Estate Planning

To Avoid These Common Estate Planning Mistakes, Review Your Plan Regularly

Estate planning is viewed by many Americans as something they can do once and then file away until they die. However, without being aware of the potential impact, people will make gifts during their lifetime or change listed beneficiaries on accounts which can have enormous unintended consequences on their will or trust. Review your estate plan regularly to help to prevent these common mistakes.

Gifting money during your lifetime without changing your will

It is a common practice for people to include cash gifts in their will. Whether money for a favorite nephew or niece, childhood friend, or household worker, there can be significant sums of cash for distribution to inheritors listed in your will. Often, family members learn these gifts were already satisfied during your lifetime because they hear the story about the joy it brings to the recipient.

Without modifying your will after gifting cash during your lifetime, the named individual will still get the gift when the will enters probate. Smaller gift amounts may not create issues in an estate but don’t match your intentions. More considerable sums of money can create situations that financially break an estate plan. A court will not know that a gift was satisfied during your lifetime either, and there is no one left to speak to the intention of the will, resulting in a second gifting of cash.

The cash gift is paid again if the inheritor chooses not to be forthcoming. While many in the family will view a lifetime gift as an advance on an inheritance, if the recipient does not agree, you may have to litigate, which can be costly. If you give lifetime gifts of cash and do not intend to give a secondary gift upon your death, change your will after the gift.

Too few assets to fund a trust

If your trust is years old and its overall assets have decreased in value, reviewing the gift provisions outlined in your trust is crucial. You may not have enough assets to pay for all of the gifts. It is not unusual that in flush financial times, people create grand estate plans leaving cash to family and friends and creating trusts for others’ benefit. These good intentions can fall far short of reality in leaner times, leaving some people to receive less than hoped or nothing at all.

In a trust, cash gifts pay out first. For example, if you leave $1,000,000 to your sibling and the rest in trust for your children, but at the time of death, your trust is only worth $1,150,000, the trust will then only contain $150,000 for your children after the payout. This is probably not your intention. Another possibility is your trust provisions don’t get funded because there is no cash to cover them. 

Sadly, it will be the lawyer or trustee’s responsibility to advise these recipients of what they were supposed to receive from the trust, but unfortunately, they will not. Regular review of your trust and its goals can avoid this situation. Crafting a trust with realistic goals or making amendments to those goals during less abundant times will keep the trust’s intentions valid and achievable.

Thinking all assets pass through your will

Some people leave a lot of money that they believe satisfies all the gifts listed in their will. They total all their assets, which seems large enough to address all beneficiaries. However, all assets will not pass under the will, which is the difference between probate and non-probate assets.

Probate assets will pass through the decedent’s name into their estate and be distributed according to the will. In contrast, non-probate assets pass outside the will, usually by joint ownership or beneficiary designation. Knowing the difference between the asset classes provides the true value in the estate and receives distribution according to your will. Also, be clear your estate will need to deduct any outstanding debts, expenses, and taxes, which will reduce the probate asset number again.

Joint ownership additions

It is very easy to add an individual as a joint owner with rights of survivorship of an asset such as a bank account or piece of real estate. Yet if your will relies on that asset being part of your estate to pay others (or debts, expenses, and taxes), there may be a problem. Joint ownership can often lead to will contests and lengthy court battles. Before succumbing to the temptation of joint ownership, speak with your estate planning attorney and proceed cautiously so as not to upset the existing estate plan.

Changes to beneficiary designations

Beneficiary designation changes can have unintended consequences on your estate plan. The most common problems occur with changes to beneficiaries in life insurance policies. The policy may be payable to your trust to cover the cost of bequests, pay estate taxes, or shelter monies from estate taxes. Similarly, a retirement account due to an individual but changed to another may result in adverse income tax consequences. You may upend the intention of your estate plan by casually changing a beneficiary designation.

These are some of the more common mistakes people make that can negatively affect your estate planning goals. Regularly review your intentions and legal documents with your estate planning attorney to clarify changes in assets and asset types, lifetime gifts, beneficiary designations, and joint ownership additions. Doing so will keep your legacy as you intend it to be. We hope you found this article helpful. If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

Sibling Estate Disputes: How to Avoid Them or Resolve Them

In most families, there can be no getting around sibling rivalry. Depending on your particular family members and the dynamic between them, old rivalries from the past can become more significant when a parent passes. Adult children who are emotionally upset and in the unfamiliar territory of an inheritance process can invent new problems or magnify existing ones.

Protecting Family Relationships

Rivalry issues often present in heartbreaking ways, damaging family relationships and altering the parent’s original intent for estate distribution. It can potentially cost family members significant time and money in litigation. The death of a parent is a difficult test for siblings, particularly in cases where assets are shared unequally.

It is possible to avoid many inheritance disputes with some forethought if a parent implements a few key steps before and after death with sound estate planning. Comprehensive estate planning includes a will and trust with a non-sibling trustee or executor and the chance for equitable gift-giving during the parent’s lifetime, providing the opportunity to elaborate on or defend their decisions. Non-family fiduciaries who can act in the estate distribution include an attorney, CPA, or other financial institution that provides this service. Professional services may be well worth implementing as a strategy to diffuse issues between contentious family members.

Gifting to Children Before Death

One technique for a parent to quell potential issues is to legally gift up to $16,000 annually to each child without owing taxes on those gifts and spending down the estate’s cash assets, so there is less to argue over. You can’t argue about assets that have already been gifted. Every parent has the right to do whatever they choose with their money during their lifetime.

Using Neutral Parties to Distribute Assets after Death

After a parent dies, a mediator is particularly useful if one of the family’s adult children is the executor or trustee of the estate. The mediator remains neutral and can counsel all siblings about the estate’s distribution process while helping to keep emotions on an even keel. A mediator can also help executors or trustees formulate a plan to liquidate estate assets and split the proceeds among heirs, sometimes using the services of an independent fiduciary for assistance.

Income Disparity Among Siblings

Sometimes sibling economic disparity creates different perspectives about what is fair. Suppose a financially stable adult child prefers to hold onto an inheritable asset for a long-term payout while another heir in greater need requires an immediate return. A mediator may aid in negotiating the sale of that interest to the more financially stable heir while cashing out the other sibling, keeping the deal within the family.

Situations that Can Lead to Contesting the Will

New spouses and step-children, disabled and dependent siblings who require care, and estranged children are very likely to mount challenges to the status quo of inheritance if they feel they are being unfairly compensated. Legal actions citing undue influence for personal gain are not uncommon but can be difficult and expensive to prove. It is legally permissible for a parent to leave a child out of their will. To avoid legal challenges by the disinherited (and likely disgruntled) child, the parent should discuss their reasons with the child upfront or explain the decisions they made in their will.

Letters of Intent

A handwritten letter of instruction for gifting family keepsakes can outline who gets what and, although it is not legally binding, can be helpful in most circumstances. Without written guidance, how siblings choose to distribute heirlooms among themselves is left to chance. Try to establish an agreeable framework among siblings in advance. Once someone digs their heels in about a certain keepsake, they can quickly lose objectivity. While it doesn’t make sense, there are instances where sibling litigants spend more money trying to win a family heirloom in court than the object itself is worth. A systematic approach agreed to upfront can circumvent these emotional responses to family keepsakes.

There are as many potential problems to resolve in estate distribution as there are personalities. However, parents usually know which children are likely to fight over their inheritance. Action that prevents conflicts among heirs while a parent is alive is the most direct way to solve the problem. A parent can also make changes to their plans as financial circumstances and feelings among siblings change.

Reviewing and revising your estate plan to account for marriages, deaths, divorces, and births shows that heirs receive due consideration, decreasing the potential for conflict. An estate planning attorney can advise you about gift-giving while you are alive and create an estate plan that reduces the chances of sibling rivalry and infighting after your death. Proactive planning and honest discussions with your lawyer can help craft a plan that provides the best opportunity for peaceful outcomes among siblings. We hope you found this article helpful. If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.