#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!

#FamilyFriday – Filing Exceptions

What happens if you disagree with the Court’s order for Pendente Lite relief?  What if the Court denies any Pendente Lite relief?

As previously discussed in an earlier #FamilyFriday article, the Court, upon request, will schedule a Pendente Lite (PL) hearing while the parties wait for their final hearing.  What happens if you disagree with the Court’s order for Pendente Lite relief?  What if the Court denies any Pendente Lite relief?  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys of ERA Law Group, LLC discuss the process for filing Exceptions.

As a reminder, Pendente Lite is a Latin term that translates to “awaiting/pending the litigation.”  Maryland Courts use a Pendente Lite hearing as an opportunity to create a temporary order related to child support, custody, visitation, spousal support, and/or use and possession of the marital home while the parties await the final hearing on the merits.  If you don’t have an arrangement, aren’t seeing your child, aren’t receiving child support, etc., you will want to be sure a Pendente Lite hearing is scheduled as soon as possible.

In most counties this hearing takes place before a Magistrate.  A Magistrate takes the place of a Judge but don’t issue Orders.  They issue Proposed Orders.  At the PL hearing, the Magistrate will hear the case presented by both parties as to why there should or should not be temporary relief and, if so, how much is fair and reasonable.  The Magistrate then states their finding and submits a Proposed Order.  After 10 days, the Proposed Order is sent to a Circuit Court Judge for a signature effectively making the Proposed Order an Order.

Why the 10 days?  At the conclusion of the PL hearing, both parties have 10 days to file “Exceptions.”  Exceptions are written reason(s) why the Magistrate’s Proposed Order should not be signed by the Judge.  For example, perhaps the Magistrate decided to award more child support than the paying party believes is fair.  The paying party would have 10 days to file Exceptions detailing why the Magistrate’s ruling should not be adopted by the Judge.

The Exceptions process is very similar to an appeal and should not be taken lightly.  There are many requirements involving the timing of the filing, the contents of the Exceptions, the timing for requesting a Transcript, the hearing, etc.  By failing to file timely exceptions or abiding by the statute, you could lose your ability to challenge the Proposed Order.

If you disagree with the Proposed Order for Temporary Relief, call ERA Law Group, LLC ASAP at (410) 919-1790 and ask how we can help you get the relief you need!

#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!

#FamilyFriday – Military Retirement Pay, Disability Benefits, and Divorce.

Due to a recent Supreme Court decision, a former spouse may now lose a significant amount of their ex-spouse’s military retirement pay despite what was awarded to them in their Judgment of Absolute Divorce.  

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorney’s at ERA Law Group, LLC are discussing the recent change in how Court’s treat a service member’s waiver of retirement pay for disability benefits and the effects it may have on the former spouse.  A service member’s retirement pay is considered marital property.  Depending on the length of the marriage and the Court’s Order, a percentage of the marital portion of the retirement pay is reserved for the former spouse upon the service member’s retirement.  Due to a recent Supreme Court decision, a former spouse may now lose a significant amount of their ex-spouse’s military retirement pay despite what was awarded to them in their Judgment of Absolute Divorce.

In Maryland, upon entering a Judgment of Absolute Divorce, couples negotiate what, if any, percentage of the service member’s retirement pay will be awarded to the former spouse. If a service member applies for and receives disability benefits, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) automatically reduces the member’s retirement pension on a dollar-for-dollar basis.  This automatic waiver prevents members from double dipping and receiving both retirement pay and disability benefits.  In practice, in exchange for the disability benefits, a member’s retirement pay is decreased which also results in a decrease for the former spouse.  Put simply, the former spouse will receive a smaller piece of the pie than what was originally contemplated.

Until recently, Maryland and many other states, treated the award of the service member’s retirement pay as a contractual arrangement.  This permitted the former spouse to retain their agreed upon portion of the service member’s retirement pay if and when a service member obtained disability benefits or increased benefits after the divorce which resulted in a waiver of their retirement pay.  The Court interpreted the waiver as a dilution of the former spouse’s share.  Finding this arrangement unfair, Maryland Courts continued to enforce the award in the Judgment of Absolute Divorce.  In other words, the service member was still required to pay the difference.

A recent Supreme Court decision, Howell v. Howell, has changed the way Maryland and other states have treated such circumstances.  Now – regardless of what the award was – a former spouse is only entitled to receive a portion of the retirement pay even if that retirement pay is now significantly smaller.  The Supreme Court suggested that state courts consider the unreliability of the former spouse’s portion of retirement pay when making a marital award and, if applicable, compensate the spouse elsewhere.  For example, perhaps this would increase alimony or a lump sum award.

If you are a military spouse, call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 to ensure your rights and benefits are protected!

#FamilyFriday – How is Child Support Calculated?

Frequently parents are confused by the child support calculation when considering their other bills and obligations.  What many don’t realize is that in nearly all scenarios the amount of child support ordered is determined by a calculator and factors such as “I have student loans” or “I have rent to pay” don’t necessarily matter.

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys’ at ERA Law Group, LLC want to explain exactly how child support is calculated.  Frequently parents are confused by the child support calculation when considering their other bills and obligations.  What many don’t realize is that in nearly all scenarios the amount of child support ordered is determined by a calculator and factors such as “I have student loans” or “I have rent to pay” don’t necessarily matter.

Maryland uses a Child Support Guideline formula to calculate child support.  Both parents are required to complete a Financial Statement which outlines the various components of that formula.  First, the parents identify their actual monthly income.  This would include salary, Social Security benefits, alimony, etc.  Second, the parents then identify earlier child support or alimony obligations – per Court Order – which will reduce their actual monthly income.  This is called their adjusted monthly income.  Third, if there are any work related child care expenses, health insurance expenses, or extraordinary medical expenses such as braces, those will also be identified by both parents.

Once both parties’ have identified the above, the formula then predicts what percentage of the parents combined income would have been attributed to the child(ren) had they continued living together.  This number is then used to determine the “basic child support obligation.”  The additional factors such as work-related child care and health insurance are incorporated to determine the “total child support obligation” that the non-custodial parent would be responsible for paying to the custodial parent.  Some exceptions exist, such as, if a parent receives Social Security Income, food stamps, or transitional services which would not be considered actual monthly income.

If you or a loved one need help obtaining child support for your children, call ERA Law Group today at (410) 919-1790 or visit our website at www.eralawgroup.com!

#FamilyFriday – Fast Track to Divorce

Many people get married and mutually agree that a divorce is what’s right for them.  A divorce by mutual consent allows parties to file for divorce so long as there are no minor children and there is an agreement as to all property issues.

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to help you get divorced and quick.  Many people get married and mutually agree that a divorce is what’s right for them.  Prior to 2015, if you wanted a divorce you had to wait at least one year.  The theory behind the wait period was to encourage partners to reconcile and hopefully avoid divorce.  Fortunately the law has caught up with reality and in many cases, when you know you know.

A divorce by mutual consent allows parties to file for divorce so long as there are no minor children and there is an agreement as to all property issues.  Determining whether you have minor children is easy but settling property can sometimes be difficult depending on the duration of the marriage and the property accrued.  You and your spouse want to discuss and settle issues related to any joint bank accounts, cars, real property, debt, retirement, and alimony before filing for divorce.  Hiring an attorney to draft the settlement agreement to ensure it contains all necessary contract language and covers all potential property disputes is important to make sure you truly have settled all property issues.  Additionally, sometimes parties think they’re on the same page only to learn that they’re not.  Discussing these issues initially allows for a smooth settlement and a true divorce by mutual consent.

Once you have your agreement signed you can then file for the divorce.  Your spouse can come with you and immediately file their answer which avoids waiting for the summons and having to formally serve the Defendant.  When filing for the divorce you must include a copy of your agreement so the Court is satisfied that there are no unresolved property issues.  After you’ve filed, the Court will set an uncontested hearing for about ten (10) minutes.  Some counties take longer than others but a good estimation of the time it would take to get divorced is three (3) months.

The attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC offer fixed fee services to draft and finalize your  agreement and handle your uncontested divorces.  Call us today!

#TuesdayTips – The Importance of a Lease

Leasing property is a business and with any business a well drafted contract is a necessity.  Your lease is your contract. 

On this week’s #TuesdayTips article, the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to stress the importance of obtaining a well drafted lease for your rental property.  As landlords you are entrusting a tenant or multiple tenants with taking care of your property and timely paying rent.  Despite your best investigative skills you may end up with tenants that are the opposite of what they seem on paper and ultimately destroy your property, fail to pay rent, or some other violation.  What do you do?  How can you protect yourself from these harms?  It starts with a well drafted lease.

When a tenant doesn’t pay rent or destroys property some landlords just think “I’ll evict my tenant.”  The process of evicting a tenant can be long and administratively cumbersome.  It requires notices, filings, a court appearance, a waiting period, abiding by local eviction procedural rules, scheduling an eviction, and then waiting for the date to arrive.  In the meantime, months have passed and your tenants may have destroyed property and/or failed to pay rent during that period.

Many landlords choose to download free leases from the internet and are left in a precarious situation when they cannot evict a tenant, charge late fees, collect attorney fees, or sue for the damage done to the property.  A well drafted lease will include many provisions to protect the Landlord’s interest and remedies in the event of default.  Additionally, these leases will have clauses which will permit the collection of late fees, attorney fees, bounce check fees, security deposit policies, authorized uses of the property, duties of the tenant and landlord, and similar provisions.  A sloppy or poorly drafted lease could result in your tenant getting away with damage, rental loss, etc. and leave you without any opportunity to collect.

Leasing property is a business and with any business a well drafted contract is a necessity.  Your lease is your contract.  Call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today and ask about our fixed fee leases!