Articles Posted in Inheritance Trusts

Last week an article in the Mansfield Patch listed “Five Vital Estate Planning Mistakes” made by local community members. The list touched on a few issues that each New York estate planning lawyer in our firm has seen time and again. Like history, these errors tend to repeat themselves. Being aware of the common problems is the best way to ensure you don’t make them yourself.

Of course common mistake number one is putting off estate planning efforts entirely. Passing on is usually not a topic that most enjoy thinking about. Estate plans inherently involve some considerations and preparations in the event that one is no longer alive, and so many simply avoid the idea altogether. This delay ultimately serves no purpose. As the article author remarks tough-in-cheek, “If you don’t die before retirement, chances are pretty good you’ll die sometimes afterwards.” Considering that death is inevitable, there is simply no logical reason to do no planning and risk paying more in taxes, the uncertainty of the probate process, or the potential squabbling of family members.

Second on the list was failure to consider naming guardians for one’s children. While most local residents conducting New York estate planning have adult children, planning is important for younger community members as well, particularly those who have young children. When crafting an elder law estate plan for clients, we always take into account the family dynamics involved. When young children are present it is important to make plans for those children in the event something happens to you, the parent. This is another task that is often put off, because it is not pleasant to think about orphaned youngsters. However, at the end of the day failing to name a guardian only means that the buck will be passed to some other decision maker if anything happens–usually the court. No one is better positioned than a parent to name a potential replacement in case of tragedy, and so it is always prudent for parents to do so.

This weekend our New York estate planning attorney Bonnie Kraham had an article published in the Times Herald-Record where she explained the importance of beneficiary designations in New York estate plans. These designations are often less well-known than other aspects of an estate plan, such as trusts, wills, health-care proxies, and powers of attorney. The designation is a contractual document that directs where an asset will go upon your death. They are most often involved in IRAs, annuities, and insurance policies. Beneficiary decisions must be made in conjunction with other aspects of any estate plan to protect assets from outside costs and keep them in the bloodline.

For example, Attorney Kraham discussed beneficiary designations in the context of inheritance trusts. These trusts are increasingly popular and useful legal tools to protect a child’s inheritance from the child’s creditors or divorcing spouse. If you have an asset in a qualified plan, it is important for the contingent beneficiary designation to be that child’s inheritance trust, instead of the child as an individual. Essentially what this does is ensure that the benefit of the inheritance trust applies to the qualified asset. A spouse will typically be named the beneficiary with the child’s trust named as contingent beneficiary, ensuring that the funds remain in the bloodline and are protected from outsiders.

Similarly, when your New York estate plan involves use of a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust (MAPT), it is vital that beneficiaries be considered closely. In particular, Attorney Kraham explains that it is helpful to name the MAPT as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. Life insurance policy proceeds are never assets held in the name of the policy holder, and so when those proceeds are passed directly into the MAPT they do not count toward the “penalty period” that otherwise applies to asset transfers within five years of applying for Medicaid. As the article explained, we recently had a client in this exact situation. The man had a $500,000 life insurance policy on his wife with the couple’s MAPT named as the beneficiary. If the insurance proceeds were paid directly to the surviving spouse, those funds would have been unprotected from possible nursing home costs. In addition, the MAPT funds can still be used to pay for things like real estate taxes, home insurance, and home repairs. However, this option is only logical when the surviving spouse does not need the life insurance policy proceeds while alive for day-to-day living expenses.

The Wall Street Journal wrote this weekend on a unique estate planning issue that is becoming relevant to a growing number of families: the inheritance rights of children conceived after one’s death through in vitro fertilization. More people than ever before are cryopreserving their gametes which can then be unfrozen later and used in fertilization. This practice is growing in popularity among cancer patients before undergoing chemotherapy, those in the military, and others in high-risk occupations.

The total number of infants born through use of this technology has doubled in the past decade and the clinics offering this service have increased. For area residents, use of this science may have an impact on their New York estate plan. Many are beginning to question what inheritance rights these children have if their parent passes away before they were conceived? In an effort to provide clarity, more and more states are passing laws defining their rights with regard to insurance, Social Security, trust participation, and similar topics. However, the legal landscape is far from clear.

Families who are considering their options or who have already frozen gametes should take a close look at the forms associated with the procedure. The clinics should clearly explain what happens to the material in the case of the donor’s death. Some families may be surprised that the language in those agreements does not match their intent.

by Michael Ettinger, Esq.

Prenuptial agreements (“prenups”) are contracts entered into by a couple before marriage setting out the rights of the parties in the event of divorce or death. Less common is the postnuptial agreement, with similar terms, but executed by the parties after marriage.

Who signs these types of agreements and why? Often couples marrying for the second or more time will have children and/or substantial assets at the time of remarriage. They may wish to insure that all or some of their assets go to their children and not to the new spouse, who may have children and assets of their own. Even with a will which leaves everything to one’s children, without a prenup the surviving spouse is legally entitled to claim about half of the deceased spouse’s estate. Having been married before, these couples know that sometimes things do not work out and wish to simplify matters in the event of a divorce, including whether or not alimony will be payable.

by Michael Ettinger, Esq.elderlaw.JPG

“Elder Law Estate Planning” is a niche area of the law which combines the features of elder law and estate planning that pertain most to the needs of the middle class.

Estate planning was originally for the wealthy few. Middle class families did not consider themselves as having “estates” to plan. During the Reagan years (1980-1988), a great economic expansion occurred, raising the asset level of the middle class into the realm of estate planning. With middle class people suddenly exposed to “estate taxes”, the need arose for estate planning, to reduce or eliminate those taxes. A few years later, in 1991, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) published “A Consumer Report on Probate” which concluded that probate was a process to be avoided, in all but the most exceptional cases. This marked the beginning of the end of traditional will planning and started the “living trust revolution”. AARP recommended that families start using trusts rather than wills, to avoid probate and save their beneficiaries tens of thousands of dollars in the estate settlement process.

By Michael Ettinger, Esq.

me consult.jpgReflecting on this comment made to us by a client recently, the following thoughts came to mind. What do we actually do at Ettinger Law Firm?

All we do is save our clients a lot of time, many thousands of dollars and the not so petty annoyances they might otherwise have in settling their family’s affairs on the death of a loved one. We help them reduce or eliminate taxes on the estate so that more passes down to help their children and grandchildren. These days, we also protect the inheritances our clients leave so that it is not lost should the heirs get sued or divorced and, better yet, we assure them that their wishes will carry on for decades after they are gone, by passing the inheritance on to their grandchildren one day. Should disability occur, our clients have had their assets protected years earlier through asset protection planning. For many who come to us in their hour of need, without preparation, we take on the burden of helping them through the Medicaid maze and help them save and protect much more of their assets than they ever thought possible.

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