• Shrink text
  • Enlarge text
  • Mail this page
Estate Planning

Your estate plan is a snapshot of you, your family, your assets and the tax laws in effect at the time it was created. All of these change over time, and so should your plan. It is unreasonable to expect the simple will written when you were a newlywed to be effective now that you have a growing family, or now that you are divorced from your spouse, or now that you are retired and have an ever increasing swarm of grandchildren! Over the course of your lifetime, your estate plan will need check-ups, maintenance, tweaking, maybe even replacing. So, how do you know when it's time to give your estate plan a check-up?
Generally, any change in your personal, family, financial or health situation, or a change in the tax laws, could prompt a change in your estate plan.

A comprehensive estate plan will normally include:

Revocable Living Trust

Perhaps the most common type of trust is the revocable living trust. As the name implies, revocable trusts are fully revocable at the request of the trust maker. Thus, assets transferred (or 'funded') to a revocable trust remain within the control of the trust maker; the trust maker (or trust makers if it is a joint revocable trust) can simply revoke the trust and have the assets returned. Revocable trusts can be excellent vehicles for disability planning, privacy, and probate avoidance.

Pour Over Will

A 'pour-over' will is a will with a safety net provision that ensures that any property you fail to transfer to your living trust during your life will be transferred
to your trust through the probate process. It will transfer all non-trust assets to your trust that are not controlled by beneficiary designations or by ownership with
a joint tenant. Your goal is to avoid probate by ensuring that your pour-over will controls nothing. You must transfer all your assets to your trust during your life to avoid
probate. Your will is merely your backup to ensure that all your assets are ultimately controlled by your living trust.

Durable Power of Attorney

Who will make decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself? Who will have the power to sign documents on your behalf, or make sure your bills get paid?

Without a durable power of attorney, someone who is mentally incapacitated must be taken to guardianship or conservatorship court to have a decision maker named for them by a judge. A carefully written durable power of attorney will allow you to name someone you trust to make decisions for you if you become disabled to the point of no longer being able to make those decisions yourself.

Advanced Health Care Directive

An Advanced Health Care Directive, also known as a Power of Attorney for Health Care, allows your trusted friend or family member to make medical treatment decisions for you if you are unable to communicate your wishes to doctors. Without one, you must have a guardian or 'conservator' of your person appointed by the court before decisions can be made on your behalf.

A healthcare power of attorney not only saves precious decision making time, but it also makes sure that the individual you trust the most has the power to make these most important decisions for you if you are unable to make the decisions on your own.

Directive to Physicians

A living will or Directive to Physicians, as they are properly known here in California, directly informs your doctors that you do not want extraordinary medical measures taken, especially those that would cause you pain or discomfort, if those measures would only prolong the dying process. This document backs up your health care power of attorney. Anyone can deliver this document to your doctors if your agent under your health care power of attorney is unavailable to make health care decisions for you.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), absent a written authorization from the patient, a health care provider or health care clearinghouse cannot disclose medical information to anyone other than the
patient or the person appointed under state law to make health care decisions for the patient. The Regulations promulgated under HIPAA specifically authorize a HIPAA Authorization for release of this information to persons other than you or your personal representative. Thus, you should consider creating such an Authorization so that loved
ones and others can access this information in addition to the personal representative.

HIPAA Authorization 

Aa HIPAA Authorization naming loved ones and others can help access your medical information if you become disabled. 

More advanced planning can include:

Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts

Life insurance is a unique asset in that it serves numerous diverse functions in a tax-favored environment. Life insurance proceeds are received income tax free and, if properly owned by an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust, life insurance proceeds can also be received free of estate tax.

An Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) is one of the most popular wealth planning devices. It is a trust designed to own a life insurance policy, usually on the lives of you and your spouse. You gift funds to the trust periodically and the trustee uses the funds to pay premiums on the life insurance policy. The trust is designed to produce benefits for your family.

o Make current gifts to family members.
o Accumulate assets outside the client's taxable estate.
o Protect assets from claims of creditors.
o Avoid income tax on the accumulation of funds.
o Avoid estate tax upon the distribution of funds to the family.
o Create a source of liquidity to cover estate taxes or expenses.
o Replace assets that may have been given to charity

Standalone Retirement Trusts

IRAs and qualified plans create a unique planning challenge in that these assets are subject to income tax when received by the beneficiary (this is discussed more fully under Planning for Tax Qualified Plans). One way to help reduce the tax impact is to structure these accounts to provide the longest term payout possible; deferring income tax as long as possible minimizes the overall tax impact and allows the account to grow tax free. To achieve this maximum 'stretch-out', you should name individuals who are young (e.g., children or grandchildren) as the designated beneficiary of your tax-qualified plans and, significantly, the beneficiary should take only those minimum distributions that are required by law. The younger the beneficiary, the smaller these required minimum distributions. By naming a trust as the beneficiary of your tax-qualified plans, you can ensure that the beneficiary defers the income and that these assets remain protected from creditors or a former son or daughter-in-law. We recommend that this trust be a stand-alone Retirement Trust (separate from your revocable living trust and other trusts) to ensure that it accomplishes your objectives while also ensuring the maximum tax deferral permitted under the law. This trust can either pay out the required minimum distribution to the beneficiary or it can accumulate these distributions and pay out trust assets pursuant to the standard you set in advance (e.g., for higher education, etc.)

Qualified Personal Residence Trusts

A Qualified Personal Residence Trust ('QPRT') is a type of trust specifically authorized by the Internal Revenue Code. It permits you to transfer ownership of your residence to your family during your lifetime and retain the exclusive right to live in the residence, while reducing the size of your estate for estate tax purposes.

The residence is transferred to the Qualified Personal Residence Trust for a designated initial term of years. Provided you survive the initial term of years, ownership of the residence will be transferred to your family at a fraction of its fair market value. If you die during the initial term of years the property will be brought back into your estate, but you will be no worse off than had you not created the Qualified Personal Residence Trust. You may transfer up to two (2) personal residences into Qualified Personal Residence Trusts.

The Qualified Personal Residence Trust is a particularly noteworthy estate planning tool to reduce federal estate taxes because it permits you to transfer a residence out of your taxable estate while retaining the right to use it during your lifetime. The gift for federal gift tax purposes is based upon IRS published interest rates at the time of the transfer, and this rate does not take into consideration actual appreciation in the value of the property. Accordingly, these trusts are particularly useful to transfer residences in which significant future appreciation is anticipated. The Qualified Personal Residence Trust permits you to continue to enjoy your residence, knowing that the value at the date of death will not be included in your estate.

During the term of years of the trust you have the absolute right to remain in the residence rent free. After the initial term you can be granted the right to rent the residence for the balance of your lifetime for its fair rental value.

During the term of years, you can be the sole trustee or a cotrustee of the trust with complete control over all decisions of the trust and the assets in the trust. You may also sell the residence and buy another residence during the trust term.

Because the Qualified Personal Residence Trust is a 'grantor trust' under the income tax laws, during the initial term of years you are treated as the owner of the property for income tax purposes. Therefore, all items of income, gain, loss and deduction with respect to the trust are treated on your personal income tax return. So for example, the deduction for real estate taxes remains available to you. In addition, favorable capital gains treatment, including capital gain rollover and the $250,000 exclusion of gain are still available to you.

Special Needs Trusts

A Special Needs Trust is a trust that can supplement the needs of a special needs beneficiary while allowing the beneficiary to maintain his or her governmental benefits, including Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security and Medicaid. With medical advancements, persons with disabilities are living longer and public benefits are often necessary, yet there is no guarantee that public benefits will provide adequate resources over the disabled person's lifetime, or that existing public agencies will continue to provide acceptable services and advocacy over a disabled person's lifetime.

If the special needs trust is established by you or someone other than the disabled person and the disabled person does not have the legal right to demand trust assets, the trust is not considered a 'countable resource' for purposes of government benefits. Therefore, the special needs trust beneficiary can continue to receive benefits even though he or she is a trust beneficiary. The trust will give the trustee the discretion to make distributions to the beneficiary to the extent possible without reducing benefits, and trust assets are available if the beneficiary no longer qualifies for governmental assistance or that assistance is no longer available.

If the trust is established on the beneficiary's behalf pursuant to court order, for example as part of a personal injury settlement, the trust will not impact the beneficiary's eligibility, but it may need to include a 'payback' provision that reimburses the state for its assistance before trust assets pass to the trust's other beneficiaries.

Common savings vehicles for children, like Uniform Transfer to Minor Acts (UTMA) accounts, typical trusts, or designating a retirement plan, insurance policy or annuity directly to an SSI or Medicaid recipient will cause a reduction or elimination of public benefits. Recognizing this, some parents make the difficult decision to disinherit their special needs children, but this severe action is unnecessary.  

A Special Needs Trust can be a standalone trust so that family members can all contribute to it, or built into a Revocable Living Trust to be set up at the time of death.

Estate Planning can include Charitable Planning

Charitable Remainder Trust


The Charitable Remainder Trust ('CRT') is a type of trust specifically authorized by the Internal Revenue Code. These irrevocable trusts permit you to transfer ownership of assets to the trust in exchange for an income stream to the person or persons of your choice (typically you, your spouse or you and your spouse) for life or for a specified term of up to 20 years. With the most common type of Charitable Remainder Trust, at the end of the term, the balance of the trust property (the 'remainder interest') is transferred to a specified charity or charities. Charitable Remainder Trusts reduce estate taxes because you are transferring ownership to the trust of assets that otherwise would be counted for estate tax purposes.

A Charitable Remainder Trust can be set up as part of your revocable living trust planning, coming into existence at the time of your death, or as a stand-alone trust during your lifetime. At the time of creation of the CRT you or your estate will be entitled to a charitable deduction in the amount of the current value of the gift that will eventually go to charity. If the income recipient is someone other than you or your spouse there will be gift tax consequences to the transfer to the CRT.

Charitable Remainder Trusts are tax-exempt entities. In other words, when a Charitable Remainder Trust sells an asset it pays no income tax on the gain in that asset. Therefore, after a sale the trust has more available to invest than if the asset were sold outside of the Charitable Remainder Trust and subject to tax. Accordingly, Charitable Remainder trusts are particularly suited for highly appreciated assets, such as real estate and stock in a closely held business, or assets subject to income tax such as qualified plans and IRAs. While the Charitable Remainder Trust does not pay tax on the sale of its assets, the tax is not avoided altogether. The payments to the income recipient will be subject to tax.

There are several types of Charitable Remainder Trusts. For example, the Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust pays a fixed dollar amount (for example, $80,000 per year) to the income recipient at least annually. Another type of CRT, the Charitable Remainder Unitrust, pays a fixed percentage of the value of the trust assets each year to the income recipient (for example, 8% of the value as of the preceding January 1). A third type, perhaps the most common, allows you to transfer non-income producing property to the CRT and have the trust convert to a Charitable Remainder Unitrust upon the sale or happening of a specified event, for example upon reaching a specified retirement age.

At the end of the term of a Charitable Remainder Trust, the remainder interest passes to qualified charities as defined under the Internal Revenue Code. Generally, any charity that has received tax-exempt status through an IRS determination qualifies, but this is not always the case. It is possible for you to name a private foundation established by you as the charitable beneficiary.

Charitable Lead Trust

The Charitable Lead Trust is a type of charitable trust that can reduce or virtually eliminate all estate tax on wealth passing to heirs. In order to accomplish this goal, you create a trust that grants to a charity or charities, for a set number of years, the first or 'lead' right to receive a payment from the trust. At the end of the term of years, your children or grandchildren receive the balance of the trust property--which often is greater than the amount contributed--free of estate tax in most instances. Although the Charitable Lead Trust is a complex estate planning strategy, the steps to implement it are few and simple from your perspective. Here is how one of the most frequently used Charitable Lead Trusts, the Charitable Lead Annuity Trust, operates:

You, as grantors, create a Charitable Lead Trust as part of your revocable living trust planning. Upon the death of the survivor of the two of you, a substantial amount of property will pass to the Charitable Lead Trust. The income beneficiary of the Charitable Lead Trust will be a qualified charitable organization, chosen by the two of you or by the survivor of you, named in your revocable living trust. The charitable income beneficiary receives a fixed, guaranteed amount from the trust for a certain number of years (determined by you with the assistance of your legal and financial advisors). Generally, any charity that has received tax-exempt status through an IRS determination qualifies, but this is not always the case. It is possible for you to name a private foundation established by you as the charitable beneficiary. If so, you must have very limited authority over which charity is to receive money from the foundation. Too much control while you are alive will result in adverse tax consequences.

At the end of the Charitable Lead Trust's term, the remaining assets in the trust pass to non-charitable trust beneficiaries such as children and grandchildren, free of estate and gift tax. These assets can pass outright to the beneficiaries, or can continue to be held in trust, either in new trusts or in trusts previously established for the benefit and protection of beneficiaries.

The charity will receive the same dollar amount each year, no matter how its investments perform. The remainder interest ultimately passing to the heirs, however, will be affected by the performance of the trust's investments.

Charitable Lead Annuity Trusts are particularly suited for hard-to-value assets (such as real estate or family limited liability company interests) and assets which are expected to grow rapidly in value.

Asset Protection Planning

A revocable trust provides no asset protection for the trust maker during his or her life. Upon the death of the trust maker, however, or upon the death of the first spouse to die if it is a joint trust, the trust becomes irrevocable as to the deceased trust maker's property and can provide asset protection for the beneficiaries, with two important caveats. First, the assets must remain in the trust to provide ongoing asset protection. In other words, once the trustee distributes the assets to a beneficiary, those assets are no longer protected and can be attached by that beneficiary's creditors. If the beneficiary is married, the distributed assets may also be subject to the spouse's creditor(s), or they may be available to the former spouse upon divorce.

Trusts for the lifetime of the beneficiaries provide prolonged asset protection for the trust assets. Lifetime trusts also permit your financial advisor to continue to invest the trust assets as you instruct, which can help ensure that trust returns are sufficient to meet your planning objectives. The second caveat follows logically from the first: the more rights the beneficiary has with respect to compelling trust distributions, the less asset protection the trust provides. Generally, a creditor 'steps into the shoes' of the debtor and can exercise any rights of the debtor. Thus, if a beneficiary has the right to compel a distribution from a trust, so too can a creditor compel a distribution from that trust.