Estate Planning and a Second Marriage

In California, a community property state, a resident can bequeath (leave) 100% of their separate property assets and half of their community property assets. A resident may only bequeath the entirety of a community property asset to someone other than their spouse with their spouse’s consent or acquiescence. This can be extremely important to those in second marriages with prior children.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Estate planning for second marriages” asks, first, does the individual’s (the testator) spouse even need support? If they don’t, a testator typically leaves his or her separate property assets directly to his or her own children. However, because the surviving spouse is an heir of the testator, his or her will and/or trust must acknowledge the marriage and say that the spouse is not inheriting. Otherwise, the surviving spouse as heir may be entitled either to a one-half or one-third share in the testator’s separate property, along with all of the couple’s community property assets. The surviving spouse would inherit, if the testator died intestate (with no will) or he or she passed with an outdated will he or she signed before this marriage that left out the current spouse.

If the spouse needs support, consider the assets and family relationships. Determine if the assets are the surviving spouse’s separate property from prior to marriage or from inheritance while married. It is also important to know if the testator’s spouse and children get along and whether it’s possible for the beneficiaries to inherit separate assets. If the testator’s surviving spouse and children aren’t on good terms and/or are close in age, and if it’s possible for separate assets to go to each party, perhaps they should inherit separate assets outright and part company. If not, it can get heated and complicated quickly. For example, the testator’s house could be left to his or her children and a retirement plan goes to the testator’s spouse.

If that type of set-up doesn’t work, a testator might consider making the spouse a lifetime beneficiary of a trust that owns some or all of an individual’s assets. A trust requires careful drafting, so work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Next, determine if the children need support, and if so, what kind of support, such as Supplemental Security Income. Also think about whether the children can manage an outright inheritance or if a special needs or a support trust is required.

This just scratches the surface of this complex topic. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about your specific situation.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Feb. 23, 2021) “Estate planning for second marriages”

Why Do I Need Estate Planning?

Many people who failed to plan their estate with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney have their assets tied up in lengthy, and often messy, legal battles that were decided by people not of their choosing.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Everyone Needs An Estate Plan: Here’s What You Need To Know” says that although many of us don’t have quite as much at stake financially, it doesn’t mean that estate planning is any less important. In fact, leaving a legacy, passing down wealth and helping family aren’t things that are just for the ultra-rich.

The biggest misstep is not creating an estate plan at all. This is more than just a last will and includes powers of attorney, healthcare directives, a living will and a HIPAA waiver. People put this important responsibility off because they do not want to contemplate their own death. They try to avoid the subject. Some others may have complex family dynamics, and still others are hesitant to confide their complicated relationships with a lawyer. However, all these are just excuses.

We know that life is full of changes, and people get married, divorced, have children and grandchildren, relocate to different states, change careers and get inheritances. Each of these events could make you reconsider your goals. This may necessitate an update to your estate plan.

You need to review the beneficiaries on your IRAs, life insurance policies and pensions. You should look at how you want your heirs to receive your assets and any charitable or philanthropic notions. With powers of attorney, healthcare directives, living wills and HIPAA waivers, you need to think about who you’ll entrust to make important medical and financial decisions for you, if you become incapacitated. You see these critical questions and many others are fluid and prone to change every few years as your life changes.

Remember that your assets receive different treatment from the IRS based on the type and who owns legally owns them. For example, individual retirement accounts (IRAs), Roth IRAs, traditional brokerage accounts, life insurance policies and bank accounts are different than the family home. Therefore, it’s important to be mindful of which assets are left to whom.

Don’t wait. Speak to an experienced estate planning attorney to be certain that you give this process the attention it deserves for the well-being of you and your family.

Reference: Forbes (Feb. 26, 2021) “Everyone Needs An Estate Plan: Here’s What You Need To Know”

What are the Main Estate Planning Blunders to Avoid?

There are a few important blunders that can make an estate plan defective—most of these can be easily avoided by reviewing your estate plan periodically and keeping it up to date.

Investopedia’s article from a few years ago entitled “5 Ways to Mess Up Estate Planning” lists these common blunders:

Not Updating Your Beneficiaries. Big events like a marriage, divorce, birth, adoption and death can all have an effect on who will receive your assets. Be certain that those you want to inherit your property are clearly detailed as such on the proper forms. Whenever you have a life change, update your estate plan, as well as all your financial, retirement accounts and insurance policies.

Forgetting Important Legal Documents. Your will may be just fine, but it won’t exempt your assets from the probate process in most states, if the dollar value of your estate exceeds a certain amount. Some assets are inherently exempt from probate by law, like life insurance, retirement plans and annuities and any financial account that has a transfer on death (TOD) beneficiary listed. You should also make sure that you nominate the guardians of minor children in your will, in the event that something should happen to you and/or your spouse or partner.

Lousy Recordkeeping. There are few things that your family will like less than having to spend a huge amount of time and effort finding, organizing and hunting down all of your assets and belongings without any directions from you on where to look. Create a detailed letter of instruction that tells your executor or executrix where everything is found, along with the names and contact information of everyone with whom they’ll have to work, like your banker, broker, insurance agent, financial planner, etc.. You should also list all of the financial websites you use with your login info, so that your accounts can be conveniently accessed.

Bad Communication. Telling your loved ones that you’ll do one thing with your money or possessions and then failing to make provisions in your plan for that to happen is a sure way to create hard feelings, broken relationships and perhaps litigation. It’s a good idea to compose a letter of explanation that sets out your intentions or tells them why you changed your mind about something. This could help in providing closure or peace of mind (despite the fact that it has no legal authority).

No Estate Plan. While this is about the most obvious mistake in the list, it’s also one of the most common. There are many tales of famous people who lost virtually all of their estates to court fees and legal costs, because they failed to plan.

These are just a few of the common estate planning errors that commonly happen. Make sure they don’t happen to you: talk to a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Investopedia (Sep. 30, 2018) “5 Ways to Mess Up Estate Planning”

Do Veterans Need to Pay for Help to Apply for Benefits?

The Tribune-Review’s article, “Veterans don’t need to pay for help to apply for benefits in Pa,” explains that the issue of military veterans being charged when applying for benefits is a common problem in Pennsylvania. There are about 800,000 veterans in the Keystone State.

The article warns that there are still some who attempt to profit, by assisting veterans to sign up for their benefits.

Vets should never have to pay to apply.

In January, an Allegheny County company was fined $10,000 after an employee fraudulently represented that he was an accredited veteran service officer. Some of the claims handled by the Allison Park firm were from Westmoreland County.

Veterans should ask for assistance only from an accredited veteran service officer, an attorney accredited by the VA, or an accredited claims agent. These agents provide veterans and their dependents free assistance to identify, determine eligibility for and apply for a wide range of benefits on the local, state and federal levels. That benefits include the following:

  • Burial allowances;
  • Grave markers and headstones properly requested and placed;
  • The Disabled Veterans Real Estate Tax Exemption Program;
  • Veterans Emergency Assistance;
  • Pensions for blind and paralyzed veterans;
  • The Education Gratuity Program;
  • Service connected disability and non-service connected disability pensions;
  • Federal health care benefits; and
  • Survivor benefits.

You may be eligible for VA benefits, if you’re a uniformed servicemember, veteran, or spouse, child, or parent of a deceased or disabled servicemember or veteran.

A summary of benefits can be found at the Veterans Affairs website: https://benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/benefits-summary/SummaryofVABenefitsFlyer.pdf.

Reference: (The Tarentum, PA) Tribune-Review (May 17, 2019) “Veterans don’t need to pay for help to apply for benefits in Pa”

What is a Transfer on Death (TOD) Account?

Most married couples share a bank account from which either spouse can write checks and add or withdraw funds without approval from the other. When one spouse dies, the other owns the account. The dead spouse’s will can’t change that.

This account is wholly owned by both spouses while they’re both alive. As a result, a creditor of one spouse could make a claim against the entire account, without any approval or say from the other spouse. Either spouse could also withdraw all the money in the account and not tell the other. This basic joint account offers a right of survivorship, but joint account holders can designate who gets the funds, after the second person dies.

Kiplinger’s recent article, “How Transfer-on-Death Accounts Can Fit Into Your Estate Planning,” explains that the answer is transfer on death (TOD) accounts (also known as Totten trusts, in-trust-for accounts, and payable-on-death accounts).

In some states, this type of account can allow a TOD beneficiary to receive an auto, house, or even investment accounts. However, retirement accounts, like IRAs, Roth IRAs, and employer plans, aren’t eligible. They’re controlled by federal laws that have specific rules for designated beneficiaries.

After a decedent’s death, taking control of the account is a simple process. What is typically required, is to provide the death certificate and a picture ID to the account custodian. Because TOD accounts are still part of the decedent’s estate (although not the probate estate that the will establishes), they may be subject to income, estate, and/or inheritance tax. TOD accounts are also not out of reach for the decedent’s creditors or other relatives.

Account custodians (such as financial institutions) are often cautious, because they may face liability if they pay to the wrong person or don’t offer an opportunity for the government, creditors, or the probate court to claim account funds. Some states allow the beneficiary to take over that responsibility, by signing an affidavit. The bank will then release the funds, and the liability shifts to the beneficiary.

If you’re a TOD account owner, you should update your account beneficiaries and make certain that you coordinate your last will and testament and TOD agreements, according to your intentions. If you fail to do so, you could unintentionally add more beneficiaries to your will and not update your TOD account. This would accidentally disinherit those beneficiaries from full shares in the estate, creating probate issues.

TOD joint account owners should also consider that the surviving co-owner has full authority to change the account beneficiaries. This means that individuals whom the decedent owner may have intended to benefit from the TOD account (and who were purposefully left out of the Last Will) could be excluded.

If the decedent’s will doesn’t rely on TOD account planning, and the account lacks a beneficiary, state law will govern the distribution of the estate, including that TOD account. In many states, intestacy laws provide for spouses and distant relatives and exclude any other unrelated parties. This means that the TOD account owner’s desire to give the account funds to specific beneficiaries or their descendants would be thwarted.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney, if a TOD account is suitable to your needs and make sure that it coordinates with your overall estate plan.

Reference: Kiplinger (March 18, 2019) “How Transfer-on-Death Accounts Can Fit Into Your Estate Planning”

How Big or Small Will Your Retirement Paycheck Be?

You’ve spent years saving for retirement, and maybe you’ve gotten that down to a science. That’s called the “accumulation” side of retirement. However, what happens when you actually, finally, retire? That’s known as the “deaccumulation” phase, when you start taking withdrawals from the accounts which you so carefully managed all these years. However, says CNBC, here’s what comes next: “You probably don’t know how much your retirement paycheck will be. New technology is working to change that.”

Unless you are a trained professional, like a financial advisor or a CPA, chances are good that you have no idea how to transform a lifetime of savings into a steady, tax-efficient income stream. A study for the Alliance for Lifetime Income asked pre-retirees, if they have done the math to figure out how much money they’ll need for retirement. About 66% say they haven’t done the calculations. Just 38% of households can count on having a pension or an annuity to provide a steady stream of cash.

In response to this common question, one company has launched a feature that was created to help you create a steady paycheck in retirement. The company, Kindur, was founded by a woman whose career included nearly two-decades in asset management at J.P. Morgan. She was inspired by her own experience helping her father decide how to draw down his assets. After devoting hours to Social Security books, she realized that technology could solve this problem. Throughout her career, she saw how financial institutions used technology to present and manage complex information. The goal of her company was to take this complexity out of retirement income planning.

Kindur, however, is not alone in this space. The founder of Social Security Solutions and Income Strategy found himself wishing there was a way to coordinate retirement income some ten years ago. He teamed up with the investment strategy chair at Baylor University, for what he thought would be a short project. In the end, it took years to sort through all the rules of Social Security. However, a platform was created to help people figure out claiming strategies. His second company analyzes   the accounts from which they should withdraw and when.

Another company, Income Strategy, provides users with help to figure out how to withdraw money and provides the option of how that transaction will be executed.

The future will likely hold more of these kinds of platforms, as the next generation becomes more comfortable with allowing AI (Artificial Intelligence) to manage their money and their withdrawals. For now, most people are still more comfortable with a person providing financial guidance, although that guidance is often helped by AI. Together, AI and an experienced professional make the best advisors.

As you plan for the future, remember to include the estate planning component. There have are many online legal drafting platforms, but so far, they have fallen short.

Reference: CNBC (April 7, 2019) “You probably don’t know how much your retirement paycheck will be. New technology is working to change that.”