Maximizing Bequests with Charitable Contributions

Maximizing Bequests with Charitable Contributions

Many Americans wish to leave a donation to their favorite charity, community foundation or nonprofit organization when they pass away. You may be one of them. Often people decide to donate by gifting a specific dollar amount or percentage from the residue of their estate. However, you could make the most of your philanthropic intention by designating your selected organization as a beneficiary of your tax-qualified retirement plan.

Qualified retirement plans are IRS-approved retirement accounts in which income accumulates, tax-deferred, over time. These types of accounts remain the leading form of a retirement account because they allow individuals to grow their pre-tax contributions over the course of their working career. Common examples of these accounts include non-Roth IRAs, employer-sponsored 401(k)s, profit-sharing plans, and public sector 403(b) plans, as well as other tax-deferred plans.

Rather than administering your retirement account as part of your estate and making a specific bequest in the form of a cash gift to the organization, you can name the organization as a direct beneficiary of your retirement account. By naming the organization as a direct beneficiary, you will notice a double tax benefit. First, your estate will not be required to pay federal estate taxes, if the value of your estate is greater than the federal estate tax exemption, because the retirement account will receive a charitable deduction. Second, charitable organizations are tax exempt, meaning that the organization is not required to pay federal or state income taxes on the gift it receives. The organization will receive the entire balance of the account, making the most of your gift.

Another tax benefit to consider arises if you intend to give part of your estate to charity and part of your estate to individual beneficiaries. When an individual beneficiary, such as a child, receives your qualified retirement account, the IRS requires the individual to pay income taxes on the distribution. Therefore, the individual would not receive the full retirement account value. In this circumstance, you should consider leaving these individuals the remaining non-qualified accounts from your estate, such as post-tax investment accounts, Roth IRAs and common stocks. By gifting qualified accounts to a charitable organization and gifting non-qualified accounts to individual beneficiaries, you will maximize the amount you leave to all beneficiaries. Being mindful about your beneficiary designations allows you the opportunity to minimize tax payments and to make the most of your legacy gift.

If you plan to leave a percentage of a qualified retirement account to a charitable organization and the remainder to a noncharitable beneficiary, you should be aware of impacts to required minimum distributions of your beneficiaries. The timeline for the required minimum distribution for the noncharitable beneficiary may be accelerated and the individual would not be able to take the required distributions over their life expectancy. You should be on the lookout for associated tax implications before finalizing your estate plan.

An estate planning attorney, such as the skilled attorneys at Anderson O’Brien, can offer guidance as you consider a charitable gift as part of your legacy to leave a lasting impact on your community or a charitable cause that is meaningful to you.

 

What Is Probate?

What Is Probate?

Probate is an often misunderstood but frequently heard term in relation to the death of a loved one. Perhaps in completing your estate planning you have been advised to “avoid probate.” But what is probate and why is to be avoided?

Probate is the name of the legal process that takes place after someone dies for the purpose of the following:

  • Proving that a deceased person’s Last Will & Testament is valid, if there is one.
  • Determining and giving notice of the proceedings to the deceased person’s heirs, any beneficiaries named in the Will, and the deceased person’s creditors.
  • Identifying, inventorying and valuing what the deceased person owned when they died.
  • Determining who will receive the deceased person’s property (heirs, beneficiaries, creditors, etc.).
  • Distributing the remaining assets as the Will directs (or to the heirs identified by state statutes if no Will exists).

The process itself involves filing documents in the local probate court to have the Will admitted and to request that a Personal Representative (sometimes called, Executor) be appointed. The Personal Representative is thereafter required to continue to provide information to the Court and the other interested parties, until the assets and expenses are fully accounted for, and then will ultimately need to obtain approval to distribute the assets to those who are entitled.

Clients often want to avoid this process because it can take a great deal of time and requires legal paperwork and potential court appearances. It is often misunderstood that having a Will is necessary to avoid probate. There are numerous ways to avoid probate, but preparing a Will is not one of them. Whether or not probate is needed will be driven by the value and type of assets owned by the deceased person. An estate planning attorney can discuss the ways to avoid probate and what might be most suitable in your situation.

 

Using a Special Needs Trust to Ensure Your Settlement Does Not Affect Public Benefits

Using a Special Needs Trust to Ensure Your Settlement Does Not Affect Public Benefits

In Wisconsin, Medicaid (sometimes also called Medical Assistance) covers 1 in 9 adults and 1 in 3 children; in fact, 16% of the Wisconsin population gets its health care coverage through Medicaid.  Unlike the similar sounding Medicare, Medicaid is a means tested, needs-based health care coverage program, which means there are various income and asset limits that determine a person’s, or his/her family’s, eligibility.

By virtue of being a means tested program, Medicaid eligibility can be affected by receipt of funds, such as a personal injury settlement, if proper steps are not taken.  For example, to qualify for Medicaid, a single person can have no more than $2,000 in total countable assets.  If that Medicaid recipient receives a personal injury settlement of $25,000, he or she is going to be above the asset limit and at risk to lose Medicaid coverage.  Considering the exorbitant cost of medical procedures and medications, the loss of Medicaid coverage, or any needs-based benefits, can be devastating.

No injury victim should face the choice of being fully and fairly compensated for his or her injuries versus keeping his or her health care coverage.  Such a harsh outcome can be avoided by transferring the settlement funds to a properly drafted “special needs trust.”  Under normal rules, if a Medicaid recipient gives away or transfers assets to someone else, or to a trust, this results in disqualification from Medicaid (a penalty period).  A special needs trust is a type of trust that is specifically allowed under the Medicaid rules as an exception to the asset transfer rule.  A Medicaid recipient can transfer assets to a special needs trust without disqualification, and the recipient will no longer be over the asset limit.  Although the injury victim no longer has access to the funds, the trustee of the special needs trust can make distributions for his or her benefit, and there will be no loss of public benefits.

For example, our hypothetical accident victim, Courtney, receives a $25,000 settlement but is on Medicaid and Social Security Income (SSI), which are public benefits with asset limits.  Courtney wants to save this money for a car (a non-countable asset) or other items but is not sure what she would like to purchase.  If she is going to stay on public benefits, she only has ten days to report that she has received the money, and then will receive a notice that her benefits will be terminated.  Instead, Courtney’s attorney creates a special needs trust for Courtney, naming her mother as the trustee.  Courtney transfers the $25,000 to the trust without any disqualification for public benefits.  Later, Courtney decides she wants to buy a car with the settlement proceeds.  The car is bought and paid for by the special needs trust; the funds to buy the car come directly from the special needs trust, not Courtney.  Courtney gets her car and continues to receive Medicaid and SSI.

It is important to remember that Medicaid and SSI are just a couple examples of means tested/needs-based public benefits that could be affected by receipt of personal injury settlement funds.  This all serves to highlight the risk of going it alone following an accident or injury, as well as the need to hire a skilled attorney.  To be sure, when the insurance adjuster is pressuring you to settle your claim, the insurance company is not going to care whether the settlement will cause you to lose your public benefits.

 

National Healthcare Decisions Day – April 16, 2019

National Healthcare Decisions Day – April 16, 2019

National Healthcare Decisions Day was founded in 2008 to inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning and encourage individuals to express their wishes regarding their healthcare and end of life decisions. Advance care planning is crucial to ensure that you are able to receive the type of medical care you want if you are unable to speak for yourself due to illness or injury.

A 2018 survey completed by The Conversation Project (a public engagement initiative offering resources to begin communications with loved ones about advanced directives) found that while 92% of Americans say it’s important to discuss their wishes for end-of-life care, only 32% have actually had such a conversation.

In recognition of NHDD , the Wisconsin State Bar is offering a free publication from April 3–19, called A Gift to Your Family: Planning Ahead for Future Health Needs, as a guide to end-of-life decisions, Health Care Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, Declarations to Physicians and Organ Donation.

Contact us for more information regarding the legal documents that are necessary to insure that your loved ones can act on your wishes and make the best decisions possible.

 

We believe that the place for this to begin is at the kitchen table—not in the intensive care unit—with the people we love, before it’s too late.
The Conversation Project

Why Won’t the Bank Honor My Power of Attorney?

Why Won’t the Bank Honor My Power of Attorney?

When you have been appointed as an agent under a Durable General (Financial) Power of Attorney, you presume that financial institutions will honor the document appointing you and provide you with access to funds and financial information on behalf of the person who appointed you as agent. It can be a frustrating experience to be told that you cannot access accounts or get the information you are seeking. To resolve the problem, it is important to ask for a clear explanation for why the document is not acceptable. There are some common reasons for a bank, financial institution or other agency to refuse to acknowledge the power of attorney.

1.) The Power of Attorney Is Not Durable
Read the document carefully. For a power of attorney to be effective after incapacity, it must contain specific language indicating that the power of attorney is “durable,” meaning it continues to be effective after the principal becomes incapacitated. Otherwise, it is only effective while the principal is still of sound mind. Since most individuals want the power of attorney to be effective in the event they are no longer able to handle their financial affairs, they should be sure that the power of attorney contains the appropriate durable language when it is drafted. If there is no such language, the agent has no authority and a bank will not honor the power of attorney. If the principal is already incapacitated, they will not be able to execute a new power of attorney and a guardianship may be necessary to access accounts and financial information.

2.) The Power of Attorney Has Not Been Activated
Most Durable General (Financial) Powers of Attorney contain language about how they become effective, again it is important to read the document very carefully before you need to use it, so you can determine what must occur for it to become activated. Some powers of attorney contain language indicating they are “springing,” meaning they only become effective upon the incapacitation of the principal. Some indicate that the document becomes effective after the principal signs a written statement indicating it is effective and they want the agent to act for them. Other powers of attorney are effective immediately the day they are executed, meaning the principal does not have to be incapacitated for the agent to use the document to act on their behalf.

3.) You Have Not Provided Required Documentation
If the power of attorney requires incapacitation before it is effective, you must provide documentation to the bank or financial institution showing that incapacitation has occurred. You may need medical records or a statement from a physician; or if the document requires it, the signature of two physicians who have examined the principal and determined that he or she is unable to manage their affairs due to mental incapacity. If the document requires a written statement from the principal, you must present that document, along with the power of attorney. If you are a secondary agent, named to act in the event the primary agent is unwilling to act or is unable to act due to death or incapacitation, you must provide documentation as to why the first named agent is not acting (e.g. a written resignation, death certificate or certificate showing the first agent has become incapacitated).

4.) The POA Is “Stale”
The notion of “staleness” implies that if a power of attorney was executed a number of years ago, then there is a chance the principal may have revoked the power or has executed a new one. In Wisconsin, a person may not refuse a power of attorney based on the date it was executed; however, a person may ask for a certification of the power of attorney which provides that the principal is still alive, has not revoked or amended the power of attorney and that the contingency requiring it to be effective has occurred.

5.) Handling Power of Attorney Issues with Banks
Keep in mind that banks and other financial institutions are often trying to prevent fraudulent transactions, giving access to an unauthorized person or granting access to an authorized person under the wrong circumstances. They want to protect their customers and can be held liable for granting unauthorized access. While this can be frustrating for the agent, try to remember that you would want the utmost caution taken if someone were trying to access your personal information or accounts.

Remember, if you have communicated clearly and have provided all documentation without successfully accessing the needed information, your attorney may be helpful in providing the bank or financial institution with the legal authority necessary to access the information.

 

Naming a Trust as the Beneficiary of a Tax-Qualified Retirement Account

Naming a Trust as the Beneficiary of a Tax-Qualified Retirement Account

Many have heard the quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”  The sentiment behind this quote remains as relevant today as it did then, particularly in the context of modern retirement planning and tax-qualified retirement accounts.  According to the Social Security Administration, tax-qualified retirement accounts are the predominant retirement plan among workers in the early 21st century.  Common examples of tax-qualified retirement accounts include Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), 401(k) Plans, 403(b) Plans, etc.  The prevalence and value of these accounts have risen dramatically in the past 20 years.

Given this increased wealth accumulation, tax-qualified retirement accounts are beginning to play a larger role in estate planning.  For many, a trust often serves as the cornerstone of their estate plan.  Trusts offer many advantages including the ability to avoid probate while still (i) managing assets for the benefit of young beneficiaries, (ii) protecting inherited assets from a beneficiary’s creditors or ex-spouse, or (iii) preserving a beneficiary’s eligibility for important public benefits.  Given these advantages, it is often desirable to name a trust as the beneficiary of a tax-qualified retirement account.  However, it is important to understand that these accounts remain subject to a complex set of income tax regulations that can often pose a trap for the unwary, particularly in the context of trust planning.

The major attraction of a tax-qualified retirement account is the ability to accumulate funds inside the account on a tax-deferred basis (or tax-free, in the case of a “Roth” account).  However, IRS regulations dictate when this tax-sheltered accumulation must end.  At a certain point, the account owner and/or beneficiary must begin to withdraw required minimum distributions (“RMDs”) from the account and pay income tax on the funds that are withdrawn. Generally, the best income tax planning strategy with respect to RMDs is to withdraw them over the longest period of time possible.  This offers the advantage of delaying the income tax associated with the withdrawals and allows the funds to grow within the account on a tax-deferred basis as long as possible.  This income tax deferral can have a significant investment and long-term savings impact on the account in question.

When an account owner dies and has named an individual directly as the beneficiary of his or her tax-qualified retirement account, the beneficiary can often easily establish an inherited account that allows him or her to withdraw RMDs over the course of his or her remaining life expectancy.  This is usually the longest distribution period permitted under IRS regulation.  A spousal beneficiary will also have the option of rolling the account over directly into his or her name.

However, when a trust is named as beneficiary, the trust document itself plays a crucial role in determining how quickly RMDs must be withdrawn from the account.  If a trust meets specific requirements and is considered a “see-through trust,” the life expectancy of the oldest trust beneficiary may be used as the measuring life for determining how quickly RMDs must be withdrawn from the account.  Otherwise, if such requirements are not met, the funds must be completely withdrawn from the account over either the remaining life expectancy of the account holder or within a five year period, depending upon the age of the account owner at the time of his or her death.  This often accelerates the timeline for withdrawing the funds from the account, as well as the associated income tax.

For a trust to be considered a “see-through trust,” it must meet the following requirements:

  1. Valid.  The trust must be valid under state law.
  2. Irrevocable.  The trust must either become irrevocable upon the death of the owner or be irrevocable on the date that it is signed.
  3. Identifiable.  The beneficiaries of the trust must be identifiable from the trust instrument.  This is required so that the oldest trust beneficiary can be identified to determine how quickly RMDs must be withdrawn from the account.
  4. Documentation.  Certain documentation must be provided to the plan administrator.  This may often be satisfied by supplying a copy of the trust document.
  5. Individuals.  All beneficiaries of the trust must be individuals.  Estates, charities, non-qualified trusts and other entities do not qualify as individual beneficiaries.

While some of the above requirements are fairly straight forward, it remains easy to run afoul with others in the average trust document.  For example, the simple act of including a charity as a contingent beneficiary may prevent a trust from being considered a see-through trust.  Accordingly, if you plan on naming a trust as the beneficiary of a tax-qualified retirement account, you should speak with your attorney to make sure your trust qualifies as a see-through trust.  In some estate plans, it might even make sense to create a standalone see-through trust depending on the size of the tax-qualified retirement accounts and the account owner’s estate planning goals and family situation.

 

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