How To Leave Assets To Adult Children
When considering how to leave assets to adult children, the first step is to decide how much each one should receive. Most parents want to treat their children fairly, but this doesn't necessarily mean they should receive equal shares of the estate. For example, it may be desirable to give more to a child who is a teacher than to one who has a successful business, or to compensate a child who has been a primary caregiver.
Some parents worry about leaving too much money to their children. They want their children to have enough to do whatever they wish, but not so much that they will be lazy and unproductive. So, instead of giving everything to their children, some parents leave more to grandchildren and future generations through a trust, and/or make a generous charitable contribution.
When deciding how or when adult children are to receive their inheritances, consider these options.
Option 1: Give Some Now
Those who can afford to give their children or grandchildren some of their inheritance now will experience the joy of seeing the results. Money given now can help a child buy a house, start a business, be a stay-at-home parent, or send the grandchildren to college--milestones that may not have happened without this help. It also provides insight into how a child might handle a larger inheritance.
Option 2: Lump Sum
If the children are responsible adults, a lump sum distribution may seem like a good choice--especially if they are older and may not have many years left to enjoy the inheritance. However, once a beneficiary has possession of the assets, he or she could lose them to creditors, a lawsuit, or a divorce settlement. Even a current spouse can have access to assets that are placed in a joint account or if the recipient adds the spouse as a co-owner. For parents who are concerned that a son-or daughter-in law could end up with their assets, or that a creditor could seize them, or that a child might spend irresponsibly, a lump sum distribution may not be the right choice.
Option 3: Installments
Many parents like to give their children more than one opportunity to invest or use the inheritance wisely, which doesn't always happen the first time around. Installments can be made at certain intervals (say, one-third upon the parent's death, one-third five years later, and the final third five years after that) or when the heir reaches certain ages (say, age 25, age 30 and age 35). In either case, it is important to review the instructions from time to time and make changes as needed. For example, if the parent lives a very long time, the children might not live long enough to receive the full inheritance--or, they may have passed the distribution ages and, by default, will receive the entire inheritance in a lump sum.
Option 4: Keep Assets in a Trust
Assets can be kept in a trust and provide for children and grandchildren, but not actually be given to them. Assets that remain in a trust are protected from a beneficiary's creditors, lawsuits, irresponsible spending, and ex- and current spouses. The trust can provide for a special needs dependent, or a child who might become incapacitated later, without jeopardizing valuable government benefits. If a child needs some incentive to earn a living, the trust can match the income he/she earns. (Be sure to allow for the possibility that this child might become unable to work or retires.) If a child is financially secure, assets can be kept in a trust for grandchildren and future generations, yet still provide a safety net should this child's financial situation change.
Incorporating Faith and Values in Estate Planning
For many, passing along religious beliefs and values to the next generation is just as important as passing along financial wealth and tangible assets. Estate planning creates many opportunities to do this, including:
* End-of-Life Care. A health care power of attorney (Advance Directive in some states) lets you name someone to make medical decisions for you in the event you cannot make them yourself. This can be someone who shares your faith and values about end-of-life issues or someone who will honor your wishes. In either case, it is a good idea to provide written instructions about things like organ donation, pain medication (some may want to remain conscious at the end of life), hospice arrangements, even avoiding care in a specific facility. A visit by a priest, rabbi or other member of clergy may be desired. Pregnant women may want to include their preference on medical decisions that would impact the mother and her unborn child.
* Funeral and Burial Arrangements. Faith can influence views on burial, cremation, autopsy, even embalming. Faith may also influence certain details in a funeral or memorial service. Some people pre-plan their services and include a list of people to notify (which can be helpful for a grieving family). Some even pre-pay for the funeral and burial plots to prevent their loved ones from overspending out of grief and/or guilt.
* Charitable Giving. Giving to others who are less fortunate is common among people of all faiths. Making final distributions to a church or synagogue, university, hospital and other favorite causes will convey the value of charitable giving to family members.
* Distributions to Children and Grandchildren. Taking the time to plan how assets are left to family members lets them know how much they are loved, and is another way to convey faith values. For example, providing for the religious education of children and/or grandchildren speaks volumes. Parents of young children can select someone who shares their religious views to manage the inheritance. A letter of instruction to the guardian can include views on the care and upbringing of young children, which are often influenced by faith.
If the children are older and a son- or daughter-in-law is not fully trusted, an attorney can assist with providing for a son or daughter in a way that will prevent an inheritance from falling into the wrong hands. However, making an inheritance conditional or disinheriting a child or grandchild who marries outside the faith or doesn't share their parent's faith can backfire. We cannot really force someone to believe as we do, and trying to do so by withholding an inheritance will only create discord in the family and may not be recognized. The emotional scars on the family, especially if a bitter legal fight results, are probably not what parents want for their family.
Transferring faith and values to family members is best done over time, by letting them see your faith at work in your life, taking them to religious services, and letting them see you being charitable. But it's never too late. Talk to your family while you can. Explain what your faith means to you and how it has helped you through difficult moments in your life. You can also write personal letters or make a video that they can keep and review long after you are gone.
Estate Planning in 2013 and Beyond under the New Tax Law
The recent tax legislation dealing with the "fiscal cliff" included significant revisions to the estate tax law that will affect estate planning for the foreseeable future. These revisions include:
* The federal gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer tax provisions were made permanent as of December 31, 2012. This is great news because, for more than ten years, we have been planning with uncertainty under legislation that contained expiration dates. And while "permanent" in Washington only means that this is the law until Congress decides to change it, at least we now have some certainty with which to plan.
* The federal gift and estate tax exemption will remain at $5 million per person, adjusted annually for inflation. In 2012, the exemption (with the adjustment) was $5,120,000. The amount for 2013 is expected to be $5,250,000. This means that the opportunity to transfer large amounts during lifetime or at death remains, so those who did not take advantage of this in 2011 or 2012 can still do so. Also, with the amount tied to inflation, more assets can be transferred each year.
* The generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption also remains at the same level as the gift and estate tax exemption ($5 million, adjusted for inflation). This tax, which is in addition to the federal estate tax, is imposed on amounts that are transferred (by gift or at death) to grandchildren and others who are more than 37.5 years younger than you; in other words, transfers that "skip" a generation. Having this exemption now be "permanent" allows for planning that will greatly benefit future generations.
* Married couples can take advantage of these higher exemptions and, with proper planning, transfer up to $10+ million through lifetime gifting and at death.
* The tax rate on estates larger than the exempt amounts increased from 35% to 40%.
* The "portability" provision was also made permanent. This allows the unused exemption of the first spouse to die to transfer to the surviving spouse, without having to set up trust planning specifically for this purpose. However, there are still many benefits to using trusts, especially for those who want to ensure that their estate tax exemption will be fully utilized by the surviving spouse.
* Separate from the new tax law, the amount for annual tax-free gifts has increased to $14,000.
Therefore, for most Americans the 2012 Tax Act has removed the emphasis on estate tax planning and put it back on the real reasons to do estate planning: taking care of ourselves and our families the way we want. Those who might be tempted to skip estate planning because their estates are less than the $5 million range should remember that proper estate planning provides peace of mind by allowing Americans to:
* Avoid state inheritance/death taxes that have lower exemptions than federal taxes;
* Avoid probate, which can be quite expensive and time-consuming in some states;
* Ensure their assets are distributed the way they want;
* Protect an inheritance from irresponsible spending, a child's creditors, and from being part of a child's divorce proceedings;
* Provide for a loved one with special needs without losing valuable government benefits;
* See that control of their assets remains in the hands of a trusted person;
* Provide for minor children or grandchildren;
* Help protect assets from creditors and frivolous lawsuits (especially important for professionals);
* Protect themselves, their family and their assets in the event of incapacity; and
* Help create meaningful charitable gifts.
For those with larger estates, ample opportunities remain to transfer large amounts tax-free to future generations. But with the increase in estate and income tax rates, it is critical that professional planning begins as soon as possible. Also, with Congress looking for more ways to increase revenue, many reliable estate planning strategies may soon be restricted or eliminated. Thus, it is best to put these strategies into place now so that they are more likely to be grandfathered from future law changes.
For those who have been sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see what Congress would do, the wait is over. Now that we have some certainty with "permanent" laws, there is no excuse to postpone planning any longer.
Pension with Aid and Attendance pays the highest amount and benefits a veteran or surviving spouse who requires assistance in activities of daily living (dressing, undressing, eating, toileting, etc.), is blind, or is a patient in a nursing home. Assisted care in an assisted living facility also qualifies.
Pension with Housebound Allowance is for those who need regular assistance but would not meet the more stringent requirements for Aid and Attendance, and wish to remain in their own home or the home of a family member. Care can be provided by family members or outside caregiver agencies.
Basic Pension is for veterans and surviving spouses who are age 65 or older or are disabled, and who have limited income and assets.
Qualifying for Benefits
A veteran does not need to have service-related injuries to qualify for these pension benefits, but must meet certain wartime service and discharge requirements. A surviving spouse must also meet marriage requirements to the qualified veteran. Certain requirements must be met for a disability claim if the claimant (the veteran or surviving spouse filing for benefits) is less than age 65.
When determining eligibility, the VA looks at a claimant’s total net worth, life expectancy, income and medical expenses. A married veteran and spouse should have no more than $80,000 in “countable assets,” which includes retirement assets but does not include a home and vehicle. This amount is a guideline and not a rule.
Income for VA Purposes (called IVAP) must be less than the benefit for which the claimant is applying. IVAP is calculated by subtracting “countable medical expenses” (recurring out-of-pocket medical expenses that can be expected to continue through the claimant’s lifetime) from the claimant’s gross income from all sources.
Note: It is possible to reduce assets and income to a level that will be acceptable to the VA. For example, excess liquid assets (such as cash or stocks) could be converted to an income stream through the use of an annuity or promissory note. However, because the claimant may need to qualify for Medicaid in the future, it is critical that any restructuring or gifting of assets be done in a way that will not jeopardize or delay Medicaid benefits. An attorney who has experience with Elder Law will be able to provide valuable assistance with this.
Applying for Benefits
It often takes the VA more than a year to make a decision, but once approved, benefits are paid retroactively to the month after the application is submitted. Having proper documentation (discharge papers, medical evidence, proof of medical expenses, death certificate, marriage certificate and a properly completed application) when the application is submitted can greatly reduce the processing time.
Because time is critical for these aging veterans and their surviving spouses, application should be made as soon as possible. For more information, visit http://www.va.gov.