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Los Angeles, CA Estate & Business Planning Blog

Friday, July 5, 2013

Bypass Trusts

Changing Uses for Bypass Trusts

Every year, each individual who dies in the U.S. can leave a certain amount of money to his or her heirs before facing any federal estate taxes. For example, in 2010, a person who died could leave $3.5 million to his or her heirs (or a charity) estate tax free, and everything over that amount would be taxable by the federal government. Transfers at death to a spouse are not taxable.

Therefore, if a husband died owning $5 million in assets in 2010 and passed everything to his wife, that transfer was not taxable because transfers to spouses at death are not taxable. However, if the wife died later that year owning that $5 million in assets, everything over $3.5 million (her exemption amount) would be taxable by the federal government. Couples would effectively only have the use of one exemption amount unless they did some special planning, or left a chunk of their property to someone other than their spouse.

Estate tax law provided a tool called “bypass trusts” that would allow a spouse to leave an inheritance to the surviving spouse in a special trust. That trust would be taxable and would use up the exemption amount of the first spouse to die. However, the remaining spouse would be able to use the property in that bypass trust to live on, and would also have the use of his or her exemption amount when he or she passed. This planning technique effectively allowed couples to combine their exemption amounts.

Late last year, Congress changed the estate tax rules. For the years 2011 and 2012, each person who dies can pass $5 million free from federal estate taxes. In addition, spouses can combine their exemption amounts without requiring a bypass trust (making the exemptions “portable” between spouses). This change in the law appears to make bypass trusts useless, at least until Congress decides to remove the portability provision from the estate tax law.

However, bypass trusts can still be valuable in many situations, such as:

(1)  Remarriage or blended families. You may be concerned that your spouse will remarry and cut the children out of the will after you are gone. Or, you may have a blended family and you may fear that your spouse will disinherit your children in favor of his or her children after you pass. A bypass trust would allow the surviving spouse to have access to the money to live on during life, while providing that everything goes to the children at the surviving spouse’s death.

(2)  State estate taxes. Currently, 13 states as well as Washington D.C. have state estate taxes. If you live in one of those states, a bypass trust may be necessary to combine a couple’s exemptions from state estate tax.

(3)  Changes in the estate tax law. Estate tax laws have been in flux over the past several years. What if you did an estate plan assuming that bypass trusts were unnecessary, Congress removed the portability provision, and you neglected to update your estate plan? You could be paying thousands or even millions of dollars in taxes that you could have saved by using a bypass trust.

(4)  Protecting assets from creditors. If you leave a large inheritance outright to your spouse and children, and a creditor appears on the scene, the creditor may be able to seize all the money. Although many people think that will not happen to their family, divorces, bankruptcies, personal injury lawsuits, and hard economic times can unexpectedly result in a large monetary judgment against a family member.

Although it may appear that bypass trusts have lost their usefulness, there are still many situations in which they can be invaluable tools to help families avoid estate taxes.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Common Estate Planning Mistakes Regarding Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs)

For many people, retirement savings accounts are among the largest assets they have to bequeath to their children and grandchildren in their estate plans.  Sadly, without professional and personally tailored advice about how best to include IRAs in one’s estate plan, there may be a failure to take advantage of techniques that will maximize the amount of assets that will be available for future generations.


Failure to Update Contingent Beneficiaries

Assets in an IRA account usually transfer automatically to the named beneficiaries upon the death of the account holder, outside of the probate process.  If the account holder’s desired beneficiaries change, due to marriage, divorce, or other major life events, it is critically important to update the named beneficiaries as quickly as possible to prevent the asset from passing to an outdated beneficiary.  When updating beneficiaries, account holders should not neglect contingent beneficiaries – those individuals named to receive the asset if the primary named beneficiary is already deceased when the account holder dies.

Example:  Sarah’s IRA documents name her husband, Harold, as the primary beneficiary of her IRA.  The contingent beneficiary is Harold’s son, George, from Harold’s first marriage.  Sarah and Harold divorce.  Harold dies.  If Sarah dies before changing her IRA beneficiaries, George will receive the IRA.  This may no longer be the result Sarah would have wanted.

Failure to Consider a Trust as the Contingent Beneficiary of an IRA

There are three main advantages of naming a trust as the contingent beneficiary of your IRA: 

  1. It avoids the problem described above of having incorrect contingent beneficiaries named at death.
  2. It protects the IRA if the desired beneficiary is a minor, has debt or marital troubles, or is irresponsible with money.
  3. It protects the IRA from intentional or unintentional withdrawal.

Since 2005, the IRS has allowed a type of trust created specifically to be the beneficiary of an IRA.  The IRA Beneficiary Trust is also known as an IRA trust, an IRA stretch trust, an IRA protection trust, or a standalone IRA trust.

The main advantage of using an IRA Beneficiary Trust instead of a standard revocable living trust is that the IRA trust can restrict distributions to ensure compliance with tax rules and minimum distribution requirements – thus maximizing the amount of tax-free growth of the investments.

Another advantage is that the IRA stretch trust has a framework that allows it to be structured in a way that guarantees protection of the distributions from the IRA as well as protection of the principal of the IRA.  When you first establish the IRA protection trust, you structure the trust as either a conduit trust or an accumulation trust.  A conduit trust will pass the required minimum distributions directly to your named beneficiaries, maximizing the tax deferral benefits.  An accumulation trust passes the required minimum distributions into another trust over which a named trustee has discretion to accumulate the funds, resulting in greater asset protection for the benefit of the beneficiary.

During your lifetime, the IRS allows you to switch between the conduit trust and accumulation trust for each of your beneficiaries, as circumstances change.  Furthermore, you may name a “trust protector” who may change the type of trust one last time after your death.  This change may be made on a beneficiary-by-beneficiary basis, so that some of your intended heirs have accumulation trusts for their portion of the IRA and others have conduit trusts.

IRA Beneficiary Trusts are complicated legal documents with intricate IRS rules and tremendous implications for your family’s wealth accumulation for future generations.  It is wise to seek advice specific to your family’s unique circumstances when considering the establishment of this powerful type of trust.


 


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Financing and Growing Your Small Business Through Crowdfunding

Financing and Growing Your Small Business Through Crowdfunding

What is crowdfunding? Part social networking and part capital accumulation, crowdfunding is simply the collective cooperation, attention and trust by people who network and pool their financial resources together to support efforts initiated by others.

Inspired by crowdsourcing, this innovative approach to raising capital has long been used to solicit donations or support political causes. This method has also been successfully implemented to raise capital for many different types of projects, including art, fashion, music and film.

Entrepreneurs can also tap the internet as a way to raise financing from a broad base of investors without turning to venture capitalists. With crowdfunding, you can raise small amounts of capital from many different sources, while retaining control over your business venture. Crowdfunding for business ventures, however, is not without its risks, and likely requires advice of an attorney.

In the traditional crowdfunding model, donations are pledged over the internet to fund a particular project or cause. The contributors are supporting the project, but receive no ownership interest in return for their monetary donation. This type of arrangement can exist with non-profit ventures and political campaigns, as well as start-up businesses. The person or entity soliciting the funding utilizes existing social networks to leverage the crowd and raise contributions in exchange for a reward, which is typically directly related to the project being funded, such as a credit at the end of a movie. With this type of arrangement, the contributor does not receive any ownership interest in the venture in exchange for the donation.

However, when for-profit companies solicit funds from a large number of individuals to raise capital in exchange for shares of ownership in the company, care must be taken to ensure the arrangement does not run afoul of federal and state securities laws.

Various companies and websites have popped up to assist entrepreneurs in raising capital through crowdfunding. Some operate on a flat fee, others charge a percentage of funds raised.  Keep in mind that any securities in a company sold to the public at large must be registered with regulatory authorities, unless they qualify for a specific exemption from the registration requirement. Selling shares of ownership to low-net-worth individuals (“unaccredited investors”) can trigger numerous registration and disclosure obligations. Additionally, state laws may also affect the transaction. As the number of investors and states involved increases, so do the cost and complexity of obtaining this type of capital financing. The various rules can be difficult to navigate, and missteps can result in significant penalties.
 


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Should you withdraw your Social Security benefits early?

You don’t have to be retired to dip into your Social Security benefits which are available to you as early as age 62.  But is the early withdrawal worth the costs?

A quick visit to the U.S. Social Security Administration Retirement Planner website can help you figure out just how much money you’ll receive if you withdraw early. The benefits you will collect before reaching the full retirement age of 66 will be less than your full potential amount.

The reduction of benefits in early withdrawal is based upon the amount of time you currently are from full retirement age. If you withdraw at the earliest point of age 62, you will receive 25% less than your full benefits.  If you were born after 1960, that amount is 30%. At 63, the reduction is around 20%, and it continues to decrease as you approach the age of 66.

Withdrawing early also presents a risk if you think there is a chance you may go back to work. Excess earnings may be cause for the Social Security Administration to withhold some benefits. Though a special rule is in existence that withholding cannot be applied for one year during retired months, regardless of yearly earnings, extended working periods can result in decreased benefits. The withheld benefits, however, will be taken into consideration and recalculated once you reach full retirement age.

If you are considering withdrawing early from your retirement accounts, it is important to consider both age and your particular benefits. If you are unsure of how much you will receive, you can look to your yearly statement from Social Security. Social Security Statements are sent out to everyone over the age of 25 once a year, and should come in the mail about three months before your birthday. You can also request a copy of the form by phone or the web, or calculate your benefits yourself through programs that are available online at www.ssa.gov/retire.

The more you know about your benefits, the easier it will be to make a well-educated decision about when to withdraw. If you can afford to, it’s often worth it to wait. Ideally, if you have enough savings from other sources of income to put off withdrawing until after age 66, you will be rewarded with your full eligible benefits.
 


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Do I Really Need Advance Directives?

Do I Really Need Advance Directives for Health Care?

Many people are confused by advance directives. They are unsure what type of directives are out there, and whether they even need directives at all, especially if they are young. There are several types of advance directives. One is a living will, which communicates what type of life support and medical treatments, such as ventilators or a feeding tube, you wish to receive. Another type is called a health care power of attorney. In a health care power of attorney, you give someone the power to make health care decisions for you in the event are unable to do so for yourself. A third type of advance directive for health care is a do not resuscitate order. A DNR order is a request that you not receive CPR if your heart stops beating or you stop breathing. Depending on the laws in your state, the health care form you execute could include all three types of health care directives, or you may do each individually.

If you are 18 or over, it’s time to establish your health care directives. Although no one thinks they will be in a medical situation requiring a directive at such a young age, it happens every day in the United States. People of all ages are involved in tragic accidents that couldn’t be foreseen and could result in life support being used. If you plan in advance, you can make sure you receive the type of medical care you wish, and you can avoid a lot of heartache to your family, who may be forced to guess what you would want done.

Many people do not want to do health care directives because they may believe some of the common misperceptions that exist about them. People are often frightened to name someone to make health care decisions for them, because they fear they will give up the right to make decisions for themselves. However, an individual always has the right, if he or she is competent, to revoke the directive or make his or her own decisions.  Some also fear they will not be treated if they have a health care directive. This is also a common myth – the directive simply informs caregivers of the person you designate to make health care decisions and the type of treatment you’d like to receive in various situations.  Planning ahead can ensure that your treatment preferences are carried out while providing some peace of mind to your loved ones who are in a position to direct them.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

“Simple” Estate Plans

Beware of “Simple” Estate Plans

“I just need a simple will.”  It’s a phrase estate planning attorneys hear practically every other day.   From the client’s perspective, there’s no reason to do anything complicated, especially if it might lead to higher legal fees.  Unfortunately, what may appear to be a “simple” estate is all too often rife with complications that, if not addressed during the planning process, can create a nightmare for you and your heirs at some point in the future.   Such complications may include:

Probate - Probate is the court process whereby property is transferred after death to individuals named in a will or specified by law if there is no will. Probate can be expensive, public and time consuming.  A revocable living trust is a great alternative that allows your estate to be managed more efficiently, at a lower cost and with more privacy than probating a will.  A living trust can be more expensive to establish, but will avoid a complex probate proceeding. Even in states where probate is relatively simple, you may wish to set up a living trust to hold out of state property or for other reasons.

Minor Children - If you have minor children, you not only need to nominate a guardian, but you also need to set up a trust to hold property for those children. If both parents pass away, and the child does not have a trust, the child’s inheritance could be held by the court until he or she turns 18, at which time the entire inheritance may be given to the child. By setting up a trust, which doesn’t have to come into existence until you pass away, you are ensuring that any money left to your child can be used for educational and living expenses and can be administered by someone you trust.  You can also protect the inheritance you leave your beneficiaries from a future divorce as well as creditors.

Second Marriages - Couples in which one or both of the spouses have children from a prior relationship should carefully consider whether a “simple” will is adequate. All too often, spouses execute simple wills in which they leave everything to each other, and then divide the property among their children. After the first spouse passes away, the second spouse inherits everything. That spouse may later get remarried and leave everything he or she received to the new spouse or to his or her own children, thereby depriving the former spouse’s children of any inheritance.  Couples in such situations should establish a special marital trust to ensure children of both spouses will be provided for.

Taxes - Although in 2011 and 2012, federal estate taxes only apply to estates over $5 million for individuals and $10 million for couples, that doesn’t mean that anyone with an estate under that amount should forget about tax planning. Many states still impose a state estate tax that should be planned around. Also, in 2013 the estate tax laws are slated to change, possibly with a much lower exemption amount.

Incapacity Planning – Estate planning is not only about death planning.  What happens if you become disabled?  You need to have proper documents to enable someone you trust to manage your affairs if you become incapacitated.  There are a myriad of options that you need to be aware of when authorizing someone to make decisions on your behalf, whether for your medical care or your financial affairs.  If you don’t establish these important documents while you have capacity, your loved ones may have to go through an expensive and time-consuming guardianship or conservatorship proceeding to petition a judge to allow him or her to make decisions on your behalf.  

By failing to properly address potential obstacles, over the long term, a “simple” will can turn out to be incredibly costly.   An experienced estate planning attorney can provide valuable insight and offer effective mechanisms to ensure your wishes are carried out in the most efficient manner possible while providing protection and comfort for you and your loved ones for years to come.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Making your home senior-proof

Let’s face it – it’s tough getting old. The aches, pains, and pills often associated with aging are things that many members of the baby-boomer generation know all too well by now. Though you might not be able to turn back time, you can help an aging loved one enjoy their golden years by giving them a safe, affordable place to call home. If an aging parent is moving in with you and your family, there are many quick fixes for the home that will create a safe environment for seniors.


Read more . . .


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Important Steps to Plan for the Future of a Special Needs Child

#1 Establish a Comprehensive Plan

Most estate planning attorneys will say that no person should use a “do-it-yourself” will kit to establish their estate plan.  If you have a child with special needs, it is extremely important to seek competent legal counsel from an estate planning lawyer with special needs planning experience before and during the process of writing your will.

In your estate plan, make sure that any bequests to your child are left to his or her trust (see #2, below) instead of to the child directly.  Your will should also name the person or persons you want to serve as guardian of your child (see #3, below).

Once your estate plan is complete you should give copies to all the guardians and executors named in the will.

#2 Establish a Special Needs Trust
A special needs trust is the most important legal document you will prepare for your child.  In order to preserve your child’s eligibility for federal financial benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid, all financial assets for your child should be placed into this trust instead of being held in your child’s name.  This is because federal benefit programs restrict the amount of income and assets the recipient may have.  If your child has too many financial assets, he or she could lose his eligibility for important federal assistance programs.

You can use this trust as a depository for any money you save for your child’s future, money others give as a gift, funds awarded in a legal settlement or successful lawsuit, and other financial assets.

Should you create a special needs trust if your child doesn’t currently have any financial assets?  Yes.  Once you create the special needs trust, then the trust can immediately become the named beneficiary of any life insurance policies or planned bequests, either yours or family members’.

#3 Appoint a guardian and complete necessary guardianship papers
Like any parent, you worry about who will care for your child if you were to die before the child becomes an adult.  Unlike other parents, you worry about who will care for your child and provide guidance even after he or she is an adult.

A legal guardian is the person who will care for your child after your death and until the child turns 18.  If your child is unable to live independently, then you can either make arrangements for adult care or discuss your preferences with the appointed guardian.

As you consider choices of a guardian for your special needs child, consider how much time is required to raise a child with special needs.  Who do you know who can respond to the challenge?  Who do you know who has already formed a bond with your child?

After you make a choice, ask the individual if he or she will accept the responsibility of serving as your child’s named, legal guardian.  It is never wise to keep this decision a secret.  Also, discuss with your selected guardian how he or she will probably still have responsibilities toward your child even after his or her 18th birthday.

#4 Apply for an adult guardianship
Even if your child is still a minor, you can start planning now for when he or she reaches the age of majority.  When children turn 18, the law considers them adults and able to make their own financial and medical decisions.  If your special needs child will be incapable of managing his or her own health and finances, consider a legal guardianship.

#5 Prioritize your savings account
Parents of special needs children quickly learn that their children need many resources and equipment that insurance and school systems do not cover.  The more financial assistance you can give your child, the better.  Start saving as early as possible for your child’s lifetime needs – just remember to not open the savings account in your child’s name

Savings can help pay for therapies, equipment, an attorney to advocate for your child in the school system, or a special education expert who can help you make sure your child is getting access to all the programs he or she qualifies for.

#6 Plan for your child’s adulthood
Early planning for your child’s adult years will help you bring the legal and financial picture into sharper focus.  Will your child continue to live with you?  If so, will he or she need in-home assistance?  How often?  Do adult day care programs for people with special needs exist in your community?  How are they rated?

Is your goal for your child to live independently?  If so, what support will he or she need?  Will your child live in a group home, an assisted living community, an apartment with on-site nursing care, or another type of situation?  The earlier you research available options in your community, the sooner you can add your child’s name to the waiting list for the living situation you both prefer.

#7 Write a letter of intent
A letter of intent is not a formal legal document.  It is more like a manual of instruction, containing your wishes for your child’s upbringing.  In the best case scenario, you would give this letter of intent to your child’s chosen guardian and to anyone else who will play a significant role in his or her life after your death. 

  • What is your child’s daily routine?  What kind of weekly and monthly routine does she have?
  • What does he find especially comforting?  What frightens her?  What are favorite foods, books and movies?  Be as detailed as you wish.
  • List all of your child’s health care and educational providers.
  • List all current medications, doses and schedules.
  • List all allergies.
  • Are there people you don’t want your child to spend time with? Be specific.
  • Are there people you want your child to spend time with? Who?
  • Are there activities you especially want your child to try, such as sports or arts and crafts?

Update this letter at least once a year.  Keep a copy wherever you keep copies of your will.  And be sure to give a copy to your child’s appointed guardian.

#8 Talk with family members
Either in person or in writing, explain the major decisions you have made to important family members.  It is especially important to explain to generous grandparents and other relatives why they must not leave gifts of money – or inheritances – directly to your child.  Give relatives the information about your child’s special needs trust and instruct them to leave any financial gifts to the trust.  Similarly, explain that family members should designate the trust – not the child – as the beneficiary of life insurance policies and so forth.

If you have made decisions you fear will be unpopular (such as naming a guardian), consider explaining your reasons directly to family members whom you fear will be unhappy.  You could also consider including the named guardian in these difficult conversations.

The process of planning for your special needs child’s future may seem long and arduous at times, but you will experience a great relief when the major pieces of the plan are in place.  Creating a plan for the future will allow you to relax and enjoy the present with your child and family.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Senior Citizens Comprise Growing Demographic of Bankruptcy Filers

It’s called your “golden years” but for many seniors and baby boomers, there is no gold and retirement savings are too often insufficient to maintain even basic living standards of retirees. In fact, a recent study by the University of Michigan found that baby boomers are the fastest growing age group filing for bankruptcy. And even for those who have not yet filed for bankruptcy, a lack of retirement savings greatly troubles many who face their final years with fear and uncertainty.

Another study, conducted by Financial Engines revealed that nearly half of all baby boomers fear they will be in the poor house after retirement. Adding insult to injury, this anxiety also discourages many from taking the necessary steps to establish and implement a clear, workable financial plan. So instead, they find themselves with mounting credit card debt, and a shortfall when it comes time to pay the bills.

In fact, one in every four baby boomers have depleted their savings during the recession and nearly half face the prospect of running out of money after they retire. With the depletion of their savings, many seniors are resorting to the use of credit cards to maintain their standard of living.  This is further exacerbated by skyrocketing medical costs, and the desire to lend a helping hand to adult children, many of whom are also under financial distress.  These circumstances have led to a dramatic increase in the number of senior citizens finding themselves in financial trouble and turning to the bankruptcy courts for relief.

In 2010, seven percent of all bankruptcy filers were over the age of 65. That’s up from just two percent a decade ago. For the 55-and-up age bracket, that number balloons to 22 percent of all bankruptcy filings nationwide.

Whether filing for bankruptcy relief under a Chapter 7 liquidation, or a Chapter 13 reorganization, senior citizens face their own hurdles. Unlike many younger filers, senior citizens tend to have more equity in their homes, and less opportunity to increase their incomes. The lack of well-paying job prospects severely limits older Americans’ ability to re-establish themselves financially following a bankruptcy, especially since their income sources are typically fixed while their expenses continue to increase.
 


Friday, April 5, 2013

Coordinating Property Ownership and Your Estate Plan

When planning your estate, you must consider how you hold title to your real and personal property. The title and your designated beneficiaries will control how your real estate, bank accounts, retirement accounts, vehicles and investments are distributed upon your death, regardless of whether there is a will or trust in place and potentially with a result that you never intended.

One of the most important steps in establishing your estate plan is transferring title to your assets. If you have created a living trust, it is absolutely useless if you fail to transfer the title on your accounts, real estate or other property into the trust. Unless the assets are formally transferred into your living trust, they will not be subject to the terms of the trust and will be subject to probate.


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Monday, March 25, 2013

Family Business: Preserving Your Legacy for Generations to Come

Your family-owned business is not just one of your most significant assets, it is also your legacy. Both must be protected by implementing a transition plan to arrange for transfer to your children or other loved ones upon your retirement or death.

More than 70 percent of family businesses do not survive the transition to the next generation. Ensuring your family does not fall victim to the same fate requires a unique combination of proper estate and tax planning, business acumen and common-sense communication with those closest to you. Below are some steps you can take today to make sure your family business continues from generation to generation.

  • Meet with an estate planning attorney to develop a comprehensive plan that includes a will and/or living trust. Your estate plan should account for issues related to both the transfer of your assets, including the family business and estate taxes.
  • Communicate with all family members about their wishes concerning the business. Enlist their involvement in establishing a business succession plan to transfer ownership and control to the younger generation. Include in-laws or other non-blood relatives in these discussions. They offer a fresh perspective and may have talents and skills that will help the company.
  • Make sure your succession plan includes:  preserving and enhancing “institutional memory”, who will own the company, advisors who can aid the transition team and ensure continuity, who will oversee day-to-day operations, provisions for heirs who are not directly involved in the business, tax saving strategies, education and training of family members who will take over the company and key employees.
  • Discuss your estate plan and business succession plan with your family members and key employees. Make sure everyone shares the same basic understanding.
  • Plan for liquidity. Establish measures to ensure the business has enough cash flow to pay taxes or buy out a deceased owner’s share of the company. Estate taxes are based on the full value of your estate. If your estate is asset-rich and cash-poor, your heirs may be forced to liquidate assets in order to cover the taxes, thus removing your “family” from the business.
  • Implement a family employment plan to establish policies and procedures regarding when and how family members will be hired, who will supervise them, and how compensation will be determined.
  • Have a buy-sell agreement in place to govern the future sale or transfer of shares of stock held by employees or family members.
  • Add independent professionals to your board of directors.

You’ve worked very hard over your lifetime to build your family-owned enterprise. However, you should resist the temptation to retain total control of your business well into your golden years. There comes a time to retire and focus your priorities on ensuring a smooth transition that preserves your legacy – and your investment – for generations to come.


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