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Thursday
Apr202017

Accidental Disinheritance: Update Wills, Estate Plans Annually

Gift Tax, Trusts & Estate Planning Attorney

by Kira S. Masteller
818.907.3244

 

So you have an estate plan? Good for you. You funded it? Even better. But have you updated it and your will in the last year? If you haven’t, your loved ones or favorite charities may be in for an unpleasant surprise. Your ex-spouses, step-children, ex-partners or someone else you hadn’t considered may find themselves receiving a windfall.

Designate Beneficiaries AnnuallyDon’t subject your loved ones to accidental disinheritance. This commonly happens when clients fail to update their beneficiary list, particularly upon:

  • Divorce
  • Remarriage
  • Death of a Beneficiary
  • Birth of a Child

Divorce is one of the more common events to cause rancor (and potential litigation) among surviving family members when a decedent hasn’t updated designations.

In Hillman v. Maretta for example, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Judy Maretta, the ex-wife of Warren Hillman, was entitled to Hillman’s nearly $125K life insurance policy proceeds. Hillman and Maretta were divorced for a decade before Hillman passed – but he never updated his policy beneficiary designee. His widow and ex-spouse battled in court for five years before the Supreme Court ultimately decided the case.

There’s more to this story however, as Hillman lived in Virginia which has laws to protect subsequent spouses (California Probate Code §6122, also protects subsequent spouses). Under state law, Hillman’s widow/current spouse would have received the proceeds.

But since Hillman was a federal employee, his life insurance policy was governed by the Employees’ Group Life Insurance Act of 1954. Under this Act, the beneficiary designation prevailed over Virginia regulations.

Similarly, consider Egelhoff v. Egelhoff. In this case, David Egelhoff named his wife Donna Rae as beneficiary of his pension plan and life insurance policy – both of which were governed by the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).

Shortly after their divorce, David died in a car accident. David’s children challenged Donna Rae’s status as beneficiary, citing Washington state law which would have revoked benefits for her upon divorce. The trial court found for the children, but an appellate decision found for the ex-spouse, and was upheld by the Supreme Court.

Laws in many states will revoke an ex-spouse’s claims. However, we see that federal laws will often trump state regulations. Even when no federal legislation applies, it just doesn’t make sense to make your preferred beneficiaries fight for their inheritances in court, should some question arise as to your intentions. Why put them through the expense and aggravation?

Beneficiary Designation Gone Bad

Here’s one more scenario that isn’t clouded by laws governing federal employees – in other words, this could happen to anyone:

We are currently dealing with a situation in which a wife was insured under two separate life insurance policies, and then passed away. Her husband was the designated beneficiary for both policies. Unfortunately, he became very ill just before his wife passed.

When she did pass, the husband was unable to manage his financial affairs, and never collected the life insurance proceeds due to him when his spouse died.

Death benefits from both life insurance policies are now going through probate (of the husband’s estate) before being distributed to the surviving children. If the parents’ living trust had been named as the beneficiary of the policies, the Trustee could have collected the life insurance benefits either when the husband was alive or after his death, without a Probate proceeding. 

Getting sound advice regarding how to complete beneficiary designations is AS IMPORTANT as completing them.

To be clear regarding your estate planning objectives, ensure these assets’ designations are all up to date:

  • Bank & Brokerage Accounts – Trust

  • Life Insurance Policies – Designate Trust or Tax Planning Life Insurance Trust

  • Trusts – check who you named as beneficiaries and who you appointed as trustees each year

  • Retirement Accounts – Beneficiary designation form

  • Company Benefit Plans - Beneficiary designation form

  • 529 College Accounts - Beneficiary designation form

  • Transfer on Death Accounts - Beneficiary designation form 

Kira S. Masteller is a Shareholder in our Trusts & Estate Planning Practice Group. 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Wednesday
May142014

Retirement Planning for Same-Sex Married Couples

Trusts & Estate Planning Attorney

by Kira S. Masteller
818.907.3244

 

In September, the Internal Revenue Service issued Revenue Ruling 2013-17 which clarified when, for federal tax purposes, the IRS will recognize same-sex marriages.

As of September 16, the Department of the Treasury and IRS recognized a same-sex marriage if the couple was married in a state where it is legal. It became the state of celebration that mattered to the feds, rather than the state of domicile.

Now the IRS has released further guidance, which addresses questions regarding certain retirement plans for same-sex married couples. Revenue Ruling 2014-19:

1. Describes when marital status is relevant to the payment of retirement benefits;

2. Outlines how tax requirements for same-sex married couples should be satisfied following the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Windsor – in which Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (marriage declared to be between one man and one woman) was deemed unconstitutional – and  Revenue Ruling 2013-17; and  

3. Provides guidance regarding when retirement plans should be amended for compliance.

 

Same-Sex Retirement Benefits: The Basics

Now is a good time to review your retirement plan, check your beneficiary designations, and check with your employer to see if the retirement plan will be amended to provide additional benefits to same-sex surviving spouses.

Keep these three things in mind:

1. Ruling 2014-19 is retroactive, applying the 2013-17 definitions of married couples for tax purposes to retirement plans. Remember, it's the state of celebration, rather than the state of residence that is important now.

So if a same-sex couple married in California and later moved to a state where gay marriage is not recognized – the surviving spouse will still be eligible to receive benefits according to the IRS. 

 

2. If a spouse passes away on or after June 26, 2013, the same-sex surviving spouse will be entitled to profit-sharing and stock bonus plans, and other potential benefits, if the spouse is named the primary or partial beneficiary.

If the deceased participant did not designate a beneficiary, the plan administrator must recognize the spouse (gay or straight) as the default beneficiary.

 

3. If someone other than the spouse is the designated beneficiary, the surviving spouse whether straight or gay, must have provided written consent to that effect.

If you need more information regarding who to designate as beneficiary for your estate's assets, please read Designated Beneficiary Assets: Consider Your Income, Capital Gains & Estate Taxes.

 

Kira S. Masteller is a Gift Tax and Estate Planning Attorney at our firm. Contact her by phone: 818.907.3244 or email: kmasteller@lewitthackman.com for more information.

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Wednesday
Jun192013

Designated Beneficiary Assets: Consider Your Income, Capital Gains & Estate Taxes

Trusts & Estate Planning Attorney

by Kira S. Masteller
818.907.3244

 

In the third segment of our series regarding Gift Tax & Estate Planning, we'll examine assets that require designated beneficiaries, specifically: IRA accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance, accidental death insurance, annuities and payable on death accounts, which pass outside of a probate or a living trust.

Designated beneficiary assets must be looked at individually because different types of assets require different designations depending on their income tax consequences.

For example, a life insurance policy does not suffer any negative income tax consequences when being distributed upon the death of the insured – although it is exposed to estate tax consequences. Because of this, your revocable living trust can be named as the primary beneficiary of a life insurance policy.

There are important advantages to naming the trust as the primary beneficiary: 

1. If you are married and have a trust that splits into two or more trusts upon the first spouse’s death for death tax planning purposes, the insurance proceeds can be utilized in the allocation of assets between the two trusts so that none of the decedent’s estate tax exemption is wasted.

If a surviving spouse is named as the primary beneficiary of the life insurance, the proceeds of the policy are not in the trust for allocation purposes and some or all of the decedent’s estate tax credit could be wasted.

2. If you have minor children and you name them as the direct beneficiaries of the life insurance policy, the proceeds will be subject to a Guardianship proceeding (court supervised) and held in an FDIC insured account (ensuring the account is held in an insured banking institution), which will be distributed to a child upon attaining age 18. This limits the asset’s growth possibilities, the ability for an adult to use those assets for that child during that child’s lifetime, and it gives a windfall to a child at age 18 when they may not be mature enough to manage money or get assistance managing money.

Remember: If minor children are direct beneficiaries of any asset, there will be a Court Guardianship proceeding which is expensive and time consuming. 

It is better to name your trust as the beneficiary of life insurance for children so that the problems discussed here, do not occur. You may consider using a life insurance trust for the same reasons mentioned above, as well as for estate tax planning purposes – the life insurance trust will keep the proceeds of the death benefit out of your taxable estate upon your death.

If you have any questions about who to designate as a beneficiary for your assets, please contact me for help.

In my next blog, we'll look into Retirement Assets, some of their potential problems and solutions to those problems. If you'd like to catch up on previous posts in this Gift Tax and Estate Planning series, click on the embedded links above to read about Living Trusts and Life Insurance.

Kira S. Masteller is a Gift Tax and Estate Planning Attorney and a Shareholder at our Firm. Contact her via email: kmasteller@lewitthackman.com for more information.

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Wednesday
May152013

A Living Trust – One of Many Tools for Protecting Your Estate

Trusts & Estate Planning Attorney

by Kira S. Masteller
818.907.3244

 

A living trust is not the only vehicle that individuals need to consider when completing an estate plan. There are several other types of trusts and tools, some of which are equally as important as a living trust, necessary to accomplish and complete planning goals.

A well rounded estate plan must also consider potential income tax problems, estate and generation skipping transfer tax consequences, as well as planning trusts for minor children or protecting a child’s inheritance from his or her spouse or creditors.

In the first of a six part series on Gift Tax and Estate Planning blogs, I'll explore how Living Trusts can help protect and secure you and your family members for the future.

 

What is a Living Trust?

 

A living trust is a way of holding title to your assets so they will not be subject to Court Conservatorship or Probate Proceedings during your life or upon your death.

The trust governs what happens to your assets if you are incapacitated during your lifetime, as well as providing for the distribution of your assets when you die. You can change your living trust while you are living and you keep control of the assets you place in the trust.

Estate for Federal Estate Tax purposes includes:

A living trust also includes estate tax planning provisions so that your family will not pay estate tax unnecessarily.

Estate taxes are presently at a 40 percent rate (of the value of all of your assets when you die). Your assets include your:

  • Real Estate
  • Personal Property
  • Business Interests  (Partnerships, LLCs, Corporations, Joint Ventures)
  • Money
  • Promissory Notes
  • Deeds of Trust
  • Investment Accounts
  • Retirement Plans (such as IRAs and 401(k) plans)
  • Life Insurance
  • Annuities

If the total value of these assets exceeds $5,250,000 (Federal Estate Tax Exemption in 2013), there will be an estate tax when you die on the amount in excess of the exemption at the rate of 40 percent.

While leaving your assets to your spouse avoids the estate tax at your death, it compounds the estate tax at his or her death. Therefore, it is not always the best strategy to leave all your assets directly to your spouse in joint tenancy or payable upon death accounts.

Instead, there are ways of allowing your spouse to have control over the assets, while still avoiding death taxes on those assets upon his or her death.  A living trust will generally provide estate tax planning provisions for a married couple by allocating the deceased spouse’s estate tax exemption to an Exemption Trust upon his or her death, so that his or her estate tax exemption will be fully utilized, thereby reducing the value of the surviving spouse’s estate upon his or her death.

Though a living trust is a very important and basic estate and tax planning tool, it is not the only one.  My next blog in this series will discuss Life Insurance, and how you can use that vehicle in conjunction with an irrevocable trust.

 

Kira S. Masteller is a Gift Tax & Estate Planning Attorney in our Trusts and Estate Planning Practice Group. Contact her for more information via email: kmasteller@lewitthackman.com.

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Wednesday
Dec052012

The Tax Increases Have Begun

by Lewitt Hackman's Trusts & Estate Planning Practice Group 
December 4, 2012

Tax Attorney EncinoMichael Hackman - Certified Tax Law Specialist Kira S. Masteller - Gift Tax, Trusts & Estate Planning

With the “fiscal cliff” discussions front and center, many people do not realize that certain tax increases are already being implemented, both at the federal and at the state level. 

 

Federal Taxes

 

Earlier this week, the IRS released 159 pages of new tax rules related to the implementation of the 2010 healthcare reform law, sometimes known as “Obamacare”. 

First, there is a 3.8 percent surtax on “investment income” for individuals earning more than $200,000 in modified adjusted gross income, and married couples filing jointly with more than $250,000 of such income (notwithstanding the 159 pages, there are still numerous uncertainties as to what constitutes “investment income”). 

This surtax will be applied to capital gains and dividend income and is the first of its kind applying to capital gains and dividend income.  The IRS offered the example of a single taxpayer who makes $180,000 in wages plus $90,000 in investment income (a modified adjusted gross income of $270,000).  The 3.8 percent tax would apply to $70,000, resulting in a $2,660 surtax. 

In addition, there is a 0.9 percent healthcare tax on wages (i.e., the employee portion of the payroll tax) for such “high-income” individuals.  These rules are effective for the tax year starting January 1, 2013, though the IRS will take public comments and hold hearings in April before making the rules final in the fall.  It is estimated that these tax increases will raise $317.7 billion over 10 years.  We believe that employers must start to withhold once an employee’s wages pass $200,000 each year. 

There are numerous other changes as part of the healthcare law, including several changes in the deductibility of medical expenses.

 

California State Taxes

 

California voters recently passed Proposition 30 by a margin of 55.3 percent to 44.7 percent.  This proposition increases California sales tax to 7.5 percent from 7.25 percent.   

In addition, it will result in increases in state income taxes for “high-income” tax brackets.  These California income tax increases will apply retroactively to January 1, 2012, as follows:

  • 10.3 percent tax rate on taxable income for individuals between $250,000 and $300,000, and for married couples filing jointly between $500,000 and $600,000 (formerly 9.3 percent);

  • 11.3 percent tax rate on taxable income for individuals between $300,000 and $500,000, and for married couples filing jointly between $600,000 and $1,000,000 (formerly 9.3 percent); and

  • 12.3 percent tax rate on taxable income for individuals over $500,000, and for married couples filing jointly over $1,000,000 (in addition, though not part of Proposition 30, there continues to be an additional 1 percent tax assessed for an individual’s taxable income in excess of $1,000,0000, pursuant to the Mental Health Services Act). 

The Proposition 30 tax increases are temporary – the increased sales tax applies for four years and the increased income taxes apply for seven years. It is estimated that these taxes will bring in additional revenues to the state of approximately $6 billion annually (less after 2016-17 as a result of the sunset of the four year sales tax increase period). 

On the bright side, certain proposed deep cuts to education and other government services should not occur as the result of the passage of Proposition 30.

 

Michael Hackman is the Chair of our Trusts and Estate Planning Practice Group, and is a Certified Specialist in Tax Law, designated by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization. Kira S. Masteller is a Gift Tax, Trusts and Estate Planning Attorney. 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.
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