5 Questions To Ask Before Hiring An Estate Planning Lawyer—Part 1 | Cava & Faulkner

Since you’ll be discussing topics like death, incapacity, and other frightening life events, hiring an estate planning lawyer may feel intimidating or morbid. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Instead, it can be the most empowering decision you ever make for yourself and your loved ones. The key to transforming the experience of hiring a lawyer from one that you dread into one that empowers you is to educate yourself first. This is the person who is going to be there for your family when you can’t be, so you want to really understand who the lawyer is as a human, not just an attorney. Of course, you’ll also want to find out the kind of services the lawyer offers and how they run their business.

To gather this information and get a better feel for who the individual is at the human level, we suggest you ask the prospective lawyer five key questions. Last week in part one https://www.calilaw.com/5-questions-to-ask-before-hiring-an-estate-planning-lawyer-part-1/, we listed the first two of these questions, and here, we cover the final three.

  1. How will you proactively communicate with me on an ongoing basis?

The sad truth is most lawyers do a terrible job of staying in regular communication with their clients. Unfortunately, most lawyers don’t have their business systems set up for ongoing, proactive communication, and they don’t have the time to really get to know you or your family.

If you work with a lawyer who doesn’t have systems in place to keep your plan updated, ensure your assets are owned in the right way (throughout your life), and communicate with you regularly, your estate plan may be worth little more than one you could create for yourself online—and it’s likely to fail when your family needs it most.

Think of it this way: Yes, your estate plan is a set of documents. But more importantly, it’s who and what your family will turn to when something happens to you. You want to work with a lawyer who has systems in place to keep your documents up to date and to ensure your assets are owned in the right way throughout your lifetime. Ideally, the lawyer should get to know you and your family over time, so when something happens, your lawyer can be there for the people you love, and there will already be an underlying relationship and trust.

  1. Can I call about any legal problem I have, or just about matters within your specialty?

Given the complexity of today’s legal world, lawyers must have specialized training in one or more specific practice areas, such as divorce, bankruptcy, wills and trusts, personal injury, business, criminal matters, or employment law. You definitely do NOT want to work with a lawyer who professes to be an expert in whatever random legal issue walks through the door.

That said, you do want your personal lawyer to have broad enough expertise that you can consult with him or her about all sorts of different legal and financial issues that may come up in your life—and trust he or she will be able to offer you sound guidance. Moreover, while your lawyer may not be able to advise you on all legal matters, he or she should at least be able to refer to you to another trusted professional who can help you.

Trust me, you wouldn’t want the lawyer who designed your estate plan to also handle your personal injury claim, settle a dispute with your employee, and advise you on your divorce. But you do want him or her to be there to hear your story, refer you to a highly qualified lawyer who specializes in that area, and overall, serve as your go-to legal consultant.

  1. What happens if you die or retire?

This is a critically important—and often overlooked—question to ask not only your lawyer, but any service professional before beginning a relationship. Sure, it may be uncomfortable to ask, but a truly excellent, client-centered professional will have a plan in place to ensure their clients are taken care of no matter what happens to the individual lawyer managing your plan.

Look for a lawyer who has their own detailed plan in place that will ensure that someone warm and caring will take over your planning without any interruption of service. If your lawyer prepared a will, trust, and other estate planning documents for you, or if you are in the middle of a divorce or lawsuit, you want to make certain your lawyer has such a contingency plan in place, so you won’t be forced to start over from scratch should your lawyer die, retire, or become otherwise unavailable.

How 'Gray Divorce' Complicates Estate Planning | ThinkAdvisor

Last week in part one [https://www.calilaw.com/getting-divorced-dont-overlook-these-4-updates-to-your-estate-plan-part-1/], we discussed the first two changes you should make to your plan if you’re getting divorced: updating your beneficiary designations and power of attorney documents. Here in part two, we’ll cover the final updates to consider.

  1. Create a new will
    Creating a new will is not something that can wait until after your divorce. In fact, you should create a new will as soon as you decide to get divorced, since once divorce papers are filed, you may not be able to change your will. And because most married couples name each other as their executor and the beneficiary of their estate, it’s important to name a new person to fill these roles as well.

    When creating a new will, rethink how you want your assets divided upon your death. This most likely means naming new beneficiaries for any assets that you’d previously left to your future ex and his or her family. Keep in mind that California has community-property laws that entitle your surviving spouse to a certain percentage of the marital estate upon your death, no matter what your will dictates. So if you die before the divorce is final, you probably won’t be able to entirely disinherit your surviving spouse through the new will.

Yet, it’s almost certain you wouldn’t want him or her to get everything. With this in mind, you should create your new will as soon as possible once divorce is inevitable to ensure the proper individuals inherit the remaining percentage of your estate should you pass away while your divorce is still ongoing.

  1. Amend your existing trust or create a new one

If you have a revocable living trust, you’ll want to review and update it, too. In addition to reconsidering what assets your soon-to-be-ex spouse should receive through the trust, you’ll probably want to replace him or her as successor trustee, if they are so designated.

And if you don’t have a trust in place, you should seriously consider creating one, especially if you have minor children. Trusts provide a wide range of powers and benefits unavailable through a will, and they’re particularly well-suited for blended families. Given the possibility that both you and your spouse will eventually get remarried—and perhaps have more children—trusts are an invaluable way to protect and manage the assets you want your children to inherit.

By using a trust, for example, should you die or become incapacitated while your kids are minors, you can name someone of your choosing to serve as successor trustee to manage their money until they reach adulthood, making it impossible for your ex to meddle with their inheritance.

Beyond this key benefit, trusts afford you several other levels of enhanced protection and control not possible with a will. For this reason, you should at least discuss creating a trust with an experienced lawyer before ruling out the option entirely.

Post-divorce planning

During the divorce process, your primary estate planning goal is limiting your soon-to-be ex’s control over your life and assets should you die or become incapacitated before divorce is final. In light of this, the individuals to whom you grant power of attorney, name as trustee, designate to receive your 401k, or add to your plan in any other way while the divorce is ongoing are often just temporary.

Once your divorce is final and your marital property has been divided up, you should revisit all of your planning documents and update them based on your new asset profile and living situation. From there, your plan should continuously evolve as your life changes, especially following major life events, such as getting remarried, having additional children, and when close family members pass away.

 

Here's why you need an Estate Plan - My Press Plus

October 19th-25th, 2020 is National Estate Planning Awareness Week, so if you’ve been thinking about creating an estate plan, but still haven’t checked it off your to-do list, now is the perfect time to get it done.

When it comes to putting off or refusing to create an estate plan, your mind can concoct all sorts of rationalizations: “I won’t care because I’ll be dead,” “I’m too young,” “That won’t happen to me,” or “My family will know what to do.”

But these thoughts all come from a mix of pride, denial, and above all, a lack of real education about estate planning and the consequences to your family of not planning. Once you understand exactly how planning is designed to work and what it protects against, you’ll realize there is no acceptable excuse for not having a plan.

Indeed, the first step in creating a proper plan is to thoroughly understand the potential consequences of going without one. In the event of your death or incapacity, not having a plan could be incredibly traumatic and costly for your family, who will be forced to deal with the mess you’ll have created by neglecting to plan.

While each situation and family are unique, in this multi-part series I’m going to discuss some of the things most likely to happen to your loved ones if you fail to create a plan. This is the first:

Your family will have to go to court
If you don’t have a plan, or if you only have a will (yes, even with a will), you’re forcing your family to go through probate upon your death. Probate is the legal process for settling your estate, and even if you have a will, it’s notoriously slow, costly, and public. But with no plan at all, probate can be a true nightmare for your loved ones.

Depending on the complexity of your estate, probate can take years, or even decades, to complete. And like most court proceedings, probate can be expensive. In fact, once all of your debts, taxes, and court fees have been paid, there might be little left for your loved ones to inherit. And for whatever is left, your family will have to pay hefty attorney’s fees and court costs in order to claim them.

Yet, the most burdensome part of probate is the frustration and anxiety it can cause your loved ones. In addition to grieving your death, planning your funeral, and contacting everyone you’re close with, your family will be stuck dealing with a crowded court system that can be challenging to navigate even in the best of circumstances. Plus, the entire affair is open to the public, which can make things all the more arduous for those you leave behind, especially if the wrong people take an interest in your family’s affairs.

That said, the expense and drama of the court system can be almost totally avoided with proper planning. Using a trust, for example, we can ensure that your assets pass directly to your family upon your death, without the need for any court intervention. As long as you have planned properly, just about everything can happen in the privacy of our office and on your family’s time.

No more excuses
Given the potentially dire consequences probate can cause for your family, you can’t afford to put off creating your estate plan any longer. Next week we’ll look at how the lack of an estate plan will cost you control of who inherits your assets as well as when and how the inheritance is received.  

 

 

What Estate Planning Documents Do Your Young Adult Children Need?

While estate planning is probably one of the last things your teenage kids are thinking about, when they turn 18, it should be one of their (and your) number-one priorities. Here’s why: At 18, they become legal adults in the eyes of the law, so you no longer have the authority to make decisions regarding their healthcare, nor will you have access to their financial accounts if something happens to them.

With you no longer in charge, your young adult would be extremely vulnerable in the event they become incapacitated by COVID-19 or another malady and lose their ability to make decisions about their own medical care. Seeing that putting a plan in place could literally save their lives, if your kids are already 18 or about to hit that milestone, it’s crucial that you discuss and have them sign the following documents.

Medical Power of Attorney
A medical power of attorney is an advance directive that allows your child to grant you (or someone else) the legal authority to make healthcare decisions on their behalf in the event they become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions for themselves.

For example, a medical power of attorney would allow you to make decisions about your child’s medical treatment if he or she is in a car accident or is hospitalized with COVID-19.

Without a medical power of attorney in place, if your child has a serious illness or injury that requires hospitalization and you need access to their medical records to make decisions about their treatment, you’d have to petition the court to become their legal guardian. While a parent is typically the court’s first choice for guardian, the guardianship process can be both slow and expensive.

And due to HIPAA laws, once your child becomes 18, no one—even parents—is legally authorized to access his or her medical records without prior written permission. But a properly drafted medical power of attorney will include a signed HIPAA authorization, so you can immediately access their medical records to make informed decisions about their healthcare.

Living Will
While a medical power of attorney allows you to make healthcare decisions on your child’s behalf during their incapacity, a living will is an advance directive that provides specific guidance about how your child’s medical decisions should be made, particularly at the end of life.

For example, a living will allows your child to let you know if and when they want life support removed should they ever require it. In addition to documenting how your child wants their medical care managed, a living will can also include instructions about who should be able to visit them in the hospital and even what kind of food they should be fed.

Durable Financial Power of Attorney
Should your child become incapacitated, you may also need the ability to access and manage their finances, and this requires your child to grant you durable financial power of attorney.

Durable financial power of attorney gives you the authority to manage their financial and legal matters, such as paying their tuition, applying for student loans, managing their bank accounts, and collecting government benefits. Without this document, you will have to petition the court for such authority.

Peace of Mind
As parents, it is normal to experience anxiety as your child individuates and becomes an adult, and with the pandemic still raging, these fears have undoubtedly intensified. While you can’t totally prevent your child from an unforeseen illness or injury, you can at least rest assured that if your child ever does need your help, you’ll have the legal authority to provide it. Contact us if you have any questions.

Arizona Family Court – Changes During the COVID-19 Pandemic

 

 

 

If you have a blended family and do not plan for what happens to your assets in the event of your incapacity or death, you are almost certainly guaranteeing hurt feelings, conflict, and maybe even a long, drawn out court battle.

 

So let’s start with clarity around what a blended family is and whether you have one. If you have stepchildren, or children from a prior marriage, or other people you consider “kin” who are not considered legal relatives in the eyes of the law, you’ve got a blended family.

 

Bottom line: if you have a blended family, you need an estate plan, and not just a will you created for yourself online, or a trust that isn’t specifically and intentionally designed to keep your family out of court and out of conflict. Period. End of story. Unless you are okay with setting your loved ones up for unnecessary heartache, confusion, and pain when something happens to you.

 

What Will the Law Do?

“Blended Families, once considered “non-traditional” families are swiftly becoming the norm. Currently 52% of married couples (or unmarried couples who live together) have a stepkin relationship of some kind, and 4 in 10 new marriages involve remarriage. So, clearly, this is no longer “non-traditional” but quite traditional, though our laws about what happens if you become incapacitated or die are still very much based on tradition.

 

Every state has different provisions for what happens when you become incapacitated or die, and the laws of California may not necessarily match your wishes.

 

For example, in California, all community property assets would go to your surviving spouse, and separate property assets would be distributed partially to a surviving spouse and partially to children, if living, in amounts depending on the number of surviving children.

 

This may not result in the outcome you want for your loved ones, especially if you have a blended family situation. If you have something different in mind as to how you would want things to go, there is good news. The state of California allows you to circumvent those laws, but only if you have an alternate plan in place BEFORE your incapacity or death.

 

Even within “traditional” families, I want to emphasize that having a full plan is the best way to provide for your loved ones. However, with “blended” families, carefully considered estate plans are often even more vital to avoid massive misunderstanding and conflict, and having your assets tied up in court instead of going to the people you want to receive them.

 

Disputes Between Spouse and Children from Previous Marriage

One of the most common problems that arises in a blended family is that the deceased’s children from a prior marriage and the surviving spouse end up in conflict. The courts are filled with these kinds of cases. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

 

When you’re considering all of this for the people you love, it’s important to have a trusted advisor who can help you look at the reality of what will happen if you become incapacitated or when you die. With the complexities of modern families, it’s far better to know and plan than to leave it up to the law or a court to decide. That way, not only do the people you love get the assets that you want them to receive, but you will also be saving them from years of potential legal conflict.

 

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

 

 

 

 

Do your parents have an estate plan? Is it up to date? No matter how rich or poor you or your parents are, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, you need to be asking these and several other questions. When your parents become incapacitated or die, their affairs will become your responsibility, and it will be impossible to ask them to clarify anything. So, if you do not know whether they have estate planning in place to help you best support them, read on.  

The Best-Case Scenario

In a best-case scenario, your parents have an updated estate plan, and they’ve walked you through it. They have provided an inventory of their assets that’s easy for you to find listing out everything they own and how it’s titled. Ideally, the plan also includes directions on how to handle their non-monetary assets, and a video, audio recording or written stories that pass on their values, insights and experience. On top of all that, it’s best if they’ve introduced you to the lawyer who set it all up, so you know who to turn to when the time comes.

Less-Than-Ideal Scenarios

If that’s not the case, you could have some holes to fill. If they’ve not done any planning at all, now is the time to encourage them to get it done and support them in any way you can. If they already have a completed plan, it’s likely that it has been sitting on their shelf or in a drawer for years, not updated, with no inventory of their assets and no way to capture and pass on their intangible assets. Even worse, their lawyer could have been using outdated systems that are no longer recognized, which can lead to trouble down the road.

It’s also possible that if they’ve never updated their estate plan, it no longer tracks with their current assets, and may even require complex actions that are no longer necessary upon their death. Worst of all, you may have no idea what your parents own or how to find their assets, and at their incapacity or death you’ll be left with a mess, even though your parents had good intentions and thought their planning was handled.

The Worst-Case Scenario

In a worst-case scenario (which we see more frequently than we’d like), your parents may have worked with someone who exerted undue influence over their decisions. This person may have led them to write something into their plan that they either didn’t really want to or wouldn’t otherwise have chosen if they understood all their options.  

Either way, it’s critical for you to know who your parents have worked with to create their estate plan, and how and why they made the choices they did. If you aren’t in the know, now is the time to find out. 

If your parents are already discussing these matters but have not yet included you, you can ask them to schedule a family meeting with their existing attorney. On your parents’ request, that attorney should look forward to walking you through your parents’ planning, the choices they made, and how you will be impacted in the event of their incapacity or death.

You want to develop a relationship with their estate planning attorney now. This advisor can be one of the most important supporters of you and your parents during your time of need. It’s a relationship you will want to establish before you need it, so you won’t be scrambling during a time of crisis.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

In many families, money matters are not typical dinner table discussion, but I think it should be. This is especially true when it comes to affluent parents. And, I hope this changes because one of the most important things you can do is talk to your kids (and your parents) about money.

According to the Spectrem Millionaire Corner, a market research group, only 17% of affluent parents said they would disclose their income or net worth to their kids by the time they turned 18. A nearly equal amount, 18% said they would never disclose these numbers to their kids. 32% of the parents surveyed by Spectrem said “it’s none of their business” when asked why they would not talk to their kids about money.

But, that’s faulty thinking. The amount of money generated by your family, and what will happen to it when you or your parents become incapacitated or die is definitely “family” business. In fact, whether your parents talk with you about it now, or you figure it all out after they die, your parent’s money has a huge impact on you.

If your parents are not talking to you about money, it could be because they are afraid that if you know how much money there is, it will make you lazy, unmotivated, or change the course of your life decisions in a negative manner. And, maybe you have the same fears of talking about money with your own kids.

But the truth is that whether you know exactly what’s there or not, you have a general sense of your family’s financial situation and it’s already impacted your decisions in a myriad of ways. And the best way for your family’s money to impact your decisions in a positive manner is to have open conversation about it.

If you are a child of well-off parents who are not talking to you about money, consider that your job is to learn to communicate with your parents in a way that will have them trust you, and the decisions you will make if you know just how much there is.

When money has come up in the past, have you behaved immaturely? Have your actions or words caused your parents not to trust you? If so, you can change that now. And consider the possibility that your parents would love to see evidence of your maturity in this arena.

If you are a parent yourself, one of the most important wishes you have for your children is probably that they learn to handle money well. And as a parent myself, I know you want to influence them in the most positive way possible when it comes to money (and everything else, for that matter).

Consider how you would want your children to approach you to have the money conversation, and how you can do exactly that with your parents?

We all must learn about our family’s money eventually. And if that doesn’t happen until after our parents die, it can be a much bigger burden to deal with, and we can lose tremendous opportunities for passing on more than just money.

As an prosperous parent, or the child of prosperous parents, getting into conversations about money now is a huge opportunity to pass on values, insights, stories and experiences that will be lost if you wait until incapacity or death to start facing that topic.

I believe it’s one of the most valuable, ongoing conversations I’m having with my children – and parents. And it’s one of my favorite things to help my clients get going in their own families.

Don’t underestimate the power of these conversations. Talking to your kids (or your parents) about money is one of life’s real opportunities for your family to come together and use your whole family wealth to create more connection from one generation to the next.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

A last will and testament can ensure your wishes are respected when you die. But if your will isn’t legally valid, those wishes might not actually be carried out, and instead the laws of “intestate succession” would apply, meaning that the state decides who gets your stuff, and it’s very likely not to be who you would choose.

If you’ve created a will online, we congratulate you for doing SOMETHING, but I strongly recommend that you have it reviewed and make sure it does what you want and is actually legally valid. I’ve seen it far too many times: someone THINKS they’ve created a will, because they did something, but the SOMETHING was the WRONG THING, and their family is left to deal with the fallout, confusion and complications that result.

The validity of a will depends on where you live when you die, as last will and testament laws vary from state to state. California requires wills to meet the following criteria in order to be legally binding:

The Essential Requirements
You must be at least 18 years old or an emancipated minor to create a legally valid will.

  • You must be of sound mind and capable of understanding your intentions for your estate, who you want to be a beneficiary, and your relationship with those people when you create your will.
  • You must sign your will or direct someone else to sign it if you are physically incapable of doing so.
  • There must be at least two witnesses—who are not beneficiaries— present at the signing.

Handwritten Wills
You may write a holographic will, which means a will that is written completely in your own hand, with no other printed material on the page. In that case, there are no witnesses required, and, in fact, having a witness would make the will invalid because there must be no other writing other than your hand on the page for a holographic will to be valid.

When a Will Isn’t Valid
If your will does not adhere to the legal requirements, the court will declare it invalid. In this case, your estate would pass under California’s intestacy laws, which means your assets would go to your closest living relatives, as determined by the law. And that may or may not be who you would want to receive your assets.

Is a Will All You Need?
A will is a baseline foundation for any estate plan, but it might not be enough to protect your family. A will does not keep your assets out of court, and it does not operate in the event of your incapacity. It also does not ensure your minor children will only ever be cared for by whom you choose. And a will alone cannot ensure your loved ones receive your assets protected from unnecessary conflict or creditors.

The best way to ensure your will is legally valid is by consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney to confirm your will follows California’s laws and to evaluate your estate plan to ensure it will protect your wishes and provide for your family according to those wishes in the event of your incapacity, or when you die.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

On January 1, 2020, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Act) went into effect, and it could have big implications for both your retirement and estate planning strategies—and not all of them are positive.

Last week, I gave you a general overview of the SECURE Act’s most impactful provisions. Under the new law, your heirs could end up paying far more in income taxes than necessary when they inherit the assets in your retirement account. Moreover, the assets your heirs inherit could also end up at risk from creditors, lawsuits, or divorce. And this is true even for retirement assets held in certain protective trusts designed to shield those assets from such threats and maximize tax savings.

Here, we’ll cover the SECURE Act’s impact on your financial planning for retirement, offering strategies for maximizing your retirement account’s potential for growth, while minimizing tax liabilities and other risks that could arise in light of the legislation’s legal changes.

Tax-advantaged retirement planning

If your retirement account assets are held in a traditional IRA, you received a tax deduction when you put funds into that account, and now the investments in that account grow tax free as long as they remain in the account. When you eventually withdraw funds from the account, you’ll pay income taxes on that money based on your tax rate at the time.

If you withdraw those funds during retirement, your tax rate will likely (but not always) be lower than it is now. The combination of the upfront tax deduction on your initial investment with the likely lower tax rate on your withdrawal is what makes traditional IRAs such an attractive option for retirement planning.

Thanks to the SECURE Act, these retirement vehicles now come with even more benefits. Previously, you were required to start taking distributions from retirement accounts at age 70 ½. But under the SECURE Act, you are not required to start taking distributions until you reach 72, giving you an additional year-and-a-half to grow your retirement savings tax free.

The SECURE Act also eliminated the age restriction on contributions to traditional IRAs. Under prior law, those who continued working could not contribute to a traditional IRA once they reached 70 ½. Now you can continue making contributions to your IRA for as long as you and/or your spouse are still working.

From a financial-planning perspective, you’ll want to consider the effect these new rules could have on the goal for your retirement account assets. For example, will you need the assets you’ve been accumulating in your retirement account for your own use during retirement, or do you plan to pass those assets to your heirs? From there, you’ll want to consider the potential income-tax consequences of each scenario.

Your retirement account assets are extremely valuable, and you’ll want to ensure those assets are well managed both for yourself and future generations, so you should discuss these issues with your financial advisor as soon as possible. If you don’t already have a financial advisor, we’ll be happy to recommend a few we trust most.

And if you meet with us for a Family Estate Planning Session (or for a review of your existing plan) to discuss your options from a legal perspective, we can integrate your financial advisor into our meeting. Together, we can look at the specific goals you’re trying to achieve and determine the best ways to use your retirement-account assets to benefit yourself and your heirs.

Here are some things we would consider with you and your financial advisor:

Converting to a ROTH IRA
In light of the SECURE Act’s changes, you may want to consider converting your traditional IRA to a ROTH IRA. ROTH IRAs come with a potentially large tax bill up front, when you initially transition the account, but all earnings and future distributions from the account are tax free.

Life insurance trust options
Given the new distribution requirements for inherited IRAs, we can also look at whether it makes sense to withdraw the funds from your retirement account now, pay the resulting tax, and invest the remainder in life insurance. From there, you can set up a life insurance trust to hold the policy’s balance for your heirs.

By directing the death benefits of that insurance into a trust, you can avoid burdening your beneficiaries with the SECURE Act’s new tax requirements for withdrawals of inherited retirement assets as well as provide extended asset protection for the funds held in trust.

Charitable trust options
If you have charitable inclinations, we can consider using a charitable remainder trust (CRT). By naming the CRT as the beneficiary of your retirement account, when you pass away, the CRT would make monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, or annual distributions to your beneficiaries over their lifetime. Then, when the beneficiaries pass away, the remaining assets would be distributed to a charity of your choice.

The decision of whether to transition your traditional IRA into a ROTH IRA now, or cash out and buy insurance, or use a CRT to provide for your beneficiaries is a solvable “math problem.” Using the specific facts of your life goals as the elements that go into solving the problem, we can team up with your financial advisor to help you do the math and solve the equation.

Adjusting your plan
While the SECURE Act has significantly altered the tax implications for retirement planning and estate planning, as you can see, there are still plenty of tax-saving options available for managing your retirement account assets. But these options are only available if you plan for them.

If you don’t revise your plan to accommodate the SECURE Act’s new requirements, your family will pay the maximum amount of income taxes and lose valuable opportunities for asset-protection and wealth-creation as well. You’ve worked too hard for these assets to see them lost, squandered, or not pass to your heirs in the way you choose, so put this planning at the top of your new year’s resolution list.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Act). The SECURE Act, is effective as of January 1, 2020. The Act is the most impactful legislation affecting retirement accounts in decades. The SECURE Act has several positive changes: It increases the required beginning date (RBD) for required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your individual retirement accounts from 70 ½ to 72 years of age, and it eliminates the age restriction for contributions to qualified retirement accounts. However, perhaps the most significant change will affect the beneficiaries of your retirement accounts: The SECURE Act requires most designated beneficiaries to withdraw the entire balance of an inherited retirement account within ten years of the account owner’s death.

The SECURE Act does provide a few exceptions to this new mandatory ten-year withdrawal rule: spouses, beneficiaries who are not more than ten years younger than the account owner, the account owner’s children who have not reached the “age of majority,” disabled individuals, and chronically ill individuals. However, proper analysis of your estate planning goals and planning for your intended beneficiaries’ circumstances are imperative to ensure your goals are accomplished and your beneficiaries are properly planned for.

Under the old law, beneficiaries of inherited retirement accounts could take distributions over their individual life expectancy. Under the SECURE Act, the shorter ten-year time frame for taking distributions will result in the acceleration of income tax due, possibly causing your beneficiaries to be bumped into a higher income tax bracket, thus receiving less of the funds contained in the retirement account than you may have originally anticipated.

Your estate planning goals likely include more than just tax considerations. You might be concerned with protecting a beneficiary’s inheritance from their creditors, future lawsuits, or a divorcing spouse. In order to protect your hard-earned retirement account and the ones you love, it is critical to act now.

Review/Amend Your Revocable Living Trust (RLT) or Standalone Retirement Trust (SRT)

Depending on the value of your retirement account, you may have addressed the distribution of your accounts in your RLT, or you may have created an SRT that would handle your retirement accounts at your death. Your trust may have included a “conduit” provision, and, under the old law, the trustee would only distribute required minimum distributions (RMDs) to the trust beneficiaries, allowing the continued “stretch” based upon their age and life expectancy.  A conduit trust protected the account balance, and only RMDs–much smaller amounts–were vulnerable to creditors and divorcing spouses. With the SECURE Act’s passage, a conduit trust structure will no longer work because the trustee will be required to distribute the entire account balance to a beneficiary within ten years of your death. You many now need to consider the benefits of an “accumulation trust,” an alternative trust structure through which the trustee can take any required distributions and continue to hold them in a protected trust for your beneficiaries.

Consider Additional Trusts

For most Americans, a retirement account is the largest asset they will own when they pass away. If you have not done so already, it may be beneficial to create a trust to handle your retirement accounts. While many accounts offer simple beneficiary designation forms that allow you to name an individual or charity to receive funds when you pass away, this form alone does not take into consideration your estate planning goals and the unique circumstances of your beneficiary. A trust is a great tool to address the mandatory ten-year withdrawal rule under the new Act, providing continued protection of a beneficiary’s inheritance.

Review Intended Beneficiaries

With the changes to the laws surrounding retirement accounts, now is a great time to review and confirm your retirement account information. Whichever estate planning strategy is appropriate for you, it is important that your beneficiary designation is filled out correctly. If your intention is for the retirement account to go into a trust for a beneficiary, the trust must be properly named as the primary beneficiary. If you want the primary beneficiary to be an individual, he or she must be named. Ensure you have listed contingent beneficiaries as well.

If you have recently divorced or married, you will need to ensure the appropriate changes are made because at your death, in many cases, the plan administrator will distribute the account funds to the beneficiary listed, regardless of your relationship with the beneficiary or what your ultimate wishes might have been.

What Happens Next

If you are a client, we’ll be reaching out to you over the coming weeks if your plan is affected by the SECURE Act. If you are not a client, and don’t have an ongoing relationship with a trusted advisor, we’d be happy to review your plan to determine if it is affected by the SECURE Act. And if you have yet to get an estate plan in place, there’s no better time to get that process started. Let us know if we can help and happy new year!

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,