Category: Tax Planning

Complete a Complete Estate Plan

When it comes to planning, the focus is typically on making you better prepared for the future. That means limiting taxes, creating wiser investment strategies, knowing when it’s best to claim Social Security and developing sustainable retirement income plans. All of these help you on the path to your financial future and your long-term goals. But The Brainerd (MN) Dispatch reports in “3 common estate planning questions, answered,” that there is, however, one exception. That’s estate planning. While much of financial planning primarily benefits you, your estate planning primarily benefits your family and loved ones. 11-14-16

The basic component of your estate plan is your will but there may be other parts you need. Depending on your estate, you may want to consider a trust, in addition to healthcare directives, powers of attorneys and guardian designations. You should also remember that your will isn't necessarily the only instruction when it comes to distributing your assets. The beneficiary designations on your retirement and brokerage accounts, and the life insurance policies you own will take precedence over what you say in your will. Review beneficiary designations regularly to be sure the money in your accounts or the death benefit on a life insurance policy goes to the right person.

A trust can be complicated, so talk with an estate planning attorney to see if it makes sense and whether you'll actually benefit from using a trust. If most of your assets are covered by beneficiary designations or owned in joint tenancy, those assets are already exempt from probate, so they won’t necessarily benefit from a trust strategy.

The executor or the personal representative is the person who will be responsible for carrying out the instructions in your will, settling your debts and paying taxes on your estate. As far as selecting an executor, it should be someone with the capacity to carry out the needed tasks of the position. It also needs to be someone who is willing to serve and is familiar with your situation such as a family member or a close family friend.

If you don't spend every last dollar you have to your name on the day you die, you'll need to have an estate plan. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to develop one.

Reference: The Brainerd (MN) Dispatch (Sept. 23, 2016) “3 common estate planning questions, answered”

How Not to Do It: Spending the Inheritance on Royal Souvenirs and Strippers

For the Scripps family, who were heirs to a media fortune, they simply spent their millions. According to an article on CNBC.com, “The Greed Report: Not a billionaire? You still need an estate plan,” they took luxury cruises around the world and family outings to strip clubs. 11-10-16

Melissa Scripps bought Queen Elizabeth II's coronation chair and Queen Victoria's nightgown. Like his mom, son Michael liked to buy war memorabilia and guns. Oh, and he married a stripper.

When the well ran dry, the family started to fight. Mother and son turned on each other, one family member went to prison and tarnished a name once associated with entrepreneurship and philanthropy. This tragedy provides some lessons for the rest of us.

Everybody needs estate planning in some form or another—it doesn't need to be complex in many situations but everyone needs a plan, even those with social problems, financial problems and marital problems.

A good estate plan will consider all of those problems and keep your assets in the family and away from the government and taxes.

Estate planning doesn’t have to be complex or expensive. Estate planning is sometimes 95% social work and 5% legal, some attorneys say. The legal part they know—it's the social part that takes time. The Scripps family probably should have spent more time on the social part as well: Melissa Scripps' attorney said that at the time she inherited the family fortune, she had never held a real job and only had a high school education.

Maybe some more estate planning might have prevented the Scripps’ century-old legacy from turning into a gigantic family feud.

Reference:  CNBC.com (Sept. 22, 2016) “The Greed Report: Not a billionaire? You still need an estate plan”

Celebrity Estate Panning Leaves a Lot to Be Desired

One would think that big stars like Prince would have a team of high-powered advisors, compared to the average Joe and Jane. But that isn’t so, says CNBC in the recent article “Don’t make these celebrities’ estate-planning blunders.” 11-08-16

Celebrities make the same mistakes. Here are a few:

Mistake #1: No Will. Nearly two-thirds of Americans don’t have a will. This has included the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Prince, Sonny Bono, Jimi Hendrix and Pablo Picasso. Dying without a will can mean numerous potentially disastrous consequences, like your assets not being distributed to those you intended or family in-fighting. The state intestacy laws apply and they are rigid regarding who gets what share of the estate. And without specific instructions from the deceased, an estate may be fought over in court by family members who think they deserve their fair share.

Mistake #2: No Current Will. Signing a will is just the beginning: you need to regularly update your estate planning documents and beneficiaries when your financial and personal situation changes. Look at singer Barry White. He was separated but not divorced from his second wife at the time of his death. As a result, his wife got everything. White’s live-in girlfriend of several years got zero.

Mistake #3: No Tax Plan. Even if you’re not ultra-rich and your wealth is well below the federal estate tax threshold of $5.45 million per person this year, there may be state estate taxes. Poor planning could force your heirs to sell valuable or sentimental items because there are insufficient liquid assets to pay the tax. Joe Robbie’s family sold its stake in the Miami Dolphins and Joe Robbie Stadium to pay estate taxes.

Mistake #4: No Reference to Personal Property. Comedian Robin Williams’s family has battled over his film memorabilia. And Martin Luther King Jr.’s kids fought over his Bible and Nobel medal. People forget about personal property in their estate planning, which can trigger lots of fights over who gets family heirlooms, collectibles and Dad’s Barry Manilow record collection. Be specific with descriptions.

Reference: CNBC (Sept. 17, 2016) “Don’t make these celebrities’ estate-planning blunders”

Trusts from A to Z

Many folks assume that trust funds are only for the rich, however, people in all types of economic circumstances may see a benefit from them. A trust fund is a special legal arrangement that lets a benefactor arrange for certain assets to go to someone else. 11-04-16

Motley Fool’s recent article, “Navigating the World of Trust Funds: Your Quick Guide,” explains that there are various types of trust funds that can serve as useful estate-planning tools. Here’s a rundown of revocable or irrevocable trusts, credit shelter trusts, generation-skipping trusts, and qualified personal-residence trusts.

Revocable trusts. Also known as a revocable living trust, this trust lets you manage your trust during your lifetime. In creating the trust, you can name yourself as the trustee in charge of overseeing its assets. This lets you move assets in and out of the trust as you want or even terminate the trust if your circumstances change. There’s a good deal of flexibility, and a major benefit is that they have the ability to bypass probate. Depending on where you live, probate can be lengthy and expensive. A revocable trust can also reduce the estate tax burden on your beneficiaries.

Irrevocable trusts. This is the opposite of a revocable trust. It can't be altered or terminated without the consent of the trustee and the trust's beneficiaries (and perhaps a judge). When you place assets into an irrevocable trust, you may no longer have any rights to them. The big benefit is saving money on estate taxes. When you transfer assets into an irrevocable trust, they're no longer yours and are excluded from your estate's value for tax purposes. Also, trust assets may be more difficult to access by creditors or anyone who initiates a lawsuit against you. And if you hold assets that you think will really appreciate over time, you can transfer those assets into the trust to remove them from your taxable estate and ensure that any future appreciation on them isn't subject to estate taxes. It’s a serious long-term commitment and may be a good option if you have a larger estate.

Credit shelter trusts. This trust can help wealthy married couples lower their estate taxes by maximizing federal and state exemptions. If you set up a credit shelter trust, the assets in that trust will be transferred to your beneficiaries upon your death, but your spouse can keep his or her rights to the assets contained in the trust for the rest of his or her life. Ultimately, however, those assets won't be counted as part of your spouse's estate. This helps your family take advantage of available tax exemptions. With portability, this trust may not be as useful as it once was. Portability lets the first spouse who dies transfer his or her assets along with the "unused" estate tax exclusion amount to the surviving spouse, who can then apply this enhanced exclusion amount in his or her own estate.

Generation-skipping trusts. This trust is established for the benefit of your grandchildren, as opposed to your children. These trusts are used to avoid estate taxes: if your children inherit your estate directly, then the value of your estate is added to the value of their estate and this could potentially trigger estate taxes when they die. By skipping your children’s generation you may be able to transfer more assets to your family than to the IRS over the long term. The generation-skipping trust is subject to taxes, but it can be structured to reduce estate taxes, allowing affluent families to preserve their wealth for future generations. A big advantage of generation-skipping trusts is that they can help avoid generation-skipping transfer tax.

Qualified personal residence trusts. This trust lets you leave your home to your beneficiaries and decrease your estate taxes. You can transfer your property by deed into the trust while retaining the right to live there for a certain period of time. Once that’s over, your beneficiaries can inherit your home, paying taxes on the value of the home at the time of the deed transfer. A qualified personal residence trust can be useful in locking in a lower value for gift tax purposes. And you can claim a lower value of the gift for your beneficiaries based on their delay in actually receiving the property. But if you die while living in your home, it’ll count as part of your estate and be taxed according to its value at that time.

Trust funds can be a big element in your estate-planning strategy, so talk with a qualified trust attorney to see which type of trust is best for you.

Reference: Motley Fool (Sept. 18, 2016) “Navigating the World of Trust Funds: Your Quick Guide”