Qualified Domestic Trust (QDOT): Marital Deduction

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Trusts can be a useful tool for estate planning if you’d like to preserve assets for loved ones while minimizing estate taxes. A qualified domestic trust (QDOT) is a specific type of trust that can offer tax benefits for married couples. With a QDOT, a surviving spouse can qualify for the marital deduction on estate taxes for assets included in the trust. This type of arrangement can be particularly helpful when a surviving spouse is not a U.S. citizen. Here’s more on how these trusts work, the benefits and limitations of having one and how to establish a QDOT as part of your estate plan. Estate planning is always done best in consultation with a financial advisor.

Qualified Domestic Trust (QDOT), Explained

A trust is a legal arrangement in which you transfer assets to the control of a trustee. This can be yourself or someone else you name and it’s the trustee’s duty to manage assets in the trust on behalf of the trust’s beneficiaries.

A QDOT is a specific type of trust arrangement that’s designed to benefit married couples, specifically when one spouse is not a U.S. citizen. This type of trust extends the marital tax deduction to non-citizen spouses, who would otherwise not be eligible to claim the deduction on estate taxes.

If you’re married to someone who is not a U.S. citizen, then setting up this type of trust could make sense if you’d like to minimize any tax burden your spouse may assume if you pass away first. A QDOT can essentially create a tax shelter for non-citizen spouses as part of an estate plan.

How a QDOT Works

To understand how a QDOT can benefit a non-citizen spouse, it’s helpful to understand the marital deduction and how that applies to estate taxes. Ordinarily, the Internal Revenue Code allows surviving spouses to claim a 100% marital deduction for estate taxes that may be due on assets they inherit when their spouse passes away. This is a significant tax break, as it enables surviving spouses to assume control of marital assets without getting hit with a sizable tax bill.

When a married couple consists of one spouse who’s a U.S. citizen and one who is not, the marital deduction does not apply. That means a surviving spouse could face substantial estate taxes on any assets they assume control of after their spouse passes away. Creating a QDOT and transferring assets to it with the non-citizen spouse named as beneficiary solves this problem.

Assets held in the trust would go to the surviving non-citizen spouse, allowing them the benefit of using those assets as well as any income they generate. They would pay no estate tax on assets in the trust. The surviving spouse could then pass those assets on to their children or another named beneficiary when they pass away. If applicable, the estate tax would be due on those assets at that time.

Benefits of a QDOT

The main advantage of including a QDOT in your estate plan is to extend tax benefits to your spouse if they’re not a U.S. citizen and don’t plan to apply for citizenship. A surviving spouse would be able to enjoy the marital tax deduction on estate taxes. They’d also be able to receive income distributions from the trust. Those would be subject to income tax but not estate tax. If you have a sizable estate then setting up a QDOT could be worth it to ensure that you’re passing on as much of your wealth as possible to your spouse.

While setting up this type of trust is generally more complicated and expensive than setting up a basic living trust, it may be an easier way to afford tax protections to a non-citizen spouse versus having them pursue citizenship.

Limitations of a QDOT

While there are some advantages to QDOT, there are some potential downsides to keep in mind.

First, it’s important to note that the IRS is specific about how these types of trusts are set up. The trustee must be a U.S. citizen and depending on the amount of assets that are held in the trust, a secondary trustee may be necessary. This trustee must be a U.S. bank.

Once the spouse who created the trust passes away, their executor must make a QDOT election when filing a federal estate tax return. This is necessary to qualify for the marital deduction. The IRS specifies that the estate tax return with the QDOT election must be filed no later than nine months after the individual who created the trust passes away.

Estate tax may be due if a surviving spouse receives principal from the trust, rather than income. There are, however, some exceptions to this rule. For instance, if a surviving spouse is experiencing financial hardship and has no other assets to tap into it may be possible to receive principal from the trust without being required to pay estate tax.

Perhaps most importantly, spouses should be aware that a QDOT only extends to assets held in the trust. If you have other assets you wish to pass on to a surviving spouse who’s not a U.S. citizen, those wouldn’t be eligible for the marital deduction protection offered by a QDOT if they’re not included in the trust.

How to Set Up a QDOT

Setting up a QDOT starts with determining whether it’s something you can benefit from having in the first place. If you’re married to someone who is not a U.S. citizen, then it may be worth meeting with your financial advisor to discuss the pros and cons of including a QDOT in your estate plan. Your advisor can help to assess any potential estate tax consequences associated with passing on wealth to a non-citizen spouse.

If you’ve determined that a QDOT is something you need, the next step is finding an experienced estate planning attorney who can help with setting one up. Creating a QDOT  means understanding which IRS rules apply and that’s something an estate planning attorney or a tax professional can help with.

The Bottom Line

A QDOT could be useful to have if you’re married and you want to minimize tax impacts associated with leaving assets to a non-citizen spouse. The biggest considerations to keep in mind are what assets you’ll transfer to the trust and how those will be managed on behalf of your spouse once you pass away. Again, getting help from a tax professional, estate planning attorney and your financial advisor can make creating this type of trust as smooth a process as possible.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about the tax implications of passing on assets to a non-citizen spouse and whether it makes sense to have a QDOT. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be difficult. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool makes it easy to connect in just minutes with professional advisors in your local area.  If you’re ready then get started now.
  • Wondering if you have enough to retire? Our free, easy-to-use retirement calculator can give you a good estimate of your annual, post-tax income upon retirement.

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Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She’s worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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How to Make a Living Will

How to Make a Living Will – SmartAsset

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A living will is a legal document that allows you to specify the kind of care you’d like to receive in end-of-life situations. This is different from an advance healthcare directive, though either one can be an important part of an estate plan. If you’d like to draft a living will, you could get help from an estate planning attorney or you may try using an online software program to create one. Regardless of which one you choose, it’s important to understand how to make a living will to ensure that yours is valid and your wishes are upheld. A financial advisor can offer valuable insight and guidance as you make an estate plan.

What Is a Living Will?

Living wills can be used to spell out what type of healthcare you do or don’t want to receive in end-of-life situations or if you become permanently incapacitated or unconscious. This document tells your doctors and other healthcare providers as well as your family members what type of care you prefer in these situations.

For example, you can include instructions in your living will regarding things like resuscitation, life support and pain management. If you don’t want to be left on life support in a so-called vegetative state, you could communicate that in your living will. Or if you’re terminally ill and only want to receive palliative care you could include that as well.

A living will can be part of an advance healthcare directive that also includes a healthcare power of attorney. This type of document allows someone else, called a healthcare proxy, to make medical decisions on your behalf when you’re unable to. A living will typically only applies to situations where you’re close to death or you’re permanently incapacitated while an advance directive can cover temporary incapacitation. So if you’re unconscious after a car accident, for instance, your healthcare proxy could direct doctors regarding what type of care and treatment you should receive.

How to Make a Living Will

The first step in making a living will is deciding whether you want to do it yourself or hire an estate planning attorney. Making a living on your own using an online software program may cost less than paying an attorney’s fee. But if you want to be certain that your living will is drafted accurately and legally, you may feel more comfortable getting help from an estate planning professional.

If you choose to make a living will on your own, you can find the necessary forms online. Keep in mind that your state may have a specific form you’re required to use for your living will to be considered valid. There may also be minimum requirements, in some cases identical to what would be required for a simple will, you’ll need to meet to make a living will in your state, including:

  • Being at least 18 (or 19 in some states)
  • Being of sound mind
  • Having the will be properly witnessed
  • Getting the document notarized once it’s complete

Those are the technical aspects of how to make a living will. Your main focus may be on what to include. Again, your state may have a specific format you’ll need to follow. But generally, you’ll need to leave instructions regarding the following:

  • Life-prolonging care. You’ll need to decide what types of life-prolonging treatments, such as blood transfusions, resuscitation or use of a respirator, you do or don’t want to receive.
  • Intravenous feeding. You’ll also need to specify whether you want to be given food and water intravenously if you’re incapacitated and can’t feed yourself.
  • Palliative care. If you’re facing a terminal illness, palliative care can be used to manage pain if you decide to stop other treatments.

It’s important to be as thorough and specific as possible when outlining your wishes so there’s no confusion later on. This ensures that your wishes are carried out and it also relieves your loved ones from the burden of having to guess at what you do or don’t want.

What to Do After Making a Living Will

If you’ve drafted a valid living will according to the laws of your state, the next step is to make your wishes known to other relevant parties. This includes passing copies of your living will to your doctors, hospital and loved ones. If you’re drafting a living will as part of an advance healthcare directive, you’d also want to make sure your healthcare proxy has a copy.

It’s also important to review your living well regularly to make sure it’s still accurate. If you change your mind about the type of care you’d like to receive, then you’d want to update or rewrite your living will to make sure that’s reflected. If not, then your doctors and loved ones would be left to carry out the terms of your original living will, which may conflict with what you actually want.

Who Needs a Living Will?

A living will is designed for people who have specific wishes regarding care in situations where they have a terminal illness or become permanently incapacitated. If you’re comfortable letting your loved ones decide which type of care should be given to you, then a living will may not be necessary. On the other hand, if you absolutely don’t want a certain type of treatment then a living will is the best way to make that clear to your doctors and family members.

You might consider drafting a living will along with a healthcare power of attorney to ensure that all of the bases are covered, so to speak, when it comes to healthcare decision-making. Having a healthcare proxy can ensure that the terms of the living will are upheld and they can also make decisions about your care for you in situations where you’re only temporarily incapacitated. When choosing a healthcare proxy, it’s important to select someone you can rely on to adhere to your wishes.

The Bottom Line

A living will can be an important part of preparing your family for your death. This kind of document is a relatively straightforward legal document that you may consider including in your financial plan or estate plan if you have specific wishes regarding end-of-life care. Knowing how to make a living will and what it covers can help you decide if it’s something you need to have in place.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • A living will is not the same thing as a last will and testament. Living wills cover healthcare decision-making while a last will and testament deals with the distribution of your assets once you pass away. A will is important to have, since without one your assets are distributed according to the inheritance laws of your state. An estate planning attorney can help you draft a last will and testament as well as a living will. Or you can use online will-making software programs to create a simple will on your own.
  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about whether a living will is something you need. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be a complicated process. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can get you personalized recommendations, in minutes, for professional advisors in your local area. If you’re ready, get started now.

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Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She’s worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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A Guide to Estate Planning for Second Marriages

A Guide to Estate Planning for Second Marriages – SmartAsset

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Getting married for a second time following a divorce or the death of your first spouse can feel like a fresh start. But it’s important to consider how joining your life with someone else’s may impact your financial plan, including how you manage your estate. What is fair in a second marriage and estate planning? It can be a difficult question to answer, especially when you or your new spouse are bringing children into the marriage or you plan to have children together at some point. Understanding some of the key financial issues surrounding a second marriage can help with reshaping your estate plan. So can consulting a financial advisor, especially one experienced in estate planning for second marriages.

Key Estate Planning Considerations for Second Marriages

Remarriage can bring up a number of important questions for estate planning. Both spouses should be aware of what the central issues are when updating individual estate plans or creating a new joint one.

Here are some of the most important questions to ask for estate planning in a second marriage:

  • What assets will be left to each of your children?
  • Do you plan to have additional children together and if so, what assets will be preserved for them?
  • Which assets will you each continue to hold individually?
  • Are there any assets that will be retitled in both of your names, such as a first home, vacation home or bank accounts?
  • Are either of you bringing any debts into the marriage or will you incur new debts after the marriage?
  • Do each of you have a will in place that needs to be updated?
  • Or will you establish a new joint will?
  • Besides a will, what other estate planning tools may be necessary, i.e. a trust, advance healthcare directive or power of attorney?
  • Will you continue working with your current financial advisors or choose a new advisor to help you manage your financial plan together?

Asking these kinds of questions can help you each get a sense of the other’s perspective on estate planning. Ideally, you should be having these types of discussions before the marriage takes place to minimize potential conflicts later. This can also help you decide if a prenuptial agreement may be necessary to protect your individual financial interests. But if you’ve already remarried, it may be a good idea to have this discussion sooner, rather than later.

At the same time, it can also help to complete an inventory of your assets and liabilities so you both know what you’re bringing into the marriage. This can help with managing the distribution side of your estate plan later as well as planning for how any debts may need to be handled should one of you pass away.

Estate Planning for Second Marriages With Children

Having kids can add a wrinkle to your estate planning efforts when you’re getting remarried. For example, you may wish to leave certain assets to your children while your new spouse may want your assets to be equally distributed among his or her children as well as yours. Or there may be questions over who would assume control over assets on behalf of minor children should one of you die.

When there are children in the picture, it’s important to consider any provisions you’ve already made for them in a will or trust and how that might affect any assets your spouse stands to inherit. You may need to update your will or set up a separate marital trust, for example, to ensure that your spouse receives the share of your assets you wish them to have while still preserving your children’s inheritance. Provisions may also need to be made for any children you plan to have if you’re still relatively young when a second marriage occurs.

It’s important to consider the age of your children when deciding what is fair in a second marriage and estate planning. If you have adult children, for example, it could make sense to gift some of their inheritance to them during your lifetime. But if you have minor children, you and your new spouse would need to decide who should be in charge of managing their inheritance on their behalf if one of you dies prematurely.

Check Beneficiary Designations

Assets that already have a named beneficiary may need to be updated if you’re remarrying. For example, if you named your previous spouse as beneficiary to your 401(k), individual retirement account or life insurance policy, you’d likely want to change the beneficiary to your new spouse or to a trust you’ve set up so that your former spouse can’t collect on those assets.

You should also consider other assets, such as bank accounts or real estate, should be titled. Adding your new spouse to your home as a joint tenant with right of survivorship may seem like the right move for keeping things simple in your estate plan. But doing so means that if something happens to you, your spouse will automatically assume full ownership of the home. They could then do with it as they wish, regardless of what you might have specified in a will or trust.

Look for Gaps in Your Estate Plan

When deciding what is fair in a second marriage and estate planning, consider where the gaps might exist that could leave your assets in jeopardy. Not having a will, for example, could be problematic if you pass away. Without a will, your state’s inheritance laws would be applied – not your wishes. That means your assets may not go to your children or other heirs as you’d like them to.

A trust can also be a useful tool in estate planning for passing on assets to your spouse or children as well as managing estate and inheritance taxes. If either of you are bringing considerable assets into a second marriage or you want to minimize the potential for conflicts over asset distribution later, setting up one or more trusts could be a good idea. Talking to an estate planning attorney can help you decide whether a trust is necessary and if so, which type of trust to set up.

Also, consider whether you have sufficient life insurance coverage to provide for the surviving spouse and any children associated with the marriage. Both spouses in a second marriage may need to have life insurance coverage, particularly if one person is the primary breadwinner while the other is the primary caregiver for children. Checking your existing life insurance policies and talking to your insurance agent can help you determine whether what you have is enough or if more coverage is necessary.

Finally, think about what you may need in terms of end-of-life planning. Long-term care insurance, for instance, can help pay for nursing home costs so that your spouse or either of your children aren’t left in the lurch financially. An advance healthcare directive and a power of attorney can ensure that your wishes are carried out in end-of-life situations where you’re unable to make financial or medical care decisions on your own behalf.

The Bottom Line

Deciding what’s fair in a second marriage and estate planning can be tricky and it’s important to get the conversation started early. Understanding what the biggest challenges of estate planning in a second marriage are can help you work together to shape a plan that you can both be satisfied with. And if you have adult children, it’s important to keep them in the loop so they understand how a second marriage may impact their inheritance.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about the implications of a second marriage and what it might mean for your portfolio. You and your spouse may choose to maintain your current advisors or find a new advisor to work with together. In either case, finding the right professional to work with doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can offer personalized recommendations for professional advisors in your local area, in just minutes. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • Trusts can be a useful estate planning tool for couples, including those who are getting married for a second time. A marital trust, for example, goes into effect when the first spouse dies. This can be helpful for passing assets on to a surviving spouse while minimizing estate taxes. You may want to create this type of trust, along with a second living trust set up specifically for your children, to manage assets more efficiently while also protecting them from creditors.

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Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She’s worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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What Is the Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax?

What Is the Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax? – SmartAsset

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Estate planning can help you pass on assets to your heirs while potentially minimizing taxes. When gifting assets, it’s important to consider when and how the generation-skipping tax transfer (GSTT) may apply. Also called the generation-skipping tax, this federal tax can apply when a grandparent leaves assets to a grandchild while skipping over their parents in the line of inheritance. It can also be triggered when leaving assets to someone who’s at least 37.5 years younger than you. If you’re considering “skipping” any of your heirs when passing on assets, it’s important to understand what that means from a tax perspective and how to fill out the requisite form. A financial advisor can also give you valuable guidance on how best to pass along your estate to your beneficiaries.

Generation-Skipping Tax, Definition

The Internal Revenue Code imposes both gift and estate taxes on transfers of assets above certain limits. For 2020, you can exclude gifts of up to $15,000 per person from the gift tax, with the limit doubling for married couples who file a joint return. Estate tax applies to estates larger than $11,580,000 for 2020, increasing to $11,700,000 in 2021. Again, these exemption limits double for married couples filing a joint return.

The gift tax rate can be as high as 40%, while the estate tax also maxes out at 40%. The IRS uses the generation-skipping transfer tax to collect its share of any wealth that moves across families when assets aren’t passed directly from parent to child. Assets subject to the generation-skipping tax are taxed at a flat 40% rate.

This tax can apply to both direct transfers of assets to your chosen beneficiaries as well as assets passed through a trust. A trust can be subject to the GSTT if all the beneficiaries of the trust are considered to be skip persons who have a direct interest in the trust.

How Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax Works

Generation-skipping tax rules cover the transfer of assets to people who at least one generation apart. A common scenario where the GSTT can apply is the transfer of assets from a grandparent to a grandchild when one or both of the grandchild’s parents are still alive. If you’re transferring assets to a grandchild because your child has predeceased you, then the transfer tax wouldn’t apply.

The generation-skipping tax is a separate tax from the estate tax and it applies alongside it. Similar to estate tax, this tax kicks in when an estate’s value exceeds the annual exemption limits. The 40% GSTT would be applied to any transfers of assets above the exempt amount, in addition to the regular 40% estate tax.

This is how the IRS covers its bases in collecting taxes on wealth as it moves from one person to another. If you were to pass your estate from your child, who then passes it to their child then no GSTT would apply. The IRS could simply collect estate taxes from each successive generation. But if you skip your child and leave assets to your grandchild instead, that removes a link from the taxation chain. The GSTT essentially allows the IRS to replace that link.

You do have the ability to take advantage of lifetime estate and gift tax exemption limits, which can help to offset how much is owed for the generation-skipping tax. But any unused portion of the exemption counted toward the generation-skipping tax is lost when you die.

How to Avoid Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax

If you’d like to minimize estate and gift taxes as much as possible, talking to a financial advisor can be a good place to start. An advisor who’s well-versed in gift and estate taxes can help you create a plan for transferring assets. For example, that plan might include gifting assets to your grandchildren or another generation-skipping person annually, rather than at the end of your life. Remember, you can gift up to $15,000 per person each year without incurring gift tax, or up to $30,000 per person if you’re married and file a joint return. You’d just need to keep the lifetime exemption limits in mind when scheduling gifts.

You could also make payments on behalf of a beneficiary to avoid tax. Say you want to help your granddaughter with college costs, for example. Any direct payments you make to the school to cover tuition would generally be tax-free. The same is true for direct payments made to healthcare providers if you’re paying medical expenses on behalf of someone else.

Setting up a trust may be another option worth exploring to minimize generation-skipping taxes. A generation-skipping trust allows you to transfer assets to the trust and pay estate taxes at the time of the transfer. The assets you put into the trust have to remain there during the skipped generation’s lifetime. Once they pass away, the assets in the trust could be passed on tax-free to the next generation.

This strategy requires some planning and some patience on the part of the generation that stands to inherit. But the upside is that members of the skipped generation and the generation that follows can benefit from any income the assets in the trust generates in the meantime. Trusts can also yield another benefit, in that they can offer asset protection against creditors who may file legal claims against you or your estate.

Another type of trust you might consider is a dynasty trust. This type of trust can allow you to pass assets on to future generations without triggering estate, gift or generation-skipping taxes. The caveat is that these are designed to be long-term trusts.

You can name your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and subsequent generations as beneficiaries and the transfer of assets to the trust is irrevocable. That means once you place the assets in the trust, you won’t be able to take them back out again so it’s important to understand the implications before creating this type of trust.

The Bottom Line

The generation-skipping tax could take a significant bite out of the assets you’re able to leave behind to grandchildren or another eligible person. If you’re considering using this type of trust to pass on assets or you’re interested in exploring other ways to transfer assets while minimizing taxes, it’s wise to consult an estate planning lawyer or tax attorney first.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to your financial advisor about how to best shape your estate plan to minimize taxation. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool makes it easy to connect with professional advisors in your local area. It takes just a few minutes to get your personalized recommendations for advisors online. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • Creating a trust can yield some advantages in your estate plan. In addition to helping you minimize tax liability, the assets in a trust are not subject to probate. That’s different from assets you leave behind in a will.

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Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She’s worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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What Is Medicaid Estate Recovery?

What Is Medicaid Estate Recovery? – SmartAsset

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Medicaid is a government program that can help eligible seniors pay for nursing home care. If you’re helping an aging parent navigate Medicaid because they don’t have long-term care insurance or you think you’ll need it yourself someday, it’s important to understand how the program works. For instance, you should be aware that the Medicaid Estate Recovery Program (MERP) may be used to recoup costs paid toward long-term care. Medicaid estate recovery is intended to help make the program affordable for the government, but it can financially impact the beneficiaries of Medicaid recipients. Make sure you’re handling this kind of situation in the wisest possible way by consulting a financial advisor.

Medicaid Estate Recovery, Explained

Medicare is designed to help pay for healthcare costs for seniors once they turn 65. While it covers a number of healthcare expenses, it doesn’t apply to costs associated with long-term care in a nursing home.

That’s where Medicaid can help fill the gap. Medicaid can help with paying the costs of long-term care for aging seniors. It can be used in situations where someone lacks long-term care insurance coverage or they don’t have sufficient assets to pay for long-term care out of pocket. You may also use Medicaid to pay for nursing home care if you’ve taken steps to protect assets using a trust or other estate planning tools.

But the benefits you or an aging parent receives from Medicaid aren’t necessarily free. The Medicaid Estate Recovery Program allows Medicaid to recoup money spent on behalf of an aging senior to cover long-term care costs. The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 requires states to attempt to seek reimbursement from a Medicaid beneficiary’s estate when they pass away.

How Medicaid Estate Recovery Works

The Medicaid Estate Recovery Program allows Medicaid to seek recompense for a variety of costs, including:

  • Expenses related to nursing home or other long-term care facility stays
  • Home- and community-based services
  • Medical services received through a hospital (when the recipient is a long-term care patient)
  • Prescription drug services for long-term care recipients

If you or an aging parent passes away after receiving long-term care or other benefits through Medicaid, the recovery program allows Medicaid to pursue any eligible assets held by your estate. What that includes can depend on where you live, but generally, it means any assets that would be subject to the probate process after you pass away.

So that may include:

  • Bank accounts owned by you
  • Your home or other real estate
  • Vehicles or other real property

Some states also allow Medicaid estate recovery to include assets that aren’t subject to probate. That can include jointly owned bank accounts between spouses, Payable on death bank accounts, real estate that’s owned in joint tenancy with right of survivorship, living trusts and any other assets that a Medicaid recipient has a legal interest in. It’s important to understand the laws in your state regarding what can and cannot be used to recover Medicaid benefits when you or an aging parent passes away.

It’s also worth noting that while Medicaid can’t take someone’s home or assets before they pass away, it is possible for a lien to be placed upon the property. For example, if your mother has to move into a nursing home then Medicaid could place a lien on the property. If your mother passes away and you inherit the home, you wouldn’t be able to sell it without first satisfying the lien.

What Medicaid Estate Recovery Means for Heirs

The most significant impact of Medicaid estate recovery for heirs of Medicaid recipients is the possibility of inheriting a reduced estate. Medicaid eligibility assumes that recipients are low-income or have few assets to pay for long-term care. But if your parents are able to leave some assets behind when they pass away, the recovery program could shrink the estate that passes on to you.

It’s also important to note that while Medicaid estate recovery rules disavow you personally from paying for your parents’ long-term care costs, filial responsibility laws do not. These laws, though rarely enforced, allow healthcare providers to sue the children of long-term care recipients to recover nursing care costs.

So even if Medicaid doesn’t take anything away from your parents’ estate after they pass away, a nursing home could still sue you personally to recover money paid toward the cost of their care. The care facility has to be able to prove that you have the means to pay but this could add a wrinkle to your financial picture if you’re responsible for wrapping up a deceased parent’s estate.

How to Avoid Medicaid Estate Recovery

Strategic planning can help you or your loved ones avoid financial impacts from Medicaid estate recovery.

For example, you may consider purchasing long-term care insurance for yourself for encouraging your parents to do so. A long-term care insurance policy can pay for the costs of nursing home care so you can avoid the need for Medicaid altogether.

If you’re interested in long-term care insurance for yourself or an aging parent, compare the cost for premiums against the benefits the policy pays out. If you’re unsure whether you or a parent may need long-term care at all, you might consider a hybrid policy that includes both long-term care coverage and a life insurance death benefit.

Another option for avoiding Medicaid estate recovery is removing as many assets as possible from the probate process. Married couples, for example, can accomplish that by making sure all assets are jointly owned with right of survivorship or using assets to purchase an annuity that transfers benefits to the surviving spouse when the other spouse passes away.

It’s important to understand which assets are and are not subject to probate in your state and whether your state allows for an expanded definition of recoverable assets for Medicaid. Talking to an estate planning attorney or an elder law expert can help you to shape a plan for protecting assets.

The Bottom Line

Medicaid estate recovery may not be something you have to worry about if your aging parents leave little or no assets behind. But it’s something you should still be aware of if you expect to inherit anything from your parents when they pass away. If you’re targeted for estate recovery, you may be able to avoid it if you can prove that it would cause you an undue financial hardship. Again, this is where talking to an estate planning professional can help you avoid any unexpected surprises.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about Medicaid and how to plan for long-term care costs. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be difficult. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool makes it easy to connect with professional advisors online. It takes just a few minutes to get personalized recommendations for financial advisors in your local area. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • Consider a living trust. It will let you transfer assets to the control of a trustee, who will manage them according to your wishes on behalf of your beneficiaries. Trust assets aren’t necessarily exempt from Medicaid recovery, but this could still be a useful estate planning tool for minimizing taxes and ensuring a smooth transition of assets to your beneficiaries.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/FatCamera, ©iStock.com/FatCamera, ©iStock.com/Dennis Gross

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She’s worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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Simple Trusts vs. Complex Trusts

Simple Trusts vs. Complex Trusts – SmartAsset

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A trust can be a useful estate planning tool, in addition to a will. You can use a trust to remove assets from probate, potentially minimize estate and gift taxes and ensure that assets are managed on behalf of beneficiaries according to your wishes. There are different types of trusts you can establish and some are more specialized than others. Knowing how these broad categories of trusts compare can help with choosing the right option. When it comes to estate planning, including whether to create a trust, a financial advisor can help you make the most informed decision possible.

What Is a Trust?

A trust is a type of legal entity that can be created in accordance with your state laws to manage your assets. The person who creates a trust is called a grantor and they have the right to transfer assets into the trust. They can also choose one or more trustees to oversee the trust and manage the assets within it.

The trustee’s job is to manage assets according to the grantor’s specifications on behalf of one or more trust beneficiaries. For example, you might set up a trust to hold assets that you want to be distributed among your three children when you pass away. Or you might choose your favorite charitable organization to be a beneficiary of your trust.

There are many different kinds of trusts and they can be categorized in different ways. For instance, a revocable trust can be changed during the grantor’s lifetime. If you have this type of trust and you want to add assets to it or change the beneficiaries, you can do so while you’re still living. An irrevocable trust, on the other hand, involves a permanent transfer of assets.

Trusts can also be categorized as grantor or non-grantor. In a grantor trust, the trust creator retains certain powers over the trust, including rights to the trust’s assets and income. Trust assets may be included in the trust creator’s estate when they pass away. With a non-grantor trust the trust creator has no interest or control over trust assets. Trust assets are generally excluded from the trust creator’s estate at their death.

Benefits of Trusts in Estate Planning

Trusts can be used inside an estate plan to perform a number of functions. For example, you might create a trust to:

  • Pass on specific assets to your chosen beneficiaries
  • Ensure that certain assets aren’t subject to the probate process
  • Manage estate and gift tax liability
  • Protect assets from creditors
  • Ensure that a special needs beneficiary is cared for when you’re gone
  • Receive the proceeds of a life insurance policy when you pass away

Some of these scenarios may call for a simple trust, while others may require a more specialized trust. One thing that’s important to keep in mind is how each one is treated for tax purposes when creating a simple vs. complex trust.

Simple Trust, Explained

A simple trust is a type of non-grantor trust. To be classified as a simple trust, it must meet certain criteria set by the IRS. Specifically, a simple trust:

  • Must distribute income earned on trust assets to beneficiaries annually
  • Make no principal distributions
  • Make no distributions to charity

With this type of trust, the trust income is considered taxable to the beneficiaries. That’s true even if they don’t withdraw income from the trust. The trust reports income to the IRS annually and it’s allowed to take a deduction for any amounts distributed to beneficiaries. The trust itself is required to pay capital gains tax on earnings.

Complex Trust, Explained

A complex trust also has certain criteria it must meet. In order for a trust to be complex, it must do one of the following each year:

  • Refrain from distributing all of its income to trust beneficiaries
  • Distribute some or all of the principal assets in the trust to beneficiaries
  • Make distributions to charitable organizations

Any trust that doesn’t meet the guidelines to qualify as a simple trust is considered to be a complex trust. Complex trusts can take deductions when computing taxable income for the year. This deduction is equal to the amount of any income the trust is required to distribute for the year.

There are also some other rules to keep in mind with complex trusts. First, no principal can be distributed unless all income has been distributed for the year first. Ordinary income takes first place in the distribution line ahead of dividends and dividends have to be distributed ahead of capital gains. Once those conditions are met, then the principal can be distributed. And all distributions have to be equitable for all trust beneficiaries who are receiving them.

Simple vs. Complex Trust: Which Is Better?

When it comes to simple and complex trusts, one isn’t necessarily better than the other. The type of trust that ultimately works best for you can hinge on what you need the trust to do for you.

A simple trust offers the advantage of being fairly straightforward when it comes to how assets and income can be distributed and how those distributions are taxed. A complex trust, on the other hand, could offer more flexibility in terms of estate planning if you have a sizable estate or numerous beneficiaries.

When comparing trust options, consider whether you want to retain control or an interest in the assets that are transferred to it. If you choose a simple or complex trust, you’re choosing a non-grantor trust which means you’ll no longer have an interest in the trust assets. Talking to an estate planning attorney or trust professional can help you decide which type of trust may work best for your financial situation.

The Bottom Line

The main difference between a simple vs. complex trust lies in how income and assets are distributed and how those distributions are taxed. Whether it makes sense to establish a simple vs. complex trust can depend on the size of your estate, the nature of the assets you want to include and your wishes for managing those assets. It’s important to understand the tax rules before creating either type of trust as well as how a trust fits into your larger estate plan.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about whether it makes sense to use a trust to plan ahead for the distribution of assets or to manage estate and gift taxes. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with a financial advisor in your local area. It takes just a few minutes to get your personalized recommendations online. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • While trusts can offer numerous benefits, creating one doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t also need a last will and testament. You can use a will to distribute assets that you don’t want to include in a trust. Or you could create a pour-over will to transfer assets into a trust.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/skynesher, ©iStock.com/Lisa5201, ©iStock.com/scyther5

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She’s worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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Per Stirpes vs. Per Capita in Estate Planning

Per Stirpes vs. Per Capita in Estate Planning – SmartAsset

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When creating an estate plan, one of the most basic documents you may wish to include is a will. If you have a more complicated estate, you might also need to have a trust in place. Both a will and a trust can specify how you want assets distributed among your beneficiaries. When making those decisions, it’s important to distinguish between per stirpes and per capita distributions. These are two terms you’re likely to come across when shaping your estate plan. Here’s a closer look at what per stirpes vs. per capita means.

Per Stirpes, Explained

If you’ve never heard the term per stirpes before, it’s a Latin phrase that translates to “by branch” or “by class.” When this term is applied to estate planning, it refers to the equal distribution of assets among the different branches of a family and their surviving descendants.

A per stirpes designation allows the descendants of a beneficiary to keep inherited assets within that branch of their family, even if the original beneficiary passes away. Those assets would be equally divided between the survivors.

Here’s an example of how per stirpes distributions work for estate planning. Say that you draft a will in which you designate your adult son and daughter as beneficiaries. You opt to leave your estate to them, per stirpes.

If you pass away before both of your children, then they could each claim a half share of your estate under the terms of your will. Now, assume that each of your children has two children of their own and your son passes away before you do. In that scenario, your daughter would still inherit a half share of the estate. But your son’s children would split his half of your estate, inheriting a quarter share each.

Per stirpes distributions essentially create a trickle-down effect, in which assets can be passed on to future generations if a primary beneficiary passes away. A general rule of thumb is that the flow of assets down occurs through direct descendants, rather than spouses. So, if your son were married, his children would be eligible to inherit his share of your estate, not his wife.

Per Capita, Explained

Per capita is also a Latin term which means “by head.” When you use a per capita distribution method for estate planning, any assets you have would pass equally to the beneficiaries are still living at the time you pass away. If you’re writing a will or trust as part of your estate plan, that could include the specific beneficiaries you name as well as their descendants.

So again, say that you have a son and a daughter who each have two children. These are the only beneficiaries you plan to include in your will. Under a per capita distribution, instead of your son and daughter receiving a half share of your estate, they and your four grandchildren would each receive a one-sixth share of your assets. Those share portions would adjust accordingly if one of your children or grandchildren were to pass away before you.

Per Stirpes vs. Per Capita: Which Is Better?

Whether it makes sense to use a per stirpes or per capita distribution in your estate plan can depend largely on how you want your assets to be distributed after you’re gone. It helps to consider the pros and cons of each option.

Per Stirpes Pros:

  • Allows you to keep asset distributions within the same branch of the family
  • Eliminates the need to amend or update wills and trusts when a child is born to one of your beneficiaries or a beneficiary passes away
  • Can help to minimize the potential for infighting among beneficiaries since asset distribution takes a linear approach

Per Stirpes Cons:

  • It’s possible an unwanted person could take control of your assets (i.e., the spouse of one of your children if he or she is managing assets on behalf of a minor child)

Per Capita Pros:

  • You can specify exactly who you want to name as beneficiaries and receive part of your estate
  • Assets are distributed equally among beneficiaries, based on the value of your estate at the time you pass away
  • You can use this designation to pass on assets outside of a will, such as a 401(k) or IRA

Per Capita Cons:

  • Per capita distributions could trigger generation-skipping tax for grandchildren or other descendants who inherit part of your estate

Deciding whether it makes more sense to go with per stirpes vs. per capita distributions can ultimately depend on your personal preferences. Per stirpes distribution is typically used in family settings when you want to ensure that individual branches of the family will benefit from your estate. On the other hand, per capita distribution gives you control over which individuals or group of individuals are included as beneficiaries.

Review Beneficiary Designations Periodically

If you have a will and/or a trust, you may have named your beneficiaries. But it’s possible that you may want to change those designations at some point. If you named your son and his wife in your will, for example, but they’ve since gotten divorced you may want to update the will with a codicil to exclude his ex-wife. It’s also helpful to check the beneficiary designations on retirement accounts, investment accounts and life insurance policies after a major life change.

For example, if you get divorced then you may not want your spouse to be the beneficiary of your retirement accounts. Or if they pass away before you, you may want to update your beneficiary designations to your children or grandchildren.

The Bottom Line

Per stirpes and per capita distribution rules can help you decide what happens to your assets after you pass away. But they both work very differently. Understanding the implications of each one for your beneficiaries, including how they may be affected from a tax perspective, can help you decide which course to take.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about how to get started with estate planning and what per stirpes vs. per capita distributions might mean for your heirs. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect, within minutes, with a professional advisor in your local area. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • While it’s always a good idea to consult with a financial advisor about estate planning, you can take a do-it-yourself approach to writing a will by doing it online. Here’s what you need to know about digital DIY will writing.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Georgijevic, ©iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages, ©iStock.com/FatCamera

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She’s worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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What Is a Nuncupative Will?

What Is a Nuncupative Will? – SmartAsset

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Making a last will and testament is an important part of your estate plan and there are different types of wills to choose from. A nuncupative will, meaning a will that’s oral rather than written, may be an option in certain circumstances. While state will laws typically require that a will be written, signed and witnessed to be considered legal, there are scenarios in which an oral will could be upheld as valid. Understanding how a nuncupative will works, as well as the pros and cons, can help with shaping your will-making plans if you have yet to create one.

A financial professional can offer advice on investing, retirement planning, financial planning and various other areas of finance. Find a financial advisor today. 

Nuncupative Will, Defined

A nuncupative will simply means a will that isn’t written. Instead, it’s delivered verbally by the person who intends to make the will.

Nuncupative wills are sometimes called deathbed wills since they’re often created in end-of-life situations where a person is too ill or injured to physically draft a will. The person making the will, known as a testator, expresses wishes about the distribution of property and other assets to witnesses.

How Does an Oral Will Work?

Ordinarily, when creating a will you’d draft a written document identifying yourself as the will maker and spelling out how you want your assets to be distributed after you pass away. You could also use a will to name legal guardians for minor children if necessary and name an executor for your estate.

An oral will sidesteps all that and simply involves the person making the will expressing his or her wishes verbally to witnesses. There would be no written document unless one of the witnesses or someone else who is present chooses to copy down what’s being said. The person making the will would have nothing to sign and neither would the witnesses.

There’s a reason oral wills are no longer used in most states: Without a written document that’s been signed by the person making the will and properly witnessed, it can be very difficult to prove the will maker’s intentions about how assets should be distributed or who should be beneficiaries.

Are Nuncupative Wills Valid?

This type of will is no longer considered valid in most states. Instead, you’ll need to draft a written will that follows your state’s will-making guidelines. For example, most states require that the person making a will be at least 18 and of sound mind. The will also has to be witnessed by the required number of people who don’t have a direct interest in the will’s contents. Depending on where you live, you may or may not need to have your will notarized.

There are a handful of states that still allow oral or verbal wills, however. But they’re only considered valid under certain circumstances.

In North Carolina, for example, oral wills are only recognized if:

  • The person making the will believes death is imminent
  • The witnesses are asked to testify to the will
  • Both witnesses are present with the testator when the will is dictated
  • The testator states that what he or she is saying is intended to be a will
  • An oral statement is made to at least two competent witnesses
  • The testator then passes away

Even if those conditions are met, the heirs to the will would still have to bring a legal action to have it admitted to probate court. The witnesses would have to testify to what was said and even then, North Carolina still doesn’t allow for the transfer of real estate through an oral will.

In New York, the guidelines are even narrower. New York State only allows nuncupative wills to be recognized as legal and valid when made by a member of the armed services during a time of war or armed conflict. The intentions of the person making the will has to be stated in front of two witnesses. State law automatically invalidates them one year after the person leaves military service if they don’t pass away at the time the will was made.

How to Prepare a Will

Having a written will in place can help your loved ones avoid problematic scenarios about how to divide your property after you pass away. If you don’t have a will in place yet, you risk dying intestate. There are a couple of ways you can create one.

The first is using an online will-making software. These programs can guide you through the will-making process and they’re designed to be easy enough for anyone to use, even if you’re not an attorney. If you have a fairly simple estate then using an online will-making software could help you create a will at a reasonable cost.

On the other hand, if you have a more complex estate then you may want to get help with making a will from an estate planning attorney. An attorney can help ensure that your will is valid and that you’re distributing assets the way you want to without running into any legal snags.

Generally, when making a will you should be prepared to:

When making a will, it’s important to remember that some assets can’t be included. For example, if you have any assets that already have a named beneficiary, such as a 401(k), individual retirement account or life insurance policy, those would go to the person you’ve named.

And it’s also important to note that a will is just one part of the estate planning puzzle. If you have a more complex estate then you may also need to consider setting up a living trust. A trust allows you to transfer assets to the control of a trustee, who manages them on behalf of the trust’s beneficiaries. Trusts can be useful for minimizing estate taxes and creating a legacy of giving or wealth if that’s part of your financial plan.

The Bottom Line

Nuncupative wills are rare and while some states do recognize them, they generally aren’t valid in most circumstances. If you don’t have a will in place, then creating one is something you may want to add to your financial to-do list. Even if you don’t have a large estate or you’re unmarried with no children, having a will can still provide some reassurance about what will happen to your assets once you pass away.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about will making and estate planning. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help. By answering a few brief questions online you can get personalized recommendations for professional advisors in your local area. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • Along with a will and trust, there are other legal documents you might incorporate into your estate plan. An advance healthcare directive, for instance, can be used to spell out your wishes in case you become incapacitated. Power of attorney documents allow you to name someone who can make medical or financial decisions on your behalf when you’re unable to.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/FatCamera, ©iStock.com/Sean_Warren, ©iStock.com/LPETTET

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She’s worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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How to Change the Executor of a Will

How to Change the Executor of a Will – SmartAsset

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Drafting a last will and testament can help to ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes after you pass away. You can also use your will to name a legal guardian for minor children or choose an executor for your estate. It’s possible to make changes to your will after it’s written, including removing or adding an executor if necessary. If you’re wondering how to change the executor of a will after the fact, the process is easier than you might think. As you go about the process, it may behoove you to find a trusted financial advisor in your area for hands-on guidance.

Executor of a Will, Explained

The executor of a will is the person responsible for carrying out the terms of a will. When you name someone as executor, you’re giving him or her authority to handle certain tasks related to the distribution of your estate.

Generally, an executor can be any person you name. For example, that might include siblings, your spouse, adult children or your estate planning attorney. Minor children can’t serve as executors and some states prohibit convicted felons from doing so as well.

There’s no rule preventing a beneficiary of a will from also serving as executor. While beneficiaries can’t witness a will in which they have a direct interest, they can be charged with executing the terms of the will once you pass away.

What Does the Executor of a Will Do?

Being executor to a will means there are certain duties you’re obligated to carry out. Those include:

  • Obtaining death certificates after the will-maker passes away
  • Initiating the probate process
  • Creating an inventory of the will-maker’s assets
  • Notifying the will-maker’s creditors of the death
  • Paying off any outstanding debts owed by the will-maker
  • Closing bank accounts if necessary
  • Reading the will to the deceased person’s heirs
  • Distributing assets to the persons named in the will

Executors can’t change the terms of the will; they can only see that its terms are carried out. An executor can collect a fee for their services, which is typically a percentage of the value of the estate they’re finalizing.

Reasons to Change the Executor of a Will

While you may draft a will assuming that your choice of executor won’t change, there are different reasons why making a switch may be necessary. For example, you may need to choose a new executor if:

  • Your original executor passes away or becomes seriously ill and can’t fulfill his or her duties
  • You named your spouse as executor but you’ve since gotten a divorce
  • The person you originally named decides he or she no longer wants the responsibility
  • You’ve had a personal falling out with your executor
  • You believe that a different person is better equipped to execute your will

You don’t need to provide a specific reason to change the executor of a will. Once you’re ready to do so there are two options to choose from: add a codicil to an existing will or draft a brand-new will.

Using a Codicil to Change the Executor of a Will

A codicil is a written amendment that you can use to change the terms of your will without having to write a new one. Codicils can be used to change the executor of a will or revise any other terms as needed. If you want to change your will’s executor using a codicil, the first step is choosing a new executor. Remember, this can be almost anyone who’s an adult of sound mind, excluding felons.

Next, you’d write the codicil. In it, you’d specify the changes you’re making to your will (i.e. naming a new executor), the name of the person who should serve as executor going forward and the date the change should take effect. You’d also need to validate the codicil the same way you did your original will.

This means signing and dating the codicil in the presence of at least two witnesses. Witnesses must be legal adults of sound mind and they can’t have an interest in the will. So, a beneficiary to the will couldn’t witness your codicil but a neighbor or coworker could if they don’t stand to benefit from the will directly or indirectly.

Once the codicil is completed and signed by yourself and the witnesses, you can attach it to your existing will. It’s helpful to keep a copy of your will and the codicil in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box. You may also want to give a copy to your estate planning attorney if you have one.

Writing a New Will to Change the Executor of a Will

If you need to change more than just the executor of your will, you might consider drafting a new will document. The process for drafting a new will is similar to the one you followed for making your original one.

You’d need to specify who your beneficiaries will be, how you want your assets to be distributed and who should serve as executor. The new will would also need to be signed and properly witnessed.

But you’d have to take the added step of destroying all copies of the original will. This is necessary to avoid confusion and potential challenges to the terms of the will after you pass away. If you’re not sure how to draft a new will to replace an existing one, you may want to talk to an estate planning attorney to make sure you’re doing so legally.

What Happens If You Don’t Name an Executor?

If, for any reason, you choose not to name an executor in your will the probate court can assign one. After you pass away, eligible persons can apply to become the executor of your estate. The person the court chooses would then be able to carry out the terms of your will. If you don’t have a will at all, then your assets would be distributed according to your state’s inheritance laws.

That’s why it’s important to take the time to at least write a simple will. This way, there’s no question of your estate being divided among your heirs the way that you want it to be.

The Bottom Line

Making a will can be a good starting point for shaping your estate plan. Naming an executor means you don’t have to rely on the probate court to do it. But if you need to change the executor of your will later, it’s possible to do so with minimal headaches.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about creating an estate plan and what you might need. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with an advisor in your local area. It takes just a few minutes to get your personalized recommendations online. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • A will is just one document you may need as part of your estate plan. You may also consider setting up a trust, for example, if you have extensive assets or own a business. Life insurance is something you may also need to have, along with an advance health care directive and/or power of attorney.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/eric1513, ©iStock.com/kate_sept2004, ©iStock.com/courtneyk

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She’s worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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A Guide to Schedule K-1 (Form 1041)

A Guide to Schedule K-1 (Form 1041) – SmartAsset

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Inheriting property or other assets typically involves filing the appropriate tax forms with the IRS. Schedule K-1 (Form 1041) is used to report a beneficiary’s share of an estate or trust, including income as well as credits, deductions and profits. A K-1 tax form inheritance statement must be sent out to beneficiaries at the end of the year. If you’re the beneficiary of an estate or trust, it’s important to understand what to do with this form if you receive one and what it can mean for your tax filing.

Schedule K-1 (Form 1041), Explained

Schedule K-1 (Form 1041) is an official IRS form that’s used to report a beneficiary’s share of income, deductions and credits from an estate or trust. It’s full name is “Beneficiary’s Share of Income, Deductions, Credits, etc.” The estate or trust is responsible for filing Schedule K-1 for each listed beneficiary with the IRS. And if you’re a beneficiary, you also have to receive a copy of this form.

This form is required when an estate or trust is passing tax obligations on to one or more beneficiaries. For example, if a trust holds income-producing assets such as real estate, then it may be necessary for the trustee to file Schedule K-1 for each listed beneficiary.

Whether it’s necessary to do so or not depends on the amount of income the estate generates and the residency status of the estate’s beneficiaries. If the annual gross income from the estate is less than $600, then the estate isn’t required to file Schedule K-1 tax forms for beneficiaries. On the other hand, this form has to be filed if the beneficiary is a nonresident alien, regardless of how much or how little income is reported.

Contents of Schedule K-1 Tax Form Inheritance Statements

The form itself is fairly simple, consisting of a single page with three parts. Part one records information about the estate or trust, including its name, employer identification number and the name and address of the fiduciary in charge of handling the disposition of the estate. Part Two includes the beneficiary’s name and address, along with a box to designate them as a domestic or foreign resident.

Part Three covers the beneficiary’s share of current year income, deductions and credits. That includes all of the following:

  • Interest income
  • Ordinary dividends
  • Qualified dividends
  • Net short-term capital gains
  • Net long-term capital gains
  • Unrecaptured Section 1250 gains
  • Other portfolio and nonbusiness income
  • Ordinary business income
  • Net rental real estate income
  • Other rental income
  • Directly apportioned deductions
  • Estate tax deductions
  • Final year deductions
  • Alternative minimum tax deductions
  • Credits and credit recapture

If you receive a completed Schedule K-1 (Form 1041) you can then use it to complete your Form 1040 Individual Tax Return to report any income, deductions or credits associated with inheriting assets from the estate or trust.

You wouldn’t, however, have to include a copy of this form when you file your tax return unless backup withholding was reported in Box 13, Code B. The fiduciary will send a copy to the IRS on your behalf. But you would want to keep a copy of your Schedule K-1 on hand in case there are any questions raised later about the accuracy of income, deductions or credits being reported.

Estate Income and Beneficiary Taxation

If you received a Schedule K-1 tax form, inheritance tax rules determine how much tax you’ll owe on the income from the estate. Since the estate is a pass-through entity, you’re responsible for paying income tax on the income that’s generated. The upside is that when you report amounts from Schedule K-1 on your individual tax return, you can benefit from lower tax rates for qualified dividends. And if there’s income from the estate that hasn’t been distributed or reported on Schedule K-1, then the trust or estate would be responsible for paying income tax on it instead of you.

In terms of deductions or credits that can help reduce your tax liability for income inherited from an estate, those can include things like:

  • Depreciation
  • Depletion allocations
  • Amortization
  • Estate tax deduction
  • Short-term capital losses
  • Long-term capital losses
  • Net operating losses
  • Credit for estimated taxes

Again, the fiduciary who’s completing the Schedule K-1 for each trust beneficiary should complete all of this information. But it’s important to check the information that’s included against what you have in your own records to make sure that it’s correct. If there’s an error in reporting income, deductions or credits and you use that inaccurate information to complete your tax return, you could end up paying too much or too little in taxes as a result.

If you think the information in your Schedule K-1 (Form 1041) is incorrect, you can contact the fiduciary to request an amended form. If you’ve already filed your taxes using the original form, you’d then have to file an amended return with the updated information.

Schedule K-1 Tax Form for Inheritance vs. Schedule K-1 (Form 1065)

Schedule K-1 can refer to more than one type of tax form and it’s important to understand how they differ. While Schedule K-1 (Form 1041) is used to report information related to an estate or trust’s beneficiaries, you may also receive a Schedule K-1 (Form 1065) if you run a business that’s set up as a pass-through entity.

Specifically, this type of Schedule K-1 form is used to record income, losses, credits and deductions related to the activities of an S-corporation, partnership or limited liability company (LLC). A Schedule K-1 (Form 1065) shows your share of business income and losses.

It’s possible that you could receive both types of Schedule K-1 forms in the same tax year if you run a pass-through business and you’re the beneficiary of an estate. If you’re confused about how to report the income, deductions, credits and other information from either one on your tax return, it may be helpful to get guidance from a tax professional.

The Bottom Line

Receiving a Schedule K-1 tax form is something you should be prepared for if you’re the beneficiary of an estate or trust. Again, whether you will receive one of these forms depends on whether you’re a resident or nonresident alien and the amount of income the trust or estate generates. Talking to an estate planning attorney can offer more insight into how estate income is taxed as you plan a strategy for managing an inheritance.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about the financial implications of inheriting assets. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with professional advisors in your local area in minutes. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • One way to make the job of filing taxes easier is with a free, easy-to-use tax return calculator. Also, creating a trust is something you might consider as part of your own estate plan if you have significant assets you want to pass on.

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Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She’s worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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