Do your parents have an estate plan? Is it up to date? No matter how rich or poor you or your parents are, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, you need to be asking these and several other questions. When your parents become incapacitated or die, their affairs will become your responsibility, and it will be impossible to ask them to clarify anything. So, if you do not know whether they have estate planning in place to help you best support them, read on.  

The Best-Case Scenario

In a best-case scenario, your parents have an updated estate plan, and they’ve walked you through it. They have provided an inventory of their assets that’s easy for you to find listing out everything they own and how it’s titled. Ideally, the plan also includes directions on how to handle their non-monetary assets, and a video, audio recording or written stories that pass on their values, insights and experience. On top of all that, it’s best if they’ve introduced you to the lawyer who set it all up, so you know who to turn to when the time comes.

Less-Than-Ideal Scenarios

If that’s not the case, you could have some holes to fill. If they’ve not done any planning at all, now is the time to encourage them to get it done and support them in any way you can. If they already have a completed plan, it’s likely that it has been sitting on their shelf or in a drawer for years, not updated, with no inventory of their assets and no way to capture and pass on their intangible assets. Even worse, their lawyer could have been using outdated systems that are no longer recognized, which can lead to trouble down the road.

It’s also possible that if they’ve never updated their estate plan, it no longer tracks with their current assets, and may even require complex actions that are no longer necessary upon their death. Worst of all, you may have no idea what your parents own or how to find their assets, and at their incapacity or death you’ll be left with a mess, even though your parents had good intentions and thought their planning was handled.

The Worst-Case Scenario

In a worst-case scenario (which we see more frequently than we’d like), your parents may have worked with someone who exerted undue influence over their decisions. This person may have led them to write something into their plan that they either didn’t really want to or wouldn’t otherwise have chosen if they understood all their options.  

Either way, it’s critical for you to know who your parents have worked with to create their estate plan, and how and why they made the choices they did. If you aren’t in the know, now is the time to find out. 

If your parents are already discussing these matters but have not yet included you, you can ask them to schedule a family meeting with their existing attorney. On your parents’ request, that attorney should look forward to walking you through your parents’ planning, the choices they made, and how you will be impacted in the event of their incapacity or death.

You want to develop a relationship with their estate planning attorney now. This advisor can be one of the most important supporters of you and your parents during your time of need. It’s a relationship you will want to establish before you need it, so you won’t be scrambling during a time of crisis.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

In many families, money matters are not typical dinner table discussion, but I think it should be. This is especially true when it comes to affluent parents. And, I hope this changes because one of the most important things you can do is talk to your kids (and your parents) about money.

According to the Spectrem Millionaire Corner, a market research group, only 17% of affluent parents said they would disclose their income or net worth to their kids by the time they turned 18. A nearly equal amount, 18% said they would never disclose these numbers to their kids. 32% of the parents surveyed by Spectrem said “it’s none of their business” when asked why they would not talk to their kids about money.

But, that’s faulty thinking. The amount of money generated by your family, and what will happen to it when you or your parents become incapacitated or die is definitely “family” business. In fact, whether your parents talk with you about it now, or you figure it all out after they die, your parent’s money has a huge impact on you.

If your parents are not talking to you about money, it could be because they are afraid that if you know how much money there is, it will make you lazy, unmotivated, or change the course of your life decisions in a negative manner. And, maybe you have the same fears of talking about money with your own kids.

But the truth is that whether you know exactly what’s there or not, you have a general sense of your family’s financial situation and it’s already impacted your decisions in a myriad of ways. And the best way for your family’s money to impact your decisions in a positive manner is to have open conversation about it.

If you are a child of well-off parents who are not talking to you about money, consider that your job is to learn to communicate with your parents in a way that will have them trust you, and the decisions you will make if you know just how much there is.

When money has come up in the past, have you behaved immaturely? Have your actions or words caused your parents not to trust you? If so, you can change that now. And consider the possibility that your parents would love to see evidence of your maturity in this arena.

If you are a parent yourself, one of the most important wishes you have for your children is probably that they learn to handle money well. And as a parent myself, I know you want to influence them in the most positive way possible when it comes to money (and everything else, for that matter).

Consider how you would want your children to approach you to have the money conversation, and how you can do exactly that with your parents?

We all must learn about our family’s money eventually. And if that doesn’t happen until after our parents die, it can be a much bigger burden to deal with, and we can lose tremendous opportunities for passing on more than just money.

As an prosperous parent, or the child of prosperous parents, getting into conversations about money now is a huge opportunity to pass on values, insights, stories and experiences that will be lost if you wait until incapacity or death to start facing that topic.

I believe it’s one of the most valuable, ongoing conversations I’m having with my children – and parents. And it’s one of my favorite things to help my clients get going in their own families.

Don’t underestimate the power of these conversations. Talking to your kids (or your parents) about money is one of life’s real opportunities for your family to come together and use your whole family wealth to create more connection from one generation to the next.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

A last will and testament can ensure your wishes are respected when you die. But if your will isn’t legally valid, those wishes might not actually be carried out, and instead the laws of “intestate succession” would apply, meaning that the state decides who gets your stuff, and it’s very likely not to be who you would choose.

If you’ve created a will online, we congratulate you for doing SOMETHING, but I strongly recommend that you have it reviewed and make sure it does what you want and is actually legally valid. I’ve seen it far too many times: someone THINKS they’ve created a will, because they did something, but the SOMETHING was the WRONG THING, and their family is left to deal with the fallout, confusion and complications that result.

The validity of a will depends on where you live when you die, as last will and testament laws vary from state to state. California requires wills to meet the following criteria in order to be legally binding:

The Essential Requirements
You must be at least 18 years old or an emancipated minor to create a legally valid will.

  • You must be of sound mind and capable of understanding your intentions for your estate, who you want to be a beneficiary, and your relationship with those people when you create your will.
  • You must sign your will or direct someone else to sign it if you are physically incapable of doing so.
  • There must be at least two witnesses—who are not beneficiaries— present at the signing.

Handwritten Wills
You may write a holographic will, which means a will that is written completely in your own hand, with no other printed material on the page. In that case, there are no witnesses required, and, in fact, having a witness would make the will invalid because there must be no other writing other than your hand on the page for a holographic will to be valid.

When a Will Isn’t Valid
If your will does not adhere to the legal requirements, the court will declare it invalid. In this case, your estate would pass under California’s intestacy laws, which means your assets would go to your closest living relatives, as determined by the law. And that may or may not be who you would want to receive your assets.

Is a Will All You Need?
A will is a baseline foundation for any estate plan, but it might not be enough to protect your family. A will does not keep your assets out of court, and it does not operate in the event of your incapacity. It also does not ensure your minor children will only ever be cared for by whom you choose. And a will alone cannot ensure your loved ones receive your assets protected from unnecessary conflict or creditors.

The best way to ensure your will is legally valid is by consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney to confirm your will follows California’s laws and to evaluate your estate plan to ensure it will protect your wishes and provide for your family according to those wishes in the event of your incapacity, or when you die.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

On January 1, 2020, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Act) went into effect, and it could have big implications for both your retirement and estate planning strategies—and not all of them are positive.

Last week, I gave you a general overview of the SECURE Act’s most impactful provisions. Under the new law, your heirs could end up paying far more in income taxes than necessary when they inherit the assets in your retirement account. Moreover, the assets your heirs inherit could also end up at risk from creditors, lawsuits, or divorce. And this is true even for retirement assets held in certain protective trusts designed to shield those assets from such threats and maximize tax savings.

Here, we’ll cover the SECURE Act’s impact on your financial planning for retirement, offering strategies for maximizing your retirement account’s potential for growth, while minimizing tax liabilities and other risks that could arise in light of the legislation’s legal changes.

Tax-advantaged retirement planning

If your retirement account assets are held in a traditional IRA, you received a tax deduction when you put funds into that account, and now the investments in that account grow tax free as long as they remain in the account. When you eventually withdraw funds from the account, you’ll pay income taxes on that money based on your tax rate at the time.

If you withdraw those funds during retirement, your tax rate will likely (but not always) be lower than it is now. The combination of the upfront tax deduction on your initial investment with the likely lower tax rate on your withdrawal is what makes traditional IRAs such an attractive option for retirement planning.

Thanks to the SECURE Act, these retirement vehicles now come with even more benefits. Previously, you were required to start taking distributions from retirement accounts at age 70 ½. But under the SECURE Act, you are not required to start taking distributions until you reach 72, giving you an additional year-and-a-half to grow your retirement savings tax free.

The SECURE Act also eliminated the age restriction on contributions to traditional IRAs. Under prior law, those who continued working could not contribute to a traditional IRA once they reached 70 ½. Now you can continue making contributions to your IRA for as long as you and/or your spouse are still working.

From a financial-planning perspective, you’ll want to consider the effect these new rules could have on the goal for your retirement account assets. For example, will you need the assets you’ve been accumulating in your retirement account for your own use during retirement, or do you plan to pass those assets to your heirs? From there, you’ll want to consider the potential income-tax consequences of each scenario.

Your retirement account assets are extremely valuable, and you’ll want to ensure those assets are well managed both for yourself and future generations, so you should discuss these issues with your financial advisor as soon as possible. If you don’t already have a financial advisor, we’ll be happy to recommend a few we trust most.

And if you meet with us for a Family Estate Planning Session (or for a review of your existing plan) to discuss your options from a legal perspective, we can integrate your financial advisor into our meeting. Together, we can look at the specific goals you’re trying to achieve and determine the best ways to use your retirement-account assets to benefit yourself and your heirs.

Here are some things we would consider with you and your financial advisor:

Converting to a ROTH IRA
In light of the SECURE Act’s changes, you may want to consider converting your traditional IRA to a ROTH IRA. ROTH IRAs come with a potentially large tax bill up front, when you initially transition the account, but all earnings and future distributions from the account are tax free.

Life insurance trust options
Given the new distribution requirements for inherited IRAs, we can also look at whether it makes sense to withdraw the funds from your retirement account now, pay the resulting tax, and invest the remainder in life insurance. From there, you can set up a life insurance trust to hold the policy’s balance for your heirs.

By directing the death benefits of that insurance into a trust, you can avoid burdening your beneficiaries with the SECURE Act’s new tax requirements for withdrawals of inherited retirement assets as well as provide extended asset protection for the funds held in trust.

Charitable trust options
If you have charitable inclinations, we can consider using a charitable remainder trust (CRT). By naming the CRT as the beneficiary of your retirement account, when you pass away, the CRT would make monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, or annual distributions to your beneficiaries over their lifetime. Then, when the beneficiaries pass away, the remaining assets would be distributed to a charity of your choice.

The decision of whether to transition your traditional IRA into a ROTH IRA now, or cash out and buy insurance, or use a CRT to provide for your beneficiaries is a solvable “math problem.” Using the specific facts of your life goals as the elements that go into solving the problem, we can team up with your financial advisor to help you do the math and solve the equation.

Adjusting your plan
While the SECURE Act has significantly altered the tax implications for retirement planning and estate planning, as you can see, there are still plenty of tax-saving options available for managing your retirement account assets. But these options are only available if you plan for them.

If you don’t revise your plan to accommodate the SECURE Act’s new requirements, your family will pay the maximum amount of income taxes and lose valuable opportunities for asset-protection and wealth-creation as well. You’ve worked too hard for these assets to see them lost, squandered, or not pass to your heirs in the way you choose, so put this planning at the top of your new year’s resolution list.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Act). The SECURE Act, is effective as of January 1, 2020. The Act is the most impactful legislation affecting retirement accounts in decades. The SECURE Act has several positive changes: It increases the required beginning date (RBD) for required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your individual retirement accounts from 70 ½ to 72 years of age, and it eliminates the age restriction for contributions to qualified retirement accounts. However, perhaps the most significant change will affect the beneficiaries of your retirement accounts: The SECURE Act requires most designated beneficiaries to withdraw the entire balance of an inherited retirement account within ten years of the account owner’s death.

The SECURE Act does provide a few exceptions to this new mandatory ten-year withdrawal rule: spouses, beneficiaries who are not more than ten years younger than the account owner, the account owner’s children who have not reached the “age of majority,” disabled individuals, and chronically ill individuals. However, proper analysis of your estate planning goals and planning for your intended beneficiaries’ circumstances are imperative to ensure your goals are accomplished and your beneficiaries are properly planned for.

Under the old law, beneficiaries of inherited retirement accounts could take distributions over their individual life expectancy. Under the SECURE Act, the shorter ten-year time frame for taking distributions will result in the acceleration of income tax due, possibly causing your beneficiaries to be bumped into a higher income tax bracket, thus receiving less of the funds contained in the retirement account than you may have originally anticipated.

Your estate planning goals likely include more than just tax considerations. You might be concerned with protecting a beneficiary’s inheritance from their creditors, future lawsuits, or a divorcing spouse. In order to protect your hard-earned retirement account and the ones you love, it is critical to act now.

Review/Amend Your Revocable Living Trust (RLT) or Standalone Retirement Trust (SRT)

Depending on the value of your retirement account, you may have addressed the distribution of your accounts in your RLT, or you may have created an SRT that would handle your retirement accounts at your death. Your trust may have included a “conduit” provision, and, under the old law, the trustee would only distribute required minimum distributions (RMDs) to the trust beneficiaries, allowing the continued “stretch” based upon their age and life expectancy.  A conduit trust protected the account balance, and only RMDs–much smaller amounts–were vulnerable to creditors and divorcing spouses. With the SECURE Act’s passage, a conduit trust structure will no longer work because the trustee will be required to distribute the entire account balance to a beneficiary within ten years of your death. You many now need to consider the benefits of an “accumulation trust,” an alternative trust structure through which the trustee can take any required distributions and continue to hold them in a protected trust for your beneficiaries.

Consider Additional Trusts

For most Americans, a retirement account is the largest asset they will own when they pass away. If you have not done so already, it may be beneficial to create a trust to handle your retirement accounts. While many accounts offer simple beneficiary designation forms that allow you to name an individual or charity to receive funds when you pass away, this form alone does not take into consideration your estate planning goals and the unique circumstances of your beneficiary. A trust is a great tool to address the mandatory ten-year withdrawal rule under the new Act, providing continued protection of a beneficiary’s inheritance.

Review Intended Beneficiaries

With the changes to the laws surrounding retirement accounts, now is a great time to review and confirm your retirement account information. Whichever estate planning strategy is appropriate for you, it is important that your beneficiary designation is filled out correctly. If your intention is for the retirement account to go into a trust for a beneficiary, the trust must be properly named as the primary beneficiary. If you want the primary beneficiary to be an individual, he or she must be named. Ensure you have listed contingent beneficiaries as well.

If you have recently divorced or married, you will need to ensure the appropriate changes are made because at your death, in many cases, the plan administrator will distribute the account funds to the beneficiary listed, regardless of your relationship with the beneficiary or what your ultimate wishes might have been.

What Happens Next

If you are a client, we’ll be reaching out to you over the coming weeks if your plan is affected by the SECURE Act. If you are not a client, and don’t have an ongoing relationship with a trusted advisor, we’d be happy to review your plan to determine if it is affected by the SECURE Act. And if you have yet to get an estate plan in place, there’s no better time to get that process started. Let us know if we can help and happy new year!

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

In the first part of this series, we discussed a unique planning tool known as a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust. Here we explain the benefits of these trusts in further detail. 

If you’re planning to leave your children an inheritance of any amount, you likely want to do everything you can to protect what you leave behind from being lost or squandered.

While most lawyers will advise you to distribute the assets you’re leaving to your kids outright at specific ages and stages, based on when you think they will be mature enough to handle an inheritance, there is a much better choice for safeguarding your family wealth.

A Lifetime Asset Protection Trust is a unique estate planning vehicle that’s specifically designed to protect your children’s inheritance from unfortunate life events such as divorce, debt, illness, and accidents. At the same time, you can give your children the ability to access and invest their inheritance, while retaining airtight asset protection for their entire lives.

Today, we’ll look at the Trustee’s role in the process and how these unique trusts can teach your kids to manage and grow their inheritance, so it can support your children to become wealth creators and enrich future generations.

Total discretion for the Trustee offers airtight asset protection
Most trusts require the Trustee to distribute assets to beneficiaries in a structured way, such as at certain ages or stages. Other times, a Trustee is required to distribute assets only for specific purposes, such as for the beneficiary’s “health, education, maintenance, and support,” also known as the “HEMS” standard.

In contrast, a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust gives the Trustee full discretion on whether to make distributions or not. The Trust leaves the decision of whether to release trust assets totally up to the Trustee. The Trustee has full authority to determine how and when the assets should be released based on the beneficiary’s needs and the circumstances going on in his or her life at the time.

For example, if your child was in the process of getting divorced or in the middle of a lawsuit, the Trustee would refuse to distribute any funds. Therefore, the Trust assets remain shielded from a future ex-spouse or a potential judgment creditor, should your child be ordered to pay damages resulting from a lawsuit.

What’s more, because the Trustee controls access to the inheritance, those assets are not only protected from outside threats like ex-spouses and creditors, but from your child’s own poor judgment, as well. For example, if your child develops a substance abuse or gambling problem, the Trustee could withhold distributions until he or she receives the appropriate treatment.

A lifetime of guidance and support
Given that distributions from a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust are 100% up to the Trustee, you may be concerned about the Trustee’s ability to know when to make distributions to your child and when to withhold them. Granting such power is vital for asset protection, but it also puts a lot of pressure on the Trustee, and you probably don’t want your named Trustee making these decisions in a vacuum.

To address this issue, you can write up guidelines to the Trustee, providing the Trustee with direction about how you’d like the trust assets to be used for your beneficiaries. This ensures the Trustee is aware of your values and wishes when making distributions, rather than simply guessing what you would’ve wanted, which often leads to problems down the road. 

In fact, many of our clients add guidelines describing how they’d choose to make distributions in up to 10 different scenarios. These scenarios might involve the purchase of a home, a wedding, the start of a business, and/or travel.

An educational opportunity
Beyond these benefits, a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust can also be set up to give your child hands-on experience managing financial matters, like investing, running a business, and charitable giving. And he or she will learn how to do these things with support from the Trustee you’ve chosen to guide them.

This is accomplished by adding provisions to the trust that allow your child to become a Co-Trustee at a predetermined age. Serving alongside the original Trustee, your child will have the opportunity to invest and manage the trust assets under the supervision and tutelage of a trusted mentor.

You can even allow your child to become Sole Trustee later in life, once he or she has gained enough experience and is ready to take full control. As Sole Trustee, your child would be able to resign and replace themselves with an independent trustee, if necessary, for continued asset protection.

Future generations
Regardless of whether or not your child becomes Co-Trustee or Sole Trustee, a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust gives you the opportunity to turn your child’s inheritance into a teaching tool.

Do you want to give your child the ability to leave trust assets to a surviving spouse or a charity upon their death? Or would you prefer that the assets are only distributed to his or her biological or adopted children? You might even want your child to create their own Lifetime Asset Protection Trust for their heirs.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Whether it’s called “The Great Wealth Transfer,” “The Silver Tsunami,” or some other catchy-sounding name, it’s a fact that a tremendous amount of wealth will pass from aging Baby Boomers to younger generations in the next few decades. In fact, it’s said to be the largest transfer of intergenerational wealth in history.

Because no one knows exactly how long Boomers will live or how much money they’ll spend before they pass on, it’s impossible to accurately predict just how much wealth will be transferred. But studies suggest it’s somewhere between $30 and $50 trillion. Yes, that’s “trillion” with a “T.”

A blessing or a curse?
And while most are talking about the benefits this asset transfer might have for younger generations and the economy, few are talking about its potential negative ramifications. Yet there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that many people, especially younger generations, are woefully unprepared to handle such an inheritance. 

Indeed, an Ohio State University study found that one third of people who received an inheritance had a negative savings within two years of getting the money. Another study by The Williams Group found that intergenerational wealth transfers often become a source of tension and dispute among family members, and 70% of such transfers fail by the time they reach the second generation.

Whether you will be inheriting or passing on this wealth, it’s crucial to have a plan in place to reduce the potentially calamitous effects such transfers can lead to. Without proper estate planning, the money and other assets that get passed on can easily become more of a curse than a blessing.

Get proactive
There are several proactive measures you can take to help stave off the risks posed by the big wealth transfer. Beyond having a comprehensive estate plan, openly discussing your values and legacy with your loved ones can be key to ensuring your planning strategies work exactly as you intended. Here’s what we suggest:

Create a plan: If you haven’t created your estate plan yet—and far too many folks haven’t—it’s essential that you put a plan in place as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter how young you are or if you have a family yet, all adults over 18 should have some basic planning vehicles in place.

From there, be sure to regularly review your plan (and update it immediately after major life events like marriage, births, deaths, inheritances, and divorce) throughout your lifetime.

Discuss wealth with your family early and often: Don’t put off talking about wealth with your family until you’re in retirement or nearing death. Clearly communicate with your children and grandchildren what wealth means to you and how you’d like them to use the assets they inherit when you pass away. Make such discussions a regular event, so you can address different aspects of wealth and your family legacy as they grow and mature.

When discussing wealth with your family members, focus on the values you want to instill, rather than what and how much they can expect to inherit. Let them know what values are most important to you and try to mirror those values in your family life as much as possible. Whether it’s saving and investing, charitable giving, or community service, having your kids live your values while growing up is often the best way to ensure they carry them on once you’re gone.

Communicate your wealth’s purpose: Outside of clearly communicating your values, you should also discuss the specific purpose(s) you want your wealth to serve in your loved ones’ lives. You worked hard to build your family wealth, so you’ve more than earned the right to stipulate how it gets used and managed when you’re gone. Though you can create specific terms and conditions for your wealth’s future use in planning vehicles like a living trust, don’t make your loved ones wait until you’re dead to learn exactly how you want their inheritance used.

If you want your wealth to be used to fund your children’s college education, provide the down payment on their first home, or invested for their retirement, tell them so. By discussing such things while you’re still around, you can ensure your loved ones know exactly why you made the planning decisions you did. And doing so can greatly reduce future conflict and confusion about what your true wishes really are.

Secure your wealth, your legacy, and your family’s future
Regardless of how much or how little wealth you plan to pass on—or stand to inherit—it’s vital that you take steps to make sure that wealth is protected and put to the best use possible. A good plan should facilitate your ability to communicate your most treasured values, experiences, and stories with the ones you’re leaving behind so you can rest assured that the coming wealth transfer offers the maximum benefit for those you love most.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Aretha Franklin, heralded as the “Queen of Soul,” died from pancreatic cancer at age 76 on August 16th at her home in Detroit. Like Prince, who died in 2016, Franklin was one of the greatest musicians of our time. Also like Prince, she died without a will or trust to pass on her multimillion-dollar estate.

Franklin’s lack of estate planning was a huge mistake that will undoubtedly lead to lengthy court battles and major expenses for her family. What’s especially unfortunate is that all this trouble could have been easily prevented.

A common mistake
Such lack of estate planning is common. A 2017 poll by the senior-care referral service, Caring.com, revealed that more than 60 percent of U.S. adults currently do not have a will or trust in place. The most common excuse given for not creating these documents was simply “not getting around to it.”

Whether or not Franklin’s case involved similar procrastination is unclear, but what is clear is that her estimated $80-million estate will now have to go through the lengthy and expensive court process known as probate, her assets will be made public, and there could be a big battle brewing for her family.

Probate problems
Because Franklin was unmarried and died without a will, Michigan law stipulates that her assets are to be equally divided among her four adult children, one of whom has special needs and will need financial support for the rest of his life.

It’s also possible that probate proceedings could last for years due to the size of her estate. And all court proceedings will be public, including any disputes that arise along the way.

Such contentious court disputes are common with famous musicians. In Prince’s case, his estate has been subject to numerous family disputes since his death two years ago, even causing the revocation of a multimillion-dollar music contract. The same thing could happen to Franklin’s estate, as high-profile performers often have complex assets, like music rights.

Learn from Franklin’s mistakes
Although Franklin’s situation is unfortunate, you can learn from her mistakes by beginning the estate planning process now. It would’ve been ideal if Franklin had a will, but even with a will, her estate would still be subject to probate and open to the public. To keep everything private and out of court altogether, Franklin could’ve created a will and a trust. And, within a trust, she could have created a Special Needs Trust for her child who has special needs, thereby giving him full access to governmental support, plus supplemental support from her assets.

While trusts used to be available only to the mega wealthy, they’re now used by people of all incomes and asset values. Unlike wills, trusts keep your family out of the probate court, which can save time, money, and a huge amount of heartache. Plus, a properly funded trust (meaning all of your assets are titled in the name of the trust) keeps everything totally private.

Trusts also offer several protections for your assets and family that wills alone don’t. With a trust, for example, it’s possible to shield the inheritance you’re leaving behind from the creditors of your heirs or even a future divorce.

Don’t wait another day
Regardless of your financial status, estate planning is something that you should immediately address, especially if you have children. You never know when tragedy may strike, and by being properly prepared, you can save both yourself and your family massive expense and trauma.

Don’t follow in Franklin’s footsteps; use her death as a learning experience. Proper estate planning can keep your family out of conflict, out of court, and out of the public eye. If you’re ready to create a comprehensive estate plan, or need your plan reviewed, call us today.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

 

Some people assume that because they’ve named a specific heir as the beneficiary of their IRA in their will or trust that there’s no need to list the same person again as beneficiary in their IRA paperwork. Because of this, they often leave the IRA beneficiary form blank or list “my estate” as the beneficiary.

But this is a major mistake—and one that can lead to serious complications and expense.

IRAs Aren’t Like Other Estate Assets
First off, the person you name on your IRA’s beneficiary form is the one who will inherit the account’s funds, even if a different person is named in your will or in a trust. Your IRA beneficiary designation controls who gets the funds, no matter what you may indicate elsewhere.

Given this, you must ensure your IRA’s beneficiary designation form is up to date and lists either the name of the person you want to inherit your IRA, or the name of the trustee, if you want it to go to a revocable living trust or special IRA trust you’ve prepared. For example, if you listed an ex-spouse as the beneficiary of your IRA and forget to change it to your current spouse, your ex will get the funds when you die, even if your current spouse is listed as the beneficiary in your will.

Probate Problems
Moreover, not naming a beneficiary, or naming your “estate” in the IRA’s beneficiary designation form, means your IRA account will be subject to the court process called probate. Probate costs unnecessary time and money and guarantees your family will get stuck in court.

When you name your desired heir on the IRA beneficiary form, those funds will be available almost immediately to the named beneficiary following your death, and the money will be protected from creditors. But if your beneficiary must go through probate to claim the funds, he or she might have to wait months, or even years, for probate to be finalized.

Plus, your heir may also be on the hook for attorney and executor fees, as well as potential liabilities from creditor claims, associated with probate, thereby reducing the IRA’s total value.

Reduced Growth and Tax Savings
Another big problem caused by naming your estate in the IRA beneficiary designation or forgetting to name anyone at all is that your heir will lose out on an important opportunity for tax savings and growth of the funds. This is because the IRS calculates how the IRA’s funds will be dispersed and taxed based on the owner’s life expectancy. Since your estate is not a human, it’s ineligible for a valuable tax-savings option known as the “stretch provision” that would be available had you named the appropriate beneficiary.

Typically, when an individual is named as the IRA’s beneficiary, he or she can choose to take only the required minimum distributions over the course of his or her life expectancy. “Stretching” out the payments in this way allows for much more tax-deferred growth of the IRA’s invested funds and minimizes the amount of income tax due when withdrawals are made.

However, if the IRA’s beneficiary designation lists “my estate” or is left blank, the option to stretch out payments is no longer available. In such cases, if you die before April 1st of the year you reach 70 ½ years old (the required beginning date for distributions), your estate will have to pay out all of the IRA’s funds within five years of your death. If you die after age 70 1/2, the estate will have to make distributions over your remaining life expectancy.

This means the beneficiary who eventually gets your IRA funds from your estate will have to take the funds sooner—and pay the deferred taxes upon distribution. This limits their opportunity for additional tax-deferred growth of the account and requires him or her to pay a potentially hefty income tax bill.

A Simple Fix
Fortunately, preventing these complications is super easy—just be sure to name your chosen heir as beneficiary in your IRA paperwork (along with at least one alternate beneficiary). And remember to update the named beneficiary if your life circumstances change, such as after a death or divorce.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

inheritance and gifting 91024If you’re thinking about giving your children their inheritance early, you’re not alone. Studies suggest that these days, nearly two-thirds of people over the age of 50 would rather pass their assets to the children early than make them wait until the will is read. It can be especially satisfying to fund our children’s dreams while we’re alive to enjoy them, and there’s no real financial penalty for doing so if you structure the arrangement correctly. Here are four important factors to consider when planning to give an early inheritance.

  1. Keep the tax codes in mind.

The IRS doesn’t really care whether you give away your money now or later—the lifetime estate tax exemption is expected to be $11.18 million per individual in 2018, regardless of when the funds are transferred. So, whether you give up to $11.18 million away now or wait until you die with that amount, your estate will not owe any federal estate tax (although remember, the law is always subject to change). You can even give up to $15,000 per person (child, grandchild, or anyone else) per year without any gift tax issues at all. You might hear these $15,000 gifts referred to as “annual exclusion” gifts. There are also ways to make tax-free gifts for educational expenses or medical care, but special rules apply to these gifts. Your trusted advisor can help you successfully navigate the maze of tax issues to ensure you and your children receive the greatest benefit from your giving.

  1. Gifts that keep on giving.

One way to make your children’s inheritance go even farther is to give it as an appreciable asset. For example, helping one of your children buy a home could increase the value of your gift considerably as the home appreciates in value. Likewise, if you have stock in a company that is likely to prosper, gifting some of the stock to your children could result in greater wealth for them in the future.

  1. One size does not fit all.

Don’t feel pressured to follow the exact same path for all your children in the name of equal treatment. One of your children might actually prefer to wait to receive her inheritance, for example, while another might need the money now to start a business. Give yourself the latitude to do what is best for each child individually; just be willing to communicate your reasoning to the family to reduce the possibility of misunderstanding or resentment.

  1. Don’t touch your own retirement.

If the immediate need is great for one or more of your children, resist the urge to tap into your retirement accounts to help them out. Make sure your own future is secure before investing in theirs. It may sound selfish in the short term, but it’s better than possibly having to lean on your kids for financial help later when your retirement is depleted.

Giving your kids an early inheritance is not only feasible, but it also can be highly fulfilling and rewarding for all involved. That said, it’s best to involve a trusted financial advisor and an experienced estate planning attorney to help you navigate tax issues and come up with the best strategy for transferring your assets. Give us a call today to discuss your options.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Marc Garlett 91024