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Forgotten Assets Commonly Omitted from Trust funding

Having been an estate planning attorney for over 20 years I have come up with a short list of the forgotten assets that are most commonly omitted from trust funding.  That is, these assets are frequently found after death titled in individual name rather than the trust. In some cases they can be cleared up  by small estate affidavit, under $150,000 probate successions, Heggstad petitions and in some cases full probates.  However, it’s important to realize that in any of the above examples there are unnecessary attorney fees being spent. Our job is to help you avoid that unnecessary fees!  So, without further adieu, here are some assets we commonly find after death having been omitted (accidentally for the most part) from trusts.

LOANS – By far the most commonly omitted from trusts are loans. Even when secured by a deed of trust. People loan money and do not seem to put them into their trust. To clarify I am talking about when you loan money to someone else so it’s an asset and not an obligation. The promissory note and deed of trust should be payable to the trust and not to you as an individual. I bet 50% of people with notes have them in their name and not their trust name.

BONDS – People have EE, HH, and other governmental bonds sitting in their safes or safe deposit boxes. A large percentage are in their names rather than their trust names.  Before I go on, let me say that if they are small in value maybe it’s easier to cash them out. However, if larger value then get them changed into your trust name. You will need to fill out governmental forms to make that happen but I would say it’s worth it!

STOCK CERTIFICATES – People still have stock certificates in their safes or safe deposit boxes. Sometimes large numbers of shares but more often small numbers.  Stocks they received as gifts, as an employee bonus, or they liked holding the paper. In any event, I often see these in individual names rather than owned by a trust. If they are commonly traded securities you might put them into your brokerage account for simplicity!

BUSINESS INTERESTS –  Many people own a percentage of a small business. Maybe an LLC, a corporation, an “S-Corp,” a partnership or even a sole proprietorship. You should have the business records updated to reflect your trust ownership. At a bare minimum you should sign an assignment of the business interests to your trust. If the value is low it’s not a big deal but if the value exceeds $150,000 it will require a full probate to legally transfer the assets to a trust.

TIMESHARES – I understand that you had a couple mai tais when you bought the timeshare so maybe you forgot about your trust. However, eventually you remember you have a trust, right!?  I almost have to fight some clients to put their timeshare into their trust. “It’s not worth enough to worry about” is what I always hear. Ya, it might not be worth anything but it will be a headache for your kids after you are incapacitated or dead. Put it in your trust now!

There are other assets omitted from trusts all the time but the above are ones people don’t think about for some reason. They forgot about their trust with these assets. Don’t be that guy! Get it done right and get everything into your trust.

-John

PATH – Protecting Americans From Tax Hikes Act of 2015

We in the tax and estate planning world love acronyms so no surprise the governments newest tax law is called “PATH” which stands for Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes act of 2015.   I like to blog about estate taxes primarily but as the focus in estate planning moves toward incomes taxes I like to mention them as well when I can.  Here’s a link to the government website:

Protecting Americans From Tax Hikes Act of 2015

Frankly a lot of the stuff in there doesn’t apply to most of my clients.  For example I saw that it gives permanent extension of certain provisions related to non-US shareholders in RICs. I had to look up what a RIC is!  It appears to be a “regulated investment company” so now I have learned something new for the day!

Other areas of importance to few of my clients include provisions that impact foreign controlled corporations, non-US investment in US based real estate, and a lot of provisions related to the tax treatment of sales in REITs and other technical aspects of REITs.

However, the one that several of my wealthier clients may like to hear is that the ability to make charitable contributions from your retirement account, and treat it as your distribution for the year, has been made permanent.  This has been an on-again off-again law in recent years but it’s now permanent. If you want to take advantage of this you need to do so immediately!  The gifts must be made by December 31, 2015 to take advantage of the law for this year.  However, now that it’s permanent you can use it toward your 2016 mandatory distributions next week!  Of course, I always wonder what “permanent” means to the people who make the laws in Washington DC!?

Happy new year!

-John

 

NEW IRS Form 8971 – BASIS reporting

HOT OFF THE PRESSES:  The Internal Revenue Service has released a draft of a new Form 8971 for reporting basis information in accordance with new IRC section 6035 for assets held by a decedent and reported on a federal estate tax return (Form 706) filed on or after August 1, 2015. The form says it is to be signed by the “executor” of the estate but I believe a “trustee” can sign also. In any event it is likely part of your fiduciary duty and you should talk to your accountant about this when you file a form 706 “estate tax return.”  Also, remember that estate tax returns are to be filed within 9 months of death but you can ask for a 6 month extension if you file for it within the first 9 months. The link above goes right to the sample form.

2016 Gift and Estate Tax Exemptions

The IRS recently released the tax adjustments for 2016. As our firm focuses on gift and estate tax planning I wanted to share the relevant numbers with you.

The annual gift exemption remains at $14,000. As a reminder that is the amount each person can give away, each year, to any individual, and all without tax.  This can be given to relatives or friends. So, for example, if grandma and grandpa are worried that they will have an estate subject to estate tax at death they can write $14,000 checks to every child, every grandchild, etc…. In fact, grandma and grandpa can EACH write those checks so it’s really $28,000 in total.  That is the total of all gifts for the year so it’s not a bad idea to write your checks for just under $14,000 to allow for birthday and holiday gifts!

The federal gift and estate exemption (that is what you can give away at death or during life in excess of the $14k gifts mentioned above) is up to $5,450,000. This is up from $5,430,000 in 2015. It’s important to note that this tax does not effect very many people but some people accidentally slip into it.  This is a tax on all assets you own at death. This includes IRAs, 401ks, and other retirement plans in addition to your home, banks, stocks, etc…. Also, it includes the death benefit in life insurance that you own at death.

There are more numbers on the IRS website for Rev Proc 2015-53 at this link.  On that page you can see the income tax adjustments as well.

Here’s to a happy holidays in 2015 and an even better 2016 to you and yours!  -John

Funding a bank account “in” to a California revocable living family trust

For 20 years I have been telling people how to “put” their bank accounts and other assets into their trusts.  Some things, like real estate, are pretty easy. We just prepare a deed, our client signs it, and we send it in for recording.  Clients who work with full service financial professionals also have it easy as the staff at those financial companies tend to be well trained at trust funding.

We usually start with a letter to the financial institution. If that doesn’t do the trick then we always advise our clients to go into the branch if that’s possible. Some things are just best done in person though.  I have not put a new asset into to my wife and my trust in some years.  We have had a trust for about 15 years, banked at the same credit union throughout, and never put our main bank account into our revocable trust.  What’s that story about the cobbler’s son….

Ok, the balance isn’t huge but it’s enough that it would come in handy for our successor trustee should they need money to pay bills if we are incapacitated or deceased. So we finally did it!  I actually first went in a few weeks ago but the friendly credit union employee told me that my wife had to be there since she was primary holder on the account. So for the next two or three weeks my wife and I talked about going in. Finally yesterday, Saturday, we strolled in as they opened their doors at 9:00.  The whole process took 15 minutes.

So what happened?

We handed the credit union employee our certification of trust or trust certificate or, what some call, a certified extract or abstract. In summary it’s a shortened version of your trust.  Our “CE” is usually two pages including the notary block.  In our opinion the goal of the CE is brevity and just giving the bank, credit union or financial institution what they need.  I am going with the assumption that banks and credit unions generally have the same requirements. However, is important to note that each bank or CU has their own rules. Plus, as I like to (half) joke, each bank or credit union branch may have their own rules… and of course each bank or CU employee may do things differently.  So take this for our actual experience. Your experience should be similar.

We gave the employee the CE and he proceeded to go through our account on his computer.  We have several sub accounts set up so it took him a several minutes to check boxes and enter the trust name for each one.  Then he took the name of our successor trustee, from the CE, and entered that into the computer.  He then asked for the name of our beneficiaries. I told him that in the past I have preferred to put “named individuals” as I don’t like to divulge the private information that is our beneficiaries (actually just our kids).  He explained that the NCUSIF (National Credit Union Insurance Fund) which, he claimed, is essentially the same as the bank’s FDIC gives the $250,000 per person insurance to each beneficiary.

Ok, let’s stop here for a second and take a detour. I do not know if what he says is right. Since my account has well below $250,000 it’s a non-issue for me. However, if your account is anywhere close to $250,000 you should definitely check, double check and triple check the rules.  My advice is always to have less than $250,000 at any one bank. Why take a chance with interpreting the FDIC or NCUSIF rules?  Is it really the contingent beneficiaries I asked the employee?  Why not the current beneficiaries? It doesn’t make any sense to me. So, again, let me repeat that I encourage you to never exceed $250,000 at a financial institution unless you are comfortable with their insurance rules.

So the nice and informative employee finished inputting everything and then had us sign (electronically) new signature cards confirming everything on the account and information about our trust.  It was easy.

Let me stress a couple things:

  1. Our account numbers did NOT change at our credit union (this varies among different banks and CUs);
  2. Our checks do NOT have the name of our trust on them (again this varies);
  3. It took about 15 minutes.

The key here that to have a trust and not spend these 15 minutes just exposes your loved ones to a probate after your passing or incapacity so take the time and fund that trust!

Contact us with questions.  -John

 

 

Pharmaceutical drug class action lawsuits in PROBATE COURT

We have handled many pharmaceutical drug class action and personal injury lawsuits in probate court.  Recently we have represented many people pursuing settlements in the Actos liver medication lawsuits. We are not the class action or personal injury lawyer. We are the probate attorneys who help when the person who took the medication passed away.  We have significant experience representing individuals in these cases and also have worked closely with the class action lawyers when asked.  If you lost a loved one and are pursuing a pharmaceutical drug class action or personal injury lawsuits, and need probate court help, please contact us.  We can help with probate, conservatorship or guardianship situations.  Likewise, if you are a class action or personal injury lawyer needing help for your California decedents or disabled clients we can help you. We are efficient, friendly and experienced. Contact us today to discuss how we can help YOU!  -John

 

2016 Federal Gift and Estate Tax Exemptions

I just learned of estimated gift and estate tax exemption for 2016. Again, this is just an estimate but comes from a reliable source. They project that the federal gift and estate tax exemption will be $5,450,000 ($5.45m) which is up from this year’s $5,430,000.  They project that the annual gift tax exclusion will remain at $14,000. If you have questions about how you can best utilize these exemptions in your estate plan contact us to discuss. -John

“A good plan today is better than a great plan tomorrow”

“A good plan today is better than a great plan tomorrow”

I am told that George Patton gets credit for this quote but it applies to estate planning as well.  Please get your estate plan done and then improve it later. No estate plan means no protection!

I often meet with people who can’t decide the third back-up guardian or trustee. Rather than sign the estate plan that is 99% what they want they do nothing and wait. What if something happened while they are debating? There could be a probate, there could be estate taxes, and there could be a guardianship fight.

SIGN YOUR ESTATE PLANS! Do not procrastinate.  One offer I make to clients is no charge for changes during the first year after you sign. So you have no excuse for not signing!

Call us to help get your estate plan DONE!  -John

Meissner Joseph & Palley opens Woodland, California Office

PRESS RELEASE September 14, 2015

Sacramento, CA. The Law Offices of Meissner, Joseph & Palley, Inc. is pleased to announce the opening of it’s Woodland, California office to serve it’s many clients in Yolo County. Marissa D. Sirota, a Woodland probate attorney, will manage the office. Ms. Sirota started her legal career as a trial lawyer and now focuses on assisting clients with their estate administration, estate planning, and probate-related legal needs. Marissa Sirota received her law degree from Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, California and graduated in the top third of her class. She also holds an advanced finance degree from California State University of Northridge. She is a certified mediator and the current acting Secretary of the Yolo County Bar Association. The Woodland office is located at 712 Main Street, Suite 101 Woodland, CA 95695. Additionally, Yolo county residents, Sasha Collins and Joseph Uzarski, who are also attorneys with the firm, will have office hours at the Woodland office to serve the firm’s Yolo county clients.

Meissner, Joseph & Palley has been serving the Sacramento valley since 1979 when it was known as The Law Offices of Johnson & Fort. The firm’s focus is business, estate planning, probate and tax law. The firm has offices in Sacramento, Roseville and Woodland and serves clients with legal needs throughout California.

Marissa Sirota joins Sacramento law firm

PRESS RELEASE September 9, 2015

Sacramento, CA. The Law Offices of Meissner, Joseph & Palley, Inc. is pleased to announce that Marissa D. Sirota, a Woodland probate attorney, has joined the firm in an of counsel position as a probate and estate planning attorney. Ms. Sirota started her legal career as a trial lawyer and now focuses on assisting clients with their estate administration, estate planning, and probate-related legal needs. Marissa Sirota received her law degree from Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, California and graduated in the top third of her class. She also holds an advanced finance degree from California State University of Northridge. She is a certified mediator and the current acting Secretary of the Yolo County Bar Association. Ms. Sirota will work in both Woodland and Sacramento.

Meissner, Joseph & Palley has been serving the Sacramento community since 1979 when it was known as The Law Offices of Johnson & Fort. The firm’s focus is business, estate planning, probate and tax law. The firm also has offices in Roseville and Woodland and serves clients with legal needs throughout California.

MarissaSirota.Headshot.WEB.2015