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Friday, January 27, 2012

Gun Trusts: Targeted Estate Planning

Gun Trusts: Targeted Estate Planning

If you have a gun collection, your estate plan may be missing the mark if it fails to include a specially drafted gun trust. The typical estate plan provides for tax saving strategies, probate avoidance and beneficiary designation of various assets. However, some assets pose additional issues that must be carefully addressed to avoid unintended consequences in the future. Firearms, in particular, are regulated under federal and state laws and demand careful attention from your estate planning attorney.

I also speak with many clients who have inherited gun collections from their parents and are now unsure of what they are required to do to be sure they are in compliance with state and federal law.

Your gun collection may include weapons used for sport, self-defense or investment purposes. America’s long history with firearms means your collection may include family heirlooms that have been passed down from generation to generation.

Unlike simple bank account, real property or vehicle ownership changes, transfers of many firearms and accessories are restricted and subject to very specific requirements. For example, under Title II of the National Firearms Act (NFA), the transfer of short-barreled shotguns and rifles, silencers, automatic weapons and certain other “destructive devices” require the approval of your local Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) and a federal tax stamp. To keep your gun collection in your family, you must ensure that all transfers comply with the National Firearms Act, as well as state laws where you and your beneficiaries reside.

So how do you ensure your firearms seamlessly transfer to your loved ones after you pass on?

By establishing a revocable living “gun trust,” which holds only your firearm collection, you can retain ownership and control of your collection during your lifetime while providing for the disposition of your guns to your intended beneficiaries. During your lifetime, you remain the trustee and beneficiary of the gun trust, and appoint a successor trustee and lifetime and remainder beneficiaries. Because the trust is revocable, you are free to make changes or revoke it at any time.

As with most living trusts, a gun trust enables you to provide detailed instructions regarding the disposition of your assets upon your death. But given the unique challenges associated with transferring firearm ownership, your gun trust is most valuable in helping expedite the transfer of a firearm that is restricted under the National Firearms Act. If you use a gun trust to own and transfer Title II firearms, you are not required to obtain the approval of your local CLEO; the transfer application may be sent directly to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

NFA-restricted firearms are not permitted to be transported or handled by any other individual unless the registered owner is present – which can present a problem if the registered owner is deceased. However, when owned by a properly drafted gun trust, these weapons may be legally possessed by the trustee, and any beneficiary may use the firearm under the authority of, or in the presence of, the trustee. This greatly simplifies and expedites the transfer, and saves your beneficiaries from any unintended violations of the National Firearms Act – which can result in steep fines, prison, and forfeiture of all rights to possess or own firearms in the future.

Gun dealers often make trust forms available, but these boilerplate documents typically fail to specifically address the ownership of firearms. A properly drafted gun trust will include guidance or limitations for the successor trustee, to ensure he or she does not inadvertently commit a felony when owning, using or transferring the weapons.
 

 

 


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Charitable Giving Through Estate Planning

Charitable Giving

Many people give to charity during their lives, but unfortunately too few Americans take advantage of the benefits of incorporating charitable giving into their estate plans. By planning ahead, you can save on income and estate taxes, provide a meaningful contribution to the charity of your choice, and even guarantee a steady stream of income throughout your lifetime.

Those who do plan to leave a gift to charity upon their death typically do so by making a simple bequest in a will. However, there are a variety of estate planning tools designed to maximize the benefits of a gift to both the charity and the donor. Donors and their heirs may be better served by incorporating deferred gifts or split-interest gifts, which afford both estate tax and income tax deductions, although for less than the full value of the asset donated.

One of the most common tools is the Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT), which provides the donor or other designated beneficiary the ability to receive income for his or her lifetime, or for a set period of years. At death, or the conclusion of the set period, the “remainder interest” held in the trust is transferred to the charity. The CRT affords the donor a tax deduction based on the calculated remainder interest that will be left to charity. This remainder interest is calculated according to the terms of the trust and the Applicable Federal Rate published monthly by the IRS.

The Charitable Lead Trust (CLT) follows the same basic principle, in reverse. With a CLT, the charity receives the income during the donor’s lifetime, with the remainder interest transferring to the donor’s heirs upon his or her death.

To qualify for tax benefits, both CRTs and CLTs must be established as:

  • A Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust (CRAT) or a Charitable Lead Annuity Trust (CLAT), wherein the income is established at the beginning, as a fixed amount, with no option to make further additions to the trust; or
  • A unitrust which recalculates income as a pre-set percentage of trust assets on an annual basis; which would be either a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT) or a Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust (CRAT).


Another variation is the Net Income Charitable Remainder Unitrust, which provides more flexible payment options for the donor. One advantage to this type of trust is that a shortfall in income one year can be made up the following year.

The Charitable Gift Annuity (CGA) enables the donor to buy an annuity, directly from the charity, which provides guaranteed fixed payments over the donor’s lifetime. As with all annuities, the amount of income provided depends on the donor’s age when the annuity is purchased. The CGA gives donors an immediate income tax deduction, the value of which can be carried forward for up to five years to maximize tax savings.

IRA contributions are also an option through 2011 for donors who are at least 70½ years of age. Donors who meet the age requirement can donate funds in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) to charity via a charitable IRA rollover or qualified charitable distribution. The amount of the donation can include the donors’ required minimum distribution (RMD), but may not exceed $100,000. The contribution must be made directly by the trustee of the IRA.

With several ways to incorporate charitable giving into your estate plan, it’s important that you carefully consider the benefits and consequences, taking into account your assets, income and desired tax benefits. A qualified estate planning attorney and financial advisor can help you determine the best arrangement which will most benefit you and your charity of choice.
 

 

 


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Joint Bank Accounts and Medicaid Eligibility

Joint Bank Accounts and Medicaid Eligibility

Like most governmental benefit programs, there are many myths surrounding Medicaid (called Medical Assistance in Minnesota) and eligibility for benefits. One of the most common myths is the belief that only 50% of the funds in a jointly-owned bank account will be considered an asset for the purposes of calculating Medicaid eligibility.

Medicaid is a needs-based program that is administered by the state.  Therefore, many of its eligibility requirements and procedures vary across state lines.  Generally, when an applicant is an owner of a joint bank account the full amount in the account is presumed to belong to the applicant. Regardless of how many other names are listed on the account, 100% of the account balance is typically included when calculating the applicant’s eligibility for Medicaid benefits.
    
Why would the state do this? Often, these jointly held bank accounts consist solely of funds contributed by the Medicaid applicant, with the second person added to the account for administrative or convenience purposes, such as writing checks or discussing matters with bank representatives. If a joint owner can document that both parties have contributed funds and the account is truly a “joint” account, the state may value the account differently. Absent clear and convincing evidence, however, the full balance of the joint bank account will be deemed to belong to the applicant.
 

 

 


Friday, December 30, 2011

Important Issues to Consider When Setting Up Your Estate Plan

Important Issues to Consider When Setting Up Your Estate Plan

Often estate planning focuses on the “big picture” issues, such as who gets what, whether a living trust should be created to avoid probate and tax planning to minimize gift and estate taxes. However, there are many smaller issues, which are just as critical to the success of your overall estate plan. Below are some of the issues that are often overlooked by clients and sometimes their attorneys.

Cash Flow
Is there sufficient cash? Estates incur operating expenses throughout the administration phase. The estate often has to pay state or federal estate taxes, filing fees, living expenses for a surviving spouse or other dependents, cover regular expenses to maintain assets held in the estate, and various legal expenses associated with settling the estate.

Taxes
How will taxes be paid? Although the estate may be small enough to avoid federal estate taxes, there are other taxes which must be paid. Depending on jurisdiction, the state may impose an estate tax. If the estate is earning income, it must pay income taxes until the estate is fully settled. Income taxes are paid from the liquid assets held in the estate, however estate taxes could be paid by either the estate or from each beneficiary’s inheritance if the underlying assets are liquid.

Assets
What, exactly, is held in the estate? The owner of the estate certainly knows this information, but estate administrators, successor trustees and executors may not have certain information readily available. A notebook or list documenting what major items are owned by the estate should be left for the estate administrator. It should also include locations and identifying information, including serial numbers and account numbers.

Creditors
Your estate can’t be settled until all creditors have been paid. As with your assets, be sure to leave your estate administrator a document listing all creditors and account numbers. Be sure to also include information regarding where your records are kept, in the event there are disputes regarding the amount the creditor claims is owed.

Beneficiary Designations
Some assets are not subject to the terms of a will. Instead, they are transferred directly to a beneficiary according to the instruction made on a beneficiary designation form. Bank accounts, life insurance policies, annuities, retirement plans, IRAs and most motor vehicles departments allow you to designate a beneficiary to inherit the asset upon your death. By doing so, the asset is not included in the probate estate and simply passes to your designated beneficiary by operation of law.

Fund Your Living Trust
Your probate-avoidance living trust will not keep your estate out of the probate court unless you formally transfer your assets into the trust. Only assets which are legally owned by the trust are subject to its terms. Title to your real property, vehicles, investments and other financial accounts should be transferred into the name of your living trust.
 

 

 


Friday, December 16, 2011

Financial Friday: The Basics of Disability Insurance: What is it and Why Does it Matter?

Once again Unique Estate Law brings you a financial topic from Jay Dworsky on this Financial Friday. Today Jay explains disablity insurance.

Disability insurance pays benefits when you are unable to earn a living because you are sick or injured. Most disability policies pay you a benefit that replaces only a percentage of your normal earned income when you are unable to work. Very simply, that’s what it does.

Why do you want disability insurance?

The probability of you ever being disabled for longer than three months is much greater than your chances of dying prematurely, because of the advancements in medicine can keep the most desperate of situations alive. The likelihood of suffering a disability by age 50 is 25% (Source: 1985 Commissioner’s Individual Disability Table A).

Think about what would happen if you suffered an injury or illness and couldn’t work for days, months or even years. Maybe your single, do you have the savings or other means to keep paying the mortgage, groceries and medical bills. If you are married, can you rely solely on your spouse’s income? It’s highly likely if you’re married there are children or other dependents. With that information, one might come to the conclusion there is more than enough evidence to want the protection of disability insurance. However, as human beings we have the greatest capacity to rationalize why we make the decisions we make all day long, minute by minute, second by  second and moment to moment. It’s actually quite amazing.

The fact is our health is the most important asset we have going for us. We need to protect our health as it is our lifeblood and earning potential. We can take all the steps to healthy living, self-preservation and the like but that may not prove to be enough, life happens. Our last line of defense is to place rubber-bumpers and safety nets underneath our plan with disability insurance, i.e. income protection.

Disability Insurance and Business Owners

If you own a business, disability insurance can help protect you in several ways. You can protect your own income with a policy on yourself. You can also purchase a policy on key persons to reduce the negative (or devastating) impact that the person's disability may have on the business. Lastly, you can buy a disability policy on a business partner which could enable you to buy his or her interest in the event that he or she cannot work.

Further, if you are an employee of a company, you might have access to group disability or you can always get coverage privately. The thing to do is get educated, contact Jay to discuss any of your questions and concerns.

 

 


Thursday, December 15, 2011

IRS to Gay Couples: Oops..Sorry About Denying You That Adoption Tax Credit

After my partner gave birth to our wonderful daughter 4 years ago, we immediately began working with a lawyer on the second-parent adoption process. A second-parent adoption is the legal procedure through which the non-birth parent (me) may adopt the child of the biological parent. During the process, our lawyer mentioned that there is a tax credit granted to adopting parents. The one-time tax credit allows adoptive parents to seek “reimbursement” for the money spent on the adoption expenses. Because we are both lawyers, we spent some time researching the adoption credit and decided that it was risky as the IRS sometimes refused the use of the tax credit by same-sex couples when applied toward a second-parent adoption. So, we declined claiming the credit on our return that year.

But, as is true of all things related to same-sex couples right now - things are about to change. The Government Accountability Office criticized the IRS for its failure to properly train staff members on how to handle tax credits and second-parent adoptions. This lead to the unthinkable – the IRS admitted it made a mistake in not giving its auditors proper guidance on this issue.

What was the IRS’s reasoning behind denying the credit? One explanation it gave was that the birth mother does not terminate her parental rights as part of the adoption procedure. While that may be true, it is also irrelevant. There is nothing in the federal tax code that prohibits claiming the adoption credit for adopting a domestic partner’s child.

The IRS did explain that when the taxpayers in question pushed back on the issue, the taxpayers usually won - after spending money and time fighting the IRS. Hopefully, after this, those couples may spend time and money on more importants things: like daycare, diapers and life insurance premiums (until the day when a same-sex couples are granted the same benefits (social security survivor benefits or estate tax free inheritance) as other married automatically get upon marriage.

Of course, this issue would be moot if the nonbiological parent was given the right to be on the birth certificate in the first place. But, that’s a continuing fight for our future rights. As for now, I have one question:

Do we get to amend our 2007 tax return to get this deduction?
 

 

 


Monday, December 12, 2011

6 Events Which May Require a Change in Your Estate Plan

6 Events Which May Require a Change in Your Estate Plan

Creating a Will is not a one-time event. You should review your will periodically, to ensure it is up to date, and make necessary changes if your personal situation, or that of your executor or beneficiaries, has changed. As 2011 winds to a close, it's a great time to reflect back on the changes in your life.  Keep in mind that there are a number of life-changing events that require your Will to be revised, including:

Change in Marital Status: If you have gotten married or divorced, it is imperative that you review and modify your Will. With a new marriage, you must determine which assets you want to pass to your new spouse or step-children, and how that may relate to the beneficiary interest of your own children. During a divorce it is a good practice to revise your Will, to formally remove your soon-to-be ex spouse as a beneficiary. Under Minnesota law, a divorce will remove your ex spouse as a beneficiary of your will even if you don't actively change your will. The law treats the ex as if he or she predeceased you (insert sarcastic comment here) so you shouldn't worry that your ex will inherit via your will once the divorce is complete. But what about during the divorce?  Most clients with whom I've worked on these matters do not want their spouse to inherit while the divorce is pending, but that does not happen by law or inaction.  If you are going through a divorce, you must take active steps to ensure that the spouse you are divorcing will no longer inherit through a will that hasn't been updated to reflect your current status. While you’re at it, you should also change your beneficiary on any life insurance policies, pensions, or retirement accounts as these trump even your will. You may have disinherited your spouse from your will but if you forgot to change your life insurance policy he or she will still received the proceeds of that policy until you state otherwise. Estate planning is complicated when there are children from multiple marriages, and an attorney can help you ensure everyone is protected, which may include establishing a trust in addition to the revised Will.

If one of your Will’s beneficiaries experiences a change in marital status, that may also trigger a need to revise your Will.

Change in Relationship Status: If you enter or end a serious relationship in which you plan(ned) to leave your unmarried partner assets, you should meet with an estate-planning attorney who is well versed in the complexities of planning for unmarried couples.  I handle many unmarried clients who have planned their estates together and if they ever break up, they will need to take active steps to revise their plans. Unlike for legally married couples, there is no law to automatically disinherit a partner after a breakup.  While I do carefully draft these plans to include such provisioins, they will still be interpreted in court, which may lead to a lengthy and expensive court battle over those assets. This is the exact situation these couples attempted to avoid by coming to me in the first place. If you are entering a relationship that is not legally recognized, you should also meet with an attorney upon deciding to leave assets to each other OR if you want that person to handle medical or financial decisions on your behalf. I have experience handling nontraditional estate planning and can help you draft the right plan to protect your family.

Births: Upon the birth of a new child, the parents should amend their Wills immediately, to include the names of the guardians who will care for the child if both parents die. Also, parents or grandparents may wish to modify the distribution of assets provided in their Wills, to include the new addition to the family.

Deaths or Incapacitation: If any of the named executors or beneficiaries of a Will, or the named guardians for your children, pass away or become incapacitated, your Will should be revised accordingly.

Change in Assets: Your Will may need to be changed if the value of your assets has significantly increased or decreased, or if you dispose of an asset. You may want to modify the distribution of other assets in your estate, to account for the changed value or disposition of the asset. Further, you may wish to set up a trust to handle some of your assets to as to avoid probate or leave them to a minor.

Change in Employment: A change in the amount and/or source of income means your Will should be examined to see if any changes must be made to that document. Retirement or changing jobs could entail moving to another state, thus subjecting your estate to the laws of that state when you die. If the change in income modifies your investing, saving or spending habits, it may be time to review your Will and make sure the distribution to your beneficiaries will be as you intended.

Changes in Probate or Tax Laws: Wills should be drafted to maximize tax benefits, and to ensure the decedent’s wishes are carried out. If the laws regarding taxation of the estate, distribution of assets, or provisions for minor children have changed, you should have your Will reviewed by an estate planning attorney to ensure your family is fully protected and your wishes will be fully carried out.

 

 


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Family Business: Preserving Your Legacy for Generations to Come

 

Your family-owned business is not just one of your most significant assets, it is also your legacy. Both must be protected by implementing a transition plan to arrange for transfer to your children or other loved ones upon your retirement or death.


More than 70 percent of family businesses do not survive the transition to the next generation. Ensuring your family does not fall victim to the same fate requires a unique combination of proper estate and tax planning, business acumen and common-sense communication with those closest to you. Below are some steps you can take today to make sure your family business continues from generation to generation.

  • Meet with an estate planning attorney to develop a comprehensive plan that includes a will and/or living trust. Your estate plan should account for issues related to both the transfer of your assets, including the family business and estate taxes.
  • Communicate with all family members about their wishes concerning the business. Enlist their involvement in establishing a business succession plan to transfer ownership and control to the younger generation. Include in-laws or other non-blood relatives in these discussions. They offer a fresh perspective and may have talents and skills that will help the company.
  • Make sure your succession plan includes:  preserving and enhancing “institutional memory”, who will own the company, advisors who can aid the transition team and ensure continuity, who will oversee day-to-day operations, provisions for heirs who are not directly involved in the business, tax saving strategies, education and training of family members who will take over the company and key employees.
  • Discuss your estate plan and business succession plan with your family members and key employees. Make sure everyone shares the same basic understanding.
  • Plan for liquidity. Establish measures to ensure the business has enough cash flow to pay taxes or buy out a deceased owner’s share of the company. Estate taxes are based on the full value of your estate. If your estate is asset-rich and cash-poor, your heirs may be forced to liquidate assets in order to cover the taxes, thus removing your “family” from the business.
  • Implement a family employment plan to establish policies and procedures regarding when and how family members will be hired, who will supervise them, and how compensation will be determined.
  • Have a buy-sell agreement in place to govern the future sale or transfer of shares of stock held by employees or family members.
  • Add independent professionals to your board of directors.

You’ve worked very hard over your lifetime to build your family-owned enterprise. However, you should resist the temptation to retain total control of your business well into your golden years. There comes a time to retire and focus your priorities on ensuring a smooth transition that preserves your legacy – and your investment – for generations to come.

 

 


Monday, November 28, 2011

Do Heirs Have to Pay Off Their Loved One’s Debts?

The recent economic recession, and staggering increases in health care costs have left millions of Americans facing incredible losses and mounting debt in their final years. Are you concerned that, rather than inheriting wealth from your parents, you will instead inherit bills? The good news is, you probably won’t have to pay them.


As you are dealing with the emotional loss, while also wrapping up your loved one’s affairs and closing the estate, the last thing you need to worry about is whether you will be on the hook for the debts your parents leave behind. Generally, heirs are not responsible for their parents’ outstanding bills. Creditors can go after the assets within the estate in an effort to satisfy the debt, but they cannot come after you personally. Nevertheless, assets within the estate may have to be sold to cover the decedent’s debts, or to provide for the living expenses of a surviving spouse or other dependents.

Heirs are not responsible for a decedent’s unsecured debts, such as credit cards, medical bills or personal loans, and many of these go unpaid or are settled for pennies on the dollar. However, there are some circumstances in which you may share liability for an unsecured debt, and therefore are fully responsible for future payments. For example, if you were a co-signer on a loan with the decedent, or if you were a joint account holder, you will bear ultimate financial responsibility for the debt.

Unsecured debts which were solely held by the deceased parent do not require you to reach into your own pocket to satisfy the outstanding obligation. Regardless, many aggressive collection agencies continue to pursue collection even after death, often implying that you are ultimately responsible to repay your loved one’s debts, or that you are morally obligated to do so. Both of these assertions are entirely untrue.

Secured debts, on the other hand, must be repaid or the lender can repossess the underlying asset. Common secured debts include home mortgages and vehicle loans. If your parents had any equity in their house or car, you should consider doing whatever is necessary to keep the payments current, so the equity is preserved until the property can be sold or transferred. But this must be weighed within the context of the overall estate.

Executors and estate administrators have a duty to locate and inventory all of the decedent’s assets and debts, and must notify creditors and financial institutions of the death. Avoid making the mistake of automatically paying off all of your loved one’s bills right away. If you rush to pay off debts, without a clear picture of your parents’ overall financial situation, you run the risk of coming up short on cash, within the estate, to cover higher priority bills, such as medical expenses, funeral costs or legal fees required to settle the estate.

Please note that the issue of assets and creditors becomes even more complicated where real property (land or a house) are involved.  The New York Times recently printed an article explaining the obligations of an heir who inherits a house - and a mortgage.  One issue is the question of who is responsible for paying the mortgage after the death but before the estate is settled?  I handled a probate for four siblings who agreed to sell the family home to one brother.  While they all agreed on the sale - and the price - they could not agree on who should pay the mortgage while the transfer of title was still pending. While an attorney will assist you in properly transferring the title to a home, you will need to reach agreeement on who should pay the mortgage pending settlement of the estate so as to avoid further conflict or hard feelings.

 

 


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Should I Transfer My Home to My Children?

Most people are aware that probate should be avoided if at all possible. It is an expensive, time-consuming process that exposes your family’s private matters to public scrutiny via the judicial system. It sounds simple enough to just gift your property to your children while you are still alive, so it is not subject to probate upon your death, or to preserve the asset in the event of significant end-of-life medical expenses.

This strategy may offer some potential benefits, but those benefits are far outweighed by the risks. And with other probate-avoidance tools available, such as living trusts, it makes sense to view the risks and benefits of transferring title to your property through a very critical lens.

Potential Advantages:

  • Property titled in the names of your heirs, or with your heirs as joint tenants, is not subject to probate upon your death.
  • If you do not need nursing home care for the first 60 months after the transfer, but later do need such care, the property in question will not be considered for Medicaid (Medical Assistance in Minnesota) eligibility purposes.
  • If you are named on the property’s title at the time of your death, creditors cannot make a claim against the property to satisfy the debt.
  • Your heirs may agree to pay a portion, or all, of the property’s expenses, including taxes, insurance and maintenance.


Potential Disadvantages:

  • It may jeopardize your ability to obtain nursing home care. If you need such care within 60 months of transferring the property, you can be penalized for the gift and may not be eligible for Medical Assistance for a period of months or years, or will have to find another source to cover the expenses.
  • You lose sole control over your property. Once you are no longer the legal owner, you must get approval from your children in order to sell or refinance the property.
  • If your child files for bankruptcy, or gets divorced, your child’s creditors or former spouse can obtain a legal ownership interest in the property.
  • If you outlive your child, the property may be transferred to your child’s heirs.
  • Potential negative tax consequences: If property is transferred to your child and is later sold, capital gains tax may be due, as your child will not be able to take advantage of the IRS’s primary residence exclusion. You may also lose property tax exemptions. Finally, when the child ultimately sells the property, he or she may pay a higher capital gains tax than if the property was inherited, since inherited property enjoys a stepped-up tax basis as of the date of death.


There is no one-size-fits-all approach to estate planning. Transferring ownership of your property to your children while you are still alive may be appropriate for your situation. However, for most this strategy is not recommended due to the significant risks. If your goal is to avoid probate, maximize tax benefits and provide for the seamless transfer of your property upon your death, a living trust is likely a far better option.

Contact the firm now so we can discuss your options


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Proper Estate Planning for Your Retirement Accounts

Retirement Accounts and Estate Planning

For many Americans, retirement accounts comprise a substantial portion of their wealth. When planning your estate, it is important to consider the ramifications of tax-deferred retirement accounts, such as 401(k) and 403(b) accounts and traditional IRAs. (Roth IRAs are not tax-deferred accounts and are therefore treated differently). One of the primary goals of any estate plan is to pass your assets to your beneficiaries in a way that enables them to pay the lowest possible tax.

Generally, receiving inherited property is not a transaction that is subject to income tax. However, that is not the case with tax-deferred retirement accounts, which represent income for which the government has not previously collected income tax. Money cannot be kept in an IRA indefinitely; it must be distributed according to federal regulations. The amount that must be distributed annually is known as the required minimum distribution (RMD). If the distributions do not equal the RMD, beneficiaries may be forced to pay a 50% excise tax on the amount that was not distributed as required.

After death, the beneficiaries typically will owe income tax on the amount withdrawn from the decedent’s retirement account. Beneficiaries must take distributions from the account based on the IRS’s life expectancy tables, and these distributions are taxed as ordinary income. If there is more than one beneficiary, the one with the shortest life expectancy is the designated beneficiary for distribution purposes. Proper estate planning techniques should afford the beneficiaries a way to defer this income tax for as long as possible by delaying withdrawals from the tax-deferred retirement account.

The most tax-favorable situation occurs when the decedent’s spouse is the named beneficiary of the account. The spouse is the only person who has the option to roll over the account into his or her own IRA. In doing so, the surviving spouse can defer withdrawals until he or she turns 70 ½; whereas any other beneficiary must start withdrawing money the year after the decedent’s death.

Generally, a revocable trust should not be the beneficiary of a tax-deferred retirement account, as this situation limits the potential for income tax deferral. A trust may be the preferred option if a life expectancy payout option or spousal rollover are unimportant or unavailable, but this should be discussed in detail with an experienced estate planning attorney. Additionally, there are situations where income tax deferral is not a consideration, such as when an IRA or 401(k) requires a lump-sum distribution upon death, when a beneficiary will liquidate the account upon the decedent’s death for an immediate need, or if the amount is so small that it will not result in a substantial amount of additional income tax.

The bottom line is that trusts typically should be avoided as beneficiaries of tax-deferred retirement accounts, unless there is a compelling non-tax-related reason that outweighs the lost income tax deferral of using a trust. This is a complex area of law involving inheritance and tax implications that should be fully considered with the aid of an experienced estate planning lawyer.

 

 


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