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”

 

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.

Planning for the Unexpected

Planning for the Unexpected: Sadly, this is not an unusual situation. The daughter spoke with her mother once or twice a week, and the fall happened just after their last conversation. She dropped what she was doing and drove to the hospital, according to the article “Parents” in BusinessWest.com. At the hospital, she was worried that her mother was suffering from more than fractures, as her mother was disoriented because of the pain medications.

The conversation with her brother and mother about why she wasn’t notified immediately was frustrating. They “didn’t want to worry her.” She was worried, and not just about her mother’s well-being, but about her finances, and whether any plans were in place for this situation.

Her brother was a retired comptroller, and she thought that as a former financial professional, he would have taken care of everything. That was not the case.

Despite his professional career, the brother had never had “the talk” with his mother about money. No one knew if she had an estate plan, and if she did, where the documents were located.

All too often, families discover that no planning has taken place during an emergency.

The conversation took place in the hospital, when the siblings learned that documents had never been updated after their father had passed—more than 20 years earlier! The attorney who prepared the documents had retired long ago. The originals? Mom had no idea. The names of her banks and financial institutions had changed so many times over the years, that she wasn’t even sure where her money was.

For this family, the story had a happy ending. Once the mother got out of the hospital, the family made an appointment to meet with an estate planning attorney to get all of her estate planning and elder law planning completed. In addition, the family updated beneficiaries on life insurance and retirement accounts, which are now set to avoid probate.

Both siblings have a list of their mother’s assets, account numbers, credit card information and what’s more, they are tracking the accounts to ensure that any sort of questionable transactions are reviewed quickly. They finally have a clear picture of their mother’s expenses, assets and income.

If your family’s situation is closer to the start of the story than the end, it’s time to contact a qualified estate planning attorney who is licensed to practice in your state and have all the necessary preparation done. Don’t wait until you’re uncovering family mysteries in the hospital.

If you would like more information on how to start your estate planning now, contact our Fort Myers law firm to schedule your free consultation 239-418-0169

Reference: BusinessWest.com (Aug. 1, 2019) “Parents”