If you help support others, you need life insurance and an estate plan – really

Purchasing adequate life insurance and doing your estate plan, meaning signing a will and creating a trust, are probably low on your list.

firefighters-115800_1280

If you help support others, I hope you will rethink your priories. I will give you two good reasons that you should:

I saw the confusion and pain a wife had to address when she lost her husband, before he bought the life insurance he had promised to obtain, and had to help her kids adjust to the massive change of lifestyle as they sold their home and downsized because they could no longer afford what their dad, the chief income earner of their family, had provided them. If they had proceeds from his life insurance, they would have only been dealing with the grief of losing him.

I saw adult children deal with the probate process so they could be appointed administrators of their mom’s estate just to be able to access bank accounts, pay funeral expenses and then sell and distribute the remainder of her assets, making their own decisions in place of knowing what she would have wanted.

If you have not obtained life insurance to replace your earning power, which helps support your family, and if you have not executed a will, along with a trust, medical directive and other documents that may be appropriate, you are not just avoiding an inconvenient imposition on your time and the payment of premiums and fees, you are failing to properly think of the consequences of not acting and the impact that could have on your loved ones.

So please think again.

Estate planning overview update – key issues to consider for your wills & more

Whether you’re updating an existing plan or starting from scratch, this overview presents the key issues to consider when designing and executing the best estate plan. The work does not stop at signing your estate plan documents; you must also complete the follow up work of beneficiary designations, memorandum to fiduciaries, etc. The goal is to avoid the pitfall of having no plan and the disaster when wills and trusts are in place but the asset ownership and beneficiary designations frustrate the plan by having assets pass to the spouse and not the trust.

If you do nothing else after reading this, write and deliver a “Memorandum to Survivors” and review asset ownership, all as described at the end of this post. A comprehensive estate plan can accomplish many goals, such as providing for survivors, ensuring your children are cared for, determining the flow of your assets upon your death, and reducing the amount of taxes your estate will pay while administering your estate. The most important goal is that you have peace of mind knowing that your estate will be administered in accordance with your wishes.

Updating an Existing Plan
If you have a plan already in place, be sure to review it every couple of years. As you grow older, your life circumstances change and these changes may affect your wishes and plans for your estate. Events such as the emancipation of your children, divorce, lapsed relationships with fiduciaries will likely affect your estate plan. Keep these matters in mind when reviewing the remainder of this post. Your change of circumstances could change your pyramid level.

Estate Planning Pyramid
Constructing a pyramid can be helpful for understanding all that goes into an estate plan, much like nutrition and investments. Each level of the pyramid addresses a new level of complexity in your family and financial situation – that is, everyone needs level one, but not all need the later, more complex levels.

Pyramid: Level One
The first level of estate planning provides the most basic protections so it is most suitable to single individuals with no children and few assets. This level of estate plan typically includes the following forms:

  • Health Care Proxy: This document allows you to appoint people to make decisions about your health care and treatment when you are not capable of doing so. You typically select the surviving spouse and then have a first and second alternate if you wish. Some states call such documents “medical directives” or “medical powers of attorney.”
  • Living Will: This makes your wishes clear as to whether or not you want to have heroic means used to prolong your life.
  • Anatomical Gift Instrument: This allows you to have a hospital use organs and other body parts for others in need of a transplant.

Pyramid: Level Two
The second level is most appropriate for individuals in committed relationships. This level includes all the forms listed in the first level, but adds a durable power of attorney. This document grants a power of attorney to the other to manage your financial affairs if you are absent or you become incapacitated.

Pyramid: Level Three
When you have children, you want to ensure that they will be both cared for and provided for in the manner you wish. To achieve this, you need a will to appoint a guardian, for the “care,” and create a trust to manage assets, for the “providing.”

  • A will is a formal document that designates your personal representative or executor, any alternates, plus a guardian and any alternates for children under age 18, then instructs your personal representative to pay off your debts, and distribute your estate per your wishes.
  • A trust is an entity that you create and can be used for many purposes. The trustee acts as the owner of what the trust holds, while the beneficiaries get all the benefits from what the trust holds. For estate planning, trusts are used to reduce estate taxes in various ways. Trust vehicles can also describe how and when assets are distributed. For example, the grantor of a trust could insist that assets not go to children until they are age thirty-five. The trust vehicle could also provide where assets flow if all family members die without issue. For example, assets could flow to a charity or educational institution.

Providing for Survivors: You need to address how your assets and any life insurance flow after your death in order to ensure that your resources allow those who survive you to maintain the same standard of living, during their life expectancies, that you all had during your life. If your investments are not sufficient, even after making liquid certain kinds of personal property (e.g., a second home), then there is a need for life insurance.

Life Insurance: Term insurance, providing only a death benefit, funds the shortfall between assets required to maintain the lifestyle of the survivors and actual assets available. Whole life, variable or other types of insurance should only be used when permanent insurance is required, as in the case of maintaining estate liquidity throughout your lifetime.

Flow of Assets: After you determine the assets required to support the lifestyle of the survivor, you determine to whom the assets flow. For example, at Levels One and Two, you can leave everything directly to survivors, while at Levels Three to Six, you use a trust, and at Level Six you may even separate some portion of the assets by gift now.

Control Over Assets: In Levels One and Two, the survivors have complete control over the assets. At higher Levels, trust vehicles are used for the estate tax savings. However, you also gain a heightened level of attention on the assets: you have engaged a trustee to focus on providing for the surviving spouse, maintaining his or her lifestyle, while still attending to the interests of other beneficiaries, such as children. In this way, the trustee will try to preserve the trust assets in the best way possible for the longest duration. Finally, the trustee must distribute the assets per your instructions; if assets went to a survivor, they are not bound in any way to follow your wishes, so you may not achieve your estate planning goals.

Fiduciaries: In designing the estate plan, many choices revolve around the fiduciary that you select for a particular role.

  • Personal Representative or Executor: This is the person who “marshals” all assets of the estate together, pays death expenses and transfers ownership of property to the surviving spouse or trust. This is approximately a nine-month task.
  • Guardian: This is the person whom you select to love and care for your children in your absence. The spouse selects the surviving spouse and then a second or third choice beyond that. This job lasts until each child has reached majority (age eighteen).
  • Trustee: This person has potentially the longest-term job because he or she must manage the trust assets and make distributions of income and sometimes principal to the surviving spouse, children and even grandchildren. Depending on the terms of the trust, this job could last until the children are young adults.
  • Beneficiary Designations and Ownership: ownership and how life insurance proceeds and retirement plan assets flow is described below.

Pyramid: Level Four
This level of planning addresses state taxes. When the potential combined estate of a husband and wife exceeds $1 million, and they have other beneficiaries for whom they want to maximize the estate after taxes, then trusts are typically used. States such as Massachusetts impose an estate tax over $1 million. Other states have similar amounts, but many are increasing, such as New York which will match the federal credit in 2019. Therefore, additional planning is required if you reside in a state with an estate tax.

Pyramid: Level Five
The fifth level contains trusts that address federal estate taxes, as well as state. Congress has retained the unified gift and estate tax credit, now at approximately $5.34 million (inflation adjusted) with a 40% estate tax rate (up from 35% last year). In addition, the unused portion of the estate tax credit of a deceased spouse is “portable”, allowing it to pass to the estate of surviving spouse.

With the trust structure, sub-trusts can be created so that both the credit and the marital deduction are used. This structure takes advantage of the credit at the first and second deaths. In contrast, wills that pass all assets outright to the surviving spouse would only take advantage of the credit at the second death. The total tax savings for an estate of $10 million or more is excess of $1.75 million for the combined estates.

  • Life Insurance Trust: You can also make an irrevocable trust the owner of any insurance on your life to exclude all proceeds at death from both estates, avoiding estate taxes. That is, the proceeds are completely estate tax free. However, this requires an irrevocable transfer to the trust; you cannot get the insurance back out. You can use this trust to receive insurance proceeds that can pay for estate taxes, thereby preserving more of your estate after taxes without increasing the taxable estate.

Pyramid: Level Six
The final level is for complex estate planning that minimizes federal and state estate taxes through multiple generations. An example of this is a generation-skipping trust. These trusts transfer assets from the grantor’s estate to his or her grandchildren. This is what allows the grantor’s estate to avoid taxes that would apply if the assets were transferred directly to his or her children. The grantor’s children can still enjoy financial benefits of the trust by accessing any income that is generated by the trust while leaving the assets in trust for grantor’s grandchildren.

  • Other entities: Separating assets by gift now would be important if you wanted to ensure some minimum funding for children, such as guaranteeing coverage for their college expenses.
  • 529 Plans: you can use 529 plans or trusts for gifting to cover college costs of a child.

After the Plan has been Executed – Ownership and Beneficiary Designations
Once the documents and insurance are in place, make sure to review and complete the following:

Qualified Plans (IRA’s, 401k plans, etc.):

  • Primary Beneficiary – to the surviving spouse (so he or she can roll over the proceeds to an IRA and thereby defer income taxes); and
  • Secondary Beneficiary – to your children (or your own revocable, depending on whether you want the assets controlled or available to children).

Life Insurance and Annuities:

  • Primary Beneficiary – when not owned by an irrevocable trust, such as group term, to your own revocable trust (for estate tax benefits, e.g., using credit at first death); and
  • Secondary Beneficiary – to the surviving spouse (in case of trust has been terminated for some reason).

Other Assets
Consider changing ownership of any jointly held assets to ownership by one of you. Any assets held as joint tenants with rights of survivorship will go to the survivor by operation of law and never get to your revocable trust. (You want to be sure that you have sufficient assets going to the trust to realize the full tax reduction effect.)

You may even want to fund your trusts, moving investment accounts over to your own revocable trust. This has no impact on your income taxes. You can also choose to fund your revocable trust now. This will save a significant amount of time for the executor, and the attorney he or she hires, as this will need to be done after your death otherwise.

Memorandum to Survivors
Compile a reference book or add to your financial plan book photocopies of important papers, identifying where the originals are, then adding a list of important contacts, instructions to your executor and trustee and other important notes for family and friends. You would update this at least annually with new asset statements (consider this as you gather information for preparing your taxes). To be more specific, the list (and copies) should include:

  • Location of original will, trust, etc.;
  • Location of health care proxy and durable power of attorney;
  • List of professionals with contact information: doctor, attorney, CPA, etc.;
  • List of fiduciaries with contact information: health care proxy, guardians, executors and trustees, attorney-in-fact for durable power of attorney, etc.;
  • Location of insurance policies and valuables such as original titles, etc.;
  • Location of safe deposit box for valuables and items in #5 or 7;
  • List of all bank and investment accounts and location of any stock certificates or other documentation for investments;
  • List of all mortgages, loans and credit card accounts;
  • Any appraisals or other listing of items by value;
  • All automatic debits that need to be addressed (stopped, changed); and
  • List of all password protected accounts (e-mail, on line banking and credit cards, etc.) and where to locate the passwords… and the password to access the password.

Please see planning-for-the-inevitable-end-of-life-services for more ideas on such memoranda. Also, after you review this overview, let us know how we can help you get your estate plan in order.

Estate Planning – Techniques for Reducing Taxes in Large Estates

The change in the tax law from the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 gives us a two year window for significant estate tax planning, ending December 31, 2012.

Instead of a $1 million lifetime cap, you can now gift up to $5 million. When your spouse joins in, a major amount of wealth can be transferred. This makes it important to act now, because the law could change in for 2013.

Leveraged Gifting – you can use a defective irrevocable trust (the defective grantor trust is discussed below) to fund an installment purchase of assets from you to the trust over time. The trust is “defective” so that there is no taxable transaction and no gain; it is as if you are selling to yourself. With the installment sale, a note is used and has to bear interest at the IRS mandated rates, the lowest rate of interest allowed. The goal is to repay the note using appreciated assets, where the transfer back to you is also not taxed, and complete the repayment before you die. If it is not completed, the note is an asset taxable in your estate.

Dynasty Trust – you can use the increased generation skipping transfer tax (GST) to pass more to grandchildren and future generations. Again, the new limits allow you to pass far more on to future generations.

Life Insurance Trust – an irrevocable trust that holds insurance for whatever purpose you design, while be excluded from your taxable estate. Your trustee would purchase insurance on your life. The risks of this alternative are that it is irrevocable and that the cost of the permanent insurance is very high.

Second-to-die Life Insurance – a trust that purchases second-to-die life insurance crates a source to pay estate taxes while not increasing the taxable estate.

GRAT – Another alternative is the grantor retained annuity trust (“GRAT”), which uses some portion of your unified credit as a window through which to pass assets at a discount created by the IRS tables that tell us what the asset gifted will be worth at the end of the term of the trust. You receive annuity payments during the term and the principal passes to your children at the end of the term. (This is why it must be funded with “excess” wealth – if you give the trust a term of 20 years but live many years thereafter, there will be many years during which you have foregone the benefit of the assets gifted). The expectation is that the principal will actually be worth more than the amount you gift to the trust, with such increased value escaping estate taxes. Under the new law, there are no GRAT or value limitations.

Cautions: First, the securities laws will treat you as the owner of trust assets for any restrictions on dealing with publicly traded stock. Second, if you die before the end of the term, assets revert to your estate and the structure collapses to look as if nothing was done. Last, a twist: if you stipulate that the trust will not terminate at your death, you substantially reduce the amount that gets thrown back to your estate, reducing the risk of not living through the term of the trust.

Tax inclusive and exclusive – the Sam Walton strategy can used when you want to transfer more than your unified credit alone will allow. If you make a taxable gift, it is tax exclusive (the tax comes from other assets). Thus, the tax is calculated as a percent of the gift. If you die owning the asset and it then passes to your children, it is tax inclusive as the tax is calculated as the total amount, so less of the assets pass to your children. QPRT – The qualified personal residence trust (“QPRT”) uses the unified credit and discount of a future value like the GRAT but applies it to your residence. Thus, both the benefits and risks are similar; it is the asset that differs.

“Defective” grantor trust – The “defective” grantor trust is effective for gift tax purposes and “defective” for income tax purposes so that assets are not included in your estate and yet you pay the tax on their appreciation. Paying the income taxes without any gift tax cost effectively gives away additional wealth. Again, you can leverage this with an installment sale.

Family Limited Partnership – the family limited partnership (“FLP”) is a partnership that you form, acting as the general partners and the limited partners. You transfer assets into the FLP such as any commercial real estate or your shares in your company. When this is complete, you can gift limited partnership interests to your children. Because only the general partners have any say in the management of the FLP, the IRS allows for a discount to the value of the limited partners interest. This discount is 35 to 40%, so more is passed to children without using up your unified credit. Unlike the other alternatives delineated below, when you transfer limited partner interests, your children receive the benefit now. In addition, you have the burden of tax returns for the FLP, as well as tax liability for children who may not receive distributions from the FLP to cover the taxes.

Charitable Remainder Trust – This charitable remainder trust (“CRT”) is a trust that pays a fixed annuity to you and then distributes the remaining principal to charities. You get a gift charitable deduction for the net present value of the future distribution to charities.

Charitable Lead Annuity Trust – This reverses the CRT, where a trust that pays a fixed annuity to charities selected by its trustees and then returns the remaining principal to you or to your estate. You get a gift tax deduction for the actuarial value of the annuity payments to charities or an estate tax charitable deduction.

Caution – you have an investment risk in each vehicle, where failing to generate the larger principal value in the future that you count on to use the strategy will frustrate its purposes. This is the risk of selecting assets that are expected to soar in value but instead collapse. Therefore, none of these alternatives should be considered until you are comfortable that you have “excess” wealth to pass to your children or to a charity and comfortable that you can make a commitment to do so that cannot be reversed. If you say “no” out of lack of comfort or confidence in any strategy, then you will want to stick to a basic plan for now.

What about the Future? Most observers expect the $5 million exemption to stay, along with the 35% estate tax rate. The exemption could be lower, or the rate increased. All of this is reason to review the ideas below and then update your estate plan.

Please see Estate Planning.