Are you considering purchasing a life insurance policy to benefit your family members after your death? Death benefits from a life insurance policy can be substantial. Benefits can be paid to one or more beneficiaries or to a Trust administered for their benefit.
Did you know life insurance can be a key part of your estate plan? While it’s not a necessary component for everyone, it certainly can be useful in many situations. The tricky part comes with knowing whom to name as the beneficiary of your policy.
If your estate is very simple and you have few beneficiaries for whom you wish to provide, using a life insurance policy beneficiary form to name your beneficiaries may be a good option. Life insurance beneficiary forms typically only allow for 1-2 alternate beneficiaries to be named, should your first beneficiary predecease you in death. These forms do not allow you to have a say in how or when the distributions will be made after your death. If you have a more complicated family situation, you may want to consider naming a Trust as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy.
Here are a few examples of why you might want to name a Trust as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy:
1. Asset Equalization. Not all assets are created equal. If you’ve decided to give one child producing farm land and the other child pasture land, there is likely to be a discrepancy in property valuation. If your goal is to provide an equal inheritance to each child, you can use life insurance proceeds to equalize the value of overall estate distributions. If you name a Trust as the beneficiary, you can stipulate how the life insurance proceeds should be used to equalize any inequities among beneficiaries, and how any excess should then be distributed. Life insurance beneficiary forms do not allow for such instructions.
Q: Dad died without a Will or Trust. From what I understand of Kansas law, my sibling and I will share equally in one-half (1/2) of his estate and Mom will inherit the other one-half (1/2). My parents were not economically stable at the time of my father’s death. My sibling and I both are financially comfortable, are not married and have no children. Is there any way we can reject our inheritance, and have it go to our mother so she could live more comfortably?
A: Under Kansas probate law, you and your sibling can disclaim your inheritance, which would allow your mother to receive 100% of your father’s estate. If you had children, your share would pass to them, instead of your mother, pursuant to Kansas intestate law. However, in this situation, the disclaimers from you and your sibling would provide for your shares to be redirected to your mother.
Disclaimers are used in post-mortem (after death) planning for different reasons. One major reason is to avoid unnecessary tax issues. If a parent leaves his well-off children property this bequest may create future estate tax problems for his grandchildren. If the children disclaim the property now, it can often pass directly to the grandchildren who may not have an estate tax problem.
There are a few rules you must also follow if you intend to disclaim inherited property.
1. Written Document. Your disclaimer must (1) be a written instrument describing the property, interest or power you are disclaiming; (2) contain a declaration of disclaimer; and (3) be signed and acknowledged by the disclaimant.
2. Time Limit. States have different laws concerning how long you have to disclaim property, but if you are disclaiming property due to federal estate tax issues, you usually have to file your disclaimer within 9 months of the decedent’s death. Beneficiaries under the age of 21 have additional time to disclaim their interest.
3. No Acceptance. You cannot receive any benefit from the property before disclaiming it. For example, if the property is an investment portfolio, you cannot cash a dividend check and then disclaim the portfolio. If your inheritance is real estate, you can't accept any rent if you intend to later disclaim the property.
When your loved one dies, an experienced probate attorney can be a great asset. If your loved one had a will then there should be a person named to be in charge of wrapping up the estate, called an Executor. The Executor is generally a surviving spouse, an adult child, a trusted friend or relative, or a trust company named in the will. If your loved one had no formal will appointing an Executor, a court appointed Administrator may be required to pass assets on to his/her heirs at law. The Executor or Administrator has a special responsibility to act in the best interest of the Estate beneficiaries and see that the Estate assets and money are not wasted.
If you are an Executor or Administrator, one of the smartest ways to ensure you are acting in the best interests of the Estate beneficiaries is to hire an experienced probate attorney. Your attorney should be willing to provide you with a basic education of the probate process so you can determine which tasks you can handle independently and which ones will require professional guidance. The Estate is responsible for paying the attorney fees, so there should be no personal cost to you. Hiring a probate attorney who has good communication skills and makes themselves available to you is the ticket to a successful estate administration.
The following is a sample of services an experienced probate attorney should offer Executors or Administrators during the probate process:
1. Assist with obtaining copies of death certificates and a dated obituary notice and/or newspaper articles.
2. Coordinate meetings with the decedent’s family and/or beneficiaries, as necessary.
3. Advise on checking the contents of any safe deposit boxes and on obtaining copies of marriage and birth certificates.
4. Help with compiling a list of heirs, next of kin and beneficiaries.
5. Review the decedent’s will with the Executor/Administrator and decedent’s family to determine whether probate is needed and if so, what probate proceeding is most appropriate.
6. Proceed with probate filing, if no trust was created.
7. If necessary, obtain letters testamentary or letters of administration for the executor/administrator from the court.
8. Assist with inventory of tangible real estate property and obtaining real estate deeds, mortgages, leases, and tax information, as well as provide guidance with inventorying and securing personal items such as cars, trucks, boats, recreational vehicles, mobile homes, motorcycles, furniture, fine jewelry, art and personal contents of the home(s).
One of the most common concerns of our aging clients is the fear of losing their family home if they need full time nursing care. There seems to be an inclination to transfer the family home to someone else, usually a family member, as quickly as possible to keep the home from being sold. This may sound like a smart idea, but it simply doesn’t work in most circumstances.
Losing the family home is a legitimate concern but one that you should not try to address without the assistance of an experienced elder law attorney. Here are a few of the problems you can encounter if you don’t abide by Kansas law and Medicaid rules:
1. Gift Tax Consequences. Unless the appraised value of your family home is $15,000 or less (the 2019 annual gifting allowance), when you transfer your family home to someone else, you will be required to file a gift tax return and may be subject to a gift tax.
2. Medicaid Reimbursement Claim. If you require full time nursing home care and are counting on Medicaid benefits to cover the cost of your care, transferring your residence to someone else shortly before moving to a nursing home facility will likely result in a problem. Medicaid works on the theory that assets (your family home, for example) that otherwise could be used to pay for your care should not be given away within the five year period prior to requesting the government (Medicaid) pay for nursing home benefits. This period is called the five year look-back. Unless the gift recipient fits certain, clearly specified exceptions, the government will assess a penalty period before they will contribute to your nursing home care if you have made a gift within the five year look-back. During the penalty period, you will be required to private pay for the cost of any nursing home care that you receive.
You know you need to do your estate planning but you have a problem: a “problem child” more specifically, who has caused a kink in your plans. If you have an adult child with a history of mismanaging their life, it’s likely you’ve wrestled with HOW or IF to include them as a beneficiary of your estate.
Having an adult child who struggles through life can complicate an otherwise simple estate plan. When our clients are in turmoil over how to include a problem child in their estate, their adult child usually has demonstrated a weakness in one or more of the following areas:
• Gambling addiction
• Drug or alcohol addiction
• History of criminal activity
• Inability to hold steady employment
• History of financial mismanagement
• Mental health issues
• History of unhealthy relationships or marriages
• History of causing unnecessary drama with other family members
Sadly, if you fret that one of your children will be a problem during the administration of your estate, your worries probably are justified. Death does not often bring out the best in people. The stress that arises after a death can heighten behavioral problems. Here are a few things you can do to reduce the chance of your child creating problems during the administration of your estate:
1. Experience matters. If you suspect that one of your children will be difficult during your estate administration, hire the best estate planning attorney you can find. There are many things you can do yourself, but preparing your own estate plan should not be one of them. Experienced estate planning attorneys possess knowledge of sophisticated legal options that rarely are offered to you on internet sites or by attorneys with little or no estate planning experience.
2. Hire a professional fiduciary. If you cannot find anyone to serve as the executor or trustee of your estate, consider this an indicator of brewing problems. It may mean one of your kids has a well-known difficult personality or reputation. If you find this situation to be true, consider hiring a professional advisor or trust company to manage your estate. A professional fiduciary may cost more, but in the long-run it will save legal fees and stress. Professional fiduciaries are accustomed to handling disgruntled family members.
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