Archive for the ‘Trusts’ Category

Revocable living trust and pour over will. Why do I need both?

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The Question. Why do we have a pour over will when we already have a revocable living trust in our estate plan? Isn’t that repetitive?

Let’s try to answer this age old question.

Quick clarification. Your Trust is the Boss. Your trust is your featured estate planning tool for moving your assets to the next generation. Your Pour over will (Called pour over because it names the trust as beneficiary) should be a smaller player in the whole scheme of things, but it is a necessary role player.

For those folks with one, after you develop your trust document …you add your assets into your trust. This is accomplished by changing the title of the property into the name of the trust or by setting the trust in as the beneficiary of a certain asset. (IE: life insurance). Then, when you die, the assets stay in the trust avoiding the need for a probate of the assets it holds on your behalf.

Here are a three reasons why a pour over will is still necessary….

  1. Guardians. A pour over will can do an important things that a living trust document cannot do. If you have minor children and want to name a guardian for them — someone to raise them if you and the other parent die before they reach adulthood — you must use a will to do that.

 

  1. Human Error. Lets face it. We all make mistakes. One big reason to write a pour over will is that a living trust covers only property you have transferred, in writing, to the trust. Almost no one transfers everything to a trust. And even if you do scrupulously try to transfer everything, there’s always the chance that you’ll acquire property shortly before you die and not have time to put it into your trust. If you don’t think to (or aren’t able to) transfer ownership of an asset to your living trust, it won’t pass under the terms of the trust document. Anything not transferred into your trust prior to your death could instead be subject to probate and distributed under your pour over will. In short, a pour over will acts as a safety net and sends a “forgotten asset” back into your trust.

 

  1. Satisfying the rules for paying a decedent’s last bills. The law says that an estate pays the last bills. The pour over will contains language that passes that statutory obligation from the Personal Representative of an empty estate to the trustee under the trust. This language, coupled with special language accepting the responsibility under the trust, make the bill paying process seamless.

 

Of course, there is more to all of this. The key for anyone with a trust is to seek counsel. Get your questions answered. Also know that a trust is a beautiful thing, but it never acts alone. It always needs the reliable sidekick called a pour over will in order to accomplish its mission.


News Flash: Beneficiary designations are a Big Deal

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Grove Thoughts

Use Care: Beneficiary Designations Trump Your Will or Trust.

Always a good thing to meet with your investment adviser and have your insurance coverage and investments properly aligned to meet your needs.   However… Some times …  after all that planning … the act of filling out your beneficiary designation forms might seem like an afterthought.

As mundane as the beneficiary designation process may seem, it is important to keep in mind that the beneficiary designation form on file with the company will control ownership and distribution of the life insurance policy/individual retirement plan after you die: Not your will or your trust.

Example: If you have a life insurance policy for $100,000.00 and you name your son Mickey under the beneficiary form, Mickey gets the cash on your death. If you also named Minnie to receive your assets under your will, she sees none of that money.

Knowing that the designation trumps the Will or Trust, great care should be used when filling the beneficiary designation form out.

The Change Forms the Companies offer are not always understandable or helpful.

The insurance companies and IRA custodians have pre-printed beneficiary designation forms that they make you use. Keeps them out of hot water because they are a consistent element of their operations, which leads to fewer mistakes when the time comes to process them.   They are (for the most part) constructed to fit the company’s processing needs but can sometimes fall short when they are being used to meet your goals. This is because sometimes the company’s processing needs are not lined up with your wishes.

Ask yourself some questions when filling out these forms.

What happens if one of my beneficiaries dies before I do?

One of the biggest surprises for unwary clients is that so many of the forms default to the “survivorship rule”. These forms with the survivorship rule in them divide a predeceased beneficiary’s share equally among the surviving beneficiaries. This “survivor takes all” result works for some people, but not most people. For example, some folks would like to see a grandchild take a predeceased child’s share rather than leave the grandchild out by having the proceeds split only between the children lucky enough to survive them.

If the survivorship rule is not what I am looking for, what are some alternates available?

So now we enter into the world of Latin phrases. But … do not worry. These are not as hard to grasp as it might seem. There are two main phrases to remember: “by right of representation, per stirpes” and “by right of representation, per capita”. The term “per stirpes” means by root or branch, while the term “per capita” means by head.

Per stirpes: Per stirpes is the most popular of these two alternatives. Per stirpes boils down to meaning that the percentage planned for one beneficiary that predeceases goes to the deceased beneficiary’s heirs by blood: Often their children or grandchildren.

Example: If your son Mickey was entitled to 50%, but died before you did, his two surviving kids (your grandkids), Tammy and Timmy would each take 25 %. Your surviving daughter, Minnie is entitled to the other 50%.

Per capita:  Per capita is the rarest of these two alternatives. Per capita boils down to meaning that the percentage planned for one beneficiary that predeceases is ignored. Instead the deceased beneficiary’s heirs by blood: Often the decease beneficiary’s children, step up onto the same level as you children.

Example: Your son Mickey was entitled to 50%, but died before you did and your surviving daughter, Minnie was entitled to the other 50%. Mickey had the two kids Tammy and Timmy. Tammy and Timmy step up on the same level as Minnie. That means Minnie, Tammy and Timmy would each receive 33 1/3%.

What most people want is a per stirpes distribution at death vs. the survivorship rule or a Per capita distribution.

What happens if I run out of listed beneficiaries?

The answer here can be found on the form but also may be in the policy or contract itself. Some companies default to have the proceeds paid to your estate, while some set your spouse, children and/or parents as beneficiaries if you run out or fail to name any beneficiaries.  Definitely get this question answered.

What to do.

Be sure to read the default provisions in your beneficiary designation forms. You need to know what they say so that you can make any appropriate changes to them.  Customize your designation if you have to do so. In many cases, the beneficiary designation forms can be customized to meet your wishes by adding and addendum (attachment) to it spelling out your intended desires.

Know that is ok to seek help too. A qualified estate planner can help you spot issues and help you to modify the beneficiary designation form so that it aligns with your wishes.


Estate and Trust Planning:  Going Beyond Just the Numbers and into the Heart

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Estate planning professionals are taught early on that they need to be objective.  It is an essential element of the practice to be dispassionate when approaching the work. We are brought into the mix to assist our clients with minimizing the costs of probate and to help them find ways to reduce the impacts of various taxes and fees related to one’s death. We are often enamored with the latest trust techniques out there that can be employed to meet sophisticated gifting and distribution goals set for our clients.

Understanding the points above, I was reminded again last week that there is much more to the estate planning story than the mechanical muckity muck of law and taxation.  I was meeting with a client to discuss a revocable living trust in his planning. He had many perceptive questions about the use of a trust in his potential plan. After we counseled for some time, he was satisfied that the trust was the best option under his circumstances.  Once there, he leaned back in his chair and said simply: “I want to do this because I love my children and my grandchildren.” With that said, our path for his plan was decided.

It was fitting that the date of that meeting was right around Valentine’s Day. As with most estate plan meetings happening everywhere, I provided a list of trust planning pros and cons on a whiteboard. I’ve never added the word love to my list of pros. However, I think that love is a major factor in why folks plan in this way.

Put simply, the motivation for estate and trust planning goes beyond just the numbers and into the heart.


Choosing an Attorney for Your Estate Planning

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A recent Caring.com article by Susan Kostal, Senior Editor of the Legal channel, tells us who to look for when searching for a Trust, Wills, and Estates Attorney.

The article is a great read for people wondering how to find a qualified Trust and Estates Attorney. Most of the advice in the article is good quality common sense stuff.

Ask Your Friends

According to the article: “If you’re unsure how to find the right lawyer, start by asking friends for recommendations. Who have they used — and liked? You can also ask other lawyers who they would use.”

Look the Attorney in the Eye

Attorney Philip Feldman, head of the trusts and estates practice at Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass in San Francisco is quoted in the article.  Feldman states that “Clients need to get a sense of who their lawyer is going to be. It’s important to look someone in the eye. This should be one of the most personal professional relationships you’ll have.”

Cost Expectations

Even more excellent advice from Ms. Kostal regarding fees:  “An average flat fee for a basic revocable trust plan may run from $2,500 to $10,000, depending on the complexity of the trust and the size of the estate. Flat fees, however, aren’t necessarily a better deal than hourly rates. And the most expensive lawyer isn’t always the best.

Ask at the outset for the lawyer’s rate. It’s better to know upfront, so that neither of you wastes the other’s time if there’s a huge discrepancy between what an attorney charges and what you’re willing to pay. Generally, the more assets a person has, the more complicated his estate is likely to be, and the more it will cost to put together a thoughtful estate plan.”

We think the advice provided by the article is right on point and recommend that you take a few minutes to read it.

For more information on Trusts: Articles on Trusts and Estate Planning.

 


Conservation Easement: A Beautiful Thing

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A conservation easement is an interest in real property. It is established by agreement between a landowner and a qualified private land conservation organization (often called a “land trust”) or a government organization (often the DNR). It is put in place to restrict the exercise of rights otherwise held by a landowner in order to achieve stated conservation purposes.

The most recent Conservation Easement project underway here at our office presents a great story. Our Clients are both nature buffs. They truly love the outdoors and they want to make a difference in society.

After thinking it through, they decided that the best way to accomplish that goal was by donating 75 acres to a local nonprofit Audubon society. They also made the land subject to a conservation easement to be held by a Madison area land trust.

The Property contains areas of prairie grassland and oak woods/oak savanna. The public will have access to the property for bird-watching, hiking and other educational and recreational activities.

The preservation of this slice of heaven for the scenic enjoyment by and the outdoor education of the public is very important to the Landowner. What a terrific thing for the people of Wisconsin and beyond.


News Flash: Few People Actually Plan for Death or Incapacity

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Estate Planning Note:

AARP shared an article that reminds us how few of our neighbors have done Estate Planning.

See: http://www.aarp.org/…/info-2017/half-of-adults-do-not-have-…

The failure to plan for your death or incapacity can be painful for the family members left behind. This really rings true if you have underage kids or an asset like a family farm or other type of business that needs to be thoughtfully passed on to the next generation. The family assets can sometimes be tied up for years with fees and cost racking up.

With this in mind, this just might be the year to finally get this particular project done.

Have a great day.


Why did you put Latin in my Will and Trust?

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The legal phrases: “by representation”, “per stirpes”, “per capita”, “per capita at each generation” and “survivorship” are found in both wills and trusts. While they may appear to be gibberish, the phrases have meaning in the probate and trust world.  They each provide for a distinct rule used to distribute assets after a person dies.

It is very easy to become confused when one comes across this kind of mumbo jumbo. The phrases are a far cry from plain English. They are definitely “old-school”.  The reason for using this old-school terminology is history. The phrases are based on old English law which was developed centuries ago and then handed down through the ages.

As one would suspect, each legal phrase produces a different result when used to determine the people receiving your assets when you die. “By representation”, “per stirpes” and “per capita” are there to help determine how assets flow to your descendants. “Survivorship” is a short stop/ everything to the one in a named group who survives the decedent. I like to call that the “king of the raft” approach. This was game I played in my youth where we tried to be the last one standing on a raft in the lake.

This  photo  shows three simplified examples that compare three commonly seen approaches (Per stirpes, Per Capita, and Survivorship):

The “per stirpes” model is by far the most popular choice for the clients in our practice. The families we deal with seem to like the branch approach to distribution, where a child’s share works its way down to survivors that are the heirs of that child if he or she dies before they do. “Per capita” is less popular, but can be used if the grandchildren are thought to be on par with the surviving children. The “survivorship” model is used most often with older clients who have already spent down a great deal of their assets and want to leave smaller amounts to the surviving children immediately below them rather than spread the minimal assets among an extensive family tree of heirs.

The State of Wisconsin has a statute that covers this topic too. Wisconsin Statue Section 854.04: “Representation; per stirpes; modified per stirpes; per capita at each generation; per capita”, does a nice job of explaining the differences as well. It goes as far as to delineate between a per stirpes and a modified per stirpes approach. It also equates the phrase “by representation” to “per stirpes”. Finally, it also lays out “Per capita at each generation” and “Per capita”. Section 854.04, in its final paragraph, says: If the transfer is made under a governing instrument (Will or trust, normally) and the person who executed the governing instrument had an intent contrary to any provision in this section, then that provision is not applicable to the transfer. In short, your will or trust can override the statute. This is often the way to go. A will or trust can be drafted to modify the general rule so that the distribution plan can be modified to fit your family’s unique circumstances.

Use care to consider what happens when the beneficiary dies before the person whose estate is being divided. Most folks want the children of the predeceased beneficiary to take the share which their parent would have taken had he or she survived the decedent. If the plan for distribution isn’t spelled out that way, the assets could be divided equally among the surviving heirs and the children of a deceased heir might not receive the deceased heir’s share.

Be sure to get solid advice on this and other important planning topics from a qualified expert. Do not hesitate to ask about the options available to you when you do sit down to plan your estate.  That way you can be sure that your hard-earned assets will go to your loved ones in the way that you intend.


Compressed Tax Brackets on Irrevocable Trusts

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What is this rumor I have heard about compressed tax brackets and irrevocable trusts?

Great question.

The answer to the question is something everyone should be aware of when deciding to use a trust as the means to distribute assets after death.

When your trust becomes irrevocable, it has compressed tax brackets when compared to the tax brackets of individuals.

Income tax brackets that apply to irrevocable trusts:

If taxable income is:      The tax is:

Not over $2,500          15% of the taxable income

 

Over $2,500 but          $375 plus 25% of

not over $5,800           the excess over $2,500

 

Over $5,800 but          $1,200 plus 28% of

not over $8,900           the excess over $5,800

 

Over $8,900 but          $2,068 plus 33% of

not over $12,150         the excess over $8,900

 

Over $12,150              $3,140.50 plus 39.6% of

the excess over $12,150

Income tax brackets for individuals: Single Filers

10% – $0 to $9,225

15% – $9,225 to $37,450

25% – $37,450 to $90,750

28% – $90,750 to $189,300

33% – $189,300 to $411,500

35% – $411,500 to $413,200

39.6% – $413,200+

Why do we care …. and what should we do?

It is usually a goal of the families we work with to minimize the taxes paid in a given situation. The upshot of the bracket differences is that, after your death, if you keep enough gain in the irrevocable trust, the gain will typically end up taxed at the higher rates than if the beneficiaries receive the gain and the related tax. Knowing this is a possibility, most of the gain in the irrevocable trust over a given calendar year should be distributed to the beneficiaries via care and maintenance payments and other discretionary distributions rather than held in the trust and taxed. If it is paid to the beneficiary, the beneficiaries rate is used.

One recent example that comes to mind is the small family-held business where the shares are held by the irrevocable trust. The business can be run in various ways (e.g., salaries to the employees or dividends declared to shareholders) in such a way that the income retained in the trust is not excessive. Another alternative is to have the ownership of the entity transferred out of the irrevocable trust sooner rather than later and run externally or sold.

Who decides what to do when the trust faces these issues?

All of these decisions are usually provided in the trust language and leaves these tax decisions in the full discretion of the trustee. The trustee can then, as time progresses, weigh tax options and respond accordingly.


We Just Inherited the Family Cabin. How Ugly Can it Get if Someone Wants Out?

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Siblings inheriting the family cabin tend to do things informally together. Siblings also can make promises to each other that they may not be able to stick to later. One such promise is, “If I ever want out of cabin ownership, I will leave the ownership without compensation.”  Sadly, a well-intended handshake plan to have others exit ownership without paying them is unrealistic. Invariably, this solemn promise is broken later on. Things can get very ugly at that point.

One reason things can get ugly is that Wisconsin real estate law empowers the lone wolf against the wishes of the pack. When two or more people own real estate under a deed they are said to have “concurrent ownership.”  A popular form of concurrent ownership is as “tenants in common.”  You would need to review your deed to determine if you are in that boat. If you are in a tenancy in common, you are in a position right now that could lead to an expensive mess. The reason is that any one of the tenants in common holds a legal right called the “right to partition.”  The right to partition allows one owner to sell the property out from under the others.

Here is an example of what might occur: Imagine that four siblings own a cabin up north together.  They plan to enjoy the property together. They proceed to do this for quite a few years. One sibling hits on hard times. He is in need of money and realizes that his share of the cabin is the last valuable asset he possesses. With reluctance, he asks the others to buy him out for the fair market of his share of the property. The other two owners say no because you agreed verbally that you would not do that.  This rejected sibling then seeks the advice of a real estate attorney who describes the right to partition to him. The sibling, feeling he is cornered, files suit to partition the real estate. The judge rules that the land cannot be physically divided into many parcels and orders the land sold to satisfy the one sibling’s right to partition the land. The remaining siblings are stunned when they have to sell the cabin against their will or buy the other sibling out at fair market value.

A good cabin plan will allow family members to gracefully exit on terms that permit the rest of the family to afford to keep the property.  One way to approach the issue of buy-outs is to consider placing the land into a limited liability company or “LLC” owned by all of the current owners listed on the deed. This approach is used regularly for family cabins in Wisconsin as a way to cover issues such as the buy-out of a family member who wants out or to plan for successive generations owning a family parcel. A prime reason for creating a land LLC is to prevent any co-owner from forcing a sale by filing a partition lawsuit like the example stated above.

A carefully drafted LLC can be used to establish a reasonable value for any buy-out and a reasonable value would not be zero. Still, discounts on the fair market value of the seller’s interest in the LLC are often used to help maintain the family ownership of the property on a buyout.

You should not hesitate to contact a qualified attorney for answers on this cabin law issue.


Revocable Living Trusts: Are We Funded Yet?

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The Review

We recently had a new client present us with her revocable living trust so that we could review it for her. We took a good look.

The trust had a beautiful binder cover on it. It was drafted by a reputable attorney. It was carefully worded. It contained special language in it so that the trustee could take care of her if she became disabled. It contained language delaying large payments to minors until, one would hope, they reach an age when they are able to grasp money management. It also had a provision in it that would pay a residual distribution to a nice local non-profit group.

The trust looked great so far.

The Surprise

We then asked our client a critical two-part question that is a standard part of our trust review process.  What assets had she put into the trust so far and how is the trust to be funded upon her death?  She could not recall.

We then took a look at a few of her assets to see whether she changed titles and beneficiary designations into the name of the trust.

  • Life insurance? No. Still had her deceased spouse named as beneficiary.
  • Bank accounts? No. Still in her name, no trust as the owner or beneficiary.
  • Her vintage car? No.
  • Her farmette? Not a chance. It was still in her name.

We quickly realized that a very important step in trust planning was not accomplished. She had no assets in her trust.  No assets were set up to go into her trust outside of the probate process.  In short: She failed to properly fund the well-crafted trust she paid for.

Why It Matters

A revocable living trust can only control the assets that are put into it. Think of a revocable living trust as a legal container. The container is filled and then, at certain points along a timeline, its contents (some or all) can be distributed.

How Do I Fund These Things?

Trusts can be filled in various ways and at various points in time after they are drafted for a client. One way to accomplish this funding is through non-probate methods. Some examples of non-probate funding include taking actions, such as:

  • Deeding your house from you to the trust.
  • Transferring other assets outright to the trust using a bill of sale.
  • Placing the trust in as your beneficiary on accounts, policies and contracts.

These transfers all occur without the need for probate. The trust then administers the assets under its terms outside of probate. In short, the trust can help to avoid the delays and expenses of the probate process.

Finally, as a safety valve, the funding can occur after death and through probate via a last will that names the trust as beneficiary. This kind of will is commonly called a pour-over will. This is a probate method of funding. While it does cause the asset to make their way into the trust, it is only after the assets (if above $50,000 in Wisconsin) are probated.

The Fix

In our case, our client had a good trust prepared and a pour-over will. The trust was not filled with the assets in a manner that avoids probate. It appeared to be destined to remain empty until after a probate filled it. If the goal of her living trust is to avoid probate at death and court intervention at incapacity, then she should fund it now, while she is able to do so. If she fails to do so, the wording in the trust and the trust itself could be irrelevant when she becomes disabled or dies. If she relies on the pour-over will for the asset transfer, the money may not go to her minor grandchildren in the way intended under the trust, but instead to lawyers, court fees and other places that were unintended. The charity could have been out of luck if the residuary money was spent in the probate process.

If you have signed your living trust document but haven’t changed titles and beneficiary designations, you should get to it. Luckily, we caught the issue in our case. We made sure our client’s trust was properly funded.

Be sure and ask your attorney how to fund your revocable living trust. There is no doubt that you and your heirs will be glad you finished what was started.