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?”

What’s the Difference between Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts?

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A trust is an estate planning tool that you might discuss with an experienced estate planning attorney, beyond drafting a last will and testament.

KAKE.com’s recent article entitled “Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts” explains that a living trust can be revocable or irrevocable.

You can act as your own trustee or designate another person. The trustee has the fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interests of the trust beneficiaries. These are the people you name to benefit from the trust.

There are three main benefits to including a trust as part of an estate plan.

  1. Avoiding probate. Assets held in a trust can avoid probate. This can save your heirs both time and money.
  2. Creditor protection. Creditors can try to attach assets held outside an irrevocable trust to satisfy a debt. However, those assets titled in the name of the irrevocable trust may avoid being accessed to pay outstanding debts.
  3. Minimize estate taxes. Estate taxes can take a large portion from the wealth you may be planning to leave to others. Placing assets in a trust may help to lessen the effect of estate and inheritance taxes, preserving more of your wealth for future generations.

What’s the Difference Between Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts?

A revocable trust is a trust that can be changed or terminated at any time during the lifetime of the person making the trust. When the grantor dies, a revocable trust automatically becomes irrevocable, so no other changes can be made to its terms.

An irrevocable trust is essentially permanent. Therefore, if you create an irrevocable trust during your lifetime, any assets you place in the trust must stay in the trust. That’s a big difference from a revocable trust: flexibility.

Whether a trust is right for your estate plan, depends on your situation. Discuss this with a qualified estate planning attorney. This has been a very simple introduction to a very complex subject.

Reference: KAKE.com (March 31, 2020) “Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts”

Why Is Walt Disney’s Grandson Unable to Claim his $200 Million Inheritance?

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Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David J. Cowan recently claimed that Walt Disney’s grandson Bradford D. Lund had Down Syndrome—despite being presented with DNA evidence proving the opposite. The judge also ruled Lund to be “unfit” to receive his $200 million inheritance from Walt Disney and appointed him a temporary guardian to make all his legal decisions. This was all ordered without a hearing. Lund’s legal team is now trying to contest the rulings.

Inside the Magic’s recent article entitled “Walt Disney’s Grandson Sues Judge Claiming He Has Down Syndrome Without Evidence, Blocking $200 Million Inheritance” says that in the complaint, Lund’s attorney Lanny Davis alleges that the probate court’s action is “all too reminiscent of a perspective where facts do not matter but alternative facts do, where the constitution does not matter…”

The alternative facts Davis spoke of are from a 2016 court decision by Superior Court Judge Robert Oberbillig from a 10-day trial brought on by “disgruntled relatives” against Lund. The trial came after seven years of litigation questioning whether Lund was required to have a limited guardianship. In that trial, Lund was examined by two court-appointed physicians, one court-appointed expert and by Judge Oberbillig himself in open court.

From the investigation, Judge Oberbillig rejected the family’s claims that Lund needed guardianship and ruled that Lund was “not incapacitated.” However, Judge Cowan ignored Oberbillig’s ruling and the DNA evidence that showed Lund doesn’t have Down Syndrome. Instead, Cowan stated from the bench: “Do I want to give 200 million dollars, effectively, to someone who may suffer, on some level, from Down syndrome? The answer is no.”

From this statement, Lund’s legal team brought an additional cause of action that claims Judge Cowan and the Los Angeles Court violated an anti-discrimination law, when Judge Cowan made this “indisputably false” statement and “perception.” They claim this resulted in discrimination against Lund and his loss of freedom regarding the right to counsel and property rights without due process of law.

On Feb. 27, 2020, Lund’s counsel also filed a federal civil rights case in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against Judge Cowan for alleged violation of Lund’s constitutional due process rights in the appointment of a limited guardian ad lit em.

Lund was supposed to have received his portion of his mother’s trust fund when he was 35, which was 15 years ago. He is now 50 years old.

Reference:  Inside the Magic (March 25, 2020) “Walt Disney’s Grandson Sues Judge Claiming He Has Down Syndrome Without Evidence, Blocking $200 Million Inheritance”

Fixing an Estate Plan Mistake

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When an issue arises with your estate planning documents, you need to seek the assistance of a qualified and experienced estate planning attorney, who knows to fix the problems or find the strategy moving forward.

Generally speaking, an irrevocable trust can’t be revoked. However, in some circumstances, it can be modified or changed with a Court order. The trust may have been drafted to allow its trustees and beneficiaries the authority to make certain changes in specific circumstances, like a change in the tax law.

Those kinds of changes usually require the signatures from all trustees and beneficiaries, explains The Wilmington Business Journal’s recent article entitled “Repairing Estate Planning Mistakes: There Are Ways To Clean Up A Mess.”

Another change to an irrevocable trust may be contemplated if the trust’s purpose may have become outdated or its administration is too expensive. An estate planning attorney can petition a judge to modify the trust in these circumstances when the trust’s purposes can’t be achieved without the requested change. Remember that trusts are complex, and you really need the advice of an experienced trust attorney.

Another option is to create the trust to allow for a “trust protector.” This is a third party who’s appointed by the trustees, the beneficiaries, or a judge. The trust protector can decide if the proposed change to the trust is warranted. However, this is only available if the original trust was written to specify the trust protector.

A term can also be added to the trust to provide “power of appointment” to trustees or beneficiaries. This makes it easier to change the trust for the benefit of current or future beneficiaries.

There’s also decanting, in which the assets of an existing trust are “poured” into a new trust with different terms. This can include extending the trust’s life, changing trustees, fixing errors or ambiguities in the original language, and changing the legal jurisdiction. State trust laws vary, and some allow much more flexibility in how trusts are structured and administered.

The most drastic option is to end the trust. The assets would be distributed to the beneficiaries, and the trust would be dissolved. Approval must be obtained from all trustees and all beneficiaries. A frequent reason for “premature termination” is that a trust’s assets have diminished in value to the extent that administering it isn’t feasible or economical.

Again, be sure your estate plan is in solid shape from the start. Anticipating problems with the help of your lawyer, instead of trying to solve issues later is the best plan.

Reference: Wilmington Business Journal (Jan. 3, 2020) “Repairing Estate Planning Mistakes: There Are Ways To Clean Up A Mess”

How Should I Prepare for My Child’s Future?

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It’s been a common path for millennials and their predecessors to go to a four-year college and get a job. If they were short on funds, they’d take out some loans. However, there have been some signals that this norm is changing. With worries about a student debt crisis and with the experience of recent graduates, new college-age students are increasingly turning to alternatives to the established route to create their own debt-free future.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “How to Stay Flexible in Saving for Your Child’s Future” says that student debt is leading to obstacles when it comes to achieving major milestones of financial freedom. Of the young millennials surveyed, nearly half (47%) said they delayed purchasing a home because of their education-related debt, 40% delayed saving for retirement and 31% waited to move out of their parents’ home. A total of 28% of parents said they delayed saving for their own retirement in order to pay for their children’s education.

Saving for a child’s future now looks different than when these 18-year-olds were born.  It certainly will be the case when they leave the nest. As a result, it’s critical for parents to try to give them help, by learning how to adapt to the changing times.

With the gig economy and digitally-enabled side jobs, parents have more flexibility to maintain their financial goals, while preserving their personal lives.

Because there are many possibilities for how a child may choose to find their way with college, job-hunting, and career path, it is important to consider flexibility when saving for a child’s education. This is one of the big benefits of a 529 plan. Although you’re responsible for fees and taxes if you make a withdrawal that isn’t for a qualified education expense, the penalties aren’t too steep. Federal income tax is imposed on the plan’s growth, plus a 10% penalty on the growth. Therefore, depending on the amount withdrawn, the penalty may be very little.

Nonetheless, the tax penalties may worry parents enough that even when their goal is to save for their child’s future education, they want to spread their savings into multiple accounts. This has some clear advantages when the child decides not to go to college after high school. The good news is that there are plenty of options to account for both possibilities.

  • Other investment accounts: You could also create a brokerage account with money earmarked for a child. This gives parents complete flexibility in how the money is used. The money can be used for expenses other than education, but the downside is not having the tax benefits of the 529 plan (tax deferral and potential tax-free growth).
  • Trusts: a trust allows parents to keep complete control over the funds and lets parents provide instructions to the trustee, on how the trust can be used.
  • Custodial accounts: These accounts are managed by a guardian (or custodian) until the child is an adult. These accounts are pretty easy to set up but don’t have the restrictions that can be placed on trust funds.

The digital world has changed everything, including how we plan for our children and their future. Be flexible and make your plans accordingly.

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 27, 2019) “How to Stay Flexible in Saving for Your Child’s Future”

Should I Use a Trust to Protect My Children’s Inheritance?

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Parents with savings have several options for their children’s future inheritances.

nj.com’s recent article answers this question: “We have $1.5 million. Should we get a trust for our children’s inheritance?” According to the article, parents could create lifetime trusts or trusts in their wills for the benefit of the surviving spouse during the spouse’s lifetime.

After that, they can have the remainder of the assets pass in trusts for each of the children, until they reach a certain age or ages.

A lifetime trust is a type of trust that’s created during an individual’s lifetime. This is different from a testamentary trust, which is a trust created after a person’s lifetime through the operation of that person’s will.

Usually, the individual who settles a lifetime trust (the “Grantor”) will retain control over the assets in the trust, including the right to revoke the assets during his or her lifetime. These forms of lifetime trusts are known as grantor trusts.

Another option is to have these types of trusts continue for the benefit of the grandchildren.

The children’s trusts can have instructions that the assets and income are to be used for the health, maintenance, education, and support of the child.

The parents would need to name a trustee or co-trustee. This is the person who’s responsible for investing the assets, filing tax returns and paying taxes (if necessary). He or she will also distribute the assets, according to the terms of the trust.

Trusts are a complicated business, so meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to determine the best strategies based on your circumstances and goals.

Reference: nj.com (October 16, 2019) “We have $1.5 million. Should we get a trust for our children’s inheritance?”

I’m a Fiduciary —What Does That Mean?

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There are any number of pitfalls that may occur when administering an estate, a trust or another person’s finances under a Power of Attorney (POA). Fiduciary duties are the highest under the law, and the fiduciary is legally required to put the interests of the person they are representing above their own. The most common problem for a fiduciary is not taking their responsibilities seriously enough, says the article “What does it mean to serve as a fiduciary? from the New Hampshire Union Leader.

You can avoid some common pitfalls if you keep the following in mind:

Know the governing instrument. A fiduciary must abide by the terms of the governing instrument, which might be a Power of Attorney (POA), trust, or another legal document. The powers you hold are limited to those granted in the document. There are times when even though you have a power or the ability to do something, it’s not in the best interest of the grantor. Let’s say the trust gives you, as a trustee, the power to make distributions to a beneficiary. If the beneficiary has sufficient independent resources, doing so might be a breach of your duties. In the same way, just because the ability to make gifts is given by a POA, that doesn’t mean you should automatically start making gifts.

Maintain extremely detailed records. Do this for two reasons: you have a duty to do so, and you need good records in case anyone claims that you did something wrong. Make sure that your records have enough details so that any expense or expenditure can be documented and explained.

Transparency is the best approach. Every situation is different, and family dynamics differ, but if you can, speak with family members before making any transactions. If they object, you can decide whether or not to proceed or to petition the probate court to give the court’s blessing in advance. In this case, it is better to ask permission in advance, than ask for forgiveness after the fact.

Never mix your personal or business funds with that of the estate. This is one of the biggest problems for people who have never been a fiduciary before. If you are a fiduciary for more than one estate, then you’ll need to have funds and property completely separate from each other. Even if you are a fiduciary for just one estate or person, you should always pay costs and expenses associated with the estate or person from those funds, and you should never transfer money from those funds into your own accounts unless it is properly documented and tracked as a reimbursable expense or as compensation.

Fiduciary duties need to be treated with great care to avoid any liability and litigation. If you are not prepared to be a fiduciary, you could decide to decline the role. Speak with an estate planning attorney to talk about what will be required with your specific case if you have any reservations about taking on this responsibility.

Reference: New Hampshire Union Leader (December 7, 2019) “What does it mean to serve as a fiduciary?

What Estate Planning Do I Need with a New Baby?

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Congratulations parent! You have a new baby. There’s a lot to think about, but there is a vital task that should be a priority. That is making an estate plan. People usually don’t worry about estate planning when they’re young, healthy and starting a new family. However, your new baby is depending on you to make decisions that will set them up for a secure future.

Motley Fool’s recent article, “If You’re a New Parent, Take These 4 Estate Planning Steps” says there are a few key estate planning steps that every parent should take to make certain they’ve protected their child, no matter what the future holds.

  1. Purchase Life Insurance. If a parent dies, life insurance will make sure there are funds available for the other spouse to keep providing for the children. If both parents die, life insurance can be used for a guardian to raise the child or to fund the cost of college. For most parents, term life insurance is used because the premiums are affordable, and the coverage will be in effect long enough for your child to grow to an adult.
  2. Draft a Will and Name a Guardian for your Children. For parents, the most important reason to make a will is to name a guardian for your children. If you designate a guardian, you can select the person that you think shares your values and who will do a good job raising your children. This way, it’s not left to a judge to make that selection. Do this as soon as your children are born.
  3. Update Beneficiaries. Your will should say what happens to most of your assets, but you probably have some accounts with a designated beneficiary, like a 401(k), IRA, or life insurance. When you have children, you’ll need to update the beneficiaries on these accounts for your children to inherit these assets as secondary beneficiaries, so they will inherit them in the event of your and your spouse’s death. Be careful, however, to designate a custodian to take care of those funds while your children are still minors.
  4. Look at a Trust. If you die prior to your children turning 18, they can’t directly take control of any inheritance you leave for them. This means that a judge may need to appoint someone to manage assets that you leave to your child. Your child could also wind up inheriting a lot of money and property free and clear at age 18. To have more control, like who will manage assets, how your money and property should be used for your children and when your children should directly receive a transfer of wealth, ask your estate planning attorney about creating a trust. With a trust, you can designate an individual who will manage money on behalf of your children and provide instructions for how the trustee can use the money to help care for your children, as they age. You can also create conditions on your children receiving a direct transfer of assets, such as requiring your children to reach age 21 or requiring them to use the money to cover college costs. Trusts are for anyone who wants more control over how their property will help their children after they’ve passed away.

When you have a new baby, working on your estate planning probably isn’t a big priority. However, it’s worth taking the time to talk to an attorney for the security of knowing your bundle of joy can still be provided for, in the event that the worst happens to you.

Reference: Motley Fool (September 28, 2019) “If You’re a New Parent, Take These 4 Estate Planning Steps”

You Can Protect Pets after You’re Gone

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Many of us consider our pets members of the family, but the law does not. In most states, if not all, pets are considered property, reports the East Valley Tribune in the article “Trusts can help provide for a pet’s future.” That means you can’t leave them your house or open a bank account in their name. However, you can take measures to protect your pets from what could happen to them after you pass away.

The simple thing to do is to make arrangements with a trusted family member or friend to take care of your pet and leave some money for their care. The problem is, there’s no way to enforce this, and it’s all based on trust. What happens if something unexpected happens to your trusted family member or friend, and they can’t care for your pet? You’ve also given them funds that they are not legally required to spend on your pet.

Another choice is to leave your pet to a no-kill animal shelter. However, shelters, even no-kill shelters, can be stressful for animals who are used to a family home. There’s also no way to know when your pet will be adopted since most people come to shelters to adopt puppies and kittens. There is also the issue of the shelter itself. Will it continue to operate after you are gone and protect your pet?

The best way that many people care for their pets, is by having a pet trust created. An estate planning attorney in your state will know if your state is among the many that allow a pet trust to be created to benefit and protect your pet.

Start by naming a guardian or caretaker for your pets, including instructions on whether your pets should be kept together. If you are not sure about a guardian, name additional guardians, in case one does not wish to serve. Then, determine how much money you need to leave for the pet’s care for its life. This will depend upon the animal’s age, health, and life expectancy. There will need to be adequate funding for any medical issues. The trust can specify whether you want your pet to undergo expensive surgeries or whether they should be kept comfortable at any cost.

You’ll want to make sure to name a guardian who you are confident will care for your pet or pets in the same manner as you would.

A pet trust will also require you to name a trustee, who will be in charge of disbursing the funds as they are needed. The trustee can also check on the pet to be sure your pet is being well-cared for and your instructions are being followed. The money in the trust must only be used by the person for the care of the pets.

A pet trust will give you the peace of mind of knowing that your beloved companion animals are being cared for, even when you are not here to care for them. Speak with an estate planning attorney to learn how to make a pet trust part of your overall estate plan.

Reference: East Valley Tribune (Oct. 14, 2019) “Trusts can help provide for a pet’s future”