouse or children will receive the benefit of your purchase of life insurance. Consider the following examples:
Example 1: David identifies his wife Betsy as the beneficiary on a life insurance policy. Betsy does receive the death benefit from the insurance policy, but when Betsy remarries, she adds her new husband’s name to the bank account where she deposited the death benefit. In so doing, she leaves the death benefit from David’s life insurance to her new husband, rather than to her children as she and David discussed before his death and which is what she indicates in her will.
Example 2: Dawn, a single mother, names her 10-year-old son Mark as a beneficiary on her life insurance. She passes away when he is twelve. The court names a relative as a guardian or conservator for Mark until he is of age. When Mark reaches his 18th birthday, his inheritance has been partially spent down on court costs, attorney’s fees, and guardian or conservator fees. Additionally, it hasn’t kept pace with inflation because of the restrictive investment options available to guardians or conservators. Dawn hoped the life insurance proceeds would be there for Mark’s college, but the costs and lack of investment flexibility mean there may not be as much as Dawn hoped.
Solution: Use a Trust as the Beneficiary on Your Life Insurance:
When estate planning, a common method for passing assets is by placing them in a trust, with a spouse or children as beneficiaries. The same approach may also be used for life insurance policy proceeds. You can designate the trust as the life insurance policy's beneficiary, so the death benefits flow directly into the trust. Two popular ways to accomplish this:
Revocable Living Trust (RLT) Is the named beneficiary:
This option works well for those who have a modest-sized estate or who have already set up a trust. Naming your RLT as a life insurance beneficiary simply adds those death benefits to what you already have in trust, payable only to beneficiaries of the trust itself. The benefit of this approach is that it instantly coordinates your life insurance proceeds with the rest of your estate plan.
2. Set up an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT):
For an added layer of protection, an ILIT can both own the life insurance policy and be named as the beneficiary. As The Balance explains, this not only protects the death benefits from potential creditors and predators, but from estate taxes as well.
With the estate tax exemption at $5.49 million per person in 2017, and a potential repeal on the legislative agenda of President Trump and the Republican Congress, you may not need estate tax planning. But everyone who’s purchased life insurance needs to take an extra step to ensure your loved ones' financial future. To discuss your best options for structuring your life insurance estate plan, schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Session with our office.
Much of estate planning relates to the way a person’s assets will be distributed upon their death. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. From smart incapacity planning to diligent probate avoidance, there is a lot that goes into crafting a comprehensive estate plan. One crucial factor to consider is asset protection.
One of the most important things to understand about asset protection is that not much good can come from trying to protect your assets reactively when surprised by situations like bankruptcy or divorce. The best way to take full advantage of estate planning concerning asset protection is to prepare proactively long before these things ever come to pass—and hopefully many of them won’t. First, let’s cover the two main types of asset protection:
Asset Protection For Yourself:
This is the kind that must be done long in advance of any proceedings that might threaten your assets, such as bankruptcy, divorce, or judgement. As there are many highly-detailed rules and regulations surrounding this type of asset protection, it’s important to lean on your estate planning attorney’s expertise.
Asset Protection For Your Heirs:
This type of asset protection involves setting up discretionary lifetime trusts rather than outright inheritance, staggered distributions, mandatory income trusts, or other less protective forms of inheritance. There are varying grades of protection offered by different strategies. For example, a trust that has an independent distribution trustee who is the only person empowered to make discretionary distributions offers much better protection than a trust that allows for so-called ascertainable standards distributions. Don’t worry about the complexity - we are here to help you best protect your heirs and their inheritance.
This complex area of estate planning is full of potential miscalculation, so it's crucial to obtain qualified advice and not solely rely on common knowledge about what's possible and what isn't. But as a general outline, let’s look at three critical junctures when asset protection can help, along with the estate planning strategies we can build together that can set you up for success.
It’s entirely possible that you’ll never need asset protection, but it’s much better to be ready for whatever life throws your way. You’ve worked hard to get where you are in life, and just a little strategic planning will help you hold onto what you have so you can live well and eventually pass your estate’s assets on to future beneficiaries. But experiencing an unexpected illness or even a large-scale economic recession could mean you wind up bankrupt.
Bankruptcy asset protection strategy: Asset protection trusts:
Asset protection trusts hold on to more than just liquid cash. You can fund this type of trust with real estate, investments, personal belongings, and more. Due to the nature of trusts, the person controlling those assets will be a trustee of your choosing. Now that the assets within the trust aren’t technically in your possession, they can stay out of creditors’ reach — so long as the trust is irrevocable, properly funded, and operated in accordance with all the asset protection law’s requirements. In fact, asset protections trusts must be formed and funded well in advance of any potential bankruptcy and have numerous initial and ongoing requirements. They are not for everyone, but can be a great fit for the right type of person.
One of the last things you want to have happen to the nest egg you’ve saved is for your children to lose it in a divorce. To make sure your beneficiaries get the parts of your estate that you want to pass onto them—regardless of how their marriage develops—is a discretionary trust.
Divorce asset protection strategy: Discretionary trusts:
When you create a trust, the property it holds doesn’t officially belong to the beneficiary, making trusts a great way to protect your assets in a divorce. Discretionary trusts allow for distribution to the beneficiary but do not mandate any distributions. As a result, they can provide access to assets but reduce (or even eliminate) the risk that your child’s inheritance could be seized by a divorcing spouse. There are several ways to designate your trustee and beneficiaries, who may be the same person, and, like with many legal issues, there are some other decisions that need to be made. Discretionary trusts, rather than outright distributions, are one of the best ways you can provide robust asset protection for your children.
Family LLCs or partnerships are another way to keep your assets safe in divorce proceedings. Although discretionary trusts are advisable for people across a wide spectrum of financial means, family LLCs or partnership are typically only a good fit for very well-off people.
When an upset customer or employee sues a company, the business owner’s personal assets can be threatened by the lawsuit. Even for non-business owners, injury from something as small as a stranger tripping on the sidewalk outside your house can end up draining the wealth you’ve worked so hard for. Although insurance is often the first line of defense, it is often worth exploring other strategies to comprehensively protect against this risk.
Judgment asset protection strategy: Incorporation:
Operating your small business as a limited liability company (commonly referred to as an LLC) can help protect your personal assets from business-related lawsuits. As mentioned above, malpractice and other types of liability insurance can also protect you from damaging suits. Risk management using insurance and business entities is a complex discipline, even for small businesses, so don’t only rely on what you’ve heard online or “common sense.” You owe it to your family to work with a group of qualified professionals, such as us as your estate planning attorney and an insurance advisor, to develop a comprehensive asset protection strategy for your business.
These are just a few ways we can optimize your estate plan to keep your assets protected, but every plan should be tailored to an individual’s exact circumstances. Contact our office so we can determine the best asset protection strategies for your estate plan.
When you hear the phrase “estate plan,” you might first think about paperwork. Or your mind might land on some of the uncomfortable topics that estate planning confronts head-on: end-of-life decisions, incapacity, and your family’s legacy from generation to generation. Those subjects hit home for everyone.
But while that could feel like a reason to avoid estate planning, the emotional nature of these decisions is a reason to embrace the process with enthusiasm. Here are a few ways in which emotion in estate planning is a good thing:
Estate Planning Creates Stability In Times Of Loss:
If you end up in a state of incapacity later in life, it’s guaranteed to be a difficult time for your family. If your estate plan doesn’t include detailed instructions for a trusted decision maker and an actionable long-term care plan, it’s guaranteed to be even worse. You can save your loved ones from the confusion about what to do and the pressure to make rushed choices if this occurs, allowing them to save their energy for processing the situation.
2. Comprehensive Estate Plans Keep Emotional Matters Private
Detailed, trust-based estate planning with lifetime beneficiary directed trusts keeps your private matters out of the public eye. When your estate plan is scant—such as a simple “I love you” will—you’re running the risk of your estate going through court in a proceeding called probate. This means that choices become visible to those outside your inner circle. Because of the notice requirements, probate can also invite controversy and conflict which a private transfer would have avoided.
3. Estate Planning Can Bring A Family Together:
Everyone has heard of a situation in which siblings argued over what their parents left them as beneficiaries. But the opposite is also quite true. When you get your family and other loved ones involved in your estate planning process, you gain a wonderful opportunity to show them how much you care. Creating your estate plan can strengthen the bonds of love in a family and serve as a reminder of those bonds for years to come.
4. Your Estate Is About Much More Than Money:
Estate planning is about a whole lot more than just wealth distribution and taxes. During an estate planning session, we can talk about significant family heirlooms, your hard-won hobby collection, and other matters totally unique to your life. We can even dive deeply into the memories and intellectual property you want to make sure your beneficiaries receive, such as photos, art, and even recorded videos or audio files of family stories you’d like to share with future generations.
5. An Estate Plan Means You’re Not Going It Alone:
You shouldn’t have to face trying times alone. Whether the estate in question is yours or a loved one’s, your estate planning attorney will have the answers. Let us take care of the nuts and bolts with regards to educating your appointed agents about their duties so you can know that your family will be in good hands if anything happens to you. The idea of setting everything straight on your own can be a stressful one, but these emotional decisions are much easier to make with a trusted advisor by your side.
We want you to feel ownership and investment in getting your estate plan to reflect who you are. Estate planning is an opportunity to look at some of life’s big questions and ultimately make sure your family feels your care for them through the choices you make. Schedule your free consultation with us today to see how we can create custom-made solutions that do just that.
It’s clear why you might want to avoid court involvement in your estate for financial reasons, knowing that probate can quickly get costly and time consuming for those involved. But there is an emotional component to it as well. Your assets are just that: yours. And the idea of them being discussed and deliberated on in a public forum might not be such an appealing one.
If you feel that the matters of your estate should be kept private and that your assets should be distributed to your loved ones rather than eroded by court fees, you’re not alone. And luckily, all it takes to get there is a proactive attitude toward planning your estate. Let’s dive in:
A. Court Interference 101
Two of the most common situations in which the court becomes involved in your estate are guardianship and probate:
B. Guardianship and Conservatorship
When someone experiences mental incapacity, documents in their estate plan can direct a trusted person to carry out that individual’s wishes for the situation. But what if no such documents have been drafted? Then their business becomes the government’s business, too. A court proceeding called guardianship or conservatorship (also known as “living probate”) will be held to appoint guardians and conservators to manage the affairs of the incapacitated person.
When an estate goes through probate, the court oversees the gathering of the probate assets, payment of any outstanding debts, determining whether a will is valid, and who the deceased’s heirs are. The proceedings ultimately determine who should receive the assets that are left after payment of debts, taxes, and costs.
D. Free Your Estate From Interference:
To avoid guardianship, conservatorship, and probate, you can work with us to keep your affairs out of court entirely.
Powers Of Attorney:
Agents or attorneys-in-fact are the individuals or entities you appoint to make decisions for you, be they medical or financial. You designate agents or attorneys-in-fact in a document known as a power of attorney. Durable powers of attorney are documents that continue in validity after the incapacity of the maker of the document (i.e. “durable” against incapacity). Since a durable power of attorney continues in validity, a durable power of attorney can help bypass the need for court-appointed guardianship or conservatorship.
Trusts are agreements that hold some or all your assets, and trustees can be either individuals or corporate entities. Unlike wills, trusts do not go through probate. There are several types of trusts, and we can help you decide exactly which kind is best suited to your estate. By setting up and completely funding a revocable living trust, you can accomplish two important things. First, you can rest assured that your assets will be distributed to your chosen beneficiaries and won’t go through probate upon your death. Second, you also retain the ability to change or cancel the arrangement during your lifetime enabling you to adjust your plan as your financial or family circumstances change.
Ensure That Your Estate Plan Is Air-Tight:
Deciding on appropriate powers of attorney and drafting revocable living trusts are just two of the many steps we can take together to keep your affairs free from court involvement. With a solid estate plan put into place with the help of a trusted attorney, you can take comfort knowing that everything you’ve worked so hard to build and maintain will be passed along to only the people who matter most. Contact our office today to learn more about interference-proofing your estate plan.