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Wills and Estates Blog

Blended Families: The Not-So-Simple Estate Plan

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Blended families, or families that consist of a couple and their children from this and/or previous relationships, may not realize the estate plan they currently have in place doesn’t fit their needs. It is common that blended families will arrange their finances as if their estate is your average estate plan when, in fact, for many blended families that is not the case.

For blended families, we must consider the balance of both the spouse and the children as opposed to your usual estate plan where you are only considering the present needs of your spouse. For example, for your average estate plan a spouse may choose to give all of their assets to their surviving spouse and in the event the surviving spouse had predeceased them then the assets go to the children. Using this same example, if you are a blended family, you could be disinheriting your children. Only in the event the surviving spouse has predeceased do your children receive an inheritance. If the surviving spouse is alive then they receive the inheritance and upon their death their inheritance passes to who they have chosen in their own estate planning documents—which may not include your children.

Also considering your incapacitation, who is the right person or persons to handle your financial affairs and your medical decisions? Are you supposed to put your spouse’s feelings and wishes before your children or vice versa? These are difficult questions that need to be addressed when considering a blended family estate plan. These questions can be answered using various estate planning tools. In considering the best estate plan for a blended family you must consider all of your options.

Last Will and Testament/ Revocable Living Trust

Whether you are a blended family or not, your estate plan can include a Last Will and Testament or a Revocable Living Trust. Regardless of the type of document, in a blended family your estate plan will attempt to balance the competing interests between your spouse and your children. Both have an interest in your assets and both can be at odds should you pass away without putting certain mechanisms in place. For example, if you have real property that you purchased prior to your marriage, do you want your children to receive an inheritance of that real property? What if you want your spouse to continue to reside in the real property after you pass away? These are all practical considerations of a blended family estate plan.

Whether it is a Last Will and Testament or a Revocable Living Trust, who will you choose to ensure those assets are transferred to the people you choose? To the extent that you chose to have a Trust that provides monies to your spouse until he or she passes and then the remaining assets to be divided amongst your children there can also be a conflict. Especially if you choose for your spouse to be the Trustee of the Trust. This means your Spouse will have sole control of the assets when you pass away, allowing them to spend the Trust assets lavishly and unfettered. Again, this can place your spouse and your children at odds because they both have competing interests. Consulting with an estate planning attorney can provide options to ensure your desired goal is met whether it be only providing for your spouse or it be ensuring your spouse is taken care of while also ensuring you still have assets left to give to your children.

Title of Assets

Let’s also consider that you may have joint assets with your spouse. If that is the case, there is a chance that it won’t matter what you put into a Last Will and Testament or Trust. If your assets are titled jointly with your spouse, your assets may automatically pass to your spouse as the surviving joint owner of those assets. As such, the estate plan you think you have in place may not achieve the goal you desire.When setting up your estate plan it is imperative that you also consider the assets you currently have and how they are titled to address any potential for the assets not to pass through your Last Will and Testament or Trust. An experienced estate planning attorney should review the titling of your assets when advising you of your estate planning options.

Power of Attorney and Advance Directive Agent(s)

In planning for incapacitation, many conflicts arise in blended families in the division of authority or responsibility. In any marriage it can be expected that you would wish for your spouse to make health and financial decisions in the event you cannot. However, what if your spouse and your children do not get along? Some factors to consider include how long you have been married to your spouse and the relationship between your spouse and your children when deciding who you will name as your Agent to make those decisions. Again, if you are the glue that holds the family together it can be problematic if you become incapacitated. Thus, it is best to provide clear instructions and consulting with an attorney can provide options to suit your needs.

Premarital Agreements

Premarital Agreements can be essential to any blended family estate plan. In a Premarital Agreement, both spouses are upfront about the division of their assets in the event of death. For couples that have Premarital Agreements in place, it is imperative that should they wish to change any aspect of the division of assets that are mentioned in the Premarital Agreement that any change be done by amending that Agreement. Your Last Will and Testament may not override your Premarital Agreement if there is a conflict between the two documents. For example,if you provide in your Premarital Agreement that you spouse has the right to purchase the real property at less than fair market value and you include in your Last Will and Testament that your spouse has to purchase the real property for fair market value those clauses are conflicting. Such a change would require an amendment of your Premarital Agreement should you wish for your that provision in your Last Will and Testament to be upheld. Any document that you currently have place that discusses the disposition of your assets should be reviewed by your estate planning attorney when advising you of your estate planning options.

Beneficiary Designations

Most divorcees are primarily concerned with ensuring they have updated their Last Will and Testament or Trust to take out any clauses referencing their ex-spouse, but fail to change their beneficiary designations. Many spouses assume that their Last Will and Testament or Trust will trump all other documents. However, that is not the case when it comes to beneficiary designations. If you do not change your beneficiary designation to remove your former spouse and name a new beneficiary, that beneficiary designation will trump any other estate planning document for that particular asset. In essence, your former spouse could still inherit from you even if they are not named in your Last Will and Testament or Trust. When consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney it is imperative you provide them with your asset information, including your beneficiary designations.

Blended families should consider consulting with an experienced attorney to ensure they are aware of all of their estate planning options. Should you wish to receive free initial consultation please contact Nicole A. Slaughter, Esq. at 301-670-7030.

Are You Ready for ABLE?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

As you may have heard, Congress enacted the Candy Machine 100 Dollar Bills Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 (the “ABLE Act”) on December 19, 2014. Many have deemed this a monumental step toward the betterment of the lives of individuals faced with mental and/or physical disabilities. While many experts would agree this piece of legislation is several years too late, Congress’ decision to move this legislation forward is a huge victory for those families that must deal with physical and mental disabilities of their loved ones on a daily basis.

Overview of the ABLE Act

The purpose behind this Act is two-fold: (1) assist and provide families and individuals with disabilities certain private savings funds designed to support health, independence, and quality of life; and (2) provide secure funds that are designed to supplement, but not supplant, benefits provided through private insurance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid, the beneficiary’s employment, and other sources of income.

People that have a disability tend to depend on a multitude of public benefits for assistance with health care, food, housing, education etc. To maintain eligibility for these public benefits, certain resource and income thresholds must be met. Generally, an individual cannot have cash savings, retirement funds, etc. in excess of $2,000. This maximum amount is very small when compared to the additional costs of living that are not covered by governmental programs.

Prior to the enactment of the ABLE Act, generally, the only means of assisting disabled individuals was through the use of Special Needs Trusts (Special Needs Trust). For many families, the complexities and costs associated with creating and administering a Special Needs Trust might seem to outweigh the benefit of using a Special Needs Trust. The ABLE Act provides a new tool to allow families to provide a better quality of life for their loved one.

An individual with a disability may now continue to qualify for public benefits while owning assets held in an ABLE account.

These funds held in an ABLE Account do not have any of the restrictions commonly placed on assets held in trusts (i.e. the funds cannot be used to pay for housing or food). Specifically, the ABLE Act allows any funds held in the account to be used for education, housing, transportation, employment training and support, assistive technology and personal support services, health, prevention and wellness, financial management and administrative services, legal fees, and expenses for oversight and monitoring, funeral and burial expenses.

An ABLE account is disregarded for eligibility determination purposes for means-tested federal programs. However, individuals receiving SSI will have their benefits reduced/suspended for distributions attributable to housing expenses. Also, if the account balance exceeds $100,000, the SSI payments will be suspended for the period in which the assets exceed the threshold. However, an account with assets in excess of $100,000 does not suspend or affect Medicaid eligibility of such person.

Requirements for Establishing an ABLE Account

To qualify for the ABLE Account program, the individual must have “significant disabilities” that began before the individual’s 26th birthday. If the person meets this age requirement and is already receiving government benefits (SSI and/or SSDI) he or she is automatically eligible to establish an ABLE Account. (Disability Evaluation) Even if the individual is not receiving SSI or SSDI, he or she may be able to qualify for an ABLE Account through a certification process if the SSI criteria regarding significant functional limitations are met.

The age requirement only applies to the onset date of the disability, so those individuals that are over 26 may still qualify for an ABLE Account so long as the onset date of the disability was prior to the individual’s 26th birthday.

When Can an ABLE Account be Established?

Even though Congress passed the ABLE Act, it will be several months before ABLE Accounts are fully functional. Congress has instructed the Department of the Treasury to create regulations specific to ABLE Accounts to make sure proper procedures and oversight is in place. Once these regulations are provided, the states will then have the ability to establish ABLE Accounts and ensure the accounts are in compliance with the governing regulations.

Limitations on the ABLE Accounts

By statute, ABLE Accounts are a type 529 Plan. The statutorily created 529 College Savings Plans (see http://www.collegesavingsmd.org/ for information on Maryland specific 529 Plans) are established by each state in accordance with federal mandates. Just like the traditional 529 Plans, states most likely will take a similar approach in establishing ABLE Accounts. We can expect that states will place limits on the maximum account balances and will place limits on annual contributions to the accounts. For instance, several states have set maximum 529 Plan account balances at around $300,000 per plan. The state also may limit the Annual contribution limit, generally this limit is set in accordance with the annual Gift Tax exemption (currently $14,000). Thus an individual could make a maximum contribution to the 529 Plan of $14,000. Any contribution over the $14,000 limit may disqualify the 529 Plan and create potential negative tax consequences.

Specific to ABLE Accounts, this “new” 529 Plan will also include limits discussed in the overview section to maintain the account as a disregarded asset.

Unfortunately, any funds remaining in an ABLE account after the beneficiary dies must first be paid back to Medicaid for all services provided during the individual’s lifetime prior to distribution of the funds to others. After Medicaid expenses are satisfied, any remaining funds would then be distributed by the individual's established beneficiary designations, Last Will and Testament, or intestacy law.

Final Thoughts

While traditional models for planning and providing for disabled individuals (i.e. Special Needs Trusts) will remain a key fixture for many families, the ABLE Act has provided a unique mechanism that can supplement and fill-in the gaps where families are concerned with the costs and expenses associated with those traditional planning alternatives.

Transfers to Minors: Where Do I Start? What Should I Consider?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Two of the most commonly used methods of transferring money and assets to minors are a Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (UTMA) Account or a Trust. Baby in Suitcase with Money A UTMA Account is relatively simple to create and fairly inexpensive, but you cannot exercise any control over the assets. While a trust allows you to maintain a level of control, the expense may be substantial. Below are several pros and cons of each to consider before making your decision. Both mechanisms can be implemented during a parent’s lifetime or upon their death. If you want to provide a gift to a minor child or some other beneficiary that has not yet reached adulthood, depending on your personal goals for the gift a UTMA Account or Trust may be the perfect mechanism to achieve the desired result.

UTMA Account

Whether you are a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or friend, you can use a UTMA Account to make a gift to a minor child. If you decide to use a UTMA Account, you will need to appoint a Custodian to manage the account. Once the account is opened, you can transfer whatever assets you like into the account. Once the assets are transferred, the child becomes the owner of the property. Your child will not be able to gain control of the property until he or she is 18 or 21 depending on the law in your state. Once your child reaches the specified age, he or she gains complete access and control of all assets that remain in the account without limitation. Prior to reaching the specified age, the custodian may use or expend the funds for the child’s benefit. For example, if you contribute $100,000 into a UTMA Account, the Custodian can expend the money for the child’s benefit for legitimate expenses prior to the child reaching the specified age or the Custodian can leave the money in the account until the child turns 18 or 21 and, at that moment, your child is entitled to the entire balance of the account. In each state, the rights and responsibilities of the custodian are specifically outlined by statute. A breach of these responsibilities (also known as “fiduciary duties”) will subject the custodian to personal liability for any mismanagement of the UTMA Account proceeds. Some states create additional duties such as providing an annual accounting, right of inspection, and other unique duties that a custodian must abide by.[1]

Pros

  • Simple and easy to set up. Similar to setting up an individual bank account, only requires that an adult be named as custodian until the child reaches the age of majority in your state (18 or 21).
  • The custodian’s powers are governed by statute and are very broad.
  • Generally, a custodian may make withdrawals from the account for the child’s benefit, so long as the expenses are legitimate. The custodian has a high degree of discretion for the use and expending of property for the child’s benefit without court approval.
  • The income earned in the UTMA Account is generally taxed at the child’s tax rate not your individual rate.

Cons

  • Once your child reaches the age of majority, the funds are legally his/hers.
  • Once the UTMA Custodianship terminates, your child will have immediate unfettered access to the assets and can expend the assets however he or she wishes. They can use the assets for ANY purpose (e.g., vacations, Ferrari’s).
  • As ownership transfers at the time of contribution, financing higher education can be negatively impacted as the assets in the UTMA will be considered during the financial aid analysis formula.
  • Once you have contributed money or assets, there is no getting them back.
  • Your child will have to file an annual tax return if the income generated from the account meets certain thresholds. Depending on the amount of income, the “kiddie tax”[2] may also apply.
  • The custodian has a high degree of discretion regarding use and expending property. Limitations on the use of the property is almost nonexistent. An irresponsible Custodian may exhaust the funds prior to your child reaching age 18 or 21.

Trust for a Minor

Trusts can be tailored to meet your specific needs. The trust may be intended to provide funds for your child during childhood, or simply a means of protecting the assets until your child reaches adulthood. Some trusts are used for specific purposes, such as education or medical expenses. The trust is created by a legally operative document (i.e. a will or a specific trust document). A Trustee will need to be appointed to manage and distribute assets of the trust in accordance with the trust document.

Generally, the trustee manages the assets for your child until some specified age or event triggers the trust to terminate and the trustee then distributes all of the assets. A single trust can have multiple beneficiaries.

By using a trust, you can dictate specific uses of the contributed property, specific events that entitle your child to distributions, and various other conditions as you see fit. The use of a trust allows you to make substantial contributions of assets to minor children without the fear that the funds will be mismanaged by your minor child due to immaturity. For instance, if you wanted to leave your child $100,000, you can limit how that money is distributed to your child or when your child can gain unfettered access to the money. The trustee has similar fiduciary responsibilities to that of the custodian. By using a trust, you can create a Trust Protector. The Trust Protector oversees the trustee’s actions of the trustee and ensure the trust funds are not mishandled. If the Trustee performs any action not authorized under the trust, the Trust Protector may remove the Trustee and appoint a successor. If any harm has resulted as a result of some unauthorized transaction, the Trust Protector or the beneficiaries of the Trust may file a lawsuit seeking court intervention.

Pros

  • You, as the creator of the trust, control how the assets are to be handled. Thus you can be creative regarding how the funds are distributed. For example, you can limit the child to receiving distributions of 1/3 the principal and interest at age 25, 30, and 35 or limiting a portion of the distribution to be contingent upon graduation from college, graduate school or professional school. Recall that when using the UTMA Account, your only option for distribution is age 18 or 21.
  • Depending on your wishes, a trust allows you to dictate what actions a Trustee can and cannot take regarding the use of assets and distributions to the beneficiaries.
  • Depending on the size of your family, you can create several trusts (one for each child) or a single trust that allows the trustee to manage and distribute funds based on the individual needs of each child.
  • The assets can be protected from threats of bankruptcy, future lawsuits, and divorce.

Cons

  • The creation of the trust requires very specific language and should be drafted by an attorney.
  • The creation and maintenance can involve substantial legal fees.
  • Trustee must file an annual tax return for the trust. If the trust generates income and the trustee does not distribute the income to the beneficiaries, the Trust could be taxed at the highest rate of 39.6% depending on the amount of income generated.[3]
  • The trustee may have to produce the trust document or will to banks and other institutions before the bank will allow the trustee to take action.
  • Absent the inclusion of a Trust Protector, the beneficiaries of the trust must bring a lawsuit against the trustee in the event he or she mishandles the trust funds.

Final Thoughts

In deciding which option is best for your situation, you should take note of not only the initial costs but also what you wish to achieve. If you intend to provide your child with a substantial amount of money and assets, a UTMA Account may not be the best option as the child will have unfettered access once he or she reaches the specified age (usually 18 or 21). On the other hand, if you simply wish to provide your child with a small transfer of assets (down payment on a car or starter home), a trust may not be the best option as the administrative costs may outweigh the benefit.

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[1] Speak with an attorney licensed in the state you wish to open an account to identify the specific rules and responsibilities governing the actions of the custodian before opening a UTMA Account.

[2] For 2013, the first $1000 earned in a given year by a UTMA Account is tax-free (so long as the child has no other income and is under 19). The next $1000 of investment income is taxed at the child’s tax rate. Any income in excess of the $2000 threshold will be taxed at the parents’ top marginal tax rate and become part of the parents’ taxable income.

[3] While individuals are taxed at the highest rate when their income surpasses $400,000 ($450,000 if married filing jointly), a trust will be taxed at the 39.6% rate for any income in excess of $11,950. 

Revocable Living Trusts: Are They Worth the Hype?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

In many states, the use of a Revocable Living Trust has become increasingly popular as a viable estate planning option. But in Maryland, the ease of the probate process, among many other reasons, makes this option usually not worth the hype, money or time.

A Revocable Living Trust is a written document that contains provisions of how to hold, manage, and distribute property during your life and after your death. It is revocable, meaning that even though assets are transferred (or re-titled) to the living trust, the person who creates the trust, the grantor, can get his or her property back by revoking the Trust during his or her lifetime. The persons who manages the assets in the Trust is the Trustee and this is almost always the grantor during his or her lifetime. The primary purpose of a Revocable Living Trust is to avoid probate. It is most popular in states with probate systems which are expensive and time consuming.

In Maryland, the advantages of having a Revocable Living Trust are typically outweighed by other estate planning alternatives and the ease of the Maryland probate system. After a person's death and once the probate documents are filed in Maryland, a personal representative can be appointed within days and the Letters of Administration can be used to access funds and manage probate assets. In addition, the costs associated with probating an estate are modest with probate fees depending on the size of the probate estate. For example, an estate of $200,000 would have a probate fee of$400.00. Unless there is some complicating matter, many estates can be closed after 6 months which is the period that creditors have to make claims against the estate.

Despite the ease of the Maryland probate process, many who have heard of the evils of probate will still insist on a Revocable Living Trust, and for them, the following information should assist them with making an informed decision.

Pros

  1. Avoiding Probate

    Upon your death, assets that were titled in the Revocable Living Trust pass directly to the Trust without going through probate. This is particularly important if you own real estate in more than one state because without a trust, your loved ones would have to open a probate estate in each state real property is located. In addition, a Revocable Living Trust allows immediate access to bank accounts titled in the Trust after your passing, instead of waiting for the documentation from the probate estate to gain access to the account(s). Lastly, the decedent's affairs could theoretically be finalized in weeks or months as there is no 6 month creditor claims period. Note that this may in fact also be construed as a disadvantage because creditors may have three years to file a claim against assets that were in the trust.

  2. Management of Assets

    Should you become ill or incapacitated, some argue that it is easier to manage Trust accounts versus accounts in your individual name. If your assets are held in a trust account and you become incapacitated, the Trust document outlines the Trustee's power with regard to managing your assets. Financial institutions will require your trustee to provide a copy of the Trust Agreement.

    For accounts held in your individual name, a properly executed Power of Attorney will allow your agent to control those assets. Although recent changes in the Maryland law regarding Powers of Attorney should make it easier to use a Power of Attorney, some may still find it difficult to use POAs with certain financial institutions.

  3. Privacy

    Unlike a Last Will and Testament, upon your death a Revocable Living Trust is not public record. Therefore, information as to what you owned and how you dispose of those assets are private. Thus, your beneficiaries and the amounts they receive are not available for public scrutiny.

  4. Avoiding Multi State Probate

    The most compelling reason for a Revocable Living Trust is to avoid probate in multiple states if you own real estate outside of your home state. In this instance, your Last Will and Testament must generally be probated in your home state and the state for which you own real property, a process which is called "Ancillary Probate." If your real property is titled in your Living Trust, this will not be necessary. Your real property can be distributed by your Trustee, upon death, no matter where it is located.

Cons

  1. A Last Will and Testament is Necessary

    Invariably, not all of the assets will have been re-titled in the name of the Revocable Living Trust before death. There will be a bank account or vehicle that was still in the decedent's name at the time of death. Thus, a Will is still necessary. Most attorneys will draft a special type of Last Will and Testament called a Pour Over Will to ensure that any unfunded assets (assets not re-titled) will "pour" into your trust. To do this, your Pour Over Will must also be probated, and such assets may then be distributed according to the instructions in the Trust.

  2. Initial Expense is High

    It is more expensive to create a Revocable Living Trust than a Last Will and Testament. Preliminarily, there is the initial cost of drafting a Trust Agreement, which is usually more than the price for drafting a Will. There is also the expense of "funding" the Revocable Living Trust. This is the process of transferring the ownership of every eligible asset into the name of the Trust. In addition to just the time spent on this process there may be costs associated with retitling assets. For example, real property can only be assigned to a trust by deed, which must be recorded at the applicable office of land records for a fee. This fee includes the time and cost for the attorney or titling company to draft the deed and the fees to record the deed.

  3. Funding a Trust Takes Time and Effort

    Once your Revocable Living Trust becomes effective, you must fund the Trust by contacting financial institutions, life insurance companies, and transfer agents to change account ownership and beneficiary designations; retitle vehicles, and sign and record new deeds for real estate. There is a significant cost – in terms of time – to accomplish this. If you fail to re-title, even one asset of any significance, your trustee, upon your death, would have to open an estate to administer such assets. This would defeat the purpose of the Living Trust.

  4. Cannot Avoid Tax

    Although assets that are retitled to the Trust avoid probate, they are still subject to income and estate taxes. This is because the IRS still considers that all the assets in the Revocable Living Trust are still yours. This should not be surprising as you are the trustee of the trust, the beneficiary of the trust, and can revoke it at any time. Because it is still considered your money, you and/or your estate are still responsible for income, estate, and inheritance taxes. There is simply no tax advantage to having a Revocable Living Trust over a Last Will and Testament.

    The next time you hear someone tell you that a Revocable Living Trust is a must, please consider all of the pros and cons as they specifically apply to your situation. While there are cases where a Revocable Living Trust can be beneficial, for most Maryland residents there are other legal avenues to accomplish your goals without the cost and effort of a Revocable Living Trust.

What is so “Special” about a Special Needs Trust?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Problem. You have a disabled child who is currently receiving need-based public assistance such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. Your child is receiving those benefits because he or she is disabled and because he or she does not have sufficient income and resources. As a parent, you want to make sure that your child is provided for after your death. This is especially true in the case of a disabled child. Your plan to provide for your disabled child probably includes a life insurance policy in addition to assets you have accumulated over your life time. But what happens to your child’s eligibility for SSI and Medicaid if they suddenly receive a significant amount of money in the form of inheritance and life insurance proceeds. The answer is that your child will lose the monthly SSI check and, more importantly, health insurance coverage through Medicaid. Is there a way to provide for your disabled child after your death without endangering their public disability benefits?

The Solution. The Special Needs Trust (SNT) is the answer. If your Will and beneficiary designations direct the assets into a properly drafted SNT, your disabled child will continue to receive their SSI and Medicaid coverage.

To understand how this works, first we need to discuss trusts in general. A trust is just an agreement between a grantor (the one with the money or property) and a trustee in which the trustee agrees to accept and hold money (or other property) for the benefit of someone else. Commonly parents, instead of giving assets to a minor, will give assets to a trustee who will hold the property or money for the minor until the minor reaches an appropriate age. Until the child reaches that age, the trustee will be tasked with using the money for the minor’s benefit. (See Avoid Naming Your Minor Children As Beneficiaries)

A SNT is a special type of trust created by statute. 42 U.S.C. §1396p(d)(4). If the requirements of the statute are followed, any money (or other property) put into the SNT will not be considered an available resource to a disabled beneficiary. Thus, the trust property will not cause the disabled beneficiary to lose their SSI and Medicaid.

Key Features of a Special Needs Trust

1. Beneficiary has no right to demand assets

The disabled beneficiary can have no right to demand any income or principal from the trust. This is the key feature. If the disabled beneficiary could demand payment, then the money in the trust would be available to the disabled beneficiary and thus the entire amount of the trust would be used to disqualify the person for SSI and Medicaid.

Thus in a SNT, the trustee must have complete discretion to use the money as they see fit. The disabled beneficiary can ask for whatever they want but the trustee has the ultimate authority whether not to expend the trust income or principal.

2. Trust funds cannot be used for basic necessities

The second key feature of a SNT is that the trustee cannot use the trust assets to pay for services being provided for by public assistance. The monthly SSI check is for the basic necessities of clothing, food and shelter. Thus the trust cannot be used for clothing, food or shelter. Then what can we do with the trust? The answer is everything else. The trust could be used to pay for a car, a computer, a vacation, etc. Think of the trust as a tool to enhance the quality of the disabled beneficiary’s life. It is not a mechanism to pay for their basic needs which are, theoretically, being taken care of by SSI and Medicaid.

Different Types of Special Needs Trusts

1. Self settled

A self settled SNT is one in which the disabled person’s own money (or money to which the disabled person is entitled) is being used to fund the trust. Examples of self settled SNTs are where the trust is funded with:

a recovery in a personal injury lawsuit,
a settlement of a workers’ compensation claim, or
an inheritance.

In each of these examples, the disabled person is entitled to the funds being used to create the trust.

There are two disadvantages to this type of SNT. First, it typically will require approval. In Maryland, the trust has to be approved by the State Attorney General and, most likely, a circuit court. This is expensive and time consuming. The second disadvantage occurs at the death of the disabled beneficiary. If the disabled beneficiary had used Medicaid at any point during their life, Medicaid will have to be paid back out of the remaining trust assets before any money can be distributed to heirs. This is referred to as a payback provision.

Unfortunately, the self settled SNT is the only real option for personal injury recoveries and workers’ compensation settlements. This is not the case with inheritances. If the parent (or any other person) plans ahead, they can create a third party SNT prior to death and avoid both the approval process and payback.

2. Third party

In contrast with a self settled trust, a third party trust is funded with money coming from somebody else – not the disabled person. The most common third party SNT is when a parent creates a SNT for their disabled child. They money is the parent’s money, not the child’s money. The third party SNT is preferred over a self settled SNT for two reasons. First, approval is not required. So, for instance, a parent could draft a SNT into their Will and it never has to be approved by anyone. Second, there is no payback required. The terms of the SNT will determine who gets the remaining trust assets at the disabled beneficiary’s death.

3. Pooled

In a pooled SNT, a non profit organization (NPO) has already drafted a SNT and had it approved by the appropriate state officials. Disabled persons can then join the SNT. The NPO keeps a separate account for each beneficiary but pools the money together for investment purposes. The NPO serves as the trustee. The pooled SNT has some distinct advantages. First, there is no need to get the trust approved. This can save significant time and expense. Second, the NPO handles all of the investment and generally earns a better rate of return because the assets are pooled. Third, the NPO’s trustees are well versed in SNT law and understand what types of expenses can and cannot be paid to ensure that the disabled person remains on SSI and Medicaid.

In conclusion, any parent of a disabled child should seriously consider creating an SNT to protect your child’s right to future public assistance. Once the SNT is established you would then just make sure that all assets go to the SNT at your death instead of to your disabled child directly. So in your Will, you need to direct your assets to the SNT, not the disabled child. For all the non probate assets (life insurance, 401ks, etc), you need to remove your disabled child as the beneficiary and instead designate the SNT. 

Estate as Beneficiary of Life Insurance, IRA or 401k: Bad Idea

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The last place you want your life insurance, retirement account, or pay-on-death (POD) account to go upon your death is to your Estate. Thus, do not name your “Estate” as the beneficiary on the designation form provided by your insurer, broker, or financial institution. However, even if you don’t make this mistake on the designation form, the Estate can still end up being the beneficiary. For instance, if you fail to designate any beneficiaries, the funds are paid to the Estate. Also if the beneficiary you designated has already died, the funds are paid to the Estate. This is why naming contingent beneficiaries is so important. There are three main reasons to keep these funds out of the Estate.

1. Availability of Funds

One of the major advantages to life insurance, IRAs, and POD accounts is that the funds are usually made available to the beneficiaries quickly. Typically all a beneficiary needs to do is complete a simple form and provide a death certificate and checks are issued directly to the beneficiary. This can be particularly advantageous when these funds are needed to support loved ones immediately after your death.

If the Estate ends up being the beneficiary, the checks are made payable to the Estate. This means that someone will need to open up an Estate in order to do anything at all with the checks. The process of opening the Estate, administering it, and ultimately distributing the assets will take much much longer. The funds could be tied up for months or years during this process.

2. Creditors

Funds payable to beneficiaries from life insurance, IRAs, and POD accounts are the property of the beneficiaries. Thus even if the decedent had $100,000 in medical bills owed at the time of his death, the $100,000 insurance policy payable to his wife goes directly to his wife. The decedent’s creditors have no claim against the $100,000.

However, funds payable to the Estate are the property of the Estate. As such, if the medical providers filed valid claims against the Estate, the funds must first be used to pay creditors claims before any distributions to heirs. Thus in the above scenario, the life insurance proceeds would be used to pay the outstanding medical bills with nothing left over for the surviving spouse.

3. Stretch IRAs

If a person (not an Estate) is a beneficiary of an IRA they may be able to elect to keep the money in the inherited IRA and continue to let it grow tax deferred. This is sometimes called a stretch IRA (also known as legacy IRA, extended IRA, etc). Each year, the beneficiary will have to take out a “required minimum distribution,” but will be able to leave the rest growing in the IRA. For younger beneficiaries, this can be the start of a retirement plan. For older beneficiaries this can be an excellent way to supplement their own retirement plan.

If the IRA is payable to the Estate, taxes must be paid and the funds must be removed from the IRA. The Estate then will use the funds, along with any other Estate assets, to pay administration expenses, creditors claims, and eventually the remainder, if any, is paid to the heirs.


Avoid Naming Your Minor Children as Beneficiaries

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Beneficiary designations can be an effective tool to avoid probate, if used appropriately. (See Beneficiaries Instead of Probate: Use Caution). Assets can go quickly and directly to loved ones after your death. However, there are certain types of beneficiaries that should be avoided. First and foremost - no minor beneficiaries!

I recently represented a widowed mother of three minor children. Her husband had named as beneficiaries on his life insurance policy his wife (50%) and his three minor children (50%). After his death, my client contacted the insurance company and provided the death certificate and requested payout of the insurance proceeds. However, because half of the proceeds were going to minor children – the insurance company required that a guardianship of the property of the minors be established prior to the issuance of the checks. Additionally, the insurance company even refused to pay the 50% due to the wife until the guardianships for the minors had been established. This created a nearly 6-month delay in her receipt of the life insurance proceeds!

Minors cannot legally own property. They are legally incompetent. Therefore, if a minor is receiving assets as a beneficiary – a guardianship of the property must be created. Establishing a guardianship is time consuming and costly. In Maryland, it usually takes about six months to set up a guardianship. You can expect to pay anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000 in initial attorney’s fees and this amount does not include the yearly accountings required by the court.

In my client’s case, guardianships for the minor children was clearly not what the deceased husband would have wanted. Not only were the children’s life insurance proceeds reduced by attorney’s fees, but now my client, the mother, is required to provide yearly accountings to the court with regards to her children’s life insurance proceeds.

The necessity for a guardianship could have been avoided with proper estate planning advice. In this scenario, I would have advised the husband to name his wife as 100% beneficiary of the life insurance proceeds. The wife could then have managed the entire amount of the proceeds for the benefit of the family without any sort of court intervention. The husband may have wanted to name the children as contingent beneficiaries in the event his wife had predeceased him or died under the same circumstances. If that were the case, I would have recommended naming a trustee or custodian for the minors in the beneficiary designation.

Most states have adopted the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA). This act allows you to transfer money to someone you designate as the custodian for a minor. The custodian holds the property until the minor reaches age 18 or 21. Prior to reaching adulthood, the custodian can use the property for the benefit of the minor.

The UTMA has one major disadvantage in that it ends at either 18 or 21. Many people believe that a 21 year old is not responsible enough to have unfettered access to what may be a substantial some of money. The alternative to the UTMA is to create a trust for the benefit of the children. The trust would name a “trustee” instead of a “custodian.” The advantage of a trust is that the terms of the trust are completely customizable – where the statute is not. So for instance if you want half of the money to be given to the children at age 25 and the other half at 30, you can draft the trust to do just that. The disadvantage to the trust is the legal fees associated in drafting the trust document.


Owning A Joint Checking Account With Your Child: A Road To Responsibility Or A Road to Disaster?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

It is imperative that you weigh the pros and cons before opening a joint account with your child. Particularly, you must analyze your situation and your reasons for doing so. You will find that for many of these reasons there may be other options that do not change ownership but still carry out your goals and wishes.

Pros of Having a Joint Checking Account

  1. Convenience

    Your child can assist you with paying bills and looking out for your finances should you need assistance. In addition, for parents with a minor child, a joint account allows you to closely monitor your child’s spending and teach them how to manage finances.

  2. Avoid probate

    For many, the primary concern is having money that is readily available after death. Probate delays the ability to access your account immediately. However, the accounts could be made Transferable on Death or Paid on Death, which means that the account will automatically be transferred to the named beneficiary or paid to the named beneficiary. This is an attractive alternative for parents who have more than one child because the funds will be divided amongst all of your children without any legal delay of the probate administration process.

  3. Build Trust

    Having a joint account with your child can help build trust. It can give you both ease in knowing the other person is responsible with managing money.

Cons of Having a Joint Checking Account

  1. Unfettered Access

    As a joint owner, your child can withdraw your entire account balance at any time, for his own use, and he is not required to pay it back (at least without a court order). The only time you should ever open a joint account with someone is when you have absolute trust that they won’t take advantage of you. An irresponsible child could just wait until you make a big deposit and withdraw all of the money and close the account.

  2. Account is Subject to Creditors

    When you add your child to your bank account, the money in the account is considered an asset of you both. Thus, you are at risk of taking on your child’s personal liabilities. For instance, your child may have issues with a creditor and a judgment may be levied against him or your child files bankruptcy, now the joint account could be garnished or subject to scrutiny.

  3. Gift Tax Issues

    When a joint account is held with someone other than a spouse, there is a risk that you may be subject to gift tax. According to the IRS, you can give up to $14,000, per person, per year, to a person (other than your spouse) without having to file a gift tax return. Therefore, if you open a joint account with your child and your child withdraws money for his own benefit, you have made a gift to that child for the amount withdrawn that is subject to the filing of a gift tax return.

  4. Spouse’s Access

    If you and your child are injured and you are both left disabled but your child’s spouse has power of attorney, then your son-in-law or daughter-in-law now has access and control to the joint account. In addition, if your child is separated from his spouse, his spouse is now entitled to a portion of this jointly held bank account when their assets are divided up during the divorce.

  5. Estate Implications

    If your child is a joint owner of this account and it was your intention to leave the money in this account to all of your children equally when you pass away, your wish will not be followed. The title of the account triumphs your Last Will and Testament. If the account is held jointly with rights of survivorship, the funds in this account will pass directly to the surviving joint owner—your one child, not equally amongst all of your children.

  6. Sibling Rivalry

    If you have more than one child, the addition of one child as a joint owner on your bank account may cause the other child or children to feel slighted and elder financial abuse could be alleged.

For many of the pros of opening a joint account with your child, an alternative exists that far outweighs these pros. Your alternative could be to give your child Durable Power of Attorney (See:What is a Durable Power of Attorney Anyway?). This gives them legal authority to act on your behalf. More importantly, the account remains with you and if your child abuses their authority, they can be held accountable.

By Patricia Zeleznik

Transfers To Minors: Where Do I Start? What Should I Consider?

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Two of the most commonly used methods of transferring money and assets to minors are a Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (UTMA) Account or a Trust. A UTMA Account is relatively simple to create and fairly inexpensive, but you cannot exercise any control over the assets. While a trust allows you to maintain a level of control, the expense may be substantial. Below are several pros and cons of each to consider before making your decision. Both mechanisms can be implemented during a parent’s lifetime or upon their death. If you want to provide a gift to a minor child or some other beneficiary that has not yet reached adulthood, depending on your personal goals for the gift a UTMA Account or Trust may be the perfect mechanism to achieve the desired result.

UTMA Account

Whether you are a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or friend, you can use a UTMA Account to make a gift to a minor child. If you decide to use a UTMA Account, you will need to appoint a Custodian to manage the account. Once the account is opened, you can transfer whatever assets you like into the account. Once the assets are transferred, the child becomes the owner of the property. Your child will not be able to gain control of the property until he or she is 18 or 21 depending on the law in your state. Once your child reaches the specified age, he or she gains complete access and control of all assets that remain in the account without limitation. Prior to reaching the specified age, the custodian may use or expend the funds for the child’s benefit. For example, if you contribute $100,000 into a UTMA Account, the Custodian can expend the money for the child’s benefit for legitimate expenses prior to the child reaching the specified age or the Custodian can leave the money in the account until the child turns 18 or 21 and, at that moment, your child is entitled to the entire balance of the account. In each state, the rights and responsibilities of the custodian are specifically outlined by statute. A breach of these responsibilities (also known as “fiduciary duties”) will subject the custodian to personal liability for any mismanagement of the UTMA Account proceeds. Some states create additional duties such as providing an annual accounting, right of inspection, and other unique duties that a custodian must abide by.[1]

Pros

  • Simple and easy to set up. Similar to setting up an individual bank account, only requires that an adult be named as custodian until the child reaches the age of majority in your state (18 or 21).
  • The custodian’s powers are governed by statute and are very broad.
  • Generally, a custodian may make withdrawals from the account for the child’s benefit, so long as the expenses are legitimate. The custodian has a high degree of discretion for the use and expending of property for the child’s benefit without court approval.
  • The income earned in the UTMA Account is generally taxed at the child’s tax rate not your individual rate.

Cons

  • Once your child reaches the age of majority, the funds are legally his/hers.
  • Once the UTMA Custodianship terminates, your child will have immediate unfettered access to the assets and can expend the assets however he or she wishes. They can use the assets for ANY purpose (e.g., vacations, Ferrari’s).
  • As ownership transfers at the time of contribution, financing higher education can be negatively impacted as the assets in the UTMA will be considered during the financial aid analysis formula.
  • Once you have contributed money or assets, there is no getting them back.
  • Your child will have to file an annual tax return if the income generated from the account meets certain thresholds. Depending on the amount of income, the “kiddie tax”[2] may also apply.
  • The custodian has a high degree of discretion regarding use and expending property. Limitations on the use of the property is almost nonexistent. An irresponsible Custodian may exhaust the funds prior to your child reaching age 18 or 21.

Trust for a Minor

Trusts can be tailored to meet your specific needs. The trust may be intended to provide funds for your child during childhood, or simply a means of protecting the assets until your child reaches adulthood. Some trusts are used for specific purposes, such as education or medical expenses. The trust is created by a legally operative document (i.e. a will or a specific trust document). A Trustee will need to be appointed to manage and distribute assets of the trust in accordance with the trust document.

Generally, the trustee manages the assets for your child until some specified age or event triggers the trust to terminate and the trustee then distributes all of the assets. A single trust can have multiple beneficiaries.

By using a trust, you can dictate specific uses of the contributed property, specific events that entitle your child to distributions, and various other conditions as you see fit. The use of a trust allows you to make substantial contributions of assets to minor children without the fear that the funds will be mismanaged by your minor child due to immaturity. For instance, if you wanted to leave your child $100,000, you can limit how that money is distributed to your child or when your child can gain unfettered access to the money. The trustee has similar fiduciary responsibilities to that of the custodian. By using a trust, you can create a Trust Protector. The Trust Protector oversees the trustee’s actions of the trustee and ensure the trust funds are not mishandled. If the Trustee performs any action not authorized under the trust, the Trust Protector may remove the Trustee and appoint a successor. If any harm has resulted as a result of some unauthorized transaction, the Trust Protector or the beneficiaries of the Trust may file a lawsuit seeking court intervention.

Pros

  • You, as the creator of the trust, control how the assets are to be handled. Thus you can be creative regarding how the funds are distributed. For example, you can limit the child to receiving distributions of 1/3 the principal and interest at age 25, 30, and 35 or limiting a portion of the distribution to be contingent upon graduation from college, graduate school or professional school. Recall that when using the UTMA Account, your only option for distribution is age 18 or 21.
  • Depending on your wishes, a trust allows you to dictate what actions a Trustee can and cannot take regarding the use of assets and distributions to the beneficiaries.
  • Depending on the size of your family, you can create several trusts (one for each child) or a single trust that allows the trustee to manage and distribute funds based on the individual needs of each child.
  • The assets can be protected from threats of bankruptcy, future lawsuits, and divorce.

Cons

  • The creation of the trust requires very specific language and should be drafted by an attorney.
  • The creation and maintenance can involve substantial legal fees.
  • Trustee must file an annual tax return for the trust. If the trust generates income and the trustee does not distribute the income to the beneficiaries, the Trust could be taxed at the highest rate of 39.6% depending on the amount of income generated.[3]
  • The trustee may have to produce the trust document or will to banks and other institutions before the bank will allow the trustee to take action.
  • Absent the inclusion of a Trust Protector, the beneficiaries of the trust must bring a lawsuit against the trustee in the event he or she mishandles the trust funds.

Final Thoughts

In deciding which option is best for your situation, you should take note of not only the initial costs but also what you wish to achieve. If you intend to provide your child with a substantial amount of money and assets, a UTMA Account may not be the best option as the child will have unfettered access once he or she reaches the specified age (usually 18 or 21). On the other hand, if you simply wish to provide your child with a small transfer of assets (down payment on a car or starter home), a trust may not be the best option as the administrative costs may outweigh the benefit.

By Jeffrey K. Gordon

Maryland Same Sex Estate Planning In 2013 And Beyond

Monday, August 26, 2013

Estate planning in Maryland for same sex couples is dramatically different as a result of two groundbreaking legal developments in 2013. On January 1 same sex marriage became legal in Maryland and on June 26 the Supreme Court struck down portions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). As a result, same sex married couples in Maryland have all the state and federal benefits afforded to their heterosexual counterparts. I underlined “married” to remind you that these benefits require a marriage (i.e., don’t dilly dally). Here are the five most important things to understand going forward:

  1. No More Inheritance Tax Surprises.

    Prior to 2013, the surviving member of a same sex couple was not exempt from inheritance tax. This lead to some nasty surprises such as getting an inheritance tax bill for half of the value of the jointly owned house after the first member of the same sex couple died. (See Domestic Partnerships: How to Avoid Costly Inheritance Taxes on the Family Home). Now, so long as the same sex couple takes the steps necessary to become legally married, they are exempt from inheritance tax.

  2. Enhanced Legal Protection for Those Without a Will.

    The law in Maryland provides certain protection to spouses when there is no Will. To begin with, a spouse has the highest priority to become the personal representative (i.e., executor). The spouse is also entitled to an intestacy share of the estate, usually one-half, in the absence of a Will.Prior to 2013, unless a same sex couple had a Will, the surviving member of the couple would not be given any priority to become personal representative and would be entitled to no share of the estate.

  3. Protection From Disinheritance.

    Maryland law also contains provisions designed to prevent the disinheritance of a spouse. Regardless of what the Will provides, a spouse can “elect against the Will” and take a statutorily provided share – one third. Now same sex married couples also have that same protection against being disinherited.

  4. Unlimited Marital Deduction from Estate Taxes.

    In both the Maryland and Federal estate tax schemes, there is no limit to the amount a spouse can give to their surviving spouse without paying estate taxes. As a result of both Maryland’s enacting of same sex marriage and the defeat of DOMA, same sex married couples now enjoy the same privilege.

  5. Estate Taxes Are Still a Potential Problem.

    Just as with heterosexual married couples, same sex married couples need to understand that there is still a potential estate tax problem. While there is an unlimited marital deduction, there are still potential estate taxes due upon the death of the second spouse. The second-to-die still can only give away $1 million dollars in Maryland tax free (federally the number is $5.25 million). Thus for same sex couples whose taxable estate may be more than a million at the death of the second spouse, estate tax planning should be considered. (See No. 5 in The 5 Most Important Reasons to Have a Will). Don’t think you have enough assets to worry about this? Remember, the taxable estate includes anything that passes as a result of a death. Thus, assets like IRAs, 401ks and life insurance policies, which do not have to go through probate, are still a part of your taxable estate.

By David Galinis

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