Why Shouldn’t I Delay Making Big Gifts?

The unified federal estate and gift tax exemption for 2020 will jump up to $11.58 million or effectively $23.160 million for married couples.

Market Watch’s recent article, “Get your estate plan in order (this means you),”says that, despite these huge big exemptions and the fact you’re not currently exposed to the federal estate tax, your estate plan may still need updating to reflect the current tax rules.

You may be exposed to the federal estate tax in the future, even though you’re okay right now.

Let’s look at some issues, regardless of whether or you’re “rich” enough to be worried about exposure to the federal estate tax. Year-end is a good time to conduct your estate planning self-check, so let’s get started.

Update beneficiary designations. A will or living trust doesn’t override the beneficiary designations for life insurance policies, retirement accounts and other types of investment accounts. This includes accounts, such as life insurance policies, annuities, IRAs, other tax-favored retirement accounts and employer-sponsored benefit plans. The person(s) named on the most-recent beneficiary form will get the money automatically if you die, regardless of what your will or living trust document might state.

Designate secondary beneficiaries. Designate one or more secondary (contingent) beneficiaries to inherit, if the primary beneficiary dies before you do. Consider this possibility.

Update property titles. If you’re married and own property with your spouse as joint tenants with right of survivorship (JTWROS), the surviving spouse will automatically get sole ownership of the property when the other spouse dies. The major advantage of JTWROS ownership is that it avoids probate. The property automatically goes to the surviving joint tenant.

Name guardians. One of the main purposes of a will, is to designate a guardian for your minor children (if any). The guardians must care for your children, until they reach adulthood.

Any life event could require changes in your estate plan. In addition, the federal and estate and gift tax rules have been unpredictable in the past, along with the state death tax rules. Talk with your estate planning attorney today.

Reference: Market Watch (November 11, 2019) “Get your estate plan in order (this means you)” 

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable TrustsEstate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

 

Blended Families Need More Thoughtful Estate Plans

Estate planning for blended families is like playing chess in three dimensions: even those who are very good at chess can struggle with so many moving parts in so many dimensions. Preparing an estate plan requires careful consideration of family dynamics, and those are multiplied in blended families. This is another reason why estate plans need to be tailored for each family’s circumstances, as described in the article “Blended families have unique considerations in estate planning” from The News Enterprise.

The last will and testament is often considered the key document in an estate plan. But while the will is very important, it has certain limitations and a few commonly used estate planning strategies can result in unpleasant endings, if this is the only document used.

Spouses often leave everything to each other as the primary beneficiary on death, with all of their children as contingent beneficiaries. This is based on the assumption that the second spouse will remain in the family home, then will distribute any proceeds equally between the children, if and when they move or die. However, the will can be changed at any time before death, as long as the person making the will has mental capacity. If when the first spouse dies, the relationship with the surviving children is not strong, it is possible that the surviving spouse may have their will changed.

If stepchildren don’t have a strong connection with the surviving spouse, which occurs frequently when the second marriage occurs after the children are adults, things can go wrong. Their mutual grief at the passing of the first spouse does not always draw stepchildren and stepparents together. Often, it divides them.

The couple may also select different successor beneficiaries. The husband may name his wife first, then only his children in his will, while the wife may name her husband and then her children in her will. This creates a “survival race.” The surviving spouse receives the property and the children of the spouse who passed won’t know when or if they will receive any assets.

Some couples plan on using trusts for property distribution upon death. This can be more successful, if planned properly. It can also be just as bad as a will.

Trust provisions can be categorized according to the level of control the surviving spouse has after the death of the first spouse. A trust can be structured to lock down half of the trust assets on the death of the first spouse. The surviving spouse remains as a beneficiary but does not have the ability to change the ultimate distribution of the decedent’s portion. This allows the survivor the financial support they need, giving flexibility for the survivor to change their beneficiaries for their remaining share.

Not all blended families actually “blend,” but for those who do, a candid discussion with all, possibly in the office of the estate planning attorney, to plan for the future, is one way to ensure that the family remains a family, when both parents are gone.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable TrustsEstate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

Reference: The News Enterprise (November 4, 2019) “Blended families have unique considerations in estate planning”

 

A Good Estate Plan Equals Peace of Mind and Peace in the Family

A Good Estate Plan Equals Peace of Mind and Peace in the Family: The problems aren’t always evident when the first parent passes. Often, it’s when the second parent becomes gravely ill, that lapses in estate planning become evident. For one family, everyone thought estate plans were all in place after their father died. When their mother suffered a stroke, the adult children learned that they had no access to her financial accounts or her health care directives. No one had thought to update the estate plan.

However, when one parent passes, the family needs to take action. That’s the lesson from the article “Avoid heartache and anxiety with estate planning” from Post Independent. In this case, the family never thought to modify or add anyone’s name to the financial accounts, power of attorney documents, medical power of attorney documents, or HIPAA consent forms. What often happens in these cases, is that family members start bickering about who was supposed to do what.

For those who have not taken the time to learn about estate planning, planning for end-of-life legal, financial and medical matters, the quarrels may be inevitable.

Estate planning is not just for wealthy families. If your aging loved one own property, stocks, bonds or any other assets, they need to have a will, advance directives, powers of attorney and possibly some trusts. Take the time to understand these documents now, before an urgent crisis occurs.

There are few formal courses that teach people about these matters, unless they go to law school. Nearly half of Americans age 55 and over don’t have a will, according to an article appearing in Forbes. Fewer than 20% of these people have health care directives and the proper types of powers of attorney in place.

When it comes to preparing for these matters, the laws are very specific about who can participate in health care and financial conversations and decisions.

Here are some of the documents needed for an estate plan:

  • Last Will and Testament
  • General, Limited and/or Durable Power of Attorney
  • Health Care Power of Attorney
  • Living Will
  • Advance Care Directive
  • HIPAA Consent Form

Preplanning will greatly assist family members and loved ones, so they know what medical and financial efforts you or your parents would want. Having the documents in order will also provide the family with the legal means of carrying out these wishes.

The legal documents won’t solve all problems. Your brother-in-law will still be a pain in the neck and your oldest sister may still make unrealistic demands. However, having these documents in place, will make the best of a bad situation.

Speak with an estate planning attorney to ensure that your estate plan, or your parent’s estate plan, is properly prepared. If someone has moved to another state, their estate plan needs to be updated to align with their new state’s laws.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable TrustsEstate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

Reference: Post Independent (November 3, 2019) “Avoid heartache and anxiety with estate planning”

 

Have an Estate Plan, for Your Heir’s Sake

Few people want to leave their heirs with a paperwork disaster, but that’s what happens when there’s no estate plan. According to the article “The importance of creating an estate road map for your heirs” from Grand Rapids Business Journal, an estate plan usually involves a will, a durable power of attorney for financial decisions, a health care power of attorney (sometimes known as a designation of patient advocate or a health care proxy) for medical decisions, and often, a trust.

An estate plan also involves making sure assets are titled correctly and beneficiary designations for assets are coordinated with these documents, so assets pass to the people of your choosing in an efficient manner.

It’s always better if this information is gathered together and put in a location that is known to trusted family members.

Another step to consider is leaving a personalized letter of instructions to your spouse or other family members. The letter can be used to explain why you distributed your assets the way you did or guide them on what you’d like them to do with your estate regarding the assets. This is not a legally enforceable document, but it may provide your family members with a level of understanding not otherwise explained in your will.

For most people, retirement accounts, real estate, bank and investment accounts, cars and maybe pensions are the total sum of their estate. If your estate is larger or more complex, i.e., you own a business or a large real estate portfolio, your estate plan may be more complex.

Step-by-step instructions regarding each asset may be helpful for your heirs, including contact information for each asset. They will also find it helpful to have a list of your professional team: your estate planning attorney, financial advisor and accountant.

For certain accounts, instructions may need to be very specific. For a retirement plan, if your spouse survives you, they’ll need to know about rolling the funds into an inherited spousal IRA and naming beneficiaries. Your estate planning attorney can help your surviving spouse avoid any expensive mistakes.

If you own a business, there will be need for more guidance. A succession plan should be set up long in advance of your retirement, so that family members who are active in the business will be able to see it continue, if that is your goal. If the family does not want to run the business, they’ll need to know who to contact to ensure that it maintains its value after your passing, so it can be sold for a healthy profit.

Attorneys and accountants will definitely be able to help your family after your passing, but if you own a business, you know it better than anyone else. Just as you have a business plan for various contingencies, you need to have a plan in the event of your untimely passing. This is lacking for many family-owned businesses, and it often does not end well for the family or the business.

The more detailed the directions you can leave for your family, the better off everyone will be. Having a good estate plan is an act of great kindness to those you love.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable TrustsEstate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

Reference: Grand Rapids Business Journal (October 31, 2019) “The importance of creating an estate road map for your heirs”

 

Tailoring a Caregiving Plan to Your Family

Tailoring a Caregiving Plan to Your Family: If you have a family member who needs ongoing assistance because of a disability, severe medical issue, or a chronic illness, you might need to create a schedule within the family for providing care to that loved one. Few of us can afford to hire a private nurse for a family member. Many people who need caregiving need someone available 24 hours a day, even if some of that time is watching over the person rather than providing medical attention.

Public assistance programs provide limited, if any services, so most families have to figure out who can pitch in and help care for the loved one. If you are like most people, you could use some suggestions on tailoring a caregiving plan to your family. Recent legislation could make that task easier.

The Inherent Problems of Caregiving

People who are already working full-time and raising their families, often end up taking shifts, along with other relatives. The situation can go on like this for years. The caregivers become exhausted, physically, emotionally and financially.

Resentment can build, if some of the family caregivers feel they are doing more than their share, while others are not doing their part. Years later, the primary caregivers can get accused of undue influence, if the person who received help gives a larger portion of the estate to the primary caregivers out of gratitude.

Why Congress is Paying Attention to the Challenges of Family Caregiving

Our population is aging. By 2026, the baby boomer generation will start to turn 80 years old. Many people in their eighties need long-term care, either in the home or a facility. The high numbers of baby boomers and the declining birthrates mean there will be more people needing family caregiving and fewer relatives available to provide those services.

Family caregiving takes a massive chunk out of our economy each year. Experts say 40 million people in the United States provide unpaid caregiving services to their adult loved ones, who have limitations in their daily activities. The experts on aging value these services at around $470 billion a year.

Another 3.7 million Americans take care of a disabled child under the age of 18. Some people have to provide caregiving for both an older adult and a child. People in the field estimate that about 6.5 million people in our country fall into this category.

The caregivers face immediate and long-term financial crises, because of the time they devote to the needs of their vulnerable loved ones. In the moment, the caregiver might have to cut back on work hours or leave a paying job to be there for the family member in need. Losing a paycheck and benefits, can put a caregiver into economic hardship. Many caregivers live in poverty in the future, because it was impossible to contribute to retirement savings or the Social Security system during the long years of caregiving.

Congress is working on measures to provide more public resources for family caregivers. The “Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act” contains strategies for state and communities to support caregiving families. Increased assessments and service planning dovetailed with education, supports and respite options can impact financial security and workplace issues of caregivers. The new law centers on both caregivers and people receiving the care.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable TrustsEstate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

References:

AARP. “Building a Family Caregiving Strategy to Align with the Real Needs of Families.” (accessed October 31, 2019) https://blog.aarp.org/thinking-policy/building-a-family-caregiving-strategy-to-align-with-the-real-needs-of-families

 

How to Keep Giving After You Are Gone

How to Keep Giving After You Are Gone: Americans are a generous people, giving of our time and resources, through donations and volunteering. However, according to the article “Charitable conundrum: Why do we give up on giving at death?” from the Austin Business Journal, less than one out of nine individuals include a charitable donation as part of their estate plan.

Why do we stop giving at death? We know that the causes we care about continue to work after we are gone. There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the biggest reason behind his omission is that we tend to avoid estate planning. It’s an emotional challenge, preparing in a very real way to leave the world we enjoy with our loved ones. It’s not as much fun as going fly fishing or playing with the grandchildren.

Here are a few ways to include charitable giving in your estate plan, even when you aren’t having your estate plan created or reviewed.

Charitable beneficiaries. You can make a charity a partial beneficiary of a retirement account. They can be added as a primary beneficiary or as a contingent beneficiary. These changes can be made simply by contacting the custodian of the account and following their instructions for changing beneficiaries. Note that in certain states, spousal approval is required for any beneficiary changes. You can use this opportunity to also update your beneficiaries.

There’s a tax benefit in doing this. Charitable beneficiaries do not have to pay income tax on retirement distributions, although individuals do. Depending on the income level of an individual beneficiary, an heir could lose more than 40% of the inherited retirement account to state and local taxes.

The addition of a charitable beneficiary may restrict the ability for family members to stretch the receipt of retirement assets over time. Check with your estate planning attorney to make sure your good deed does not cause a hardship for family members.

Create a charitable IRA of your own. Another way to use retirement funds for a donation, is to roll some assets out of a main retirement account into a smaller retirement account with only charitable beneficiaries. Instead of consolidating accounts, you are doing the opposite, but for a good reason. This will allow you to manage the amount of money being left to the charity and take required or discretionary distributions from whichever account you choose.

Life insurance and annuities. Both of these vehicles use beneficiary designations, so the same strategy can be used for these accounts. Typically, the annuity must still be in the deferral state—not annuitized—and the life insurance contract must allow for changes to be made to the beneficiaries, which is true for most accounts. Note that life insurance proceeds are non-taxable to individuals and charities, and annuity proceeds are generally partially tax-free to individual heirs (amount of basis in the contract).

Talk with your estate planning attorney about the optimal strategies for making charitable giving part of your estate plan. Your situation may differ, and there may be other ways to maximize the wealth that is shared with charities and with your family.

Reference: Austin Business Journal (October 2, 2019) “Charitable conundrum: Why do we give up on giving at death?”

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable TrustsEstate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

Should I Use a Trust to Protect My Children’s Inheritance?

Should I Use a Trust to Protect My Children’s Inheritance? Parents with savings have several options for their children’s future inheritances.

nj.com’s recent article answers this question: “We have $1.5 million. Should we get a trust for our children’s inheritance?” According to the article, parents could create lifetime trusts or trusts in their wills for the benefit of the surviving spouse during the spouse’s lifetime.

After that, they can have the remainder of the assets pass in trusts for each of the children, until they reach a certain age or ages.

A lifetime trust is a type of trust that’s created during an individual’s lifetime. This is different from a testamentary trust, which is a trust created after a person’s lifetime through the operation of that person’s will.

Usually the individual who settles the trust (the “Grantor”) will retain control over the assets in the trust, including the right to revoke the assets during his or her lifetime. These forms of lifetime trusts are known as grantor trusts.

Another option is to have these types of trusts continue for the benefit of the grandchildren.

The children’s trusts can have instructions that the assets and income are to be used for the health, maintenance, education and support of the child.

The parents would need to name a trustee or co-trustee. This is the person who’s responsible for investing the assets, filing tax returns and paying taxes (if necessary). He or she will also distribute the assets, according to the terms of the trust.

Trusts are complicated business, so meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to determine the best strategies based on your circumstances and goals.

Reference: nj.com (October 16, 2019) “We have $1.5 million. Should we get a trust for our children’s inheritance?”

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable TrustsEstate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

 

Don’t Let Medicare Open Enrollment Go by without checking your benefits

Don’t Let Medicare Open Enrollment Go without checking your benefits: Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, during which you can freely enroll in or switch plans, runs from October 15 to December 7. Don’t let this period slip by without shopping around to see whether your current choices are the best ones for you.

During this period you may enroll in a Medicare Part D (prescription drug) plan or, if you currently have a plan, you may change plans. In addition, during the seven-week period you can return to traditional Medicare (Parts A and B) from a Medicare Advantage (Part C, managed care) plan, enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, or change Advantage plans. Beneficiaries can go to www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) to make changes in their Medicare prescription drug and health plan coverage.

According to the New York Times, few Medicare beneficiaries take advantage of open enrollment, but of those that do, nearly half cut their premiums by at least 5 percent. Even beneficiaries who have been satisfied with their plans in 2019 should review their choices for 2020, as both premiums and plan coverage can fluctuate from year to year. Are the doctors you use still part of your Medicare Advantage plan’s provider network? Have any of the prescriptions you take been dropped from your prescription plan’s list of covered drugs (the “formulary”)? Could you save money with the same coverage by switching to a different plan?

For answers to questions like these, carefully look over the plan’s “Annual Notice of Change” letter to you. Prescription drug plans can change their premiums, deductibles, the list of drugs they cover, and their plan rules for covered drugs, exceptions, and appeals. Medicare Advantage plans can change their benefit packages, as well as their provider networks.

Remember that fraud perpetrators will inevitably use the Open Enrollment Period to try to gain access to individuals’ personal financial information. Medicare beneficiaries should never give their personal information out to anyone making unsolicited phone calls selling Medicare-related products or services or showing up on their doorstep uninvited. If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud or identity theft, contact Medicare.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

Here are more resources for navigating the Open Enrollment Period:

 

 

VETERANS DAY: HOW IT’S DIFFERENT FROM MEMORIAL DAY

VETERANS DAY: HOW IT’S DIFFERENT FROM MEMORIAL DAY.  Two holidays, Memorial Day and Veterans Day, are dedicated to the nation’s service members, leading, at times, to confusion as to how they’re different. While they’re both focused on the military, one day is meant to thank living veterans and the other is intended to pay tribute to those who gave their lives for their country.

America’s veterans, those who served in the military and weren’t dishonorably discharged, as defined by the Department of Veterans Affairs, are thanked on the aptly named holiday Veterans Day. Included under the umbrella of the term “veteran” are those who served their country and passed away, although the holiday is predominately geared toward the living.

It occurs annually on November 11, six months after Memorial Day, which, as its name indicates, is intended to be a way of memorializing those who gave their lives serving America.

Originally called Armistice Day, the holiday commemorated the day the Allied forces and Germany put into effect an armistice on November 11, 1918, signaling an end to the fighting of World War I. It became an official holiday in 1938, according to the Department of Defense.ds by scrollerads.com

By 1954, Americans had served in World War II and the Korean War, causing veterans service organizations to urge Congress to change Armistice Day to Veterans Day. This way, service members from all wars would be honored and not just those who served in World War I.

Just as Veterans Day wasn’t always called Veterans Day, it wasn’t always commemorated on November 11. In the beginning, people celebrated veterans on November 11, but the passage of the Uniform Holiday Act in 1968 moved the holiday to Monday, regardless of the date. The goal was to create guaranteed three-day weekends, which, theoretically, would spur travel and family activities, therefore boosting the economy.

From October 25, 1971, until 1977, Veterans Day was celebrated on the fourth Monday of October. However, in 1975, President Gerald Ford signed a law and the holiday was returned to November 11 in 1978.

To celebrate Veterans Day, towns and cities will often have parades and businesses will offer discounts to service members and veterans. Unlike on Memorial Day, when it may be more appropriate to tell veterans to have a “meaningful day,” according to NPR, on Veterans Day, it’s entirely acceptable and encouraged to tell a veteran, “thank you for your service.”

Another free way to acknowledge a veteran’s service on Monday, as recommended by Military.com, is to ask them about their past. Instead of just thanking them for serving, inquire as to what their role in the military was and why they chose the branch they did. For some veterans, “thank you for your service,” can come off as hollow due to its widespread use, so taking time to listen can show a deeper appreciation.

Also, if you’re planning on making a card or sending someone a digital message for Veterans Day, be sure to spell it “Veterans Day.” People sometimes refer to it as “Veteran’s Day,” but the proper spelling does not include an apostrophe.

We don’t know them all but we owe them all.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

 

Special Ownership for Married Couples: Tenancy by the Entirety

Special Ownership for Married Couples: Tenancy by the Entirety: Married couples have a special way to jointly own property in some states that has advantages over regular joint ownership. If you are married and own property jointly, you should make sure you have the right form of ownership.

Joint tenants must have equal ownership interests in the property. If one of the joint tenants dies, his or her interest immediately ceases to exist and the remaining joint tenant owns the entire property. The advantage to joint tenancy is that it avoids having an owner’s interest probated upon his death. The disadvantage is that creditors can attach one tenant’s property to satisfy the other’s debt.

Some states give married couples another option to own property jointly and avoid probate, but also have protection from creditors. Tenancy by the entirety has the same right of survivorship as a joint tenancy, but one spouse cannot sell his or her interest without the other spouse’s permission. The creditors of one spouse cannot attach the property or force its sale to recover debts unless both spouses consent. Creditors may place a lien on property held in tenancy by the entirety, but if the debtor dies before the other spouse, the other spouse takes ownership of the property free and clear of the debt. This is why if you have a tenancy by the entirety, both the husband and wife are required to sign the mortgage on their property for the mortgage to be valid.

Tenancy by the entirety is available in half of all states and the District of Columbia. Some states recognize it for all property; other states only recognize it for real estate. States with tenancy by the entirety are: Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming.

If you own joint property with a spouse in a state with tenancy by the entirety, you should check to make sure the property is owned as tenants by the entirety. In addition, unmarried couples who buy property and subsequently marry each other should check if they can re-title the deed as tenants by the entirety to avail themselves of the greater protections this form of tenancy offers.

For more information about joint ownership, click here.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.