Posts

Special Needs Trusts

The Three Flavors of Special Needs Trusts: #1 Third-Party Trusts

Estate Planning law firm Baron Law Cleveland offers the following part 1 of a three part series of explaining the difference trusts available for those who have loved ones with Special Needs.  Dan Baron of Baron Law can advise what is best trust for your situation as the trusts are as individual as your loved one.

According to recent statistics for the National Organization on Disability, nearly 1/5 of all Americans, almost 54 million, have a physical, sensory, or intellectual disability. Every one of those 54 million have parents, siblings, family members, and loved ones who want to ensure they are comfortable and provided for. As with many things with special needs persons, the solution for providing for them isn’t straightforward or simple. This is where special needs trusts often play a pivotal role in providing support and estate planning peace of mind.

Special Needs Trusts: A Primer

Special Needs Trusts, as their name suggests, are trusts. As trusts, they hold the common characteristics and features shared by all trusts. A trust, to put it simply, is a private agreement that allows a third party, a trustee, to manage the assets that are placed inside the trust for the benefit of trust beneficiaries. There are innumerable types of trusts, each with own its respective legal conventions and purposes. A critical aspect of trusts is that the assets housed within them usually aren’t counted as a part of the trust creator’s taxable estate. Thus, when the owner of the trust creates the trust and properly funds it, the assets go from the owner’s taxable estate to the trust. Afterwards, when the owner dies, the assets are not in the owner’s estate and subject to probate.

The distinguishing aspect and purpose of special needs trusts, sometimes referred as supplemental needs trusts, is that resources placed within these trusts can be managed for the benefit of a person with special needs but still allow them to qualify for public benefits like supplemental security income and Medicaid. This allows grantors, those who create the trust, usually in this instance parents of someone with special needs, to provide much need stable and monetary support while still allowing often indispensable social assistance programs for their children, even long after the parents pass. Third-party trusts seek to supplement income from assistance programs not to replace it.

Third-Party Special Needs Trusts

In general, there are three types of special needs trusts: Third-party trusts, self-settled trusts, and pooled trusts. Of focus here is third-party special needs trusts. The name denotes the defining characteristic of this trust, that a third-party set up a trust and funded the trust. This is also its most critical aspect because the funds and/or assets in the trust never belonged to the beneficiary with special needs, the government is not entailed to reimbursement for Medicaid payments made to the beneficiary nor are these assets taken into account when calculatng either initial or continued eligibility for government assistance programs for the special needs person.

These trusts are usually set up as a part of a comprehensive estate plan that initially provides a place to house gifts given by family members during their life to someone with special needs and later to also house inheritance from these same family members when they pass. Third-party special needs trusts are often denoted as beneficiaries on life insurance polices or certain retirements accounts. Further, these trusts can also own real estate or investments in the name of the trust but for the ultimate benefit of the person with special needs.

Advantages of Third-Party Special Needs Trusts

A big advantage of third-party special needs trusts is that, while the grantor is living, funds in the trust usually generate income tax for the grantor, not for the special needs beneficiary. This shift in taxation is dependent on proper drafting which is why experienced counsel is always recommended with special needs trusts. This tax shift avoids the hassle and stress of having to file income tax returns for an otherwise non-taxable special needs beneficiary and also having to explain the income to the Social Security Administration or other interested government entity.

Additionally, because it a trust, ultimately what happens after the special needs beneficiary is controlled by the grantor, you. Thus, the grantor always retains control and upon the special needs beneficiary’s death, the assets in the trust pass according to the grantor’s express wishes, even longer after death, and usually to the grantor’s surviving family member or other charitable institutions. This means the special needs person is always provided for, and far-above those people solely dependent on government assistance, and the money, at the end, will continue to do good for either your family or the world at large.

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future

Estate Planning Attorney

What Is The Difference Between A Living And Testamentary Trust?

Your estate plan consists of many documents and covers a lot of bases. From protecting assets from creditors and litigants to avoiding probate, a comprehensive estate plan protects you while you’re living and provides for loved ones after death. Because estate plans are, by design, comprehensive, a lot of legal jargon is thrown around and often it’s difficult to keep track of all the nuance and detail. Durable powers of attorney, QTIP elections, unlimited martial deduction, and all the many names of the many different types of trusts, to name a few.  

That said, one of the most common questions posed during an initial estate planning consultation is, what is the difference between a living and a testamentary trust? Years ago testamentary trusts were all the rage, a lot of people have them but don’t know how they work or if they are even providing any benefits to the ultimate goals of estate planning. Since trusts represent one of the most utilitarian estate planning tools, in that they have the ability to do many useful and advantageous things in regards to estate planning, understanding the difference between living and testamentary trusts is critical to providing context to any advice given by Ohio estate planning attorneys.  

  • What is trust? 

As always, we must start with the basics, what is a trust? A trust, to put it simply, is a private agreement that allows a third party, a trustee, to manage the assets that are placed inside the trust for the benefit of trust beneficiaries. There are innumerable types of trusts, each with own its respective legal conventions and purposes. A critical aspect of trusts is that the assets housed within them usually aren’t counted as a part of the trust creator’s taxable estate. Thus, when the owner of the trust creates the trust and properly funds it, the assets go from the owner’s taxable estate to the trust. Afterwards, when the owner dies, the assets are not in the owner’s estate and subject to probate. 

  • What is a living trust? 

A living trust, also called an inter-vivos trust, is simply a trust created when you are alive. They can be either revocable and irrevocable and when someone is talking about a trust, usually it’s a living trust. Living is the umbrella term for a trust and is usually paired with other descriptive terms such as family, asset protection, or revocable or irrevocable to describe the primary purpose of the trust and what it is designed to do. Living trusts must have the same basic composition as other normal trusts, a grantor, trustee, and beneficiary.   

  • What is a testamentary trust? 

A testamentary trust is created in your last will and testament, specifically, it directs your executor of the estate to create it.  Thus, unlike a living trust, a testamentary trust will not take effect until you die.  The terms of the trust are amendable and revocable, in that they can be changed at any time, which makes sense because it doesn’t come into being until after death.  

One of the major distinguishing features of a testamentary trust is the involvement of the local probate court. From the time of the settlor’s death until the expiration of the testamentary trust, the probate court checks up on the trust to make sure it is being managed properly. Court involvement is usually sought in the context of testamentary trusts because these trusts are usually created for beneficiaries who, for some reason, are unable to received and manage trust funds appropriately.  

  • When would you use one over the other?  

At the end of the day, just like every other estate planning decision, it is all circumstantial and highly depend on personal situation and estate planning goals. (Which is why estate planning attorneys ask so many questions when you first meet them.) For the sake of some definitive answer, however, there are some tried and true situations when one is preferable over the other.  

If you are interested in avoiding probate, avoiding excessive court oversight, keeping your estate private, and saving your estate money by simplifying property conveyances and avoiding potential will contests, then a living will is likely a good choice. As mentioned before, since living trusts can be created to meet almost any goal or concern of estate planning, the major deciding factors of use is initial cost and ultimate utility of a trust, i.e. there is no point buying a trust if you have nothing to fund it with.   

Testamentary trusts, on the other hand, are created for young children who may be at risk of receiving improper inheritances or trust distributions, family members with disabilities, or other who may get large amounts of money or assets that enter into the estate upon a testator’s death. Further, these trusts are often highly recommended for parents who are at risk of dying at the same time. 

A testamentary trust can set parameters on your estate and how it will be distributed and/or managed after you pass on.  For example, you might include terms that allow for discretionary distributions of $1,000 a month to be given to your children until the age of 21 in the event both parents pass. This ensure that, even if tragedy strikes, the kids will, at least in some way, be supported by their parents, whether they’re gone or not.  At the end of the day, testamentary trusts, like all trusts, allows estate control even after death. Testamentary trusts are unique, however, in that the allow for greater oversight, via the courts, in what’s going on inside the trust. This can be a double-edged sword, however, in that, depending on how long the court needs to be involved, legal fees and administrative costs could add up making this trust structure unattractive if the trust is designed to last a long time.  

Again, dependent on the circumstances, such as estate planning goals, family structure, available estate assets, either or both types of trusts may be advantageous to use. A Cleveland estate planning attorney is in the best position to judge what is most appropriate for a given situation.

 

Charitable Trust Attorney

Thinking Of Giving To A Charity? Consider A Charitable Remainder Trust.

Significant and stable retirement income, reduction in taxes, whether income, capital gains, or estate respectively, and the provision of critical needed support for worthy charitable organizations and endeavors. If any, or all, of these sound good to you and your estate planning goals, charitable remainder trusts might be a useful option. Charitable remainder trusts, not to be confused with charitable lead trusts, is a way many people are planning for retirement but also “paying it forward.”  

  • What is a Charitable Remainder Trust? 

A charitable remainder trust is a type of irrevocable trust. Irrevocable trusts are trusts in which the grantor, you, relinquishes all control and ownership over the trust and the assets used to fund the trust. Thus, the trust cannot be changed or canceled without the beneficiaries’ permission. Prior to trust formation, the grantor can dictate whatever terms desired to govern the trust, but after formation, those terms control independent of grantor’s wishes and desires. 

What makes an ordinary irrevocable trust in to a charitable remainder trust are a few unique characteristics. Namely, the guiding purpose of the trust and the remainder interest. First, usually, the primary goals with a charitable remainder trust is to reduce taxes and provide additional retirement income. The namesake charitable remainder, however, denotes that eventually, after the grantor passes, whatever is left over in the trust, the remainder, is given to a chosen charity.   

  • How do Charitable Remainder Trusts help pay for retirement? 

The name of game is tax reduction and maximizing potential income production, but how do charitable remainder trusts accomplish this. In a nutshell, it begins with transferring high valued assets into an irrevocable trust, thus initially avoiding estate taxes when making the trust.  

After funding, assets are then sold by the trustee, thus avoiding capital gains on the sale, and these proceeds are reinvested into income producing assets, which can add to available retirement income. Additionally, after you pass, the whatever is left in trust, the remainder, passes on to the charitable beneficiary. The precise manner how a grantor will receive income is usually either a fixed distribution rate via percentage value of appreciated assets or a flat amount of actual income earned by trust assets.   

It should be noted, that charitable remainder trusts should not be viewed as the primary vehicle in which an individual will pay for retirement, these trusts really supplement income more than anything. This reality is largely due to the nature of these trusts. A large trust funding takes full advantage of the associated tax breaks, has the ability to earn significant and usable income for retirement expenses based off the initial principle funding, and, at the end of life, represent a charitable contribution large enough to actually make a different in the world. Thus, if an estate is healthy enough in which a charitable remainder trust is an attractive option, usually the grantor(s) have a lesser concern with the financials of old age.  

  • How are Charitable Remainder Trusts taxed?  

At initial funding of a charitable remainder trust, estate tax is avoided on the assets placed in trust and an immediate charitable income tax deduction is enjoyed. The charitable income tax deduction often bumps the grantor down to a lower tax bracket for the year. Additionally, capital gains are avoided when the trustee liquidates trust assets for reinvestment.  

Regarding annual personal income tax for monies distributed from the trust, this is usually paid per your individual income tax rate, however, often at this point in people’s lives, when they are no longer personally working, and most money and assets have already been transferred into various estate planning tools, people are often in the lowest tax bracket. Further, though distributions from a charitable remainder trust are taxable income, often, if proper estate planning was implemented, the total amount for a taxable estate is so low for a person that distributions for a charitable remainder trust are, for all intents and purposes, tax free. 

  • Do I give up control over what I put in my Charitable Remainder Trust? 

No, the trustee you select to manage the trust will govern the trust and its assets according to the rules and terms you dictate at creation. You are always in control. Further, grantors may retain the right to change the trustee if they are doing a poor job or change the charity to another qualified charity without losing any past or future tax advantages.  

  • If I help out my favorite charity with a Charitable Remainder Trusts, won’t my children be mad? 

The happiness of your friends and family all comes down to proper planning. For those people with sizable estates, it is no problem to leave significant money to both children and favorite charities, there’s more than enough for everyone. There is a common concern, however, that people with modest estates don’t have the option to charitably bequest anything, I mean, there’s only so much to go around right?  

Not exactly. Yes, it is correct that money and assets are finite, but, with the income tax savings inherent in using a charitable remainder trust, a person always has the option to either fund an irrevocable life insurance trust or buy a life insurance policy outright. Either way, the life insurance purchased with the tax savings can replace the full value of any assets left to charity and make sure any surviving children receive their full inheritance as well. Using life insurance, via trust or ordinary policy, also avoids probate concerns and income taxes. Estate tax and asset protection concerns, however, on any policy proceeds will only be addressed through the use of a life insurance trust. Ensuring children aren’t left out in the cold when it comes to inheritance is a major concern for most people, make sure your Ohio estate planning attorney is giving a comprehensive rundown of all of your estate planning options, life insurance options included.      

If you think a charitable remainder trust could help you and your family, speak with your Ohio estate planning attorney. You can convert appreciated assets into lifetime income. You can receive an immediate charitable income tax deduction. You can remove assets from your estate, thus reducing estate taxes. And since no capital gains apply when the assets are sold, you receive more to reinvest in income generating property. All of which is in addition to make a substantial gift to your favorite charity.  

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future

Estate Planning Attorney

Are Your Parents in a Nursing Home? Here Are Ways to Prevent Medicaid Estate Recovery

Medicaid crisis planning has become a hot topic in estate planning. More people need Medicaid to survive the issues and problems of old age but very few actually take the time to address and plan for this all too important need. Contrary to popular belief, Medicaid is not free money. Medicaid is a needs based state and federal program which applicability is primarily focused on recipient income and assets. By waiting too long, though a person may have a sever need for Medicaid support, in the eyes of the program, they’re “too rich” to qualify. At this point, they are left waiting in a state of poverty or sacrificing a lifetime of investment and savings, the spend down, to qualify. Don’t let this happen to you.

Since Medicaid enrollment is surging across the country and the baby boomer generation is aging, the significance of Medicaid enrollment and planning cannot be understated. As always, contact a local Cleveland estate planning attorney to find out how to plan your estate to maintain eligibility for Medicaid, preserve the maximum amount of assets possible while still maintaining that eligibility, and avoid or proactively plan around the Ohio Medicaid Estate Recovery program, “MER”. The MER program is something not a lot of people have heard of, but it can potentially effect millions of senior citizens every year. The government doesn’t care that you’ve heard of the law, only that it is followed.

What is the Medicaid Estate Recovery Program?

The Medicaid Estate Recovery program is a federally mandated program which dictates that when a Medicaid recipient dies, the MER program, carried out by the Ohio Attorney general’s office, will attempt to recover from the estate what Medicaid paid for the services provided. Generally, the program will attempt to recover any medical assistance paid by Medicaid if 1) the Medicaid recipient was aged 55 years or older, 2) the Medicaid benefits were correctly paid, and 3) the recipient was permanently institutionalized, like residing in a nursing home or PASSPORT facility.

What assets are recoverable?

For purposes of the MER, the state uses an expansive definition of “estate assets,” which includes any property a Medicaid recipient had any legal ownership interest in at the time of death. Such as assets in a living trust, assets owned jointly, real property tenancies, and TOD and POD designated assets. After death, even property Medicaid determined exempt during a recipient’s lifetime, such as a house accompanied with an intent to return, household goods, or life insurance policies, are subject to recovery. That is why to be aware of the Medicaid lookback period and plan asset ownership and transfer accordingly.

What assets are except?

As a starting point, remember that to qualify for Medicaid, an individual’s countable resources must be below $1500. The good news, however, is that exempt resources and assets do not count towards this total, at least initially. The following is a non-exhaustive list of exempt resources from Medicaid.

  • One automobile – if less than $4500 or any value to the non-institutionalized spouse. This is associated with the Community Spouse Resource Allowance, consult your estate planning attorney for more information.
  • Household goods – plates, clothes, books, etc.
  • Burial plots – burial plot, gravesite, casket, urn, etc.
  • Prepaid burials
  • Qualified Medicaid annuities
  • Qualified Long-term Care Insurance Policies – these are special insurance products that most insurance companies don’t carry, contract your insurance agent. These polices provide LTC in order to avoid depleting assets spent on Medicaid for long-term care.
  • Primary residence – exempt if non-institutionalized spouse or child under 21 who is blind or disabled is living there. Institutionalized spouse can claim primary residence exemption if obtain affidavit of intent to return.
  • Sale of a house – very nuanced exemption rules but, in a nut shell, if actively attempting to sell a house and if you follow Medicaid regulations, though technically you still own property that would make not you Medicaid ineligible, this ownership and sale won’t effect eligibility.

Exemptions to Medicaid countable resources aren’t really considered in most estate plans, even those specifically geared towards preserving assets and ensuring Medicaid qualification. They do, however, become of critical importance in the context of Medicaid crisis planning. Those situations where Medicaid support is needed immediately but no proper estate planning took place in the proceedings years when Medicaid eligibility wasn’t a concern. At this point, every avenue and tactic of getting into Medicaid and sheltering estate assets is analyzed, all at the expense of the family who failed to plan is now scrambling. As any estate planning attorney or financial planner will tell you, the up-front cost of proactively planning is nothing compared to doing everything last minute in a time of dire need.

Most people have spent a lifetime amassing wealth, property, and possessions that they want to leave to friends and family. Assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and hospice care, however, are often possibilities no one contemplates, let alone proactively prepares for. Federal and state assistance programs such as Medicaid often play a critical role in providing the necessary financial support in our elder years. The MER program, however, means that the use of these programs is not without cost. A cost that is regularly not understood when the need is greatest and rarely known by the surviving family when estate assets are taken by the government for services rendered. An estate planning attorney has the knowledge and can formulate the appropriate strategies for your goals and worries to ensure that the most amount of assets go where you want them to go and not to Uncle Sam.

You don’t have to be rich to protect what you’ve spent a lifetime trying to build. To find out whether a trust is right for your family, take the one-minute questionnaire at www.DoIneedaTrust.com. There are a number of different trusts available and the choices are infinite. With every scenario, careful consideration of every trust planning strategy should be considered for the maximum asset protection and tax savings.

Baron Law Cleveland Ohio

Planning for Crisis: Advance Directives

Estate planning is an expansive concept. Fundamentally, estate planning seeks to create a detailed plan for your finances, healthcare, and assets for the reminder of life and after death, to the extent physically possible and within the means of the estate planner. Though it would be nice if a crystal ball existed and told us what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, estate planning must resort to educated guesses and client preference.

An experienced Cleveland estate planning attorney knows there are limitations on his abilities. Some matters can’t be foreseen or preplanned for, such as changes in relevant law or undisclosed heirs or assets. There are also limitations brought on by estate planning clients themselves, such as financial restrictions or outright refusal to take the advice of experienced counsel or professionals.  These limits aside, most people looking to plan their estate are concerned with the usual issues affecting us all. Principally, ways to ensure money exists for the rest of life and instructions and preferences regarding necessary medical care. For most, the extent necessary medical care is planned for extends only to telling adult children whether or not they want to be kept alive in the event of a coma or other traumatic injury. Needless to say, this is not good enough and will most likely be forgotten or disregarded. Any Ohio estate planner worth their salt would not let you get away with such half-measures regarding critical medical treatment, and this brings us to advance directives.

What are advance directives and why do I need them?

Simply put, advance directives are legal documents that provide detailed instructions about who should oversee your medical treatment and what your end-of-life or life-sustaining wishes are. Thus, in the event you are unable to speak for yourself, such in the event of coma, traumatic injury, or terminal disease, your family and medical professionals can refer to your advance directives and find out what you want to do.

There are multiple advance directive documents which convey your medical wishes and/or gives authority to another to make medical decisions on your behalf. Which particular document is needed is highly dependent on your medical circumstances, usually focusing on the type of medical treatment contemplated/needed and whether or not you have capacity to make medical decisions yourself. Though there exists many advance directive documents out there, the two most common are healthcare powers of attorney and living wills.

Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney

A healthcare power of attorney allows you to appoint a trusted person to make all healthcare decisions in the event that 1) you become terminally ill and are unable to make your own healthcare decisions or 2) are either temporarily or permanently unable to make medical decisions for yourself. The person you designate with this authority has the power to carry out your wishes and make all other necessary decisions about your medical treatment and other healthcare matters.

Make sure after completing your healthcare power of attorney to at least file it with your primary care physician/provider. The document cannot act to protect you if no one knows about it or knows where it is. Though similar to your financial power of attorney, a healthcare power of attorney only concerns issues of medical treatment. Both work in concert to provide whomever you chose to act in your best interest the legal authority to do so. Talk with your Cleveland estate planning attorney to make sure your powers of attorney are valid and up-to-date.

Living Will

Your living will, sometimes called a healthcare proxy, is almost always paired with your healthcare power of attorney. A living will is a document that conveys your particular instructions to certain medical situations, principally impending death or prolonged terminal conditions, i.e. accepting or declining of life saving medical care. Lesser issues, such blood transfusions or non-life threatening organ or tissue transplants are covered under a healthcare power of attorney. That is why it is important to have both in effect, so all your bases are covered.

Often estate planning clients say that they have communicated their wishes about life sustaining treatment, however, often how it really turns out, friends and family are unaware of an incapacitated person’s medical directives or they may choose to discount or ignore previous conversations, believing that you will pull through against all odds and medical advice. By memorializing your medical directives via a living will, medical staff will consult the document at the appropriate time and carry out your wishes. This takes the stress of critical care decisions off the shoulders of loved ones and removes any opportunity for foul play or misinterpretation. Be sure to consult with your Ohio estate planning attorney to make sure your living will is up-to-date and complies with any recent changes in Ohio law.

Other Types of Advance Directives: DNR’s and Donor Registry Forms

 It is worth noting a few additional advance directive documents as well, namely Do Not Resuscitate Orders and Organ/Tissue Donor Registry Enrollment Forms. Both documents respectively seek to further clarify your medical wishes. DNRs are used when a medical emergency occurs and alerts medical personnel that a person does not wish to receive CPR in the even that the heart or breathing stops.  Organ/Tissue Donor Registry Enrollment Forms supplement your healthcare power of attorney and living will in that it ensures your wishes concerning organ and tissue donation will be honored.

 The general rule is advance directives only come into effect when you are unable to make you own decisions about medical treatment. All advance directive documents allow you to plan ahead by sharing your healthcare instructions with your doctors and family if you become unable, even only temporarily, to make medical decisions yourself. Advance directives help ensure your wishes are followed if you become seriously injured or unconscious. Contact a local estate planning attorney and make sure your have these important documents in place.

About the author: Mike E. Benjamin, Esq.

Mike is a contracted attorney at Baron Law LLC who specializes in civil litigation, estate planning, and probate law. He is a member of the Westshore Bar Association, the Ohio State Bar Association, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, and the Federal Bar Association for the Northern District of Ohio. He can be reached at mike@baronlawcleveland.com.

Daniel A Baron - Estate Planning Lawyer

What is an Irrevocable Trust?

Cleveland, Ohio estate planning lawyer, Daniel A. Baron, offers the following information as to whether or not you should have an Irrevocable Trust as part of your comprehensive estate planning.

An Irrevocable Trust, by design cannot be modified in any fashion or terminated without the express written consent of the beneficiary or beneficiaries. Once the trust is created it stands AS IS and cannot be changed at all, notwithstanding a few exceptions.

  • Perhaps a beneficiary needs to be changed
  • Perhaps a financial institution may need clarification of a Trustees Identity
  • The beneficiary may need to terminate the trust early due to an immediate need for a large expense

Why would there exist a need for an Irrevocable Trust?

  • It protects your property held in Trust against creditors
  • It minimizes your estate tax liability
  • If you are looking to qualify for government assistance programs, i.e., Medicaid or Veterans Aid and Attendance benefits

There are three parties to a Trust:

First Party: The “Grantor” or “Settlor” who is the person or persons who establishes the trust. Keep in mind that when the Irrevocable Trust is established the “grantor” or “settlor” relinquishes all control of the assets held within the trust.

Second Party: The Trustee who are appointed by the “Grantor” or “Settlor” whose responsibilities include overseeing the assets, investments, etc., and to pay any expenses which benefits to beneficiary

Third Party:   The Beneficiary whose job it is, is to sit back relax and benefit from the income generated by the investments within the trust.

Let’s start the conversation to see if an Irrevocable Trust is the right tax planning strategy for you as part of your Comprehensive Estate Planning. For more information on reviewing your goals for your Comprehensive Estate Planning, contact Daniel A. Baron of Baron Law today at 216-573-3723.

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future

 

Estate Planning Attorney

I’m An Executor Of An Estate, How Do I Transfer Property To Heirs And Beneficiaries?

Baron Law, LLC answers questions for you on transferring property to heirs and beneficiaries while acting as an executor of an estate. It is wise to always hire/consult an experienced estate planning attorney to help you navigate through the questions you may have.

Estate fiduciaries are charged with many obligations and responsibilities during estate administration, the most visible of which is the transfer of real and personal property to designated parties and legitimate creditors. The transfer of property is what everyone thinks about when talking about probate, who gets what and when. Well, just like everything else regarding estate and probate law, there are rules at follow. As always, a local Cleveland, Ohio probate attorney is in the best position to inform you on applicable rules and considerations, a quick phone call can save you a lot of time, money, and headaches.

With regard to estate property, usually the Ohio executor or administrator, sometimes even a beneficiary, must ensure that the proper documentation has been completed in order to transfer the ownership of all property whose interest is passing due the passing of decedent. What documentation is exactly needed, however, depends largely on the type of property passing, the relevant ownership rights within such property, and also whether the property is countable as a probate or non-probate asset.

Real Property

For real property that was owned by the decedent and which passes through probate, the estate fiduciary must file an application for certificate of transfer of real property with the probate court. The required contents, as mandated by Ohio law, for this application are found under Ohio Revised Code § 2113.61(A)(2). Within five days of filing the application for certificate of transfer that is statutorily compliant, the probate court will issue a certificate of transfer to be recorded in the land records where the property is located. This certificate of transfer is the document that actually transfers title for the real property to the relevant beneficiaries denoted in a will.

The procedure for transferring real property from an estate to someone other than a designated beneficiary, for example if real property is sold by an executor, however, is not handled by a certificate of transfer. Real property might be sold during estate administration to resolve outstanding obligations or expenses of decedent, or if the decedent was under contract to selling certain property. In such circumstances, a fiduciary deed would be executed by the estate fiduciary in order to convey the property. When a fiduciary deed is used, the grantor is the fiduciary and is effectively “stepping in the shoes” of the decedent for purposes of the transfer.

Personal Property

The most common personal property an estate fiduciary will handle are bank and investment accounts, especially if the decedent was on Medicaid or other government assistance. Such programs usually have strict income and property thresholds which leaves elder decedents with much smaller estates usually only comprising of an exempted personal residence and small expense account.

Typically, an estate fiduciary will transfer all of the decedent’s bank and brokerage accounts to the name of the estate during the administration. As such, new accounts will be set up under the tax identification number of the estate. In order to transfer a bank or brokerage account from the decedent’s name to the estate, the estate fiduciary usually needs to provide the financial institution which is holding the funds in the name of the decedent with a copy of the death certificate and his letters of authority to act on behalf of the estate. Nowadays, however, most bank and financial institutions have particularized processes for the release of decedent assets to the estate, so it is highly probable a death certificate and letters will not be enough. Because everything is computerized and identity theft has become so prevalent, banks and investment houses want certain forms completed and additional confirmations of the legitimacy of the transfer. An experienced Cleveland probate attorney will know what documents to present and which forms are needed for which financial institution.

Once the accounts are transferred into the name of the estate, the estate fiduciary has more control over the accounts. Before closing the estate, the estate fiduciary can transfer the account assets to the appropriate beneficiaries or liquidate as needed to sustain the costs of estate administration or pay critical obligations. The transfer is usually accomplished by directing the appropriate financial institutions to distribute the assets in kind or cash as the case may be. Again, the paperwork that is required to do this specific and a guiding hand by an Ohio probate attorney will avoid costly mistakes.

Some property, however, passes by operation of law, usually via beneficiary designation. The most common types of property are:

Concurrently owned property with rights of survivorship -This type of concurrently owned property will pass automatically to the surviving owner without regard to the terms of decedent’s will or Ohio intestacy statues, if applicable.

Life Insurance Policies – The terms of a life insurance contract usually allow the policy owner to direct by beneficiary designation where the proceeds of the policy go upon the insured’s death. As such, the proceeds pass automatically without the involvement of a probate court.

Retirement Accounts – Various employee or individual retirement accounts allow the designation of beneficiaries upon death of the owner. Same as with life insurance, cash in these accounts pass automatically without the involvement of a probate court.

Property held under Revocable Trust – Any property held under this type of trust at the time of decedent’s death will usually pass according to the terms of the trust agreement rather than be part of the decedent’s probate estate.

The acquisition, management, and distribution of estate assets is one of the most time-consuming and emotionally draining duties of an estate fiduciary. Aggressive estate claimants, pushy heirs and beneficiaries, and stubborn financial institutions make getting things where they need to go much more difficult than it otherwise should be. An experienced Ohio attorney can act as a buffer between you and those parties who would otherwise making administrating an estate much more difficult.

You don’t have to be rich to protect what you’ve spent a lifetime trying to build. To find out whether a trust is right for your family, take the one-minute questionnaire at www.DoIneedaTrust.com. There are a number of different trusts available and the choices are infinite. With every scenario, careful consideration of every trust planning strategy should be considered for the maximum asset protection and tax savings. For more information, you can contact Mike Benjamin of Baron Law LLC at 216-573-3723. Baron Law LLC is a Cleveland, Ohio area law firm focusing on estate planning and elder law. Mike can also be reached at mike@baronlawcleveland.com.

Helping You And Your Loved Ones Plan For The Future

About the author: Mike E. Benjamin, Esq.

Mike is a contracted attorney at Baron Law LLC who specializes in civil litigation, estate planning, and probate law. He is a member of the Westshore Bar Association, the Ohio State Bar Association, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, and the Federal Bar Association for the Northern District of Ohio. He can be reached at mike@baronlawcleveland.com.

Disclaimer:

The information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. The author nor Baron Law LLC cannot and does not guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a particular state or laws that may be applicable in a given situation may impact the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of the preceding information. Further, federal and state laws and regulations are complex and subject to change. Changes in such laws often have material impact on estate planning and tax forecasts. As such, the author and Baron Law LLC make no warranties regarding the herein information or any results arising from its use. Furthermore, the author and Baron Law LLC disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or any financial position taken in reliance on, such information. As always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal or tax situation

Baron Law Cleveland Ohio

I Have A 529 Plan, Am I Medicaid Eligible?

Baron Law LLC, Cleveland, Ohio, offers information for you to reflect upon while you are setting out looking for an estate planning attorney to help protect as much of your assets as you can.  For more comprehensive information contact Baron Law Cleveland to draft your comprehensive estate plan to endeavor to keep more of your assets […]

Baron Law Cleveland Ohio

My Trustee Isn’t Very Good At Their Job, Can I Get Rid Of Them?

Baron Law LLC, Cleveland, Ohio, offers information for you to reflect upon while you are setting out looking for an estate planning attorney to help protect as much of your assets as you can.  For more comprehensive information contact Baron Law Cleveland to draft your comprehensive estate plan to endeavor to keep more of your assets for your heirs and not hand them over to the government by way of taxes.

Trusts are common estate planning tool. They are used to plan for retirement, provide for needed elder case, ensure Medicaid and other government aid eligibility, and provide for special needs children. A critical part of any trust is its trustee. The trustee is the primary agent responsible for managing trust assets and money and ensuring that the instructions and intent of the settlor are followed. At the end of day, if everything goes as planned, a trust will continue to exist and operate long after its settlor has passed. As such, the trustee is often solely responsible for the health of the trust and the welfare of trust beneficiaries.

With great power, comes great responsibility. Such is the case with trustees. In the same vein, however, most crime comes from opportunity. If there is nothing to steal, there is no chance of theft. The opposite also holds true. If you were left in an empty room with $300,000 dollars and no one was watching, how honest would you be? How honest could the ordinary man be? As such, tragically, too many trustees are found out too late to be lazy or untrustworthy and they must be removed and replaced. As with most things regarding trusts, Ohio law has set down rules and procedures to follow if you want to replace a trustee. Naturally, as with any legal question, always consult with an experienced Ohio estate planning attorney before you do anything.

Removal of a Trustee

Removal of a trustee requires serious consideration and appreciation for its consequences. Not only is it nuanced process requiring the learned help of an experienced Cleveland estate attorney, but it can also run counter to the express wishes and intent of the trust settlor. If the settlor is alive, and the trust revocable, replacing a trustee isn’t too big of a deal. But if the settlor is dead, and the trust irrevocable, now decisions have to be made that may subtract from the settlor’s goals.

A first trustee was an individual who the settlor had the utmost faith to carry out their wishes and guard their property. To go and replace them with another will affect how trust property is managed, how and when trust property is distributed, how much the trustee will demand as compensation, and the relationship between the trustee and beneficiaries. Since the power to replace a trustee shouldn’t be taken lightly, Ohio law placed rules and procedures on how and when it can be undertaken.

To start, the power to remove a trustee is primarily codified in O.R.C. § 5807.06(A). Wherein a “settlor, a cotrustee, or a beneficiary may request the court to remove a trustee, or the court may remove a trustee on its own initiative.” This by itself doesn’t say much, but evidently pretty much anyone with a legitimate interest in the trust may act to replace a trustee. The ability to do something, however, should always be paired with a valid reason why. This is where experienced Ohio estate planning counsel comes in handy. An attorney is in the best position when a trustee is just being difficult rather than derelict in their duties.

Why Remove a Trustee

Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Generally, replacing a trustee should only occur in a handful of circumstances, most of which are codified in Ohio law. Per

O.R.C. § 5807.06(B), a court may remove a trustee for any of the following reasons:

The trustee has committed a serious breach of trust;

Lack of cooperation among cotrustees substantially impairs the administration of the trust;

Because of unfitness, unwillingness, or persistent failure of the trustee to administer the trust effectively, the court determines that removal of the trustee best serves the interests of the beneficiaries.

All these reasons go to a trustee’s inability to carry out their duties effectively or downright committing crimes as a trustee. A surly or unpleasant trustee is not grounds for removal, regardless of how much you dislike them. Only in extreme circumstances of incompetence, dereliction, or illegality should an action for trustee removal be undertaken. Your estate planning attorney is in the best position to judge when and if this threshold has been reached.

Importance of Successor Trustees

So, you’ve successfully removed an unsuitable trustee, now what? Naturally, a new trustee must be appointed and, of course, Ohio law provides for this possibility. Per O.R.C. § 5807.04 (C), if there is a vacancy in the trustee position, new trustee is selected using the following order of priority:

(1) By a person designated in the terms of the trust to act as successor trustee;

(2) By a person appointed by someone designated in the terms of the trust to appoint a successor trustee;

(3) By a person appointed by unanimous agreement of the qualified beneficiaries;

(4) By a person appointed by the court.

This is why selecting appropriate successor trustees, or drafting adequate methods to select them, are so important, though it is often seen as a throwaway detail when drafting a trust. At the very end of this list, a probate court has the authority to appoint a new trustee if no other methods exist. This is not an appetizing prospect for most settlors. The last thing settlors want is a court taking control out of their hands and appointing someone they don’t want or don’t know. The whole point of going through the long process of trust creation is a guarantee control of money and assets in specific and delineated ways. To have everything go right out the window because of improper successor trustee appointments is foolish. As such, proper thought and planning must go into your trustee and successor trustee appointments.

Most people don’t expect their first, or even second choices, for trustee to die, refuse appointment, or just not be very good at the job. An experienced Ohio estate planning attorney can help with the vetting process and also provide much needed instruction and guidance to selected trustees to make sure they understand the gravity of the position and possess the knowledge to do the job correctly and efficiently.

Helping You And Your Loved Ones Plan For The Future

About the author: Mike E. Benjamin, Esq.

Mike is a contracted attorney at Baron Law LLC who specializes in civil litigation, estate planning, and probate law. He is a member of the Westshore Bar Association, the Ohio State Bar Association, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, and the Federal Bar Association for the Northern District of Ohio. He can be reached at mike@baronlawcleveland.com.

Disclaimer:

The information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. The author nor Baron Law LLC cannot and does not guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a particular state or laws that may be applicable in a given situation may impact the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of the preceding information. Further, federal and state laws and regulations are complex and subject to change. Changes in such laws often have material impact on estate planning and tax forecasts. As such, the author and Baron Law LLC make no warranties regarding the herein information or any results arising from its use. Furthermore, the author and Baron Law LLC disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or any financial position taken in reliance on, such information. As always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal or tax situation.

baron law cleveland

A Trustee Isn’t Paying Me, What Can I Do?

Baron Law LLC, Cleveland, Ohio, offers information for you to reflect upon while you are setting out looking for an estate planning attorney to help protect as much of your assets as you can.  For more comprehensive information contact Baron Law Cleveland to draft your comprehensive estate plan to endeavor to keep more of your assets […]