How Do I Deed My Home into a Trust?

Say that a husband used his inheritance to purchase the family home outright. The wife signed a quitclaim deed to him to put the property into his individual living trust with the condition that if he died before his wife, she could live in the home until her death.

But what if the husband or the creator of the trust never signed the living trust? In that case, what would happen to the property if the husband were to die before the wife?

This can quickly become even more complicated if it’s a second marriage for each of the spouses and they have adult children from prior marriages.

The Herald Tribune’s recent article, “Home ownership complications need guidance from estate planning attorney,” says that in this situation it’s important to know if the quitclaim deed was to the husband personally or to his living trust. If the wife quitclaimed the home to her husband personally, he then owns her share of the home, subject to any marital interests she may still have in the home. However, if the wife quitclaimed the home to his living trust, and the trust was never created, the deed may be invalid. The wife may still own the her original interest in the home.

It’s common for a couple to own a home as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. This would have meant that if the wife died, her husband would own the entire property automatically. If he died, she’d own the entire home automatically.

If the wife signed a quitclaim deed over to him or his trust, and the deed was recorded, then she would have transferred her ownership rights to her husband and he would be the sole owner of the home.  If the deed was never even filed or recorded, the wife could simply destroy the document and keep the status of the title as it was.

If the trust doesn’t exist, her quitclaim deed transfer to an entity that doesn’t exist would create a situation where she could claim that she still owned her interest in the home. However, the home may now be owned by the spouses as tenants in common, rather than as joint tenants with rights of survivorship.

To complicate things further, if the husband fully owned the home at the time of his death and the wife has marital rights in the home, then she may still be entitled to a share of the home under her husband’s will, if he has one, or by the laws of intestacy. However, the husband’s children would also own a share of his share of the home. At that point, the wife would co-own the home with his children.

You can see how crazy this can get. It’s best to seek the advice of a qualified estate planning attorney to guide you through the process and make sure that the proper documents get signed and filed or recorded.

Reference: The (Sarasota, FL) Herald Tribune (September 8, 2019) “Home ownership complications need guidance from estate planning attorney”

Spare Family Fights: Make a Will

Thinking about your own mortality can be something frightening that many people would rather not do, which makes something like creating a will a difficult thing to do. But if for no other reason than to avoid fracturing the family, everyone needs a will. Otherwise, the family might end up spending all their time fighting over who gets Aunt Nina’s sideboard or Uncle Bruno’s collection of baseball cards.

But whether we want to think about it or not, having an estate plan in place – and that includes a will – is a gift of peace we can give to our loved ones and ourselves. It’s peace of mind that our family is being told exactly what we want them to do after we pass, and peace of mind to ourselves that we’ve put our plan into place.

A recent article from Fatherly, “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know,” starts with the basic premise that a will prevents family squabbles. Families fight when they don’t have a clear direction of what the deceased wanted. That’s just one reason to have a last will and testament. However, there are other reasons.

A will is one way to ensure that your property is eventually distributed as you wish. Without a will, your estate is administered as an “intestate estate,” which means the state’s laws will determine who receives your assets after you pass. In some states, that means your spouse gets half of your estate, with your parents getting the rest (if there are no children). If the parents have died and there are no children, the rest of the estate may go to your siblings.

Most people—some studies say as many as 60% of Americans—don’t have a will. It’s hard to say why they don’t: maybe they don’t want to accept the possibility of their own death, maybe they don’t understand what will happen when they die without a will, or perhaps they want to wreak havoc on their families. However, having a will is essential.

Don’t delay. If you don’t have a will in place, stop putting it off. Creating a will gives you the opportunity to effectuate your wishes, not that of the state. What if you don’t want your long-lost brother showing up just to receive a portion of your estate? If you don’t want someone to receive any of your assets, you need to have a will. Otherwise, there’s no way to know how the distribution will play out.

Not only should you think about who will get your assets, you should also be thoughtful about how you distribute your assets. If you have children and your will gives them your assets when they reach 18, will they be prepared to manage without blowing their inheritance in a month? A qualified estate planning attorney will be able to help you create a plan for distributing your wealth to children or other heirs in a way that will match their financial abilities. You may want to create a trust that will hold the assets, with a trustee who can ensure that assets are distributed in a wise and timely manner.

Every family is different, and today’s families, which often include children from prior marriages, require special planning. If you have remarried and have not legally adopted your spouse’s children from a previous marriage, they are not your legal heirs. If you want to make sure they inherit money or a specific asset, you’ll need to state that clearly in your will. If you are not married to your partner, they will not have any rights to your estate, unless a will is created that directs the assets you want them to inherit.

The will can also provide reassurance and protection in case you need to appoint a guardian for your children. Because of this, parents of young children absolutely need a will. If you do not and both parents pass away at the same time, their future will be determined by the court. They could end up in foster care while awaiting a court decision. Battling grandparents may create a tumultuous situation with long-lasting and detrimental effects on your children and their relationships with their other family members. The court could also name a guardian who you would never have chosen. A will lets you tell the court what you want.

Speak with an estate planning attorney to make sure you have a will that is properly prepared and follows the laws of your state. You also want to have a power of attorney and a health care agent named. Only if you have these plans in advance can you express your wishes in a way that can be legally enforced when you actually need them.

Reference: Fatherly (Feb. 6, 2019) “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know”

What Do I Need to Do Financially, When We Have a Baby?

In addition to all the logistics involved with a new baby, new parents should also take care of financial and legal matters in the months leading up to the big day.

U.S. News & World Report’s recent article, “Financial Steps to Take When You’re Pregnant” reminds us that pregnancy is a terrific time to review your financial life. It’s a great time to assess your budget, emergency savings, estate planning documents, and insurance needs to see if anything needs to be refreshed.

Here are a few things to do to prepare for a new baby:

Employee Benefits. Take a look at your employee benefits or have a conversation with HR to determine how much time you can take off and whether you’ll be paid your salary while on parental leave. This is important because many families are faced with higher living costs by the presence of a new baby, which is often combined with taking parental leave that may cut their take-home pay. New parents may have to use the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which offers eligible employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave, or tap into short-term disability insurance, which typically only replaces a portion of your salary. The amount you receive in short-term disability will also be impacted by whether you pay premiums with pre-tax or post-tax dollars. If you pay with pretax, your benefit will be subject to taxes, which will decrease the overall amount received.

While reviewing these policies, look at your health insurance and see what kind of prenatal visits and pediatric care are covered. You should also look at the terms of your health insurance policy since you could be liable for health insurance premiums during periods where you are taking leave from work. Also, remember that you’ll need to add your baby to your medical insurance within 30 days of the birth.

Budget. Create a new budget that takes into account changes in your income from taking leave and new expenses from having a new baby. You may have to survive several weeks without your normal level of income, so be sure that you have enough saved up to get through that period. After that, create another budget that considers more long-term expenses associated with the new one, such as the cost of childcare, diapers, and formula, all of which can add up.

Life Insurance. Determine if your current life insurance will meet your needs. If you need more, look at term life insurance. It’s usually affordable and expires after a set term, typically anywhere from 10 to 30 years. This policy payout would help a surviving parent or guardian care for your child.

Estate Planning. Consider who would care for your child if both parents were to die before they turn 18. Talk to family or close friends about who you’d like as the guardian of the child. Talk to an estate planning attorney to update (or create) a will and guardianship choices. In addition, ask about formulating a plan for how inheritance, insurance, and other assets will be handled and disbursed if you die while the child is a minor. A revocable living trust can be one way to direct a future inheritance. You can designate your child as the beneficiary and a relative or close friend as the trustee. The trustee will help decide how the money is spent. This trust is usually included in the will and activates after the death of the person who created it.

Beneficiary Designations. Update any beneficiary designations on your retirement and insurance accounts to include your child, but make sure and ask about meeting requirements for how minors can own property.

529 College Savings Account. You should also look into funding a 529 college savings account but don’t feel pressure to contribute a lot. Making certain that your budget, estate, and insurance needs are tailored to meet your new family dynamic are more pressing concerns.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (August 29, 2019) “Financial Steps to Take When You’re Pregnant”

What Happens when Both Spouses Die at the Same Time?

There are any number of ways a person can inherit assets from another person. They may inherit assets from a trust, through a will or as a designated beneficiary of an insurance policy or retirement account. However, in each case, says Lake Country News in the article “Simultaneous and close together deaths,” the person inheriting the asset is living, while the person they inherited from has died.

What happens if spouses die either at the same exact time or at a time that is very close to each other? The answer, as with so many estate planning questions, is that it depends.

The first question is, did both decedents have estate planning documents in place? If so, what directions do the wills give? Are there trusts, and if so, who are the trustees? If they served as trustees for each other’s trusts, did they name a secondary trustee?

If assets were owned as joint tenancy with right of survivorship, the estate of each deceased tenant receives an equal share of the asset, unless it can be proven that a joint tenant survived the other.

Here’s an example: if a parent dies without a will, is survived by two children, but one of the two children dies only four days after the parent’s death, i.e., fewer than 120 hours, in California, the law presumes that the deceased child did not survive the mother. The sole surviving child receives the entire parent’s intestate estate.

A trust may provide for distributions to alternative beneficiaries, and accounts with pay-on-death beneficiaries can sometimes name contingent beneficiaries. This is another reason why it is wise to have primary and secondary beneficiaries on all accounts that permit secondary beneficiaries. Check to see if your accounts have this option, as not all accounts allow for secondary beneficiaries.

Keep in mind that a beneficiary who survives long enough to inherit might die before receiving complete distribution of his or her inheritance. In this case, that beneficiary’s share will pass through his or her estate plan. Unless there has been advance planning, the undistributed inheritance becomes part of the deceased beneficiary’s estate, where it will be distributed either according to the beneficiary’s will or according to the laws of intestacy of the decedent’s state of residence. In this case, the beneficiary’s estate may need to be probated to distribute the inheritance.

The legal and factual analysis associated with the distribution of a couple who died at the same time or in close proximity to each other varies from case to case. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to have an estate plan prepared to avoid your family having to unravel the knotty mess that is created when there is no trust, and no estate planning has been done.

Reference: Lake Country News (Aug. 10, 2019) “Simultaneous and close together deaths”

What Are the Six Most Frequent Estate Planning Mistakes?

It is a grim topic, but it is an important one. Without a legal will in place, your loved ones may spend years stuck in court proceedings and spend a lot in legal fees to settle your estate. The San Diego Tribune writes in its recent article, 6 estate-planning mistakes to avoid, that without a plan, everything is more stressful and expensive. Let’s look at the top six estate planning mistakes that people need to avoid:

No Plan. Regardless of your age or financial status, it’s critical to have a basic estate plan. This includes crafting powers of attorney for both healthcare and finances and a will.

No Discussion. Once you create your plan, tell your family. Those you’ve named to take care of you, need to know what you’ve decided and where to find your plan.

Focusing Only on Taxes. Estate planning can be much more than just about tax avoidance. There are many other reasons to create an estate plan that have nothing to do with taxes, like charitable giving, special needs planning for a family member, succession planning in the event of incapacity and planning for children of a prior marriage, to name just a few.

Leaving Assets Directly to Children. If you leave assets directly to your children or grandchildren under age 18, it can cause unintended custodian or guardianship issues. Minors can’t own legal property, so a guardian will be appointed by the court to manage the property for them, until they reach age 18. If you don’t name a guardian, the court will appoint one for you and that person may have very different ideas about how the account should be managed and invested.

Making Mistakes with Ownership and Property Titles. With many blended families, you may want to preserve assets from an inheritance as your own separate property or from a prior marriage for your children. There are many tax consequences and control issues in blended families about which you may not be aware.

Messing Up Your Trust. Many people don’t properly fund or update their trusts. An unfunded trust doesn’t do anyone any good. Assets that aren’t titled in the name of the trust don’t avoid probate.

Finally, be sure to review your estate plan regularly, as your circumstances change.

Reference: San Diego Tribune (April 18, 2019) “6 estate-planning mistakes to avoid”

What Are Some Advantages of Making Lifetime Gifts?

There are several non-tax advantages of making lifetime gifts. One is that you’re able to see the recipient or “donee” enjoy your gift. It might give you satisfaction to help your children achieve financial independence or have fewer financial concerns.

WMUR’s recent article, Money Matters: Lifetime non-charitable giving,” explains that lifetime giving means you dictate who gets your property. Remember, if you die without a will, the intestacy laws of the state will dictate who gets what. With a will, you can decide how you want your property distributed after your death. However, it’s true that even with a will, you won’t really know how the property is distributed, because a beneficiary could disclaim an inheritance. With lifetime giving, you have more control over how your assets are distributed.

At your death, your property may go through probate if you don’t have a trust or beneficiaries on your accounts. Lifetime giving will help reduce probate and administration costs, since lifetime gifts are typically not included in your probate estate at death.  Unlike probate, lifetime gifts are private.

Let’s discuss some of the tax advantages of lifetime gifts. First, a properly structured gifting program can save income and estate taxes. A gift isn’t taxable income to the donee, but any income earned by the gift property or capital gain subsequent to the gift usually is taxable. The donor must pay state and/or federal transfer taxes on the gift. There may be state gift tax, state generation-skipping transfer tax, federal gift and estate taxes, as well as federal generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax.

A big reason for lifetime giving is to remove appreciating assets from your estate (i.e., one that’s expected to increase in value over time). If you give the asset away, any future appreciation in value is removed from your estate. The taxes today may be significantly less than what they would be in the future, after the asset’s value has increased. Note that lifetime giving results in the carryover of your basis in the property to the donee. If the asset is left to the donee at your death, it will usually receive a step-up in value to a new basis (usually the fair market value at the date of your death). Therefore, if the donee plans to sell the asset, she may have a smaller gain by inheriting it at your death, rather than as a gift during your life.

You can also give by paying tuition to an educational institution or medical expenses to a medical care provider directly on behalf of the donee. These transfers are exempt from any federal gift and estate tax.

Remember that the federal annual gift tax exclusion lets you give $15,000 (for the 2019 year) per donee to an unlimited number of donees, without any federal gift and estate tax or federal GST tax (it applies only to gifts of present interest).

Prior to making lifetime gifts, discuss your strategy with an estate planning attorney to be sure that it matches your estate plan goals.

Reference: WMUR (April 18, 2019) “Money Matters: Lifetime non-charitable giving”

What Are the Five “Must Have” Estate Planning Documents?

WTHR 13’s recent article, “The 5 legal documents every adult should have” lists the five “must have” estate planning documents involved in estate planning.

  1. General Durable Power of Attorney. This document states who you want to make decisions if you’re unable to do so for yourself. Without it, your family may have to petition the courts to become your legal guardian/conservator, which can be time consuming and expensive. A power of attorney allows the person whom you select, to pay your mortgage or rent and your bills.
  2. Health Care Power of Attorney. (Also known as an Advance Healthcare Directive) This document plans for the situation, if you are unable to make your own health care decisions. You name someone you trust, like family members or friends, to do this on your behalf.
  3. Will. This says that when you pass away, here’s what I want to happen. A will states who will get your assets after your death. If you don’t have a valid will in place, the state laws of intestacy will govern what will happen to your estate—which may not be what you want.
  4. Living Will. This is the document in which you state your instructions for end-of-life care, such as life support. This document is used to make certain that your family and physicians know what you want your end-of-life care to be. A living will is much different than a will and many times may be incorporated into the Advance Healthcare Directive.
  5. Revocable Living Trust. This document can be important, if you’re a parent with young children and would like your assets passed down properly to your children if you die. Typically, if children are under 18, they’re legally minors and can’t receive assets. A trust can help coordinate the receiving your property and avoid probate on your death.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you with the creation of these documents, while creating an overall plan so that your wishes are followed, your legacy is protected and your family is secure.

Reference: WTHR 13 (April 17, 2019) “The 5 legal documents every adult should have”

Should I Try Using a DIY Will Online?

Although using a DIY site to draft a will can save money and time, sometimes doing it this way could lead to expensive and unpleasant estate planning mistakes.

Next Avenue’s article, “The Problems With Do-It-Yourself Online Wills” reported that one DIY estate planning service had typos on its site, and its estate-planning “packages” had the same document labeled with three different names. Even worse, some of these packages were missing a key estate planning document about which very few users would know to ask.

Many DIY estate planning sites have attorneys on staff, but access to specific help for your personal documents is rarely available. If personal advice is offered, it may cost much more to get it.

It is true that many of us would prefer to fill in the blanks in silence, then have to talk to anyone about our doubts or concerns. However, sometimes it helps—a great deal—to get professional advice.

If you prepare your taxes yourself and they end up incorrect, you and the IRS may end up working things out. However, if you decide to do your estate planning by yourself, you will never know the results of your DIY handiwork. Your loved ones will. And it may not be pleasant.

You need to have customized estate planning documents to avoid court involvement, to decrease administrative issues and to know that the job is done. The four basic estate planning documents are a will, a trust, power of attorney for financial matters and an advance health care directive. If you use any of these on a DIY site, you’ll be offered a fill-in-the-blank approach. However, each state has its own probate code, and the software package you use may have different names for these documents.

Some DIY websites have all of these documents for you, but only if you purchase their higher-end packages. Some offer limited attorney consultation, but it can be just a set of drop-down of questions with pre-written responses, rather than an actual conversation with an attorney.

The benefit of using a DIY service is that you’ll have a plan, quickly and cheaply as possible—which may be better than having no plan at all. Many programs presume that you already know what you want. The reality is that many people have no clue what they want or need. When you get into the complexities of family dynamics, with legal terms specific to your state and situation, DIY estate planning can cause more challenges than working with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Next Avenue (March 29, 2019) “The Problems With Do-It-Yourself Online Wills”

 

As a New Parent, Have You Updated (or Created) Your Estate Plan?

Congrats, you are a new parent! Now you’re sleep-deprived, overwhelmed, and frazzled. Having a child dramatically changes one’s legacy plan and makes having a plan all the more necessary, says ThinkAdvisor’s recent article, “5 Legacy Planning Basics for New Parents.” If you don’t have an estate plan, now is the time to create one.

Even though you are tired, it is important to take time to talk through two high-priority items. Create a staggered checklist—starting with today—and set attainable dates to complete the rest of the tasks. Here are five things to put on that list:

  1. Will/Guardianship Nomination. This gives the probate court your instructions on who will care for your children, if something happens to both you and your spouse. A will also should name a guardian to be responsible for the children. Parents also should think about how they want to share their personal belongings and financial assets. Without a will, the state of California decides what goes to whom. Lastly, a will must name an executor to carry out your wishes.
  2. Beneficiaries. Review your beneficiary designations when you create your will, because you don’t want your will and designations (on life insurance policies and investments) telling two different stories. If there’s an issue, the beneficiary designation overrides the will. All accounts with a beneficiary listed automatically avoid probate court.
  3. Trust. Created by an experienced estate planning attorney, a trust has some excellent benefits, particularly if you have young children. Everything in a trust is shielded from probate court, including property. This avoids court fees and hassle. A trust also provides some flexibility and customization to your plan. You can instruct that your children get a sum of money at 18, 25 or 30, and you can say that the money is for school, among other conditions. The trustee will distribute funds, according to your instructions.
  4. Power of Attorney and Advance Health Care Directive. These are two separate documents, but they’re both used in the event of incapacitation. Their power of attorney for finance and health care directive designees can make important financial and medical decisions when you’re incapable of doing so.
  5. Life Insurance. Most people don’t think about purchasing life insurance, until they have children. Therefore, if you haven’t thought about it, you’re not alone. If you are among the few who bought a policy pre-child, consider increasing the amount so your child is covered, if something should happen.

Reference: ThinkAdvisor (March 7, 2019) “5 Legacy Planning Basics for New Parents”

 

At What Life Stages Should I Review My Estate Plan?

When a person hits the age of 18, they should at least have powers of attorney to designate who will make their healthcare decisions and handle their finances, in the event of any incapacity. When a person starts to accumulate assets and have children, it’s critical to have an estate plan in place, including guardianship nominations.

Bankrate’s recent article, “Estate planning triggers: When to re-evaluate your estate planning strategy,” says the risk of not having a current estate plan and will that state your wishes is significant. When people fail to put any plan into place, it leads to confusion, chaos and unintended consequences. Use this list of important life events as triggers to remind you to discuss your current situation with a trusted attorney.

Getting married. You and your future spouse probably have had some financial conversations before getting engaged. However, if you haven’t, once wedding plans are set, it’s vital to discuss all aspects of each partner’s financial situation and the desired distribution of assets. You should decide whether to sign a prenuptial agreement, the totals of your separate and joint assets and who you want to inherit those assets should one or both spouses pass on. In light of these factors and the prenuptial agreement, an estate plan that satisfies both parties must be created.

Starting a family. The decision to have a child comes with the responsibility of planning for that child’s care. You and your partner will want to determine the amount of your assets you want to pass to your children in the case of a death, at what age your children will inherit those assets and name a legal guardian.

Divorce. If a couple decides to divorce, it’s important to update their separate estates. If you fail to change the beneficiary designations for a trust or life insurance policy after getting divorced, your ex-spouse may receive the life insurance that was supposed to be paid out to the trust to provide liquidity to pay off debts and administration expenses.

Retirement. Beneficiaries are named when setting up a 401k or Roth IRA account. If you started the account years ago, the beneficiaries may be out-of-date. Account owners should look at their total retirement assets and update their beneficiaries to reflect their current relationship and financial circumstances.

Other life events. Any significant change in assets, a move to another state, the death or disability of a person named in your estate plan, a change in tax laws, a disability of a beneficiary that arises after the initial plan is executed, and/or the birth, adoption, or death of a child are all important life events that should trigger a revision of your estate plan.

Reference: Bankrate (March 4, 2019) “Estate planning triggers: When to re-evaluate your estate planning strategy”