Category Archives: Estate Planning Blog

Want to Give the Kids an Early Inheritance? 4 Things to Consider

inheritance and gifting 91024If you’re thinking about giving your children their inheritance early, you’re not alone. Studies suggest that these days, nearly two-thirds of people over the age of 50 would rather pass their assets to the children early than make them wait until the will is read. It can be especially satisfying to fund our children’s dreams while we’re alive to enjoy them, and there’s no real financial penalty for doing so if you structure the arrangement correctly. Here are four important factors to consider when planning to give an early inheritance.

  1. Keep the tax codes in mind.

The IRS doesn’t really care whether you give away your money now or later—the lifetime estate tax exemption is expected to be $11.18 million per individual in 2018, regardless of when the funds are transferred. So, whether you give up to $11.18 million away now or wait until you die with that amount, your estate will not owe any federal estate tax (although remember, the law is always subject to change). You can even give up to $15,000 per person (child, grandchild, or anyone else) per year without any gift tax issues at all. You might hear these $15,000 gifts referred to as “annual exclusion” gifts. There are also ways to make tax-free gifts for educational expenses or medical care, but special rules apply to these gifts. Your trusted advisor can help you successfully navigate the maze of tax issues to ensure you and your children receive the greatest benefit from your giving.

  1. Gifts that keep on giving.

One way to make your children’s inheritance go even farther is to give it as an appreciable asset. For example, helping one of your children buy a home could increase the value of your gift considerably as the home appreciates in value. Likewise, if you have stock in a company that is likely to prosper, gifting some of the stock to your children could result in greater wealth for them in the future.

  1. One size does not fit all.

Don’t feel pressured to follow the exact same path for all your children in the name of equal treatment. One of your children might actually prefer to wait to receive her inheritance, for example, while another might need the money now to start a business. Give yourself the latitude to do what is best for each child individually; just be willing to communicate your reasoning to the family to reduce the possibility of misunderstanding or resentment.

  1. Don’t touch your own retirement.

If the immediate need is great for one or more of your children, resist the urge to tap into your retirement accounts to help them out. Make sure your own future is secure before investing in theirs. It may sound selfish in the short term, but it’s better than possibly having to lean on your kids for financial help later when your retirement is depleted.

Giving your kids an early inheritance is not only feasible, but it also can be highly fulfilling and rewarding for all involved. That said, it’s best to involve a trusted financial advisor and an experienced estate planning attorney to help you navigate tax issues and come up with the best strategy for transferring your assets. Give us a call today to discuss your options.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Marc Garlett 91024

What do successor trustees and executors do?

family estate planning 91024Executor’s Duties

An executor, sometimes called a personal representative, is the person who is named in a will, appointed by the court, and responsible for probating the will and settling the estate.

Typically, a petition of probate must be filed with the court for an executor to be appointed. If the person agrees to be the executor, and no one objects, the court will issue letters of testamentary. These letters authorize the executor to gather the estate’s assets, sell assets, pay creditors, and open an estate bank account. An executor is ultimately responsible for distributing the estate assets to the heirs in accordance with the terms of the will. If there is no will, then your executor will distribute assets in accordance with California state law. Distribution of estate assets, in either case, happens only after debts, taxes, and administration expenses are paid.

Trustee’s and Successor Trustee’s Duties

A trustee, on the other hand, is an individual or trust company named in a trust document and is in charge of the assets that are held in a trust. Assets held in a living trust avoid probate, which means court supervision is not required. In most revocable living trusts, the trust creator acts as the trustee and can make changes including moving assets to and from the trust, changing its beneficiaries, or even revoking the trust entirely if it is no longer necessary. Once the trustee is no longer able to manage his or her affairs, because of cognitive impairment or another injury, the successor trustee will step in and handle the trust management. Upon the trustmaker’s death, the successor trustee will distribute the assets held in the trust to the trust’s beneficiaries and subsequently close down the trust. So this role is similar to an executor, but without the burden of probate.

Other Thoughts

You do have the option of having more than one trustee or executor. It is often better to name a sequence of trustees or executors, however, rather than joint ones. The executor and successor trustee can be different people, but do not have to be. There are advantages and disadvantages to each setup. Be sure to speak with your trusted advisor about the nuances and legal strategies important to consider when selecting your executor and successor trustee.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Marc Garlett 91024

Now That Tax Reform is Here, is Estate Planning Still Necessary?

  1. TaxBill-91024The new tax legislation raises the federal estate tax exemption to $11.2 million for individuals and $22.4 million for couples. The increase means that very few estates (only about 1,800, nationally) will have to worry about federal estate taxes in 2018, according to estimates from the nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

So, you may be wondering, is estate planning even still necessary?

To put it simply: Yes!

Comprehensive estate planning does a lot more than guard against owing federal estate taxes. Other than taxes, you and your family likely face a range of estate planning challenges, such as:

  • Distribution of your assets. Create your legacy with the help of tools like a trust and/or a last will and testament.
    • If you die without a will, state intestacy laws determine where your stuff goes. You lose control, and the people closest to you may feel hurt or may suffer financially.
    • If your estate plans do not include asset protection strategies, your lifetime of hard work and savings could be squandered needlessly.
  • Cognitive impairment. Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other disorders could make handling your own affairs impossible or at least ill-advised. Executing a durable power of attorney (POA), for instance, allows you to choose a person, referred to as an agent or attorney-in-fact, to step in and manage your financial affairs on your behalf. Without this arrow in your quiver, your fate will be left to the public whims of the court, which could appoint someone else—for instance, a public conservator.
  • Medical emergencies. What if you become unable to communicate your preferences regarding your medical care? Naming someone as your health care attorney-in-fact under a Medical Power of Attorney allows him or her to act as your voice for medical decisions. In addition, a living will or advance directive allows you to specify the types of life-sustaining treatment you do or do not want to receive.
  • Specific family situations. Life is unpredictable. You need to consider (and proactively deal with) challenges like the following:
    • If you have minor children, you can name a guardian for them and provide for their care through your estate plan. Without a named guardian, the decision of who raises your children will be left to the whims of a judge. Your children may even end up in foster care while the courts sort your affairs out.
    • If you care for a dependent with a debilitating condition, provide for her and protect her government benefits using tools like the Special Needs Trust (SNT).
    • If you’re married with children from a previous relationship, you need clear, properly prepared documents to ensure that your current spouse and children inherit according to your wishes.
  • Probate. Probate is the court-supervised process of the distribution of a deceased person’s assets. A veritable avalanche of paperwork awaits your loved ones in probate. But it doesn’t have to happen to your family! Through proper planning, you can keep all of your assets—such as bank and retirement accounts, business interests, and the family residence—outside of probate.

Estate Planning Involves Much More Than Minimizing Estate Taxes.
Even prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, relatively few Americans needed to worry about the estate tax. However, virtually everyone faces one or more of the issues outlined above. Shockingly, a 2016 Gallup poll found that 56% of Americans do not even have a simple will. A 2017 poll conducted by Caring.com found similarly alarming news—a majority of U.S. adults (especially Gen-Xers and Millennials) do not have their estate plans in order.

We can help you add yourself to the list of prepared Americans! Get in touch with our team to set up a complimentary consultation today (just mention this article) and spark the momentum toward your ultimate peace of mind.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Marc Garlett 91024

Are Payable-On-Death Accounts Right For You?

trust 91024I get a lot of questions about payable-on-death accounts and whether they should be used in estate planning. A payable-on-death account, also called a POD account, is a common way to keep bank and investment accounts out of probate, the court-supervised process that oversees distributing a deceased person’s property. Most people want to avoid their estate going through probate because their heirs will receive the inheritance faster, privately, and at a lower cost.

Is a POD account an appropriate solution for your needs? Let’s examine what POD accounts do and how they fit into the overall picture.

POD Accounts: The Nuts and Bolts

A POD designation can be set up for savings, checking, certificates of deposit, U.S. savings bonds, and investment accounts. Upon the death of the account holder, the funds in the account pass directly to the named beneficiary.

Setting up a POD account is usually very easy. Typically, there’s a form you must complete and sign to select your beneficiary or beneficiaries. Additionally, you can change beneficiaries whenever you like or name several beneficiaries (allowing them to split the money).

After the death of the POD account holder, the beneficiary can claim the money in a fairly simple process. Often, the beneficiary will need to show ID, provide a copy of the death certificate, and complete some forms provided by the financial institution.

Some Pros and Cons

So, POD sounds great because they are easy. But, there can be significant problems using this as the primary tool for passing along what you’ve worked to build.

What if a beneficiary predeceases you? If you do not name new ones before you die, then your estate is back to probate, thus negating the primary advantage of establishing the POD account in the first place!

What if the beneficiary is in the middle of a bankruptcy, divorce, or lawsuit? Because a POD account transfers the money to the beneficiary without any protection, your beneficiary may lose his or her entire inheritance simply because the death of the POD account owner occurred at the “wrong” time.

What if you are in a car crash and rendered legally incapacitated and unable to make decisions? The named beneficiary cannot access funds to provide for your needs. POD accounts only function at death. They provide no protection in the event of your incapacitation.

Trusts: A Comprehensive Solution

Here’s a comprehensive solution: establish a revocable living trust to hold your accounts. Just like a POD account, a funded trust avoids probate and is private. But, unlike a POD account, it can incorporate alternate beneficiaries, so your assets avoid court even if someone predeceases you. You can also provide long-term asset protection for your beneficiaries, protecting them against lawsuits, judgments, divorce, and bankruptcy courts. If you become incapacitated due to an accident or illness, the successor trustee can use the assets in your trust to pay for your care. In short, trusts provide all the benefits and peace of mind of a POD account without any of the downsides.

Remember: Estate Planning Tools are Context Dependent

Rather than pick tools out of a hat, you first need clarity on the big picture. What are your goals and priorities? What challenges do you face now—or do you anticipate confronting? Whom do you want to protect? What kind of legacy do you hope to leave?

Our team can organize your thinking and help you select appropriate planning tools from the arsenal. Want to discuss POD accounts, living trusts, or just your future in general? Please call or email us.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Marc Garlett 91024

Why Your Estate Planner Needs to Know If You’ve Lent Money to Family

family loan 91024More and more, children and grandchildren are skipping the traditional bank and obtaining loans from parents or grandparents. Unfortunately, we have all heard stories of families torn apart because of disagreements over money. So, what can you do to make sure your intra-family loans help — rather than hurt — your family?

As far as estate planning is concerned, money you lend to others is legally an asset. If you have lent money to a family member, the presence of these assets in your estate can be problematic for your surviving family members. This is because your executor and successor trustee are under a legal requirement, known as fiduciary care, to collect the outstanding obligation, even if the other party is a family member.

If the amount of money that you have lent out is significant — and “significant” can be relative — it is important to document it as you plan your estate. For example, if you wish to forgive the debt there are special terms that must be included in your trust or will for this to happen. On the other hand, you may want the debt to be paid out of the inheritance the borrower is otherwise receiving. In that case, the payment of the debt from the inheritance must be addressed in your estate planning documents.

A Brief Loan Primer
A loan is a legal and financial arrangement where money is borrowed and is expected to be paid back with interest. Generally, a loan involves a promissory note, which is a signed document by the borrower containing a written promise to repay a stated sum of money to the lender in accordance with a schedule, at a specified date, or on demand. In some cases collateral, like real estate or other property, is used to secure the loan. Collateral is something pledged as security for repayment of the loan. If the borrower quits making payments, then the collateral can be taken by the lender.

Lending as an Estate Planning Tool
When properly structured and well documented, loans can be a smart estate planning tool for many families. This is because lenders (usually grandparents or parents) can essentially give access to an inheritance without any immediate gift or estate tax problems, generate a better return on their cash than they could with bank deposits, and borrowers (usually children or grandchildren) can take out loans at interest rates lower than commercial rates and with better terms. In fact, the Internal Revenue Service allows borrowers who are related to one another to pay very low rates on intra-family loans. Furthermore, the total interest paid on these types of transactions over the life of the loan stays within the family. If structured and documented properly, intra-family loans may effectively transfer money within the family, for the purchase of a home, the financing of a business, or any other purpose.

Sometimes loans can be used in sophisticated estate tax planning strategies as a way to shift assets into special estate-tax saving trusts. One variant of this technique is sometimes called an installment sale to a grantor trust. Although this sophisticated strategy and others like it are usually only appropriate for those with a net worth of at least several million dollars, other types of intra-family loans, perhaps for home improvement, an automobile purchase, or a business, can help families across the wealth spectrum.

There are a few important points to keep in mind regarding these types of loans: the loan must be well-documented, lenders should usually ask for collateral, the lender should make sure the borrower can repay the loan, and the income and estate tax implications should be examined thoroughly.

Deciding What You Want
While you were kind enough to help a member of your family by lending him or her money, do not let this become a legal dilemma in the event of your incapacity or after your death. Instead, use your estate plan to specifically express what you want to have happen regarding these assets. Before lending money, it is important to carefully consider how the loan should be structured, documented, and repaid. If you or someone you know has lent money and has questions about how this affects your estate plan, let us know and we’ll help you find the answers.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,
Marc Garlett 91024

Organizing for Tax (and Estate Planning) Season

taxes 91024It’s the start of a new year, which means tax season—and this year’s April 17th IRS filing deadline—is just around the corner. Soon you’ll be receiving tax forms such as your W-2 or 1099s, and you’ll start thinking about the life events that could affect your taxes in various ways.

This flurry of tax prep activity is the perfect opportunity to get your estate plan in order, too, and kill two birds with the proverbial stone.

Why? Because as you run down your list of “tax prep” questions, you will find that your answers could also impact your estate plan.

Some things to think about:

  • Did you get married or divorced? Did any of your children or grandchildren?
  • Did you welcome a child or grandchild into your family by birth or adoption?
  • Have any of your children or grandchildren reached the age of majority?
  • Have you dealt with illness or hospitalization? Have you incurred medical expenses?
  • Did you buy or sell a new property or any other major assets, like a vacation home?
  • Did you move to another state?
  • Did you buy, sell, open, or close a business?
  • Have you made any charitable donations?
  • Do you have any new life insurance or pension plans?

After you’ve answered these questions, get to work on gathering the corresponding documentation. That might include deeds, policies, and contracts as well as bills and receipts. Having all of this information handy can help you prepare your tax forms and whip your estate plan into shape.

Here’s how your tax-related changes can affect your estate planning.

If you already have an estate plan, your number one goal is to make sure everything still represents your wishes, taking into account the past year’s events. Maybe because of a change in circumstances, you need new or updated powers of attorney. Perhaps it’s time for an LLC or an update to your living trust, or maybe you need to update your asset spreadsheet. Or, if there have been births or deaths in your family, or, you’ve had a change of heart about who should inherit from you, you also need to update your plan.

If you don’t yet have an estate plan, having this information at your fingertips sets you up for a productive conversation with your estate planning attorney. After reviewing your legacy goals, your lawyer can draw up key documents, such as:

  • A will. Among other things, this document can ensure that your wishes—and not the laws of the state—determine how to distribute your estate.
  • A revocable living trust. In addition to a will, you can establish a living trust, which allows your estate to bypass the potentially long and costly probate process upon your death, gives you extra privacy, and helps to avoid the potentially costly guardianship or conservatorship court process (sometimes called “living probate”) if you become incapacitated.
  • A living will. This document expresses your desires regarding life-sustaining medical treatment, if you become incapable of communicating your wishes.
  • A durable power of attorney. This appoints someone to step in and take over your financial affairs if you are unable to do so, reducing the possibility of hard feelings among loved ones or the need for court intervention.

It’s a new year, and new possibilities are in the air. As long as you’re getting started on your taxes, take a few extra moments to incorporate your estate planning into the act as well. By getting organized in this way, you’ll be well on your way to making 2018 an amazing year.

As Anne Burrell once observed, “Organizing ahead of time makes the work more enjoyable. Chefs cut up the onions and have the ingredients lined up ahead of time and have them ready to go. When everything is organized you can clean as you go and it makes everything so much easier and fun.”

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Marc Garlett 91024

What to Expect from Estate Planning in 2018

family estate planning 910242017 is now fading into the rearview mirror. As we all look ahead to 2018, let’s consider a few things to watch regarding estate planning, so you and your family can be completely protected.

  • The death tax. The death tax has been in a state of flux ever since the early 2000s when the Bush administration’s first tax cuts changed the exemption and tax rates. The recently-passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is the latest significant change. Starting January 1, 2018, the estate tax exemption amount will double to $11.2 million per person (married couples have $22.4 million of combined exemption). Like the current exemption, this amount will adjust annually for inflation. However, this enhanced exemption expires on December 31, 2025, at which time it will return to an amount similar to the $5.49 million per person exemption we’ve had in 2017. Similar to what happened when the Bush tax cuts phased in (and were scheduled to expire) during the 2000s, we’ll face the same situation over the coming years – the law provides a deadline and timetable, but political activity may result in something entirely different. Regardless of your stance on this new tax law, if you have a plan based around the now-old rules, it’s time to visit with us, so we can make sure your plan still meets your needs and goals while maximizing the benefit to your family, charities, or other beneficiaries.
  • Incapacity planning. What happens if you don’t die? Historically, much of estate planning focused on what happened to your assets after your death. With cognitive impairment at near epidemic proportions, you must plan for the contingency that you don’t die and instead require assistance managing your affairs. Depending on your circumstances, this could range from a relatively simple matter of ensuring you have a trusted person authorized to make decisions to extensive planning to become eligible for help paying for nursing home care. Either way, now is the time to review your plan with us to ensure that it protects you, even if you don’t die.
  • Giving your family lifelong financial security. Although you may not consider yourself “wealthy”, you probably have an IRA or a life insurance policy. A modest IRA or life insurance policy could be the foundation for lifelong financial security for your family. To make this a reality, you need to set up your affairs with the proper structures to ensure money avoids costs, taxes, and the risk of financial immaturity or ignorance. We are here to help you ensure that the savings you’ve spent a lifetime building will be there for your family.
  • Fixing broken or old trusts. Many people have inherited assets from parents, aunts, uncles, and others through a trust. Some of these trusts may use old strategies or be expensive or difficult to administer. The law recognizes that old trusts may need some refreshing. There are many options available to modernize an old trust, and the best way to get started is to meet with us so we can explore which option is best for you and the trust you inherited.

2018 will likely be an exciting, dynamic year. No matter where you are on the estate planning journey, carve out some time to talk with us to make sure that you and your family are fully protected.

Happy New Year!

Marc Garlett 91024

Gift Giving the Tax-Free Way

gift giving 91024Although it’s the season of giving, no one wants to share with the IRS. Luckily, the law provides you many opportunities to give gifts to family, friends, and charities tax-free.  Some are straightforward, while others may require the help of a professional.

Your Yearly Coupons

Each year on January 1st, everyone receives what can be thought of as yearly coupons for tax-free gifts. There are several different ways you can redeem these coupons:

  • Annual exclusion gifts. These gifts are transfers of money or property that do not exceed the annual gift tax exclusion. These gifts can be given on one or more than one occasion throughout the year, the key is that you add up the gifts throughout the year. In 2017, you can give up to $14,000 ($28,000 for married couples) per recipient without owing any gift tax or filing a gift tax return. These gifts can be cash or property but they must be of a “present” interest. Without giving a “present” interest – for example, if you plan on using a trust or an LLC to make your gift, it’s best to work with a professional.
  • Pay medical bills. The IRS also allows you to pay an unlimited amount of someone’s medical bills, without worrying about the gift tax. However, the payment must be made directly to the doctor, hospital, or other medical provider in order to qualify.
  • Pay tuition. Additionally, you are able to pay an unlimited amount of tuition bills for the benefit of someone else, as long as the tuition is paid directly to a qualified educational institution. One big issue here is that the gift must be only for tuition – books, fees, living expenses, travel, and other costs of education do not qualify.
  • Give to charity. For those of you who are philanthropically minded, you can give as much money or property to a qualified charity as you want without worrying about the gift tax. As an added benefit, unlike the gifts above, you may also be entitled to an income tax deduction for the charitable gift.

Your Once-In-A-Lifetime Coupon

In addition to our annual coupons, we all have a once-in-a-lifetime coupon for taxable gifts, those that exceed or do not qualify for the annual exclusion, called the unified credit.  It’s called a unified credit because it unifies the gift tax with the estate tax into a coordinated tax system.  Unlike the annual coupons you read about above, once you spend the value of the unified credit coupon for a taxable gift, it’s gone.

Many people assume that because it says taxable gifts, they’ll have to pay the gift tax. Luckily because of the unified credit coupon, most people will never have to actually pay any gift tax. You only have to pay gift tax if your lifetime gifts exceed the unified credit coupon.  Under current law, the amount of the unified credit increases each year, but it never resets (unlike the yearly coupons you read about earlier).  In 2017, the unified credit amount is $5.49 million and is scheduled to increase to $5.6 million in 2018.  However, If you make a taxable gift, you are required to file a gift tax return with your income taxes.  Although the unified credit is currently applicable for gift and estate tax, it is worth noting that the gift tax continues on in the tax proposals being considered by Congress, even as an estate tax repeal is on the agenda.

When should I talk to an estate planner?

If you plan on making a gift in excess of $14,000 in 2017 ($15,000 in 2018), then you should talk with a trusted professional first. Sometimes the best way of making a gift is to just write a check, but other times giving in a trust, through an LLC, or with an undivided interest in property can make more sense and offer your recipient greater benefits (like privacy or asset protection).

While we don’t suggest you give away anything that you might need, if you do have some surplus, gifting programs are a fun way to see your loved ones enjoy your generosity – as long as you do it without drawing the attention of the IRS!

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and creating your legacy,

Marc Garlett 91024

Four Good Reasons Why Estate Planning Isn’t Just for the Rich

Estate Planning 91024There is a common misconception that estate plans are only for the ultra-wealthy – the top 1 percent, 10%, or some other arbitrary determination of “enough” money.  In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. People at all income and wealth levels can benefit from a comprehensive estate plan. Yet sadly, many will never sit down to get their legal house in order.

According to a 2016 Gallup News Poll more than half of all Americans do not even have a will, let alone a comprehensive estate plan. Gallup noted that 44 percent of people surveyed in 2016 had a will place, compared to 51 percent in 2005 and 48 percent in 1990.  Also, over the years, there appears to be a trend of fewer people even thinking about estate planning.

When it comes to estate planning, the sooner you start the better. Below are four reasons why everyone – no matter what income or wealth level – can benefit from a comprehensive estate plan:

  1. Forward Thinking Family Goals: Proper estate planning can accomplish many things. The first step is to ask what your goals are. They may include caring for a minor child, an elderly parent, a disabled relative, or distributing real and personal property to individuals who will appreciate and maintain these assets prudently.  Understanding your family wants and needs is a great starting point for any estate plan. If you can sit down and spend time planning your vacation, you should do the same for your estate. Your future self, and your loved ones, will thank you.
  2. Financial Confidence Now and After You Are Gone: One immediate benefit of having a finished estate plan in place is that you will be in total control of your finances, possibly for the first time ever. Many people experience a new sense of discipline in maintaining their finances which can help with saving for retirement, a big purchase, or other goal.  In addition to the personal benefit of financial control, an estate plan allows you to dictate exactly how and when your heirs receive an inheritance. This is particularly important for minor heirs or those who need additional guidance to manage an inheritance, like a disabled child.
  3. Identify Risks: An important aspect of a good estate plan is to mitigate against future and current risks. One example is becoming disabled and unable to support your family. Another is the possibility of dying early. Through an estate plan you can chose who will be in control of your personal assets, instead of the court appointing a legal guardian – costing money and becoming a distraction for your family.  While contemplating these types of risks is never fun, preparing ahead of time ensures your loved ones will be prepared if an unfortunate tragedy does occur.
  4. To Maintain Your Privacy: In the absence of a fully funded, trust-based estate plan, a list of one’s assets are available for public view upon death. This occurs during probate, the legal process by which a court administers the deceased person’s estate. A solid estate plan will generally avoid the need for involvement by the probate court, so your family’s privacy can be maintained.

The Bottom Line: Seek Professional Advice

There are numerous benefits to working with a professional team when it comes to estate planning. Estate planning attorneys, financial advisors, insurance agents, and others have a broad and deep knowledge of money management, financial implications, and the law. When you work with a qualified team to implement an estate plan you can rest easy knowing your family will be taken care of no matter what happens in the future.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and securing your legacy,

Marc Garlett 91024

 

How to Share Family History and Heirlooms Through Your Estate Plan

legacy 91024One of the most important aspects of your estate plan is – or at least should be – protecting and passing on your legacy. And this coming holiday season is a great opportunity to reminisce about your family’s stories, values, and history because you’ll probably have your loved ones nearby.

While having those conversations is important, did you know you can also use a personal property memorandum in your estate plan to pass along special memories and stories about specific items that are meaningful to you and connect your family with the past?

What Is a Personal Property Memorandum?

California state law allows you to include a “personal property memorandum” in your estate plan. This supplemental document, specifically referenced in your will or living trust, lets you describe which personal property items you wish to leave to heirs, without having to call your lawyer and arrange for a meeting. You can handwrite or type this document, but it must be signed and dated to be valid. In conjunction with a will or living trust, a personal property memorandum can provide a roadmap for your executor regarding the distribution of specified items to your beneficiaries.

One important feature of a personal property memorandum is that you can change or update it whenever you like without the assistance of an attorney or notary. This freedom can be beneficial to you, because although you can also change your will as often as you like (and you absolutely should update it periodically to make sure it still reflects your wishes!), updating your will or living trust does require a visit to the estate planner’s office.

Another great reason to have a personal property memorandum in addition to your will and living trust is that your personal possessions likely change more frequently than other assets. For example, you probably add items to your closet more often than you add vehicles to your driveway.

What Can Be Included in a Personal Property Memorandum?

Not every asset can be distributed using a personal property memorandum! However, here are a few examples of assets that we commonly see people list in their personal property memorandum:

  • Furniture
  • Jewelry
  • Clothes
  • Books
  • Photographs and portraits
  • Important certificates (birth, marriage, death, citizenship/naturalization)
  • Collections (coins, stamps, dolls, figurines, etc.)
  • Other family heirlooms

Taking Your Personal Property Memorandum to the Next Level

We include a personal property memorandum as part of each client’s trust plan, but more importantly, I always suggest being a little creative with the process. Instead of just using the legal documents to pass on valuable heirlooms, I encourage each client to take a picture of every item of importance and write two paragraphs on the back of each picture.

The first paragraph is the story of why that item is meaningful. How, why, and when was it acquired? What is the item’s history? Why is the item so important to you? The second paragraph is the story of why you chose that particular person to receive the item. Why is continuing that item’s story on through them so important to you?

The picture makes it clear which items you’re talking about so there’s no confusion. The two paragraphs transform the gift from the realm estate planning documents and legalese into that of heart and soul, making the gift that much more meaningful to the recipient, and continuing the story of the item for future generations just as you ensure the story of your connection to the item lives on.

Giving It Away Now Versus Waiting Until Later

One option you always have is to give personal items to your loved ones while you’re still alive. You can share with them the accompanying stories as you’re making the gift. Indeed, this in-person exchange is often the surest way to know your wishes will be followed. If you do choose to give away possessions during your lifetime, you must be aware of any potential gift tax consequences that could arise for items of a larger value. But, generally any gift or series of gifts, within the calendar year, valued at less than $14,000 (up to $15,000 starting in 2018) can be given without concern.

Remember, verbal wishes alone are insufficient to gift personal property after you’ve passed away. So whether you decide to hand down your prized possessions now or later, know that one of the best gifts you can give your loved ones is the story behind a personal possession that connects it with you and your family forever. A good estate plan not only protects your family financially, it also protects and passes on the stories and heirlooms of your life’s legacy.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and securing your legacy,

Marc Garlett 91024