When Does It Make Sense to Use a Family Trust?

A family trust is most appropriate as an estate planning tool when you live in a state where probate is very difficult. This is also beneficial for those people who are interested in keeping information about their assets and beneficiaries private, those who have a large estate or a significant number of assets and those who want to provide for the management of their assets in the event that they become incapacitated.

There are several other types of situations in which a family trust might be the appropriate thing to create with the support of an estate planning attorney. These include:

  • For divorce and creditor protection of those assets to be distributed to a beneficiary.
  • To help provide for disabled beneficiaries who still need to qualify for government benefits.
  • For the time efficiency and cost reduction benefits over the traditional probate process.
  • For tax planning options when the estate size is big enough to incur significant federal or state taxes.

A family trust can also be used in conjunction with other estate planning strategies like a will. Every person and adult family member should have a will but they leave plenty to be desired if you have a more complicated family or estate situation.

When you are looking to plan for minor children, for example, a will is a preferred estate planning tool since you can name a guardian to step in and take care of your children if something were to happen to you. Make sure that you have consulted with an experienced and knowledgeable estate planning lawyer for more information on how to align this with your needs.

 

What Kinds of Things Can My Financial Power of Attorney Agent Do?

If you’ve already taken the step to consider creating a financial power of attorney, congratulations. This is an important part of your estate plan and your incapacity plan. Without a financial power of attorney someone in your family will have to go to court to request guardianship or conservatorship of you.

In the event of an emergency, which is likely what triggered the need for a financial power of attorney in the first place, you do not want any added delays or frustrations for your loved ones. Creating a financial power of attorney names you as the principal of the document and another party that you choose as the agent. The agent is responsible for acting on your behalf if and when you need him or her to do so.

There are a variety of different kinds of tasks that a financial power of attorney agent can do, including:

  • Collect debts belonging to the principal
  • Manage the principal’s property
  • File taxes on behalf of the principal
  • Assess the principal’s financial accounts to pay for housing needs, health care and other expenses
  • Apply for public benefits for that principal

Without any limitations in the document, a general power of attorney gives the agent broad discretion over financial decisions but there are a few things that the agent cannot do, such as break their fiduciary duty, change the principal’s will or transfer the power of attorney to someone else. It’s extremely important to select the right person to serve as your power of attorney agent. Do not wait to get help. Contact an experienced attorney today to learn more.

 

How to Choose a Life Insurance Beneficiary

One important component of protecting your family is thinking about how to use life insurance beneficiaries. Beneficiaries are those people who are entitled to receive your assets if and when something happens to you. The primary purpose of purchasing a life insurance policy is to protect your loved ones and give them funds they can use immediately when you pass away.

You might name both a primary and a contingent beneficiary to do this but the decision about who to appoint in this role is not always an easy one. Think about why you have life insurance in the first place, which people rely on you financially and would have difficulty paying ongoing bills if you passed away. What family members or other individuals would need financial support that would cover costs associated with your death, such as final burial and funeral expenses. 

If you would like to leave money to a beneficiary of your choice, you might also divide up this death benefit accordingly. Set aside a time to meet with your estate planning lawyer to discuss how your life insurance policy works in connection with or needs to be considered as part of your overall planning strategy. 

A lawyer can help answer many of your most common questions and help you decide who to name as beneficiaries. Life insurance is just part of your estate planning strategy, and it can work entirely separate from or as a complement to your will. When you work with an attorney who has an annual or regular estate planning strategy review, you will be able to discuss updating beneficiaries and making other changes at that time.       

 

What to Know About Setting Up a College Power of Attorney

Is your new college student headed off to campus this fall? If so, don’t neglect an important part of the prep process: a power of attorney. While you’re loading up on under-the-bed storage bins and notebooks for them, make sure they’ve got a place to keep important paperwork like a power of attorney. Without it, you’re not able to make any decisions for them or get access to their medical records.

Why does this matter? After all, you’re sending your child off to college to begin their life as an adult. Especially with the worldwide pandemic also a factor, but a variety of other medical issues that could pop up, there’s a chance you might need to help your college student and get access to their records.

It’s these kinds of situations that no parent wants to think about, but could become important in the event of an accident or sudden illness. If your child is unable to speak for themselves or simply needs help coordinating their care, a healthcare power of attorney naming you as their agent will make this challenging situation a little easier.

The power of attorney document should state which person or parent has decision-making ability or healthcare access in the event of an emergency. To use a power of attorney, bring the document with you to the hospital or office where it’s needed. It will usually get reviewed by the hospital’s legal department. It can also be smart to have this on file with your child’s healthcare provider at the university, too, so that they’re already advised that this is part of the medical records.

If your child doesn’t have a power of attorney document but you need to create one, we can help you get the process started so that all your bases are covered this upcoming semester.

What is a Life Insurance Beneficiary?

Did you just start a new job or did you recently purchase private life insurance? If so, you probably came across the term “beneficiary” as you filled out this information. This is the person or people who will receive the funds from your policy when you pass away. For most people, there will be a primary beneficiary and contingent beneficiary.

The primary is the person who will receive most or all of the funds. You can choose who you want this person to be. In some policies, you can even use this strategy to help with business planning or replacing a key employee.

Most people, however, own a private policy or one through work that names their spouse or other family member as the primary beneficiary. The secondary beneficiary is the person who will receive the remaining amount of the policy after the primary beneficiary has been paid. The purpose for naming a second person is to allow you to maximize the benefits handled through this process and to support more people when you pass away, but also to ensure that someone receives your policy benefits if the primary beneficiary passes away before you do.

It’s important to do an annual review of your life insurance policy to make sure that you’ve covered all your bases and that you have an up-to-date beneficiary listing.

Are you ready to talk about how your NJ life insurance policy can help you accomplish your estate planning goals and what other aspects you need to consider? This is a good reminder to meet with an NJ estate planning lawyer to discuss life insurance and other important aspects of your planning.

Don’t head into 2022 without thinking about a review of your life insurance policies and their associated beneficiaries. If you need more support in crafting your estate plan, reach out today for more information.

What Are the Biggest Advantages to Hiring a Professional Trustee?

When creating a trust you have the opportunity to name someone else or a corporate entity to serve as a trustee. The trustee needs to administer the terms of the trust. All trusts require some level of administration.

A few of the factors to consider in deciding whether or not a member of your personal life or a professional should be named as the trustee include the complexity of the estate, the recipients of the assets, the assets involved and other variables. A professional trustee is someone who is not the beneficiary of a trust.

This can be an institution or a person hired to manage trusts for one or more beneficiaries. A professional trustee keeps liability in mind, is objective in terms of the management of family dynamics and is skilled. Professional trustees are recommended when the beneficiary is a minor, when a family member is no longer willing or able to serve as a trustee, when there are high value assets inside the trust, when the beneficiary has special needs or a disability or when it is seen to be in the best interests of the beneficiary.

Professional trustees are compensated for the work they do in administering a trust and this can range anywhere from 1% to 3% of the total assets inside the trust. If you are ready to establish your own trust, contact an experienced estate planning lawyer today to learn more.

8 Things a Trustee Might Do

Trustees will be required to do some or all of the following tasks listed below based on the express terms outlined in the trust’s creation. When putting together a trust, you will need to think carefully about who to install in the role of trustee. This person will have important responsibilities in adhering to your terms and in communicating with beneficiaries.

Some people choose to select an attorney or a corporate entity to serve as their trustee to give them an additional bit of confidence in the management of this important estate planning strategy. Some of the tasks and requirements for a trustee include:

  • Acting as a fiduciary and protecting the distribution and investments of the trust at the highest level.
  • Investing assets when necessary if the trust dictates this as a responsibility.
  • Ensuring safety of assets and understanding the terms of the trust.
  • Distributing or administering assets to beneficiaries per the trust terms.
  • Making ongoing decisions about management of provisions of the trust.
  • Keeping track of records to prepare tax related filings and forms.
  • Communicating with beneficiaries to provide statements and account information.
  • Answering questions.

It is also possible that a trustee’s duties can change over time. If you are creating a revocable living trust and naming yourself as the trustee by default, think carefully about who should serve as successor trustee.

Having a lawyer assist you with creating and using a trust will support your overall estate planning. Keep your assets out of probate and get the benefits of privacy associated with your estate administration through a trust.

 

What Does a Trustee Actually Do?

A trustee is appointed to manage the administration of a trust’s terms. This person also acts as a custodian for the assets held in a trust and is responsible for administering and managing the finances of a trust based on the instructions included in the trust document.

Some of the common responsibilities for a trustee include recording income and expenses, distributing funds to beneficiaries, filing taxes on income that the trust makes and keeping records of any other transactions that occur. In addition to handling these tasks, the trustee also must act within the best interests of the trust. This means someone that you believe has sound financial management ability and can be responsible for handling the trust terms as you have created them.

Furthermore, since the trustee will have a relationship or at least communication with the beneficiaries of the trust, it’s a good idea to choose someone who has excellent communication skills and will be able to handle questions, concerns and potential problems quickly and effectively. A trustee has numerous different responsibilities as part of managing a trust but chief among them is to act in the best interests of the trust and the trust beneficiaries.

This can minimize the possibility of disputes down the line and make things much easier for everyone involved in creating or receiving benefits from the trust. If you would like to learn more about creating your first trust and installing a trustee, contact an experienced estate planning lawyer today.

 

What is Medicaid Lookback?

Did you know that if you transfer certain assets in periods before applying for Medicaid due to low income that you might have to go through a penalty phase? This is known as the lookback period and is in place to discourage people who are trying to qualify for Medicaid quickly from spending down or giving away all their assets just to meet those grounds.

Bear in mind that knowing about the lookback period and using strategies to prepare to qualify for Medicaid with the help of an estate planning lawyer is both legal and ethical. This can help you protect the assets you’ve worked hard to build over the course of your life without the fear of them getting decimated by an unexpected long term care event.

In New Jersey, that lookback period is five years and that clock starts as soon as the applicant would become eligible for NJ Medicaid. Penalties can apply if the assets was sold for less than fair market value or if it was given as a gift.

Penalties are calculated by looking at the total amount of any gift that falls into that lookback period and then dividing it at $343.85 for each day. That number then means the applicant must wait that many days before applying for Medicaid benefits.

Note that New Jersey regulations can change from one year to another, and one of the best things you can do is to have a comprehensive estate plan and Medicaid plan in place to prevent problems. This means consulting with a knowledgeable NJ Medicaid planning lawyer today. While you might not need Medicaid benefits just yet, knowing how you could qualify in the future is a key part of your elder law strategy.

What Can Go Wrong with a Digital Power of Attorney Download?

Yes, you can find power of attorney documents and templates online, but it is rarely in your best interest to use these in your business. The very intent of a power of attorney is to let the person of your choosing be able to act in the event of an emergency; unfortunately, digital documents don’t always protect you legally here.

The biggest reason to work with a lawyer to create a power of attorney of your own is that you might have unique needs and considerations to weave into the POA. For example, you might want it to state that the document only becomes active in certain circumstances that you define. A generic power of attorney document might not cover you based on the specific circumstances.

A digital download might seem like the easy way to go, but it’s also a way that could expose you to unnecessary problems. Remember that it will be your loved ones attempting to sort this out if you become incapacitated, and the entire reason to have a POA in place is so that your loved ones don’t have to go through additional hurdles in the event of a sudden issue.

If you find a general template or worse, pay for something that you have not had drafted or reviewed by an attorney, some of the problems you might face include:

  •  The document might not be current with regard to allowed statements/format
  • Fails to cover the legal requirements for a POA in your state
  • Is unclear
  • Doesn’t have key authorities inside it
  • Doesn’t align with your personal situation

If your power of attorney document is unclear or leaves room for interpretation, this can lead to challenges in court which will delay your appointed agent from being able to take action quickly.

This can all be easily avoided when you retain an experienced estate planning lawyer to help you create your own document.

What Can Happen without Proper Estate Documents?

If your loved ones are left to figure out the mess of your estate after you’re no longer around to help provide context, that’s not a gift. In fact, it can cause added stress and grief during an already difficult time in their lives. But that’s not the only reason that your estate can cause problems. Skipping an estate plan because you assume your estate is too small, you’re too young, or that the state’s procedures for passing on your assets is “just fine” can all lead to unintended consequences.

One of the biggest reasons for people to skip estate planning is because they are married already and assume that they don’t need additional support. After all, the spouse is legally connected, right? It’s not always as simple as your spouse getting your assets, and there might be situations in which you want to diversify a default plan to give all your assets to a spouse.

 

Estate planning attorneys often are asked what will happen without properly drafted estate planning documents in place. This is a tough question, as the answer relies on the specific circumstances of each individual.

If you’re married, you and your spouse should work together to determine how property will be distributed after you pass away. This includes whether or not any property will go to children after the death of the first spouse and whether or not distributions made to children should be on an equal basis.
If you’re part of a blended family, the planning conversation is even more important. You should never fall for the assumption that property will just go to the surviving spouse right away. Sometimes, the value of the property and the names attached to it might go into a share split between children and a spouse, or even the deceased person’s siblings or parents.

But it’s not just about your assets and how they’ll be handled if you pass away. What about life planning decisions that could be incorporated into a power of attorney? Those are also important. State laws will step in to manage your estate if you haven’t done it, but this will rarely reflect your personal preferences and desires. It’s far smarter to plan ahead with the help of an estate planning lawyer.

Will an Estate Tax Exemption Change Impact You?

Most people today are not impacted by the estate tax exemption amounts. That’s because the amounts are so high that all but those with a high net worth don’t have to worry about that at a federal level.

But the current high federal levels might not last forever. There are proposals on the table that would reduce the amounts, meaning that many more people would have to think about estate tax exemption planning. This could include the use of strategies over your lifetime to minimize what’s in your taxable estate as well as strategies for what happens to your assets at your death, too.

Based on current proposals, this would reduce a married couple’s exemption amount from a current combined $23.4 million down to just $7 million. There are a few options available to you if you and your loved ones want to discuss what this means for your family. It’s expected that no matter what the change is, that this could come into effect over the next couple of years and that multiple changes might hit estate taxes during this time.

This makes it all the more important to have a trusted estate planning lawyer to help you with exemption amounts. You might want to take advantage of gifting, for example, if you are suddenly thrust into that estate tax threshold. You could also use other means, like a life insurance policy, to help cover the gap when it comes to paying additional tax if your estate did hit that threshold.

The proposed STEP bill would add a tax on asset gains that are transferred at death as well. This means that the capital gains tax at the time of the asset transfer would apply and subject those estates with more than $3.5 million to estate taxes if all currently proposed legislation is passed. While a complicated thing to understand given the connection between multiple laws and proposed legislative changes, the bottom line is the same: a client would no longer be able to benefit by holding on to assets until they pass away if these laws are passed.

With so much at stake and still in flux, one of the best things you can do is find an experienced NJ asset protection planning and estate planning lawyer to help you plan ahead and adjust as needed.

Have Your Heirs Changed? Time to Update Those Beneficiary Designations

It’s well worth it to look at your financial accounts if it’s been years since you have done so. Up to date beneficiary designations are extremely important because even though you hope nothing happens to you, you want the beneficiaries of your choosing to receive those assets in the event of an accident are unexpected illness.

The original people designated as beneficiaries on things like your life insurance policy or your retirement plan might have changed especially if your family structure has changed due to a marriage or divorce.

If you’re married you can almost always change the beneficiary of your accounts without getting your spouse’s permission. If you pass away during a pending divorce, for example, your accounts will almost always go to the beneficiary, not the spouse. There are exceptions to this including IRAs, other tax-deferred accounts and 401(k)s.

These require the signature of a spouse to change beneficiary because they are governed by federal law.

With online accounts, it’s a good opportunity to remind yourself when doing your taxes each year to evaluate your beneficiary designations and verify that everything is up to date. Meeting with an experienced estate planning lawyer can help you avoid many of the most common mistakes in this process.

How to Include Amendment Language in Your Living Trust

By its very nature, the structure of a living trust is revocable, meaning that you can make changes to it or terminate the trust entirely during your lifetime with no consequences. It is important that you go the extra mile to include instructions in the trust document itself about how the trust can be amended.

A formal amendment should always be prepared and signed by both the trustee and the creator of the trust, known as the creator or the trustor.
When a person passes away, however, the revocable living trust then becomes irrevocable at their death. At this point the trust cannot be updated so even a surviving spouse does not have the authority to make changes to the trust itself.

Including instructions in the trust document can decrease confusion in the future over when and how the trust can be amended. Making alterations to a trust is something that is a leading reason why many people choose a living trust document to begin with.

The circumstances you have in your life now might not apply in the future and the flexibility and control afforded by a living trust gives you the ability to evolve this document and strategy as needed.

A lawyer can help you draft or make amendments to your living trust. As part of your bigger estate plan, a living trust allows you to start making distributions and actions now rather than waiting to transfer assets after you pass away.

Is Now a Good Time to Sell Your Business?

There’s a lot that goes into deciding it’s time for your next chapter when you own a business. You want to know what’s going to happen to it and the key people involved in that transition. This is documented in a business succession plan.

Selling your business requires a comprehensive business succession plan ideally created by an experienced business succession planning lawyer. After an extremely challenging 2020, many business owners might be thinking about making an exit because of the surge of buyers in the market and the possibility of increasing taxes. This has, for some, created the perfect storm for creating your business succession plan and executing it sooner rather than later.

One recent industry report shows that the pace of recovery has varied among sectors and companies but US business deal value and volume overall are up from 2020. Demand among buyers continue throughout the pandemic but there were very few businesses for sale on the market.

Many of those that were negatively impacted by the pandemic were waiting for opportunities to recover before selling. However, pent up consumer demand has meant that many of them have been able to bounce back faster than expected. This can create the perfect opportunity for you to determine what’s next in your business succession plan.

Even if you determine that now is not the right time to execute on a business succession plan, creating this document and the strategies to support a full transition to other company owners can benefit you by making it that much easier if and when a faster transition is required.

 

Putting Together an Estate Plan for Beneficiaries Who Suffer from Addictions

The addiction epidemic has touched many families throughout the country and it is certainly worth considering if you have loved ones that you wish to leave assets behind to but are concerned about the risks. Unfortunately, many families today have to deal with the pain and challenges of a loved one suffering from addiction, whether it’s alcohol, drugs or other substances.

Leaving an inheritance to a person with a past or present addiction requires careful consideration from the support of an experienced estate planning attorney. Outright amounts can be detrimental and destructive whereas disinheriting them entirely could block them from getting the support that they need to battle their addiction.

Your professional advisors as well as your estate planning attorney should all be consulted when talking about estate planning for someone with addiction. A trust is one of the most valuable and helpful tools for accomplishing your goals. Setting up a trust to hold particular assets for the benefit of a beneficiary with an addiction could help support their overall recovery.

A trust protects the beneficiary from their creditors and from themselves. It provides specific directions for a trustee who manages the assets inside the account to determine when and how distributions are made to the beneficiary. A trust could provide for basic needs, such as food, shelter, and medical care.

The trustee can also be instructed to make those payments on behalf of the beneficiary rather than giving the funds to the beneficiary. Furthermore, your trust can outline provisions for counselling, treatment, and rehabilitation if needed. Schedule a consultation with an estate planning lawyer today to learn more.

 

New Study Shows What Is Most Likely to Impact a Positive Retirement

A new study has found that contributing to society and having a purpose are key to enjoying life in retirement. This study completed by Age Wave and Edwin Jones shows that the pandemic has influenced the funding and timing of many people’s retirement, often shifting plans they might have had in place for decades.

The study also shows what Americans entering retirement feel are the most important aspects of all elements of comprehensive retirement planning, including those that are not financial. The study indicates that there are four pillars of the new retirement. Family is, of course, at the top of the list. The second pillar is purpose which many respondents derived from their friends and family.

Doing social good is another pillar of the retirement since 86% of all adults and nearly 90% of retirees say that retirees should have more opportunities to put their knowledge and talents to use to benefit society in general and their direct communities.

Retirees said they wanted to volunteer at least three hours per week, which is over 4 times higher than the actual retiree volunteer rate over recent years. The final pillar is about seeing planning for retirement as being more than saving for a retirement. Many of the retirees who were involved in the study said they wish they had done a better job in planning for financial and non-financial aspects of their retirement.

 

If I Don’t Want to Serve as an Executor, Do I Have to Take the Role?

Some family members are surprised when they learn that they have been named as a loved one’s executor. An executor has the responsibility of carrying out probate administration when named in a will or when appointed by the court. Many people do not realize that they have the opportunity to turn down this role if they don’t wish to serve in it.

Since there’s a lot of responsibility involved in keeping track of all the tasks of an executor, make sure it’s the right fit for you before you automatically accept.

If you are concerned about potential family conflict or what it would mean for you to take on the role of estate executor, you may wish to consult with an attorney in your area first to determine if this is an appropriate fit for you as well as the possible pros and cons. You are by no means obligated to serve in this role but do consider that if you are named and decline the role, another person will have to take on this responsibility.

If this is the same individual with whom you have conflict, you may wind up in the same boat to begin with. An executor has a fiduciary responsibility to carry out the deceased’s wishes as documented in the will or to manage the process of intestate succession which applies when a person doesn’t have a will. In either of these circumstances, you get the right to decide if this is something you wish to proceed with.

Ready to talk about setting up your own will and naming an executor? Schedule a time to meet with an estate planning lawyer now.

 

What Is a Directed Trust?

When thinking about your family wealth management there are many different options available to you. Consulting with an experienced asset protection planning attorney can help you to decide which of these tactics is most appropriate for you. A directed trust could be an option if you are contemplating establishing a family trust. Directed trusts have been in existence for many years but were not recognized in the law until 1986 when the state of Delaware adopted the first legislation.

Other states have also created directed trust statutes including South Dakota, Nevada, Illinois, and Alaska but it’s important to remember that you do not need to live in one of these states to take advantage of a directed trust. Turning over wealth to a corporate trustee is one of the leading concerns for families creating trusts.

Directed trusts give a way to set up a trust to transition into a fiduciary relationship instead. The way these work is that an individual is appointed either as a firm or as a sole advisor who directs the trustee on a certain aspect of trust administration, such as distributions to beneficiaries or investment management.

This means that you can take advantage of the experience, longevity and stability of a known corporate trustee but place responsibility for specific decisions with another firm or individual. Corporate fiduciaries often have extensive experience in managing investments for trusts and in exercising discretionary powers for beneficiary distribution. In all of these circumstances a directed trust might be the perfect way for you to accomplish your individual estate planning goals.

Does a New Jersey Power of Attorney Agent Get Paid?

The principal creator of the power of attorney document sets the terms for the relationship. If the document has not been drafted, the principal is eligible to name the compensation, provide a flexible term, or specify that the agent is not to receive any compensation at all for serving in this role. The support of an experienced New Jersey estate planning lawyer can help to answer many of these questions and ensure that the paperwork is completed appropriately.

Flexible terms include statements, such as reasonable, meaning that the power of attorney agent is eligible to be paid and this is in distinction to a specified hourly rate form of compensation. Far too many people ask the question of whether or not a power of attorney agent can get paid after the fact. After the power of attorney document has been signed, this is the first source of evidence to identify whether or not the power of attorney principal created a strategy.

An agent is not entitled to a fee without the appropriate court’s approval if the principal has not specifically stated compensation for a power of attorney agent. Courts are eligible to use their discretion to award a reasonable compensation but they are not required to do so. Schedule a consultation with an experienced New Jersey estate planning lawyer to learn more about how this could affect you.