Death Taxes

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Trust Administration in Missouri…

Trust Administration in Missouri…

TRUST ADMINISTRATION IN MISSOURI

               Over the years, I have had the honor to serve as a trustee of a few living trusts, as my clients have requested.  It is an honor for these clients to choose me to help execute their estate plans and to work with their chosen trust beneficiaries in Missouri.

As a trust lawyer O’Fallon Missouri, it is interesting to see how things work in reality after a client has passed away.  I’ve always been pleasantly surprised at how much easier the process is than probate and a much less stressful process at that.

When a client passes away and I am the successor trustee, my job is to immediately secure all of the trust assets and to ascertain who are the beneficiaries of the trust.  It’s also my job to collect all the mail of the client to learn about any debts they may have.  This usually means having their mail forwarded to my office so that I can keep tabs on any amounts owed.

Because a revocable trust becomes irrevocable when the grantor (creator) dies, I have to obtain a tax identification number (TIN) from the IRS.  With the trust documents and the TIN in hand, I can visit the client’s bank of choice and access all funds held by the trust.  If the funds are payable on death to the trust, the process is a little different but I will still create a trust account to hold all the liquidated assets of the trust estate.

Assets like houses and cars have to be accessed and determined whether they are to go directly to a beneficiary via the trust.  If so, I make arrangements to work with that beneficiary to transfer that asset to them.  In a recent case, there was a mortgage against the property but very little cash.  The house was very nice but needed some money put into it to get it on the market.  Finding the right balance for this kind of situation is part of the job of the trustee.  In this particular case, we opted to stage the house but not to do things like paint it – we figured we could sell potential buyers on the fact that they could get it painted the color they want.  It turned out to be a great strategy.

Communication with beneficiaries is an important part of being a trustee.  In addition to providing a copy of the trust document to all beneficiaries, it’s important for the trustee to be proactive in letting beneficiaries know what’s going on and when they can expect their distribution of funds (or property) from the trust estate.

Finally, most trust documents empower the trustee to hire just about anyone they need to administer trust business, including financial advisors, attorneys and accountants.  It’s important that the trustee not moonlight as they are a fiduciary responsible to maintain trust funds for the beneficiaries.  Any loss attributed to malfeasance (investing in penny stocks resulting in financial loss, for example) by the trustee can result in personal liability.

Trust administration is a very complex area of law and requires the expertise of a trust administration lawyer O’Fallon, Missouri.

 

Starting an estate plan…

Death and Taxes

 

Estate planning can be intimidating.  Most people don’t like to talk about death and taxes and studies show that about 55% of people die without a will or estate plan.  That number is entirely too high and I suspect that is because many people don’t have a good idea of how to start the estate planning process.

Here are a few tips:

1.  Don’t worry about talking about your death.  We’re gonna spend more time talking about your life.  And, unless you are really wealthy, you’ll be surprised at how little taxes will be discussed.

2.  Estate planning is sort of like grocery shopping.  There are some things you need, but many things that you don’t need.  That’s where I come in…I will help you figure out what you need.  I will help you make a grocery list.  Once we have that, the process is much easier.

3.   Identify your assets.  Write down what you have and the approximate value of each asset.  Don’t worry about getting exact values.  Use Kelly Blue Book for a vehicle and the latest share price for stocks.  Zillow.com works just fine for estimating the value of your home and remember that the value of your home is the estimated sales prices minus the mortgage.

4.  Think about the people in your life that you would want to step into your place if you were to pass away.  Who would be the guardians of your children?  Who would make decisions for you if your spouse couldn’t?  Who would you want to be in charge of a trust for your kids if you were gone?  This step is crucial, especially if you are married.  You’ll want to know before you meet with an attorney that you are either in agreement with your spouse or you don’t have agreement and need the advice of your estate planner.

5.  Remember, the goal of estate planning is to not only protect your family but to get peace of mind.  To resolve that nagging worry that your affairs are not in order or that you don’t have your “ducks in a row”.  That’s the goal.

Estate taxes and inheritance taxes…

Clients are often understandably confused about the effect of so-called death taxes on their estate planning.  To start, the term “death taxes” usually refers to two separate taxes:  estate tax and inheritance tax.  These taxes are different, as explained below.

An estate tax is a tax imposed on the estate (not the beneficiary of the estate) by the federal government and some state governments.   The gross estate of a person who has died is all the property owned at death by the person, along with certain property transferred during that person’s life in which an interest was retained and property transferred in contemplation of death.   This would include all joint property, retirement benefits and life insurance proceeds.

Estate taxes are chargeable to the estate of the deceased after deductions and exemptions.

The federal government has an estate tax.  Currently, less than 20 states have an estate tax and Missouri is currently not one of them.

For 2013, the federal estate tax only kicks in if a person dies with an estate of higher than $5.25 million dollars, which is the exempt amount for an individual.   The rate is 40%.  As an example, if a single person died with an estate worth $6 million, they would have a taxable estate of $750,000 ($6 million less $5.25 million), leaving an estate tax bill of $300,000.

It should be noted that couples now have “portability” in their exemptions.  This means that when the first spouse passes away, their individual $5.25 million exemption is transferred to the surviving spouse and when the surviving spouse dies, their exemption is actually $10.5 million.

The problem with the estate tax is that it is subject to change.  As I often tell my clients, while it’s reassuring to know that the estate tax currently only affects multimillionaires, as recently as a few years ago, the federal estate tax kicked in at $675,000.  In 1981, the estate tax kicked in at $175,000.   We simply don’t know what the future holds in terms of estate tax rates and rules.  As everyone knows, our country is deeply mired in debt and at some point this debt will either come due or the federal government will institute higher taxes to pay down the debt.  Whether that would include lowering the exemptions for estate tax is anyone’s guess at the moment.

An inheritance tax differs from an estate tax in that an inheritance tax is imposed on the beneficiary rather than on the estate of the person who passed away.  Depending on the state, it is generally calculated based on who received the inheritance and how much they received.  Typically, immediate family members (children for example) are taxes less than less immediate family members (siblings, uncles, cousins for example).  Only seven states currently collect inheritance tax from beneficiaries and Missouri is again currently not one of those states.  Inheritance taxes are generally taxed at a much lower rate, as are state income taxes.