Don’t Forget to Update Your Estate Plan
Senior grandparents with toddler grandchildren walking in nature in spring.

Don’t Forget to Update Your Estate Plan

There are some people who sign their will once in their life and never change it. They may have executed their estate plan late in life, or after they were diagnosed with a serious disease. However, even if your family life and finances are pretty basic, there are still changes in the law that you may need to incorporate into your estate plan.  Some of the people that you named in your will could also have died or moved away. These are all important considerations, and that is all the more reason to update your estate plan.

Forbes’ recent article, “Why You Should Change Your Will Now,” warns us that if you’ve taken the “one and done” approach to your estate plan, think again. In addition to the reasons already mentioned, your assets may have changed dramatically since you signed your will. Updating your estate plan is so important. The plan you put in place years ago, may not have considered new federal and state estate taxes. Now that you’ve accumulated significant wealth that will be passed on to your children, you might need to review your plans for that wealth for your children.

You may want to include grandchildren to help pay for their college education.

It is also not uncommon for parents to want to protect their children from themselves. This can be because of addiction issues or a lack of financial literacy. If that’s an issue, some parents elect to hold monies in trust for adult children, as a way to ensure that the funds will be there throughout the child’s lifetime.

A person’s estate plan should grow with them over time. An estate plan for a twenty-something may be very basic, but a newly-married couple will want to include provisions for their spouse. Parents need to think about providing for and protecting their children. Adult children have another set of concerns and you need prepare for the possibility of divorcing spouses, poor life choices, addiction issues and just poor money management. There are many stages in life when you may need to readjust the provisions for your children in your estate planning documents.

If you haven’t looked at your will in a while, do it now. Update your estate plan today.

Reference: Forbes (August 27, 2019) “Why You Should Change Your Will Now”

When To Pay Taxes on An Inheritance

Do you need to pay taxes on an inheritance? For all practical purposes, the U.S. government doesn’t have an inheritance tax. The inheritances of cash or property aren’t taxed as income. As of 2019, the estate tax is only imposed on estates above $11.4 million for singles, or twice that for couples.

Investopedia’s recent article asks “Are Estate Distributions Taxable?” The article explains that the only exception is for income taxes due on withdrawals from retirement accounts that are ordinarily subject to taxes, like traditional IRA accounts.

However, some states do tax inheritances, and to date, those states include Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. None of those states applies the tax to the spouse or children of the deceased. When imposed, the taxes range from about 5% to about 15% of the inheritance. Understanding these facts will help you learn whether you need to pay taxes on an inheritance or not.

If an estate executor doesn’t pay income tax before he or she distributes the inheritance, the IRS may impose limited beneficiary taxes on those who inherit.

Right now, the federal estate tax applies only to inheritances above $11.4 million per individual. Estates, just like individuals, are required to file income tax forms. They may also owe taxes in the form of interest payments on accounts.

The estate can pay the taxes due or distribute the taxable income to the heirs. In certain cases, this actually saves the beneficiary money because the entire estate may be in a higher tax bracket than the individual who’s getting just a portion of the inheritance.

An exemption to the estate tax for inheritances up to $5 million was instituted about nine years ago in 2010 and 2011 (but there were special rules for decedents dying in 2010). This exemption has been reaffirmed, and the limits have been raised in subsequent laws passed by Congress. The current rules exempts from estate taxes the first $11.4 million inherited by an individual, and twice that amount if the inheritance is distributed to a couple.

It’s believed that approximately 2,000 Americans a year are liable for the inheritance tax under that tax exemption law. These individuals usually work with estate planning attorneys and accountants who are skilled at finding strategies to avoid or minimize the estate tax they owe. One way of avoiding any estate tax, is to give away some of the estate in advance to family members. Your attorney may also discuss the use of an irrevocable life insurance trust.

Reference: Investopedia (August 4, 2019) “Are Estate Distributions Taxable?”

Creating a Will
Woman Helping Senior Man To Complete Last Will And Testament At Home

Creating a Will

A simple or basic will allows you to specifically say the way in which you want your assets to be distributed among your beneficiaries after your death. Creating a will can be a good starting point for compiling a comprehensive estate plan because you may need more than just a basic will.

KAKE’s recent article entitled “What Is a Simple Will and How Do You Make One?” explains that a last will and testament is a legal document that states what you want to happen to your property and “worldly goods” when you die. A simple will can be used to designate an executor for the will and a legal guardian for minor children and specify who (or which organizations) should inherit your assets when you die.

A will must be approved in the probate process when you pass away. After the probate court reviews the will to make sure it’s valid, your executor will take care of the collection and distribution of assets listed in the will. Your executor would also be responsible for paying any debts owed by your estate.

Whether you need a basic will or something more complex, usually depends on a few factors, including your age, the size of your estate and if you have children (and their ages).

Creating a will can be a good starting point for estate planning. However, deciding if it should be simple or complex can depend on a number of factors, such as:

  • The size of your estate
  • The amount of estate tax you expect to owe
  • The type of assets and property you own
  • Whether you own a business
  • The number of beneficiaries you want to name
  • Whether the beneficiaries are individuals or organizations (like charities)
  • Any significant life changes you anticipate, like marriages, divorces, or having more children; and
  • Whether any of your children or beneficiaries have special needs.

With these situations, you may need a more detailed will to plan how you want your assets to be distributed. In any event, work with an experienced estate planning attorney. With life or financial changes, you may need to create a more complex will or consider a trust. It is smart to speak with an estate planning attorney, who can help you determine which components to include in your plan and help you keep it updated.

Reference: KAKE (Nov. 23, 2020) “What Is a Simple Will and How Do You Make One?”

Is the Pandemic Motivating People to Do Estate Planning?

A survey from Policygenius, an online insurance marketplace, found that most people (60.4%) didn’t have a will, but that may be about to change. Nearly 40% of survey respondents (39.7%) said they feel it’s more important to get a will because of the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic is motivating us all to plan for the future, including kick starting estate planning.

PR Newswire’s recent article entitled “Policygenius survey finds Americans with misconceptions about estate planning” reports that many respondents also held misconceptions about the estate planning process, which may a reason they avoid it.

The survey found that more than one in five respondents (22.8%) who think getting a will is too expensive overestimated the cost by hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

A total of 48.2% incorrectly thought that their possessions would automatically pass to their spouse, if they died without a will. That may suggest that people may not be creating wills because they think they don’t need them.

There were 24.1% respondents who said that they don’t have a will because they haven’t had time to put one together, and more than half of those respondents (62%) were parents.

The survey also found that respondents prioritized family, with more than a third of them (35.9%) saying that having a child is the most important life event for someone, if they want to create a will. About two-thirds (65.5%) said that making the process of inheritance as easy as possible is one of their top three important issues, when getting a will.

Just 39.3% knew that if someone passes away without a will, a court will determine who gets their assets.

The Policygenius survey is based on responses from a nationally representative sample of 2,689 Americans ages 25 and over. It was conducted by SurveyMonkey from July 16 through July 17, 2020.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about a will and a comprehensive estate plan.

Reference: PR Newswire (Dec. 2, 2020) “Policygenius survey finds Americans with misconceptions about estate planning”

How Can I Avoid Family Fighting in My Estate Planning?

It’s not uncommon for parents to modify their first estate plans, when their children become adults. At that point, many parents’ estate plans are designed to help efficiently transfer assets to the surviving spouse and ultimately to the adult children. Avoid family feuds and fighting in your estate plan by working with a professional estate planning attorney. With proper estate planning counsel, hiccups and headaches will be few and far between.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Three Steps To Estate Planning Without The Family Friction” explains that there are a number of reasons for siblings fighting in the inheritance process. The article says that frequently there are issues that stem from a lack of communication between siblings, which causes doubts as to how things are being done. In addition, siblings may not agree if and how property should be sold and maintained. To help avoid estate planning fighting, use this three-step process for estate planning. After all, family feuds and animosity are avoidable.

Work with an experienced estate planning attorney. Hire an estate planning attorney who has many years of working in this practice area. This will mean that they’ve seen—and more importantly—resolved every type of family fight and discrepancy that can arise in the estate planning process. That’s the know-how that you’re really paying for, in addition to his or her legal expertise in wills and trusts.

Create a financial overview. This will help your beneficiaries see what you own. A financial overview can simplify the inheritance process for your executor, and it can help to serve as the foundation for you and your executor to frankly communicate with future beneficiaries to reduce any lingering doubts or questions that they may have, when they’re not in the loop. This clarity replaces estate planning fighting with resolution. Your inventory should at least include the following items:

  • A list of all assets, liabilities and insurance policies you have and their beneficiaries
  • Contact information for all financial, insurance and legal professionals with whom you partner;
  • Access information for any websites your beneficiaries may need for your online accounts; and
  • A legacy letter that discusses non-financial items for your children.

Hold a family meeting. Next, conduct a family meeting that includes the parents and the children who will be inheriting assets. Some topics for this meeting include:

  • The basics of your estate intentions
  • Verify that a trusted person knows the location of your important estate documents
  • State who your executor and other involved people will be and your rationale
  • Make certain that all parties value communication and transparency during this process; and
  • Discuss non-financial legacy items that are important for you to give to your children.

This three-step process can help keep your children’s relationships intact after you are gone. The last thing that any family wants to experience upon the death of a loved one is drawn-out fights regarding ones estate. Hiring an experienced estate planning attorney, creating a clear financial overview and communicating what’s important to you are critical steps in helping to keep your family together.

Reference: Forbes (July 2, 2020) “Three Steps To Estate Planning Without The Family Friction”

Beginning Estate Planning

When beginning estate planning, it is helpful to clarify what the essential elements of a proper estate plan are. AARP’s recent article entitled “Sign These Papers” suggests that the following documents will give you and your family financial protection, as well as peace of mind. Beginning estate planning can be intimidating, but with appropriate guidance, you will reap the benefits for years to come.

Advance Directive. This document gives your family, loved ones and medical professionals your instructions for your health care. A living will, which is a kind of advance directive, details the treatment you’d like to have in the event you’re unable to speak. It covers things like when you would want doctors to stop treatment, pain relief and life support. Providing these instructions helps your family deal with these issues later.

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. This document, regularly included in an advance directive, lets you name a trusted person (plus a backup or two) to make medical decisions on your behalf, when you’re unable to do so.

Revocable Living Trust. Drawn up correctly by an experienced estate planning attorney, this makes it easy to keep track of your finances now, allow a trusted person step in, if necessary, and make certain that there are fewer problems for your heirs when you pass away. A revocable living trust is a powerful document that allows you to stay in control of all your finances as long as you want. You can also make changes to your trust as often as you like.

When you pass away, your family will have a much easiest task of distributing the assets in the trust to your beneficiaries. Without this, they’ll have to go through the probate process.  It can be a long and possibly costly process, if you die with only a will or intestate (i.e., without a will).

Will. Drafting a will with the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney lets you avoid potential family fighting over what you’ve left behind. Your will can describe in succinct language whom you want to inherit items that might not be in your trust — your home or car, or specific keepsakes, such as your baseball card collection and your Hummel Figurines.

Durable Financial Power of Attorney. If you’re alive but incapacitated, the only way a trusted person, acting on your behalf, can access an IRA, pension or other financial account in your name is with a durable financial power of attorney. Many brokerages and other financial institutions have their own power of attorney forms, so make sure you ask about this.

Beginning estate planning is not complete without these five documents (sometimes four, if your advance directive and health care power of attorney are combined). Drafting a proper estate plan will allow you to enjoy a happier, less stressful life.

In drafting these documents, you know that you’ve taken the steps to make navigating the future as smooth as possible. By making your intentions clear and easing the inheritance process as much as you possibly can, you’re taking care of your family. The benefits of beginning estate planning today will be enjoyed for years to come. Your family will be grateful that you did.

Reference: AARP (August/September 2018) “Sign These Papers”

How Does My Estate Plan Change After Divorce?

Estate planning after a divorce involves adopting a different type of arithmetic. Without a spouse to anchor an estate plan, the trustees, guardians or health care proxies will have to be chosen from a wider pool of those that are connected to you. As with all significant life changes, a recent divorce requires immediate changes to your estate plan.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “How to Revise Your Estate Plan After Divorce” explains that beneficiary forms tied to an IRA, 401(k), 403(b) and life insurance are just some of the key documents that will need to change, reflecting the dissolution of the marriage.

It is important to note that there are usually estate planning terms that are included in agreements created during separation and divorce. These may call for the removal of both spouses from each other’s estate planning documents and retirement accounts. For example, in New York, bequests to an ex-spouse in a will prepared during the marriage are voided after the divorce. Even though the old will is still valid, a new will has the benefit of realigning the estate assets with the intended recipients.

However, any trust created while married is treated differently. Revocable trusts can be revoked, and the assets held by those trusts can be part of the divorce. Irrevocable trusts involving marital property are less likely to be dissolved, and after the death of the grantor, distributions may be made to an ex-spouse as directed by the trust.

A big task in the post-divorce estate planning process is changing beneficiaries. Ask for a change of beneficiary forms for all retirement accounts. Without a stipulation in the divorce decree ending their interest, an ex-spouse still listed as beneficiary of an IRA or life insurance policy may still receive the proceeds at your death.

Divorce presents changes to your children in terms of planning your estate. For one, divorce makes children assume responsibility at an earlier age. Adult children in their 20s or early 30s typically assume the place of the ex-spouse as fiduciaries and health care proxies, as well as agents under powers of attorney, executors and trustees. Further, if the divorcing parents have minor children, they must choose a guardian in their wills to care for the children, in the event that both parents pass away.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help you with the issues that are involved in estate planning after a divorce.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (July 7, 2020) “How to Revise Your Estate Plan After Divorce”

Family Stress in Funeral Planning
Allow your family to grieve your loss without the hassle of complex funeral planning and afterlife arrangements.

Family Stress in Funeral Planning

Making your way through the process of the death of a family member is an extremely personal journey, as well as a very big business that can put a financial strain on the surviving family. Planning ahead by making afterlife care and funeral arrangements now is the only way to ensure that your family’s responsibilities remain hassle-free after your death. Rate.com’s recent article entitled “Plan Your Own Funeral, Cheaply, and Leave Behind a Happier Family”  notes that on an individual basis, it can be a significant cost for a family dealing with grief. The National Funeral Directors Association found that the median cost for a traditional funeral can cost more than $9,000. Considering the cost of a plot and the services of the cemetery to take care of the burial and ongoing maintenance and other expenses,  it can total more than $15,000. If you opt for cremation and a simple service, it may run only $2,000 or less. That would save your estate or your family $13,000. Regardless of your intentions, it is important to consider the amount of legacy that can grow from your last wishes. Researching the specifics of your arrangements can be difficult. Without directions, your grieving family is an easy mark for a death care industry that’s run for profit. This can be especially problematic when death creeps up suddenly and plans need to be made at a sudden notice. Even with federal disclosure rules, most states make it nearly impossible to easily compare among funeral service providers, and online price lists often aren’t required. Further, funeral homes aren’t typically forthright about costs that are required, rather than optional. The median embalming cost is $750. However, there’s no regulation requiring embalming. Likewise, a body need not be placed in a casket for cremation. The median cost for a cremation casket is $1,200 but an alternative “container” might cost less than $200. Our office can help you navigate these intricacies and overcome the seemingly endless money traps laid out by the death care industry. Doing the legwork now will make it easier on your family when you pass. The best thing you can do for your family is to write it down your wishes and plans and make it immediately discoverable. A detailed will and testament provides your family with guidance that simplifies life when you’re gone. It can be a great relief to tell your family everything you want (and don’t want). Be certain that you detail of all your wishes in writing. You should also make sure that the document can be easily located by your executor. Here’s a simple option: Write everything out, place your instructions in a sealed envelope and let your children and the executor know the location of the letter. This elementary step can be the start to helping their decision-making when you pass away, and potentially provide some extra money to help them reach their goals. For more detailed planning and secure services, reach out to our office today. Reference: rate.com (June 21, 2020) “Plan Your Own Funeral, Cheaply, and Leave Behind a Happier Family”
What Can a Strong Estate Planning Attorney Help Me Accomplish?
Consult with our team to find out if the Law Office of Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. is the right fit for you.

What Can a Strong Estate Planning Attorney Help Me Accomplish?

No matter your age, the estate planning attorney you hire should have outstanding credentials and testimonials to their efficiency and personal concern. At the Law Office of Michael T. Huguelet, our promise to service your needs is backed by experience and expertise. Our team is equipped with the tools to make your estate planning goals become a reality.

As you begin settling down, it is sensical to start considering how you’ll provide for and protect those you love. It’s important that these responsibilities rest in good hands. Your estate planning attorney ought to have the knowledge and skill to help you design a workable, legally binding estate plan, one that’ll keep your assets safe as they accumulate, protect your loved ones, and consider the possibility that you may become incapacitated when you least expect it.

It’s only natural that you would be picky in choosing your estate planning attorney. This legal professional must be able to:

  • Listen, understand, and address your individual needs
  • Clarify your options
  • Draft, review, and file all necessary estate planning documents
  • Make certain your estate plan covers all contingencies; and
  • modify your documents as your life circumstances change.

The future is unpredictable. Estate planning can help you make that future as secure as possible.

Estate planning can be as complicated as it is essential. Accordingly, regardless of our age, speak with a highly competent estate planning attorney as soon as possible.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically shown us, planning for the unexpected can never be addressed too soon.

Reference: Legal Reader (June 23, 2020) “When Should I Start My Estate Planning?”

Why Do I Need a Will?

Estate planning is a very personal process. It is not a one-size-fits-all task. When a person has no close relatives (other than perhaps a spouse), the decisions needed to create an estate plan can be overwhelming. Kiplinger’s recent article, “No Children? Why You Still Need an Estate Plan,” provides some ideas, if you find yourself struggling:

Incapacity. Everyone should have an advanced directive for health care and a durable power of attorney for legal and financial decisions. These let you decide who will be in charge of your medical and legal affairs, in the event you are no longer able to make these decisions for yourself. If you become incapacitated without these documents, your relatives will be involved in a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding to appoint someone (who you may not know) to make these decisions for you.

Trusts. This is a legal document that can be used to manage many of your assets during your life, and facilitate the distribution of your assets when you pass away. A trust has two big advantages: it often helps avoid probate at your death and allows you to distribute your assets privately. Without at least a will, your family (as determined by the state intestacy laws) could inherit your assets. The best way to avoid these issues is to create a trust.

Deciding What to Do with Your Assets. This can be a tough decision.  Children often want to make sure that their parents are cared for. However, since many of us will survive our parents, successor beneficiaries must be named. Nieces and nephews are typically beneficiaries, when there are no children. However, you may want to consider friends, pets and charities. Talk to the estate planning attorneys at Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. to review the best way to leave your assets.

Charities. These can also be included in your estate plan. Charitable bequests can be either a specific bequest for a general or specific purpose. If the charitable gift is sizable, contact the charity beforehand to be certain your gift is used, and recognized, in the way that makes you most comfortable.

Pets. Your estate plan can also help establish who will take care of your pets, when you’re no longer here. You can leave the pet and some money to a trusted friend or family member, or you can create a formal pet trust to provide for your pet. Either way, create a plan so your pet can be properly cared for, if you are no longer able to do so.

When it comes to estate planning, you can decide who will inherit your assets. To be certain your wishes are executed as you intended, it is important to have the proper planning in place to avoid probate and allow for an efficient transfer. The attorneys at Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. would be happy to sit down with you, and assist with the decision making process so you have piece of mind that your assets are left to those who mean the most to you.

Reference: Kiplinger (February 11, 2019) “No Children? Why You Still Need an Estate Plan”