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4 Common Estate Planning Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make

Estate Planning

Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid
NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg, VA

Estate planning can be a difficult and stressful process, and mistakes and oversights are common. After all, there’s a lot to consider when writing a will and naming beneficiaries, and it’s easy to miss a thing or two.

Unfortunately, the cost of these errors often falls on your loved ones when certain aspects of your will are not properly carried out.

Below are four frequent estate planning mistakes that could jeopardize the execution of your final wishes.

1. Only writing a will

A will is the most commonly discussed estate planning document, but it’s not the only one you need. You should also have a power of attorney – a legal agreement to give another person the authority to make important financial and medical decisions for you if you have lost the capacity to do so yourself while you’re alive. You can have separate POA agreements for financial versus medical decisions, but whoever you choose for the role(s) should be someone you trust to act in the best interest of you and your family. Without these documents, a court-appointed agent or a doctor could be the one making decisions about your assets and medical care.

2. Assigning responsibilities to the wrong individuals

Naming someone as an estate executor, a trustee, or a guardian to your minor children may seem like a great honor, but it also comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility. Think about whether the people you choose for these roles can handle the duties involved, as well as whether they might let family conflicts or greed get in the way of carrying out your intentions. Sometimes, it’s better to name an objective non-family member or hire a professional trustee who does not stand to benefit from your assets.

3. Never updating your will or beneficiaries

Estate planning is not a one-and-done activity. As you go through life, your circumstances and relationships will change, and you need to continually update your estate planning documents to reflect your current situation, especially if someone you’ve named as a beneficiary passes away or is otherwise no longer in your life.

Many experts recommend reviewing your will every three to five years, but at minimum, you should update it whenever you experience a major life event – marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, the death of a relative, etc. It’s also important to keep track of assets that are transferred outside the probate process – such as retirement accounts, life insurance, and joint property – and ensure your beneficiary designations are up-to-date.

4. Not making estate plans at all

A 2017 BMO Wealth Management survey found that a staggering 52 percent of Americans have not made a formal will. Verbally telling family members about your intentions or writing a letter for your children to open upon your passing does not constitute a legally valid last will and testament.

It can be scary to face your own mortality and procrastinate on estate planning, but it’s even scarier to think about the legal, financial, and emotional aggravation your children and surviving relatives will have to deal with if you don’t have a plan in place.

How to Avoid Estate Planning Mistakes

The best way to secure your family’s future is to work with a professional to create and update your estate planning documents. An experienced estate planning attorney will help you cover all your bases, and include the right legal language to ensure your wishes are honored. Even if you write your own will, you should still hire a lawyer to review and revise it.

Contact The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. to speak with one of our counselors about your estate plans 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.

The Act of Revoking or Changing a Will

The Act of Revoking or Changing a Will

The Act of Revoking or Changing a Will
NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg, VA

Once you have prepared your Will, whether through a trusted attorney or by using an on-line software program, there may come a time when you need to update or change it. Since life is never stagnant, you should ensure that any life changes appear in your Will so that your wishes are carried out following your death.

It is not unusual for people to try to make changes to their Will simply by hand-writing on their existing Will, or typing up a short, separate letter to put with their Will. Unfortunately, these methods of making updates or changes are not only unlikely to be unenforceable, but, in the worst-case scenario, they may actually result in your invalidating your existing estate plan in its entirety.

Even if you use an attorney and have them prepare a Codicil to your existing Will, this separate document that adds to or amends the terms of your Will is often misplaced or lost by the time of your death. This is why it is often better to have a new Will prepared and signed which revokes your existing Will, thereby ensuring that your most current plans or wishes are honored. A Codicil is also best used when there is not enough time to prepare and sign a new Will and only so long as very small or simple changes are to be made. A new Will that clearly states your intention to revoke all prior Wills will cancel your original Will.

Can a Power of Attorney Change a Will?
If you have issued Power of Attorney to someone, they are not granted the right to change your Last Will and Testament, although they may be able to do damage to your estate by liquidating or moving assets you intended to pass along to your beneficiaries. To prevent this, you should consider appointing more than one person to serve as your financial Power of Attorney and specify that they must act either unanimously or by majority when it comes to determining your affairs. If abuse is suspected, your loved ones can file a case for breach of fiduciary duty with the courts, but that does not ensure that your beneficiaries are able to recoup the value of missing or mishandled assets. This can be especially difficult where transfers involve real estate holdings, stock, or even family heirlooms.

Reasons to Change your Will
Both your circumstances and the law can change, and this may trigger the desire to make changes to your Will. In addition, you should periodically review your estate plan (Will and Powers of Attorney) to ensure that your current circumstances and goals are properly addressed. Such changes can be triggered by new or changed relationships as a result of a divorce, re-marriage, birth or adoption of a child, emancipation of a special needs child, disability of yourself or a beneficiary of your existing documents, or a newly-acquired asset including money and real estate. In addition, obtaining guidance on how to avoid probate for assets that you may wish to pass outside the terms of your Will can be invaluable advice when updating your estate plan.

Contact Your Attorney
To create a legal and binding Will, to make changes to an existing Will, or to prevent eventualities that may impede your ability to pass along your assets to your beneficiaries, it is always best to consult with an Attorney. At the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C., attorneys Patricia Tichenor and Camellia Safi are specialists in the area of estate law and can assist with all matters concerning Wills, Trusts, and Estates. Contact us today.

Don’t Let Errors Derail Your Retirement Income Plan

Don’t Let Errors Derail Your Retirement Income Plan NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg, Virginia

Don’t Let Errors Derail Your Retirement Income Plan
NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg, Virginia

When people talk about retirement income planning, they are most often referring to the assets they have in their IRA and 401(k) plans, and how they will withdraw that money, transfer it, or move it from place to place.

What they need to be careful of, however, is doing it properly. If done incorrectly, it could cost a person dearly in taxes. Here are some points to remember:

Remember Required Minimum Distributions

When taking IRA distributions, a minimum withdrawal is required once a person reaches an age that is six months past his or her 70th birthday. The penalty for not taking enough out is substantial: it can cost 50% on the under-distributed amount.

Defer Taking Inherited Money
When inheriting money, one might be tempted to take the money in cash, but that is not the best solution. It is better to spread out distribution of that money over a term of several years. This will ease the potential tax burden and create a stream of income.

Heed Deadlines when Transferring Money

When the lure of a higher interest rate or can’t-pass-up opportunity arises, people should be careful about how they transfer their assets. If they transfer funds themselves, by taking a distribution from one savings plan and rolling it into another, they must complete the transaction within 60 days of the distribution or risk a 20% mandatory withholding on the amount withdrawn, a penalty for early liquidation of the account. This penalty is collected by the retirement plan administrator and sent to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Additionally, funds can only be transferred once per year.

A better way to transfer money is to have it sent via direct transfer from one investment company to another. This method carries no withholding, no amount limits, and is a much-more hands-off procedure for a casual investor who is looking for a better return.

Contact Your Attorney

To avoid making costly mistakes with your retirement income, it is always a good idea to consult with an attorney who specializes in estate planning issues, like Patricia Tichenor or Camellia Safi at the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. Contact us today.

–excerpted from MarketWatch, “Tax Mistakes That Can Wreck Your Retirement,” Andrea Coombes, Feb. 21, 2012.

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