Can You Refuse an Inheritance?

It’s a bit of a strange thought, but occasionally there are reasons for people not to want their inheritance.  They may have expected the money to go to someone else and want to facilitate that, they may feel they have enough money and want it to pass to someone else, or perhaps they are concerned about taxes.  Whatever, the reason, no one can be forced to accept an inheritance they don’t want. However, what happens to the inheritance after they reject, or “disclaim” the inheritance depends on a number of things, says the recent article “Estate Planning: Disclaimers” from NWI Times.

A disclaimer is a legal document used to disclaim the property. To be valid for at least most tax purposes, the disclaimer must be irrevocable, in writing and executed within nine months of the death of the decedent. You can’t have accepted any of the assets or received any of the benefits of the assets and then change your mind later on.  Basically, you can’t receive the assets, and then decide to give them back as though you didn’t want them in the first place.

Once you accept an inheritance, it’s yours. If you know you intend to disclaim the inheritance, have an estate planning attorney create the disclaimer to protect yourself.

If the disclaimer is valid and properly prepared, you simply won’t receive the inheritance. Instead, the property will go to whomever would have received had you predeceased the decedent.  That might be many individuals, so it is important to understand to whom the property will go if you disclaim.  It might be based upon the trust or will that named you originally, a beneficiary designation on a financial asset or the intestate laws of the state where the decedent lived.

Once you disclaim an inheritance, it’s permanent and you can’t ask for it to be given to you. If you fail to execute the disclaimer after the nine-month period, the disclaimed property might then be treated as a gift, not an inheritance, which could have an impact on your tax liability.

Persons with disabilities who receive means-tested government benefits should never accept an inheritance, since they can lose eligibility for benefits.  Now, some states will consider a disclaimer a transfer for government benefits, meaning you may lose the benefits anyway.  So, the best solution is to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible how to handle such an inheritance.

A supplemental needs trusts may be a good solution so the beneficiary with a disability can receive the inheritance without loss of benefits.  You can see more on SNTs here.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/how-do-special-needs-trusts-work/  

The high level of federal exemption for estates has led to fewer disclaimers than in the past, but in a few short years—January 1, 2026—the exemption will drop down to a much lower level, and it’s likely inheritance disclaimers will return.  So, if you want to consider a disclaimer, definitely speak to a qualified attorney who can assist you with the process.

Reference: NWI Times (Nov. 14, 2021) “Estate Planning: Disclaimers”

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Estate Planning Checklist

Dying without an estate plan creates additional costs and eliminates any chance your wishes for loved ones will be followed after your death. Typically, people think about a will when they marry or have children, and then do not think about wills or estate plans until they retire. While a will is important, there are other estate planning documents that are just as important, says the recent article “10 Steps to Writing a Will” from U.S. News & World Report.  To help identify those needs, I prepared an estate planning checklist which you can find below.

Most assets, including retirement accounts and insurance policy proceeds, can be transferred to heirs outside of a will, if they have designated beneficiaries. However, the outcome of an estate may be more impacted by Power of Attorney for financial matters and Medical Power of Attorney documents.  To help figure out what you may need, you can use this article as an estate planning checklist.

Here are nine specific tasks that need to be completed for your estate plan to be effective. The documents should be prepared based upon your state’s law with the help of a qualified estate planning attorney.

  1. Find an estate planning attorney who is experienced with the laws of your state.
  2. Select beneficiaries for your estate plan.
  3. Check beneficiaries on non-probate assets to make sure they are current.
  4. Decide who will be the fiduciaries named in your estate plan (e.g. executor, trustee)
  5. Name a guardian for minor children, if yours are still young.

There are also tasks for your own care while you are living, in case of incapacity:

  1. Name a person for the Power of Attorney role. They will be your representative for legal and financial matters, but only while you are living.
  2. Name a person for the Medical Power of Attorney to make decisions on your behalf, if you cannot.
  3. Create a Directive to Physicians (Living Will), to explain your wishes for medical care, particularly concerning end-of-life care.
  4. Tell the these people that you have chosen them and discuss these roles and their responsibilities with them if you are ready

As you go through your estate planning checklist, be realistic about the people you are naming to serve as fiduciaries. If you have a child who is not good with managing money, a trust can be set up to distribute assets according to your wishes: by age or accomplishments, like finishing college, going to rehab, or maintaining a steady work history, and they should not be in charge of your money.

Do not forget to tell family members where they can find your last will and other estate documents. You should also talk with them about your digital assets. If accounts are protected by passwords or facial recognition, find out if the digital platform has a process for your executor to legally obtain access to your digital assets.

Finally, do not neglect updating your estate plan every three to four years or anytime you have a major life event. An estate plan is like a house: it needs regular maintenance. Old estate plans can disinherit family members or lead to the wrong person being in charge of your estate.  See this article for my ideas as to when to update your estate plan and what to consider.  You might find reviewing the estate planning checklist helpful at that time as well.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/when-to-update-your-estate-plan/

An experienced estate planning attorney will make the process easier and straightforward for you and your loved ones.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (May 13, 2021) “10 Steps to Writing a Will”

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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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