- By Jesson & Rains Associate Attorney, Danielle Nodar
The beginning of a new year lends itself to reflecting on the year that has passed and setting goals for the future. Come January, we are bombarded with information about New Year’s resolutions and implementing plans to help us transform our resolutions from lofty dreams to our reality. From health goals relating to diet and fitness, financial goals such as saving for retirement or paying off longstanding debt, even decluttering our homes--there is no shortage of information about what we can do to improve our present and plan for our future.
However, one area of planning that many people seem to put off is creating an estate plan. Estate planning involves meeting with an attorney to discuss things like your assets and debts and how they could impact your estate plan; how you want your property distributed at your passing; who will administer the probate of your estate; who will handle your financial affairs and medical decisions if your become incapacitated and are no longer able to make those decisions on your own; and other important decisions that could make a lasting impact on your loved ones.
Even if you have an estate plan in place, you should meet with your estate planning attorney every three to five years to review any life changes or changes in the law. Some reasons to update an estate plan are:
If you have had any major life changes or just want to ensure that your estate plan is in order, make it a goal for 2019 to plan for your future and the future of your loved ones with estate planning. We can help you to ensure that your property is distributed how and to whom you want it to be distributed and to ensure that you are leaving your family unburdened.
By Danielle Nodar
Yes! When helping clients formulate an estate plan, we oftentimes have questions on whether there are any alternatives to passing property to loved ones without having to go through the court-regulated formal probate process. Depending on the types of assets and beneficiaries, formal probate administration is not always necessary. For example, formal probate administration is not always required at the death of the first spouse. Real property owned by spouses as tenants by entirety passes without regard to creditor claims, and the surviving spouse allowance allows a surviving spouse to obtain up to $30,000 in personal property of the decedent spouse free and clear of creditor claims. There are also forms of informal probate, such as summary administration and administration by affidavit, which apply to certain kinds of estates and are described in more detail below.
Summary administration is available for surviving spouses. This procedure is available only if the surviving spouse is the sole heir (intestate, meaning that the decedent died without a will) or the sole devisee (testate, meaning the decedent died with a will) of the decedent. An order of summary administration will permit the spouse to proceed with the collection and distribution of the decedent’s property without the formality of regular administration. By obtaining the order, the surviving spouse assumes all liabilities of the decedent to the extent of the value of the property received.
Another option for small(er) estates is to have a “collector” appointed instead of a personal representative. A collector may file a small estate affidavit to administer the estate of a decedent with a small(er) estate. This procedure is available for decedents whose personal property, less liens and encumbrances thereon, and less the spousal allowance, is valued at $20,000 or less. If the surviving spouse is the collector, and they are the sole heir or devisee of the decedent, the value of the personal property less liens and encumbrances and the spousal allowance can be valued at $30,000 or less.
Unfortunately, these informal probate procedures are unavailable if singularly-owned real estate is part of the decedent’s estate and heirs intend to sell the property within two years of the decedent’s death. Full probate administration is necessary to pass clear title because an executor must be appointed to publish notice to creditors. If the real estate is sold within those two years and notice to creditors has not been published, the sale will be void as to creditors. N.C.G.S. § 28A-17-12. If the real estate is sold after two years and notice has not been published, the estate still owes the debts to creditors (if the applicable statute of limitations has not expired), but the creditors cannot pull the real estate back into the estate to sell to satisfy their debt.
Another way probate may be avoided is if assets are titled joint with rights of survivorship. For example, if you and a loved one hold a bank account as joint with rights of survivorship, you both own 100% of the account’s assets jointly during your lifetimes. When one of the joint owners passes away, the surviving owner will own 100% of the account individually.
Finally, one of the most important means of estate planning outside of the probate process is the use of beneficiary designations and transfer on death designations for certain banking or brokerage accounts, securities, life insurance, retirements accounts, and 401(k)s. As you can imagine, the bulk of many people’s assets are contained in these accounts. These assets will pass to who you have listed as your beneficiary outside of probate, regardless of what your will says. This means that the money will get to your beneficiaries quickly and that it will not be accessible to any of your creditors at the time of your death.
Thus, it is critical to make sure that all of your beneficiary designations are up to date for primary and contingent beneficiaries. We have seen people fail to update these after death or divorce, causing the money to go into the probate estate, which will cause a delay in distribution to your loved ones and will open those funds up to creditors.
If you need assistance with any of the above planning, please give Jesson & Rains a call.
- By Jesson & Rains Associate Attorney, Danielle Nodar
Anthony Bourdain, acclaimed chef, television host, and travel writer, encouraged people to explore the world and continues to do so after his death. When Bourdain’s will was probated in New York, it was revealed that he left most of his estate to his eleven-year-old daughter. However, according to The New York Times’ Page Six, Bourdain bequeathed his frequent flier miles to his estranged wife. Bourdain stated in his will that she should “dispose of [them] in accordance with what [she] believes to have been my wishes.”
Considering Bourdain’s jet set career as the host of CNN’s Parts Unknown, this gift is likely a substantial amount of frequent flier miles. While most of us have not racked up a similarly significant amount of miles, Bourdain’s estate plan still calls into question what kind of property we can leave to our loved ones and how.
Every airline and credit card company has a different policy for their points or rewards programs. When a customer signs up for a loyalty program, they are entering into a contract and must abide by the company’s terms and conditions. Some programs specifically indicate that rewards points are not property of the rewards member. In these cases, the rewards points are neither assignable during lifetime nor inheritable at death. Other loyalty programs may allow rewards points or accrued miles to transfer to a person through a will or divorce decree. However, even in these cases, it is sometimes up to the discretion of the airline whether to honor a transfer of miles.
If you are interested in leaving a loved one your accrued airline miles or rewards points after your death, you should read the terms and conditions to determine (1) if you they are transferable and (2) if they are, how to transfer them properly.
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
― from “No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach”
Generally, if you have a will, you can name anyone you want to and the court will respect your decision, but there are a couple of obvious prohibitions and then a few not so obvious restrictions.
Your executor must be:
If you pass away without naming someone in a will, the clerk of court will appoint someone in the following order (as long as they qualify with the above requirements):
(1) A surviving spouse;
(2) A beneficiary in a will;
(3) Any heir;
(4) Any next of kin
(5) Any creditor of the decedent;
(6) Any person of good character residing in the county who applies therefore; and
(7) Any other person of good character.
There are a few other important notes to keep in mind. The clerk of court has to discretion to turn down anyone it finds “unsuitable.” If you pass away without a will, your executor will have to get a surety bond and pay a bond premium in order to serve unless all other heirs sign a form waiving that requirement. Getting a bond involves passing a credit check. Depending on the county, some clerks of court will require bonds for all out-of-state executors, even if all heirs sign waivers, and sometimes even if the decedent had a will and waived the bond requirement! This is why it is important to meet with licensed attorney and set up your estate plan to ensure that the person who you want to handle your affairs when you pass away will be appointed.
In honor of that day, we thought we would provide an overview of the healthcare-related documents we draft for our clients in addition to the standard wills and trusts that most people realize are part of jobs. Additionally, though, estate planning attorneys draft documents that deal with the potential for incapacity during their clients’ lifetimes. These documents cease to have any effect after the client has passed away, so they are not true estate planning documents if you consider that definition to include only documents that deal with property distribution. Estate planning attorneys help their clients plan for possible incapacity with the following documents:
(1) Durable power of attorney. In this document, you would name an agent to act in your place as to financial, business, and legal decisions, if you were incapacitated (unable to handle your affairs).
(2) Health care power of attorney. In this document, you would name an agent to make medical decisions for you in the event you cannot speak for yourself. It is not necessarily an end-of-life document. You could be going in for a routine surgery and under anesthesia, for example.
(3) Living Will. This is an end-of-life document. You will state under what conditions and terms you do not want to be kept on life support. If you do want life support (or if you want to leave it up to your healthcare agent), you do not complete this document.
In order to sign these documents, you must have capacity to know what you’re doing. Waiting until someone is incapacitated to handle this means that you have waited too long. These documents must be completed in advance of any medical issues. If you would like more information, please give Jesson & Rains a call.
ILIT stands for Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust. It is a method of decreasing the size of a person’s taxable estate. For tax year 2018, an estate over $11.2 million is taxable (in North Carolina, which only has to deal with federal tax). Most people do not realize that life insurance proceeds are included in the calculation of a decedent’s taxable estate by the IRS. An exception to this rule are proceeds from a life insurance policy that the decedent/insured had no rights or powers over (called incidents of ownership). Therefore, ILITs are used to own the life insurance policy instead of the decedent so that the policy proceeds are not includable in the taxable estate.
Unlike revocable living trusts, where the grantor/insured is also the trustee during his or her lifetime, for an ILIT to work, the grantor/insured cannot be the trustee (because that would be an incident of ownership). “Incidents of ownership” also include the power to change the beneficiary, change the proceeds, cancel the policy, assign the policy, change the terms of the policy, or use it as collateral. Therefore, one of the major downsides of utilizing an ILIT is that once the policy is owned by the ILIT, the insured no longer has any control over it.
The premiums are paid by the ILIT using contributions made by the Grantor. This is another benefit of an ILIT – the Grantor can contribute an amount equal to the $15,000 yearly gift tax exclusion to the trust per beneficiary (which is not countable towards the $11.2 exclusion amount). The beneficiaries must have a right to withdraw the gift within a reasonable amount of time (called a Crummey power).
It is better to have the ILIT purchase the life insurance instead of transferring the policy to the ILIT because there is a three-year lookback period (meaning, if the owner dies during that three-year period, the policy proceeds are includable in the owner’s estate).
If you or someone you know would like more information about ILITs, please give Jesson & Rains a call.
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