How Can a Trust Keep My Family From An Undesirable Lifestyle?

How Can a Trust Keep My Family From An Undesirable Lifestyle?
incentive trust beneficiaries

Some people are hesitant to use trusts in their estate planning. Some have the notion that if you leave money in trust, it will make “trust fund babies” of your children or grandchildren.

You may be afraid that they’ll become spoiled brats, who do nothing but spend money they haven’t earned or invest foolishly.

FEDWeek’s recent story, “Using a Trust as an Incentive for Your Heirs” explains that trust distributions can be limited to modest amounts or left to the discretion of the trustee, who’ll manage the trust assets.

This article suggests that if you do leave money in trust, you should avoid the common practice of providing for distributions at the ages 25 and 30.

That’s because, at those ages, most people are better off finishing their education and establishing their careers. Giving them a bagful of money at that age might decrease their drive to pursue a meaningful career.

One way to do this is what’s called an “incentive” trust. This type of trust offers rewards to trust beneficiaries who accomplish specific goals.

With an incentive trust, the beneficiaries might get a particular amount of money for getting higher education degrees, attaining certain levels of earned income or volunteering at a church or in the community. For instance, your trust could be drafted by your estate planning attorney to state that the trustee will distribute to each of your grandchildren a certain percentage (such as 25%) of earnings each year, up to a certain amount. This could be tied to a requirement that you make.

Another way to go about this trust is to leave the distributions to the discretion of the trustee. The trust might detail the types of activities that will be rewarded, then permit the trustee to make appropriate distributions.

When you’re going to depend so much on the judgment of the trustee, for this type of arrangement to work, it’s critical to choose a highly-qualified trustee.

The trustee could be a relative, friend, professional advisor, or licensed private fiduciary. They must be able to empathize with your beneficiaries but still make prudent decisions about distributions. It is best to nominate someone who is independent and will not benefit from the distributions themselves. In addition, add a plan for trustee succession, in case your first choice becomes unable or cannot serve.

Reference: FEDWeek (January 17, 2019) “Using a Trust as an Incentive for Your Heirs”

What Does a Fiduciary Do?

What Does a Fiduciary Do?
Lunch Meeting

It sounds a little like something financial, like maybe something you do at a bank. But a fiduciary relationship is a legal relationship that includes responsibilities that can be enforced, reports the Denton Record-Chronicle in a detailed article with the edgy headline “What is the “F” word?” The article addresses this serious topic that is often glossed over.

In a fiduciary relationship, whether between a lawyer and a client, a CPA and a client or two non-professionals, one person has a duty to act only in ways that will benefit the other person or group of people. The fiduciary is required to be loyal, act in good faith, be completely honest and refrain from doing anything that would benefit the fiduciary, instead of the person they are responsible for. This is required, even if the people are not aware of being in a fiduciary relationship.

The fiduciary may not use their position, as trustee or financial advisor or executor, to “self-deal,” or take actions that benefit the fiduciary and not the other person or people. The fiduciary must also share all relevant information with the beneficiary.

So, who are these fiduciaries? They could be business partners, someone who has power of attorney for another person, trustees or estate representatives, attorneys, licensed private fiduciaries, or employees. These formal relationships are created by a relationship; in these instances, they are usually around legal agreements in the shape of partnership agreements, estate planning documents, retainers (for attorneys) and employment contracts for employees.

Some fiduciary relationships come with more responsibilities than others. Trustees and personal estate representatives, like executors, are charged with tasks in addition to general fiduciary duties. They are usually given the responsibilities of handling money, property, and investments. They have a duty to properly manage those assets and report on those assets to the beneficiaries and heirs.

For attorneys, client-attorney privilege, that is, not sharing information that the client tells the attorney in confidence, is a fiduciary duty. It is also an ethical duty for the attorney.

For employees, the duty to act in an employer’s best interest may not be as limiting. Unless there is a non-compete contract, the employee may seek employment from a competitor or create a competing business, while working for the employer. However, the employee may not steal customers or other employees, before resigning from a position.

If a fiduciary does not follow through on their duties, it is called a breach of fiduciary duties. In estate planning, the executor is expected not to self-deal, and to put the interest of the estate and its beneficiaries first. The executor may charge a fee. However, the amount is determined by the laws of the state.

It should be noted that estate planning attorneys are guided by fiduciary duties and ethical responsibilities that are part of their training as attorneys. An attorney must always put their client’s interests first and keep the client fully informed, even when it’s not good news.

Reference: Denton Record-Chronicle (Jan. 16, 2019) “What is the “F” word?”

How Would Cinderella’s Story Be Different, if Dad Did Estate Planning?

The story never really focuses on why Cinderella is placed in such a dire position in the first place. However, The National Law Review article titled “A Cautionary Fairy-Tale–If Only Cinderella’s Father Had An Estate Plan” does. It starts with a light-hearted tone, but the details quickly move to how many different ways that this family situation could have been prevented with proper estate planning.

To refresh your memory: Cinderella’s mother died, her father remarried and then he died. She is basically a slave to her evil stepmother and stepsisters, in her own home.

Let’s start with what would happen, if there had been no estate plan. If the family lived in California, half of her father’s estate would go to her stepmother, and half of the estate would be given to Cinderella. As a minor, her half of the estate would be placed in an UTMA account–Uniform Transfers to Minors Act or held in a guardianship estate account. There would be a court-appointed custodian, who would be required to use these funds for her health, education, maintenance and support. The court would have likely appointed the Evil Stepmother, who would not likely have complied with the guidelines. A second option would have been for the money to be placed in a trust for Cinderella’s benefit, but the Evil Stepmother would likely have been named a trustee, and that would not have worked out well either.

What Cinderella’s father should have done, was to create a Revocable Living Trust Agreement, stating that certain assets are the separate property of the father (Schedule A), that certain assets are the property of the Evil Stepmother (Schedule B) and that certain assets are community property of the father and the Evil Stepmother (Schedule C).

A neutral successor trustee would have been named—a friend, fiduciary, corporate trustee or perhaps the Fairy Godmother—to oversee the trust. At the death of the father, the trust should have directed that the trust be divided into two subtrusts, known as an A/B split trust.

The Survivor’s Trust (Trust A) would have gathered all the Evil Stepmother’s separate property and one half of the value of the community property assets. Trust B (The Decedent’s Trust) would have all of the father’s separate property, as well as half the value of the community property assets. The trust could have been structured so that the Evil Stepmother could use the Survivor’s Trust assets as she wanted and could only receive income, if the assets to the Survivor’s Trusts were depleted.

The neutral successor trustee would either work with the Evil Stepmother or make sure that Cinderella’s share of the Decedent’s Trust was not being improperly depleted. At the death of the Evil Stepmother, the assets in the Decedent’s Trust would go to Cinderella.

Cinderella’s father could have also taken out a large life insurance policy to ensure that she was cared for, with the proceeds to be distributed to an UTMA account, with a neutral custodian or to a support trust with a neutral trustee.

The only way Cinderella could have recovered any assets would have been through litigation, which is the likely way this story would have turned out, if it happened today. It’s not ideal, but if a child has been left with nothing but an Evil Stepmother and two nasty stepsisters, a lawsuit may be a worthwhile effort to recover some assets. Assuming that the Evil Stepmother either adopted Cinderella or was appointed her guardian by the court, there would be a fiduciary obligation to protect her, and an accounting of assets at the time of her father’s death would have been prepared.

Estate planning would have preempted the story of Cinderella. It does serve as a clear example of what can happen with no estate plan in place. Whether your blended family enjoys a great relationship or not, have your estate plan created, so that if things turn wicked, your beloved children will be protected.

Reference: The National Law Review (Jan. 16, 2019) “A Cautionary Fairy-Tale–If Only Cinderella’s Father Had An Estate Plan”

Are You Ready to Retire? These Professionals Can Help

Are you thinking about retiring in 2019 or 2020? Do you know if you are ready to retire? It seems like a simple concept: Just pick a month, run some numbers and turn off your weekly early morning wake-up alarm. However, it’s not that simple. According to an article titled “Professionals can ease a person into retirement” from the Cleveland Jewish News, most people need some help for both financial and non-financial planning.

A good place to start is with the financial side. Take inventory of all your assets to identify where you have assets and where you have liabilities. You’ll need to be brutally honest with yourself and your spouse. Are there gaps? Is your credit card debt bigger than you thought? Use this exercise to get a real sense of whether you can retire this year.

Next, take care of the legal aspects of retirement. You’ll need a will (and possibly a trust), durable power of attorney, and an advance healthcare directive. The financial and medical POAs will give someone the legal authority to make financial and medical decisions for you, if you become incapacitated. If you already have a will but have not reviewed it in three or four years, it’s time for a review. Laws change, lives change, and what may have worked well for you and your family when the will was first created, may not work now. You’ll want to work with an estate planning attorney to create a plan, making sure assets are properly aligned with your estate plan and minimizing any tax liability for your heirs.

This is also the time to consider how you’ll pay for long-term care. Do you have a long-term care insurance policy in place? Speak with a reputable insurance agent, or if you don’t know one, ask your trusted advisors to make a recommendation. People don’t like to think about going into a nursing home for an extended period of time, but it happens often enough that it makes sense to have this type of insurance. It’s not cheap—but neither is paying out-of-pocket for care at a nursing facility.

When you’ll retire, and what you’ll do with your retirement years, which could last two or even three decades, is a big question. The answer may be based on your finances—can you realistically stop working full time, or do you need to continue to work for a few more years? Would part-time work fill any savings gaps? These are questions that can’t be answered, without a thorough financial analysis of your retirement income.

If you stop working, what will you do? Some experts advise asking a bigger question: Who are you, now that your work identity is gone? If you’ve planned well, or if you’re lucky, your retirement can be a time of great fulfillment, spending time with family, volunteering in the community and devoting time to taking better care of yourself. For some people, retirement from one career is an opportunity to spring into a new career, one that they’ve always put to the side, in order to earn a paycheck.

How much you can achieve of your dreams, depends on putting down a solid foundation of legal and financial resources. An estate planning attorney and a financial advisor are important members of your retirement success team.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (Jan. 9, 2019) “Professionals can ease a person into retirement”

Are You Ready for an Emergency or Natural Disaster?

Are You Ready for an Emergency or Natural Disaster?
Wild fire and natural disasters

Fires, floods, earthquakes: the natural disasters and emergencies that have turned people’s homes and lives upside down have made us aware of how vulnerable we are, and how little time there is when disaster strikes. A “go-bag” to protect your family that contains credit cards, cash, flashlights, flares, batteries, warm clothes, prescriptions, and other necessities is just one part of being prepared, says the article “The most important ‘go bag’ item for emergencies is only 2 inches long” from The Union.

That’s your “financial go bag.” It won’t feed you or keep you warm, but it will save you countless hours and headaches when life returns to normal. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Gather all your important documents. That means your driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, social security card and Medicare card. If you own your home, you should include deeds to property and titles to cars, as well as insurance policy summaries for home, auto, medical, long term care, life, or umbrella policies. Include statements for checking, savings, investments, debt accounts with account numbers and federal and state tax returns from the last three years. Add estate planning documents. If you have a pet, include their license information, chip ID and vaccine records. If there is an 800 number for a service that can track your pet. Make sure to include that.
  2. Create a physical list of important phone numbers and addresses for family members, professionals, including your estate planning attorney, CPA, financial advisor, dentist, doctors, and emergency contacts. Print it out and put it in your go bag. If you don’t have any power, your list on the phone will not be accessible.
  3. Create a video inventory of your home, including the contents of dressers, drawers, cupboards, collections. Don’t forget the garage and outdoor landscaping.
  4. Scan all this information and store it on two thumb drives (also known as memory sticks). Protect the information, by using an encryption method to secure it, in case it gets lost.
  5. Put one of these thumb drives into your safe deposit box and another in your go bag. Even a fireproof safe won’t survive a massive wildfire, so don’t put it in a safe in or under your house. Put the go bag somewhere near an exit point, where it blends in and is secure.
  6. Tell your family and closest friends that you have a financial go bag and where it can be found.

This does take a little time, but if disaster strikes, and you can move quickly with your documents and your “regular” go bag, you and your family will be in a better position to rebuild your lives.

Reference: The Union (Dec. 23, 2018) “The most important ‘go bag’ item for emergencies is only 2 inches long”

Am I Too Young to Start Thinking About Estate Planning?

Many people believe they’re too young to begin thinking about estate planning. Others say they don’t have significant enough assets to make the process of planning worthwhile.

However, the truth is that everyone needs estate planning. If you have any assets, and you intend to give those assets to a loved one, you need to have a plan.

Forbes’s article, “Reviewing Your Financial And Estate Planning Checklist,” examines some important topics in estate planning.

The first of topic is a durable power of attorney for property, finances and health care. This document allows you to designate a trusted individual to make decisions and take action on your behalf with matters relating to each of the three areas above.

In addition to the importance of having all powers of attorney readily available, in case you become incapable of making decisions, beneficiary designations should also be looked at frequently to update any changes to family situations, like a birth or adoption, death, marriage or divorce.

Another topic to address is a living trust. A trust will give direction regarding where and how the assets are dispersed when you die. A great reason to use a living trust is that the assets in a trust do not pass through probate court, which can be an expensive and time-consuming process.

Another area is digital assets. It’s critical for your heirs to have access to digital files, passwords, and documents. This can be easy to overlook. Create a list of your digital assets, including social media accounts, online banking accounts and home utilities you manage online. Include all email and communications accounts, shopping accounts, photo and video sharing accounts, video gaming accounts, online storage accounts, and websites and blogs that you manage. This list should be clear and updated for your heirs to access. You should also be very careful to ensure that your estate planning documents contain the required language for your executor to collect your digital assets if they are unable to access your accounts with your passwords.

If we fail to plan for these somewhat uncomfortable topics, the outcome will be stressful and expensive for our heirs.

Reference: Forbes (January 4, 2019) “Reviewing Your Financial And Estate Planning Checklist”

Market Volatility Has You Worried? Here’s Something You Can Control

When investors are faced with turbulent markets, there’s a human response to want to do something—sometimes, anything. We’re hardwired to try to take control. That doesn’t always help us make the best investment decisions. However, as reported in this Daily Camera’s article, there is something that you can do that may make you feel better: “Freaked out about the market? Resolve to get your estate in order.”

If you care about your health care, financial affairs, minor children and even your beloved pets, this is an important task to take care of. An estate plan includes legal documents that help you, when you are living and helps your heirs, when you die. In addition to a will, powers of attorney that will give your loved ones the ability to manage your affairs, if you become incapacitated. An updated will and trust, ensure that your assets go to the inheritors you chose. Don’t forget your beneficiaries.

Your beneficiaries are the people who are named on several accounts and life insurance policies. You may have already named people on investment accounts, life insurance policies, IRAs, bank accounts, annuities, and other assets. If you have not done a full review of those documents in a while, you want to take care of this right away. Life and relationships change over time, and the people you originally named as your beneficiaries, may no longer be the ones you would select today. Note that any changes must be made while you are living to these contracts as your will does not control pay-on-death and transfer-on-death accounts.

If you’re not sufficiently motivated to make an appointment with an estate planning attorney, you should be aware that if you don’t have a will and/or trust, the laws of your state will determine who gets your assets and even, lacking a will that names a guardian, who rears your minor children. You may or may not be a fan of court proceedings, but if you don’t have a properly prepared will, the court is going to be making a lot of decisions on your behalf.

Contact an estate planning attorney to begin the process of putting your affairs in order. An attorney whose practice focuses in this area of the law is most likely a better choice than one who does estate planning on the side. There are many complex laws in estate planning, and there are many opportunities available to make the most out of your assets and grow your legacy. An estate planning attorney will know what will work best for you and your family. If you have additional questions, click here.

Reference: Daily Camera (Jan. 6, 2019) “Freaked out about the market? Resolve to get your estate in order”

Here’s Why You Need a Will

Many celebrities die without wills. This past year saw a host of celebrity estate snafus. It’s as if they were sending a message from beyond that they didn’t care about how much turmoil and family fights would take place over their money and assets. Some of these battles go on for decades. However, as reported in Press Republican’s article “The Law and You: Important to make a will,” even if you think you don’t have enough property to make it necessary to have a will, you’re wrong. It’s not just wealthy or famous people who need wills.

Do you really want other people making those decisions on your behalf? Would you want the laws of your state making these decisions? Your family will do better if you have a will and an estate plan.

For example, in New York State, if you don’t have a will, your surviving spouse will receive the first $50,000 plus one half of remaining property. Your children, whether they are minors or adults, will get an equal share of the other half.

If you have a spouse but no children, your spouse will inherit everything. If you have children and no spouse, then the children get everything, divided equally.

If you have no spouse, no children, and living parents, then your parents will inherit everything you own.

If your parents are not alive, your siblings will get it all.

Adopted children are treated by the courts the same as biological children when there is no will. Stepchildren and foster children do not inherit unless they are specifically named in the will.

If you have been in a long-term relationship with someone and never married, even if they qualify for health care benefits from your employer under the “domestic partner” provision, they are not considered a spouse when it comes to inheritance. At the same time, if you are not legally married and your partner dies, you have no legal right to inherit from your partner’s estate. No matter how long you have been together, how many children you have together if you are not legally married, you have no inheritance rights.

Check your state’s laws for the rights of “common law marriages;” New York State does not recognize these as a legal union, neither does California. In very limited cases, New York State has been known to recognize common law marriages from other states where they are legal, but that is the exception and not the rule. There are limits here as well: both parties will have to agree to be married, must represent to others that they are married and may not be married to anyone else.

If you want someone who is not your legal spouse to receive your assets, you need to meet with an estate planning attorney and have a will drawn up that meets the requirements of the laws of your state. An estate planning attorney will be able to explain how your state laws work and what provisions are and are not acceptable in your estate.

An estate planning attorney will also help you consider other issues. Do you want to leave anything to a charity that matters to you? Do you want anyone else besides your children to receive something after you pass? Is there anyone who needs a trust, because they are unable to manage their finances, or you are concerned about their marriage ending in divorce? Making these decisions in a properly prepared will, can protect your family and lessen the chances of your wishes being challenged.

Reference: Press Republican (Dec. 18, 2018) “The Law and You: Important to make a will”