Recently in Trusts Category

Three Important Estate Planning Questions to Ask Your Spouse

August 22, 2014,

Estate planning is not many couples' idea of fun, but it is necessary to ensure that your loved ones are cared for after you are gone. An experienced estate planning attorney can handle drafting the proper documents and explaining the law behind estate planning; however, there are three important questions that you should address with your spouse or significant other regarding an estate plan.

How well does my spouse know my estate planning attorney?

If you are the one in charge of the estate planning process and the finances of the family, it is possible that your spouse has never met, or only met once, your estate planning attorney. Perhaps they met to briefly sign some papers, but the client/advisor relationship is not very strong.

If you are the first to pass away, your spouse would be relying on a person that they barely know during the most difficult time in their life. Since your estate planning attorney will know about every asset, final wish, and plan for the estate it is important that your spouse form a strong relationship with your estate planning attorney.

Does my significant other know where all of the accounts are located and how to access them?

The surviving spouse or significant other will need to access money immediately in order to pay for funeral expenses. Even if an insurance policy covers funeral expenses the reimbursement does not come until weeks or months later. Hospital bills and the daily expenditures of everyday life also need to be taken care of. Your spouse will not have time to search everywhere trying to figure out what accounts exist and how to access them.

You need to ensure that your significant other is aware of all financial accounts and how to access them after you pass away. It is helpful to make a list (or two) and leave them for your spouse that includes:

· Password lists for all online accounts and memberships
· Names of all accounts and memberships, online and offline, along with any necessary instructions
· Location of all estate planning documents
· Names, addresses, and phone numbers of all lawyers, financial planners, accountants, and others who helped create the estate plan

Are all of our estate planning documents and beneficiary designations up to date?

Life events such as births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and job changes can all necessitate an update to your estate plan. This applies to the will, estate planning documents, and any beneficiary designations. Be sure to check:

· Retirement plans (401K plans and IRAs)
· Life insurance
· Annuities
· Taxable investment accounts

...and other assets that require a beneficiary designation.

By talking with your spouse or significant other about these important aspects of your estate plan you can minimize the stress and confusion of the entire process. If your spouse has a good relationship with your estate planning attorney, is knowledgeable about your accounts, and has worked with you to update the estate plan and beneficiaries you can be assured that your loved ones will be properly cared after you are gone.

Back to the Basics: What is the Difference Between Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts?

May 1, 2014,

While many New York residents familiar with and have an existing will in place in the event of their death, most people do not realize that estate planning documents extend far beyond a last will and testament. The world of estate planning documents includes not only living wills and advanced medical directives, but also trusts. Trusts offer several benefits associated with them, and come in two forms: revocable and irrevocable.

Benefits of Having a Trust
Trusts can not only provide for loved ones upon death, but they can provide for the person who created the trust during their lifetime. This is important in cases where the creator has a health issue, a mental disability or incapacitation, and other scenarios. Trusts can be administered without the need to involve a probate court, and can therefore protect privacy as to the contents of the trust. Trusts also serve as protection of assets for trust beneficiaries, and offer a wide variety of options in creating them to suit different needs.

Revocable Trusts
Revocable trusts are a type of trust that can be changed at any time. The creator of the trust could simply modify the terms of the trust through an amendment. Or, if they want to revoke the trust in its entirety, they can do that as well. In revocable trusts, the assets contained within the trust are considered the creator's assets and will be treated as such for tax purposes and if creditors exist.

Irrevocable Trusts
As one may expect from its name, an irrevocable trust is not able to be changed once it is signed by the creator of the trust. These trusts are often complex and require a special degree of care in drafting them in order to meet the creator's needs and desires for his or her estate. It is imperative to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney when setting up an irrevocable trust in order to ensure your estate is properly protected, and any concerns you have about being unable to change the terms of such a trust are addressed and handled appropriately.

That being said, irrevocable trusts have a number of specific benefits associated with them. Often times, estate taxes are significantly lessened or even eliminated through the creation of an irrevocable trust. Irrevocable trusts also offer a high degree of asset protection for the creator of the trust and the trust's beneficiaries. Both of these advantages are possible with irrevocable trusts because once the assets are placed into an irrevocable trust, the creator gives up his or her control and ownership of the trust assets.

NY Estate Planning Attorney
If you are interested in securing estate planning documents or are interested in further discussing the benefits of trusts and how they apply to you, the experienced estate planning attorneys can help you.

Developments with the New York Estate Tax

April 9, 2014,

We often discuss the importance for local families to account for the New York estate tax. Far more media coverage is given to the federal tax, and some local residents are under the mistaken assumption that the state law mirrors the federal. It currently does not. Even families who do not have asset to trigger the federal tax may still need to plan appropriately for the New York tax on estates.

However, if current plans are carried out, in a few years .there may be much more congruence between the state and federal rules. That is because earlier this month New York changed exemption levels for the estate tax. Previously, assets over $1 million were exposed to the tax at a 16% top rate. Now, however, the exemption level is raised to slightly more than $2 million ($2,062,500). Not only that, but that level is set to steadily increase or five years until, in 2019, the exemption level matches the federal exemption amount at that time (projected to be $5.9 million).

Important Provisions in the Estate Tax Law
There are other aspects to the new state rules that must be understood by local residents seeking to minimize their obligations and legally save on taxes. Some items to keep in mind:

***There is no "portability" as there is with the federal tax. This means that surviving spouses cannot use unused portions of their partner's exemption amount to lower their burden.

***Under the law, all gifts made within a three year window will likely be included in the estate to calculate the tax burden (at least for gifts made starting this April and extending to 2019). Naturally, this means that one must act early to move assets in ways that take them out of the estate and lower its value.

***There is a risk of falling of the estate tax "cliff" during the phase-in which could mean those with assets just slightly over the exemption amount may face a tax on the full value of their estate. This issue is complex, but in a helpful comment letter the New York State Society of CPAs provides a more detailed analysis of how this may come about.

***The new law repeals the state's generation-skipping transfer tax while also providing more relief for some surviving non-citizen spouses.

Contact our NY estate planning lawyers today for tailored guidance on how these rule changes affect your financial future.

U.S. Tax Court: New IRA Rollover Decision Strongly Criticized

April 3, 2014,

Intricate financial and estate planning details are understandably hard for many residents to wrap their head around. There are hundreds of thousands of page written in federal statutes, case opinions, and regulations dictating what can be done and what cannot. Making matters even more complex is that fact that even professionals can disagree on how certain rules should be applied.

For example, many financial planners are up in arms following a recent opinion by a U.S. Tax Court related to IRA rollovers.

The Case
The ruling examines a provision in the tax code that allows one to withdraw money from an IRA without tax or early withdrawal penalties so long as the funds are put into a different account within 60 days. Based on federal law, account owners are required to wait one year before making the move again. In other words, you cannot keep changing accounts every month.

According to many, based on guidance repeatedly published by the IRS for nearly three decades, this "one year wait" rule applied separately to individual IRA accounts.

However, earlier this year a federal Tax Court judge issued a ruling in a case that the once per year rule applies to all IRA account collectively. Essentially then, as an American College of tax Council brief in the case explained, the issue is whether the once per year rule applies per IRA or per taxpayer.

In the aftermath of the decision, many tax attorneys and other practitioners are calling for the decision to be vacated. They argue that it undermines public confidence for taxpayers to be punished even when following the IRS's own guidance. However, following the ruling, IRS officials released information suggesting that updated guidance will reflect this most recent decision, limiting IRA rollovers to once per year per individual.

Keeping an Eye Out for Legal Changes
The specifics of this case are somewhat nuanced and based on statutory interpretation. But rolling over IRA funds is a common practice that is used by residents of all income brackets, and so this issue has direct relevance for many.

In addition, one of the many lessons to take from this particular debate is the fact that you need to constantly have eyes on your long-term plans to determine if they need to be updated or changed. That is one value of having professional oversight of your affairs, peace of mind comes with knowing someone else watching out for changes on the legal landscape that must be reflected in your planning.

Do Not Act Too Quickly After a Passing

April 2, 2014,

Much of estate planning involves preparations that can streamline matters in the aftermath of a death. The probate process can be long and drawn-out, forcing families to wait months before working out the basic details of asset transfer. Alternatively, by using trusts, the process can be far more seamless, saving time and taxes. Trusts are important for all New York families, not just those with significant assets.

While it is prudent to handle legal and financial details in a timely fashion following a death, as a practical matter, it is important to not "overdo" it. A helpful article from Mondaq offers a few thoughts on ways that family members can "jump the gun" and cause more complications by rushing to deal with various matters.

Causing More Complications
Conduct that should be avoided in the immediate aftermath of a passing includes:

Acting as executor before officially be appointed by a court: A last will and testament names an "executor" to handle many of the administrative details. However, the appointment is not official until a court actually names the executor in the probate process. It is reasonable for a soon-to-be executor to take some basic steps to prepare for their role. However, in certain situations, this can go too far, such as when one signs contracts or enters into agreements beforehand. For example, one cannot sell the decedent's home before officially being given the power to do so by the court.

Canceling accounts and credit cards immediately: Closing down a decedent's financial life is often far more complex than family executors realize. There may be an urge to just cancel everything immediately. However, this can be a mistake, because there may be outstanding bills to be paid automatically from those accounts. Shutting them down can lead to bounced checks, late fees, and,ultimately, more hassle than if the financial details were handled more cautiously.

Quickly disposing of personal property: It is not uncommon for family members to be overwhelmed in the immediate aftermath of a death. A common response is to try to "get over it" as quickly as possible, often by getting rid of personal effects immediately. But this is often a mistake. Some items may need to be properly appraised, and it is important that the property (or the value of the items) go to the designated heir. Rushing this process can lead to tax problems and potential feuds.

For more tailored, specific help with any issues related to estate planning, probate, and administrative complexities following a death, please contact our New York estate planning attorneys today.

Don't Leave Your Planning Up to a Coin Toss

March 25, 2014,

A headline-grabbing story last week in the New York Post offers a good reminder of the need to be crystal clear in certain estate planning situations to avoid drawn-out legal battles.

According to reports, two siblings are engaged in a dispute over how to divide up an inheritance that they are to split from their uncle. The two men are the nephews of David Barrett, a well-known Manhattan interior designer who passed away in 2008 at the age of 85. Per the terms of Barrett's estate planning, his $5.6 million estate is set to be split between the two men.

However, the division of those assets into two is apparently not going smoothly.To help determine how the various assets are to be split, an executor of the estate apparently recommended that a coin toss be used. For example, to determine ownership of a painting valued at around $45.000 a coin toss was performed, with the younger brother winning.

This did not sit well with the older sibling, who has reacted to the loss by making aggressive accusations against his sibling and executors in addition to filing a lawsuit challenging the distribution plan. The most recent suit has put a hold on the process, slowing the ultimate distribution and preventing any named heirs from receiving property from the estate.

In defending the lawsuit and his concern about the distribution plan, the older brother explained "This case is about more than my share of my uncle's estate. It is about my uncle, his legacy, his reputation, and his family."

Planning Lessons
All those who follow high-profile estate planning matters appreciate that feuds of this nature are not rare. When significant assets are at stake, all those involved are frequently willing to go to extreme lengths to ensure the matter is handled to their liking. Unfortunately, there are often no winners in these situations, as the drama often causes significant delay and enormous resources spent on the legal battle itself. There are various lessons that can be taken from this Barrett story:

Be As Specific As Possible - While it is impossible to specifically list every single item big or small, it is usually worthwhile to explicitly indicate where every valuable item will go. This is particularly true when an estate is divided between various parties who may disagree on who is to get what piece of personal property.

Understand the Personalities Involved - Certain friends and family members may be a more "hot headed" than others. Conflict is more likely to be prevented with those unique personalities are accounted for.

Prevent Surprises - Dispute often arises when one party is unprepared for some outcome. By having clear discussions with heirs ahead of time, all parties are able to come to terms with how the affairs will be handled This may prevent a knee-jerk, defensive reaction when unexpectedly confronted by an unfavorable part of the plan.

Secret Marriage, New Will Leads to NY Estate Fight

March 6, 2014,

It is impossible to predict exactly how every family member will respond in the aftermath of a passing. However, as experienced will and trust lawyers know all too well, there are many situations that dramatically increase the likelihood of controversy that leads to a contested estate. Mixed families, a large age-gap between spouses, and secrecy are often signs of family tension that may erupt after a death.

A high-profile New York estate feud offers an example of that very situation.

NY Photographer Bern Stern's Estate Fight
Celebrity photographer Bruce Stern is well-known for his legendary photos of Marilyn Monroe--many taken just before her death. Stern died last year at the age of 83, leaving a roughly $10 million estate behind. As discussed in a recent Post story, family members are in bitter disagreement over how the estate should be divided.

Stern had three children, all from his first marriage that ended in 1975. As far as the children knew, their father's assets were to be distributed per the terms of a 2007 will that split half the estate between the children while giving the other half to his own photography foundation.

However, just before his passing, Shannah Laumeister came forward claiming that she and Stern were married in secret in 2009. She directed a documentary about Stern in 2010 and is nearly 40 years his junior. The adult children had no idea of the union.

Laumeister produced a second will from 2010 that created a private trust with all of the assets and gave control of the trust to Laumeister. According to Surrogate Court filings, Laumeister claims that the adult children would still receive cash bequests as part of the new will, but the details of those bequests are unclear.

Psychiatry Records & Questions About Mental State
Expectedly, the adult children challenged the 2010 will. The feud is making its way through the court system. Most recently, reports suggest that the Laumeister is fighting to block sharing of information about Stern's meetings with a psychiatrist.

For their part, the children argue that information about Stern's mental and medical state when the contested will was created is of obvious relevance. Alternatively, the younger wife argues that release of the information would permanently damage Stern's reputation. The value of his estate is closely tied with his artistic works and reputation-damage would significantly harm the estate, she claims.

An obvious take-away lesson from this story is a reminder that an experienced estate planning attorney can point out the many red flags that suggests a feud may be likely. A legal professional can offer counsel on steps to take that may eliminate secrecy or otherwise increase the chance of a smooth, conflict-free process that is resolved fairly and efficiently.

Marriage Matters - A Reminder of the Tax Benefit

February 28, 2014,

Earlier this week we discussed the tragic death of New York actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. There are many estate planning lessons to take away for Hoffman's situation, including the need to update a will after every life event. Hoffman unintentionally left out two of his children by not updating his will to include them specifically--his oldest son is named directly as a beneficiary of a trust.

Yet another lesson that fellow New Yorkers can take from the case is the role that marriage can play in these matters.

Companions vs. Spouses
According to reports, the mother of Hoffman's three children was long-time girlfriend Marianne O'Donnell. The couple was together for years, though they apparently were split in the few months before the death (allegedly as a result of Hoffman's relapse). At no point was the couple married. This is not necessarily an unusual state of affairs for couples today. Due to many personal factors, even the most intimate partners with decades together may choose not to formalize that union by way of a marriage. In the eyes of the parties, their relationship is the same regardless of whether there is official government sanction or not.

However, it is important to remember that the law does not view all couples the same. In fact, the entire purpose of marriage is to classify couples into different camps with thousands of rights on the line. Those rights have clear estate planning implications.

Per the terms of Hoffman's will the bulk of his suspected $35 million estate will go to O'Donnell. However, both New York State and the federal government impose an estate tax. Above the exemption amount, the tax can hit as high as 40%. Of critical importance, the tax does not apply to transfers between spouses. But Hoffman and O'Donnell were not married, and so she will likely be hit with an estimated estate burden of $15 million or more. A marriage would have eliminated 100% of that burden.

The bottom line is that in cases like this, marriage saves on taxes. There are many different situations where a transfer of wealth to another would be taxed except for transfers between spouses. While no one should make life decisions regarding marriage based entirely on taxes, one should not overlook the reality that marriage matters under the law.

Basic New York estate planning principles apply in virtually all cases, no matter if you have a $35 million estate or if your main asset is a family home. To ensure you take steps to protect your loved ones for the future, be sure to contact a NY estate planning attorney today.

Using a "Life Estate" in a New York Estate Plan

February 25, 2014,

Property rights and rules are some of the most complex (and arcane) areas of the law. Of particular importance for estate planning purposes, property rules allow different individuals to each have different "interests" in the same piece of property. It is not necessarily as simple as one person owning each piece property. This presents unique opportunities for estate planning, often providing different options to structure an inheritance, save on taxes, and otherwise best protect the varying interests of all those in a family.

For example, consider the possibility of a "life estate" to pass on real property (a home or land). This tool is easiest to understand in the context of property interests in a family home. The family home is often the largest asset within one's estate. Protecting the home from potential estate taxes or being spent down to qualify for Medicaid is an important part of many New York estate plans.

Beyond simply transferring ownership to a family members or putting provisions in a will to pass it on to another. One option is the life estate. The life estate is a deed that essentially breaks up the interests in the home--at least for a time. The senior passes on ownership of the home, but they retain the right to live in the property for the remainder of their life. In other words by using a life estate deed, seniors keep some interest for themselves.

In legal terms this means that the senior retains a "possessory interest" in the home. There are different types of possessory interests, like a lease to a rental property. But with a life estate the possessory interest is based on timing, specifically the life of the senior. These issues implicate quite complex and tricky legal matters, and so one should never pass on assets in this fashion without complete understanding of the underlying legal principles involved. Also, there is often no way to reverse this step once it is taken, eliminating much flexibility.

Be Careful
This option can come with some benefits, such as transferring the house outside of probate. However, it is critical not to take this step without professional help, because potential complications remain. Depending on your circumstances, this option may implicate different tax burdens. In addition, it may be more prudent to use living trusts for a more comprehensive planning tool that includes all of your assets, not just a single piece of real property.

For help with these and other estate planning matters throughout New York state, please contact our estate planning lawyers today.

Can Your Heirs Work Together?

February 21, 2014,

Creating a will and drafting trust documents are forms of "transactional law." That means that, unlike litigation, the purpose is not necessarily to "win" in a conflict over another. Instead, the purpose is to put plans into place that explicitly avoids conflict down the road.

When doing this work it is critical to understand the details of the law to ensure documents are crafted and structured in ways that meet legal requirements and have the intended legal effect. But, in many cases, particularly estate planning issues, knowledge of the law alone is often insufficient to help prevent conflict. That is because, these issues are wrought with emotions. The interplay of family values, personal relationships, resentments, financial stress, and other matters are all wrapped up in the process. Working to prevent conflict therefore requires consideration of all of these issues in addition to simple knowledge of the letter of the law.

Feuding Siblings
Failure to take all of those factors into account is a recipe for family feuding in the aftermath of a death. For example, this week the New York Post reported about an on-going fight between two brothers over their father's estate. The patriarch died nearly sixteen years ago (in 1998) and the mother died six years later (in 2004). The fighting is over a $13 million estate which was built from profits of a garment company which sold women's lingerie.

According to a suit filed in a Manhattan Surrogate Court, the younger brother claims that his sibling embezzled more than $2 million from the estate to fund his lavish lifestyle. The son claims that millions were funnelled out of the estate, subsequently lowering his own inheritance. For his part, the older brother argues that all of the funds allegedly embezzled were gifts signed by their own mother before her passing.

This back-and-forth is far from uncommon. The roots of the feuding may be based in resentment from childhood, unbalanced relationships between parents and children, and many other factors. It is impossible to say with certainty what could have been done on the estate planning front to prevent this fighting. But simply "splitting the assets between the two sons" (as happened here) may have been too simplistic an option. At the very least, when potential challenges of this nature arise, it is important to explicitly list assets that are to go to each child, leaving no questions about whether lifetime gifts were to be factored into the inheritances. The less ambiguity the better.

IRS Releases Trusts and Estate Statistics

February 14, 2014,

Discussion about the estate and trust tax issues usually centers on political debate about the rates and exemption levels or case-studies of the tax burden for famous or wealthy individuals. Far less often discussed is general information about the tax, including how much was actually collected, the total number of individuals affected, and similar details.

Fortunately, to fill in that gap, every year the IRS releases statistics, including those affected trusts and estates. A rather detailed list of information can be found in various spreadsheet on the IRS website. Also provided is a handy sheet offering a "snapshot" of many interesting trust and estate tax details. The most recent year's tally was just released, providing a helpful primer for those interested in how these federal taxes actually affect residents.

The Data
All statistics are culled from submitted returns on Form 1041. This is the form used is the "U.S. Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts." The snapshot explains that the form is "used to report the income, deductions, gains, and losses of estate and trusts, as well as distributions to beneficiaries and income tax liability."

All told, in the most recent data released (from 2010), a total of 3 million such forms were filed totaling $91 billion in income--the majority of that income was from capital gains ($32 billion). That accounts for about $72 billion in deductions. About 75% of those filing listed some deductions.

However, these forms were not filed just by high-income earners, as the vast majority were from those listed incomes of $100,000 or less--more than fifty percent lists less than $10,000 in income. In fact, of the 3 million filings in 2010, only 532,000 of those owed any tax burden at all. There was a clear trend year over year in regard to these income filings. In 2009, about 661,000 Form 1041 filings resulted in some tax liability. Keep in mind that these stats are from several years ago, when the country was in a far more dire economic straits.

There are many interesting takeaways from this data. At the most basic level, this is a reminder of the complex tax issues that may attach to an estate well after an individual passes. This is one of many reasons that estate planning attorneys and financial advisors can play a critical role with these matters both with preparing the plan as well as administering it. For example, it is not uncommon for attorneys to work as a trustee to help ensure all of the legal details are handled appropriately.

For help understanding these issues as they may relate to you and your family, contact an estate planning lawyer today.

Former New York State Medicaid Inspector General Sets His Sights on Charity Regulation

January 23, 2014,

There will soon be a new chief in town when it comes to monitoring the activities of New York charitable organizations. According to a report last week in the Wall Street Journal, James Sheehan was named the head of a state agency known as the Charities Bureau. This entity may not be a well-understood by most community members, but it plays a role in trust regulation and other activities which hit upon estate planning matters.

The New Chief
Mr. Sheehan is well known to many in the estate planning elder law community as the former New York Medicaid inspector general. The inspector general is charged with acting as a check on the system to watch out for misdeed and violations. It is that same commitment to enforcement and transparency in activities that Sheehan will take to the new office.

Speaking about his new role, Sheehan explained that he viewed himself as a "compliance officer." In other words, instead of acting aggressively to root out misdeeds, he hoped to help "organizations do the job that they are here to do."

Sheehan likely felt the need to point out the distinction in order to quell concerns about his reputation as an "aggressive enforcer." While working as the Medicaid inspector general, he acted vigilantly to ensure state funds were not misspent, leading to sharp disagreement with many in the healthcare industry who felt his actions were unfair and overly forceful.

Regulating Charities in NY
The Charities Bureau has a mixed charge, focusing on ensuring proper oversight of state non-profits, legal use of charitable trusts, and management of various public outreach programs. In fact, this years will mark the first where the Bureau makes use of expanded powers passed into law by the state legislature in December.

The New York Nonprofit Revitalization Act will take effect this summer. The Charities Bureau will be in charge of implementing this Act which, at its core, is intended to ease the somewhat complex regulatory stresses that many nonprofits face in the state. This will be in addition to the traditional duties of the government entity to guard against fraud and other violations.

Many New York residents include charitable donations and create charitable trusts as part of their estate planning. As changes take place at the Charities Bureau, it will be important to keep a close eye on the developments to determine if any of the alternations impact long-term planning options or strategies.

Estate Lawsuit Reinstated Involving Claimed Executor Fraud

January 6, 2014,

Famed rock music promoter Bill Graham made his name as the organizer of popular music festivals and concerts. His events are credited for launching the careers of legendary groups like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, the Eagles, and many others. Unfortunately, Graham's life was cut short over twenty years ago, as he died in a helicopter crash in 1991.

In a testament to the longevity of many estate battles, just last week, a lawsuit involving Graham's estate was revived by a federal court. The case is yet another reminder of the need to be very careful about all aspects of estate planning--from use of trusts to selection of executors--in order to give your family the best possible chance of handling these matters without conflict.

The Estate Battle
As discussed in a recent SF Gate article, the original lawsuit was filed in 2010, when Graham's two sons claimed that the executor of their father's estate, a business partner names Nicholas Clainos, unlawfully sold concert posters and other valuable documents worth millions of dollars. Specifically, in 1997 a sale was made by the estate to a company that acquired "Bill Graham Enterprises." That sale allegedly included all of Graham's copyrights and trademarks in addition to valuable musical memorabilia, including original posts for performances by legends, like Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones.

Unfortunately, Graham's two sons claim that they only learned about the sale 12 years later, in 2009, while going through old boxes at the former company's headquarters. In a suit filed shortly thereafter, the sons claim that their father's executive hid knowledge of the property from them in order to engineer the lucrative sale to a third party company

Originally, the federal suit was dismissed with a judge claiming that the property sale was a legitimate transaction and noting that the four year statute of limitations on the matter had passed. However, last month that lower court ruling was partially reversed. Noting that the sons claim they did not find out about the matter until 2009, the appellate court allowed the suit to proceed on the grounds that it was not time-barred. This does not mean that the sons will win the case, but it does allow them the chance to present evidence to prove their claims in the next stage of the legal fight.

It is not uncommon for disagreements to arise between beneficiaries and an estate executor. To prevent complications it is always best to be up-front about one's plans, so that there are no surprises. Having the proper legal details documented ahead of time is critical. But it is also important to share those details with appropriate parties so as to avoid shock or confusion that can cause conflict.

The Basics: The Importance of Living Trusts in Estate Planning

January 2, 2014,

An important element of estate planning is ensuring the financial security of your family after you are gone. Like most people, we have worked our lifetime to provide financial stability for not only ourselves but our loved ones. An easy, burden-less way of providing for your loved ones is through a living trust.

As outlined here, a living trust holds many advantages compared to a will. Establishing a trust is fairly easily. Upon creating the living trust agreement, you essentially transfer a portion, or all, of your assets to a trustee. To retain control of the assets, people sometimes name themselves as the trustee. A grantor must name beneficiaries to the trust who will inherit the trust upon your death. Establishing a living trust bank account will allow you to solidify your savings while also easing any financial burden on your beneficiaries. The provisions of the trust can always be changed, or if you have second thoughts the entire trust can be revoked.

A living trust provides three important factors. Firstly, living trusts avoid the probate process. At the time of the person's death, the assets of the trust will pass directly to the named beneficiaries. Secondly, living trust provide privacy that wills cannot by avoiding probate. A last will and testament that has been admitted to probate becomes a public record that anyone can freely see and read. In contrast, a living trust agreement, the property, and the beneficiaries remain private. Lastly, a living trust avoids a will contest. A living trust goes into effect the moment it is created, and a contestant must prove the grantor was incompetent or under the influence at the time the trust instrument was signed and the assets were transferred. This is a very hard, possibly impossible, burden to overcome.

Learn from the Celebrities
Superstar Whitney Houston died with a valid will, but a surprise to many is that she did not have a living trust. Therefore, the details of the final wishes were made public for the world to see. Anyone is able to look up how much money Houston had and who she left it to after her death. Along with providing some estate tax benefits, the legal document of a trust allows you to keep your final wishes private. On the other hand, it is likely Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder and billionaire, protected his estate with living trusts because no one has ever discovered the full extent of his estate planning! When living trust are used the right way - and assets are funded into them before death - families are protected by privacy.

Proper estate planning is extremely important, especially with complicated family dynamics, such as second-marriages or estranged family members. To minimize family disputes after your death, it is important to make your intentions clear in your estate planning.

Gift Tax Benefits Expiring At End of Year?

December 20, 2013,

Timing is critical in estate planning for many reasons. Most obviously, because plans are intended to help ease the burden in the aftermath of a death, they must be in place before one dies (or loses the capacity to make legal decisions). But timing also matters to the extent that the law changes and alters the options available to planners.

This is most clear when it comes to taxes. Different tax rates, allowable deductions, and other details are frequently changing. Many individuals act quickly to take advantage of certain favorable situations before they are set to expire.

IRA Gift Tax Break
For example, a provision is currently set to expire which allows those over 70 ½ years old to save on taxes when donating part of an individual retirement account (IRA) to charity. Specifically, the law allows account holders over the age threshold to donate up to $100,000 without the donation being taxed as an early withdrawal.

A Wall Street Journal story on the soon-to-be ending tax benefits explores the how taking advantage of the charitable IRA rollover provision may also be used strategically to help legally lower one's burden on new taxes. For example, those in higher income brackets will soon be hit with a 3.8% tax on net investment income. Withdrawals from the IRA may therefore help lower one's income and avoid meeting threshold where newer taxes kick in or deductions are limited. In addition, taking advantage of the charitable donation can lower overall income to the point where Social Security benefits taxes are reduced or Medicare premium increases are avoided.

Just because the IRA gift tax benefit may disappear at the end of the year does not automatically mean that it is prudent for you to take any specific action. Every New Yorker is in a slightly different position, and it is critical to have tailored advice before taking action. For example, it still may make more sense in your case to make a donation of appreciated assets from outside the IRA, allowing a fair-market value tax deduction and avoiding capital gains tax. An individualized analysis would need to be conducted to see what makes the most sense in your case.

If you would like help understanding how gifts, retirement accounts, trusts and other details can be used to best position you and your family, please contact our NY estate planning lawyers today.