IRS 2015 Gift and Estate Tax Exemption Amounts

The IRS announced the 2015 Gift and Estate Tax Exemption Amounts, along with other tax changes, here.  For persons dying in 2015, the Federal Estate Tax exemption amount has increased to to $5,430,000, up from the 2014 exclusion amount of $5,340,000.  This means that, collectively,  in 2015 a married couple can exclude $10,860,000 from Federal Estate Tax.  The gift tax annual exclusion amount remains $14,000 in 2015.  This means that in 2015, as in 2014, you can transfer up to $14,000 per individual without the necessity of filing a Gift Tax Return.

Estate Planning and Our Four Legged Friends

Yesterday I visited Indianapolis’s Cat Haven, a wonderful local non-profit that provides homes for abandoned cats.  Many of these cats are elderly (10 years old or older), which gave me pause to consider how a cat that age would end up abandoned.  It seems likely to me that those animals may very well have been loved by an owner who passed away, leaving no one to care for the beloved pet.

High-profile estates, such as Joan Rivers, often provide for well-funded pet trusts.  However, planning for your pet to be cared for upon your death does not  require large sums of money, great wealth, or celebrity.  Pet Trusts are legally-enforceable instruments under Indiana law.  You can set aside a certain sum of money to provide for your pet(s) in a Pet Trust, designating a person or persons to care for your pet(s) and providing funds for your pet’s welfare.  Upon your pet’s death, you can direct for any remaining Pet Trust funds (not used for your pet’s benefit during his lifetime) can be distributed to your human beneficiaries or charities.  Even if you do not wish to provide for a Pet Trust, your Last Will and Testament is an ideal place to identify the person(s) who will care for your pet after your death.   I enjoy assisting estate planning clients with Pet Trusts and planning for beloved pets and would be happy to answer questions about planning for pets.

Here are some additional sources of information about planning for a pet’s care in the event of the owner’s death:

Humane Society of the United States: Providing For Your Pet’s Future Without You

ASPCA: Planning for your Pet’s Future

Prof. Gerry W. Beyer: Frequently Asked Questions About Pet Trusts

 

 

Joan Rivers and End of Life Planning

Fellow legal bloggers Danielle and Andy Mayoras (find them here and here) have a great article today about end-of-life lessons to be learned from Joan River’s passing.  All estate plans should include planning for incapacity and end-of-life decision making.  The Mayoras’ article excellently explains why this is so important.

As they explain:  “Too many people think that estate planning is all about wills and trusts.  Far from it, end of life planning is often more important.  In fact, every adult over the age of 18 needs to have some type of advance directive in place.”   The consequences of not having such documents and place, can include a public and invasive guardianship proceedings through the courts, in order for the family to be legally appointed the decision makers.  In the case of facing an end of life decision, such as in Joan Rivers’ example, this process could be particularly painful and compound the grieving process of the family forced to make such decisions.  (Can you imagine the pain of having to go to court to obtain a guardianship while your loved one is near life’s end?)  Further, as the Mayoras explain, the guardianship process “can set the stage for a nasty family fight if people disagree on termination of life support (Terri Schiavo being a prominent example), or even a complete refusal to allow the life support to end, if the patient’s wishes were never reflected in writing.”

Bottom line: incapacity planning, including appointing a decisionmaker and stating your end-of-life wishes through a Living Will, are essential to any solid estate plan.  Such planning is an invaluable gift to yourself and your loved ones.

Estate Planning Beyond Documents

See the New York Times today for an article titled There’s More to Estate Planning Than the Will.  It is an excellent article and well worth the read.  I agree with the conclusion that documents are not enough.  While it is truly a gift to your family and loved ones to have all of your documents in place and up to date, the gift of well organized affairs — paperwork, passwords, records all in one place and organized — cannot be overstated.   I have seen firsthand the relief and deep appreciation of surviving family members when their deceased loved one has left everything “all in order.”  It is a true gift.

The article describes the book by author Erik A. Dewey.  His Big Book of Everything can be downloaded for free here.  What a nice gift!  His form, or a similar one, could be a good place to start — in addition to estate planning documents — to “get your affairs in order.”

 

 

What Can Celebrity Deaths Teach Us?

High profile celebrity deaths are regularly in the headlines. The ongoing legal battle faced by Anna Nicole Smith, and now her Estate, continues.  That case included allegations of interference with inheritance.  Casey Kasem‘s last months raise questions about guardianship, elder abuse, fiduciary roles, and end of life decision making.  Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s estate plan, lacking in planning for the Federal Estate Tax and failing to include a child born after the his Will was executed, was largely seen as incomplete protection for his family.  Similarly, James Gandolfini’s Will was panned.  As one commentator summarized, “the most common tag-line is that his will is a tax disaster.”   In contrast, Robin Williams’ estate plan, is viewed by some as an example of a solid planning.

These estates serve as reminders for all of us to revisit our estate plans.  Key among the lessons are that even if you have a plan in place, you need to revisit that plan every couple of years or after a change in life, such as after the birth of a child or a divorce.  Questions to consider:

Do you have an estate plan?  Do you have a Will?  Could a Trust be a helpful instrument for you?

When is the last time you reviewed your plan?

Are all of your children included in your plan?  Who do you name as their guardians?  Are these still the right people?

Do you have trusts to provide for your children until the are the appropriate ages to handle money?

Do you have incapacity documents in place?  Who have you named to be decisionmakers in the event you are incapacitated?  Are they still the right people?

Could your Estate be subject to Federal Estate Tax?  Do you have a plan in place to minimize potential Federal Estate Tax liability?

Adult Guardianships in Indiana

Good planning for the possibility of future incapacitates, can decrease the likelihood of ever needing a guardianship.  However, if documents are not in place, or even if they are, a guardianship can be needed in certain situations.

What is an adult guardianship?

An adult guardianship is a court proceeding by which a court adjudicates whether a person has the capacity to make financial and medical decisions for herself.  It is a serious proceeding.  A determination of incapacity means the loss of many legal rights, including the ability to enter into contracts.  If the court determines that an individual is incapacitated, the court appoints a guardian to make decisions for the incapacitated person.  The guardian role is similar to that of an attorney-in-fact and health care representative, documents that can be prepared when an individual has capacity, for future incapacity planning.

When is a guardianship needed?

A guardianship may be needed when an individual is no longer able to make financial and health decisions for himself.  This may be due to illness, injury, or other cause.  Guardianship is also available for children due to their age of minority.  Even if Power of Attorney and Appointment of Health Care Representative in place, a guardianship can be necessary, particularly in cases of financial elder abuse or people seeking to take advantage of the incapacitated person.

Who can be appointed as guardian of an adult?

Under Indiana law, the court will first look to the individual named as in a Power of Attorney document as the Attorney-in-Fact to serve as guardian.  If there is no qualified Attorney-in-Fact, the court would next give priority to a spouse followed by an adult child, if that person is suitable and willing to serve.  An independent person or an corporate fiduciary could also serve in this role.

What is guardianship of the person?

A guardian of a person is responsible for the food, health, and shelter needs of an incapacitated person.  The guardian is responsible for the physical and emotional well being of the incapacitated person.  The guardian makes healthcare decisions for the incapacitated person and is responsible for making sure the living arrangements for the incapacitated person are appropriate for their needs.

What is a guardianship of the estate?

A guardian of the estate is responsible for the financial affairs of the incapacitated person.  The guardian will pay the incapacitated person’s bills and manage their finances.  The guardian has a duty to prepare and file an inventory with the court and file regular accounting.

Does a guardianship process require the assistance of an attorney?

In addition to the obtaining the assistance of an attorney in the guardianship filing and procedure with the court, once appointed, a guardian will benefit from the assistance and advise of legal counsel in carrying out their responsibilities and duties.  An attorney will prepare the guardianship petition, represent the potential guardian before the court, and will assist with the preparation of the inventory and accounting to be filed with the court.  The guardian serves in a fiduciary role, and an attorney can advise the guardian as to his responsibilities and duties in that role.

An alleged incapacitated person also has a right to be represented by counsel in the guardianship proceedings, and may wish for counsel to protect his rights.

Dying Without a Will in Indiana – Part II: Indiana’s “Default” Estate Plan for Married Persons

First Marriage and no children:  Your surviving spouse will receive three-fourths (3/4ths) of your estate and your surviving parents will receive one-fourth (1/4) of your estate.  If your parents predecease you, then your surviving spouse will receive all of your estate.

Who does this default “plan” exclude?  In the event your parents survive you, your spouse is not fully provided for by your estate.  This plan also excludes everyone else for whom you may wish to provide, including your stepchildren, siblings, friends, and charities.

Married and children with your spouse:  Your surviving spouse will receive one-half (1/2) of your estate and your surviving children will share one-half (1/2) of your estate.

Who does this default “plan” exclude?  Neither your spouse nor your children are fully provided for by your estate.  This plan also excludes everyone else for whom you may wish to provide, including your parents, stepchildren, siblings, friends, and charities.

Second (or subsequent) Marriage, and no children with current spouse:  Your surviving spouse (who did not have children with you) will receive one-half (1/2) of your estate personal property, but only one-fourth (1/4th) of your net real estate.  Your surviving children (from a prior marriage) will share one-half (1/2) of your estate and three-fourths (3/4ths) of your net real estate.

Who does this default “plan” exclude?  Neither your spouse nor your children are fully provided for by your estate.  This plan also excludes everyone else for whom you may wish to provide, including your parents, stepchildren, siblings, friends, and charities.

Dying Without a Will: Indiana’s Default Estate Plan

Indiana law provides a “default” estate plan for you, if you do not have a Will at your death.   This is called an “intestate” estate.

Does Indiana’s default plan match your intentions to provide for your loved ones?  Here’s a guide to determine what the law would provide if you died without a Will in Indiana.

First, a look at your estate plan if you are not married:

Not Married and without children:  Indiana law provides for your estate to be distributed, in equal shares, to your surviving parents and siblings.  Each of your surviving parents will receive no less than one-fourth of your estate.

Who does this default “plan” exclude?  Everyone else.  Only your brothers and sisters (or their children, if a sibling dies before you) and your parents will receive your estate.  A significant other, regardless of years together, will be excluded, as will lifelong friends or caregivers.  Each sibling will be treated equally, regardless of whether your relationship with that sibling was a good one.

Not Married, with children:  Your children will receive your estate, in equal shares.

Who does this default “plan” exclude?  Again, everyone else.  Only your children, in equal shares, will receive an interest in your estate.

In either of these situations, dying intestate as an unmarried person means that friends, other relatives, significant others, and charities, are completely excluded from your “default” estate plan.

Four Essential Documents

Estate planning can sometimes appear complicated, full of acronyms and sophisticated sounding concepts. While it is true that estate planning can be complicated, in its simplest form, an Indiana estate plan should consist of at least the following four documents:

  1. Last Will and Testament. In its most basic form, your Will provides for you to direct the distribution of your assets titled to your name individually upon your death and appoint a person (or persons) to administer your estate upon your death. If you die without a Will, assets titled in your individual name may be subject to intestate administration.
  1. Appointment of Health Care Representative. Also called Health Care Proxy and Health Care Power of Attorney, this document provides for the appointment of a person (or persons) to make medical decisions for you in the event that you are incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself.
  1. General Durable Power of Attorney. In your General Durable Power of Attorney, you name a person (or persons) to make financial decisions for you in the event of your incapacity.
  1. Living Will. Your Living Will allows you to state your preferences regarding end of life decisions in the event of an incurable illness or persistent vegetative state.