What Documents Do You Need to Find After a Loved One Dies?

After a loved one dies, you need to gather the important documents that are necessary to settle their final affairs. While the documents required will vary depending on what your loved one owned and owed, below is a list of common documents you will need to find:

  • Account statements – These may include bank statements and investment account statements (including brokerage accounts, IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, annuities, pensions, and health savings accounts). The closer to the date of death that the statement is dated, the better.
  • Life insurance policies – If you are not sure if your loved one owned any life insurance, check their bank account ledger for checks written to a life insurance company. Because some people choose to pay life insurance premiums on an annual basis, rather than a monthly basis, you might need to look back some time in the check register. If your loved one was employed at the time of death or worked for a large corporation, a local or state government, or the federal government prior to retiring, check with their employer or former employer to determine if your loved one had any employer-provided or government-provided life insurance benefits. If your loved one served in the U.S. military, check with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to find out if your loved one had any military-based life insurance benefits.
  • Beneficiary designations – These may include beneficiary designations for life insurance, retirement accounts (IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, annuities), payable on death accounts, transfer on death accounts, and health savings accounts.
  • Deeds for real estate – If you are unable to locate the original deed, many states now allow you to view and print deeds online. Note that you will not need the original deed to sell the property.
  • Automobile and boat titles – If you are unable to locate the original title, a duplicate original can be ordered from the department of motor vehicles. Alternatively, some states will allow the transfer of a vehicle title without the original for an additional fee.
  • Stock and bond certificates – This may include corporate certificates, local and state bonds, and U.S. savings bonds. If you are unable to locate an original certificate, a lost certificate affidavit can be filed by the deceased person’s legal representative.
  • Business documents – If your loved one owned a small business, then you will need to locate all of their business-related documents, including bank and investment statements, corporate records, income tax returns, business licenses, deeds for real estate, loan documents, contracts, utility bills, and employee records.
  • Bills – This will include utilities (electric, gas, water, sewer, garbage), cell phones, credit cards, personal loans, property taxes, insurance (real estate, automobile, boat), storage units, medical bills, and the funeral bill. Check their checkbook for bills that were paid during the past year.
  • Estate planning documents – This may include a Last Will and Testament, any Codicil(s) to the will, a Revocable Living Trust, and any Amendment(s) to the trust.
  • Other legal documents – This may include a Prenuptial Agreement and any Amendment(s), a Postnuptial Agreement and any Amendment(s), leases (real estate, automobile), and loan documents (personal loans, mortgages, lines of credit).
  • Tax returns – This should include gift tax returns and the past three years of state and federal income tax returns.
  • Death certificate – It is a good idea to order at least ten (10) original death certificates so that you do not have to keep ordering more.

As you can see, a significant amount of paperwork is involved. For even a small estate, you should set up a filing system for the deceased loved one’s affairs. This can help ensure that nothing gets missed and that administration costs can be minimized.

An Estate Planning Checklist to Facilitate Wealth Transfer

Studies have shown that 70% of family wealth is lost by the end of the second generation and 90% by the end of the third.

Help your loved ones avoid becoming one of these statistics. You need to educate and update your heirs about your wealth transfer goals and the plan you have put in place to achieve these goals.

What Must You Communicate to Future Generations to Facilitate Transfer of Your Wealth?

You must communicate the following information to your family to ensure that they will have the information they need during a difficult time:

• Net worth statement, or at the very minimum a broad overview of your wealth

• Final wishes – burial or cremation, memorial services

• Estate planning documents that have been created and what purpose they serve:

o Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Directive, Living Will – property management; avoiding guardianship; clarifying wishes regarding life-sustaining procedures

o Revocable Living Trust – avoiding guardianship; keeping final wishes private; avoiding probate; minimizing delays, costs and bureaucracy

o Last Will and Testament – a catch-all for assets not transferred into your Revocable Living Trust prior to death, or the primary means to transfer your wealth if you are not using a Revocable Living Trust

o Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust – removing life insurance from your taxable estate; providing immediate access to cash

o Advanced Estate Planning – protecting assets from creditors, predators, outside influences, and ex-spouses; charitable giving; minimizing taxes; creating dynasty trusts

• Who will be in charge if you become incapacitated or die – agent named in your Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Directive; successor trustee of your Revocable Living Trust and other trusts you’ve created; personal representative named in your will

• Benefits of lifetime discretionary trusts created for your heirs:

o Fosters educational opportunities
o Provides asset, divorce, and remarriage protection
o Protects special needs beneficiaries (if properly drafted)
o Allows for professional asset management
o Minimizes estate taxes at each generation
o Creates a lasting legacy for future generations

• Overall goals and intentions for inheritance – what the money is, and is not, to be used for (in other words, education vs. charitable work vs. vacations vs. Ferraris vs. business opportunities vs. retirement), and who will be trustee of lifetime discretionary trusts created for your heirs and why you’ve selected them

• Where important documents are located – this should include how to access your “digital” assets

• Who your key advisors are and how to contact them

How Can Your Professional Advisors Help You Communicate Your Wealth Transfer Goals?

Your professional advisors are well-positioned to help you discover your wealth priorities, goals, and objectives and then communicate this information to your heirs. This, in turn, will prepare your heirs to receive your wealth instead of being left to figure it out on their own and, as statistics have shown, lose it all.

We are available to assist you with figuring out your wealth transfer goals, putting a plan in place to achieve these goals, and effectively communicating this information to your loved ones.

4 Tips for Avoiding a Will or Trust Contest

A will or trust contest can derail your final wishes, rapidly deplete your estate, and tear your loved ones apart. But with proper planning, you can help your family avoid a potentially disastrous will or trust contest.

If you are concerned about challenges to your estate plan, consider the following:

1. Do not attempt “do it yourself” solutions. If you are concerned about an heir contesting your estate plan, the last thing you want to do is attempt to write or update your will or trust on your own. Only an experienced estate planning attorney can help you put together and maintain an estate plan that will discourage lawsuits.

2. Let family members know about your estate plan. When it comes to estate planning, secrecy breeds contempt. While it is not necessary to let your family members know all of the intimate details of your estate plan, you should let them know that you have taken the time to create a plan that spells out your final wishes and who they should contact if you become incapacitated or die.

3. Use discretionary trusts for problem beneficiaries. You may feel that you have to completely disinherit a beneficiary because of concerns that a potential beneficiary will squander their inheritance or use it in a manner that is against your beliefs. However, there are other options than completely disinheriting someone. For example, you can require that the problem beneficiary’s share be held in a lifetime discretionary trust and name a third party, such as a bank or trust company, as trustee. This will insure that the beneficiary will only be entitled to receive trust distributions under terms and conditions you have dictated. You will also be able to control who will inherit the balance of the trust if the beneficiary dies before the funds are completely distributed.

4. Keep your estate plan up to date. Estate planning is not a one-time transaction – it is an ongoing process. Therefore, as your circumstances change, you should update your estate plan. An up to date estate plan shows that you have taken the time to review and revise your plan as your family and financial situations change. This, in turn, will discourage challenges since your plan will encompass your current estate planning goals.

By following these four tips, your heirs will be less likely to challenge your estate planning decisions and will be more inclined to fulfill your final wishes. If you are concerned about heirs contesting your will or trust, you should seek the professional advice now.

What the 2015 Inflation Adjustments for the Estate Tax Exemption and Trust Income Tax Brackets Mean for You

The Internal Revenue Service has released the official inflation adjustments that will affect 2015 federal reporting for estate taxes, gift taxes, generation-skipping transfer taxes, and estate and trust income taxes.

2015 Federal Estate Tax Exemption

In 2015 the estate tax exemption will be $5,430,000. This is an increase of $90,000 above the 2014 exemption.

What this means is that when the value of the gross estate of a person who dies in 2015 exceeds $5,430,000, the estate will be required to file a federal estate tax return (IRS Form 706). Form 706 is due within nine months of the deceased person’s date of death.

The maximum federal estate tax rate remains unchanged at 40%.

2015 Federal Lifetime Gift Tax Exemption

In 2015 the lifetime gift tax exemption will also be $5,430,000. This is an increase of $90,000 above the 2014 exemption.

What this means is that if a person makes any taxable gifts in 2015 (in general a taxable gift is one that exceeds the annual gift tax exclusion – see more on that below), then they will need to file a federal gift tax return (IRS Form 709). For taxable gifts made in 2015, Form 709 is due on or before April 15, 2016.

The maximum federal gift tax rate remains unchanged at 40%.

2015 Federal Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax Exemption

In 2015 the exemption from generation-skipping transfer taxes (GSTT) will also be $5,430,000. This is an increase of $90,000 above the 2014 exemption.

What this means is that if a person makes any transfers that are subject to the GSTT in 2015, then they will need to file a federal gift tax return (Form 709). For generation-skipping transfers made during 2015, Form 709 is due on or before April 15, 2016.

Note that if the generation-skipping transfer does not exceed $5,430,000, then no GSTT will be due; instead, the transferor’s GSTT exemption will be reduced by the amount of the transfer.

For example, if Bob has not made any prior generation-skipping transfers and makes one of $500,000 in 2015, then his GSTT exemption will be reduced to $4,930,000 ($5,430,000 GSTT exemption – $500,000 generation-skipping transfer made in 2015 = $4,930,000 GSTT exemption remaining).

The maximum federal GSTT rate remains unchanged at 40%.

2015 Annual Gift Tax Exclusion

In 2015 the annual gift tax exclusion will be $14,000. This is the same as the 2014 exclusion.

What this means is that if a person makes any gifts to the same person that exceed $14,000 in 2015, then they will need to file a federal gift tax return (Form 709). For taxable gifts made in 2015, Form 709 is due on or before April 15, 2016.

Note that if the taxable gift does not exceed $5,430,000, then no gift tax will be due; instead, the lifetime gift tax exemption of the person who made the gift will be reduced by the amount of the taxable gift.

For example, if Bob has not made any taxable gifts in prior years and makes a gift of $500,000 to his daughter in 2015, then Bob’s lifetime gift tax exemption will be reduced to $4,944,000 ($500,000 gift – $14,000 annual exclusion = $486,000 taxable gift; $5,430,000 lifetime gift tax exemption – $486,000 taxable gift made in 2015 = $4,944,000 lifetime gift tax exemption remaining).

As mentioned above, the maximum federal gift tax rate remains unchanged at 40%.

2015 Estate and Trust Income Tax Brackets

Finally, estates and trusts will be subject to the following income tax brackets in 2015:

If Taxable Income Is:                                The Tax Is:

Not over $2,500                                         15% of the taxable income

Over $2,500 but                                        $375 plus 25% of
not over $5,900                                          the excess over $2,500

Over $5,900 but                                         $1,225 plus 28% of
not over $9,050                                          the excess over $5,900

Over $9,050 but                                         $2,107 plus 33% of
not over $12,300                                        the excess over $9,050

Over $12,300                                               $3,179.50 plus 39.6% of
the excess over $12,300

As you can see, an income of only $12,300 inside a trust could be taxed at a marginal rate of 39.6%. In addition, many trusts paying at the top bracket are also subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax, making the top marginal rate 43.4%. Many states also impose an income tax on trusts. So, depending on which state the trust pays income taxes, the marginal income tax rate could be over 50% for trusts earning just $12,300.

What this means is that Trustees should give careful consideration to the timing of income and deductions and whether distributions of income to beneficiaries should be made to avoid paying excessive trust income taxes. Any income tax planning, of course, has to be balanced against a Trustee’s fiduciary duties to the trust.

Year End Estate Planning Tip #3 – Check Your Mental Disability Plan

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 making sure their mental disability plan is up to date.

Three Areas of Your Mental Disability Plan That Are Likely Out of Date
If your estate plan is more than a few years old, then your mental disability plan is likely out of date for the following reasons:

1. Are your health care directives compliant with HIPAA? While the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (known as “HIPAA” for short) was enacted in 1996, the rules governing it were not effective until April 14, 2003. Thus, if your estate plan was created before then and you have not updated it since, then you will definitely need to sign new health care directives (Living Will) so that they are in compliance with the HIPAA rules. With that said, it’s possible that health care directives signed in later years lack HIPAA language, so check with your estate planning attorney just to make sure that your estate plan documents reference and take into consideration the HIPAA rules.

2. Is your Power of Attorney stale? How old is your Power of Attorney? Banks and other financial institutions are often wary of accepting Powers of Attorney that are more than a couple of years old. This means that if you become incapacitated, your agent could have to jump through hoops to get your stale Power of Attorney honored, if it can be done at all. This could cost your family valuable time and money. Aside from this, Pennsylvania has enacted new laws governing Powers of Attorney, which become effective on January 1, 2015. If you want to increase the likelihood that your Power of Attorney will work without any hitches if you lose your mental capacity, update and redo your Power of Attorney every few years so that it doesn’t end up becoming a stale and useless piece of paper.

3. Does your estate plan adequately address mental disability? A will is something that only becomes effective when you die. With today’s longer life expectancies come increased probabilities that you will be mentally incapacitated before you die. A fully funded Revocable Living Trust is the best way to provide adequately for mental incapacity, but some older trusts do not. If you signed your Revocable Living Trust more than 8 to 10 years ago and haven’t updated it since or have assets that are outside your Revocable Living Trust, then it may well lack modern and appropriate provisions for what to do with you and your property if you become mentally incapacitated. Have your estate plan checked to ensure that it will work effectively and efficiently if you lose your mental capacity. Otherwise you and your loved ones may end up in front of a judge who will have to sort out your financial matters – at horrendous cost.

What Should You Do?
Estate planning is about much more than having a plan for who gets your stuff after you die – it should also include having a plan for what happens in case you lose your mental capacity. If your plan is more than a few years old or does not include a fully funded Revocable Living Trust, then chances are it lacks a good mental disability plan. Now is the time to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that you have a mental disability plan that will work the way you expect it to work if it’s ever needed.

Eight Reasons – NOT – to have an estate plan.

If this one is too long for you, by all means, skip directly to number 8!!

1. You enjoy paying taxes. Maybe you believe that giving 40+% of your life savings to the government is a good use of that money. Your family can probably live on the fraction of your money left over.

Most people have heard that the federal estate tax exemption is over $5 million ($5.34 in 2014 and $5.43 in 2015). So, if your estate is comfortably under that there will be no tax consequences, right? Pennsylvania has an inheritance tax that is separate from the federal estate tax (see #2 below for more on this)*. Also, if you have a appreciated assets or a retirement plan and your heirs cash it out, it could have disastrous capital gains and/or income tax consequences.

2. You believe that State representatives know how to plan your estate better than you do. You voted to elect these officials, so why not let them make laws that will distribute your estate.

In Pennsylvania, if you’re married with children and you die without your own estate plan, the government has decided how your estate will be distributed. So, let’s say your two kids are 3 years old and 1 years old, respectively. Under the law, the first $30,000 goes to your spouse. Then the balance is divided 50/50 between your spouse and your children. You want your minor children to get 50% of the balance of your estate immediately, right?

*The 50% that passes to your children will be subject to Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax. There will be no inheritance tax owed on the first $30,000 and 50% of the balance that goes to your spouse. Wouldn’t it be better if 100% of your estate was not subject to inheritance tax, which would give your spouse that much more money to take care of your children?

3. Your minor children will be in good hands with a state agency.   You don’t need to name a guardian for your children. The Department of Children and Youth Services will be fine.

Avoid this. If for no other reason, make an estate plan to name guardians for your children.

4. You don’t want to have any say in how your spouse and children use their inheritance, they can just have it and enjoy it.

Your spouse and children will enjoy their inheritance a lot more if you have a plan to preserve assets for them and protect those assets from creditors, predators, and the heirs themselves. With an estate plan, you can protect your assets from the bad things in the world and make sure they are available to your loved ones.

General Needs Trusts, Special Needs Trusts, Retirement Trusts, Generation Skipping Trusts, Asset Protection Planning, Charitable Planning, and Business Succession Planning can all be accomplished by putting a comprehensive estate plan in place.

5. You’ll just make all your accounts and real estate joint with your kids. Why should you have an estate plan when you can just do this?

Adding your children as joint owners of bank accounts and real estate can cause serious issues such as: gift tax consequences, capital gains tax issues, and subjecting all of your assets to your children’s creditors. This is also problematic with regard to Pennsylvania’s Inheritance Tax laws.

6. You made a will 20 years ago and just wrote in the changes you wanted to make.

Making any marks on your will can invalidate the will or make it inadmissible in whole or in part to probate. At the very least, it will complicate matters with the probate court and could lead to disharmony in the family.

Avoid probate altogether with a living trust. Probate is a very public affair. Anyone can get a copy of your will from the probate court. The probate process takes at least 12 months to complete, and can incur hefty legal fees.

Maintain privacy and family harmony by having a trust in place that passes your property outside of the probate court.

7. You don’t have a lot of money and own very few assets, so why bother?

Estate planning is not just for the rich. Estate planning is not just about death. Estate planning is as much about lifetime planning as it is about wealth transfer on death:

  • Incapacity/Disability Planning
  • Health Care Powers of Attorney
  • Durable General Powers of Attorney
  • Living Wills
  • HIPAA Authorizations
  • Guardian Designations

8. You don’t plan on dying anytime soon.  

I hear this one a lot. Here’s my counteroffer: Estate planning is not about dying; it’s an act of love. You make an estate plan because your loved ones need you to. Put a plan in place for your loved ones. You’ll feel good about doing it and they’ll be taken care of.


Estate Planning for Young Families

Many young families put off estate planning because they are young and healthy, or because they don’t think they can afford it. But even a healthy, young adult can be taken suddenly by an accident or illness. And while none of us expects to die while our family is young, planning for the possibility is prudent and responsible. Also, estate planning does not have to be expensive; a young family can start with the essential legal documents and term life insurance, then update and upgrade as their financial situation improves. A good estate plan for a young family will include the following:

Naming an Administrator
This person will be responsible for handling final financial affairs—locating and valuing assets, locating and paying bills, distributing assets, and hiring an attorney and other advisors. It should be someone who is trustworthy, willing and able to take on the responsibility.

Naming a Guardian for Minor Children
Deciding who will raise the children if something happens to both parents is often a difficult decision. But it is very important, because if the parents do not name a guardian, the court will have to appoint someone without knowing their wishes, the children or other family members.

Providing Instructions for Distribution of Assets
Most married couples want their assets to go to the surviving spouse if one of them dies. If both parents die and the children are young, they want their assets to be used to care for their children. Some assets will transfer automatically to the surviving spouse by beneficiary designations and how title is held. However, an estate plan is still needed in the event this spouse becomes disabled or dies, so that the assets can be used to provide for the children.

Naming Someone to Manage the Children’s Inheritance
Unless this in included in the estate plan, the court will appoint someone to oversee the children’s inheritance. This will likely be a friend of the judge and a stranger to the family. It will cost money (paid from the inheritance) and the children will receive their inheritances in equal shares when they reach legal age, usually age 18. Most parents prefer that their children inherit when they are older, and to keep the money in one “pot” so it can be used to provide for the children’s different needs. Establishing a trust for the children’s inheritance lets the parents accomplish these goals and select someone they know and trust to manage it.

Reviewing Insurance Needs
Income earned by one or both parents would need to be replaced, and someone may need to be hired to take over the responsibilities of a stay-at-home parent. Additional coverage may be needed to provide for the children until they are grown; even more if the parents want to pay for college.

Planning for Disability
There is the possibility that one or both parents could become disabled due to injury, illness or even a random act of violence. Both parents need medical powers of attorney that give someone legal authority to make health care decisions if they are unable to do so for themselves. (You would probably name your spouse to do this, but one or two others should be named in case your spouse is also unable to act.) HIPPA authorizations will give doctors permission to discuss your medical situation with others (parents, siblings and close friends). Disability income insurance should also be considered, because life insurance does not pay at disability.

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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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.

Discretionary Trusts – How to Protect Your Beneficiaries From Bad Decisions and Outside Influences

Leaving your hard-earned assets outright to your children, grandchildren or other beneficiaries after you die will make their inheritance easy prey for creditors, predators, and divorcing spouses. Instead, consider using discretionary trusts for the benefit of each of your beneficiaries.

What is a Discretionary Trust?

A discretionary trust is a type of irrevocable trust that is set up to protect the assets funded into the trust for the benefit of the trust’s beneficiary. This can mean protection from the beneficiary’s poor money-management skills, extravagant spending habits, personal or professional judgment creditors, or divorcing spouse.

Under the terms of a typical discretionary trust, the trustee is limited in how much can be distributed to the beneficiary and when the distributions can be made. You can make the terms and time frames as limited or as broad as you want. For example, you can provide that distributions of income can only be made for health care needs after the beneficiary reaches the age of 21, or you can provide that distributions of income and principal can be made for health care needs and educational expenses at any age.

An added bonus of incorporating discretionary trusts into your estate plan is that the trusts can be designed to minimize estate taxes as the trust assets pass down from your children to your grandchildren (this is referred to as “generation-skipping planning”). In addition, you can dictate who will inherit what is left in each beneficiary’s trust when the beneficiary dies, which will allow you to keep the trust assets in the family.

While the distribution choices that can be included in a discretionary trust are virtually endless (within certain parameters established under bankruptcy and creditor protection laws), the bottom line is that a properly drafted discretionary trust will protect a beneficiary’s inheritance from creditors, predators, and divorcing spouses, avoid estate taxes when the beneficiary dies, and ultimately pass to the beneficiaries of your choice.

Where Should You Include Discretionary Trusts in Your Estate Plan?

Discretionary trusts should be included in all of the trusts you have created that will ultimately be distributed to your heirs, including:

• Your Revocable Living Trust
• Your Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust
• Your Standalone Retirement Trust

What Should You Do?

If you are concerned that your children, grandchildren, or other beneficiaries will not have the skills required to manage and invest their inheritance or will lose their inheritance in a lawsuit or divorce, then talk to your estate planning attorney about how to incorporate discretionary trusts into your estate plan.