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Entries in estate planning tips (4)

Monday
Jul082013

Tony Soprano's Run In With the Tax Man

 

by Robert A. Hull

 

Many of us who were fans of the HBO show about a fictional New Jersey mafia family, The Sopranos, and actor James Gandolfini in particular (who played mob boss Tony Soprano), were shocked and saddened to learn of the actor's untimely death.  

Now, the media reports that substantial taxes will be due on Mr. Gandolfini's estate due to poor estate planning. Could some of these taxes have been avoided or, at the very least, delayed with different estate planning strategies?  

Based on the latest information about his estate, it is very likely. While many of the specifics are unclear, it appears Mr. Gandolfini could have benefitted from using estate planning strategies to leave more of his assets to his family.

As one example, if the $7 million life insurance payout to James' son was not held in a life insurance trust, the full value of this payout would be included in the value of his estate for taxation purposes. If such insurance were held in a life insurance trust, then this payout would not be included in his taxable estate, and could result in savings of several millions of dollars in estate tax.

Also, Mr. Gandolfini could have potentially reduced the size of his estate subject to estate taxes also by using revocable and irrevocable trusts, perhaps creating certain business entities and employing gifting strategies. But, without additional specific information about his assets, it is difficult to tell which combination would have been most effective.

Though the value of most of our estates does not approach Mr. Gandolfini's, estimated at over $70 million, we all have an interest in maximizing the assets which are ultimately distributed to our beneficiaries and minimizing those to the Tax Man.

The government's take from Mr. Gandolfini's estate will likely be over $30 million, and that's a lotta "scharole".

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.

Thursday
Jul142011

Carmageddon To Do List: Trust and Estate Planning

 

by Robert A. Hull

 

Of all the things your Carmageddon To Do list should include, trust and estate planning should be ranking right after:

#1. Avoid driving in Los Angeles unnecessarily this weekend like the city’s infested with bubonic plague (though, I vaguely remember that getting around town during the 1984 Olympics wasn’t so bad – here’s to hoping).

Plague or not, many businesses along the 405 corridor are encouraging visitors by offering discounts and other incentives to lure foolish drivers to their doors. Don’t take the bait. Instead, stay home, relax with your family, and plan for the future. When was the last time you did that?

I know, trust and estate planning is a chore, like dead-heading the geraniums or re-caulking the bathtub. But if you’re not going to plan for your future and that of your loved ones this weekend, when WILL you take the time for it?

That being said, here are some estate planning points to ponder while you’re doing other things around the house:

 

Is it better to have a will, a trust, or both?

 

Best to view a will and a trust as a unified whole. With a will, you can decide how to distribute all of your property upon your death and name an executor to do so. However, without a funded trust, your estate will be “probated” – i.e., subject to Court-supervised administration (which can be, to the uninitiated – like re-caulking geraniums and dead-heading bathtubs – all while paying for the privilege in time and money).

With a trust, you have even more flexibility to distribute your property. However, if enough of your assets are not transferred into your trust, you can end up, again, in probate.

A trust can be set up with your spouse or partner, and like a will, you get to name someone to administer the trust (the “Trustee”), who will very likely be your spouse or partner.

Again, you must fund your trust before your demise, so that your loved ones can avoid -- da, da, dum -- probate.

 

Make it Easy for Your Executor or Trustee

 

Don’t hide your assets unless you’re committing an act of revenge.

If you actually like your Executor or Trustee and want to make it easier for him or her, make a list of all of the assets you’re distributing and make sure s/he has a copy, along with your accountant or attorney (or at least one of the above).

Upon your death, your trustee or executor must maintain records regarding any transactions related to your estate, i.e. payments from the estate for your funeral expenses, interests and gains on your accounts, fund transfers between accounts and more. S/he has a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of your estate to administer the assets according to the terms of the operative will/trust, and may be liable to beneficiaries for failing to do so.

The executors and/or trustees will have to give notice to your beneficiaries and heirs . . . in some cases, along with regular accounting statements. And courts may enforce notice and reporting, even for trusts outside of the court’s supervision, or not in probate.

 

Taxing Questions

 

Currently, California does not have an inheritance tax like some other states, and generally speaking, there is no federal estate tax due upon the death of the first spouse. Currently, there are no federal estate taxes for assets worth under $5 million dollars (and, a surviving spouse may use the deceased spouse’s unused portion of his or her $5 million exemption).

You may gift up to $5 million dollars, tax free. So, if you’re thinking about gifting property or funds to a particular someone…this may be the very time to do it because the law is set to reduce the estate/gift tax exemptions to $1 million dollars in 2013, absent further legislative action. Remember, though, that gifting now will reduce your estate tax exemption to the extent that you use your gift tax exemption…

 

Trust and Estate Planning Accountability

If you’d like more information, read my colleague’s, Michael Hackman’s blog, California Trust Attorney – Three Things You Should Know About a Trust.” 

Stay safe this Carmageddon weekend, steer-clear of driving and start a little estate planning for the family… 

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.

 

 

Friday
Jun102011

Will and Probate Explained – Why You Should be Prepared

 

by Robert A. Hull

Sound estate planning, the realm of the trust, will and probate generally keep property in the family, make sure debts are settled and don’t become burdens on your loved ones, and ensure your wishes for the distribution of your property – assuming such wishes are legal – are implemented according to your instructions.

Let’s start with wills.

If you pass away with a will, your property will be distributed according to its terms. Your will can leave your assets to a trust you created during your lifetime. In such a case, your will is called a “pour over” will because it “pours” assets not already in your trust, into your trust. Your will can also include a trust created in the will itself.

Your will also names an executor to administrate your “probate estate” (more on that in a minute). This executor organizes and distributes your assets per the terms you outlined in your will, and arranges payments of debts and taxes.

And, if you have minor children, your will should name a trusted guardian for them.

 

What is Probate?

 

Probate is the process by which the Court supervises and validates your executor’s management and distribution of assets, as well as payment of your debts. Probate generally takes a long time, sometimes several years.

If there are assets which are subject to the probate process, the executor must file papers to “open a probate” with the Court. The will and probate process is highly specialized and very time-sensitive (i.e., there are many hard and fast deadlines based on your date of death, the date certain documents were filed with the Court, etc.). Thus, we don’t recommend that your executor handle this process without the assistance of a knowledgeable trust and estate attorney.

Generally, state law sets the fees that an attorney assisting with a will and probate may charge (a certain percentage of the gross value of the assets probated). However, such fees, and the time and inconvenience of managing a probate, will inevitably be significantly greater than the fees necessary to draft a complete estate plan which can avoid the need for probate.

However, probate is necessary to lawfully settle your debts and assets only if you die with “probate assets”.

 

Your Assets – What Should be Covered in Your Will and Probate Planning?

 

Only certain assets do not require a probate process – they are called, logically, “non-probate assets”. Some examples include:

▪ Assets in Joint-Tenancy
▪ Assets held by Trusts
▪ IRAs
Life Insurance Proceeds
▪ Other assets with named beneficiaries

The administration of these assets are not governed by your will, but rather by the terms of the specific instrument. So even if you wrote a will, the executor may not need to open a probate, provided all of your assets are “non-probate” assets (or if you have less than $100,000 in probate assets). That’s good news for you and your beneficiaries.

 

No Will – What Happens Then?

 

If you pass away without a valid will, you die “intestate”. That is, the Probate Court will dispose of your property according to the California intestate beneficiary succession laws in place at the time of your death. If you are married, there are different schemes for community property and separate property.

If you don’t have a will, you don’t have an executor, so the Court will appoint a person nominated according to the statutory scheme (probably someone from your family) to act as your estate administrator. There is no authority to make transfers of your probate assets without the transferor being appointed executor, and an executor, with exceptions, cannot act without court approval.

Without a will, you can only hope that the people that you would have as beneficiaries and the amounts they would receive are consistent with the distributions provided for under the intestate succession laws.

A simple will and probate plan is a good first step toward the efficient management of your assets following your death. However, there is a much more powerful tool which, when used in conjunction with a will, can also have numerous tax benefits and help your estate avoid probate entirely.

Robert A. Hull is a Los Angeles trust and estate planning attorney at the Firm, and his practice includes business and corporate law. Contact Mr. Hull at 818.990.2120, or by e-mail: rhull@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.

 

 

LEWITT HACKMAN | 16633 Ventura Boulevard, Eleventh Floor, Encino, California 91436-1865 | 818.990.2120