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How to Plan Your Funeral

Thinking about your funeral may not be fun, but planning ahead can be exceedingly helpful for your family. It both lets them know your wishes and assists them during a stressful time. The following are steps you can take to plan ahead:

Name who is in charge.

The first step is to designate someone to make funeral arrangements for you. State law dictates how that appointment is made. In some states, an informal note is enough. Other states require you to designate someone in a formal document, such as a health care power of attorney. If you do not designate someone, your spouse or children are usually given the task.

Put your preferences in writing.

Write out detailed funeral preferences as well as the requested disposition of your remains. Would you rather be buried or cremated? Do you want a funeral or a memorial service? Where should the funeral or memorial be held? The document can also include information about who should be invited, what you want to wear, who should speak, what music should be played, and who should be pallbearers, among other information. The writing can be a separate document or part of a health care directive. It should not be included in your will because the will may not be opened until long after the funeral.

Shop around.

It is possible to make arrangements with a funeral home ahead of time, so your family does not have to scramble to set things up while they are grieving. Prices among funeral homes can vary greatly, so it is a good idea to check with a few different ones before settling on the one you want. The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule requires all funeral homes to supply customers with a general price list that details prices for all possible goods or services. The rule also stipulates what kinds of misrepresentations are prohibited and explains what items consumers cannot be required to purchase, among other things.

Inform your family members.

Make sure you tell your family members about your wishes and let them know where you have written them down.

Figure out how to pay for it.

Funerals are expensive, so you need to think about how to pay for the one you want. You can pre-pay, but this is risky because the funds can be mismanaged or the funeral home could go out of business. Instead of paying ahead, you can set up a payable-on-death account with your bank. Make the person who will be handling your funeral arrangements the beneficiary (and make sure they know your plans). You will maintain control of your money while you are alive, but when you die it is available immediately, without having to go through probate. Another option is to purchase a life insurance policy that is specifically for funeral arrangements.

Taking the time to plan ahead will be a big help to your family and give you peace of mind.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty, Personal Family Lawyer®. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why she offers a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love.

Call us at (813) 514-2946 to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article and ask how to get this $500 session at no charge.

More Tips on Creating an Estate Plan That Benefits a Child With Special Needs

Parents want their children to be taken care of after they die. But children with disabilities have increased financial and care needs, so ensuring their long-term welfare can be tricky. Proper planning is necessary to benefit the child with a disability, including an adult child, as well as assist any siblings who may be left with the care taking responsibility.

Special Needs Trusts

The best and most comprehensive option to protect a loved one is to set up a special needs trust (also called a supplemental needs trust). These trusts allow beneficiaries to receive inheritances, gifts, lawsuit settlements, or other funds and yet not lose their eligibility for certain government programs, such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The trusts are drafted so that the funds will not be considered to belong to the beneficiaries in determining their eligibility for public benefits.

There are three main types of special needs trusts:

#1 A First-Party Trust

A first-party trust is designed to hold a beneficiary’s own assets. While the beneficiary is living, the funds in the trust are used for the beneficiary’s benefit, and when the beneficiary dies, any assets remaining in the trust are used to reimburse the government for the cost of medical care.

These trusts are especially useful for beneficiaries who are receiving Medicaid, SSI or other needs-based benefits and come into large amounts of money, because the trust allows the beneficiaries to retain their benefits while still being able to use their own funds when necessary.

#2 A Third-Party Trust

The third-party special needs trust is most often used by parents and other family members to assist a person with special needs. These trusts can hold any kind of asset imaginable belonging to the family member or other individual, including a house, stocks and bonds, and other types of investments.

The third-party trust works like a first-party special needs trust in that the assets held in the trust do not affect a beneficiary’s access to benefits and the funds can be used to pay for the beneficiary’s supplemental needs beyond those covered by government benefits. But a third-party special needs trust does not contain the “payback” provision found in first-party trusts. This means that when the beneficiary with special needs dies, any funds remaining in the trust can pass to other family members, or to charity, without having to be used to reimburse the government.

#3 A Pooled Trust

A pooled trust is an alternative to the first-party special needs trust.  Essentially, a charity sets up these trusts that allow beneficiaries to pool their resources with those of other trust beneficiaries for investment purposes, while still maintaining separate accounts for each beneficiary’s needs. When the beneficiary dies, the funds remaining in the account reimburse the government for care, but a portion also goes towards the non-profit organization responsible for managing the trust.

Life Insurance

Not everyone has a large chunk of money that can be left to a special needs trust, so life insurance can be an essential tool. If you’ve established a special needs trust, a life insurance policy can pay directly into it, and it does not have to go through probate or be subject to estate tax. Be sure to review the beneficiary designation to make sure it names the trust, not the child.

You should make sure you have enough insurance to pay for your child’s care long after you are gone. Without proper funding, the burden of care may fall on siblings or other family members. Using a life insurance policy will also guarantee future funding for the trust while keeping the parents’ estate intact for other family members. When looking for life insurance, consider a second-to-die policy. This type of policy only pays out after the second parent dies, and it has the benefit of lower premiums than regular life insurance policies.

ABLE Account

An Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account allows people with disabilities who became disabled before they turned 26 to set aside up to $15,000 a year in tax-free savings accounts without affecting their eligibility for government benefits. This money can come from the individual with the disability or anyone else who may wish to give him money.

Created by Congress in 2014 and modeled on 529 savings plans for higher education, these accounts can be used to pay for qualifying expenses of the account beneficiary, such as the costs of treating the disability or for education, housing and health care, among other things. ABLE account programs have been rolling out on a state-by-state basis, but even if your state does not yet have its own program, many state programs allow out-of-state beneficiaries to open accounts.

Although it may be easy to set up an ABLE account, there are many hidden pitfalls associated with spending the funds in the accounts, both for the beneficiary and for her family members. In addition, ABLE accounts cannot hold more than $100,000 without jeopardizing government benefits like Medicaid and SSI. If there are funds remaining in an ABLE account upon the death of the account beneficiary, they must be first used to reimburse the government for Medicaid benefits received by the beneficiary. Then the remaining funds will have to pass through probate in order to be transferred to the beneficiary’s heirs.

However you decide to provide for a child with special needs, proper planning is essential. We can help you determine the best plan for your family.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty, Personal Family Lawyer®. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why she offers a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love.

Call us at (813) 514-2946 to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article and ask how to get this $500 session at no charge.

For more info on this topic, visit this blog post.

Avoiding Disputes Over Your Estate Plan – Part 1

Avoiding Disputes Over Your Estate Plan – Part 1  

No matter how well you think you know your family, it’s impossible to predict their behavior when you die or become incapacitated. Nobody wants to believe their family would ever end up fighting in Court over inheritance issues or  life-saving medical treatment. But sadly, we see this happen all the time.

When tragedy strikes, even minor tensions and disagreements can explode into bitter conflict. And when money is at stake, there’s even a greater risk for conflict.

The good news is you can drastically reduce the odds of such conflict through estate planning. You can do this with the support of a lawyer who understands and can anticipate these dynamics. This is why it’s so important to work with an experienced law firm like ours when creating your estate plan. Never rely on generic, do-it-yourself planning documents found online.

By learning about some of the leading causes of such disputes, you’re in a better position to prevent those situations.

#1 Reason for Conflict: Putting the Wrong Person in Charge

Many estate planning disputes happen  the person you chose to handle your affairs after your death or incapacity fails to carry out his or her responsibilities properly. Whether it’s as your power of attorney agent, executor, or trustee, these roles can entail a variety of different duties, some of which can last for years.

The individual you select, known as a fiduciary, is legally required to carry out those duties and act in the best interests of the beneficiaries named in your plan. The failure to do either of those things, is referred to as a breach of fiduciary duty.

The breach can be the result of the person’s deliberate action, or it could be something he or she does unintentionally, by mistake. Either way, a breach—or even the perception of one—can cause serious conflict among your loved ones. This is especially true if the fiduciary attempts to use the position for personal gain, or if the improper actions negatively impact the beneficiaries.

Common breaches include failing to provide required accounting and tax information to beneficiaries, improperly using estate or trust assets for the fiduciary’s personal benefit, making improper distributions, and failing to pay taxes, debts, and/or expenses owed by the estate or trust.

If a suspected breach occurs, beneficiaries can sue to have the fiduciary removed, recover any damages they incurred, and even recover punitive damages if the breach was committed out of malice or fraud.

Solution

Carefully choose your fiduciaries and make sure everyone in your family knows why you chose the fiduciary you did. You should only choose the most honest, trustworthy, and diligent individuals. Be careful not to select those who might have potential conflicts of interest with beneficiaries.

Moreover, it’s vital that your planning documents contain clear terms spelling out a fiduciary’s responsibilities and duties, so the individual understands exactly what’s expected of him or her. And should things go wrong, you can add terms to your plan that allow beneficiaries to remove and replace a fiduciary without going to court.

We can help you choose most qualified fiduciaries and draft the precise, explicit, and understandable terms in all of your planning documents. We can also help your family understands your choices, so they do not end up in conflict when it’s too late. That way, the individuals you choose to carry out your wishes will have the best chances of doing so successfully—and with as little conflict as possible.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series discussing common causes for dispute over estate planning. 

Myrna can guide you to make informed, educated, and empowered choices to protect yourself and the ones you love most. Contact us today to get started with a Planning Session. This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty, Personal Family Lawyer®. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents she ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why she offers a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love.

Call us at (813) 514-2946 to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article and ask how to get this $500 session at no charge.

When a Will Isn’t Enough to Avoid Conflict: Remember Your Personal Property

“When the parents are gone, there’s all kinds of unforeseen stuff they leave us with, stuff they never intended.” – Ira Glass, in This American Life, Episode 763: “Left Behind”

If you grew up with siblings, you probably remember some sibling rivalry. That rivalry can continue well into adulthood, especially after the parents are gone. In many families, parents are like the glue that keeps the family together. Once their gone, old issues can resurface, especially when it comes to dividing the parents’ personal property.  That’s why it’s important to have a plan for how you want your personal, sentimental property distributed to the people that you love. If you don’t, that can make an already tough situation so much worse.

This American Life, a popular podcast, recently featured a family with such a story. Eleven adult siblings needed to divide their dead parents’ stuff. But they didn’t all get along. Although their parents (who were both attorneys) had wills, they didn’t list in their will which child would get which items. They left all that to the kids, saying simply, everyone should get an equal amount. So the siblings invented a remarkably elaborate cheat-proof system to divide up the remains of their childhood. In the end, it was a system that played off the siblings’ natural suspicions towards each other and did nothing to bring them closer together after losing their parents.

Here’s a quote from the narrator:

“What they have left to them is just these things, right? And this mandate– to get along well enough one last time to split it up amongst themselves. And they don’t want to screw it up. They want to honor their parents’ last request. But they know it’s going to be tough for them, given how they are sometimes with each other.”

This is an example of incomplete planning that can lead to conflict after you’re gone. If the parents in this story had left a personal property memorandum that referred back to their Wills, that could have reduced the strain on their children, especially the estate’s executor. It would have also saved a lot of time and conflict….and their relationships with each other.

You can listen to this story (16 minute run time) here.

Or you can read the transcript here. 

 

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why Myrna offers a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Call our office today to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article to find out how to get this session at no charge. Call us at (813) 514-2946.

Check out another blog post about embracing the emotional side of estate planning. Here

Update: Aretha Franklin’s Estate. 3 Handwritten Wills Found

In August 2018, music legend, Aretha Franklin, died of pancreatic cancer. At her death, her estate was worth over $80 million and it appeared that she died without a will or trust.  (We wrote about this in this article here.)

Recently, we learned that three handwritten wills were found in her home. The latest one is dated March 2014 and it was found inside a spiral notebook, under cushions. The document appears to give the famous singer’s assets to family members. However, the writing is difficult to decipher and there are words scratched out and notes scribbled in the margins.

It is unclear if this is a valid will under Michigan law.  A court hearing is scheduled next month to determine the validity of that document.

Even if the Court determines that the will is valid, there’s still the issue of federal taxes. The Internal Revenue Service is auditing many years of Franklin’s tax returns, according to the estate. It filed a claim in December for more than $6 million in taxes.

Ms. Franklin’s family remains hopeful that wise choices can be made on behalf of her rich legacy, her family and her estate.  Sadly, we may never know what her wishes were.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents. She ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why Myrna offers a Planning Session, during which you’ll get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Begin  by calling our office today to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session at no charge.

Call us today at (813) 514-2946 to get started.

Will Your Estate Have a Password Problem?

We live in the digital age. Having online access to investments is a great convenience. But the downside is that they can create a very difficult situation for a surviving spouse or executor trying to find the deceased’s assets.

What is the first thing you are told about any password? Don’t write it down. This can create unintended consequences for an executor who needs access to each account in order to marshal the assets and eventually distribute those assets to the heirs or trustees based on the language contained in the will.

When the founder and CEO of a Canadian cryptocurrency exchange, QuadrigaCX, died unexpectedly, nobody else had the password to the exchange’s cold storage locker. That cut off access to investors’ $190 million in cryptocurrency.  Those investors may never see their funds again. This is a an eye-opening example of how the security system designed to keep hackers out of an account can work against the owners of funds.

Estate administration in the digital age requires having a strategy to share passwords to your computer, email and online accounts. Without that, things quickly get complicated.

Option #1 Give your passwords to a trusted family member.

This is probably the easiest, but least secure way. They will need passwords to access your computer or smartphone. They will also need a password to access your email — which is where electronic financial statements are traditionally sent. This creates a potential security issue and also doesn’t provide the trusted person with access to each individual financial platform, which would require each of those passwords to be written down or somehow saved and communicated to the trusted person. Many computer operating systems now save passwords to frequently visited websites, so it is possible that if a trusted person had access to your computer, they may also be able to gain access to your financial accounts.

Option #2 Write down and place all passwords in a safe deposit box.

Your executor or guardian/attorney-in-fact through a power of attorney can access your safe deposit box and your passwords to access your computer, email and financial platforms. This option is somewhat safer than simply writing down and providing passwords to a trusted friend or spouse. But this means you have to be diligent about updating the password list. People rarely keep such printed out lists updated. But if you’re disciplined enough to do this, this might work.

Option #3 Use a digital wallet.

A digital wallet is the most secure and by far the most recommended way to safely and securely store passwords. Like a real wallet, a digital wallet keeps track of all your passwords across all your devices and does so in an encrypted file in the cloud. With this, the only hurdle is the password with which you access the digital wallet.

This would require that you keep a record of the master password somewhere, or perhaps you can agree with your spouse or trusted friend on a pattern of passwords. That could be anything that the two of you can easily remember, along with perhaps a few other characters. It will need to be something that can be remembered and not written down. Writing down and saving passwords should be avoided if at all possible.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why Myrna offers a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Call our office today to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article to find out how to get this session at no charge.

Call (813) 514-2946 to schedule your Planning Session.

Four Critical Estate Planning Tasks to Complete Before Your Vacation

Four Critical Estate Planning Tasks to Complete Before Your Vacation

Going on vacation involves lots of planning: packing luggage, buying plane tickets, making hotel reservations, and confirming rental vehicles. But one thing many people forget to do is plan for the worst. Traveling, especially in foreign destinations, means you’ll likely be at greater risk than usual for illness, injury, and even death. So you need a solid and updated estate plan in place before taking your next trip.

Without a solid estate plan, your family could face a legal nightmare if something happens to you while you’re away.

#1 Make sure your beneficiary designations are up-to-date

Some of your most valuable assets, like life insurance policies and retirement accounts, do not transfer via a will or trust. Instead, they have beneficiary designations that allow you to name the person (or persons) you’d like to inherit the asset upon your death. It’s important that you name a primary beneficiary and at least one alternate beneficiary in case the primary dies before you. Moreover, these designations must be regularly reviewed and updated, especially following major life events like marriage, divorce, and having children.

#2 Create financial and health power of attorney documents

Unforeseen illness and injury can leave you incapacitated and unable to make critical decisions about your own well-being. Given this, you must grant someone the legal authority to make those decisions on your behalf through power of attorney. You need two such documents: medical power of attorney (in Florida it’s called a Designation of Health Care Surrogate) and financial durable power of attorney. Medical power of attorney gives the person of your choice the authority to make your healthcare decisions for you, while durable financial power of attorney gives someone the authority to manage your finances. As with beneficiary designations, these decision makers can change over time, so before you leave for vacation, be sure both documents are current.

#3 Legally Name guardians for your minor children

If you’re the parent of minor children, your most important planning task is to legally document guardians to care for your kids in case you die or become incapacitated. These are the people whom you trust to care for your children—and potentially raise them to adulthood—if something should happen to you. Given the monumental importance of this decision, we’ve created a comprehensive system called the Kids Protection Plan that guides you step-by-step through the process of creating the legal documents naming these guardians. Do you need help choosing guardians? We can support you with that.

#4 Organize your digital assets

If you’re like most people, you probably have dozens of digital accounts like email, social media, cloud storage, and cryptocurrency. If these assets aren’t properly inventoried and accounted for, they’ll likely be lost forever if something happens to you. At minimum, you should write down the location and passwords for each account, and ensure someone you trust knows what to do with these digital assets in the event of your death or incapacity. To make this process easier, consider using LastPass or a similar service that stores and organizes your passwords.

Complete your vacation planning now


If you have a vacation planned, be sure to add these  items to your to-do list before leaving. And if you need help completing any of these tasks—or would simply like us to double check the plan you have in place, contact us now.

We recommend you complete these tasks at least 8 weeks before you depart. However, if your trip is sooner than that, call and let us know you need a rush Planning Session, and we’ll do our best to fit you in as soon as possible. Contact us today to get started. 

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna does MORE than just draft documents. Myrna ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love.

Call us at (813) 514-2946 to schedule a Planning Session.
Ask how to get this valuable session at no charge.

Part 2: Questions to Consider When Choosing Life Insurance Beneficiaries

Part 2: Questions to Consider When Choosing Life Insurance Beneficiaries

In the first part of this series, we discussed the first three set of questions you should ask yourself when selecting a life insurance beneficiary. Here we cover the final part.

Choosing a life insurance policy beneficiary sounds pretty easy. Because there’s so much that can go wrong, it can actually be more complicated thank you think!

For example, when buying a life insurance policy, your primary goal is most likely to make the named beneficiary’s life better or easier in some way in the aftermath of your death.  But if you don’t consider all of the unique circumstances involved with your choice, you might actually end up creating additional problems for your loved ones.

Last time, we discussed the first set of questions you should ask yourself when choosing a life insurance beneficiary. Here we cover the remaining three:

Are any of your beneficiaries minors?

Technically you can list a minor child as a life insurance policy beneficiary. But it’s a bad idea!  Insurance carriers will not allow a minor child to receive the insurance benefits directly until they reach the age of majority—which can be as old as 21 depending on the state.

If you have a minor named as your beneficiary when you die, then the proceeds would be distributed to a court-appointed custodian tasked with managing the funds, often at a financial cost to your beneficiary. And this is true even if the minor has a living parent. This means that even the child’s other living birth parent would have to go to court to be appointed as custodian if he or she wanted to manage the funds. And, in some cases, that parent would not be able to be appointed (for example, if they have poor credit), and the court would appoint a paid fiduciary to hold the funds.

Rather than naming a minor child as beneficiary, it’s better to set up a trust for your child to receive the insurance proceeds. That way, you get to choose who would manage your child’s inheritance, and how and when the insurance proceeds would be used and distributed.

Would the money negatively affect a beneficiary?

When considering how your insurance funds might help a beneficiary in your absence, you also need to consider how it might potentially cause harm. This is particularly true in the case of young adults.

For example, think about what could go wrong if an 18 year old suddenly receives a huge windfall of cash. At best, the 18 year old might blow through the money in a short period of time. At worst, getting all that money at once could lead to actual physical harm (even death), as could be the case for someone with substance-abuse issues.

To help mitigate these potential complications, some life insurance companies allow your death benefit to be paid out in installments over a period of time, giving you some control over when your beneficiary receives the money. However, as discussed earlier, if you set up a trust to receive the insurance payment, you would have total control over the conditions that must be met for proceeds to be used or distributed. For example, you could build the trust so that the insurance proceeds would be kept in trust for beneficiary’s use inside the trust, yet still keep the funds totally protected from future creditors, lawsuits, and/or divorce.

Is the beneficiary eligible for government benefits?

Considering how your life insurance money might negatively affect a beneficiary is absolutely critical when it comes to those with special needs. If you leave the money directly to someone with special needs, an insurance payout could disqualify your beneficiary from receiving government benefits.

Under federal law, if someone with special needs receives a gift or inheritance of more than $2,000, they can be disqualified for Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid. Since life insurance proceeds are considered inheritance under the law, an individual with special needs SHOULD NEVER be named as beneficiary

To avoid disqualifying an individual with special needs from receiving government benefits, you would create a “special needs” trust to receive the proceeds. In this way, the money will not go directly to the beneficiary upon your death, but be managed by the trustee you name and dispersed per the trust’s terms without affecting benefit eligibility.

The rules governing special needs trusts are quite complicated and can vary greatly from state to state, so if you have a child who has special needs, meet with us to ensure you have the proper planning in place, not just for your insurance proceeds, but for the lifetime of care your child may need.

Make sure you’ve considered all potential circumstances.

These are just a few of the questions you should consider when choosing a life insurance beneficiary. Consult with us as  to be sure you’ve thought through all possible circumstances.

And if you think you may need to create a trust—special needs or otherwise—to receive the proceeds of your life insurance, meet with us, so we can properly review all of your assets and consider how to best leave behind what you have in a way that will create the most benefit—and the least challenges—for the people you love. Schedule your  Planning Session today.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents. Myrna ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why our firm offers Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love.

Call us today at (813) 514-2946 to schedule a  Planning Session. Ask how you can get this valuable session at no charge.

Part 1: Questions to Consider When Choosing Life Insurance Beneficiaries

Part 1: Questions to Consider When Choosing Life Insurance Beneficiaries

Choosing a beneficiary for your life insurance policy sounds pretty straightforward. You’re just deciding who will receive the policy’s proceeds when you die, right?

But it’s a bit more complicated than that. Keep in mind that naming someone as your life insurance beneficiary really has nothing to do with you. Why? Because you should consider how that money will affect your beneficiary’s life once you’re gone.

It’s very likely that if you’ve purchased life insurance, you did so to make someone’s  life better or easier in some way. But unless you consider all of the unique circumstances involved with your choice, you might actually end up creating additional problems for your loved ones.

Here are a few important questions you should ask yourself when choosing your life insurance beneficiary:

What are your goals? 

The first thing to consider is the “real” reason you’re buying life insurance. On the surface, the reason may simply be because it’s the responsible thing for adults to do. But we recommend you dig deeper to discover what you ultimately intend to accomplish with your life insurance.

Are you married and looking to replace your income for your spouse and kids after death? Are you single without kids and just trying to cover the costs of your funeral? Are you leaving behind money for your grand-kids’ college fund? Are you intending to make sure your business continues after you’re gone? Or will your life insurance cover a future estate-tax burden?

The real reason you’re investing in life insurance is something only you can answer. The answer is critical, because it is what determines how much and what kind of life insurance you should have in the first place. And by first clearly understanding what you’re actually intending  to accomplish with the policy, you’ll be in a much better position to make your ultimate decision—who to choose as beneficiary.

What are your beneficiary options?

Your insurance company will ask you to name your top choice to get the money after your death. This is the primary beneficiary. If you fail to name a beneficiary, the insurance company will distribute the proceeds to your estate upon your death. If your estate is the beneficiary of your life insurance, that means a probate court judge will direct where your insurance money goes at the completion of the probate process.

And this process can tie your life insurance proceeds up in court for months or even years. To keep this from happening to your loved ones, be sure to name at least one primary beneficiary.

In case your primary beneficiary dies before you, you should also name at least one contingent (alternate) beneficiary. For maximum protection, you should probably name more than one contingent beneficiary in case both your primary and secondary choices have died before you. Yet, even these seemingly straightforward choices are often more complicated than they appear due to the options available.

For example, you can name multiple primary beneficiaries, like your children, and have the proceeds divided among them in whatever way you wish. Also, the beneficiary doesn’t necessarily have to be a person. You can name a charity, nonprofit, or business as the primary (or contingent) beneficiary.

When choosing your beneficiaries, you should ultimately base your decision on which person(s) or organization(s) you think would most benefit from the money. In general, you can designate one or more of the following examples as beneficiaries:

  • One person
  • Two or more people (you decide how money is split among them)
  • A trust you’ve created
  • Your estate
  • A charity, nonprofit, or business

Do you have minor children?

If you name a minor child as a primary or contingent beneficiary (and he or she ends up receiving the policy proceeds), a legal guardian must be appointed to manage the funds until the child comes of age. This can lead to numerous complications (which we’ll discuss in detail next week in Part Two), so you should definitely consult with an experienced estate planning attorney if you’re considering this option.

Does your state have community-property laws?

If you’re married, you’ll likely choose your spouse as the primary beneficiary. But unless you live in a state with community-property laws, you can technically choose anyone: a close friend, your favorite charity, or simply the person you think needs the money most.

That said, if you do live in a community-property state, your spouse is entitled to the policy proceeds and will have to sign a form waiving his or her rights to the insurance money  if you want to name someone else as beneficiary. Currently, community-property states include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Next week, we’ll continue with Part Two in this series discussing the remaining three questions to consider when naming beneficiaries for your life insurance policy.

 

The Law Firm of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. can guide you to make informed, educated, and empowered choices to plan for yourself and the ones you love most. Contact us today to get started with a Planning Session.

Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Planning Session,  during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this valuable session at no charge.

A Trust Just for Your Retirement Account. Is it right for you?

Unlike most of your assets, individual retirement accounts (IRAs) do not pass to your family through a will. Instead, upon your death, your IRA will pass directly to the people you named via your IRA beneficiary designation form.

Unless you take extra steps, the named beneficiary can do whatever he or she wants with the account’s funds once you’re gone. The beneficiary could cash out some or all of the IRA and spend it, invest the funds in other securities, or leave the money in the IRA for as long as possible.

So that’s why you might not want your heirs to receive your retirement savings all at once. One way to prevent this is to designate your IRA into a trust.

But you can’t just use any trust to hold an IRA. You’ll need to set up a special type of revocable trust specifically designed to act as the beneficiary of your IRA upon your death. Such a trust is referred to by different names—Standalone Retirement Trust, IRA Living Trust, IRA Inheritor’s Trust, IRA Stretch Trust—but for this article, we’re simply going to call it an IRA Trust.

IRA Trusts offer a number of valuable benefits to both you and your beneficiaries. If you have significant assets invested through one or more IRA accounts, you might want to consider the following advantages of adding an IRA Trust to your estate plan.

Protection from creditors, lawsuits, & divorce

While IRAs are typically protected from creditors while you’re alive, once you die and the funds pass to your beneficiaries, the IRA can lose its protected status when your beneficiary distributes the funds to him or herself. One way to counteract this is to leave your retirement assets through an IRA Trust, in which case your IRA funds will be shielded from creditors as long as they remain in the trust.

IRA Trusts are also useful if you’re in a second (or more) marriage and want your IRA assets to be used for the benefit of your surviving spouse while he or she is living, and then to distributed or be held for the benefit of your children from a prior marriage after your surviving spouse passes. This would ensure that your surviving spouse cannot divert retirement assets to a new spouse, to his or her children from a prior marriage, or lose them to a creditor before the funds ultimately get to your children.

Protection from the beneficiary’s own bad decisions

An IRA Trust can also help protect the beneficiary from his or her own poor money-management skills and spending habits. If the IRA passes to your beneficiary directly, there’s nothing stopping him or her from quickly blowing through the wealth you’ve worked your whole life to build.

When you create an IRA Trust, however, you can add restrictions to the trust’s terms that control when the money is distributed as well as how it is to be spent. For example, you might stipulate that the beneficiary can only access the funds at a certain age or upon the completion of college. Or you might stipulate that the assets can only be used for healthcare needs or a home purchase. With our support,  you can get as creative as you want with the trust’s terms.

Tax savings

One of the primary benefits of traditional IRAs is that they offer a period of tax-deferred growth, or tax-free growth in the case of a Roth IRA. Yet if the IRA passes directly to your beneficiary at your death and is immediately cashed out, the beneficiary can lose out on potentially massive tax savings.

Not only will the beneficiary have to pay taxes on the total amount of the IRA in the year it was withdrawn, but he or she will also lose the ability to “stretch out” the required minimum distributions (RMDs) over their life expectancy.

A properly drafted IRA Trust can ensure the IRA funds are not all withdrawn at once and the RMDs are stretched out over the beneficiary’s lifetime. Depending on the age of the beneficiary, this gives the IRA years—potentially even decades—of additional tax-deferred or tax-free growth.

Minors

If you want to name a minor child as the beneficiary of your IRA, they can’t inherit the account until they reach the age of majority. So without a trust, you’ll have to name a guardian or conservator to manage the IRA until the child comes of age.

When the beneficiary reaches the age of majority, he or she can withdraw all of the IRA funds at once—and as we’ve seen, this can have serious disadvantages. With an IRA Trust, however, you name a trustee to handle the IRA management until the child comes of age. At that point, the IRA Trust’s terms can stipulate how and when the funds are distributed. Or the terms can even ensure the funds are held for the lifetime of your beneficiary, to be invested by your beneficiary through the trust.

See if an IRA Trust is right for you.

While IRA Trusts can have major benefits, they’re not the best option for everyone. Laws regarding IRA Trusts vary widely from state to state, so in some places, they’ll be more effective than others. Plus, the value of IRA Trusts also varies greatly depending on your specific family situation, so not everyone will want to put these trusts in place.

Consult with us to find out if an IRA Trust is the most suitable option for passing on your retirement savings to benefit your family. But of course, if what you need is your foundational estate planning documents (like your Will, Power of Attorney, Health Care Directives), we can help you with that first!

Attorney Myrna Serrano Setty doesn’t just draft documents, she helps you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why our firm offers a Planning Session. The Planning Session helps you get more financially organized than ever and helps you make the best choices for the people you love.  Start by calling us today to schedule a Planning Session and mention this article to learn how to get this $500 session for free.

Contact us at (813) 514-2946 or info@serranosetty.com.