That Last Step: Trust Funding

A trust only controls the assets it owns, so don’t forget the critical last step in a trust estate plan: properly funding the trust.

Neglecting to fund trusts is a surprisingly common mistake, and one that can undo the best estate plans. Many people put it on the back burner, then forget about it, says the article “Don’t Overlook Your Trust Funding” from Forbes.

If you read our blogs routinely, you’ll know we are fans of trust planning.  Done properly with appropriate trust funding, a trust helps avoid probate, provides for you and your family in the event of incapacity and streamlines the estate process.

Creating a revocable trust gives you control. With a revocable trust, you can make changes to the trust while you are living, including funding. Think of a trust like an empty box—you can put assets in it now, or after you pass. If you transfer assets to the trust now, however, your executor won’t have to do it when you die.

Note that if you don’t put assets in the trust while you are living, those assets may go through the probate process. While the executor will have the authority to transfer assets, they’ll have to get court to appoint them as executor first. That takes time and costs money. It is much better if you do it yourself while you are living.

A trust helps if you become incapacitated. You may be managing the trust while you are living, but what happens if you die or become too sick to manage your own affairs? If the trust is funded and a successor trustee has been named, the successor trustee will be able to manage your assets and take care of you and your family. If the successor trustee has control of an empty, unfunded trust, it may not do very much good.  Instead, an agent under a power of attorney, or if none, a court-appointed guardian may have to be appointed.

Move the right assets to the right trust. It’s very important that any assets you transfer to the trust are aligned with your estate plan. I cannot stress this enough, but you should speak with an attorney regarding how to fund your specific trust.  Not all plans and assets are the same, and different plans call for different trust funding.   That said, taxable brokerage accounts, bank accounts and real estate are usually transferred into a trust either immediately during lifetime or upon death via a beneficiary designation. Some tangible assets may be transferred into the trust, as well as business interests.  Some assets, such as life insurance and retirement funds may designate the trust in some manner by beneficiary designation, but in light of the Secure Act changes you’ll definitely want to discuss that with your attorney.   See here for more:  https://www.galliganmanning.com/how-the-secure-act-impacts-your-estate-plan/

Your estate planning attorney, financial advisor and insurance broker should be consulted to avoid making expensive mistakes. You should also consider trust funding when you review your estate plan to ensure it is updated with new assets.

You’ve worked hard to accumulate assets and protecting them with a trust is a good idea. Just don’t forget the final step of funding the trust.

Reference: Forbes (July 13, 2020) “Don’t Overlook Your Trust Funding”

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Estate Planning for Our Pets

A complete estate plan should address what happens to your pets when you are unable to care for them.
A complete estate plan should address what happens to your pets when you are unable to care for them.

Many people laugh when they hear about estate planning for pets. They think of outrageous stories of a dog or cat being left millions in a trust. But have you ever considered what would happen to your pets if you were not around to take care of them?

It’s easy to assume that someone will step in to care for your pets after you pass away, but the reality is, unless you have made arrangements ahead of time, your pet could be released onto the streets, dropped off at the shelter, neglected, or euthanized. In the best of circumstances, your pets might not get the special care they need if you have not left behind instructions regarding their special food, medications, and other details that would help someone care for your pet the way you would have.

The simplest way to make sure your pet will be cared for after you’re gone is to talk to one or two people to get their commitment to either take your pet into their home or find a good home for your pet. You can then include a short paragraph in your Will or living trust stating who should get custody of your pet. You can even leave the person who agrees to take your pet a small sum of money as a token of your appreciation.

If you are unable to find a person to agree to take your pet, there are organizations dedicated to the care of pets in exchange for a monetary gift to the institution. These organizations usually require that you make arrangements for the pet’s care during your lifetime. Your estate planning attorney should be able to give you more information regarding the organizations that offer these services.

Pet trusts are becoming more and more popular as a vehicle for providing the funds to care for pets after an owner’s death. If you want to leave money for the care of your pets after you are gone, a pet trust will make sure that the funds are spent on your pet and not used for other purposes.

You also need to consider what happens if you are alive, but unable to care for your pet due to a disability or incapacity. That’s why you should include provisions in your power of attorney allowing your agent to make arrangements for the care of your pet when you’re unable to do so, yourself. Your power of attorney should also allow your agent to expend funds for the care of your pets.

In any event, you should compile a set of instructions for your pet’s caretaker to follow. If your pet needs to be fed a certain type of food at precise times of day, prefers a special toy, has a specific bedtime or needs to be walked three times a day in a specific park near your home, you can include all this information in the instructions.

Many of us consider our pets as are part of our families. As such they need to be included in our estate plan, along with everything else we treasure.

Reference: The Harvard Press (May 14, 2020) “COA speakers urge pet owners to plan for their animal’s future”

 

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Power of Attorney: Why It Is Important

Don't wait to create a power of attorney.
Don’t wait to create a power of attorney.

Unfortunately, you never know when a power of attorney will be needed to allow someone else to make financial and medical decisions for you. An accident or sudden illness can occur without warning. A power of attorney is a necessary document if your are too ill, injured, or lack the mental capacity to make your own decisions. The article, “Why you’re never too young for a power of attorney” from Lancaster Online, explains what these documents are, and what purpose they serve.

There are two basic power of attorney documents or “POA’s”: one for making financial decisions and one for making medical decisions. A financial POA may be effective immediately or when a doctor certifies that you are unable to handle your financial affairs. A medical POA  becomes effective when you cannot communicate a medical decision. Until then, you are completely in charge of decisions related to your medical care.

If you don’t have a POA and you are unable to make financial and medical decisions for yourself, a guardian must be appointed in a court proceeding to make decisions for you. This is an expensive and time consuming process and the outcome may not be what you would have wanted.

Anyone over the age of 18 should have a financial and medical power of attorney. Many parents start realizing this when their children go off to college. Parents are often surprised and frustrated when they find out that, because their college age children are considered adults, the parents no longer have access to their children’s financial and medical information, not even in an emergency.  That’s why our next client education seminar on June 26 is devoted to what estate planning documents students need to have in place before they go off to college. (See our website at www.galliganmanning.com for more details and information on how to register.)

While it’s never too early for a person 18 years of age or older to have medical and financial powers of attorney in place, you could wait until it’s too late. If you become incapacitated, you cannot sign a POA. We often see this when children of aging parents contact us in a panic because their parents never executed powers of attorney. If the aging parent lacks capacity and cannot sign a POA, the family is faced with the need to pursue a guardianship.

You should work with an estate planning attorney to create the powers of attorney you need.  An estate planning attorney will be able to tailor your POA to your exact needs. They will also make sure to create a document that gives proper powers to the people you select.

Review your POA’s at least annually to be sure that the people you have selected are still the people you want taking care of your financial and medical matters, if the need should ever arise.

Most important of all, don’t wait to have powers of attorney created for you. They are even more important than a Will because the powers of attorney affect your care while you are alive.

Learn more about powers of attorney and other estate planning documents.

Reference: Lancaster Online (May 15, 2019) “Why you’re never too young for a power of attorney”

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