Avoid “bad blood” among family members: Protect your will from legal challenges

Protect your will from legal challenges

You’ve probably seen it in the movies or on TV: A close-knit family gathers to find out what’s contained in the will of a wealthy patriarch or matriarch. When the terms are revealed, a niece, for example, benefits at the expense her uncle, causing a ruckus. This “bad blood” continues to boil between estranged family members, who won’t even speak to one another.

Unfortunately, a comparable scenario can play out in real life if you don’t make proper provisions. With some planning, you can avoid family disputes or at least minimize the chances of your will being contested by your loved ones.

Start at the beginning

Before you (and your spouse, if married) set the table for your will, which is the centerpiece of any comprehensive estate plan, discuss estate matters with close family members who’ll likely be affected. This may include children, siblings, adult grandchildren and possibly others. Present an outline regarding the disposition of your assets and other important aspects.

This doesn’t mean you should be specific about everything in the will, but it’s a good idea to provide a basic overview of your estate. Consider the input of other family members; don’t just pay lip service to their feedback. In fact, they may raise issues that you hadn’t taken into account.

This meeting — which may require several sessions — may head off potential problems and better prepare your heirs. It certainly avoids the kind of “shockers” often depicted on screen.

Means of protection

Although there are no absolute guarantees, consider the following methods for bulletproofing your will from a legal challenge:

Draft a no-contest clause.

Also called an “in terrorem clause,” this language provides that, if any person in your will challenges it, he or she is excluded from your estate. It’s often used to thwart contests to a will.

This puts the onus squarely on the beneficiary. If he or she asserts that the estate isn’t divided equitably, the beneficiary risks receiving nothing. Be aware that, in some states, this clause may not be enforceable or may be subject to certain exceptions.

Choose witnesses wisely.

You may want to use witnesses who know you well, such as close friends or business associates. They can convincingly state that you were of sound mind when you made out the will. You also may want to choose witnesses who are in good health, preferably younger than you and easily traceable.

Obtain a physician’s note.

A note from a physician about your health status is recommended. For instance, it can state that you have the requisite mental capacity to make estate planning decisions and thus will be useful in avoiding legal challenges.

Last but not least

After your will is drafted, don’t make the mistake of putting it in a safe where you may forget about it. Review it periodically with your attorney. By fine-tuning the will, you improve the likelihood that it’ll deter a legal challenge and, if necessary, prevail in court. Contact us with any questions regarding your will.

About the author

Brady is the owner of Ramsay & Associates. He specializes in financial statement preparation and personal, fiduciary and corporate tax and accounting.

His professional experience includes seven years' experience for local and national CPA firms before joining Ramsay & Associates in 2006.

He has a Bachelor of Accounting degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is a Certified Public Accountant, a member of the Minnesota Society of CPA's, an Eagle Scout, as well as an active volunteer in the community.

Review your estate plan in the midst of a major life shock

Review-your-estate-plan

Generally, it’s recommended that you review your estate plan at year’s end. It’s a good time to check whether any life events have taken place in the past 12 months or so that affect your plan.

However, with a life shock as monumental as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, now is a good time to review your estate planning documents to ensure that they’re up to date — especially if you haven’t reviewed them in a number of years.

When revisions might be needed

The following list isn’t all-inclusive by any means, but it can give you a good idea of when estate plan revisions may be needed:

  • Your marriage, divorce, or remarriage
  • The birth or adoption of a child, grandchild or great-grandchild
  • The death of a spouse or another family member
  • The illness or disability of you, your spouse or another family member
  • A child or grandchild reaching the age of majority
  • Sizable changes in the value of assets you own
  • The sale or purchase of a principal residence or second home
  • Your retirement or retirement of your spouse
  • Receipt of a large gift or inheritance
  • Sizable changes in the value of assets you own

It’s also important to review your estate plan when there’ve been changes in federal or state income tax or estate tax laws.

Will and powers of attorney

As part of your estate plan review, closely examine your will, powers of attorney, and health care directives.

If you have minor children, your will should designate a guardian to care for them should you die prematurely, as well as make certain other provisions, such as creating trusts to benefit your children until they reach the age of majority, or perhaps even longer.

A durable power of attorney authorizes someone to handle your financial affairs if you’re disabled or otherwise unable to act. Likewise, a medical durable power of attorney authorizes someone to handle your medical decision-making if you’re disabled or unable to act. The powers of attorney expire upon your death.

Typically, these powers of attorney are coordinated with a living will and other health care directives. A living will spells out your wishes concerning life-sustaining measures in the event of a terminal illness. It says what measures should be used, withheld, or withdrawn.

Changes in your family or your personal circumstances might cause you to want to change beneficiaries, guardians, or power-of-attorney agents you’ve previously named.

Find calm in the middle of a storm

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many people’s thoughts are turning to their families. Updating and revising your estate plan today can provide you peace of mind that your loved ones will be taken care of in the future. We can help you determine if any revisions are needed.

About the author

Brady is the owner of Ramsay & Associates. He specializes in financial statement preparation and personal, fiduciary and corporate tax and accounting.

His professional experience includes seven years' experience for local and national CPA firms before joining Ramsay & Associates in 2006.

He has a Bachelor of Accounting degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is a Certified Public Accountant, a member of the Minnesota Society of CPA's, an Eagle Scout, as well as an active volunteer in the community.

Determining whether you need to file gift tax returns can be tricky

gift tax returns

For 2020, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption has reached a whopping $11.58 million ($23.16 million for married couples). As a result, few people will be subject to federal gift taxes.

If your wealth is well within the exemption amount, does that mean there’s no need to file gift tax returns? Not necessarily. There are many situations in which it’s necessary (or desirable) to file Form 709 — “United States Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return” — even if you’re not liable for any gift taxes.

If you’re required to file, keep in mind that the deadline for Form 709 is April 15 of the year after you make a gift.

All gifts are taxable, except . . .

The federal gift tax regime begins with the assumption that all transfers of property by gift (including below-market sales or loans) are taxable, and then sets forth several exceptions. Some of the nontaxable transfers that need not be reported on Form 709 include:

  • Gifts of present interests (see below) within the annual exclusion amount (currently, $15,000 per donee),
  • Deductible charitable gifts, and
  • Gifts to one’s U.S.-citizen spouse, either outright or to a trust that meets certain requirements.

If all your gifts for the year fall into these categories, no gift tax return is required. But other types of gifts may be taxable — and must be reported on Form 709 — even if they’re shielded from tax by the lifetime exemption.

Traps to avoid

If you make gifts during the year, consider whether you’re required to file Form 709. And watch out for these common traps:

Future interests.

The $15,000 annual exclusion applies only to present interests, such as outright gifts. Gifts of future interests, such as transfers to a trust for a donee’s benefit, aren’t covered, so you’re required to report them on Form 709 even if they’re less than $15,000.

Spousal gifts.

As previously noted, gifts to a U.S.-citizen spouse need not be reported on Form 709. However, if you make a gift to a trust for your spouse’s benefit, the trust must 1) provide that your spouse is entitled to all the trust’s income for life, payable at least annually, 2) give your spouse a general power of appointment over its assets, and 3) not be subject to any other person’s power of appointment. Otherwise, the gift must be reported.

Gift splitting.

Spouses may elect to split a gift to a child or other donee, so that each spouse is deemed to have made one-half of the gift, even if one spouse wrote the check. This allows married couples to combine their annual exclusions and give up to $30,000 to each donee. To make the election, the donor spouse must file Form 709, and the other spouse must sign a consent or, in some cases, file a separate gift tax return.

To file or not to file

To keep from running afoul of the IRS, it’s critical to know when you need to file a gift tax return. We can help you in that determination.

About the author

Brady is the owner of Ramsay & Associates. He specializes in financial statement preparation and personal, fiduciary and corporate tax and accounting.

His professional experience includes seven years' experience for local and national CPA firms before joining Ramsay & Associates in 2006.

He has a Bachelor of Accounting degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is a Certified Public Accountant, a member of the Minnesota Society of CPA's, an Eagle Scout, as well as an active volunteer in the community.

4 new law changes that may affect your retirement plan

The SECURE Act

If you save for retirement with an IRA or other plan, you’ll be interested to know that Congress recently passed a law that makes significant modifications to these accounts. The SECURE Act, which was signed into law on December 20, 2019, made these four changes.

Change #1: The maximum age for making traditional IRA contributions is repealed.

Before 2020, traditional IRA contributions weren’t allowed once you reached age 70½. Starting in 2020, an individual of any age can make contributions to a traditional IRA, as long he or she has compensation, which generally means earned income from wages or self-employment.

Change #2: The required minimum distribution (RMD) age was raised from 70½ to 72.

Before 2020, retirement plan participants and IRA owners were generally required to begin taking RMDs from their plans by April 1 of the year following the year they reached age 70½. The age 70½ requirement was first applied in the early 1960s and, until recently, hadn’t been adjusted to account for increased life expectancies.

For distributions required to be made after December 31, 2019, for individuals who attain age 70½ after that date, the age at which individuals must begin taking distributions from their retirement plans or IRAs is increased from 70½ to 72.

Change #3: “Stretch IRAs” were partially eliminated.

If a plan participant or IRA owner died before 2020, their beneficiaries (spouses and non-spouses) were generally allowed to stretch out the tax-deferral advantages of the plan or IRA by taking distributions over the beneficiary’s life or life expectancy. This is sometimes called a “stretch IRA.”

However, for deaths of plan participants or IRA owners beginning in 2020 (later for some participants in collectively bargained plans and governmental plans), distributions to most non-spouse beneficiaries are generally required to be distributed within 10 years following a plan participant’s or IRA owner’s death. That means the “stretch” strategy is no longer allowed for those beneficiaries.

There are some exceptions to the 10-year rule. For example, it’s still allowed for: the surviving spouse of a plan participant or IRA owner; a child of a plan participant or IRA owner who hasn’t reached the age of majority; a chronically ill individual; and any other individual who isn’t more than 10 years younger than a plan participant or IRA owner. Those beneficiaries who qualify under this exception may generally still take their distributions over their life expectancies.

Change #4: Penalty-free withdrawals are now allowed for birth or adoption expenses.

A distribution from a retirement plan must generally be included in income. And, unless an exception applies, a distribution before the age of 59½ is subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty on the amount includible in income.

Starting in 2020, plan distributions (up to $5,000) that are used to pay for expenses related to the birth or adoption of a child are penalty-free. The $5,000 amount applies on an individual basis. Therefore, each spouse in a married couple may receive a penalty-free distribution up to $5,000 for a qualified birth or adoption.

Questions?

These are only some of the changes included in the new law. If you have questions about your situation, don’t hesitate to contact us.

About the author

Brady is the owner of Ramsay & Associates. He specializes in financial statement preparation and personal, fiduciary and corporate tax and accounting.

His professional experience includes seven years' experience for local and national CPA firms before joining Ramsay & Associates in 2006.

He has a Bachelor of Accounting degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is a Certified Public Accountant, a member of the Minnesota Society of CPA's, an Eagle Scout, as well as an active volunteer in the community.

Use non-grantor trusts to bypass the SALT deduction limit

non-granter trusts

If you reside in a high-tax state, you may want to consider using non-grantor trusts to soften the blow of the $10,000 federal limit on state and local tax (SALT) deductions. The limit can significantly reduce itemized deductions if your state income and property taxes are well over $10,000. A potential strategy for avoiding the limit is to transfer interests in real estate to several non-grantor trusts, each of which enjoys its own $10,000 SALT deduction.

Grantor vs. non-grantor trusts

The main difference between a grantor and non-grantor trust is that a grantor trust is treated as your alter ego for tax purposes, while a non-grantor trust is treated as a separate entity. Traditionally, grantor trusts have been the vehicle of choice for estate planning purposes because the trust’s income is passed through to you, as grantor, and reported on your tax return.

That’s an advantage, because it allows the trust assets to grow tax-free, leaving more for your heirs. By paying the tax, you essentially provide an additional, tax-free gift to your loved ones that’s not limited by your gift tax exemption or annual gift tax exclusion. In addition, because the trust is an extension of you for tax purposes, you have the flexibility to sell property to the trust without triggering taxable gain.

Now that fewer families are subject to gift taxes, grantor trusts enjoy less of an advantage over non-grantor trusts. This creates an opportunity to employ non-grantor trusts to boost income tax deductions.

Non-grantor trusts in action

A non-grantor trust is a discrete legal entity, which files its own tax returns and claims its own deductions. The idea behind the strategy is to divide real estate that’s subject to more than $10,000 in property taxes among several trusts, each of which has its own SALT deduction up to $10,000. Each trust must also generate sufficient income against which to offset the deduction.

Before you attempt this strategy, beware of the multiple trust rule of Internal Revenue Code Section 643(f). That section provides that, under regulations prescribed by the U.S. Treasury Department, multiple trusts may be treated as a single trust if they have “substantially the same grantor or grantors and substantially the same primary beneficiary or beneficiaries” and a principal purpose of the arrangement is tax avoidance.

Bear in mind that to preserve the benefits of multiple trusts, it’s important to designate a different beneficiary for each trust.

Pass the SALT

If you’re losing valuable tax deductions because of the SALT limit, consider passing those deductions on to one or more non-grantor trusts. Consult with us before taking action, because these trusts must be structured carefully to ensure that they qualify as non-grantor trusts and don’t run afoul of the multiple trust rule.

About the author

Brady is the owner of Ramsay & Associates. He specializes in financial statement preparation and personal, fiduciary and corporate tax and accounting.

His professional experience includes seven years' experience for local and national CPA firms before joining Ramsay & Associates in 2006.

He has a Bachelor of Accounting degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is a Certified Public Accountant, a member of the Minnesota Society of CPA's, an Eagle Scout, as well as an active volunteer in the community.