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Articles Posted in Caregiving

The COVID-19 pandemic has understandably left many people facing challenges. Remember that even the most difficult times often present opportunities, which currently includes an ideal situation to transfer assets to a loved one. The combination of decreased market values, lowered interest rates, and a high tax rate exemption has caused people to utilize several advantageous estate planning strategies.

# 1 – Making the Most of Gifting

Based on the value of assets, transferring property through gifting often requires individuals to consider estate taxes, gift taxes, and generation-skipping taxes. By transferring assets to loved ones while the asset’s value is temporarily at its lowest, you have the greatest chance possible of removing the assets from your taxable estate while making the most out of available exemptions. 

Every estate plan should include a living trust. A living trust is different from a trust and should be part of your estate plan along with a last will and testament and power of attorney (financial and medical) documents.

Why a living trust is an important estate plan document

A living trust is a written legal document that partially substitutes for a will. With a living trust, your assets (your home, bank accounts and stocks, for example) are put into the trust, administered for your benefit during your lifetime, and then transferred to your beneficiaries when you die. Living trusts, have great value as part of estate planning, but not necessarily to avoid probate. A living trust, if properly prepared and administered, can be a very effective tool to manage assets in the event of illness, disability or the effects of aging. In light of the aging population, the use of living trusts to minimize the risk of elder financial abuse and address similar issues, should be an important consideration in an estate plan.

A trust is an important estate plan document. Other estate planning documents include a last will and testament and intestate succession.

Every state has laws that determine who your heirs are and what proportion of the estate the heir is entitled to receive. Heir refers to blood relatives and are usually grouped according to closeness of relationship:  Children and spouse; siblings and parents; aunts, uncles, and cousins. Where there is no will or trust, the estate is deemed “intestate” and must be settled according to state probate law. Individuals who inherit property under a will or trust are referred to as beneficiaries. Persons can be named as beneficiaries on bank accounts, life insurance policies, financial portfolios, retirement accounts, and certain types of titled property such as real estate – they need not be heirs. Remember heirs can be beneficiaries, but beneficiaries are not always heirs.

To complete an estate plan, you should consider adding trust documents.

Creating a thoughtful estate plan is one of the greatest gifts anyone can leave their loved ones. It is important to update your will when major changes occur. These might include marriage, divorce, opening or closing a business, buying or selling real estate, or birth or death of an heir.

Estate planning is a process that helps ensure that your desires for distribution of your property and assets at death are carried out. During life, to complete an estate plan, you should consider the following: 


  •     Will: A will is the primary document that should be prepared while living, to be effective at death. A will is a written document expressing how you would like your estate to be distributed after death. Usually a will must be executed in the presence of two disinterested witness and be notarized. You must also have testamentary capacity (over the age of 18, of sound mind, and competent).

More seniors than ever are carrying high debt into retirement. Managing high debt simultaneously with managing the cost of daily living and medical care on a fixed income is a recurring problem in many households. The amount of debt burden has skyrocketed over the past decade.  

The National Council on Aging commissioned the Survey of Consumer Finances to study debt and how it impacts seniors economic security. The key findings are listed below:

  • Percentage of households headed by an adult 65 or older with any debt increased from 41.5% in 1992 to 51.9% in 2010 and then to 60% in 2016.

Settling an estate, after the loss of a loved one while grieving, is a difficult process. For the weeks and months that follow the funeral, handling the estate of a deceased individual may quickly overwhelm survivors. The steps outlined below provide a guide to survivors through this tumultuous time.

Immediately upon the death of a loved one

After notifying family members and close friends, contact a funeral director. The funeral director is able to assist with funeral and burial arrangements, publish an obituary, order the death certificate, and transport your loved one’s remains to the funeral home.

The advantage of including a trust in your estate plan is that trusts usually avoid probate. The beneficial effect of that advantage is that your beneficiaries may gain access to the assets held in trust faster than those assets transferred via will. When used optimally a trust may minimize estate taxes. Trust can be arranged in many ways and can specify exactly how and when the assets pass to the beneficiaries. What follows are a brief description of the types of trust instruments that may be included in your estate plan.


Basic types of trusts



Marital or “A” trust

Provides immediate benefits to your surviving spouse. However, the assets in the trust are included in the taxable estate of the surviving spouse. The surviving spouse does not pay estate taxes on his or her spouse’s assets, until he or she passes.

Bypass or “B” trust

Bypasses the surviving spouse’s estate, providing federal estate tax exemption for each spouse, popularly referred to as a credit shelter trust.

Testamentary trust

Assets from the will are transferred into a testamentary trust upon death. The assets are subject to probate and transfer taxes and often continue to be subject to supervision by the Surrogate’s Court.

Irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT)

Designed to exclude life insurance proceeds from the deceased person’s taxable estate while providing liquidity to the estate and/or the trusts’ beneficiaries. This type of trust is irrevocable.

Charitable lead trust

Estate assets pass to a charitable or religious organization and the remainder is given to your beneficiaries.
Charitable remainder trust For a period of time the trust provides an income stream to the beneficiary and then any remainder goes to a charity.

Generation-skipping trust

Using the generation-skipping tax exemption, a generation-skipping trust permits trust assets to be distributed to grandchildren or later generations without incurring either a generation-skipping tax or estate taxes on the subsequent death of your children.

Qualified Terminable Interest Property (QTIP) trust

Used to provide income to a surviving spouse. Upon the spouse’s death, the assets then go to additional beneficiaries named by the deceased. Often used in second marriage situations, as well as to maximize estate and generation-skipping tax or estate tax planning flexibility.
Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) Irrevocable trust funded by gifts you make (grantor). It is designed to shift future appreciation on quickly appreciating assets to the next generation during your (grantor’s) lifetime.


Consult with a New York trusts and estates lawyer to include a trust as part of your estate plan. Be sure to read our next post, Understanding the Differences Between Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts, to learn about the types of trust instruments that may be included in your estate plan.  

This is the last post in our in-depth series of trusts and why and how to include them in your estate plan. For prior topics, click here. We were last discussing common mistakes we see in the establishment of trust instruments. Our last post examined failing to fund the trust. The next topics surround beneficiary designations and policy titling.

No. 3 – Unintended beneficiaries of retirement accounts and life insurance policies

Trust funds include life insurance proceeds and other accounts and policies payable to beneficiaries. If those accounts and policies do not properly designate your trust as a primary or contingent beneficiary, then those funds will pass to the beneficiary directly, disregarding any of your instructions from the trust document. The result of the distribution may be that your beneficiary receives more or less than you attended or sooner than necessary, defeating the purpose of the establishment of the trust.

We’ve been examining adding a revocable (a/k/a living or inter vivos) trust or irrevocable trust to your estate plan. Trust instruments are an important part of your estate plan, particularly if you have a spouse and young children you wish to provide for upon your death. When mistakes are made, in establishing or setting-up a trust, the errors are borne by your survivors.

When problems arise in trusts they tend to involve issues with trust funding, policy titling, and beneficiary designations. When neglected these issues have their way of creeping into the lives of your loved one and will require significant amounts of money and time being spent that could have otherwise been avoided. What follows is a primer on the top 4 scenarios your survivors will need to get through to correct any problems associated with trust funding, policy titling, and beneficiary designation.

No. 1 – Avoiding probate

On August 15, 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rolled out thirteen (13) proposed warnings in full-color utilizing graphics for rotation on cigarette packages, meant to encourage people to stop smoking or taking up the habit.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. is smoking.

  • Nearly 480,000 people die in the U.S. each year from smoking-related illnesses.
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