Downs Law Firm, P.C.

Do-it-yourself estate plan

Do-It-Yourself Estate Plan Creates More Problems

My idea: put our accounts in my wife’s name and put the land in our children’s names. The way I figure it, when something happens to me, they won’t need to do any of that courtroom mumbo jumbo that costs a few thousand dollars. What’s your take on the workaround idea?

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Charitable giving

Passing on Assets? Perhaps Some Can Be Given Away

Want to make a big impact? Consider passing on some of your assets through charitable giving. While many people transfer their assets to the next generation, there are many who want to give some, or even all, of their assets away through charitable giving. That can make a big impact, according to MarketWatch in “Giving your money away when you die: 10 questions to ask.” If you haven’t thought about charitable giving or estate planning, these 10 questions should prompt some thought and discussion with family members: Should you give money away now? Don’t give away money or assets you’ll need to pay your living expenses, unless you have what you need for retirement and any bumps that may come up along the way. There are no limits to the gifts you can make to a charity. Do you have the right beneficiaries listed on retirement accounts and life insurance policies? If you want these assets to go to the right person or place, make sure the beneficiary names are correct. Note that there are rules, usually from the financial institution, about who can be a beneficiary—some require it be a person and do not permit the beneficiary to be an organization. Who do you want making end-of-life decisions, and how much intervention do you want to prolong your life? A health care power of attorney and living will are used to express these wishes. Without these documents, your family may not know what you want. Healthcare providers won’t know and will have to make decisions based on law, and not your wishes. Do you have a will? Many Americans do not, and it creates stress, adds costs and creates real problems for their family members. Make an appointment with an estate planning attorney to put your wishes into a will. Are you worried about federal estate taxes? Unless you are in the 1%, your chances of having to pay federal taxes are slim to none. However, if your will was created to address federal estate taxes from back in the days when it was a problem, you may have a strategy that no longer works. This is another reason to meet with your estate planning attorney. Does your state have estate or inheritance taxes? This is more likely to be where your heirs need to come up with the money to pay taxes on your estate. Maryland has a 10% tax for gifts to people who are not close relatives. This would include nieces and nephews. There is no such tax on life insurance proceeds. Your decisions of “Who gets what” can include significant tax consequences. A local estate planning attorney will be able to help you make a plan so that your heirs will have the resources to pay these costs. Should you keep your Roth IRA for an heir? Leaving a Roth IRA for an heir, could be a generous bequest. You may also want to encourage your heirs to start and fund Roth IRAs of their

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using a power of attorney

Intestate Law is the State Writing a Will for You

Do you really want the state to determine where your assets end up? A key concept to planning your estate is that you already have a plan in place, whether you know it or not. If you die without a will, or die “intestacy”, meaning “without a Will”, the laws of your state essentially write a will for you. That may not result in your assets going where your would have preferred, according to The Daily News in “’Are You My Heir?’-Who Inherits When You Die Without a Will,” Each state has laws called “intestacy laws” that govern how probate assets are distributed, if someone dies without having a will and establishes the inheritance hierarchy based on a person’s family structure. For example, if you are married but have no children and no grandchildren, your estate will be passed to your spouse. If two people die and there are no descendants (children or grandchildren), their parents, if living, will inherit their assets. A child who is legally adopted has the same rights of inheritance as biological children. Children born outside of the marriage may not. If a child should predecease a parent, the living descendants of the child (if there are any) will inherit their share. In some states, heirs are limited to family members who share the same grandparents. If your family is not geographically or otherwise close, you may have heirs you have never met. Intestacy can become extremely complex, when there are children and grandchildren. Descendants inherit from their parents and grandparents in percentages dependent upon the total number of children and the number of children in each generation that follows. If a grandfather has three adult children who are living and one adult child who has passed, then the estate will be divided by three—a third each to each of the two living children and the final third to the grandchildren of the third (deceased) child. The children of the deceased child are heirs, even if the parent has died. Add non-marital children—children born outside of a legal marriage or step-children—and things start to get complicated. A court will have to determine the intestate inheritance, based on proof that the child is a descendant and if that relationship is established in a timely manner. If the father’s name is on the child’s birth certificate, that is generally enough proof of the relationship. It doesn’t matter if they have a close relationship or have never met. The same applies to marital children—whether they have been close and caring or are estranged. An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances and makes reliance on state law unnecessary.Reference: The Daily News (Sep. 7, 2018) “’Are You My Heir?’-Who Inherits When You Die Without a Will”

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Young Family Estate Plan

Young Family- Consider an Estate Plan

For a young family, when is the right time to put together an estate plan? Right before you die is the correct, but not realistic, answer. Estate planning is especially important for families with young children, and to be updated to pass on assets in later years, according to the Lodi News Sentinel in “Planning for what comes last.” Think of an estate plan as a gift for the next generation, as is making funeral plans in advance. I used to avoid doctor visits, until a friend pointed out, the visit is not just for me, but the whole family. Doing what you should is for them. You can’t assume that your adult children will know what you want for your funeral and you don’t want them to have to make decisions during a time of great sadness. These are gifts, that parents who love their children can give: taking care of the business side of their lives and their deaths, so that a difficult time is manageable. Once you have worked with an estate planning attorney to prepare all the necessary documents and made funeral plans, the next step is to share that information with your heirs. It’s not an easy conversation to have. Most of us tend to keep that side of our lives private from our kids, no matter how old we become. However, sharing this information can keep families from fighting in the future. It is not easy to know how much different members of the family can handle and who can be trusted with what information while you are living. There are times when people who appear completely selfless suddenly become greedy when an inheritance is being probated. It’s hard to anticipate this. However, there are several things that you can do now to make it easier for those you love. Have a will and if appropriate, a trust, created with an estate planning attorney. Don’t neglect a power of attorney for health and for finances. Make funeral plans and tell your family about those plans. Make an end-of-life plan. Don’t leave it to others to make these difficult decisions, if you know what you want to have done. Plan for your pets, in case they outlive you. Protect your digital assets by obtaining the correct information for all your social platforms, so your loved ones are empowered to access and close accounts after your death. An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances. Reference: Lodi News-Sentinel (July 1, 2018) “Planning for what comes last”

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Aretha Franklin and no planning

The Queen is Gone, and She Didn’t Have an Estate Plan

We all procrastinate about something. The time may never seem right to deal with your inevitable death. Aretha Franklin. the “Queen of Soul” has passed away, leaving an $80 million estate and no estate plan, according to Investment News in “Aretha Franklin estate echoes planning problems of Prince.” Franklin was not married so the estate will pass to her four children. It’s similar to the situation that occurred when Prince died unmarried and without a will in 2016. Had she been married her estate could have passed tax-free to a spouse and there would have been planning opportunities available at that time. Franklin’s four kids will now receive equal shares of her estate.  However, they will have to pay a considerable amount in taxes. She was a resident of Michigan, which does not have an estate tax, so there won’t be a state estate tax. However, the federal government takes 40% of portions of the estate valued over $11.18 million. In other words, a $27.5 million tax bill. Without the benefit of a trust being established by a will, those assets will be taxed again by the federal government at the time that the four heirs pass, when the money moves to her grandchildren. Celebrity estates, like that of Franklin, must undergo a complex valuation process to correctly assign an approximate future value of income. Like Prince, there are image rights and music royalties, and the buzz surrounding her death is likely to inflate its value and the tax that will be levied. While Michigan does not have an estate tax, the state does have a “postmortem right of publicity,” meaning that her heirs have the right to legally protect her image for commercial use. Her postmortem rights of publicity are expected to be extremely high, because of her iconic stature as a musician, songwriter and cultural touchstone. Estates of celebrities and creative artists are required to be valued and the appraisal must be reconciled with a parallel appraisal conducted by the IRS. Remember Michael Jackson’s situation? The estate initially valued his name and image at $2,015, while the IRS valued it at more than $434 million. One of Franklin’s children reportedly has special needs. This could put him in a precarious position. If he inherits a large sum of money, he will no longer be eligible for any government programs. Given the size of his inheritance that will not be a problem. For those with less wealth, however, that is why estate planners encourage the use of special needs trusts. This not only protects the child’s eligibility but protects them from misusing the money or being scammed by unscrupulous individuals. Even if you are not an entertainer with assets that total in the millions, an estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances. Reference: Investment News (Aug. 22, 2018) “Aretha Franklin estate echoes planning problems of Prince”

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