Estate Planning Fast Facts
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Estate Planning Fast Facts

It is true that a single person who dies in 2020 could have up to $11.58 million in personal assets and their heirs would not have to pay any federal estate tax. However, that doesn’t mean that regular people don’t need to worry about estate taxes—their heirs might have to pay state estate taxes, inheritance taxes or the estate may shrink because of other tax issues. That’s why U.S. News & World Report’s recent article “5 Estate Planning Tips to Keep Your Money in the Family” is worth reading.

Without proper estate planning, any number of factors could take a bite out of your children’s inheritance. They may be responsible for paying federal income taxes on retirement accounts, for instance. You want to be sure that a lifetime of hard work and savings doesn’t end up going to the wrong people.

The best way to protect your family and your legacy, is by meeting with an estate planning attorney and sorting through all of the complex issues of estate planning. Here are five areas you definitely need to address:

  1. Creating a last will and testament
  2. Checking that beneficiaries are correct
  3. Creating a trust
  4. Converting traditional IRA accounts to Roth accounts
  5. Giving assets while you are living

A last will and testament. It is a fact that only 32% of Americans have a will, according to a survey that asked 2,400 Americans that question. Of those who don’t have a will, 30% says they don’t think they have enough assets to warrant having a will. However, not having a will means that your entire estate goes through probate, which could become very expensive for your heirs. Having no will also makes it more likely that your family will challenge the distribution of assets. As a result, someone you may have never met could inherit your money and your home. It happens more often than you can imagine.

Checking beneficiaries. Once you die, beneficiaries cannot be changed. That could mean an ex-spouse gets the proceeds of your life insurance policy, retirement funds or any other account that has a named beneficiary. Over time, relationships change—make sure to check the beneficiaries named on any of your documents to ensure that your wishes are fulfilled. Your will does not control this distribution and is superseded by the named beneficiaries.

Set up a trust. Trusts are used to accomplish different goals. If a child is unable to manage money, for instance, a trust can be created, a trustee named and the account funded. The trust will include specific directions as to when the child receives funds or if any benchmarks need to be met, like completing college or staying sober. With an irrevocable trust, the money is taken out of your estate and cannot be subject to estate taxes. Money in a trust does not pass through probate, which is another benefit. Trusts are an important part of any estate planning toolkit.

Convert traditional IRAs to Roth retirement accounts. When children inherit traditional IRAs, they come with many restrictions and heirs get the income tax liability of the IRA. Regular income tax must be paid on all distributions, and the account has to be emptied within ten years of the owner’s death, with limited exceptions. If the account balance is large, it could be consumed by taxes. Through careful estate planning and by gradually converting traditional retirement accounts to Roth accounts, you pay the taxes as the accounts are converted. You want to do this in a controlled fashion, so as not to burden yourself. However, this means your heirs receive the accounts tax-free.

Gift with warm hands, wisely. Perhaps the best way to ensure that money stays in the family, is to give it to heirs while you are living. As of 2020, you may gift up to $15,000 per person, per year in gifts. The money is tax free for recipients. Just be careful when gifting assets that appreciate in value, like stocks or a house. When appreciating assets are inherited, the heirs receive a step-up in basis, meaning that the taxable amount of the assets are adjusted upon death, so some assets should only be passed down after you pass.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Sep. 30, 2020) “5 Estate Planning Tips to Keep Your Money in the Family”

Care from a Distance
Sad senior woman feel lonely thinking or mourning at home

Care from a Distance

Trying to coordinate care from a distance becomes a challenge for many, especially since as many as 80% of caregivers are working. Add COVID-19 into the mix, and the situation becomes even more difficult, reports the article “When your parent is far away and you are trying to care for them” from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The starting point is to have the person you are caring for give you legal authorization to act on their behalf with a Power of Attorney for financial affairs and a Health Care Directive that gives you authority to receive health information under HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). It is HIPAA that addresses the use, disclosure and protection of sensitive patient information.

Next, have a conversation about their finances. Find out where all of their important documents are, including insurance policies (long-term care, health, life, auto, home), Social Security and Medicare cards. You’ll want to know where their tax documents are, which will provide you with information on retirement accounts, bank accounts and investments.

Gather up family documents, including birth, death, and marriage certificates. Make sure your loved one has completed their estate planning, including a last will and testament.

Put all of this information into a binder, so you have access to it easily.

Because you are far from your loved one, you may want to set up a care plan. What kind of care do they have in place right now, and what do you anticipate they may need in the near future? There should also be a contingency plan for emergencies, which seem to occur when they are least expected.

Find a geriatric care manager or a social worker who can do a needs assessment and help coordinate services, including shopping for groceries, medication administration and help with basic activities of daily living, including bathing, toileting, getting in and out of bed, eating and dressing.

If possible, develop a list of neighbors, friends or fellow worshippers who might create a local support system. If you are not able to visit with any degree of frequency, find a way to see your loved ones on a regular basis through video calls. It is impossible to accurately assess a person’s well-being, without being able to see them. In the past, dramatic changes weren’t revealed until family members made a trip. Today, you’ll be able to see your loved one using technology.

You may need to purchase a smartphone or a tablet, but it will be worth the investment. A medical alert system will provide further peace of mind for all concerned. Regular conference calls with caregivers and your loved one will keep everyone in touch.

Care from a distance is difficult, but a well-thought out plan and preparing for all situations will make your loved one safer.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Sep. 28, 2020) “When your parent is far away and you are trying to care for them”

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”
Why You Need an Advance Directive Right Now
COVID-19 has elevated the necessity of estate planning. Contact our office to organize your advance directive today.

Why You Need an Advance Directive Right Now

The number of Americans who have died in the last few months because of COVID-19 is staggering, reports Inside Indiana Business in an article that advises readers to “Get Your Advance Directives in Place Now.” Just talking with family members about your wishes is not enough. You’ll need to put the proper legal documents in place. Writing an advance directive is necessary. And the good news is, it’s not that hard.

A mere one in three Americans has completed any kind of advance directive. In particular, younger adults tend to put off this task, a strategy which has proven to be a disastrous approach. Both Terri Schiavo and Karen Ann Quinlan were only in their twenties when they were not able to make their wishes known. Family members fought in and out of court for years. Learn more about this case here.

The clinical realities of COVID-19 make it increasingly difficult for healthcare workers to determine their patient’s wishes. Visitors are not permitted, and staff members are overwhelmed with patients. COVID-19 respiratory symptoms come on rapidly in many cases, making it impossible to convey end-of-life wishes.

Planning is important. But what is an advance directive? Advance directives are written instructions regarding health care decisions, if you are not able to communicate your wishes. They must be in compliance with your state’s laws. The most common types of advance care directives are the durable power of attorney for health care and the living will.

A durable power of attorney for health care names a person, usually a spouse or family member, to be a health care agent. You may also name alternative agents. This person will be able to make decisions about your health care on your behalf, so be sure they know what your wishes are.

A living will is the document that states your wishes about the type of care you do or don’t want to receive. Living wills typically concern treatments like CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), breathing machines (ventilators), dialysis, feeding tubes and certain treatments, like the use of an IV (intravenous, meaning medicine delivered directly into the bloodstream).

Studies show that people who have properly executed advance directives are more likely to get care that reflects their stated preferences.

Traditional documents will cover most health situations. However, the specific symptoms of COVID-19 may require you to reconsider opinions on certain treatments. Many COVID-19 patients need ventilators to breathe and do subsequently recover. If in the past you wanted to refuse being put on a ventilator, this may cause you to reconsider.

Almost all states require notarization and/or witnesses for advance directives and other estate planning documents to be valid. Many states, including Indiana and New York, now allow for remote notarization.

Talk with your estate planning attorney about putting all of your estate planning documents in order.


Reference: Inside Indiana Business (June 8, 2020) “Get Your Advance Directives in Place Now”

Planning for Digital Assets as Part of Estate Planning

As technology continues to advance and we are increasingly living more of our lives online, accruing digital assets, it’s time to think about what our digital legacy will be, says The Scotsman in the article The ghost in the machine—what will happen to online you after death?” In our increasingly digital world, we’ve shared the news almost immediately when a celebrity dies, grieved when our online friends die and been touched by stories of people online who we have never met in RL — Real Life.

Most of us have digital assets and online accounts. It’s time to think about what will happen to them when we die.

Estate planning attorneys are now talking with clients about their digital assets and leaving specific instructions about what to do with these online accounts and social media, after they pass.

There’s a trend of creating video messages to loved ones and posting them online for the family to see after they pass. Facebook has a feature that allows the page owner to set a legacy contact to manage the account, after the account owner has died. Other technologies are emerging to allow you to gather your digital assets and assign an individual or individuals to manage them after you die.

It is now just as important to think about what you want to happen to your digital assets, as it is to your tangible, earth-bound assets when you die. What’s also important: considering what you want to happen to your data, how accessible and enduring you want it to be and how it will be protected.

People in their older years have seen amazing leaps and changes in technologies. We’ve moved from transistor radios to VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray. We’ve gone from land line home phones to smart phones that have the same computing power or more than a desktop. The first social media site was launched in 1997, and websites like Myspace have come and gone.

Will the current websites and software still be available and commonly used in five, ten, fifty, or one hundred years? It’s impossible to know what the world will look like then. However, unless a plan is made for digital legacies, it’s unlikely that your digital legacy will be accessible to others in the near and far future.

Here’s the problem: even if your executor does succeed in memorializing your Facebook page, will there be things on the page that you don’t want anyone to see after you’ve gone? There’s a wealth of data on social media to sift through, including items you may not want to be part of your digital legacy.

Consider the comparison to people who lived during previous ages. We may not be able to see their lives online, but they have left behind physical artifacts—letters, diaries, photographs—that we can hold in our hands and that tell us their stories. These artifacts will survive through the generations.

A digital estate plan can ensure that your data is managed by someone you trust. Talk with your estate planning attorney to learn how to put such a plan in place, when you are creating your legacy. Your last will and testament is a starting point in today’s digital world.

Reference: The Scotsman (May 16, 2019) The ghost in the machine—what will happen to online you after death?”