How a Letter to Your Executor or Trustee Conveys Your Wishes

A letter to your executor or trustee can help clarify your wishes and promote your goals for your beneficiaries.
A letter to your executor or trustee can help clarify your wishes and promote your goals for your beneficiaries.

A detailed, informative letter can be invaluable to those you have designated to carry out your wishes after you’re gone, says the article “Why You Should Write a Letter to Your Executor—and What to Say in It” from The Wall Street Journal. Your last will and testament or living trust does have many directions. However, there may be things you want your executor or trustee to know that may not be included in your will or living trust. This is especially important if death is sudden. The letter, which you should sign and date, can help prevent potential disputes by minimizing any confusion around your intentions, priorities and goals.

One thing to keep in mind when writing out instructions is that, if you have a will-based estate plan, the executor is charged with the responsibility of paying your debts and final expenses and then distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries. So the executorship is really a relatively short-term position. If you have a trust-based estate plan, it is your successor trustee who has these duties.

Because the executor has no control over your assets after they are distributed to your beneficiaries, a letter of instruction will be most helpful if you have created trusts for your beneficiares in your will or living trust. Think of the trustee of these trusts as being involved long-term. That said, there may be situations when a letter to the executor would be very helpful. For example, a letter could explain why you have decided to treat beneficiaries differently in your estate plan.

Here are some things to consider when drafting a letter to your executor or trustee.

Your thoughts about wealth. Share your story about how you came to the assets that you are leaving in your will. How was your wealth created, what do you value and what are your long-term goals for your wealth? Do you want family members to invest the assets, so they grow over generations, or do you want them used for college education costs for grandchildren?

Describe key players in the family. It is best if your executor or trustee knows the members of your family.  However, they may not know the family dynamics or history. Giving them your insights, may help them anticipate issues. Does one child tend to take over and speak for everyone, without being asked? Are there substance abuse issues in the family that need to be considered? Share your concerns, so your executor or trustee can be mindful of how the family works (or doesn’t) as a unit.

What matters to you? This is especially important, if you don’t want your beneficiaries to be dependent upon their inheritance, instead of becoming self-reliant. Share your values to encourage their earned success. Make it clear if you want to protect the family wealth, so it can be used to empower future generations and for family members to be responsible for their own financial well-being. Evidence of your intent will help a trustee if a beneficiary challenges the way a trustee is managing and making distributions from the trust.

Give your  trustee the power to make decisions, even when that means saying no. Considering the size of your wealth and the family members who are your beneficiaries, you probably have a good idea of who would do what with their inheritance. If you don’t want your wealth to be used for a start-up by a son whose financial management capabilities are questionable, say so in the letter to your trustee. If you are hopeful that a daughter will use her inheritance for a down payment on a home for her family, you should also express that.

A good estate plan is not just about who gets what and when. A good estate plan is one which tries to minimize conflict and promotes the values you hold dear. That’s why it’s important to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney who has worked with many families and who understands the challenges and pitfalls that are presented any time wealth is transferred from one generation to the next.

You may also be interest in https://www.galliganmanning.com/does-your-executor-know-what-to-do/.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (April 8, 2020) “Why You Should Write a Letter to Your Executor—and What to Say in It”

 

Continue Reading How a Letter to Your Executor or Trustee Conveys Your Wishes

Common Mistakes Made on Beneficiary Designations

Assets like life insurance, retirement accounts and annuities are governed by beneficiary designations.
Assets like life insurance, retirement accounts and annuities are governed by beneficiary designations which override your will.

Many accounts and other assets are governed by beneficiary designations. Examples include life insurance, 401(k)s, IRAs, and annuities. These assets rely on contractual provisions with the financial institution to designate who receives the benefits upon the death of the owner.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Beneficiary Designations – The Overlooked Minefield of Estate Planning” describes several mistakes that people make with beneficiary designations and some ideas on how to avoid problems for you and your family members.

Believing that Your Will is More Powerful Than It Really Is. Many people mistakenly think that their will takes precedence over a beneficiary designation form. This is not true. Your will controls the disposition of assets in your “probate” estate. However, the accounts with contractual beneficiary designations aren’t governed by your will because they pass outside of probate. That is why you need to review your beneficiary designations whenever you review your estate plan.

Allowing Accounts to Fall Through the Cracks. Inattention is another thing that can lead to unintended outcomes. A prior employer 401(k) account can be what is known as “orphaned,” which means that the account stays with the former employer and isn’t updated to reflect the account holder’s current situation. It’s not unusual to forget about an account you started at your first job and fail to update the primary beneficiary, which could be a former spouse.

Not Having a Contingency Plan. Another thing people don’t think about is that a beneficiary may predecease them. It is important to name a contingent or secondary beneficiary in the event the first beneficiary is not survivig.

Not Paying Attention to a Per Stirpes Election. If a person names several beneficiaries (such as children) as primary beneficiaries to share equally in the account or life insurance policy at the owner’s death, what happens if one of the beneficiaries is not surviving? Some beneficiary designation forms state that the deceased beneficiary’s share automatically goes to the other surviving beneficiaries. Other beneficiary designation forms give the owner the option to state that the deceased beneficiary’s share should pass to the deceased beneficiary’s children. This is known as a per stirpes election. Many times people are unaware as to which option they have chosen on the beneficiary designation form.

Naming a Minor or Incapacitated Person as a Beneficiary. If a minor or incapacitated person is named as beneficiary, unless the beneficiary designation form allows for the appointment of a custodian or trustee to accept the benefits on behalf of the minor or incapacitated person, a court-appointed guardian may be necessary for the minor or incapaciated person to receive the benefits. Also keep in mind that if an incapaciated person you’ve named as beneficiary is receiving government benefits, distributions from a retirement account, annuity, or life insurance policy, may jeopardize his or her eligiblity to receive the government benefits.

It’s smart to retain copies of all communications when updating beneficiary designations in hard copy or electronically. These copies of correspondence, website submissions and received confirmations from account administrators should be kept with your estate planning documents in a safe location.

Remember that you should review your estate plan and beneficiary designations every few years to make sure that they are coordinated and that they say what your really want.

You may also be interested in https://www.galliganmanning.com/trust-owned-life-insurance-in-your-estate-plan/.

Reference: Kiplinger (March 4, 2020) “Beneficiary Designations – The Overlooked Minefield of Estate Planning”

 

Continue Reading Common Mistakes Made on Beneficiary Designations

Gene May Be a Link between Dementia and the Coronavirus

Is a gene the link between dementia and vulnerability to Covid-19?
Is a gene the link between dementia and vulnerability to Covid-19?

The study in Great Britain is the latest to suggest that genetics may play a part in why some people are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others. It may also help to explain why people with dementia have been hard hit.

“It is not just age: this is an example of a specific gene variant causing vulnerability in some people,” said David Melzer, a professor of epidemiology and public health at Exeter University and a co-author of the study.

The Guardian’s recent article entitled “Research reveals gene role in both dementia and severe Covid-19” explains that the study published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences reports how researchers analyzed data from the UK Biobank, where genetic and health data on 500,000 volunteers aged between 48 and 86 has been collected.

The researchers focused on a gene called ApoE which gives rise to proteins involved in carrying fats around the body and can exist in several forms. One such variant, called “e4”, is known to impact cholesterol levels and processes involved in inflammation, as well as increasing the risk of heart disease and dementia.

They found 9,022 of almost 383,000 Biobank participants of European ancestry studied had two copies of the e4 variant, while more than 223,000 had two copies of a variant called “e3”. The former have a risk of dementia up to 14 times greater than the latter.

The researchers then studied positive tests for COVID-19 between March 16 and April 26, when testing for the coronavirus was primarily done in hospitals, suggesting the cases were severe.

The results showed that 37 people who tested positive for COVID-19 had two copies of the e4 variant of ApoE, while 401 had two copies of the e3 variant. After considering factors such as age and sex, the researchers say people with two e4 variants had more than twice the risk of severe Covid-19 than those with two e3 variants.

One professor observed that it is possible that the role of ApoE in the immune system is important in the disease. Future research may be able to harness this to develop effective treatments.

You may also be interested in https://www.galliganmanning.com/the-symptoms-of-early-onset-alzheimers-disease/.

Reference: The Guardian (May 26, 2020) “Research reveals gene role in both dementia and severe Covid-19”

 

Continue Reading Gene May Be a Link between Dementia and the Coronavirus