Protect Your Assets with Estate Planning

There is possibly no greater blow to a person, than losing all of their assets to creditors. It can happen to anyone, but you can protect against it by utilizing estate planning tools.

You have probably noticed at some point or another, that the U.S. is a very lawsuit happy country, much more so than most European countries.

The reasons for this have a lot to do with the way that our court system is set up. Anyone can file a lawsuit for almost anything. There is very little to deter someone from doing so, in most cases.

Even if the plaintiff loses, he does not have to pay the defendant’s legal bills, which can be quite high. Consequently, no matter how wealthy a person is, they can be sued and potentially lose everything if the court system rules against them, rightly or wrongly.

Therefore, it is extremely important for the wealthy to protect their assets from potential creditors, as the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog discussed in “Asset Protection Measures.”

The good news is that protecting assets from potential creditors is not an inherently difficult task.

Estate planning attorneys have many ways to assist clients in doing that.

A trust is typically the best option for doing this. However, there are other ways to protect assets, including utilizing retirement accounts and college savings plans.

As a last resort, insurance can be purchased to protect against creditors.

You should protect your assets, and you should visit with an estate planning attorney to determine the best way to do so.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (May 31, 2017) “Asset Protection Measures.”

Wealthy People Torn

Many wealthy people are torn between wanting to leave a large inheritance for their children and fears that their children will not be able to handle the wealth.

Wealthy parents whose children do not get independently wealthy on their own, often fear that leaving those children a large inheritance would be a mistake. The children might not be able to handle the money and it might cause them to give up their own careers.

In some cases, the children might also waste all of the money and leave nothing for their own children. Despite this common fear, the wealthy parents do want to leave their children large inheritances.

This tension creates problems for many people as they plan their estates, as the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog points out in “New Focus for Estate Planning.”

The key to resolving this tension is to understand that estate planning can be about more than just transferring a lot of assets to heirs. With a traditional will, heirs get all of the assets at once, which leaves open the possibility that assets will be misused.

There are many kinds of available estate planning tools that can be used to make sure that heirs do not waste everything.

Many types of trusts will help preserve the assets.

Of course, this can only be done, if an estate planning attorney knows that the client fears his children will waste an inheritance. The attorney needs the client to express these fears, so the attorney can devise the best plans.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (May 17, 2017) “New Focus for Estate Planning.”

Consider a SLAT for an Uncertain Future

It is currently difficult to know what the best possible estate planning method might be in the near future, since tax reform is uncertain. A spousal lifetime asset trust can be used as a way to plan around that uncertainty.

Given recent events in Washington, it is understandable if wealthy people are more than a little nervous about their estate plans. Just as it appeared that Congress was about to turn its attention to long-promised tax reform, President Trump has been distracted by ongoing investigations into his campaign.

While a special counsel has been appointed to oversee that investigation, a continuing steady stream of leaks has kept the pressure on lawmakers. This casts doubt over their plans for tax reform, since it is a contentious issue that has many in Congress deeply divided.

It is not clear what the President wants on some of the key items of reform.

All of this makes it difficult for many wealthy people to know how effective their estate plans might be and how to make changes to them.

Recently, Wealth Management offered a solution to the uncertainty in the form of a spousal lifetime asset trust in “SLATs Provide Flexible Plans for Many Clients.”

Like any other trust, SLATs do not have to go through probate. They also offer estate tax and capital gains tax benefits.

They key thing about them, is that they are an extremely flexible form of trust. They are more adaptable to changing circumstances than many other trusts.

That makes them a great tool for uncertain times, when no one can be certain what the tax future will look like.

If you are interested in a SLAT or want to know what your other current estate planning options are, talk to an estate planning attorney.

Reference: Wealth Management (May 15, 2017) “The Rise of Donor Advised Funds.”

Treating Your Children Fairly

One of the biggest problems in estate planning is figuring out how to treat children fairly in circumstances when fairly does not necessarily mean equally.

The default estate planning option for people with more than one child is to divide their estates equally between their children. That is the most common thing that is now done in estate planning.

It is easy and simple.

Most of the time it is a fair way to divide a parent’s estate and one that the children accept. That does not always work, however, because as every parent eventually learns, treating children fairly does not always mean treating them equally. That holds true in estate planning.

Adult children can wind up in very different life circumstances for a variety of reasons. For example, if one child became wealthy after receiving a large gift from his parents to start a business, it might not be fair to treat that child the same in an estate plan as another child who went into public interest work.

Figuring out how to divide an estate unequally but fairly between children can be difficult, as the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog discussed in “Dividing Your Wealth Among Your Children.”

The biggest problem is figuring out how to make the unequal division without causing any of the children to dispute the estate. Trusts are extraordinarily helpful in these situations, since they are much more difficult to challenge.

Parents can create a trust with an independent trustee and give the trustee the power to make distributions to the children based on their circumstances and needs. It is also important that parents who are leaving unequal inheritances for their children talk to the children and let them know the reasons for doing so.

If you want to leave your children unequal inheritances, you need to seek the advice of an experienced estate planning attorney to make sure you do so in a way that your children will think is fair and not seek to challenge.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (May 5, 2017) “Dividing Your Wealth Among Your Children.”

Daughter Sues Mother for Wasting Her Inheritance

A case in New York is a good reminder that it is very important to make sure that trusts details are specific, in order to make the settlor’s wishes crystal clear.

The story had a Hollywood beginning. A schoolteacher and a wealthy real estate investor met through a singles ad, fell in love, got married and had a child.

From that beginning, things quickly turned south.

According to court records filed by the child of that marriage, Elizabeth Marcus, her mother refused to sleep with her father after she was born. The two divorced after a few years and the father passed away, when Marcus was nine years old.

The father did not want his ex-wife to receive any of his assets and instead left half his estate in trust to Marcus. Another child from a previous marriage received the other half.

The trust was originally overseen by Citibank, but after fighting for several years, the mother took control of the trust in 2003, according to the Daily Mail in “Daughter sues her ‘self-involved’ mother for ‘frittering away more than $13m of her inheritance – so she could buy cars and a $6m mansion next to Gwyneth Paltrow in the Hamptons’.”

Marcus is suing her mother now, claiming that her mother has stolen her inheritance to buy expensive items for herself, including a mansion and fancy cars. Most of the original inheritance is now alleged to be gone.

The mother, of course, denies the accusations.

The missing piece of the puzzle from the reports is how the mother was able to gain control of the trust, if the father did not wish her to have it. He might have neglected to be clearer about his wishes in the trust documents.

Reference: Daily Mail (April 23, 2017) “Daughter sues her ‘self-involved’ mother for ‘frittering away more than $13m of her inheritance – so she could buy cars and a $6m mansion next to Gwyneth Paltrow in the Hamptons’.”

The Danger of Wills

It is easier to get wills today than it ever has been, since forms can be downloaded and filled out on your own. However, that ease has led to many people not understanding the potential dangers of wills.

That everyone should have an estate plan is a principle which most people understand when the reasons are explained to them. Estate plans, even as simple as a will, at the very least can help prevent families from fighting over estates.

Since you do not know when you will pass away, you should go ahead and get an estate plan.
While most Americans still do not have a will, a greater percentage of Americans have them than ever before. It is easy and cheap to get wills today, since you can purchase downloadable forms from several different services.

However, there are some hidden dangers in doing that, as The New York Times explained in “Wills Can Avert Family Warfare, but Have Their Own Hidden Traps.”

The biggest issue is that the probate process is different in every state.

Submitting a will to probate for administration, in some states, is very expensive and can take a long time. That suggests that probate avoidance strategies should be used, which could lead some people to utilize a trust instead of a will as their primary estate planning vehicle.

Trusts, however, are more expensive to get than wills and in some states probate is relatively quick and inexpensive. Consequently, trusts may only be needed for people with larger estates.

There are other probate avoidance strategies that can be used, but they also have their drawbacks. For example, retitling an asset as joint property with a child, which is a common tactic, can make the asset vulnerable to the child’s creditors.

The best thing to do is to hire an experienced estate planning attorney in your state, so that attorney can help you with the best estate planning strategy for your state and your estate.

Reference: New York Times (April 21, 2017) “Wills Can Avert Family Warfare, but Have Their Own Hidden Traps.”

Avoiding Probate

One of the most common questions that people have about estate planning, is how to avoid probate. You probably cannot do so entirely, but you can make it quick and painless.

For most people, the word “probate” conjures up nightmare scenarios of protracted estate battles that cost lots of money and tear families apart. It is an ugly word for most people.

As a result, most people generally want to avoid having their estates go through probate.

In fact, one of the most frequently asked questions of estate planning attorneys is how to avoid probate, as Forbes points out in “Probate, Wills, Executors: Your Estate Planning Questions Answered.”

It is important to understand that probate is merely the type of court that a will or an estate without a will has to go through.

Most of the time, it is a relatively simple process, especially with the assistance of an estate attorney. However, there are times when it can be long and expensive, so the desire to want to avoid it are not unjustified.

The key is to have an estate plan that utilizes instruments that do not have to go through probate. The most typical of these are trusts, but there are other more complex legal instruments that can also be used.

However, even the most airtight probate avoidance estate plan might have to go through the probate process briefly.

All estate plans should have at least a simple pour-over will that directs any unaccounted for assets into a previously created trust.

If there are enough unaccounted for assets, they will need to go through probate. However, the process should be quick and easy.

Reference: Forbes (April 7, 2017) “Probate, Wills, Executors: Your Estate Planning Questions Answered.”

Family Wealth Does Not Always Last

Even great amounts of family wealth, can easily be lost by future generations who do not preserve and add to it as the original wealth generator did.

James Jewett Stillman’s greatest lasting achievement was running the bank that eventually grew into Citigroup. However, he had another legacy.

Stillman also had a large and valuable collection of art and an estate he wanted to be preserved for use by the public. If everything had gone according to plan, the art and the estate would have been preserved for generations.

However, everything did not go according to plan.

His heirs are now trying to auction off the art, because they need the money to save the estate, as Bloomberg reports in “New York Banking Royalty’s Heirs Are Unloading Art to Save the Family Estate.”

The source of the problem, in this case, appears to be that trustees who were charged with running the estate have squandered millions of dollars over the years. The estate’s funds have run so low, that the heirs have no choice but to sell something. Therefore, they have chosen to sell the art.

The immediate lesson to be learned? It is very important to choose trustees carefully and to make sure that trust documents are carefully crafted to make squandering money difficult.

However, there is also a more important lesson that wealth does not last forever, unless it is properly maintained. Had it not been the trustees who squandered the wealth in this case, it might have been the future heirs.

Reference: Bloomberg (April 4, 2017) “New York Banking Royalty’s Heirs Are Unloading Art to Save the Family Estate.”

The Core of Estate Planning

If you feel overwhelmed about planning your estate, it might be helpful to remember what is at the core of estate planning. It is a way to transfer assets.

Estate planning can be and do many different things. It can provide for the care of minor children. It can be a way to let people know that you love them. It can create a charitable legacy.

In fact, there are so many things estate planning can be and do that may people get overwhelmed thinking about all of them. As a result, they do not create estate plans.

At its core, however, estate planning is not that complicated. Estate planning can be as simple as transferring your assets after death.

As the Times Herald-Record explains in “Transferring assets upon death,” there are four main ways to do that, including:

•Wills – In a will you state who should get your assets and appoint someone to be in charge of making sure that your wishes are carried out. Wills have to be approved by a probate court.

•Joint Ownership – If you have assets in joint ownership with another person, then by law when you pass away the joint owner becomes the sole owner of the asset.

•Beneficiary Designations – For life insurance policies, retirement accounts and savings accounts, you name a specific beneficiary to receive the assets after you pass away. A court does not need to approve the designation.

•Trusts – With a trust, you state how your assets should be handled, appoint someone to handle them and name the people for whose benefit the assets will be handled.

How do you know which approach or approaches are best for your circumstances? Contact an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (March 15, 2017) “Transferring assets upon death.”

The Family Vacation Home

Many people have fond memories of their vacation homes and would like to keep them in their families, after they pass away. That requires some considerations.

For many people, the best memories they have of spending time with their families is at a family vacation home when their children were still young. On vacation when people have few worries about work, they have more time to develop strong bonds with their children.

People remember these times fondly.

Many people would like to make sure those vacation homes remain in their families, so future generations can have similar experiences.

The Globe and Mail recently discussed some things to consider about how to do so in “How to keep the cottage in the family.”

While the paper is Canadian, the considerations are applicable to the U.S. and include:

•Consider any tax implications for your estate and children. Both federal and state estate taxes might need to be paid, as well as property taxes. It is important to ensure that money is available to pay those taxes.

•You might want to use a trust to pass your vacation home down to your family, especially if you have more than one child. A trust can preserve the property for generations and can also take care of any maintenance and property taxes.

•Make sure that your children want the vacation home. One or more of your children might have good reasons for not wanting it and you may need to equalize your estate to give them something else.

Reference: Globe and Mail (April 11, 2017) “How to keep the cottage in the family.”