Planning your estate around specific assets is risky and, in most cases, should be avoided. If you leave specific assets — such as a home, a car or stock — to specific people, you could end up inadvertently disinheriting someone.
Here’s an example that illustrates the problem: Kim has three children — Sarah, John and Matthew — and wishes to treat them equally in her estate plan. In her will, she leaves a $500,000 mutual fund to Sarah and her $500,000 home to John. She also names Matthew as beneficiary of a $500,000 life insurance policy.
By the time Kim dies, the mutual fund balance has grown to $750,000. In addition, she has sold the home for $750,000, invested the proceeds in the mutual fund and allowed the life insurance policy to lapse. She didn’t revise or revoke her will. The result? Sarah receives the mutual fund, with a balance of $1.5 million, and John and Matthew are disinherited.
To avoid this outcome, it’s generally preferable to divide your estate based on dollar values or percentages rather than specific assets. Kim, for example, could have placed the mutual fund, home and insurance policy in a trust and divided the value of the trust equally between her three children.
If it’s important to you that specific assets go to specific heirs — for example, because you want your oldest child to receive the family home or you want your family business to go to a child who works for the company — there are planning techniques you can use to help ensure that outcome while avoiding undesirable consequences. For example, your trust might provide for your assets to be divided equally but also for your children to receive specific assets at fair market value as part of their shares.
Please contact us for additional details on planning strategies that can help ensure your assets are distributed as you wish without causing unintentional consequences.
2 types of CLTs
A CLT provides a regular income stream to one or more charities during the trust term, after which the remaining assets pass to your children or other noncharitable beneficiaries. If your beneficiaries are in a position to wait for several years (or even decades) before receiving their inheritance, a CLT may be an attractive planning tool. That’s because the charity’s upfront interest in the trust dramatically reduces the value of your beneficiaries’ interest for gift or estate tax purposes.
There are two types of CLTs: 1) a charitable lead annuity trust (CLAT), which makes annual payments to charity equal to a fixed dollar amount or a fixed percentage of the trust assets’ initial value, and 2) a charitable lead unitrust (CLUT), which pays out a set percentage of the trust assets’ value, recalculated annually. Most people prefer CLATs because they provide a better opportunity to maximize the amount received by one’s noncharitable beneficiaries.
Typically, people establish CLATs during their lives (known as “inter vivos” CLATs) because it allows them to lock in a favorable interest rate. Another option is a testamentary CLAT, or “T-CLAT,” which is established at death by one’s will or living trust.
Another issue to consider is whether to design a CLAT as a grantor or nongrantor trust. Nongrantor CLATs are more common, primarily because the grantor avoids paying income taxes on the trust’s earnings. However, grantor CLATs also have advantages. For example, by paying income taxes, the grantor allows the trust to grow tax-free, enhancing the beneficiaries’ remainder interest.
Here’s why CLATs are so effective when interest rates are low: When you fund a CLAT, you make a taxable gift equal to the initial value of the assets you contribute to the trust, less the value of all charitable interests. A charity’s interest is equal to the total payments it will receive over the trust term, discounted to present value using the Section 7520 rate, a conservative interest rate set monthly by the IRS. As of this writing, the Sec. 7520 rate has fluctuated between 2.35% and 2.55% so far this year.
If trust assets outperform the applicable Sec. 7520 rate (that is, the rate published in the month the trust is established), the trust will produce wealth transfer benefits. For example, if the applicable Sec. 7520 rate is 2.5% and the trust assets actually grow at a 7% rate, your noncharitable beneficiaries will receive assets well in excess of the taxable gift you report when the trust is established.
If a CLAT appeals to you, the sooner you act, the better. In a low-interest-rate environment, outperforming the Sec. 7520 rate is relatively easy, so the prospects of transferring a significant amount of wealth tax-free are good. Contact us for more details.
Some people make video recordings of their will signings in an effort to create evidence that they possess the requisite testamentary capacity. For some, this strategy may help stave off a will contest. But in most cases, the risk that the recording will provide ammunition to someone who wishes to challenge the will outweighs the potential benefits.
Assessing the downsides
Unless the person signing the will delivers a flawless, natural performance, a challenger will pounce on the slightest hesitation, apparent discomfort or momentary confusion as “proof” that the person lacked testamentary capacity. Even the sharpest among us occasionally forgets facts or mixes up our children’s or grandchildren’s names. And discomfort or nervousness with the recording process can easily be mistaken for confusion or duress.
You’re probably thinking, “Why can’t we just re-record portions of the video that don’t look good?” The problem with this approach is that a challenger’s attorney will likely ask how much editing was done and how many “takes” were used in the video and cite that as further evidence of lack of testamentary capacity.
Implementing alternative strategies
For most people, other strategies for avoiding a will contest are preferable to recording the will signing. These include having a medical practitioner examine you and attest to your capacity immediately before the signing. It can also involve choosing reliable witnesses, including a “no contest clause” in your will, and using a funded revocable trust, which avoids probate and, therefore, is more difficult and expensive to challenge. If you’d like more information on estate planning strategies, please contact us.
With school letting out you might be focused on summer plans for your children (or grandchildren). But the end of the school year is also a good time to think about Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) — especially if the children are in grade school or younger.
One major advantage of ESAs over another popular education saving tool, the Section 529 plan, is that tax-free ESA distributions aren’t limited to college expenses; they also can fund elementary and secondary school costs. That means you can use ESA funds to pay for such qualified expenses as tutoring and private school tuition.
Here are some other key ESA benefits:
- Although contributions aren’t deductible, plan assets can grow tax-deferred.
- You remain in control of the account — even after the child is of legal age.
- You can make rollovers to another qualifying family member.
A sibling or first cousin is a typical example of a qualifying family member, if he or she is eligible to be an ESA beneficiary (that is, under age 18 or has special needs).
The ESA annual contribution limit is $2,000 per beneficiary. The total contributions for a particular ESA beneficiary cannot be more than $2,000 in any year, no matter how many accounts have been established or how many people are contributing.
However, the ability to contribute is phased out based on income. The phaseout range is modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $190,000–$220,000 for married couples filing jointly and $95,000–$110,000 for other filers. You can make a partial contribution if your MAGI falls within the applicable range, and no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range.
If there is a balance in the ESA when the beneficiary reaches age 30 (unless the beneficiary is a special needs individual), it must generally be distributed within 30 days. The portion representing earnings on the account will be taxable and subject to a 10% penalty. But these taxes can be avoided by rolling over the full balance to another ESA for a qualifying family member.
Would you like more information about ESAs or other tax-advantaged ways to fund your child’s — or grandchild’s — education expenses? Contact us!
If you have significant assets in employer-sponsored retirement plans or IRAs, it’s important to understand the extent to which those assets are protected against creditors’ claims and, if possible, to take steps to strengthen that protection.
Most qualified plans — such as pension, profit-sharing and 401(k) plans — are protected against creditors’ claims, both in and out of bankruptcy, by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). This protection also extends to 403(b) and 457 plans.
IRA-based employer plans — such as Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plans and Savings Incentive Match Plans for Employees (SIMPLE) IRAs — are also protected in bankruptcy. But there’s some uncertainty over whether they’re protected outside of bankruptcy.
The level of asset protection available for IRAs depends in part on whether the owner is involved in bankruptcy proceedings. In a bankruptcy context, creditor protection is governed by federal law. Under the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA), both traditional and Roth IRAs are exempt from creditors’ claims up to an inflation-adjusted $1 million.
The IRA limit doesn’t, however, apply to amounts rolled over from a qualified plan or a 403(b) or 457 plan — or to any earnings on those amounts. Suppose, for example, that you have $4 million invested in a 401(k) plan. If you roll it over into an IRA, the entire $4 million, plus all future earnings, will generally continue to be exempt from creditors’ claims in bankruptcy.
To ensure that rollover amounts are fully protected, keep those funds in separate IRAs rather than commingling them with any contributory IRAs you might own. Also, make sure the rollover is fully documented and the word “rollover” is part of its name. Bear in mind, too, that once a distribution is made from the IRA, it’s no longer protected.
Outside bankruptcy, the protection afforded an IRA depends on state law.
What about inherited IRAs?
In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court held that inherited IRAs don’t qualify as retirement accounts under bankruptcy law. The Court reasoned that money in an IRA retirement account was set aside “at some prior date by an entirely different person.” But after an inheritance, it no longer bears the legal characteristics of retirement funds because the heir can withdraw funds at any time without a tax penalty and take other steps not required with non-inherited IRAs. Therefore, they’re not protected in bankruptcy. (Clark v. Rameker)
Consult with your attorney about protection for retirement accounts in a non-bankruptcy context.
If you’re concerned that your retirement savings are vulnerable to creditors’ claims, please contact us. The effectiveness of these strategies depends on factors such as whether future creditor claims arise in bankruptcy and what state law applies.