Articles Posted in Asset Protection

How property and assets are distributed when you pass can be a sensitive topic that many people do not like to address, in fact, more than half of Americans die without a will every year. This failure to plan for the distribution of assets and property can leave many interested parties at odds and may not reflect what your last wishes were for your legacy. Depending on what you are leaving behind, there are some considerations that must be made regarding your assets.

Depending upon the state you reside in, your property may pass subject to probate or it may pass outside due to pre-documented rights of survivorship or trust language. If you live in a community property state, which means that all property acquired by you or your spouse during the marriage, regardless of who bought it is property of the marriage, then your property will pass subject to probate court. However, passing through probate may be avoided if you have left rights of survivorship language in your will or property ownership documentation. Property is then subject to the estate tax, which may not be the main concern of dissolution, depending on the assets involved.

Additionally, a trust can be set up that will either avoid probate or will continue to be includable in your estate. If you seek to avoid probate, you can form what is called an irrevocable trust, which allows you to put your assets and property in a  trust, to be held and owned by the trustee, who works to administer the trust under the governing trust and also make decisions in the best interest of the grantor and any potential beneficiaries. However, if you wish to form a trust but still seek to maintain control of your assets and property by amending or revoking the trust during your lifetime, you can form a revocable trust.

The Social Security Administration recently released a list of changes to take place in 2017, which included the cost of living adjustment that we discussed in a previous article, as well as a new earnings test limits for those older adults who continue to work but qualify for social security. While the cost of living adjustment came out to a roughly $50 a year increase, the other changes listed by the Administration have encouraged many of those who receive their monthly benefits.

The Earnings Test

In order to provide the most equal distribution based on need, the Social Security Administration has come up with a test in order to determine how much in benefits an individual should be allotted. The earnings test applies to those older adults who have not yet reached their full age of retirement, which is 66 years old, and who are still working. For those beneficiaries who attain full retirement age after 2017, they can claim exemption of earnings up to $16,920 a year, or roughly $1,410 a month.

Every trust document is different; the terms of a trust can vary greatly, giving the beneficiaries either a broad range of power or can limit a beneficiary’s power to only include specific rights. Some of the differing terms of trust include: how the income and principal investments are able to be distributed, when, and under what circumstances, if the objective of the trust is either for growth or to maintain balance, when a beneficiary receives a distribution and under what circumstances, such as age attainment or education attainment, as well as whether the beneficiaries have a right of withdrawal also known as 5 by 5 clause.

What is a 5 by 5 Clause?

A 5 by 5 clause, or right of withdrawal, must be specifically stated in the governing trust. The right occurs once a year generally, and will allow the beneficiary to take up to 5% of the value of the trust out to be included in their current tax year or to take $5,000, whichever is greater at the time. If the trust contains a right of withdrawal, the trustee must notify the beneficiary within a reasonable time of their ability that year to withdrawal and the beneficiary must indicate their wish to exercise the right in part or in total or whether they chose to forego taking the amount. In order for the beneficiary to qualify the income under present interest, and therefore exempt under the gift exemption that year, they must have a vested economic interest to the income and principal of the trust.

Prince & Tidal

After the death of a musician, we commonly hear about battles between the estate of deceased artists and various music companies, regarding the royalties to a deceased artist’s work, who now owns it, and who is entitled to receive royalties now that the artist is no longer alive. The Estate of music legend Prince has faced a number of legal issues while trying to determine inheritance as well as ownership of music and rights. The music streaming platform Tidal, started by rapper Jay-Z, had the exclusive rights to stream Prince’s last album, however, Tidal is now being sued by the estate for illegally streaming all of Prince’s albums on the platform streaming site. Shortly after Prince passed away, Tidal started streaming the entire catalogue of music, expanding it from the 90 day exclusivity clause it had for the one album.

Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones & Sony Productions

2017 Projected Increases

Those individuals receiving social security benefits can expect another disappointing increase in their benefits in 2017. While this increase is another record low over the past five years, some view it as a win since social security beneficiaries failed to see any increase in their benefits in 2016, although costs of living continued to rise. The projected increase, coming at .3%, or $4 a month, was assessed by the federal government in response to adjusted costs of living.

How this Affects Elders

Trustees serve a very important role in the effective administration of a trust. The maker of the trust document, the grantor, gives another neutral third party, the power to administer the terms of the trust throughout the lifetime of the grantor and after, if the terms of the trust provide so. The trustee is essentially in charge of managing all the assets of the trust, without taking an interest in them. While a trustee can also be the maker of the trust, many people elect another individual, or a corporate trustee to continue administering the trust upon their death.

There are some express terms that a trustee must follow, such as:

  • Keeping separate the investments and accounts of the trust,

Elder abuse has been an increasing trend over the past few decades, within roughly one in ten Americans over 60 years of age experiencing elder abuse, whether it be financial, harassment, sexual, physical, or passive abuse through neglect or deprivation. Of the elders subjected to abuse, over 90% of those Americans are abused by someone they know, either a family member, friend, acquaintance, medical staff employee, or caretaker.

Predators seek out opportunities with the elderly in order to become involved in their lives and then later exploit them in their most vulnerable state. Often times, an individual will claim to be helping the elder individual, either by assisting in caretaking or house keeping, and then will later bill them for an exorbitant amount of money or get ahold of their checking account to pay themselves.

Warning Signs

There are three main types of trusts for special or supplemental needs. Each has their own specific purpose and use, and will apply differently for every party.

First Party Special Needs Trusts

The first party special needs trust was developed to be funded with assets owned by the trust beneficiary in order to help them qualify for government benefits. This type of trust is usually established when the intended beneficiary is about to receive either a lawsuit settlement, inheritance from an estate, a large gift, or assets, that would disqualify him from receiving supplemental security income. Supplemental security income has a qualifying threshold that the beneficiary must meet; the individual cannot possess personal assets that equal over $2,000.

Special needs trust are a type of trust by which the beneficiary is provided for through the trust income, but has no control over the distributions of the trust. Generally, special needs, or supplemental needs trusts, have been used to provide for those loved ones with disabilities or who are unable to care for themselves any longer.

Once a special needs trust is established, family or a loved one can put the assets in the trust for the benefit of the beneficiary in order to provide them with any number of resources they feel the beneficiary deserves. The trust funds can be used to compensate for additional medical bills not fully covered by insurance, for personal leisure, travel, or anything the grantor feels the beneficiary may want or benefit from.

Eligibility for Benefits & Being a Beneficiary

Spendthrift trusts are a type of irrevocable trust in which the grantor seeks to leave property or assets to a beneficiary, under the terms they outline, by which the beneficiary cannot alter, because they have no legal claim to the trust property. An irrevocable trust is a type of trust by which the beneficiary cannot modify the terms of the trust without the first obtaining the permission of the grantor.

Irrevocable trusts allow the grantor to create this trust document in which they transfer their rights to the property into the trust and the trustee, a third party manager of the trust, now technically holds legal title, until the trust allows for vestment in the beneficiaries. Beneficiaries are not the only ones who lack control in these trust situations; in an irrevocable trust, once it is created, the grantor cannot undo the trust to obtain title to the property without first getting the consent of the trustee and beneficiaries.

When To Use a Spendthrift Trust

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