#TuesdayTips: Charitable Remainder Trusts

It’s that time of year again… the hustle and bustle of the holidays are upon us!  If you are like me, you may still be searching for that perfect gift for everyone on your list.  Perhaps this year, as you make your list and check it twice, you may want to consider a charitable remainder trust.

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It’s that time of year again… the hustle and bustle of the holidays are upon us!  If you are like me, you may still be searching for that perfect gift for everyone on your list.  Perhaps this year, as you make your list and check it twice, you may want to consider a charitable remainder trust.

A charitable remainder trust is an irrevocable trust that allows the donor, or anyone else you name, to receive each year either a fixed dollar amount from the trust or a percentage (at least 5%) of the value of the trust.  The right to receive this distribution is either for the individual’s lifetime or for a period of years not to exceed 20 years.  At the end of the term, the amount remaining in the trust is distributed to a qualified charity.  Generally, a qualified charity is one that has been deemed tax-exempt by the Internal Revenue Service.

Moreover, the charity will serve as trustee of the trust and will be responsible for investing and managing the asset(s) to produce income for you.  Because the charity is also the remainder beneficiary, it has an incentive to increase the value of the trust, which in turn, benefits not only the charity, but you as the income beneficiary of the trust.

In addition to the income benefit, there are three primary tax benefits.  First, after you have transferred the asset(s) to the trust, you may take an income tax deduction, spread over five years.  You are not, however, allowed to deduct dollar for dollar the amount that you gave.  Rather, you are only allowed to deduct the amount of the “gift,” which is the amount donated less the amount of income you are expected to receive.  Second, whatever the charity receives at the end of the trust term, is not subject to estate tax.  Similarly, the donation will not be subject to gift tax based on the amount the “gift,” unless the income beneficiary of the trust is someone other than the donor or their spouse, in which case, there may be a gift tax imposed on the amount of income that is paid to the income beneficiary.  Lastly, because the charity is tax-exempt, there is no capital gains tax on the sale of the asset(s) in the trust.  So, you can turn non-income-producing property that has increased significantly in value from the time at which you acquired it, into cash without having to pay capital gains tax on the profit.  This enables you to invest the full proceeds of the sale into an income-producing asset.

Further, you can elect to have either fixed annuity payments or a percentage of the current value of the trust.  If you choose the fixed annuity, you will receive a fixed dollar amount each year.  This is beneficial if the trust has a lower than expected income return because you will still receive your fixed payment.  Sounds great, but be careful.  The higher your annuity is, the lower your income tax deduction.  Also, if the trust does not generate enough income to cover your annuity payment, then the trust’s principal will be used.  The more principal that is used, the less likely it is that the charity would receive anything at the end of the trust term and consequently, the less likely it is that the charity would accept your donation in the first place.

Conversely, if you elect a percentage of the value of the trust, your payments will reflect any gains or losses in value of the investments each year.  And, it is important to note, that once a decision is made, you cannot change it later.  If you are considering a charitable remainder trust, call ERA Law Group, LLC at (410) 919-1790 before making a final decision.  Happy gift giving!

#TuesdayTips: My Role as Court Appointed Counsel

Guardianship is the court process whereby an individual (usually a family member) is appointed by the court to make health care and/or financial decisions form someone who the court has deemed incompetent and not able to make those decisions him or herself. Because this is such an important proceeding, the legislature has felt it necessary that when a guardianship petition is filed in the court, the court shall appoint a member of the bar (an attorney) to represent the alleged disabled person (ADP for short) during the process.  The Court Appointed Counsel is responsible for representing the ADP and asserting their wishes and instructions regardless of their physical or mental status. 

What is guardianship and do I need it?  Guardianship is the court process whereby an individual (usually a family member) is appointed by the court to make health care and/or financial decisions form someone who the court has deemed incompetent and not able to make those decisions him or herself.  It is what the court calls, “the means of last resort” because the court prefers alternatives over guardianship because it is so restrictive.  Such alternatives are powers of attorney, joint account ownership, etc.

Guardianship is taken by the court very seriously.  Why? The answer is actually simple.  When a person is incarcerated in prison, he or she has lost their liberty, i.e., their ability to make their own decisions.  With guardianship, even though it is a civil matter and not criminal, the court is making a determination that a person is not competent based on medical evidence, and essentially taking that person’s rights away to make medical and financial decisions from that point forward.  The only way to get guardianship removed is to prove that the medical condition no longer exists or the person has regained the ability to make their own decisions.

Because this is such an important proceeding, the legislature has felt it necessary that when a guardianship petition is filed in the court, the court shall appoint a member of the bar (an attorney) to represent the alleged disabled person (ADP for short) during the process.   That attorney is referred to as the Court-Appointed Counsel or CAC.  The CAC is responsible for representing the ADP and asserting their wishes and instructions regardless of their physical or mental status.  That means that if a person with end-stage Alzheimer’s Disease does not believe anything is wrong and does not want a guardian, it is the CAC’s job to tell the court the ADP does not want a guardian.

Additionally, as part of the job of a CAC, he or she may also interview family members, review medical records, request depositions of medical professionals, and although very rare, conduct a jury trial on behalf of the ADP if competency is strongly contested.  Often times, the ADP is either unconscious or non-communicative due to a disease or physical trauma, like a head injury.  The court will regularly call on the CAC to opine as to the best-suited person to serve as guardian because the CAC is the court’s eyes and ears during the guardianship process.

Since the guardianship process can be very intense and contentious, it is best to be prepared and get your estate planning documents in order.  The best part about estate planning is YOU get to choose who makes those difficult medical and financial decisions.  If a guardianship is initiated, you may not get who you want.  For example, you might not get along with your child, and would prefer your sibling be your guardian; however, if a guardianship is initiated, your child stands in a higher priority of appointment than your sibling.  Therefore, if the matter is contested, your sibling would have to prove that he/she is better suited to be your guardian than your child.  So as parting words of wisdom…make sure you are prepared!  Get your estate planning documents together so you can avoid guardianship at all costs!  Call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790.

#TuesdayTips: DIY Estate Documents Gone Wrong

Estate planning can be a very complicated area of the law.  Before going online to print off your documents, ask yourself, if I needed open heart surgery, would I go to WebMD to get the “how-to” instructions?  Not likely, so why go online to get the how-to instructions to complete your own estate documents? 

Did you create your own documents?

Why pay a lawyer when I can get my estate documents online for free (or at least at a lesser cost than a lawyer)?  Every estate planning attorney has fielded that question at some point or another.  My response is usually: “I love online documents…because it usually means I’ll have more work that makes more money in the future.”  After I say that, I typically get a grin across the client’s face and then they ask “why”?

Using online documents to accomplish your estate planning goals is not generally a good idea and in many cases can lead to severe consequences.  Have you ever heard the saying, “you get what you pay for”?  When you get your documents online, you don’t have the opportunity to talk to an attorney, to ask questions about your specific situation unique to only you or your family, and your documents will not be tailored to your specific circumstances.

Prior to your documents being drafted, you meet with an attorney to discuss your estate planning goals and objectives at the consultation.  My estate planning consultations usually last at least an hour if not an hour and a half.  During the consultation, we review your health status, family status and financial status all before we even mention the words “will” or “power of attorney” or “trust.”  You also have the opportunity to ask questions and receive specific answers related to your situation.  When you get your documents online, they are almost  never tailored to your specific situation.

What happens if you are a blended family?  I can almost guarantee you that the basic online Will does not address how to provide for your spouse and your biological children if you were to die first.  Many estate litigation cases arise from blended family situations where the surviving step parent does a new will after the spouse dies cutting out the spouse’s biological children from any inheritance.

What about your million-dollar IRA?  Who does that go to?  Many clients think the Will directs who gets that money.  WRONG!!  If you have beneficiaries on that IRA, then the beneficiaries listed on the IRA account receive the money and the beneficiaries named in the Will get none of it!  So many people believe the Will controls everything, and unfortunately, if you get your documents online, you will not be educated on what happens to each asset that comprises your estate.

What if you own property in multiple states?  Chances are you were not advised by the online website that you will have to likely do probate in each state you own property.  To avoid this common situation, often times estate planning attorneys will employ trusts so that ownership of those properties are consolidated into the Trust.  That way, upon the death of the owner, the Trustee can sell the properties and does not have to go through the probate/ancillary probate process in each state the Decedent owned property.

Estate planning can be a very complicated area of the law.  Before going online to print off your documents, ask yourself, if I needed open heart surgery, would I go to WebMD to get the “how-to” instructions?  Not likely, so why go online to get the how-to instructions to complete your own estate documents?  Instead, call ERA Law Group, LLC at (410) 919-1790 today!

#TuesdayTips: Financial Powers of Attorney – To Be or Not to Be?

The purpose of most powers of attorney is to authorize your named agent to act on your behalf when you are incompetent or unable to make decisions yourself.  So, if your plan is to wait until you need the power of attorney before talking to your named agent, likely, it is too late.   

That is a valid question.  One that is not pondered enough and often results in a family member being thrown into a position of great responsibility without any direction or idea how they are to act or what they are to do.  In fact, most people sign power of attorney documents naming someone, but then never tell them or have a conversation with that person about what will be expected of them.

Instead, they leave the attorney’s office feeling relieved that they have a plan in place in the event something happens to them, and as soon as they get home, shove those documents into a filing cabinet, drawer or safe (not even telling anyone where they are located), knowing that when the time comes, they will let the named individual know.  Except, the purpose of most powers of attorney is to authorize your named agent to act on your behalf when you are incompetent or unable to make decisions yourself.  So, if your plan is to wait until you need the power of attorney before talking to your named agent, likely, it is too late.

The conversation needs to happen before naming anyone as your power of attorney so you can pick the right individual for the job (and it is a job, make no mistake).  Generally, a financial power of attorney authorizes your agent to manage your finances, and specifically itemizes everything your agent is allowed to do on your behalf.  However, a power of attorney does not list your assets or provide instructions regarding how those assets should be managed.  Only you know that.

 

Thus, it is imperative that you let your agent know about every asset you own – real estate, personal property, bank accounts, mutual funds, stocks, bonds, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, trusts, etc.  Where the assets are located, what company or institution holds them, how they are titled, and their values also should be disclosed to your agent.  Your agent should also know your sources of income and when you receive your income so they can pay bills accordingly.

Additionally, you should tell your agent what your wishes are in the event you require long-term care.  Do you want your assets used to keep you at home, or would you want them preserved for your beneficiaries?  Either way, your agent will be in charge and if assets need to be liquidated, are there certain assets that he or she should liquidate first?  These and many more decisions should be made and discussed with your power of attorney.

Being a financial power of attorney requires a lot of organization, work and time.  It is a commitment that cannot be taken too lightly.  You should choose a power of attorney that is trustworthy and has the time available to devote to managing your assets.  And please, make sure your power of attorney knows what you have and what you want done with it.  Call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790!

 

#TuesdayTips: The “Simple” Will

All too often will-seeking clients call the firm asking if we do “simple” wills, say they need a will, but don’t want one of those “long wills”, or claim to not have anything, so they just need a “basic” will.  On this week’s #TuesdayTips article, ERA Law Group, LLC discusses how having a properly drafted will can mitigate many of these foreseen and unforeseen problems.

All too often will-seeking clients call the firm asking if we do “simple” wills, say they need a will, but don’t want one of those “long wills”, or claim to not have anything, so they just need a “basic” will.   Most law firms will respond to the client, “Yes! We can do that!”  But there are pitfalls that can arise, some foreseen and some unforeseen, when a person only has a “simple” will, and the client does not even know these potential pitfalls exist.  On this week’s #TuesdayTips article, ERA Law Group, LLC discusses how having a properly drafted will can mitigate many of these foreseen and unforeseen problems.

Two common scenarios arise when people have a “simple” will that case issues: (1) Age issues, and (2) Disability issues.  The first scenario, age, has two parts: (a) what happens if someone who is under eighteen (18) years old is set to inherit money or property from the decedent; and (2) what if someone who is over eighteen (18) years old is set to inherit money or property, but is irresponsible to handle a substantial inheritance?

In Maryland, a person under eighteen cannot inherit money or property and hold legal title to that property in their own name.  Someone else over eighteen must hold title to that property, for the minor’s benefit, until the minor attains eighteen years old.  Often times, though, the Testator or Testatrix (man/woman who creates the will) might not think that a person at eighteen is mature enough to handle inheriting money or property; therefore, in a properly drafted under-stated age trust (a.k.a. a minor’s trust) set up in a will, he/she can set the minimum age to inherit to an age he/she feels is more appropriate.  Often, a Testator or Testatrix will choose somewhere between age 23 and 25 because the person inheriting has completed college, grad school, a trade school and/or has been working for a reasonable amount of time and a can hopefully manage an inheritance of money, property or both.  Therefore, it is advantageous for your will to contain an under-stated age subtrust that directs how a minor’s or individual’s inheritance who is under a stated age will be held and managed.  Last, this subtrust can avoid the requirement of court intervention if a minor is set to receive an inheritance and no provisions are made outlining how to handle a minor receiving an inheritance.

The next scenario is: what happens if a person who is incompetent or disabled is set to receive an inheritance?  It is possible that when a person dies, he or she has designated an individual who is incompetent or disabled to receive all or a portion of their estate.  If that happens, it can have dire consequences for the beneficiary.  For example, what happens if the child of a decedent has a severe cognitive disability (i.e., severe autism or severe Downs Syndrome) and is receiving SSI and Medicaid because he is unable to work. If the parent does not do proper planning, that disabled child may inherit a substantial sum of money causing that child to lose his SSI and Medicaid benefits.

Or this other scenario: a husband is in a nursing home on Medicaid because of severe dementia, but the wife still living in the community suffers a massive heart attack and dies.  Now the husband in the nursing home may be designated in the wife’s will to receive all of her estate.  Now the husband in the nursing facility might lose his Medicaid benefits because he now inherited a house that needs to be sold.  Remember, the husband has severe dementia, cannot sell the house himself, and does not have a power of attorney.  Now a guardianship issue has presented itself in addition to him losing his Medicaid benefits because he now has excess assets.

All of the problems caused in scenario two can be avoided if the decedent’s will has a properly drafted Incompetent or Disabled Beneficiary Trust.

At ERA Law Group, LLC, we advise our clients of these potential pitfalls, even when the client wants to do “basic” planning.  Unfortunately, if not properly counseled, “basic” planning can cause very complex issues later after someone dies.  At that point, it may be too late to cure the issues.  That is why ERA’s “basic” or “simple” will includes both of these subtrusts…we don’t want our clients to be left stranded if these difficult and “unforeseen” scenarios come up later.  Call us today at (410) 919-1790!

#TuesdayTips: 529 Plans as Part of Your Overall Estate Plan

It’s that time of year again when the kids head out to the bus stop in the morning to start a new year of learning, eager for what lies ahead. These children aspire to do great things, but with the rising costs of undergraduate education, families need to start saving earlier and the sooner the better. A 529 plan may be the answer.

It’s that time of year again when the kids head out to the bus stop in the morning to start a new year of learning, eager for what lies ahead.  These children aspire to do great things, but with the rising costs of undergraduate education, families need to start saving earlier and the sooner the better.  A 529 plan may be the answer and could benefit your estate plan as well.

A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged savings plan operated by a state or qualified educational institution that is designed to make it easier to save for college.  There are two basic types of plans: prepaid tuition plans and college savings plans.

Prepaid plans let you lock in future tuition costs at today’s prices; whereas, college savings plans are designed to increase over time to cover tuition costs at the time the beneficiary begins college.  Generally, the prepaid plans guarantee a minimum rate of return, but you will be limited to that rate.  Conversely, the college savings plans generally do not have a guaranteed minimum rate of return so you will receive whatever return the stock market generates.  Based on recent trends, this could be significant.

The main advantage of a 529 plan is that the earnings generally are not subject to federal or state income tax provided the funds are used for the qualified education expenses (i.e. tuition, fees, books, room and board) of the designated beneficiary.  Although contributions to a 529 plan are not deductible on your federal return, some states, including Maryland, will allow you to deduct a portion of your contribution on your state return.  In Maryland, you can deduct up to $2,500 each year per beneficiary with the ability to deduct excess contributions in the subsequent 10 years.  This benefit is available only to those contributors who are the actual account holders and Maryland taxpayers.

Also, for federal gift tax purposes, any contribution to a 529 plan generally is considered a completed gift so it will reduce the value of your estate and will not be subject to estate tax when you die.  However, there are contribution limits and if your yearly contribution exceeds $14,000 (in 2017) to any beneficiary, then you may have to file a gift tax return.  But, you will not owe any gift taxes until you have given away more than $5.49 million (in 2017).

Another benefit to the 529 plan is its flexibility.  Generally, the beneficiary may use the funds at any participating school even if they are a part-time student.  Also, if a designated beneficiary does not use the funds in the account, you have the option to change the beneficiary designation, or roll it over tax-free to another plan.

The biggest disadvantage is that if the funds are not used for qualified education expenses then the earnings are subject to federal and possibly state income tax.  Additionally, a 10 percent federal penalty will be imposed on the withdrawal.  Further, for Medicaid purposes, a 529 plan likely is a countable asset that must be spent-down before you will be eligible for benefits and could have other negative consequences.

Call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 and ask how we can help you save for your children’s future!