Downs Law Firm, P.C.

Avoid probate by beneficiary

What is Probate and Should You Avoid It? Part III

Probate is what’s left over An alternative way to avoid the Probate process, or the frying pan, is by contract. Retirement plans, life insurances and investment accounts can have transfer-on-death (TOD) or Paid-on-death (POD) instructions. These are also called beneficiary designations. The same is true for US Savings Bonds, Certificates of Deposit, and most other financial instruments. I was recently meeting with a woman whose husband had died. He had a will that gave everything to her. Unfortunately for her, all of his retirement plans were still payable on death to his first wife, who ultimately received the money. Her husband may have been under the impression that the will would redirect the accounts. That is a common mistake. Companies administering the contracts don’t care what your Last Will and Testament says: they are bound by the contract terms only. Therefore, a significant consideration in creating an estate plan is to make sure that the beneficiary designations are coordinated correctly. This going to be especially true with retirement plans. One key aspect to providing that someone inherit your IRAs and 401 K plan is providing how long they can “stretch” the withdrawal. This allows the plan to continue to grow tax deferred and spreads you the income taxes on withdrawal. How the beneficiary designations are made plays a significant part of this. We often see people who have no beneficiary or no back up beneficiary on such a plan. This can cause significant accelerated income taxing of the account. How current are your beneficiaries? With a little effort you can check and update them. Years ago, I had a client who died at age 90. We discovered that his government life insurance had been left to his wife, who was already deceased. The contingent beneficiaries were his parents. That probably made sense when he signed the life insurance papers while his children were minors. One of the biggest difficulties in the case was proving that his parents were dead. Try locating a death certificate for someone who died in the 1940s. It can be difficult, even in our internet age. One final tip: if you have minor children and have created a trust for them in your will or a revocable trust, have that trust as a primary or contingent beneficiary. Many of my clients will name a trusted sibling instead. The problem is that if the sibling dies, their family may well end up with the money.

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Money in Trust

Put Not Your Trust in Money, Put Your Money in Trust

“Put not your trust in money, put your money in trust”, per Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. is embraced by estate planning lawyers and shows that trusts are not a passing fad. Everyone needs an estate plan, and when you understand what a trust does, your plan should probably include one, at least conditionally. According to The New York Times in “Life After Death? Here’s Why You Should Have a Trust.” It turns out that many people who are not wealthy can also benefit from having a trust. I consider a trust essentially a box to manage assets. There are many different kinds of trusts which serve different purposes and can be effective now or at death. One is a revocable trust, which the owner can change. They are considered by many to be the “work horse” of modern estate planning. A revocable trust can avoid the need for a public probate court proceeding after the person dies, saving time and keeping money from being immediately available to heirs and executors alike. Such a trust is created and holds assets during your lifetime. Other considerations regarding revocable trusts: You should have any type of trust set up by an estate and trust attorney. A house, real property, bank or investment accounts can be placed into a trust. A revocable trust does not always end at the death of the original owner. However, just how long it may last, depends upon the laws of your state. People also use trusts to protect their assets from others or to assure the long-term care of someone who is disabled. You can have a professional manager, family member or friend as a trustee or co-trustee of a trust. Sometimes having a licensed professional who has federal reporting requirements can provide an extra layer of protection. They are not a public record, unlike your will. Trusts are also useful for times when people become incapacitated and need someone else to take care of their finances. Because many more people are living longer and the number of people with dementia is increasing, there are more situations where trusts are useful to the family and caregivers. A trust can also be created in your Last Will and Testament.  We rarely create a will without a trust. A trust created in a will is a “Testamentary Trusts” because it is within your Last Will and Testament, but it can manage assets in much the same way as a revocable trust would. The difference is mechanical: the Testamentary Trust receives asset often through a probate process, because wills work through probate. A Testamentary Trust can be a designated beneficiary of life insurance, retirement plans and annuities. Care should be taken in drafting and when doing so because of issues like stretching out IRA withdrawals. An estate planning attorney can advise you on creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances and may include taking a close look at trusts. Reference: The New York Times (March 22, 2018) “Life After Death? Here’s

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