Amending a Trust: What are your Options?

If your trust no longer meets your needs, there are many ways to amend the trust to serve your goals for you and your loved ones.

A son has contacted an elder law estate planning attorney now that mom is in a nursing home and he’s unsure about many of the planning issues, as reported by the Daily Republic. The article, “Amending trust easier if parents can make informed decision,” describes the family’s situation.

The son has numerous valid concerns about paying his parents’ bills, managing their assets and avoiding personal liability if they are sued.  The author addresses these concerns for the son, but I’d like to focus on one point: updating and amending the trust.

All estate plans change over time as an individual’s needs and wishes change.  Sometimes the trust will anticipate these changes, such as naming a successor trustee to take over when the trust creators can no longer make financial decisions.  In the son’s case, that might be enough.  However, if the trust doesn’t address the issue or if the trust makers’ needs and wishes change substantially, it is sometimes necessary to amend a trust.  Sometimes it is good to amend a trust for tax reasons, such as Mary describes here:  https://www.galliganmanning.com/higher-estate-tax-exemption-means-you-could-save-income-taxes-by-updating-your-estate-plan/

If his parents have a revocable or living trust and have the capacity to handle their financial affairs, they can choose to amend the trust themselves.  This is by far the best and cheapest option as the parents can review the trust each year, put their son in charge of their affairs if they wish and make other appropriate changes.  They can do this very easily by either making an amendment or restating the trust.  Restating is amending the trust by rewriting the terms of the trust with the changes without actually creating a new trust.

If his parents do not have the capacity to make financial decisions, that doesn’t mean the son can’t amend the trust.  Often powers of attorney permit an agent to amend a trust if the principal (person who makes the power of attorney) is incapacitated.  Now, the powers of attorney will usually have limitations built in.  For example, they may require the agent to follow the principal’s “testamentary intent.”  This means that the beneficiaries of the estate plan should be generally the same.  So, if the son wasn’t a beneficiary of the trust, he can’t make himself one now. He also still needs to act in the best interest of the principal.  But, amending the trust to protect the assets and better care for his parents is just fine.

Let’s say the trust is an irrevocable trust, or perhaps the power of attorney doesn’t permit amending the trust, what then?   There are still options.

Some trusts include “trust protectors.”  This is a person named in the trust who can amend the trust in limited ways to make sure it still works.  A trust protector is usually a trusted individual, occasionally an attorney, who can make amendments to the trust.  Depending on the reason for the change, it is also possible to ask a Court to modify the trust.   It’s even possible sometimes to “decant” a trust.  Decanting is not really amending a trust, it is creating a whole new trust with new terms, and then transferring the assets from the old trust to the new one.  These techniques are more complex and expensive, but very helpful, especially with very out-of-date trusts that haven’t been reviewed or amended in some time.

The key point is that is important to review and keep your trust up to date.  But, even if you have a trust that is old or doesn’t work well, there are many ways to amend a trust to ensure proper administration of the assets for you and your beneficiaries.

Reference: Daily Republic (Aug. 10, 2019) “Amending trust easier if parents can make informed decision”

Continue Reading

Proposed IRA Rules and Their Effect on Stretch IRAs.

New IRA rules make retirement funds better for retirees, but not necessarily for their beneficiaries.

The SECURE (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement) Act proposes a number of changes to IRA rules and other retirement rules.  The Act passed in the House of Representatives by a 417-3 vote and is expected to be passed in some form by the Senate. Some of the changes appear to be common sense, like broadening access to IRAs and 401(k)s, changing the required minimum distribution (RMD) age from 70½ to 72 and providing different investment options for these programs. However, with these changes come potential limitations with Stretch IRAs.

Forbes asks in its recent article “Are Concerns Over Stretch IRAs And The SECURE Act Justified?” An IRA shelters investments from tax which leaves investors with more money for the same investment performance because usually no tax is usually paid as it grows. Your distributions can also be tax-free if you use a Roth IRA. That’s a good thing if you have an option between paying taxes on your investment income and not paying taxes on it. The SECURE act isn’t changing this fundamental process, but the issue is when you still have an IRA balance at death.

A Stretch IRA can be a great estate planning tool. Here’s how it works: you give the IRA to a young beneficiary in your family. The tax shield of the IRA is then “stretched,” for what can be decades, based on the principle that an IRA is used over the life expectancy of the beneficiary. This is important because the longer the IRA lasts, the more investment gains and income can be protected from taxes which allows the investment to grow tremendously.

Even better, current estate planning techniques allow an investor to leave an IRA to a trust and still get “stretch” treatment.  For more information, see our website.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/life-stages/planning-for-retirement/   Current Treasury Rules permit trusts to receive “stretch” treatment if the beneficiary of the trust is readily identifiable. This enables investors to leave their retirement assets to trusts for their individual beneficiaries and receive the investment advantage of the “stretch” as well as the benefit of the trust, such as tax planning and divorce or creditor protection for the beneficiaries.  One such trust is called a “conduit trust” where only RMD’s are paid out to the identifiable beneficiary based upon his or her life expectancy.

However, the SECURE Act could change that.  The proposed IRA rules and other retirement rules instead require funds to be distributed over a 10 year period instead of the beneficiary’s lifetime. That’s a big change for estate planning and the value of assets passed to the next generation.

There are some exceptions to the 10 year time period, including retirement left to a surviving spouse, minor children and some persons with disabilities or chronic illnesses.  However, aside from the spouse, these beneficiary groups are limited and will be most harmed by this change.  For example, a disabled beneficiary would likely not receive the retirement funds directly because receiving the retirement funds would affect their government benefits.  Instead, the retirement will pay to a special kind of trust, called a Supplemental Needs Trust, that will receive the retirement funds and accumulate them for the beneficiary’s use.  However, that form of a trust will presumably not qualify for the 10 year exception because remainder beneficiaries (those who survive the disabled beneficiary) will be brought into the analysis and likely won’t be minors or disabled beneficiaries to make the trust eligible for a 10 year exception.  For someone in that case, a 10 year payout will accelerate tax and greatly reduce the legacy left to the beneficiary with a disability, and he or she is the one who needs it most.

For a person who uses their own IRA in retirement and uses it up or passes it to their spouse as an inheritance—the  proposed IRA rules and retirement rules under the SECURE Act change almost nothing. For those looking to use their own IRA in retirement, IRAs are slightly improved due to the new ability to continue to contribute after age 70½ and other small improvements. Therefore, most typical IRA holders will be unaffected or benefit to some degree during their lifetimes.  However, for investors with large investment funds to pass to beneficiaries, the proposed IRA rules may greatly reduce the legacy left to their loved ones.

Reference: Forbes (July 16, 2019) “Are Concerns Over Stretch IRAs And The SECURE Act Justified?”

Continue Reading

Higher Estate Tax Exemption Means You Could Save Income Taxes by Updating Your Estate Plan

Updating your estate plan can save taxes.
Updating your estate plan could save taxes.

The estate tax exemption doubled as a result of the Federal Tax Cut and Jobs Act, raising it to historic highs. The estate tax exemption had been scheduled to increase to $5.6 million per person in 2018, but it was modified by the recent legislation to reach the current level of $11.2 million per person, or $22.4 million per couple. The inflation-adjusted exemption for 2019 is $11.4 million per person, or $22.8 million per couple.

In the article “Updating estate plan could save heirs in taxes,” the Atlanta Business Chronicle asks why this matters to an individual or couple whose net worth is nowhere near these levels.

When the most that could be transferred to a non-spouse beneficiary was under a million dollars, everyone worried about the estate tax and used trusts to minimize its effect. Since the estate tax was so much higher than the capital gains tax, it was never considered a big deal if a beneficiary paid the capital gains tax on selling trust assets, because it was less costly than paying the estate tax.

In the past, a married couple’s estate plan would often call for the deceased spouse’s assets to be placed in a trust for the surviving spouse (often called a “bypass trust”). The goal was for the trust to provide for the surviving spouse until the surviving spouse’s death, at which point the trust assets bypassed the estate of the surviving spouse and went directly to the beneficiaries, usually the spouses’ children. If the beneficiaries sold trust assets after the surviving spouse’s death, they would pay the income tax based on the value of the assets at the first spouse’s death, as oppposed to the value of the assets at the surviving spouse’s death. The higher the assets appreciated between the time of the first spouse’s death and the second spouse’s death, the higher the income tax.

For example, if a spouse owned $10,000 worth of stock which passed to a bypass trust at his or her death, and the stock increased to $100,000 at the death of the surviving spouse, the heirs would pay capital gains taxes on the amount of the appreciation ($90,000) upon the sale of the stock. If, however, instead of being in a bypass trust, the stock were included the surviving spouse’s estate, when the beneficiaries sold the stock, they would not have to pay capital gains taxes on the $90,000 of appreciation that occurred between the first spouse’s death and the surviving spouse’s death. That could be a substantial tax savings.

For those who included bypass trusts in their estate plans just to save on estate taxes, updating their estate plan to eliminate the bypass trust could bring greater simplicity as well as tax savings for the heirs.

It should be noted that the law creating the present $11.4 million estate tax exemption ends at the end of 2025, when the estate tax exemption will return to $5 million (adjusted for inflation). Because the tax laws are constantly changing, it is always a good idea to revisit your estate plan at least every three years. Learn more about what married couples should consider when updating their estate plan at https://www.galliganmanning.com/life-stages/planning-for-married-couples/

Reference: Atlanta Business Chronicle (May 31, 2019) “Updating estate plan could save heirs in taxes”

Suggested Key Terms:

Continue Reading