What You Really Do and Don’t Need from Your Estate Planning Attorney

What You Really Do and Don’t Need from Your Estate Planning Attorney

What You Really Do and Don’t Need from Your Estate Planning Attorney
NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg, VA

Meeting with an estate planning attorney at various stages or milestones throughout your life can save you – and your heirs – a substantial amount of money and headaches, and ensure that your wishes are carried through in the event that you are disabled by illness or injury, and following your death.

Here are two things that you really do need to put into place with your estate planning attorney, and one that you may not:

You DO Need to Assign Powers of Attorney
Everyone DOES, however, need, and should have, a financial and medical power of attorney. Thinking about death is scary, but being under a medical or other disability without a plan in place as to who you trust to manage your assets, pay your bills, or make your medical decisions for you is even scarier.

Without an assigned attorney-in-fact (sometimes referred to as “an agent”) to manage your financial affairs and medical decisions (including end-of-life decisions), the courts may be called upon to decide, and could select a person that you may have never wanted in those roles. It is also far more expensive to go this route than to have powers of attorney drafted and signed in advance—about 10 times more.

You DO Need a Standby Guardian
When individuals have children under the age of 18, they need a Designation of Standby Guardian that appoints a trusted friend or family member to wait “on standby” in case they are needed to care for a child or children should the parent suffer a severe illness or injury that does not kill them but prevents them from being able to care for the children during a period of recovery.

Not Everyone Needs a Trust
“Many people coming to see me for estate planning services for the first time are confused about whether they really need a Trust,” according to attorney Patricia E. Tichenor, managing attorney of the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. “Trusts can be very useful, but they are also very expensive and require additional steps after you sign to fund them or re-title your assets in the name of the Trust.”

With the current Federal death tax “credit” (sometimes referred to now as “the allowable amount”) being more than $5.46 million and subject to annual cost of living adjustments, meaning you owe no additional death taxes to the I.R.S. if your estate is less than that amount, there is a lot less pressure on individuals to use Trust Planning for tax reasons. Of course, some States have adopted their own separate state death tax provisions which may still result in a tax being owed by an individual’s estate. In addition, some States have very costly probate taxes (i.e., California), which make the use of Trusts absolutely necessary.

This is why it’s very important to use an attorney licensed in the State where you reside; one who is very familiar with both Federal and State tax death tax laws. Moreover, if the beneficiaries of your estate are residents of a State that does not have an inheritance taxes, you may then only need a well-written Last Will and Testament rather than a Trust as part of a comprehensive estate plan.

Non-Probate Planning
Along with your Will, you do need to get guidance from your attorney on the pros/cons of utilizing non-probate planning, which means that you by-pass your Will and instead designate beneficiaries by name as a payable on death or transfer on death beneficiary on your bank accounts, insurance, retirement funds, etc., to avoid probate altogether. This is call non-probate planning, as these assets will never pass through your Will, and therefore, will escape probate taxes.

Contact Your Estate Planning Attorney
If you do not have powers of attorney in place or if what you have is more than five years old, we strongly recommend that you meet with your estate planning attorney to set them in place immediately. You never know when illness or an accident will strike, nor do you know the impact it will have on your family or children if you have no plan or an outdated plan in place.

We, at the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C., will be glad to help you with any legal advice or documents needed to ensure your estate’s security. Contact Northern Virginia attorneys Patricia E. Tichenor and Camellia Safi today to set your appointment.

Appraising Your Estate for Transfer, Divorce or Inheritance

Appraising Your Estate for Transfer, Divorce or Inheritance

Appraising Your Estate for Transfer, Divorce or Inheritance
NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg, VA

When it comes time for disposal or transition of your marital property due to divorce or property inherited by you from a deceased relative, one of the first things you may need to determine is its appraised value, whether for re-sale or buy-out purposes.

There are many items to consider within a marital or probate estate, including your financial assets, furniture and household goods, vehicles, and property, and most of the time people say, “I don’t know what it’s worth.” That’s why you need a third-party professional.

Often having to determine this information through the turmoil of a divorce or loss of a loved one is too difficult, and, depending on the nature of the asset, it may be best to employ the services of a professional appraiser to help determine the value.

Although there may be free web services, it can be risky to rely solely on those alone to determine an accurate value, and, for purposes of a divorce, that type of information may be deemed inadmissible by the judge on grounds of “hearsay” or “speculation,” or “lay person lacking expertise to give the appraisal.” It is also likely you might find multiple values on the web and not have a real idea of the actual value of your specific asset. There are many intricacies such as age, condition and desirability that come into play that are not readily available through an Internet listing. Art, certain kinds of collections (such as rare coins), and even jewelry can be especially vulnerable to value fluctuations.

Finding a Professional Appraiser

In the case of a death, the executor or administrator generally determines whether to hire an appraiser, and the fees are paid either as a setoff against the proceeds from a liquidated asset (if the appraiser also sells it for the estate) or from the probate account set up by the executor to hold cash assets belonging to the estate. These expenses may be tax deductible to the estate if the probate estate owes any death taxes on the value of estate. The appraiser’s fee is typically based on either an hourly fee or a percentage of the estate if it is to be liquidated by that appraiser.

Be cautious when employing an appraiser who wants to both appraise and sell your items, or of one who may undervalue an item simply because they wish to purchase it themselves knowing it can be re-sold later at a higher price. This is a conflict of interest and an unethical practice. Watch also for ones who overvalue items when his or her commission is based on percentage of sales.

Inform the appraiser as to your particular need for an appraisal. Do you need the entire contents appraised, or only a select group of items? Your appraiser will help to establish the Fair Market Value for your items.

In the case of a divorce, seek and follow the guidance of your divorce attorney to determine what assets justify the use of an appraiser or which do not, noting that the most common assets involve real estate, a family-owned business or business interest, and pension/retirement benefits.

Your attorney may be able to refer you to a professional property appraiser, or you can check with the professional associations in your area, such as the American Society of Appraisers, the Appraisers Association of America, and the International Society of Appraisers.

Appraisers are not required to hold licenses, but, as members of their associations, they are required to conform to a code of ethics and the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice, pass tests and take continuing education.

Check with these Associations’ records on the appraisers’ backgrounds, looking for any appraisal challenges and their outcomes. Look for an appraiser who has done work similar to yours, and ask for references of people they’ve worked for.

Contact Your Estate Planning Attorney

Whenever there is a change in your estate, due to a divorce or the death of a loved one, it’s prudent to meet with an experienced family law or estate planning/probate attorney who can help you navigate through any processes and update your records appropriately. At the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C., Northern Virginia attorneys Patricia Tichenor and Camellia Safi are ready to provide you guidance and legal representation in your divorce, estate planning, or probate matter. Contact us today.

Setting Up a Memorial Fund

Setting Up a Memorial Fund

Setting Up a Memorial Fund
NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg, VA

Setting up a memorial fund is one of the best and most rewarding ways to pay tribute to a loved one who has passed away, and to help keep their legacy alive. With a memorial fund, families can both preserve the memory of departed loves ones and make a true difference in their community.

There are many types of memorial funds. They can include those aimed at supporting causes or charities that were important to the deceased, or those dedicated to providing assistance to people who are going through similar difficulties or experiences as the departed. They could also be created to provide scholarships or financial assistance to talented young people, or to further the advancement of science or medicine.

Any way it is set up, a memorial fund can truly honor the person who passed away, focusing on the good they brought to the world, while also helping others.

The process can also help family members cope with their loss and grief by directing their thoughts and energy into something positive. It is not uncommon for family members to set up a memorial fund that can aid an organization connected with the deceased’s cause of death, such as those with a mission to raise money for the awareness or prevention of a certain illness.

In some cases, family members are already aware of the deceased’s wishes. This makes setting up a memorial fund much easier, especially if the family knows which organizations or charities the departed held in high esteem. If this is not the case, however, the family should consider those pursuits about which the departed was passionate. A memorial fund could be set up to promote art or help build a library, for example.

Start with the Right Estate Planning Attorney
Setting up and maintaining a memorial fund can be burdensome and time-consuming, and there are many factors to take into consideration before the fund can begin serving its purpose.

Families in Northern Virginia do not have to go through this process alone. With the help of an experienced estate planning law firm like the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C., family members can receive advice and guidance on gathering legal paperwork, contacting organizations or charities, and collecting and dispersing the funds. This framework can allow families to focus on other important aspects of setting up the memorial fund while knowing that all legal matters are promptly and properly promptly dealt with.

Attorney Patricia Tichenor is a specialist in the area of estate law and can assist with all matters concerning the creation and maintenance of a memorial fund. Contact her firm today.

Explore the Tax-Saving Strategy of Lifetime Giving

Explore the Tax-Saving Strategy of Lifetime Giving

Explore the Tax-Saving Strategy of Lifetime Giving
NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg, VA

Giving money or assets to your loved ones during your lifetime rather than having them wait until after your death to collect, is defined as lifetime giving. It is an estate-planning strategy used to reduce estate taxes by spreading gifts throughout your lifetime using certain exemptions created by the federal gift tax laws in the United States.

Gifting involves one person transferring cash, real estate, or assets to another while receiving nothing in return, rather like giving a birthday present to someone. With gifting, you may have the opportunity to help a loved one with needed cash, or you might make unlimited direct payments for their benefit to cover medical or education bills. Plus, you get to see their appreciation and the benefits of such a gift while you are still alive. To qualify, your gift must be a complete and irrevocable transfer.

For Tax Year 2017, the IRS allows a person to give up to $14,000 per year as a gift, without incurring a gift tax or having to report the gift being made on the giver’s tax return. For parents or spouses, the amount each parent can give becomes a “splitting gift” which allows a total gift to say a child of up to $28,000. The recipient also has no obligation to report the gift, and s/he does not owe taxes for the gift (unless it comes from a foreign source).

Amounts exceeding $14,000 given by a single person in a given year, however, require the giver (person making the gift; not the recipient of the gift) to file an IRS Gift Tax Form 709 with the federal government and pay any taxes owed (if applicable) for each dollar that exceeds the $14,000 limit.  Spouses splitting the gift must also file Form 709. However, there is no separate State Gift Tax for a person making a gift who resides in Virginia.  Gift tax is paid after your death.

Form 709 is merely a reporting mechanism for you to report in each calendar year that you are alive all gifts which then exceeded the annual excluded amount. This is because, under federal law, you have a Lifetime Exemption which is currently $5,430,000 (also known as the allowable amount). This Lifetime Exemption applies to the combined:  (1) value of all gifts made during your lifetime in any calendar year to any person which you reported on Form 709 as exceeding the then annual limit (now $14,000 but expected to increase in coming years); and (2) value of your entire estate passing to your beneficiaries at the time of your death, and any gifts provided from the estate over the yearly deduction are subtracted from that total.

A Helpful Example

For example, if you gift your daughter with $150,000 in a single year, the $14,000 is exempted, and you would need to file a gift tax return and report stating that you used $136,000 of your lifetime exemption of $5,430,000. It then reduces your lifetime exemption amount to $5,294,000. However, you could gift $14,000 per year without affecting your lifetime exemption. In addition, if you made additional payments directly to a medical or educational account, these amounts would also not count against your Lifetime Exemption.

Minimize Taxes

Upon your death, what remains of your Lifetime Exemption is subtracted from the total amount of your estate, thus relieving the estate tax burden upon your Estate and, in turn, those who inherit from your Estate. Using the annual gift exclusion, along with paying directly towards medical or educational accounts or providers of such services, may be a very useful way to preserve your lifetime exemption, and minimize taxes down the road.

Gift Tax vs. Inheritance/Estate Tax

Gift Tax and Inheritance or Estate Tax are often confused with one another. An estate tax takes into account everything you own plus your interests upon your death, and applies the estate tax on your right to transfer such property at your death. A Gift is money or property given during your lifetime and may or may not be subject to tax, depending upon your state. Virginia does not require a beneficiary living in Virginia to pay inheritance taxes, while nearby Maryland does. Virginia also does not have a Gift Tax.

Lifetime Gifting is an effective way to help your loved ones during your lifetime, and preserve your estate from possible future estate taxes, with the caveat to ensure that you retain enough money to support yourself throughout your lifetime.

Work with an Estate Planning Attorney

Working with an estate attorney, like Patricia Tichenor or Camellia Safi at the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. can help you avoid making costly mistakes when setting up and implementing your estate plan. If you need an estate planning attorney in Northern Virginia, contact us today.

So You Just Won the Lottery…Now What?

So You Just Won the Lottery…Now What?

So You Just Won the Lottery…Now What?
NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg, VA

You may have heard people say, “If you win the lottery, one of the first things you should do is contact a lawyer.” Well it’s true. But not just for the lottery. Any time you come into a windfall, whether through winnings like the lottery or an inheritance, it is a good idea to double check with an attorney regarding your options, legal rights, and responsibilities. Any income needs to be properly saved, spent, and even preserved to pay taxes.

Hold Off on Spending
First, resist the temptation to rush out and buy a house, car, vacation, or even waste the money with out-of-control spending. Of course, you’ll want to have a little bit of fun with the money, so a small splurge is okay. However, you’d be better served doing a financial review first with a certified financial planner and considering a trust plan with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Decide if it’s prudent to pay off some debts now or not; set-up investment accounts or not; write a revocable or irrevocable trust; invest in real estate, etc. in order to preserve, grow, and make the most of your winnings for yourself and your heirs. Having a plan from the get-go may allow you to have your winnings last throughout your lifetime or the lifetimes of your loved ones as well.

Understand the Tax Requirements
You’ll need to consider any possible taxes that come in the form of final income, gift, death or inheritance taxes as well as any applicable tax credits or exemptions, and even FDIC insurance for accounts holding your winnings. At present, Virginia does not impose either a death or inheritance tax. However, the latter is based on where your beneficiaries reside, so, if your beneficiaries live in another state which has an inheritance tax, they could be liable for inheritance taxes for what you leave to them depending on the plan you implement.

Create a Will or Trust
Virginia, just like all states, has laws governing estate and trust planning, probate, and inheritance. This is why it is so important to consult with a local attorney where you live and draw up a will or trust in order to properly designate the distribution of your assets following your death as well as legally avoid certain taxes and other costs which might reduce what you are able to leave to your beneficiaries. A good estate planning lawyer can help you feel confident that your plan addresses all these issues and implement it for you.

Develop an Estate Plan
Finally, when thinking about your overall estate plan, consider whether you might want to leave a legacy that benefits more than your family members, such as an endowment, foundation, or charitable donation made in your name and memory. An estate planning attorney can help you customize a plan that fits your specific needs and address any unique issues for your heirs, such as special-needs or spendthrift trust planning for children with drug addiction, money, mental health or other issues who might not readily be in a position to handle receiving a direct inheritance from you, or a trust plan based on the relative age of a child or grandchild, focusing on funding education first before direct distributions of cash to that child or grandchild are made.

No matter what type of inheritance or winnings you acquire, it is always best to seek the advice of an estate attorney before doing anything. You certainly don’t want to make a big, expensive mistake simply because you didn’t know your options.

For advice and counsel on what to do when you have acquired a large amount of money, contact attorneys Patricia Tichenor or Camellia Safi at the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. located in Leesburg, Virginia. Contact us today to set your appointment.

The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C.
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