Articles Tagged with Living Trust

8.16.16We hope to enjoy out golden years, relaxing after decades of working and raising children. However, as we age, the likelihood of experiencing health issue increase. That includes Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Learning that a loved one has Alzheimer’s or other diseases that require a great deal of health care is devastating to the individual and their families. The progressive nature of these diseases means that while the person doesn’t need intensive health care yet, eventually they will. According to an article from Newsmax, “5 Insurance Steps After Alzheimer's Strikes Loved One,” the planning for care needs to start immediately.

Alzheimer’s Disease International predicts that 44 million individuals worldwide have Alzheimer’s or a similar form of dementia, and 25% of those living with it never receive a diagnosis. Healthcare, including assisted living, memory care and in-home care is expensive. Health insurance is an important component of managing the ongoing expenses of living with Alzheimer’s.

8.11.17Living trusts can achieve different goals, depending upon how they are drafted. Knowing the fundamentals will help you decide how to go forward.

It’s important to know that not all living trusts are the same. However, common reasons for using a living trust are for privacy and avoiding probate. Placing assets in a living trust also provides protection to beneficiaries from divorce, nursing home costs, legal actions and creditors. Should a living trust be part of your estate plan?

The Green Bay Press-Gazette’s recent article, “Common questions about a living trust,” notes that this can be especially important for a beneficiary who may have special needs. A Special Needs Trust can be created so their government program benefits, like Medicaid, won’t be impacted by their inheritance. Let’s look at some specific situations:

8.8.16Passing your home to your heirs can occur in a number of ways, depending upon your situation and your family. It’s not a do-it-yourself project—even in the simplest cases.

If you own a home and want to leave it to your loved ones, there are steps you need to take to ensure that your wishes are achieved. According to Fox News, “You're Going to Die—Here Are the Best Ways to Deal with Your Home,”, inheriting a collection of 80s Transformers action figures won’t have a big impact on your heirs, but a sizable asset like a house will.

Here are a few ways to help prepare now.

5.23.16Privacy and a faster resolution to settling estates are just two good reasons to create an estate plan.

You really don't have to be a millionaire or famous to create an estate plan, as noted in an article appearing on the Forbes' website, "Prince and Estate Planning: What We Can Learn from the Late Musician's Financial Picture." All you have to do is make sure that you have six basic estate planning documents in place to protect your loved ones from additional stress and worry when you pass away.

Here are the six key documents you should have to protect your assets and your family in the event of your passing:

Wedding cake topperAnytime a blended family includes children from prior marriages, estate planning becomes more challenging, as reported in The Meridian Star, in “Estate planning after a second marriage.” If there are young children, how can you ensure that the surviving spouse will take care of them? And what if you pass away and your surviving spouse remarries? One way to prepare for this possibility is to make a child the primary beneficiary of a life insurance policy, place certain property under joint ownership with the child or set up a trust for your children. But none of these steps are simple, and all require the hard conversation with your spouse and with an experienced estate planning attorney.

If you have a written a will, it may require an update. Be extremely specific about which heir gets what and state bequests convincingly. The more convincing your bequest, the less ambiguity and the fewer issues that will arise. Also, update your beneficiary designations for retirement plans, investment accounts, and insurance policies. However, if you’ve been divorced, you may be precluded from changing beneficiaries in certain cases. Talk to a qualified estate planning lawyer. Take a copy of your divorcee decree with you and ask if revising your beneficiary designations will violate it.

You can also take a look at irrevocable trusts, which can be used to provide for your spouse and your kids. Some people establish a separate property trust to provide for their spouse after their death and designate their real property to their children. Parents can also create irrevocable trusts to direct assets to particular children. These can be great estate planning vehicles because: (i) a trust agreement isn’t a public document; (ii) assets within irrevocable trusts are shielded from creditors and from inheritance claims of spouses of the adult children named as heirs; and (iii) an irrevocable trust represents a “finalized” estate planning decision—which guarantees that particular assets transfer to a parent’s biological children. In addition, irrevocable trusts are rarely undone.

Hand with cashEstate taxes are seen by some as instruments of public policy, an attempt to fight economic inequality by diminishing the ability of wealthy families to aggregate vast amounts of wealth. Others see estate taxes as a “death tax” that penalizes those who are financially successful. Whatever your opinion, estate tax rates are still quite high compared to other taxes. This creates an incentive to plan in advance and use sophisticated methods to reduce estates taxes.

Thirteen different brackets might make you think that estate tax planning is all about college basketball! According to a Fox Business article, “2015 Estate Tax Rates: How Much Will You Pay?” the rate structure for the estate tax has remained virtually unchanged since 2013, even with these numerous brackets. See the chart below for a birds-eye-view of the 13 different brackets:

Amount of Taxable Estate

Tax Bracket





















$750,001-$1 million


Over $1 million


Source: IRS

Before you do any number crunching, remember that the federal government has an estate tax exemption for all estates more than $5.43 million (in 2015). The “lifetime exemption amount” is the cut-off mark for how much wealth each person can pass to their heirs without owing any estate tax.

The article explains that the exemption is different than a standard deduction. What you do is look at all your taxable estate assets and knock out the first $5.43 million. If you have more than that, the estate tax will be at the maximum rate of 40 percent on the portion of the estate that’s above the $5.43 million threshold.  For instance, if your estate is $5.44 million, then your estate's tax liability would be $4,000 — which is 40 percent of the $10,000 above the $5.43 million threshold.

An estate planning attorney can help you with some ways to reduce or even eliminate your estate tax liability. This can include gifts during your lifetime to reduce your estate assets at your death. The law says that you can give an individual up to $14,000 annually without having to pay any gift tax. If you give more than that amount, you'll start using up your lifetime exemption. You don’t want that!

There are also many more-complicated methods of giving money to potential heirs during your lifetime that can reduce your eventual estate tax bill. Talk with your estate planning attorney about these more complex strategies and leave more money for your heirs and less for taxes.

For additional information on estate tax planning and elder law topics in Houston, please click here to visit my website.

Reference: Fox Business (July 16, 2015) “2015 Estate Tax Rates: How Much Will You Pay?”


Grandfather and grandaughterWhen a loved one has Alzheimer’s, advanced planning for legal and financial matters becomes even more important than in day-to-day estate planning. Ideally, planning well in advance, before the disease has taken a toll on the person’s cognitive abilities, may give them an opportunity to express their wishes for their care. The debilitating nature of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is extremely stressful for family members who are charged with being caregivers and decision makers. Planning early with the help of an experienced professional can alleviate some of the stress that results.

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or a different type of dementia is a challenge that requires a great deal of planning in advance. An article in The Lincoln (NE) Journal Staraddressed a number of financial, legal and medical care issues – “Planning the future of a loved one with dementia.”

You will encounter a number of costs in caring for a person with dementia. Planning for these expenses and costs throughout the course of the disease will involve examining all the costs you could possibly face now and in the future. These can include prescription drugs, personal care supplies, adult day care services, in-home care services, and residential care services.

Girl with magnifying glassEnsuring that your assets are passed on to heirs in a way that you wish is not always easy because of the many options available and the fact that the tax laws are always changing. While certain facts are relatively fixed – i.e., beneficiary designations on life insurance policies and retirement plans avoid having these particular assets subject to probate, others are subject to change. Keep up with these changes by meeting with your estate planning attorney on a timely basis.

The use of trusts to help estates avoid probate is well established in any estate planning law practice, but when laws change, estate planning must change also. An explanation comes from The (Anderson, IN) Herald Bulletin article, "Changes in laws can affect your estate planning," which explains how the revocable grantor trust works and why it was created: to help people avoid probate.

A revocable grantor trust roles include the grantor (the person making the gift), the trustee in charge of the trust (typically the grantor), the income beneficiary (also usually the grantor), and the remainder beneficiary. Taxes that are generated from investments and income are reported on a standard tax return. When assets are placed in a trust, individuals have control and the use of the assets. Ownership is structured so that there is no probate. Individuals should fund the trust with as many assets with which they are comfortable (except IRAs and retirement accounts).

SurpriseThe Internal Revenue Service has won a settlement of $388 million from the estate of Detroit Pistons owner Bill Davidson. According to the IRS, the estate owned more than $2 billion in additional taxes. To gain some perspective:  in 2013, the US Treasury took in a total of $12.7 billion in estate tax revenue. Davidson, who made his fortune in glass and auto products, was best known to the public as the team owner of the Pistons, the W.N.B.A.'s Detroit Shock and the N.H.L. Tampa Bay Lightning.

In an article that appeared in Forbes, "IRS Grabs $388 Million From Billionaire Davidson Estate," the case against Davidson's estate is explained in detail. Two years ago, Davidson's estate filed a matter with the U.S. tax court that challenged the agency's assessment of additional taxes. They claimed that the estate owed $187 million in gift taxes, $152 million in estate taxes, and $49 million in generation-skipping taxes, plus a $133,000 gift tax penalty bill.

Two problems factored into to these deficiencies. The IRS claims that the Davidson estate undervalued some corporate stock and improperly valued the self-cancelling installment notes (SCINs). The IRS said that the estate also underestimated the value of privately held stock held in trust for Davidson's children and grandchildren.

Old-coupleFor the last several decades, you’ve always made these kinds of decisions together. What can already be an emotional task of drafting a will is even more so after the loss of a lifelong partner. Even in the event of a terminal illness diagnosis with time to prepare in advance, Senior Vice President and Financial Advisor Cinda J. Collins of RBC Wealth Management often felt overwhelmed during the settlement of her husband’s estate after he passed away from leukemia.

While the best course of action is always to plan together ahead of time, Forbes published estate planning advice for surviving spouses in “The Widow's Guide To Estate Planning And Wealth Transfer.”

Make Sure You Have a Professionally Drafted Will. To be as prepared as possible in the event of a spouse’s passing, talk to an experienced estate attorney together as a couple to ensure all your affairs are in order. If a spouse passes away unexpectedly without planning, the surviving partner will have headaches.

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