What to Do with Estate Plan when Loved One Dies

There are a few things a family needs to address immediately after a death, says Cleveland Jewish News’ recent article entitled “Funeral arrangements, estate planning take education.”

It is important that the decedent have a at least last will and testament to say to how their assets will be distributed. In addition, even better would be a trust in combination with a pour over will can give the creator more control over how, when and where the assets go. A fully-funded revocable living trust does not go through probate, like a testamentary trust created under a will to administer the inheritance. A trust can help to avoid probate.

As for funeral arrangements, this can be challenging, if families have not started the planning process quickly. Trying to make decisions on a cemetery, a casket, a funeral home and a service can be daunting. There are a number of decisions to be made in a short amount of time.

As far as reviewing the documents and assets the decedent left behind, do this one at a time and organize as you go to avoid some stress. A family that is grieving can be overwhelmed very quickly.

When a family and loved ones have too much on their plates, nothing will get done because it is too much. Instead, look at one asset at a time, go through it and see how it is titled and if they think the beneficiary designation is appropriate.

Review each asset and make sure you have covered each one, especially if your goal is to avoid probate.

While still living, a person should make a list of where everything is located, details on their accounts and the account numbers and their estate planning attorney. This will ease the family’s burden when going through your assets and other documents, after you pass away.

Although it is not necessary that a parent disclose everything about his or her finances, a parent should have that information available somewhere. That way children will know where all the assets and important documents are located when needed.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (June 22, 2021) “Funeral arrangements, estate planning take education”

 

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How to Prepare for Higher Taxes on Death

Taxing the appreciation of property on gifting or at death as capital gains or ordinary income is under scrutiny as a means of raising significant revenue for the federal government. The Biden administration has proposed this but proposing and passing into law are two very different things, observes Financial Advisor in the article “How Rich Clients Should Prepare For A Biden Estate Tax Regime.”

The tax hikes are being considered as a means of paying for the American Jobs Act and the American Families Act. Paired with the COVID-19 relief bill, the government will need a total of $6.4 trillion over the course of a decade to cover those costs. Reportedly, both Republicans and Democrats are pushing back on this proposal.

A step-up in basis recalculates the value of appreciated assets for tax purposes when they are inherited, which is when the asset’s value usually is higher than when it was originally purchased. For the beneficiary, the step-up in basis at the death of the original owner reduces the capital gains tax on the asset. Taxes are reduced significantly, or in some cases, completely eliminated.

For now, taxpayers pay an estate tax on the value of the assets and the basis of appreciated assets is stepped up to fair market value. The plan under consideration would treat appreciated assets owned at the time of death as sold, which would trigger income tax and subject those assets to estate tax.

Biden’s proposal would also subject many families to the estate tax, which they would not otherwise face, since the federal estate tax exclusion is still historically high—$11.7 million for individuals and $23.4 million for married couples. Let’s say a widowed mother dies with a $3 million estate. Most of the value of the estate is the home she lived in with her spouse for the last four decades. Her estate would not owe any federal tax, but the deemed sale of a highly appreciated home would generate income tax liability.

The proposal allows a $1 million per individual and $2 million per married couple exclusion from gain recognition on property transferred by gift or owned at death. The $1 million per person exclusion is in addition to exclusions for property transfers of tangible personal property, transfers to a spouse, transfers to charity, capital gains on certain business stock and the current exclusion of $250,000 for capital gain on a personal residence.

How should people prepare for what sounds like an unsettling proposal but may end up at a completely different place?

For some, the right move is transferring properties now, if it makes sense with their overall estate plan. Regardless of what Congress does with this proposal, the estate tax exemption will sunset to just north of $5 million (due to inflation adjustments) from the current $11.7 million. However, the likelihood of the proposal passing in its present state is low. The best option may be to make any revisions focused on the change to the estate tax exemption levels.

Reference: Financial Advisor (June 28, 2021) “How Rich Clients Should Prepare For A Biden Estate Tax Regime”

 

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Celebrity Estate Planning Mistakes

The size and scope of the mistakes made by celebrities may be enormous, but many of the mistakes are common for, well, us common people. Learning estate planning lessons from the mistakes made by celebrities and very wealthy people is a good way to prevent yourself from making those same mistakes, says the recent article “Lessons to be Learned From Failed Celebrity Estates” from Forbes.

Let’s start with James Gandolfini, famed for his role in The Sopranos and many movies and television shows. Strangely, he left only 20% of his estate to his wife. Had he left the entire estate to his wife, the family would not have gotten stuck with a huge tax bill. Instead, 55% of his total estate, including a significant art collection, had to be sold to pay estate taxes.

James Brown, the godfather of soul, left copyrights to his music to an educational foundation, tangible assets to his children and $2 million for his children’s education. That sounds like smart thinking, but his estate planning documents contained a great deal of ambiguous language. His girlfriend and her children challenged the estate. Six years and millions in estate taxes later, his estate was settled.

Michael Jackson’s estate fail is a classic error. He had a trust created but failed to fund it. The battle in the California Probate Court over control of his sizable estate could have been avoided.

Howard Hughes, famed entrepreneur, aviator and engineer wanted his $2.5 billion fortune to go towards medical research, but no valid will was found. Instead, his assets were divided among 22 cousins. Before he died, he did take the step of gifting Hughes Aircraft Co. to the Hughes Medical Institute. The company was not included in his estate, but everything else was.

Author Michael Crichton was survived by his pregnant fifth wife, and a son was born after his death. Crichton failed to update his will to include the future offspring. His daughter from a previous marriage fought to exclude his son from the estate. His will included language that specifically overrode a California statute that would have included his son in the estate. All heirs not otherwise mentioned in his will were to be excluded.

Doris Duke inherited a tobacco fortune. When she died, she left a $1.2 billion estate to her foundation, with her butler in charge of the foundation. The result was a series of lawsuits claiming that the foundation was being mismanaged, and cost millions in legal fees. Foundations of that size need a strong management team to avoid legal challenges.

Few estate failures are as graphic as that of Casey Kasem. The famed radio personality’s estate battle after his death included kidnapping and the theft of his corpse. His wife and children from a prior marriage fought over his care, his end-of-life care and the disposition of his remains.

Iconic artist Prince died without a will. The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, died without a will, then handwritten wills were found in her home weeks after she died. For both families, lawsuits, court proceedings and huge estate tax bills could have been avoided.

If you don’t have an estate plan, get it started. If you haven’t looked at your estate plan in a while, have it reviewed. Make provisions for your family, take a close look at potential tax liabilities and if you have been married more than once, make sure to have a rock-solid estate plan that will withstand challenges.

Reference: Forbes (June 18, 2021) “Lessons to be Learned From Failed Celebrity Estates”

 

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