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”

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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?”

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Some Common Estate Planning Mistakes Best Avoided

As can often be the case, many extremely talented people accumulate large estates and they often are not prepared to take on the task of organizing the transfer of assets, according to the Reno Gazette Journal in “Yes, even celebrities make estate planning mistakes.”

Here are the top four biggest mistakes:

No will. Biggest names: Prince, Aretha, Amy Winehouse and that is just a few. That means your affairs aren’t in order and your loved ones are not protected. Winehouse left an unwritten song about her finances, but she also left a $6.7 million estate. She had a brother and an ex-husband, but no direction as to who should get what. Without a will, her estate went through the probate process and was distributed to her parents. You need to have a will to name guardians of your minor children and ensure that your assets are distributed, according to your wishes.

Not setting up a trust. Celebs want their glamorous red-carpet photos all over Instagram and Facebook, but that doesn’t mean they want their personal finances to become public record. A will is a public document and a living trust keeps things private. There was more than one tragedy that followed Whitney Houston’s death. Her will named Bobbi Kristina Brown as her sole beneficiary. However, her daughter died three years later. Then her estate was tangled up with an IRS battle over the valuation of recording royalties. The bill from the IRS: $2.2 million in additional taxes. Her ex, Bobby Brown, may yet end up the heir of the Houston estate. That may not be what Whitney wanted.

A living trust keeps your estate private. It designates who is entitled to your assets, and how they are to receive them. It names trustees, and may provide tax benefits.

Not keeping the plan up to date. Life is all about change. Financial conditions, health, family relationships, divorce, marriage, birth, adoptions, estrangements: everything changes. The world-famous author Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park and many, many other best-sellers, was diagnosed with throat cancer, when his sixth wife was pregnant. His will was not updated. She had to sue to include the baby as an heir, and a daughter from a prior marriage opposed it. The judge ultimately ruled that the baby should inherit. However, simply updating his will would have taken care of everything, minus the resulting stress, cost and rancor.

Disabled before death. Estate planning is for the living also. You may be disabled and need help in managing your financial affairs. One out of 10 people over age 65 are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, then at age 85, the rate skyrockets to one out of three. One celebrity whose dementia led to a nasty family rift was Etta James, the blues singer best known for the classic “At Last.” She had signed power of attorney over to a son from a prior marriage in 2008. Her husband of more than 40 years said that she was already suffering from dementia and was not competent to sign any legal documents. The son wanted to limit the amount of money the singer’s husband spent on her medical care. They finally settled, and her husband was named as conservator. However, he was given a limit of $350,000 for care for his wife. Etta James passed away shortly thereafter.

Celebrities are not the only ones who make enormous mistakes, when it comes to estate planning. However, they are the ones that we read about.

An estate planning attorney can advise you on creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances and can help you avoid those costly mistakes.

Reference: Reno Gazette Journal (Nov. 14, 2018) “Yes, even celebrities make estate planning mistakes”

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