What Are Your Funeral Wishes?

Nov 26, 2010  /  By: Roger Levine, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Advanced Planning, Estate Planning

Estate planning involves many more details than most people realize at the start, and the process is unique because throughout your life most of the planning that you do is for your own benefit. However, when you are planning your estate, your efforts are largely for the benefit of your loved ones. The specific nature of your wishes does externalize your perspective and this is a personal expression, however, the overall objective is a selfless one.

With this in mind, it is important to state your wishes regarding your funeral arrangements. This may seem like something that takes care of itself, but the fact is that if you die without leaving funeral instructions, your family will have to make all the decisions. Imagine hearing the news that a parent, sibling, or spouse has passed away. The last thing you are going to want to do during such an emotional time is scour the phone book calling funeral homes.

In addition to the “legwork” involved, there are very specific decisions that must be made regarding the details of your burial and funeral. One of them would be whether you want to be buried at all; some people would prefer to be cremated. If you were to be cremated, how would you like the remains to be handled? Who would you empower to carry out these wishes?

When it comes to burials, there are many different types of caskets available at widely different prices. Making a decision of this nature is difficult when the deceased hasn’t left behind any instructions. The same is true of the exact nature of the memorial service. Different family members can have different ideas about what is best, and this can inject a layer of tension and acrimony into their lives at the worst possible time.

Including funeral arrangements in your estate plan is the responsible course of action, and the limited amount of effort it will take will spare your loved ones some stress at a time when they will be carrying a heavy burden of grief. Pre-arranging and pre-paying may even be a better solution.

Levine & Furman, LLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

A Look At QPRTs

Nov 17, 2010  /  By: Roger Levine, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Advanced Planning, Estate Planning, inheritance planning, Wills & Trusts

Since the 2009 exemption was $3.5 million, the return of the estate tax with an exclusion amount of just $1 million in 2011 is leaving a lot more people vulnerable. For many, the value of their homes is what is going to drive the total worth of their estate over that figure, so this is the area that they need to focus on.

An estate planning tool that can be used to reduce the value of your house from your estate for tax purposes is the QPRT, or qualified personal residence trust. Let’s assume you have always planned to leave the home to your children after you pass away. You place the residence into the trust and name your children as the beneficiaries, but your life doesn’t change at all. You can live in the house rent free during the term of the trust for as long as you stipulate in the trust agreement, but you are liable for the cost of upkeep and property taxes as they become due. After the term of the trust, you can still live in the home but must pay rent (this also reduces your taxable estate).

At the end of the trust term if you are then surviving, the value of the house is no longer a part of your estate for estate tax purposes, since it was considered to be a gift to the trust and it was subject to the gift tax. However, the true market value at the time of the transfer was not used by the IRS to calculate your gift tax liability, but rather a discounted value .

The taxable value of the gift is reduced by your retained interest in the house, your use of your house during the trust term. So the longer the term of the trust, the larger your retained interest will be, and the lower the taxable gift value will be. When your beneficiaries assume ownership of the home at the end of your prescribed term, the home is no longer part of your taxable estate. However, if you do not survive the term of the trust the entire value of the house at your death is included in your estate. If you survived the term of the trust, you transferred this property to your heirs and either reduced or eliminated any estate or gift tax liability.

Levine & Furman, LLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Can You Use a Revocable Living Trust for Asset Protection?

Oct 20, 2010  /  By: Roger Levine, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Asset Protection

A Revocable Living Trust is a popular alternative to a basic Last Will and Testament. A Living Trust offers a few more benefits than a Will, including circumvention of probate and privacy for you and your heirs. There is one benefit, however, that Wills and Living Trusts do not provide: asset protection. Assets in your Living Trust have absolutely no protection from potential creditors.

Why

When you create a Revocable Living Trust, you become the trustor, trustee and beneficiary. You will remain as the Trustee while you are in good mental health. You will remain as the beneficiary for the duration of your life.

At any time you can fund items into your Trust and remove them. Unlike an Irrevocable Trust, items within your Trust remain completely in your control and are considered part of your legal estate. For this reason, your assets can be taken out at any time to settle a judgement against you.

Potential Threats
There are various possible threats to the assets in your Living Trust. For example, if at anytime during your life a creditor receives a judgment against you, you and a spouse divorce or you are the defendant in a negligence lawsuit, assets within your Living Trust may be taken to settle your debt.

Without additional planning, once you pass away, your heirs will also have the potential to lose the Trust funds that they inherit to their own debts, divorcing spouses or lawsuits.

Alternatives
If you want to protect some of your assets from creditors, a possible divorce and lawsuits, you should speak with your attorney about the best asset protection methods for you. Your attorney will help you determine what you will need to protect for your retirement years and what you should protect for your heirs. Some protection methods include Irrevocable Trusts and Family Limited Liability Companies.

Levine & Furman, LLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

How to Protect What You Have

Sep 20, 2010  /  By: Roger Levine, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Advanced Planning, Asset Protection

Because you don’t know what the future holds, asset protection is a great way to make sure you will have money for your retirement and still be able to leave an inheritance to your children. Asset protection can protect you from creditor judgments and lawsuits.

Evaluate

First, you must evaluate what your estate is worth and which of your assets need to be protected. Every item you own and every bank account that you hold is either exempt or non-exempt. When an asset is exempt it cannot be taken to settle a creditor debt or other lawsuit. The asset protection process focuses on converting non-exempt items to exemption items.

Protect Your Retirement

If you do not preserve your retirement funds and your home, your later years may be affected. A creditor can place a lien upon your home that will be collected when you sell. Many retirees choose to sell their homes and move to smaller homes or even assisted living facilities and sometimes have no choice, but to move to a nursing home. The lien on your property could affect your retirement nest egg.

Some of your retirement accounts may offer a degree of protection from creditors. For those accounts that do not offer full protection, speak with your attorney about the best way to protect those funds.

Protect Inheritances

Once you have protected what you need for your lifetime, you can focus on inheritance asset protection for your family. Irrevocable Trusts and Family Limited Liability Companies are two ways to protect the assets your members will inherit from your debts and from their own debts. You can even offer family members permanent protection against ex-spouses through Lifetime Trusts.

Don’t Wait

Asset protection should be a major part of your estate planning process. Don’t wait to protect what you have, or it may be too late. You cannot protect an item after you already have a creditor judgment or lawsuit pending. To do so is illegal, and the item may be taken anyway.

Levine & Furman, LLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Leaving a Legacy

Sep 15, 2010  /  By: Roger Levine, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Advanced Planning, Legacy Planning

Leaving a Legacy

Basic estate planning is a must for those who wish to leave an inheritance to their loved ones and provide information about their final wishes. If, however, you are among those who prefer to leave more than just a basic inheritance, an advanced estate plan with a focus on legacy planning might be a better option.

Financially

With a legacy plan, you can leave a complex financial legacy for your closest loved ones and future family members. Legacy planning with the use of irrevocable trusts allows funds to be distributed over time instead of paid in one large sum. There are many benefits to using a trust to pass on an inheritance. It can help a special needs family member continue government aid eligibility. Or if you feel a family member may mismanage an inheritance, slow payouts can alleviate your worries. To create a family legacy, you can use a dynasty or generation skipping trust to ensure your financial legacy will reach your descendants.

Historically

One special focus of legacy planning is leaving something to remind your family members of who you were. There are many avenues for leaving a personal history legacy. You may wish to leave a taped message or written letter to specific family members with a special personal message, remembrances or lessons of your life. You can also write a personal memoir to be shared with future generations. If you have joined the genealogy craze you might enjoying using the facts you have learned for something more: a written family history.

Charitably

Because you are not just a part of your family, you are also a part of your community; legacy planning allows you to leave a charitable legacy. A charitable trust enables you to deposit funds to be used for a special cause. Through this trust, your money will continue to do good for many years after you are gone.

Levine & Furman, LLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Choosing between a Pot Trust and an Individual Trust

Sep 13, 2010  /  By: Roger Levine, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Advanced Planning, Estate Planning, Parents with Young Children

When you leave an inheritance for minor children, an Irrevocable Trust may be your best friend. These trusts offer benefits such as estate tax reduction and asset protection. Within the world of Irrevocable trusts there are many different types. Common pot trusts and individual trusts, two kinds of irrevocable trusts, are often used to leave an inheritance to children or grandchildren.

Pot Trust

A Common Pot Trust is a single trust used for all children. This trust can be monitored by one trustee. If you have very young children who will need financial assistance for many years until adulthood, a pot trust can make trust administration easier. The cost of maintenance may also be less since it is only one trust to administer.

The funds within the trust are not split between the children but are available to be shared. The trustee may spend more funds on one child than another if needed. This can be beneficial if any of the children has special medical needs or differing educational needs. If, however, you feel this is not equitable, a Pot Trust may not be for you.

This type of trust ends as soon as the youngest child reaches a certain age. At that time, what remains is split evenly between the beneficiaries even though one may have received more assets at that time. However, this is probably what you would have done had you been alive to manage your family assets. Even though all children must wait for the youngest to reach adulthood before the trust ends, funds needed for higher education or other purposes may still be distrubuted by the Trustee for any of the children.

Individual Trusts

If you feel a pot trust may not be flexible enough for your needs, you may wish to consider leaving an individual trust for each child. With an individual trust you have the option for the trust to end when the child reaches a certain age. You may prefer this option if you feel each of your loved ones will have enough assets from their seperate share and not be dependant upon the youngest reaching a certain age before the ultimate distribution to the older children may be made.

Each trust can also be used as a lifetime trust for the designated beneficiary. This can provide financial security throughout life. It can also be a way to pass on money to future generations and protect against ex-spouses and creditors of a child. One downside to using several individual trusts is that they are often more complex and more expensive than one single trust.

Levine & Furman, LLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Should You Use a Pet Trust?

Sep 08, 2010  /  By: Roger Levine, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Advanced Planning, Pet Planning

Do you have a furry loved one who will need care after you pass away? If so, you can provide for your pet with a Pet Trust. This is an Irrevocable Trust that allows you to set aside money for your animal’s living expenses and medical care.

Assistance to Pet

The best way to help a loved one after you pass away is to leave an inheritance for him or her. Did you know your pet cannot receive an inheritance? Although you may treat your fuzzy family member like your child, the law does not see your animal as an entity that can inherit property. Your pet is actually considered property, which means you will not only have to leave a fund to pay for expenses, you must also name a caregiver to inherit your fuzzy loved one.

A Pet Trust, with your chosen pet caregiver or another family member as trustee, is a great way to make sure your pet is well taken care of after your death.

A Pet Trust is also beneficial if you wish to have one family member handle your pet’s expenses while another provides care. This may be best if your preferred caregiver is not good with finances.

Assistance to Caregiver

A Pet Trust can also be beneficial to your chosen caregiver. If you don’t wish to create a Pet Trust, you can leave money directly to the caregiver. If, however the caregiver receives any type of government financial aid, eligibility for that aid will be affected by the receipt of a large sum of money.

Cost

There is one downside to a Pet Trust. Like other Trusts, it may be quite expensive to create and manage. If the money you wish to leave for your pet’s care is not significant, you may be better off leaving money directly to the caregiver. You may even be able to work out an arrangement with your pet’s veterinarian where you pay a large amount in advance for future medical care.

Levine & Furman, LLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.