The Biggest Mistake in Trusts: Funding

Failing to put assets into trusts creates headaches for heirs and probate hassles, says the article “Once You Create a Living Trust, Don’t Forget to Fund It” from Kiplinger. It’s the last step of creating an estate plan that often gets forgotten, much to the dismay of heirs and estate planning attorneys.

Are people so relieved when their estate plan is finished, that they forget to cross the last “t” and dot the last “i”? Could be! Retitling accounts is not something we do on a regular basis, and it does take time to get done. However, without this last step, the entire estate plan can be doomed.

Here are the steps that need to be competed:

Check the deeds on all real estate property. If the intention of your estate plan is to place your primary residence, vacation home, timeshare or rental properties into the trust, all deeds need to be updated. The property is being moved from your ownership to the ownership of the trust, and the title must reflect that. If at some point you refinanced a home, the lender may have asked you to remove the name of the trust for purposes of financing the loan. In that case, you need to change the deed back into the name of the trust. If your estate planning attorney wasn’t part of that transaction, they won’t know about this extra step. Check all deeds to be certain.

Review financial statements. Gather bank statements, brokerage statements and any financial accounts. Confirm that any of the accounts you want to be owned by the trust are titled correctly. You may need to contact the institutions to make sure that the titles on the statements are correct. If there is no reference to the trust at all, then the account has not been recorded correctly and changes need to be made.

It’s also a good idea to review any accounts with named beneficiaries. Talk with your estate planning attorney about whether these accounts should be retitled. The rules regarding beneficiaries for annuities changed a few years ago, so naming the trust as a beneficiary might not work for your estate plan or your tax planning goals as it did in the past.

IRAs and other retirement accounts. These accounts need to be treated on an individual basis when deciding if they should have a trust listed as a primary or contingent beneficiary. Listing a trust as a beneficiary can, in some cases, accelerate income tax due on the account. The trust needs to have proper language to allow the maximum stretchout from the IRS. If the trust is listed as the beneficiary, the ability to distribute assets to trust beneficiaries may be impacted.

The main reason to list a trust as a beneficiary to an IRA or retirement plan is to protect the asset from creditors, financially reckless heirs, or a beneficiary with special needs. Normally, under the SECURE Act, at the end of ten years the proceeds need to be distributed to the beneficiary so these protections would be lost. However, a stand alone retirement plan trust can allow the distributions to stay in trust even after the income taxes have to be paid. An estate planning attorney will know the correct way to handle this.

Making sure that your assets are in the trust takes a little time, but it is up to the owner of the trust to take care of this final detail. The estate planning attorney may provide you with written directions, but unless you make specific arrangements with the office, they will expect you to take care of this. The assets don’t move themselves – you’ll need to make it happen.

My office is open to help you discuss these matters. We can meet in person or virtually through Zoom.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 26, 2020) “Once You Create a Living Trust, Don’t Forget to Fund It”

 

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What Should I Remember when My Parents Move in with Me?

Among adults living in someone else’s household, 14% were the parent of the head of household in 2017. That number is an increase from 7% in 1995, according to the Pew Research Center.

“While the rise in shared living during and immediately after the recession was attributed in large part to a growing number of millennials moving back in with their parents, the longer-term increase has been partially driven by a different phenomenon: parents moving in with their adult children,” according to the Pew report.

US News and World Report’s recent article entitled “When Your Elderly Parents Move In With You” says that if your children also return home after college, you might wind up supporting your children and your parents at the same time.

The critical thing to do is to make a plan. Discuss your goals, the finances and the possibilities, which includes in-home care or nursing home care. Let’s look at how to care for aging parents in your home.

Get Financially Prepared. When Mom and/or Dad moves in, it will add new costs to your budget. In addition to health care for aging parents, the most disruptive implications are often the financial cost of supporting another dependent and having the space to accommodate them in the household. Talk about whether your parent will be contributing Social Security income or other retirement assets toward household expenses.

Think About Hiring Extra Help. Caring for a parent with significant health problems who needs help with basic living tasks can quickly become overwhelming for an adult child with children and work responsibilities. An aging parent might need around-the-clock care. A home health aide could be brought in during work hours or there’s also adult day health care services. However, these costs can add up. It’s not uncommon for the child who is caring for a parent to scale back his or her own career to accomplish both tasks.

Plan Before They Move In. Begin the discussion about the transition as early as you can. It can be doubly stressful to be executing a move in the middle of a crisis or urgent situation, like a health emergency or the death of a parent.

Remember that your parent in the house means you may need to schedule their activities and medical appointments. This can take time away from normal family routines.

Reference: US News and World Report (Aug. 30, 2020) “When Your Elderly Parents Move In With You”

 

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Estate Battles Over Personal Property Distribution

Creating and probating a last will and testament is rarely a simple task, but one of the most challenging aspects is the distribution of personal property, warns the article “Be clear about personal property distribution in your will” from The News-Enterprise. The nature of personal property—that it is relatively low in market value but high in sentimental value—is just part of the problem.

You’d be surprised how many families fight over a favorite ceramic dish or an inexpensive oil painting. However, those fights slow down the process of settling the estate and can create unnecessary costs.

The distribution of personal property is usually part of the residual estate, that which is left over when other assets, like a home, bank accounts, etc., have been distributed. Some families don’t even have a chance to select items, and instead find themselves in irrational bidding wars at estate sales.

This issue may be avoided by having precise language in the last will and testament or living trust about these items. First, the testator, the person who is creating the will, or the trustmaker, if using a trust, should outline the specific items they want to be given to specific people. Promised items should be listed and removed from the general pool of personal property.

Next, the testator or trustmaker, names who should be included in the distribution of remaining personal property. While some people list the same recipients of the full estate, this is not always the case, particularly if there are no children or if property is being left to charity. One option is to limit the beneficiaries of personal items to only close family members.

Third, provide clear directions for how the remaining items will be distributed. Will beneficiaries take turns in a defined order? Should the property be appraised, and values being divided equally by the executor? Be as specific as possible.

However if the person changes his or her mind, then they need to go back to the attorney to make an amendment to the will or trust. One solution to this is to use a personal property memorandum to list items for each intended beneficiary. When I do a living trust plan I provide these for all my clients. Thus it only costs a few cents for the photocopy of the form instead of legal fees.

If there are any unclaimed items, provide instructions for those as well. Do you want a collection of expensive cookware to be sent to a charitable organization? Clothing, furniture, and other items should be either donated to charity or sold at an estate sale, with the proceeds distributed between the beneficiaries.

Another way to avoid conflicts over personal property is to give away items, while you are living. Sentimental gifts are a good alternative for holiday gifts, especially for seniors on a fixed budget. This way the items are clearly out of the estate.

A warning for those who are thinking about taking the “sticky note” system: it rarely goes off without a hitch. Attaching stickers to items with the name of the person who you want to receive them is vulnerable to someone else removing the stickers. Similarly, naming one person to distribute all personal items could lead to strife between family members. There’s no legally enforceable way to ensure that they will follow your wishes.

Address the issue of personal property with your estate planning attorney. They will be able to help determine the least acrimonious means of ensuring that the people you want will end up with the things you want.

My office is fully open to discuss these and any other estate planning issues. We can schedule an in person consultation or do it virtually through Zoom.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Sep. 29, 2020) “Be clear about personal property distribution in your will”

 

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