Year End Estate Planning Tip #2 – Check Your Beneficiary Designations

With the end of the year fast approaching, now is the time to fine tune your estate plan before you get caught up in the chaos of the holiday season. One area of planning that many people overlook is their beneficiary designations.

Have You Checked Your Beneficiary Designations Lately?

Do you own any life insurance policies? If so, have you named both primary and secondary beneficiaries for your policies?

How about retirement accounts – are any of your assets held in an IRA, 401(k), 403(b) or annuity? Or how about a payable on death (“POD”) or a transfer on death (“TOD”) account? If so, have you named both primary and secondary beneficiaries for these assets?

What about your vehicle – do you have it registered with a TOD beneficiary? And your real estate – is it held under a TOD deed or beneficiary deed?

If you have gotten married or divorced, had any children or grandchildren, or any of the beneficiaries you have named have died or become incapacitated or seriously ill since you made beneficiary designations, it is time to review them all with your estate planning attorney.

Beneficiary Designations May Overrule Your Will or Trust

Speaking of estate planning attorneys, has yours been given and reviewed all of your beneficiary designations?

It is critically important for your estate planning attorney to review your beneficiary designations as your life changes because your beneficiary designations may overrule or conflict with the plan you have established in your will or trust. Also, naming your trust as a primary or secondary beneficiary can be tricky and should only be done in consultation with your estate planning attorney.

What Should You Do?
Whenever you experience a major life change (such as marriage or divorce, or a birth or death in the family) or a major financial change (such as receiving an inheritance or retiring) or are asked to make a beneficiary designation, your beneficiary designations should be reviewed by your estate planning attorney and, if necessary, updated or adjusted to insure that they conform with your estate planning goals.

If you have gone through any family or monetary changes recently and you’re not sure if you need to update your beneficiary designations, then consult with your estate planning attorney to ensure that all of your bases are covered.

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Year End Estate Planning Tip #1 – Check Your Estate Tax Planning

With the end of the year fast approaching, now is the time to fine tune your estate plan before you get caught up in the chaos of the holiday season. One area that married couples should revisit is their estate tax planning.

Do You Still Have “AB Trust” Planning in Your Estate Plan?

If you’re married and you haven’t had your estate plan reviewed since before January 2, 2013, by an experienced estate planning lawyer, then pull your documents out of the drawer, dust them off, and take a closer look at their trust provisions. Do they contain terms such as “Marital Trust,” “QTIP Trust,” “Spousal Trust,” “A Trust,” “Family Trust,” “Credit Shelter Trust,” or “B Trust”?

If so, then your revocable trust contains estate tax planning provisions that were required in most estate plans before January 2, 2013. Now, you may not need this type of planning since the federal estate tax exemption has been fixed at $5 million per person adjusted for inflation (the exemption is $5.34 million in 2014 and expected to increase to $5.42 million in 2015).

Aside from this, the federal estate tax exemption is also “portable” between married couples (including legally married same-sex couples), meaning that when one of a married couple dies, the survivor may be able to get the right to use their deceased spouse’s unused estate tax exemption and so, without any complicated estate tax planning, pass $10 million+ to the deceased spouse’s heirs and the survivor’s heirs federal estate-tax free.

Do You Still Need “AB Trust” Planning in Your Estate Plan?

With that said, do you still need to include “AB Trust” estate tax planning in your estate plan? The answer to this question depends on several factors, including:

• Are the combined estates of you and your spouse under $5 million? If the combined value of the estates of you and your spouse is under $5 million, then you will not need to worry about federal estate taxes (at least for now). Nonetheless, there may be other reasons to keep your “AB Trust” planning in place as discussed below.

• Do you and your spouse have different final beneficiaries of your estates? If you and your spouse have different final beneficiaries of your estates (for example, you want your estate to ultimately pass to your children while your spouse wants their estate to ultimately pass to their siblings or their children), then “AB Trust” planning may be necessary to insure that the final estate planning goals of each spouse are met.

• Do you and your spouse want to create a dynasty trust that will continue for many generations? Even if the combined value of the estates of you and your spouse is under $10 million, if you want to take advantage of both spouses’ generation-skipping transfer tax (“GSTT”) exemptions to create a lasting legacy for future generations, then “AB Trust” planning may be appropriate because the GSTT exemption is not portable between married spouses. In other words, if the combined values of the estates of you and your spouse is $10 million or less, then you may want to keep “AB Trust” planning in your estate plan so that you can fully use each spouse’s GSTT exemption for a dynasty trust for the benefit of your children, their children, and their children’s children.

In addition, there are many other factors and options to consider that an experienced estate planning attorney can explain.

What Should You Do?

If you’re married and your current estate plan includes “AB Trust” planning but you’re not sure if you should keep it in your plan, then make an appointment with an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss all of your options.

Celebrity Wills – Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Will: 3 Critical Mistakes

Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died from a drug overdose in February 2014. Sadly, he left behind three young children – and a fortune estimated to be worth $35 million.

He was only 46.

After his death, Mr. Hoffman’s Last Will and Testament was filed for probate.

  • The Will is short – only 15 pages – and, it was signed on October 7, 2004, about a year and a half after the actor’s first child was born.
  • The Will leaves his entire estate to Marianne “Mimi” O’Donnell, a costume designer and the mother of all three of Mr. Hoffman’s children.
  • The couple never married and had separated in 2013 (due to Mr. Hoffman’s recurring drug problems).

Estate Planning Mistake #1 – Using a Will

Shortly after Mr. Hoffman’s Will was filed, The New York Post published it online and his final wishes instantly became public information.

  • We know his request to have his son (the only child living when the Will was signed) raised in Manhattan, Chicago, or San Francisco so that he “will be exposed to the culture, arts and architecture that such cities offer.”
  • There is another way – a private way. A Revocable Living Trust (as used by Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Walker) would have kept Mr. Hoffman’s final wishes a private matter.

Estate Planning Mistake #2 – Failing to Update His Estate Plan

Mr. Hoffman signed his Will in October 2004.

  • During the next nine years, he had two daughters, won an Oscar for best actor for his performance in Capote, and amassed the majority of his fortune.
  • Considering Mr. Hoffman’s well-documented, long-term struggle with drug addiction as well as the significant changes in his life and net worth during those nine years, it is surprising that he failed to update his estate plan.
  • At the very least, your estate plan should be reviewed every few years to insure that it still does what you want it to do and takes into consideration changes in your finances, your family, and the law.

Estate Planning Mistake #3 – Ignoring a Trusted Advisor

In probate court documents filed in July, it was revealed that Mr. Hoffman’s accountant repeatedly advised him to protect his children with a trust fund. But the actor ignored this good advice.

  • With the terms of the old 2004 Will left unchanged, the estate will pass to Mr. Hoffman’s estranged girlfriend, outright and without any protections.
  • Nothing will go directly to his children.
  • Had Mr. Hoffman listened to his accountant and worked with an estate planning attorney, he could have established a lasting legacy for his children, protecting them and their inheritances.

With the counseling and advice of an experienced estate planning attorney, you can avoid mistakes like Mr. Hoffman’s.

3 Asset Protection Tips You Can Use Now

A common misconception is that only wealthy families and people in high risk professions need to put together an asset protection plan. But in reality, anyone can be sued. A car accident, foreclosure, unpaid medical bills, or an injured tenant can result in a monetary judgment that will decimate your finances. Below are three tips that you can use right now to protect your assets from creditors, predators and lawsuits.

What Exactly is Asset Protection Planning?
Before getting to the tips, you need to understand what asset protection planning is all about. In basic terms, asset protection planning is the use of legal structures and strategies to transform property that creditors might snatch away into property that is completely, or, at the very least, partially, protected.

Unfortunately, this type of planning cannot be done as a quick fix for your existing legal problems. Instead, you must put an asset protection plan in place before a lawsuit is imminent, let alone filed at the courthouse. So, now is the time to consider implementing one or more of these tips.

Now, on to the three tips.

Asset Protection Tip #1 – Load Up on Liability Insurance
The first line of defense against liability is insurance, including homeowner’s, automobile, business, professional, malpractice, long-term care and umbrella policies. Liability insurance not only provides a means to pay money damages, it often also includes payment of all or part of the legal fees associated with a lawsuit. If you do not have an umbrella policy, then now is the time to get one since it is relatively inexpensive when compared with more advanced ways to protect your assets. You should also check all of your current insurance policies to determine if your policy limits are in line with your net worth and make adjustments as appropriate. You should then review all of your policies on an annual basis to confirm that the coverage is still adequate and benefits have not been stripped to keep premiums the same.

Asset Protection Tip #2 – Maximize Contributions to Your 401(k) or IRA
Under federal law, tax-favored retirement accounts, including 401(k)s and IRAs (but excluding inherited IRAs) are protected from creditors in bankruptcy (with certain limitations). Therefore, maximizing contributions to your company’s 401(k) plan is not only a smart way to increase your retirement savings, but it will also keep the investments away from creditors, predators and lawsuits. On the other hand, if your company does not offer a 401(k) plan, then start investing in an IRA for the same reasons.

Asset Protection Tip #3 – Move Rental or Investment Real Estate into an LLC
If you are a landlord or a real estate flipper or investor, then aside from having good liability insurance, moving your real estate into a limited liability company (LLC) can be a great way to help protect your assets from creditors, predators and lawsuits.

There are two types of liability that you should be concerned about with rental or investment property: (1) inside liability (where the rental or investment property is the source of the liability, like a slip and fall on the property, and the creditor wants to seize an LLC owner’s personal assets) and (2) outside liability (where the creditor of an LLC owner wants to seize LLC assets to satisfy the owner’s debt).

An LLC will limit your inside liability related to the real estate, such as a slip and fall accident on the front stairs of the property or a fire caused by faulty wiring located at the property, to the value of the property. In addition, in many states the outside creditor of the member of an LLC cannot get their hands on the member’s ownership interest in the company (in some states this will only work for multi-member LLCs, while in others it will also work for a single member LLC). This type of outside creditor protection is often referred to as “charging order” protection. This means that a creditor will have to look to your liability insurance and any unprotected assets to collect on their claim.

If you are interested in asset protection planning for your investment real estate using an LLC, then you will need to work with an attorney who understands the LLC laws of the state where your property is located to insure that your LLC will protect you from both inside and outside liability.