How Do Trusts Work in Your Estate Plan?
Trusts offer many benefits, so speak with your attorney on how to fit them in your estate plan.

How Do Trusts Work in Your Estate Plan?

Trusts offer many benefits including probate avoidance, tax and disability planning and protecting beneficiaries.
Trusts offer many benefits including probate avoidance, tax and disability planning and protecting beneficiaries.

Trusts can be useful tools for passing on assets, allowing them to be held by a responsible trustee for the benefit of the beneficiaries. However, determining which type of trust is best for each family’s situation and setting them up so they work with an estate plan can be complex. You’ll do better with the help of an estate planning attorney, says The Street in the article “How to Set Up a Trust Fund: What You Need to Know.”

There are lots of reasons to use trusts.  Many are used to avoid the time and difficulty involved with the probate process.  Others are used for estate tax planning and Medicaid planning.  Still others are used to pass financial assets to beneficiaries who might not be able to use them well or by themselves, such as with a disabled beneficiary, a beneficiary who wastes money or has creditors, or perhaps is struggling with addiction.  Many parents leave assets to their children in trusts so that the assets are excluded from their child’s potential divorce.  Trusts can even be used for your pets!  We have many blog posts on different reasons to use a trust, and here are a few:  https://www.galliganmanning.com/special-estate-planning-considerations-for-a-blended-family/ (blended families)  https://www.galliganmanning.com/do-you-need-a-pet-trust-in-your-estate-plan/ (pets) https://www.galliganmanning.com/some-common-estate-planning-mistakes-best-avoided/.    

If you are considering using a trust as part of your estate planning, you have to consider whether it will be revocable or irrevocable.  I’ll briefly describe both varieties.

Revocable Trusts are trusts that can be changed. They are often called Living Trusts.  This form of trust is typically used to avoid probate because assets properly owned or directed to the trust will not be probate assets.  Because of its flexibility, you can change beneficiaries, terminate it, or leave it as is. You have options, and it can change with you as your needs, wishes and plan change over time.  Once you die, the revocable trust becomes irrevocable and distributions and assets shift to the beneficiaries in the manner you chose. 

A revocable trust avoids probate for the assets it directs, but will be counted as part of your “estate” for estate tax purposes. They are includable in your estate, because you maintain control over them during your lifetime.  Under current law, very few people have an estate large enough to pay federal estate taxes, so having assets as part of your “estate” for estate tax purposes is actually a good thing.

Revocable Trusts are also used to help manage assets as you age, help you maintain control of assets if you don’t believe the trustees are ready to manage the funds, or to appoint other trustees in case you can no longer manage the assets yourself.

Irrevocable Trusts are called irrevocable because in theory you cannot change or revoke them.  However, most states have laws which permit revocation or change of irrevocable trusts in certain circumstances.  But, you should be careful about irrevocable trusts if you expect a need to change it in the future.

If estate taxes are a concern, it’s likely you’ll consider this type of trust. The assets are given to the trust, thus removing them from your taxable estate.  Irrevocable trusts of this type are less common than revocable trusts, but still can be a powerful weapon in your estate planning arsenal. 

These are just two of many different types of trusts. There are trusts set up for distributions to pay college expenses, providing for disabled individuals to preserve government benefits, charitable funds for philanthropic purposes, planning for pets after you are gone, leaving assets to a second spouse or children in a blended family and more.

Your estate planning attorney will be able to identify which types are most appropriate for your situation.  Here’s how to prepare for your meeting with an estate planning attorney when considering a trust:

Why do you want the Trust? Consider your goal.  Is it to avoid probate?  Is it for tax planning?  Is it because you know a beneficiary shouldn’t receive the assets but you still want to provide for them?

List beneficiaries. Include primary beneficiaries and have a plan for what happens when the primary beneficiary is deceased.

Map out the specifics. Who do you want to receive the assets? How much do you want to leave them? Why shouldn’t receive the assets immediately?  You should be as detailed as possible.

Choose a trustee. You’ll need to name someone who will respect your wishes, who understands your financial situation and who will be able to stand up to any beneficiaries who might not like how you’ve structured your plan. It can be a professional trustee as well.

Don’t forget to fund the it! This last step is very important. The trust does no good if it is not properly funded. You should speak with your estate planning attorney about how to fund the trust based upon the plan you selected.

Creating a trust can be a complex task. However, with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, this strategy can yield a lifetime of benefits for you and your loved ones.

Reference: The Street (July 22, 2019) “How to Set Up a Trust Fund: What You Need to Know”

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How to Begin the Estate Planning Process

The estate planning process can be intimidating, but doesn’t have to be.  Start by listing your assets, who they go to and who to put in charge.

The hardest part of the estate planning process is  starting it.  About 17% of adults don’t think they  need  a will, believing that estate planning is only for  the very wealthy. In fact, clients frequently ask  whether they have enough money for an “estate.”    Sometimes they think state law will already directs their assets and they don’t need a plan.

However, the estate planning process is not about how much money someone has.  It is about planning for the assets you have, however much or little that may be, your wishes for those assets, yourself and your family.  It is about empowering you to make the choices you want for you and your family, not leaving it up to the state.  Even completing a few simple documents can make a huge difference in the future.

valuewalk.com’s recent article, “Couples: Here’s How To Start The Estate Planning Process” notes that although the estate planning  process can seem overwhelming, taking inventory of assets is a terrific place to start.

Make a list of all your assets, including confirming how they are titled and whether there are beneficiaries named on the accounts, as well as the general value of the assets. Then, decide who you want to leave these assets to and who should be in charge of the process.  Our firm uses questionnaires as part of the estate planning process to help gather this information so we can focus on the issues most important to you.  I also did a video segment on Kevin’s Korner that walks through some of these issues as well.  See this link for the video.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2M_-tBoSiU 

Drafting a will or a trust may be the most critical step in the estate planning process. These documents serve as the directions for how assets are to be distributed and who is responsible to do it.  A well-crafted will or trust can simplify the distribution of assets at your death, provide instructions to your family, and avoid disputes, unnecessary taxes and protect your beneficiaries from predators.

Without an estate plan in place, your assets will be distributed according to state law, rather than according to your wishes. Don’t assume state law leaves everything to your spouse!  Many people assume if they are married everything they own goes to their surviving spouse, but in many situations, that isn’t true.  For example, blended families, children outside of the marriage and some non-marital property.  Speak with your estate planning attorney about how these issues impact you.

Once you have an idea of your assets, beneficiaries and who to put in charge, the next step in the estate planning process is to meet with your estate planning attorney to review the information so they can make recommendations on the best way to accomplish your goals and highlight other issues to address.  Our firm offers free estate planning consultations, so please contact us today to start the estate planning process.

Reference: valuewalk.com (July 22, 2019) “Couples: Here’s How To Start The Estate Planning Process”

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Estate Planning When Faced with a Serious Illness

More young and middle-aged workers find themselves in the role of family caregiver.
Everyone needs estate planning documents, but a serious illness makes that need more urgent. 

More than 130 million Americans are living with chronic illness. Forbes’ recent article, “Estate Planning Musts When You Or A Or A Loved One Has A Chronic Illness,” says that if you (or a loved one) are living with a chronic illness, you’ll likely need the same estate planning documents most people should have.

The article discusses these key estate planning documents, along with some suggestions that might help you customize them to your unique challenges because of chronic illness. These documents need to be tailored to your specific needs, so you should consult your estate planning and elder law attorney about what works best for you.  It’s also best to put your estate planning documents in place soon after your diagnosis, so that you can return your focus to your health, family and well-being.

HIPAA Release. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 governs the requirements for maintaining the confidentiality of protected or personal health information (PHI). A HIPAA Release lets someone you trust access your protected health information.  This is an important estate planning document because it provides your decision makers with information about your condition so they can best serve your needs.

Living Will. This is a statement of your health care wishes and can address end of life decisions, as well as many other matters. If you’re living with a chronic illness, there are special considerations you might want to make in having a living will prepared. For example, you might explain your specific disease while continuing to address other health issues.  You can address the disease you have, at what stage and with what anticipated disease course, and how if at all these matters should be reflected. It is also critically important to discuss these wishes with your loved ones before the issue arises so they understand what you want.

Medical Power of Attorney. This is sometimes known as a medical proxy. It is an estate planning document in which you designate a trusted person to make medical decisions for you if you’re unable to do so. You can give guidance to your medical agent about your preferences, goals and concerns in your medical care.

Financial Power of Attorney. This estate planning document lets you designate a trusted person to handle your legal, tax, and financial matters if you can’t or if it becomes difficult to do so. There are some unique considerations for those living with chronic illnesses to consider. One is the amount of control that should be given up now or at what stage. Another key issue in a power of attorney is if you should sign a special power that restricts the agent’s authority to certain specified items or sign a general power that provides broad and almost unlimited powers to the agent.  It is especially importantly that your power of attorney include authority to handle Medicaid and other long term care benefits if you are facing a serious illness.

Appointment for the Disposition of Remains.  This is a basic estate planning document by which you choose a person to execute your burial wishes and let them know what those wishes are.

Declaration of Guardians.  This is an estate planning document in which you name a person to serve as a court appointed guardian should you need one.  If you have the other documents in place you’ll likely never need this, but it is important to have as a safety net naming someone you trust to be guardian instead of a court appointed agency or lawyer if the need ever arises.

Will and Revocable Trust. Finally, Wills and  Revocable Trusts are estate planning documents which control the flow of assets at your passing.  You should speak with your attorney about which is right for you, but if you or a family member has a chronic illness, using a revocable trust may be a good way to provide for succession of your financial management.  A revocable trust allows the successor trustee to act quickly to manage the finances if you cannot do so yourself and under the guidelines you create.  This way, the trustee can pay for the care you need.

Everyone should have these estate planning documents as part of a well-crafted legacy plan, but if you or a loved one is facing a serious or chronic illness, you may be facing additional challenges that make this planning more critical.

Reference: Forbes (July 5, 2019) “Estate Planning Musts When You Or A Or A Loved One Has A Chronic Illness”

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