How Low-Interest Rates Create Estate Planning Opportunities

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One result of the global health crisis is that interest rates are lower now than they have been in many, many years. The April 2020 AFRs (Applicable Federal Rates), which are used to determine the least amount of interest that has to be charged for below-market loans and are often used for intrafamily lending, have decreased to 0.91 percent for loans less than 36 months, 0.99 percent for loans of 36 months or more and less than nine years, and 1.44 percent for loans of nine years or longer.

The article, titled “Estate Planning in a Low Interest Rate Environment,” from The National Law Review Journal, explains that for families where intrafamily lending has already occurred, these low rates provide a chance to amend the terms of current promissory notes to obtain these rates.

There are two opportunities presented:

  • The amount that the borrower needs to repay is reduced, thereby easing the burden on a borrower who has a cash flow problem.
  • If a parent has already lent money to a child who will eventually inherit assets from the parent, this lower interest rate will help to facilitate wealth transfer. The parent will receive lower payments under the note, minimizing the assets that are added back to the lender’s taxable estate.

Here are a few situations where these loans are typically used:

  • Parents extend a loan to adult child, who is going through a challenging financial period.
  • Parent lends money to a child with the understanding that the child will invest the money at a higher rate of return than the interest charged under the note, thus allowing growth to occur in the child’s estate rather than in the parent’s estate.
  • Complex estate planning, where a sale is made to an intentionally defective trust, where the seller’s goal is to freeze the value of the estate for a price at which the asset was sold on an installment basis. This allows future growth to take place outside of the seller’s taxable estate.

These intrafamily loans are usually part of sophisticated estate planning. Other methods include Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs), or Charitable Lead Trusts (CLTs), which also become more attractive in a low interest rate environment.

With a GRAT, there is a transfer of assets to a trust, in which the settlor retains an annuity payment for a certain number of years. At the end of the term, the remaining assets pass to the trust beneficiaries with no estate tax implication. The CLT operates in a similar way, except that the payment for a specified number of years is made to a charity.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about how your estate could benefit from the current low interest rate environment.

Reference: The National Law Review (April 13, 2020) “Estate Planning in a Low Interest Rate Environment”

COVID-19 and Estate Planning

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As Americans adjust to a changing public health landscape and historical changes to the economy, certain opportunities in wealth planning are becoming more valuable, according to the article “Impact of COVID-19 on Estate Planning” from The National Law Review. Here is a look at some strategies for estate plans:

Basic estate planning. Now is the time to review current estate planning documents to be sure they are all up to date. That includes wills, trusts, revocable trusts, powers of attorney, beneficiary designations, and health care directives. Also, be sure that you and your family members know where they are located.

Wealth Transfer Strategies. The extreme volatility of financial markets, depressed asset values, and historically low-interest rates present opportunities to transfer wealth to intended beneficiaries. Here are a few to consider:

Intra-Family Transactions. In a low-interest-rate environment, planning techniques involve intra-family transactions where the senior members of the family lend or sell assets to younger family members. The loaned or sold assets only need to appreciate at a rate greater than the interest rate charged. In these cases, the value of the assets remaining in senior family member’s estate will be frozen at the loan/purchase price. The value of the loaned or sold assets will be based on a fair market value valuation, which may include discounts for certain factors. The fair market value of many assets will be extremely depressed and discounted. When asset values rebound, all that appreciation will be outside of the taxable estate and will be held by or for the benefit of your intended beneficiaries, tax-free.

Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATS). The use of a GRAT allows the Grantor to contribute assets into a trust while retaining a right to receive, over a term of years, an annuity stream from the Trust. When the term of years expires, the balance of the Trust’s assets passes to the beneficiaries. The IRS values the ultimate transfer of assets to your intended beneficiaries, based on the value of the annuity stream you retain and an assumed rate of return. The assumed rate of return, known as the 7520 rate comes from the IRS and is currently 1.8%. So, if you retain the right to receive an annuity stream from the trust equal to the value of the assets plus a 1.8% rate of return, assets left in the trust at the end of the term pass to your beneficiaries transfer-tax-free.

Charitable Lead Annuity Trusts. Known as “CLATs,” they are similar to a GRAT, where the Grantor transfers assets to a trust and a named charity gets an annuity stream for a set term of years. At the end of that term, the assets in the trust pass to the beneficiaries. You can structure this so the balance of the assets passes to heirs transfer-tax-free.

Speak with your estate planning attorney about these and other wealth transfer strategies to learn if they are right for you and your family. And stay well!

Reference: The National Law Journal (March 13, 2020) “Impact of COVID-19 on Estate Planning”

If Not Now, When? It is the Time for Estate Planning

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What else could possibly go wrong? You might not want to ask that question, given recent events. A global pandemic, markets in what feels like free fall, schools closed for an extended period of time—these are just a few of the challenges facing our communities, our nation, and our world. The time is now, in other words, to be sure that everyone has their estate planning completed, advises Kiplinger in the article “Coronavirus Legal Advice: Get Your Business and Estate in Order Now.”

Business owners from large and small-sized companies are contacting estate planning attorney’s offices to get their plans done. People who have delayed having their estate plans done or never finalized their plans are now getting their affairs in order. What would happen if multiple family members got sick, and a family business was left unprotected?

Because the virus is recognized as being especially dangerous for people who are over age 60 or have underlying medical issues, which includes many business owners and CEOs, the question of “What if I get it?” needs to be addressed. Not having a succession plan or an estate plan could lead to havoc for the company and the family.

Establishing a Power of Attorney is a key part of the estate plan, in case key decision-makers are incapacitated, or if the head of the household can’t take care of paying bills, taxes, or taking care of family or business matters. For that, you need a Durable Power of Attorney.

Another document needed now, more than ever: is an Advance Health Care Directive. This explains how you want medical decisions to be made if you are too sick to make these decisions on your own behalf. It tells your health care team and family members what kind of care you want, what kind of care you don’t want, and who should make these decisions for you.

This is especially important for people who are living together without the legal protection that being married provides. While some states may recognize registered domestic partners, in other states, medical personnel will not permit someone who is not legally married to another person to be involved in their health care decisions.

Personal information that lives only online is also at risk. Most bills today don’t arrive in the mail but in your email inbox. What happens if the person who pays the bill is in a hospital, on a ventilator? Just as you make sure that your spouse or children know where your estate plan documents are, they also need to know who your estate planning attorney is, where your insurance policies, financial records, and legal documents are and your contact list of key friends and family members.

Right now, estate planning attorneys are talking with clients about a “Plan C”—a plan for what would happen if heirs, beneficiaries, and contingent beneficiaries are wiped out. They are adding language that states which beneficiaries or charities should receive their assets if all of the people named in the estate plan have died. This is to maintain control over the distribution of assets, even in a worst-case scenario, rather than having assets pass via the rules of intestate succession. Without a Plan C, an entire estate could go to a distant relative, regardless of whether you wanted that to happen.

Reference: Kiplinger (March 16, 2020) “Coronavirus Legal Advice: Get Your Business and Estate in Order Now.”

Five Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

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While it’s true that no estate is completely bulletproof, there are mistakes that people make that are big enough to walk through, while others are more like a slow drip, draining retirement finances in a slow but steady process. There are mistakes that can be easily avoided, reports Comstock Magazine in the article “Five Mistakes to Avoid When Planning Your Estate.”

  1. Misunderstanding Estate Law. Some people are so thrown by the idea of an estate plan, that they can’t get past the word “estate.” You don’t need a mansion to have an estate. The term is actually used to refer to any and all property that a person owns. Even modest people need a plan to help beneficiaries avoid unnecessary costs and stress. Talk with an estate planning attorney to learn what your needs are, from a will to trusts. Make sure that this is the attorney’s key practice area. A real estate or personal injury attorney won’t have the same knowledge and experience.
  2. Getting Bad Advice. It takes a team to create a strong estate plan. That means an estate planning attorney, a financial advisor and an accountant. Be wary of firms that focus entirely on selling trusts. There’s definitely a role for trusts in estate plans, but there are many other tools that are needed. Buying an insurance policy or an annuity is not an estate plan.
  3. Naming Yourself as a Sole Trustee. Naming yourself as a sole trustee puts you and your estate in a precarious position. What if you develop Alzheimer’s or are injured in an accident? A trusted individual, a family member, a longstanding friend or even a professional trustee, needs to be named as a backup trustee to protect your interests if you should become incapacitated.
  4. Losing Track of Assets. Without a complete list of all assets, it’s nearly impossible for someone to know what you own and who your heirs may be. Some assets, including retirement funds, life insurance policies, or investment accounts, have named beneficiaries. Those people will inherit these assets, regardless of what is in your will. If your heirs can’t find the assets, they may be lost. If you don’t update your beneficiaries, they may go to unintended heirs—like ex-spouses. Your attorney should help you compile that list to make sure that your successor agents and beneficiaries are informed.
  5. Deciding on Options Without Being Fully Informed. When it comes to estate planning, the natural tendency is to go with what we think is the right thing. However, unless you are an estate planning attorney, chances are you don’t know what the right thing is. For tax reasons, for instance, it may make sense to transfer assets, while you are still living. And for other reasons, it might be best to wait until you pass to transfer the assets. However, that might also be a terrible idea, if you choose the wrong person to hold your assets or don’t put them in the right kind of trust.

Estate planning is still a highly personal process that depends upon every person’s unique experience. Your family situation is different than anyone else’s. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to create a plan and help you to avoid the big, most commonly made mistakes.

Reference: Comstock Magazine (Dec. 2019) “Five Mistakes to Avoid When Planning Your Estate” 

Alternatives for Stretch IRA Strategies

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The majority of many people’s wealth is saved gradually from a lifetime of work and stored in their IRAs. For most of these people, a primary goal is to leave their IRAs to their children, says a recent article from Think Advisor titled “Three Replacements for Stretch IRAs.” The ability to distribute IRA wealth over years, and even decades, was eliminated with the passage of the SECURE Act.

The purpose of the law was to add an estimated $428 million to the federal budget over the next 10 years. Of the $16.2 billion in revenue provisions, some $15.7 billion is accounted for by eliminating the stretch IRA.

Existing beneficiaries of stretch IRAs will not be affected by the change in the law. But going forward, most IRA heirs—with a few exceptions, including spousal heirs—will have to take their withdrawals within a ten-year period of time.

The estate planning legal and financial community is currently scrutinizing the law and looking for strategies that will minimize the tax consequences of this new rule. Here are three estate planning approaches that are emerging as front runners:

Roth conversions. Traditional IRA owners who wished to leave their retirement assets to children may be passing on big tax burdens now that the stretch is gone, especially if beneficiaries themselves are high earners. An alternative is to convert regular IRAs to Roth IRAs and take the tax hit at the time of the conversion when the IRA owner is presumably in a lower tax bracket than their working children.

There is no guarantee that the Roth IRA will never be taxed, but tax rates right now are relatively low. If tax rates go up, it might make converting the Roth IRAs too expensive.

This needs to be balanced with state inheritance taxes. Converting to a Roth could reduce the size of the estate and thereby reduce tax exposure for the estate as well.

Life insurance. IRA owners can take distributions from an IRA to pay for a new life insurance policy to be distributed to their beneficiaries. When the beneficiaries receive the death benefit, it will not be included as the beneficiary’s income. This is being widely touted as the answer to the loss of the stretch, but like all other methods, it needs to be viewed as part of the entire estate plan. While this method is not a new strategy, it may be used more frequently due to the elimination of the stretch.

Charitable Remainder Trusts (CRT). The IRA could be used to fund a charitable remainder trust. This allows the person setting up the trust to establish an income stream for heirs with the IRA assets, and then have any amounts remaining upon the heirs’ deaths going to a named charity. The trust can grow assets tax-free. There are two different ways to do this: a charitable remainder annuity trust, which distributes a fixed annual annuity and does not allow continued contributions, or a charitable remainder unitrust, which distributes a fixed percentage of the initial assets and does allow continued contributions.

Speak with your estate planning lawyer about what options may work best in your unique situation.

Reference: Think Advisor (Jan. 24, 2020) “Three Replacements for Stretch IRAs”

Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples

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For some couples, getting married just doesn’t feel necessary. However, they need to know that they don’t enjoy the automatic legal rights and protections that legally wed spouses do, especially when it comes to death. There are many spousal rights that come with a marriage certificate, reports CNBC in the article “Here’s what happens to your partner if you’re not married and you die.” Without the benefit of marriage, extra planning is necessary to protect each other.

For one, taxes are a non-starter. There’s no federal or state income tax form that will permit a non-married couple to file jointly. If one of the couple’s employers is the source of health insurance for both, the amount that the company contributes is taxable to the employee. A spouse doesn’t have to pay taxes on health insurance.

More important, however, is what happens when one of the partners dies or becomes incapacitated. A number of documents need to be created, so should one become incapacitated, the other is able to act on their behalf. Preparations also need to be made, so the surviving partner is protected and can manage the deceased’s estate.

In order to be prepared, an estate plan is necessary. Creating a plan for what happens to you and your estate is critical for unmarried couples who want their commitment to each other to be protected at death. The general default by law for a married couple (even a very unprepared one with no documents) is that everything goes to the surviving spouse. However, for unmarried couples, the default may be a sibling, children, parents or other relatives. It definitely won’t be the unmarried partner.

This is especially relevant when a person dies with no will. The courts in the state of residence will decide who gets what, depending upon the law of that state. If there are multiple heirs who have conflicting interests, it could become nasty—and expensive.

However, a will isn’t all that is needed.

Most tax-advantaged accounts—Roth IRAs, traditional IRAs, 401(k) plans, etc.—have beneficiaries named. That person receives the assets upon the death of the owner. The same is true for investment accounts, annuities, life insurance and any financial product that has a beneficiary named. The beneficiary receives the asset, regardless of what is in the will. This can be an easy way to include an unmarried partner in your estate plan.

Checking, savings and investment accounts that are in both partner’s names will become the property of the surviving person, but accounts with only one person’s name on them will not. A Transfer on Death (TOD) or Payable on Death (POD) designation should be added to any single-name accounts.

Unmarried couples who own a home together need to check how the deed is titled, regardless of who is on the mortgage. The legal owner is the person whose name is on the deed. If the house is only in one person’s name, it may be difficult to transfer to the other person. Change the deed so both names are on the deed with rights of survivorship, so both are entitled to assume full ownership upon the death of the other.

To prepare for incapacity, an estate planning attorney can help create a durable power of attorney for health care so that partners will be able to make medical decisions on each other’s behalf. A living will should also be created for both people, which states wishes for end of life decisions. For financial matters, a durable power of attorney will allow each partner to have control over the other’s financial affairs.

It takes a little extra planning for unmarried couples, but the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you have prepared to care for each other until death do you part is priceless.

Reference: CNBC (Dec. 16, 2019) “Here’s what happens to your partner if you’re not married and you die”

Avoiding Probate with a Trust

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Privacy is just one of the benefits of having a trust created as part of an estate plan. That’s because assets that are placed in a trust are no longer in the person’s name, and as a result, do not need to go through probate when the person dies. An article from The Daily Sentinel asks, “When is a trust worth the cost and effort?” The article explains why a trust can be so advantageous, even when the assets are not necessarily large.

Let’s say a person owns a piece of property. They can put the property in a trust, by signing a deed that will transfer the title to the trust. That property is now owned by the trust and can only be transferred when the trustee signs a deed. Because the trust is the owner of the property, there’s no need to involve probate or the court when the original owner dies.

Establishing a trust is even more useful for those who own property in more than one state. If you own property in a state, the property must go through probate to be distributed from your estate to another person’s ownership. Therefore, if you own property in three states, your executor will need to manage three probate processes.

Privacy is often another problem when estates pass from one generation to the next. In most states, heirs and family members must be notified that you have died and that your estate is being probated. The probate process often requires the executor, or personal representative, to create a list of assets that are shared with certain family members. When the will is probated, that information is available to the public through the courts.

Family members who were not included in the will but were close enough kin to be notified of your death and your assets, may not respond well to being left out. This can create problems for the executor and heirs.

Having greater control over how and when assets are distributed is another benefit of using a trust rather than a will. Not all young adults are prepared or capable of managing large inheritances. With a trust, the inheritance can be distributed in portions: a third at age 28, a third at age 38, and a third at age 45, for instance. This kind of control is not always necessary, but when it is, a trust can provide the comfort of knowing that your children are less likely to be irresponsible about an inheritance.

There are other circumstances when a trust is necessary. If the family includes a member who has special needs and is receiving government benefits, an inheritance could make them ineligible for those benefits. In this circumstance, a special needs trust is created to serve their needs.

Another type of trust growing in popularity is the pet trust. Check with a local estate planning lawyer to learn if your state allows this type of trust. A pet trust allows you to set aside a certain amount of money that is only to be used for your pet’s care, by a person you name to be their caretaker. In many instances, any money left in the trust after the pet passes can be donated to a charitable organization, usually, one that cares for animals.

Finally, the person creating the trust can decide if they want it to be “irrevocable” and therefore permanent and very difficult to change, or if they want it to be “revocable” with the flexibility to amend and alter it at a later date. Once an irrevocable trust is created, it cannot be changed. Trusts should be created with the help of an experienced trusts and estate planning attorney, who will know how to create the trust and what type of trust will best suit your needs.

Reference: The Daily Sentinel (Jan. 23, 2020) “When is a trust worth the cost and effort?”

Start the New Year with Estate Planning To-Do’s

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Families who wish their loved ones had not created an estate plan are far and few between. However, the number of families who have had to experience extra pain, unnecessary expenses, and even family battles because of a lack of estate planning are many. While there are a number of aspects to an estate plan that takes some time to accomplish, The Daily Sentinel recommends that readers tackle these tasks in the article “Consider These Items As Part of Your Year-End Plan.”

Review and update any beneficiary designations. This is one of the simplest parts of any estate plan to fix. Most people think that what’s in their will controls how all of their assets are distributed, but this is not true. Accounts with beneficiary designations—like life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and some bank accounts—are controlled by the beneficiary designation and not the will.

Proceeds from these assets are based on the instructions you have given to the institution, and not what your will or a trust directs. This is also true for real estate that is held in JTWROS (Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship) and any real property transferred through the use of a beneficiary deed. The start of a new year is the time to make sure that any assets with a beneficiary designation are aligned with your estate plan. Request a copy of your beneficiary designations from the institutions that administer your plans, and make changes if needed.

Take some time to speak with the people you have named as your agent, personal representative or successor trustee. These people will be managing all or a portion of your estate. Make sure they remember that they agreed to take on this responsibility. Make sure they have a copy of any relevant documents and ask if they have any questions.

Locate your original estate planning documents. When was the last time they were reviewed? New laws, and most recently the SECURE Act, may require a revision of many estate plans, especially if you own a large IRA. You’ll also want to let your executor know where your original will can be found. The probate court, which will review your will, prefers an original. A will can be probated without the original, but there will be more costs involved and it may require a few additional steps. Your will should be kept in a secure, fire and water-safe location. If you keep copies at home, make a note on the document as to where the original can be found.

Create an inventory of your online accounts and login data for each one. Many people open a new online account on a regular basis, so it is important to keep track of the login information. That should include email, personal photos, social media, and any financial accounts. This information also needs to be stored in a safe place. Your estate planning document file would be the logical place for this information but remember to update it when changing any information, like your password.

If you have a medical power of attorney and advance directive, ask your primary care physician if they have a means of keeping these documents, and explain how you wish the instructions on the documents to be carried out. If you don’t have these documents, make them part of your estate plan review process.

A cover letter to your executor and family that contains complete contact information for the various professionals—legal, financial, and medical—will help them know who your trusted professional team is in the case of an unexpected event.

Remember that life is always changing, and the same estate plan that worked so well ten years ago may be out of date now. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney in your state who can help you create a plan to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Reference: The Daily Sentinel (Dec. 28, 2019) “Consider These Items As Part of Your Year-End Plan”

Beginning-of-Year Financial Tasks

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There are some tasks that, if left undone, can have an enormous impact on those you love. The beginning of the year is a good time to set some deadlines for yourself, while you still have New Years resolution momentum. Give yourself a February 15 deadline, and you’ll stay focused says The Daily Journal’s article “5 financial tasks you should tackle by year-end.”

Here’s the list to get you started:

Check Your Beneficiaries on All Accounts. A sad story comes from Washington state, where a man died two months after his divorce was finalized. He had not changed his beneficiaries, so all of his life insurance proceeds and his pension plan went to his ex-wife, and not to his children from a prior marriage. The case went through the court system all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 2001 that the beneficiary designations had to be honored.

Start by making a list of your accounts, then check to see who your beneficiaries are. You may need to contact the financial custodian of the accounts, or you might be able to do it online. Ask for confirmation in all cases, so you and your heirs will have it in writing. Keep this in an organized binder so it will be easy to find if something were to happen to you.

Look at Any Pay-On-Death Designations. In some accounts, there is a pay-on-death designation, in place of a beneficiary designation. This also may have been an option that you chose when you first opened the account. Without a designation or Pay-On-Death name, the account must go through probate, the legal procedure to distribute property in your estate.

Depending on the state, you might have had this option on the property or even vehicles. A local estate planning attorney will know if this is an option in your state. To add or change a beneficiary on a vehicle, you’ll need to apply for a certificate of car ownership with the beneficiary form. If you want to change your deed to a Transfer-on-Death deed, you will need to submit a new deed to the appropriate county recorder. Again, an estate planning attorney will be able to help. The lawyer will also help evaluate whether this is a good way to transfer property in your situation.

Update Insurance Policies. The insurance company is not going to send a beneficiary a check without someone filing a claim. The family often does not know what insurance policies exist. A 2013 investigation from Consumer Reports found nearly $1 billion in unclaimed life insurance proceeds. You want to update your contact information with the insurer every now and then, making sure that your beneficiaries are correct and that bills are being sent to the right address. In some cases, the insurance company allows people to notify another person if payment is overdue and they are not able to reach you. You should also keep that contact information updated, in case your back-up person moves. Keep a list of your insurance policies in a place easy to find.

What’s In Your Safe Deposit Box? If it’s been a while since you’ve visited your safe deposit box, schedule a time to go and have a look. If you neglect to pay your annual fee, after a number of years the bank is legally permitted to open the box and turn its contents over to the state. Visit once a year to make sure payments and contact details are current. Leave clear instructions with your executor and heirs about where to find the box and its keys. Consider giving another family member official access to the box.

Revise Powers of Attorney. Now is a good time to review your powers of attorney to see if it’s time for an update. If you can’t locate your original POA documents, or if the people you chose many years ago have died or moved away, it’s time for a new set. And if you don’t have power of attorney documents in place, make an appointment with your estate planning lawyer to have them created. Spare your family the stress, lost time, and unnecessary expenses that trying to get access to your accounts might cause by having these updated and name a backup agent (or two).

Yes, technically this article was for the end of the year, but we are a long way from the end of 2020 and I have a feeling that these tasks weren’t on any of your holiday ‘to-dos’ or end of year lists.  Heck, even if you did set yourself a deadline to complete these tasks before the end of the year that would be fantastic.

Reference: The Daily Journal (Nov. 18, 2019) “5 financial tasks you should tackle by year-end”

Protecting Your Family’s Inheritance

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Protecting Your Family’s Inheritance
Bank vault closeup sideview. 3D Render

The label of “irrevocable trust” sounds like you might be trying to keep children and grandchildren from being irresponsible with the assets you’ve amassed through a lifetime’s work, but irrevocable trusts can also offer a flexible solution. They are especially helpful in cases of divorce, substance abuse and other situations, reports The Chattanoogan in an article titled “Keeping Your Family from Losing Its Inheritance.”

If we are lucky, we are able to leave a generous inheritance for our children. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean we should give them easy access to all or some of the assets. Some people, particularly younger adults who haven’t yet developed money management skills, or others with problems like a troubled marriage or a special needs family member, aren’t ready or able to handle an inheritance.

In some cases, like when there is a substance abuse problem, handing over a large sum of money at once could have disastrous results.

Many people are not educated or experienced enough to handle a large sum of money. Consider the stories about lottery winners who end up filing for bankruptcy. Without experience, knowledge, or good advisors, a large inheritance can disappear quickly.

An irrevocable trust provides protection. A trustee is given the authority to control how funds are used, when they are given to beneficiaries, and when they are retained for continued investment. Depending on how the trust is created, the trustee can have as much control over distributions as is necessary.

An irrevocable trust also protects assets from creditors. This is because the assets are owned by the trust and not by the beneficiary. An irrevocable trust can also protect the funds for a beneficiary from divorces, lawsuits and bankruptcies, and manipulative family members and friends.

Once the money leaves the trust and is disbursed to the beneficiary, that money becomes available to creditors, just as any other asset owned by the person. However, there is a remedy for that, if things go bad.  Instead of distributing funds directly to the beneficiary, the trustee can pay bills directly. That can include payments to a school, a mortgage company, medical bills, or any other costs.

The trustee, not the beneficiary, is in control of the assets and their distributions.

The person establishing the trust (the “grantor”) determines how much power to give to the trustee. The grantor determines whether the trustee is to distribute funds on a regular basis, or whether the trustee is to use their discretion, as to when and how much to give to the beneficiary.

Here’s an example. If you’ve given full control of the trust to the trustee, and the trustee decides that some of the money should go to pay a child’s college tuition, the trustee can send a check every semester directly to the college. Some trusts are written so that the trustee can also put conditions on the college tuition payments, mandating that a certain grade level be maintained or that the student must graduate by a certain date.

Appointing the trustee is a critical piece of the success of any trust. If no family members are suitable, then a corporate trustee can be hired to manage the trust. Speak with a qualified estate planning attorney to learn if an irrevocable trust is a good idea for your situation. A professional can also determine whether or not a family member should be named the trustee.

Reference: The Chattanoogan (July 5, 23019) “Keeping Your Family from Losing Its Inheritance.”