What are Three Areas of Giving Not to Skip?

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It may be important to you that your family and the charities in which you believe, benefit from your success. Giving lets you practice your core values. However, for your giving to be meaningful, you need a plan to maximize your generosity.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Gifting: 3 Areas You Shouldn’t Overlook” advises that there are many things to think about before gifting, and although there are benefits to estate planning, there are other issues to consider.

Think about your gifting goals. Any amount given to a family member, friend, or organization will no doubt be treasured, but ask yourself if the recipient really wants or values the gift, or it only satisfies your personal goals.

As far as giving to a charity, you should be certain that your donation is going to the right organization and will be used for your intended purpose. Your giving goals, objectives, and motivations should match the recipient’s best interests.

If gifting straight to a family member is not a goal for you now, but you want to engage your family in your giving strategy and decision making, there are several gifting vehicles you can employ, like annual gifts, estate plans, and trusts. Whichever one you elect to use, it will let you place an official process in the works for your strategy. Family engagement and a formalized structure can help your gift make the greatest impact.

There is more to gifting than just determining who and how much. It’s critical to be educated on the numbers, in order to maximize your gift value and decrease your tax exposure.

You can now gift up to $11.58 million to others ($23.16 million for a married couple) while alive, without any federal gift taxes. The amount of gift tax exemption used during your life also decreases your federal estate tax exemption. You should also be aware that this amount will fall back to $5 million (and $10 million for a married couple) indexed for inflation after 2025, unless renewed.

If you transfer your wealth to heirs and beneficiaries early and letting it compound over time, you can avoid significant estate taxes. In addition, note the annual gift exemption because, with it, you can gift up to $15,000 ($30,000 as a married couple) to anyone or any kind of trust every year without taxes.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you create a giving strategy to achieve success for you and those you are benefiting.

Reference: Kiplinger (March 19, 2020) “Gifting: 3 Areas You Shouldn’t Overlook”

Did Little Richard Have a Smart Estate Plan?

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Little Richard’s primary career was about 35 years in length, which was plenty of time to generate significant wealth, says Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Does Little Richard’s Son Inherit His $40 Million Career Or Will God Get Everything?”

Estimates are that Little Richard generated at least $40 million in the span of his career, but the question is whether much of that money is left or even if there are people around to claim it. Little Richard most likely left the majority of his estate to his son Danny.

There is also a good chance that religious charities will get some of his estate, since Richard may have decided to leave it all to one or more church organizations.

The big question is how much money and property there is to distribute. As far as assets, they may be scarce. The authorship of the hits like “Tutti Frutti” is disputed, but Richard’s birth name “Penniman” is on the original singles as composer. However, Little Richard sold the publishing rights in the mid-1950s and the intellectual property eventually ended up at Sony. He sued numerous times, trading cash settlements for royalty rights each time. As a result, Little Richard has no vast copyright library with which his heirs can generate income.

Everything else is cash. Little Richard had no foundations or charities. He was a private person and died that way.

Little Richard’s challenges were the same as the ones that face others: longevity and income. You should plan well enough to have sufficient income on which to live. You don’t want to outlive your income.

His song publishing should have been the major component to Little Richard’s retirement plan, but he sold that away very early. Without the royalties or the ability to trade them for a lump sum check, he was effectively a mere performer paid by the show. When he stopped touring, that money stopped. Likewise, because he stopped recording decades ago, that money dried up as well.

Little Richard seems to have garnered enough money settling his lawsuits to live nicely, so he didn’t need to work. However, who knows if he left $40 million. He was still able to pay his bills and didn’t have to tour from a wheelchair at county fairs. He made choices that aligned with his conscience and religious views.

Perhaps Little Richard didn’t have a lot of money in the end, but it was “enough.”

Reference: Wealth Advisor (May 11, 2020) “Does Little Richard’s Son Inherit His $40 Million Career Or Will God Get Everything?”

How Long Do You Have to Settle an Estate?

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The beneficiaries of an estate are recently eager to receive their inheritance. In a common scenario, a trust was left instead of an actual will. All the parties received their respective shares, except for the two brothers and a sister who is the trustee. The trust instructed the brothers to divide the estate property in half for each of them. The sister was to get $15,000.

However, one of the brothers lives in the home.

As you may know, the administrator or executor of an estate has the job of collecting the decedent’s assets, paying debts, making distributions to the beneficiaries, and finally closing the estate in an expeditious manner.

nj.com’s recent article entitled “How long does it take to pay out a family trust?” tries to sort out what the siblings need to do to settle the estate. The key factor in this scenario is the wording of the trust.

There are situations in which a trust is used as a substitute for a will. In that case, a person’s assets are placed in a trust. The trustee pays all the liabilities and administers the assets in the trust in accordance with the instructions of the trust during the individual’s life and after her death.

Even when trusts are used as will substitutes, they aren’t always designed to be closed with distribution to happen immediately after the debts are paid, as in the case of the estate. The terms of the trust dictate the trustee’s duties as to the distribution of trust assets.

If you’re a beneficiary of a trust and think that the trustee is breaching his fiduciary duties, you should inform the trustee of the nature of the suspected breach. If nothing is done to remedy this, you may ask the court for help.

One option is that you can request the court to order the trustee to take actions, which you state in your complaint filed with the probate court. Another option is to request that the court direct the trustee to stop taking specific actions that you detail in your complaint.

A third choice is to ask the court to remove the trustee due to breach of fiduciary duties that you set forth in your complaint filed with the court.

However, such court intervention can be expensive. Another thing to consider is that the trustee may petition the court to have his legal fees paid from the trust funds—which will deplete the money in the trust. Because of this, it is usually best to attempt and resolve these issues before getting the court involved.

Reference: nj.com (Feb. 12, 2020) “How long does it take to pay out a family trust?”

Did Kirk Douglas Leave His Wealth to His Son Michael?

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Kirk Douglas, who died in March at the age of 103, made sure that he gave $50 million away via the Douglas Foundation at his death.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Kirk Douglas’ $61M fortune given mostly to charity, none went to son Michael Douglas” reports that the beneficiaries included St Lawrence University, Westwood’s Sinai Temple, Culver City’s Kirk Douglas Theatre and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Kirk’s Oscar-winning actor Michael is not listed as a beneficiary. That is okay, because he’s worth about $300 million on his own.

Michael announced the death of his father on February 5 in an Instagram post. He included several photos of his famous father and family members.

“It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103. To the world, he was a legend, an actor from the golden age of movies who lived well into his golden years, a humanitarian whose commitment to justice and the causes he believed in set a standard for all of us to aspire to.”

Michael went on to add, “But to me and my brothers Joel and Peter he was simply Dad, to Catherine, a wonderful father-in-law, to his grandchildren and great-grandchild their loving grandfather, and to his wife Anne, a wonderful husband.”

Michael finished his Instagram message by writing, “Kirk’s life was well-lived, and he leaves a legacy in film that will endure for generations to come, and a history as a renowned philanthropist who worked to aid the public and bring peace to the planet. Let me end with the words I told him on his last birthday, and which will always remain true. Dad – I love you so much and I am so proud to be your son.”

Kirk Douglas was a three-time Oscar nominee, known for his roles in “Spartacus” and “Ace in the Hole.”

He was buried at the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park and Mortuary. In addition to Michael, some of the mourners were Kirk’s wife of 65 years, Anne Buydens, and his other sons Peter and Joel.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (March 3, 2020) “Kirk Douglas’ $61M fortune given mostly to charity, none went to son Michael Douglas”

Will Paris Hilton See Her Dad’s Wealth?

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Barron Hilton’s father, hotel magnate Conrad, purchased his first hotel in Texas in 1919. His timing was perfect, as the oil boom ensured rooms were fully booked and could sometimes be turned over three times in a day. He then built the Dallas Hilton in 1925 and three more Hiltons in the state in the next five years. He eventually expanded his holding to create the world’s first international hotel chain. By 1966, his son, Barron, replaced him as president of Hilton Hotels.

In 1979, at the age of 91, Conrad Hilton died of natural causes, leaving $10,000 each to his nephews, nieces, and daughter, and $500,000 to his two siblings. The remainder of the estate was bequeathed to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, which he had founded in 1944.

Celebrity Net Worth’s recent article entitled “Barron Hilton Fulfilled His Promise To Not Leave Any Money To Paris Hilton,” notes that Barron contested his father’s will and ended up settling for four million shares of the company. Years later, Barron watched in horror as his granddaughter Paris tarnished the Hilton name. Barron sent a message. He made an estate plan that excluded Paris’ father and her siblings. His entire fortune would be donated to charity through the family’s foundation, because he felt Paris’ and Nicky’s sex tapes, reality shows, DUIs and other embarrassments sullied the family name.

At Christmas 2007, Barron announced to his family that he was making a major change to his will. Instead of leaving his $4.5 billion fortune to his family, he was leaving the bulk of his estate to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. He left 97% to the foundation and split the remaining 3% ($135 million) between about 24 members of his family. So rather than inheriting about $181 million each, the Hilton family members would get $5.6 million each.

It looks like Paris was entirely cut out of her dad’s will, and she didn’t get a penny from her grandfather. Barron died in 2019, and his will instructed 97% of his fortune to be given to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation for disaster relief, treating children with HIV and AIDS, poverty alleviation, and helping homeless shelters.

Barron continues to reinforce his message to Paris and his family from the grave. He was the second-largest philanthropist in U.S. last year with the $2.4 billion he donated to charity. He’ll probably be up there again, as one of the most generous Americans in 2020 since he still has $2 billion to donate.

Reference: Celebrity Net Worth (March 2, 2020) “Barron Hilton Fulfilled His Promise To Not Leave Any Money To Paris Hilton”

Finalizing Estate Planning Documents while Social Distancing

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After the initial shock of the pandemic, people are realizing not just that they need to update their estate planning documents, but also the people who have been named in important roles. In a recent article from The New York Times, “What to Know About Making a Will in the Age of Coronavirus,” one person said, “I think I still have my jerk brother as the trustee. I need to change that.”

However, with social distancing now being the new norm, some necessary processes for finalizing estate plans are calling for extra creativity. While lawyers can draft any necessary documents from their home offices, the documents need to be signed by clients and, depending upon the document and the state, by witnesses and notaries. These parties usually need to be in the same room for the documents to be considered legally valid.

New York’s Governor Andrew M. Cuomo issued an executive order on March 7 that declared a disaster emergency in the state and temporarily gave notaries the authority to authenticate documents by videoconference. Other governors have also issued executive orders to allow video notarizations, including Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Washington. It’s safe to say that more states will probably permit this as time goes on. California is not on the list of remote notarizations or videoconference.

However, besides needing notarizations, wills in New York State and other documents require two unrelated witnesses in the room when the document is signed. That also goes for the health care directive, which gives a person the ability to name someone to make medical decisions on their behalf, if they become incapacitated.

One New York attorney used a video conference to watch two clients and their witnesses, located more than 100 miles away from his home office, sign new financial powers of attorney and health care documents. He used his laptop to record a video of the proceedings, while clients used their phones. The client couple sat on the enclosed porch of a friend’s house in a distant county and signed the documents, while their friends stood six feet away. When the couple finished signing, they stepped away and their friends moved in to sign the documents, all in view of the attorney and all, of course, wearing vinyl gloves.

The documents were then scanned and sent to the attorney by email and he notarized them. They will also be mailed to him at his home, and then he will authenticate the documents.

In New Jersey, notaries need to be physically present at the signing of documents. One attorney took extra steps for two ER nurses, both single mothers and on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak. He met them in the front yard of one of their houses, where a table had been set up and rocks were used to hold down the documents from blowing away in the wind. Everyone wore gloves and brought their own pens. One nurse served as a witness for each other, and another friend was a witness for both. After each person signed, they stepped away, while another stepped up to the table.

Not every state is making changes to permit these documents to be witnessed and notarized, so there may be many outdoor signings taking place in the weeks and months to come. Speak with your estate planning attorney, who will know the laws that apply to your state.

Reference: The New York Times (March 26, 2020) “What to Know About Making a Will in the Age of Coronavirus”

An Estate Plan Is Necessary for the Unthinkable

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The death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven others reminded us that we never know what fate has in store for us. A recent article from The Press Enterprise titled Yes, you must go there: Think about the unthinkable, plan for the worst” explains the steps.

Put an appointment in your schedule. Make an appointment with a qualified estate planning attorney. If you make the call and have an actual appointment, you have a deadline and that’s a start. The attorney may have a planning worksheet or organizer that they can send to you to guide you.

Start getting organized. If this seems overwhelming, break it out into separate parts. Begin with the easy part: a list of names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses for family members. Include any other people who you intend to include in your estate plan.

Next, list your assets and an estimated value of each. It doesn’t have to be to the penny. Include the account numbers, name of the institution, phone number, and, if you have a personal contact, a name. Include bank accounts, real estate holdings, timeshares, stocks, bonds, personal property, vehicles, RVs, any collectibles of value (attach appraisals if you have them), life insurance, and retirement accounts.

List the professionals who you rely on—your estate planning lawyer, CPA, financial advisor, etc.

If you own a firearm, include your license and make sure that both your spouse and your estate planning attorney are aware of the information. In certain states, having possession of a firearm without being the licensed owner is against the law. Speak with your estate planning attorney about the law in your state and how to prepare for a situation if the firearm needs to be safely and properly dealt with.

Name an executor or personal representative. Estate planning is not just for death. It is also for incapacity. Who will act on your behalf, if you are not able to do so? Many people name their spouse, a long-time trusted friend, or a family member. Be certain that person is willing to act on your behalf. Have a second person also named, in case something occurs, and your first choice cannot serve.

If you have minor children, your estate plan will include a guardian, who will be responsible for raising them. Talk about that with your spouse and that person to make sure they are willing to serve. You can also name a second person to be in charge of finances for the children. Your estate planning lawyer will talk with you about the role of trusts to provide for the children.

Think about your overall goals. How do you see your legacy? Do you want to leave some funds for a charity that has meaning to you and your family? Do you want your children to receive equal shares of your entire estate? Does one child require special needs planning, or are you concerned that one of your children may not be able to manage an inheritance? These are all topics to discuss with your estate planning attorney. Their experience will help clarify your goals and create a plan so that you are prepared for the unthinkable.

Estate planning touches on topics people would prefer to avoid thinking about, but avoiding planning for the unthinkable will not protect you from it.

Reference: The Press Enterprise (Feb. 2, 2020) Yes, you must go there: Think about the unthinkable, plan for the worst”

Do You Want to Decide or Do You Want the State to Decide?

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A will allows you to direct your assets to the people you want to receive them, rather than the alternative, which is relying on the laws of your state to direct who receives your assets, says the article “Will you plan now or pay later?” from the Chron.com.

A will is also the document used to name an independent executor with successors, in the unlikely chance that the first executor fails, refuses or becomes unable to serve. Your estate planning attorney will discuss the use of special trusts to provide for family members who are disabled, trusts for minors or special needs family members or even adult children.

There are three big considerations you may not have even considered that would require you to have an estate plan created in recent years to be reviewed or revised. Years ago, the federal tax exemption, which allows a person to leave a certain amount of money to beneficiaries, was much smaller than it is now.

This was a “use it or lose it” exemption. Here’s an example of how things have changed. In 1987, when the exemption was $600,000 per taxpayer, a couple would use a by-pass trust to shelter the first $600,000 upon the first to die to take advantage of the exemption. In 2020, the exemption is $11.58 million. The “use it or lose it” law is different. Therefore, if your will/trust still has a by-pass trust for this reason, it may be best to discuss it with your estate planning attorney. It is likely that you don’t need it anymore.

You also want a will to have some control over what happens to your assets when you die. Let’s say Betty and Bob have three children. Bob dies, leaving his assets to Betty, then Betty dies and leaves all of her assets to her three children. One of the children, Bea, dies shortly after Betty dies. Bea’s will leaves all of her assets to her husband Bruce.

Bruce remarries. When Bruce dies, the share of the family’s assets that Bruce inherited from his wife Bea may be left to Bruce’s second wife or the couple may spend them all during their marriage. If Bruce divorces his second wife, she may win those assets in a divorce settlement. Would Betty and Bob have wanted their assets to go to their grandchildren, instead of their son-in-law’s second wife and children?

An estate plan can be created to protect those assets, so they remain within the family, going to grandchildren or to the children of Betty and Bob.

While most people think of an estate plan as a plan for death, it’s also a plan for illness and incapacity. A perfectly healthy person is injured in a car accident or suffers a stroke. Without having documents like a power of attorney, power of attorney for health care, living will and medical privacy documents, the family will spend a great deal of time and money trying to establish legal control over the estate.

Speak with an estate planning attorney today to update your current will or create a will and the necessary documents to protect yourself and your family.

Reference: Chron.com (January 16, 2020) “Will you plan now or pay later?”

Be Aware of Probate

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Probate is the legal process that happens after a person dies without a proper estate plan. The court accepts the deceased’s last will, and then the executor can carry out the instructions for the deceased’s estate. However, first he or she must pay any debts and sell assets before distributing any remaining property to the heirs.

If the deceased doesn’t have a will, the probate court will appoint an administrator to manage the probate process, and the court will supervise the process. The Million Acres article entitled asks, “Probate Explained: What Is Probate, and How Does It Work?”

When the will is proven to be legal, the probate judge will grant the executor legal rights to carry out the instructions in the will.

When there’s no will, the probate process can be complicated, because there’s no paper trail that shows what assets belong to what heirs. Tracking down heirs can also be challenging, especially if there’s no surviving spouse and the next of kin is located in a different state or outside the U.S.

Many executors will partner with a probate attorney to help them through the probate process, as well as to assist in filing the required paperwork, notifying creditors, filing taxes and distributing assets. The deceased’s assets must first be located and then formally appraised to determine their value.  Creditors must also be notified after death within a specified period of time.

After the creditors, taxes and fees have been paid on behalf of the estate, any leftover money or assets are distributed to the heirs.

The probate process can be lengthy. Things that can lengthen the process include the state when the deceased was a resident, whether there is a will and whether it is contested by the heirs. The more detailed the will, the simpler the probate process.

The probate process can be expensive, because of court filing fees, creditor notice fees, appraisal fees, tax preparation and filing fees and attorney fees. All of these fees are subtracted from the proceeds of the estate.

Estate planning with a qualified estate planning or elder law attorney involves taking the proper actions to avoid probate. This can reduce the burden for the surviving heir(s) and reduce costs, fees and taxes. Ask your attorney about some of the steps you can take before death to avoid probate.

Reference: Million Acres (Jan. 17, 2020) “Probate Explained: What Is Probate, and How Does It Work?”

Aretha Franklin’s Niece Resign as Executor

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Sabrina Owens, the niece of soul singer Aretha Franklin, recently announced her resignation as executor in court filings, stating: “Given my aunt’s love of family and desire for privacy, this is not what she would have wanted for us, nor is it what I want … I hope that my departure will allow the business of the estate to continue, calm the rift in my family and allow me to return to my personal life.”

Rolling Stone’s recent article entitled “Aretha Franklin’s Niece Resigns as Estate Executor” reminds us that Franklin died in August of 2018, and, because she reportedly was intestate, Michigan law states that her assets are to be distributed equally among her four sons. Her sons agreed upon Owens as executor, but new family politics came up last May after three wills allegedly authored by Franklin were discovered in a notebook under some couch cushions.

“That is when relationships began to deteriorate with the heirs,” Owens wrote of the discovery of the wills. She added that she accepted the executor role on the condition that “no fractured relationships develop within the family” and that the family “did not end up in court disputes over disagreements with the Estate.” Both, Owens wrote, have happened.

Owens’ resignation, however, will not become effective immediately. Instead, she will keep serving as executor for the immediate future. It’s also unknown who will be appointed executor after she does leave.

Franklin’s youngest son, Kecalf, has attempted to gain control since one of the documents from 2014 appears to state that Franklin wanted him to take on that role (in August, a probate judge approved Kecalf’s request to have a handwriting expert analyze the documents that were found).

Although Kecalf has the support of his brother Edward, his plan is opposed by Franklin’s third son, Ted White, as well as the guardian for her eldest son, Clarence, who has special needs.

A hearing on the future of the estate is scheduled for early this spring.

The ongoing battles surrounding Franklin’s estate continue, as it gets ready for two significant posthumous projects: one is a biopic movie starring Jennifer Hudson, “Respect.” The other is an installment in the biographical anthology series, “Genius,” with Cynthia Erivo playing Franklin (both are currently in production).

In the last year, Owens, as executor, oversaw the release of the documentary, ‘Amazing Grace,” while at the same time managing the estate’s complicated finances, including $6.3 million owed to the IRS in back taxes.

Reference: Rolling Stone (Feb. 3, 2020) “Aretha Franklin’s Niece Resigns as Estate Executor”