What Is the HEMS Standard?

Many trusts for third parties reference “HEMS” language, namely health, education, maintenance and support.  The HEMS standard is used to inform trustees as to how and when funds should be released to a beneficiary, according to a recent article from Yahoo! News, “What is the HEMS Standard in Estate Planning.” Using HEMS language in a trust gives the trustee more control over how assets are distributed and spent. If a beneficiary is young and not financial savvy, this becomes extremely important to protecting both the beneficiary and the assets in the trust. Your estate planning attorney can set up a trust to include this feature, and it is commonly a feature in trusts we prepare.

When a trust includes HEMS language, the assets may only be used for specific needs. Health, education or living expenses can include college tuition, mortgage, and rent payments, medical care and health insurance premiums.

Medical treatment may include eye exams, dental care, health insurance, prescription drugs and some elective procedures.

Education may include college housing, tuition, technology needed for college, studying abroad and career training.

Maintenance and Support includes reasonable comforts, like paying for a gym membership, vacations and gifts for family members.  Many attorneys also expand upon this definition at the request of clients to expressly authorize money to be spent for business opportunities, vehicles, houses and so on.

The HEMS language provides guidance for the trustee.  However, ultimately the trustee is vested with the discretionary power to decide whether the assets are being used according to the directions of the trust.

In some cases, the HEMS standard is essential for asset protection.  For example, if I am the beneficiary of a trust and also my own trustee, it isn’t a good idea for me to have unfettered discretion on using the trust funds.  If I did, a creditor of mine could require me to use that discretion to pay them.  Instead, it would be better if the trust limited the ability to distribute to HEMS as the trust can still assist with my health, education, maintenance and support.  You’ll notice however, that HEMS does not include my creditors. See this article for a similar issue discussing creditors and divorces of beneficiaries. https://www.galliganmanning.com/protecting-inheritance-from-childs-divorce/

Sometimes beneficiary requests are straightforward, like college tuition or health insurance bills. However, maintenance and support need to be considered in the context of the family’s wealth. If the family and the beneficiary are used to a lifestyle that includes three or four luxurious vacations every year, a request for funds used for a ski trip to Spain may not be out of line. For another family and trust, this would be a ludicrous request.

Having HEMS language in the trust limits distribution. It may also, depending on the situation, be beneficial to have distribution restrictions so that the trustee can reply “no” when a beneficiary becomes too used to using trust money.

Giving the trustee HEMS language narrows their discretionary authority enough to help them do a better job of managing assets and may limit challenges by beneficiaries.

HEMS language can be as broad or narrow as the grantor wishes. Just as a trust is crafted to meet the specific directions of the grantor for beneficiaries, the HEMS language can be created to establish a trust where the assets may only be used to pay for college tuition or career training.

Reference: Yahoo! News (Jan. 7, 2022) “What is the HEMS Standard in Estate Planning”

Continue ReadingWhat Is the HEMS Standard?

Update on Estate and Gift Taxes for 2022

There was a lot of discussion last year about potential changes to the federal estate and gift tax laws.  It’s possible that some of these proposals may be enacted in 2022, but for now, none of them have passed.  In the meantime, exemptions have increased for inflation, giving taxpayers a chance to lock in rates and exemptions before the federal estate tax sunsets to $5 million and some “change” for inflation. You can see a fuller explanation in the recent article, 2022 Transfer Tax Update,” from Forbes.

For now, the increased estate and gift tax exemptions are:

  • In 2022, $12,060,000 federal estate tax exemption, with a 40% top federal estate tax rate.
  • $12,060,000 GST tax exemption and a 40% top federal GST tax rate.
  • The lifetime gift tax exemption is now $12,060,000; with a 40% top federal gift tax rate.
  • The annual gift tax exclusion for 2022 increases to $16,000.

The IRS and the Treasury Department have both stated they will not attempt any claw-backs from gifts given between 2018—2025 for a taxpayer who dies in 2026 or beyond, when the exemptions return to the $5 million mark under the 2012 Act.

The opportunity to take advantage of these exemptions is now. A variety of estate planning techniques are still available to address estate and gift tax. Shifting income-producing assets to individuals in lower income tax brackets or who live in states with no or lower income taxes may be appropriate.  It might make sense to make substantial gifts in 2022, but that will be a case by case analysis.  You can see this past article discussing that more, although it should be tempered by the current tax picture: https://www.galliganmanning.com/gifting-and-estate-taxes/  

Does this mean your estate plan needs to be revised? If you’re like most people, your estate plan is relatively flexible. However, if you haven’t reviewed or revised your estate plan in two or three years, it’s time to make an appointment with your estate planning attorney. There have been many changes in the law in recent years, and chances are, changes in your life since the last time your plan was reviewed.

The GST tax is not portable on the death of a spouse. Certain states (including New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts) don’t permit estate tax exemption portability. A bypass trust may be the solution.

The gift tax annual exclusion amount has increased to $16,000 for individuals ($32,000 by married couples). It may be better to gift securities of interests in privately held companies or other family entities. Assets gifted now may be worth less than they were previously, and if they increase in the future, you’ve created a built-in discount.

Talk with your estate planning attorney to make the most out of these tax situations before they go away.

Reference: Forbes (Jan. 4, 2022) 2022 Transfer Tax Update”

Continue ReadingUpdate on Estate and Gift Taxes for 2022

What is an Estate Asset?

Estate planning attorneys are often asked if a particular asset will be included in an estate, from life insurance and real estate to employment contracts and Health Savings Accounts. The answer is explored in the aptly-titled article, “Will It (My Home, My Life Insurance, Etc.) Be in My Estate?” from Kiplinger.

When you die, your estate is defined in different ways for different planning purposes. For example, you have a gross estate for federal estate taxes which defines all of the assets subject to the tax. However, there’s also the probate estate, which means property controlled by a will, and a non-probate estate, which means property passing outside of probate and the will.  So, if you are asking if an asset is part of an estate, it depends on which “estate” you mean.

Let’s start with life insurance. You’ve purchased a policy for $500,000, with your son as the designated beneficiary. If you own the policy, the entire $500,000 death benefit will be included in your gross estate for federal estate tax purposes. If your estate is big enough ($12.06 million in 2022), the entire death benefit above the exemption is subject to a 40% federal estate tax.

However, if you want to know if the policy will be included in your probate estate, the answer is no. Proceeds from life insurance policies are not subject to probate, since the death benefit passes by contract directly to the beneficiaries.  An executor or administrator of your estate never controls or has access to it.

Next, is the policy an estate asset available for beneficiaries of your probate estate?  So, let’s assume you left a will and your son is the named executor.  The will names all three of your children as equal beneficiaries.  Because the life insurance bypassed the probate process and went to a named beneficiary, none of the life insurance is available to the other two children.  If you wanted the money to go in trust for a beneficiary under the will, fund charitable giving or specific bequests, then the life insurance proceeds aren’t available for those purposes.

As an aside, common probate assets may include real property, tangible property like household contents, vehicles and so on, bank accounts depending on titling, and miscellaneous refunds due to the decedent.  Common non-probate assets may include life insurance, retirement funds and accounts with beneficiary designations generally.

Another aspect of figuring out what’s included in your estate depends upon where you live. In community property states—Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin—assets are treated differently for estate tax purposes than in states with what’s known as “common law” for married couples. Also, in most states, real estate owned on a fee simple basis is simply transferred on death through the probate estate, while in other states, an alternative exists where a transfer on death deed or similar technique is available.

It is also true that certain states expect executors to have information about non-probate assets.  For example, New York has estate tax and Pennsylvania has inheritance tax.  Both states require an executor to file the appropriate return that will include information about non-probate assets because they are subject to tax (similar to the federal estate tax) even though the executor doesn’t take control of them.  Texas, you’ll be happy to know, does not have an estate or inheritance tax.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney in your state of residence to know what assets are included in your federal estate, what are part of your probate estate, and how taxes and creditors will apply to these various assets.

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 13, 2021) “Will It (My Home, My Life Insurance, Etc.) Be in My Estate?”

Continue ReadingWhat is an Estate Asset?