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hammers and tools hanging in garage

Three Parties

I’ve previously written about the three parties necessary for every trust: (1) the settlor (sometimes called the donor or grantor); (2) the trustee; and (3) the beneficiary.

Two Other Elements

Besides three parties, at least two other elements are necessary for a valid trust.

  1. The trust instrument is the document that sets forth the terms of the trust.
  2. The other necessary element is property. After all, the trustee must be holding something for the benefit of the beneficiary.

Property of the Trust

When laypersons use the word “property,” I believe they usually mean real estate. But, lawyers use the term “property” much, much more broadly, to mean literally any transferable interest. Sometimes trust property is also referred to as the res or corpus or assets of the trust. (Bonus words!)

Any property can be held in trust. Seriously, check out this list of 101 assets that would fit in a trust. You could likely think of literally hundreds more types or categories of property to place in your own individual trust.

Pour Over Trust

How about an unfunded trust that will receive property at some point in the future? Can you even do that?

Yes, that can certainly be done. This is usually called a pour-over trust. (More bonus words!) The pour-over trust deserves its own blog post. Briefly, a pour-over trust is usually set up by language in a will. A will may validly devise property to a trust, established during the testator’s lifetime, and then funded at her death.

Example

Let’s take a very simple example. Kate has a lawyer write her will, including language that at her death all her Monster Truck memorabilia be placed in a trust for the benefit of her nieces and nephews. Only at Kate’s death will the property be transferred into the trust, not before.

Monster Truck

Take-Aways

The important points are that property is necessary, at some point, to make a trust valid, and that literally any transferable interest in property – anything! – can be held in a trust.

Let’s Talk Trusts

It can be difficult to determine on your own if a trust may be right for your personal situation. It certainly doesn’t hurt to take me up on my offer for a free one-hour consultation. Give me a call at 515-371-6077 or shoot me an email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.

Marting Luther King Jr. and American Flag

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is tomorrow (January 20) I think it’s important to pay tribute to a man who truly championed ideals of equity, freedom, peace, and justice. Among his many accomplishments, Dr. King tirelessly pushed for nonviolent activism and peaceful resolution to human rights issues. He reportedly wrote five books and gave hundreds of speeches in a single year…more than most of us could produce in a lifetime. And, there’s no doubt that he was a key player and influencer in the passage of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964. Dr. King was subsequently was awarded one of the highest honors in the world in 1964—the Nobel Peace Prize—for “his dynamic leadership of the Civil Rights movement and steadfast commitment to achieving racial justice through nonviolent action.” (He donated the prize money, $54,123, back to the civil rights movement.)

Dr. King and his lasting legacy can undoubtedly serve as an inspiration to us all. I see his dream of a better world—a better future for all—exemplified in action by the hardworking Iowa-based nonprofit organizations. I also see his lessons being practiced by the wonderful donors who support these organizations and advance their missions.

So, yes, it’s nice to have a day off of work, but make certain the day doesn’t pass you by without setting a plan in place to perform some form of service for others.

Dr. King tirelessly pursued the advancement of human rights for the greater good and we can honor him by practicing forms of charitable giving as a way to advance our communities. Be it through volunteering time to an organization that speaks to your heart (remember, certain costs associated with volunteer can be tax deductible), setting up a donor-advised fund, or simply writing a list of the nonprofits you would like to include as beneficiaries in your will, you too can set out on an honorable service-oriented path and inspire your friends, family, and colleagues to follow suit.

MLK Jr. Day Quote

Dr. King’s lessons resonate with our hearts and heads because we too have dreams of making our corners of the world a better place to learn, live, and grow through service. Maybe Dr. King’s commitment to “practice what you preach” mentality has inspired you this year to give charitably more and more often. Maybe you considered his question, “What’s your life’s blueprint?” and decided to form the charity you’ve wanted to establish for a long time. Either way, don’t hesitate to contact me for a free consultation. As Dr. King said: “The time is always right to do what is right.”

blue and tan present

Thanks for reading the 25 Days of Giving series! Plan on coming back to the blog every day from now through Christmas Day.

In December there is gift giving with wrapping paper abound, but when it comes to charitable giving the important assets (like your retirement assets) don’t need ribbons or bows. Let’s first focus on a major retirement asset giving tool, the IRA charitable rollover.

IRA Charitable Rollover

This federal law allows donors age 70½ and older to make direct distributions of up to $100,000 from his/her IRA each year to any qualified charity. The donation is not treated as taxable income and, moreover, counts toward the donor’s required minimum distribution for that year.

At the end of 2015, Congress made the IRA charitable rollover a permanent giving tool, unlike the year-to-year renewal basis they had operated on since the introduction of the IRA charitable rollover in 2006 (as part of the Pension Protection Act).  The result? Tax savvy IRA account holders can now plan charitable giving in a more reliable way.

Other Options

There are two other accessible ways to direct retirement benefit plan assets to your favorite charity:

  • Gifts at death via beneficiary designations.
  • Withdrawals over age 59½ followed by outright deductible gifts that can effectively result in tax-free retirement plan gifts.

Keep in mind, too, that the IRA charitable rollover applies only to IRAs. These two options — gifts at death via beneficiary designations and withdrawals by those older than 59½ — will work with virtually all qualified retirement plans, including 401(k)s and 403(b)s. baubles on a green tree

Naming your favorite charity as beneficiary

Donors considering charitable bequests may not realize that they can make a meaningful gift simply by naming their favorite charity as the beneficiary of an IRA, 401(k), 403(b), or other retirement plan. Giving retirement assets in this way is easy, and does not require drafting or amending a will or trust. A donor simply has to contact his/her financial institution holding the retirement benefit plan and request a change of beneficiary form.

Note, however, that if the account holder is married, the spouse should be informed and may have to consent to the gift. The plan assets may also be left to a charitable or marital trust[s]. In the latter case, professional advisors should be consulted. (Hint: call me!).

Give now!

Donors could also choose to make current gifts using funds withdrawn from their qualified retirement plans. Individuals over age 59½ may generally withdraw funds from retirement plans without penalty, make a gift with these funds, and then claim an offsetting charitable deduction. In most cases, a gift made in this manner will be a “wash” for tax purposes.

Let’s take a quick example. Rebecca (age 64) wants to make a very generous donation of $10,000 to her favorite charity. She can withdraw $10,000 from her IRA or 401(k) account, and make that donation. Assuming she itemizes her tax deductions, the $10,000 donation should leave her “even Steven” with regard to taxes – the $10,000 in income is offset by the $10,000 charitable deduction, resulting in zero net income taxes.

Advice is Priceless

The decision to want to give to you favorite causes this season is easy. Knowing exactly where to start with smart giving can be a little more complex. If you have questions about the IRA charitable rollover or any other giving strategy, don’t hesitate to reach out via email or by phone (515-371-6077). My firm’s mission is to maximize charitable giving in the state of Iowa and I want to help YOU maximize your personal charitable giving (in a way that is also tax efficient).

529 plan charitable giving

 For the majority of the 25 Days of Giving series, I’m going to focus on charitable gifts made to nonprofit organizations. But, investing in a student’s future and helping to make higher education more affordable and accessible is certainly a valid cause…and has tax benefits of its own. This brings to mind a different type of gift you can give to a loved one who is currently or planning on attending college: the 529 Plan. 

The 411 on the 529

Gordon Fischer Law Firm is dedicated to Iowans, so I’ll focus on the College Savings Iowa 529 plan, but know that all 50 states and D.C. sponsor at least one type of 529 plan. There are two types of 529 plans—prepaid tuition plans and college savings plans. The College Savings Iowa plan is a tax-advantaged program sponsored and administered by the Treasurer of the State of Iowa. The purpose? Just as the name “college savings” says, it is intended to “help an individual or a family pay for higher-education costs.”

girl in graduation robes

The account funds can be used by the beneficiary for any purpose, but for the withdrawals to be considered tax-free, the money must be used for qualified higher-education expenses at an eligible educational institution by the student. Eligible expenses include elements associated with higher education such as: tuition, mandatory fees, books, required supplies, computers (including related hardware and software), internet access, equipment required for enrollment/attendance, and even room and board during any academic period where the student is enrolled at least half-time.

If withdrawals are made and not used for a qualified expense, the deductions must be added back to Iowa taxable income and adjusted annually for inflation. Additionally, the earnings part of the non-qualified withdrawal may be subject to a 10% federal penalty tax on top of federal income tax. A great alternative to non-qualified withdrawals if the student doesn’t end up going to or paying for school is transferring the money to another eligible beneficiary’s 529 account.

Who Can be a 529 Plan Beneficiary?

Your school years may be far behind you, but you can set up a 529 for any beneficiary. The only requirements are that the prospective or current student must be a U.S. citizen or resident alien with a valid Social Security number or other taxpayer ID number. The student doesn’t have to reside in Iowa or be related to you in any way. So, you could set-up a 529 for your niece, but also your friend’s son whom you’ve known since he was little…even if he lives in another state!

woman opening gift on couch

Federal, State, & Estate Tax Benefits

The most obvious benefit of College Savings Iowa 529 accounts is that contributed assets grow deferred from federal and state income taxes. Plus, Iowa taxpayers can deduct up to $3,387 in contributions per beneficiary (student) account from adjusted gross income for 2019. These contributions can usually be made up through the tax-filing deadline. (For example, you could make a tax-deductible contribution for the 2017 tax year up until the end of April 2018.)

Beyond the $3,387 state tax deduction, you can contribute up to $75,000 in a single tax year for each beneficiary (or $150,000 as a married couple filing jointly) without incurring federal gift tax. This is provided you don’t make any other gifts to that student beneficiary over the course of five years. For the purpose of the contribution, it’s as if you made the $75,000 gift over the course of five years. Any additional gifts made to the beneficiary during that five-year period will incur a gift tax.

There’s another major benefit when it comes to the 529 and estate taxes. Money contributed to a 529 account is generally treated as a “completed gift” to the student beneficiary, but as the contributor/participant, you still have control over the money. If you were to die with money remaining in your account, it will not be included in your estate for federal estate tax purposes. In short, the 529 is a valid tool if your goal is to reduce the total of your estate to avoid the estate tax, but still, help a student you care about.

In terms of the estate tax, if you took the option for the $75,000 contribution ($150,000 for married couples) to a 529 plan account as if it was made over five years and then you die within the five-year window, a prorated portion of the contribution will be subject to estate tax. This can get a bit confusing, so please speak with your trusted estate planning attorney or tax advisor for more personalized information.

What’s your experience with 529 plans? Any questions in regards to how contributing to a 529 plan could impact your tax savings? Don’t hesitate to contact me by email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or phone (515-371-6077).

slayer rule

In honor of Halloween, I thought it appropriate to explain the ominous-sounding principle of the slayer rule. [Cue a full moon, bats, and a high-pitched cackle here.]

It’s a plot you may come across in murder novels or movies: someone kills someone else in order to inherit money, a house, artwork, or anything else of assumed value. Or, in some cases, the intent might not specifically be an inheritance, but nevertheless, the “slayer” will inherit as a result of the other’s death.

This scheme hits at very core of what most people think is unfair and unjust–why should someone who cuts another’s life short be entitled to benefit from their criminal act? This is why most states have adopted “slayer statutes.”

For example, Iowa adopted such a law (Iowa Code § 633.535) in 1987. It says primarily:

A person who intentionally and unjustifiably causes or procures the death of another shall not receive any property, benefit, or other interest by reason of the death as an heir, distributee, beneficiary, appointee, or in any other capacity whether the property, benefit, or other interest passed under any form of title registration, testamentary or nontestamentary instrument, intestacy, renunciation, or any other circumstance. The property, benefit, or other interest shall pass as if the person causing death died before the decedent.

Note that states differ as to specific provisions and different factors like considerations of an insanity defense, and whether or not a slayer’s heirs are also disinherited. The information in the blog post is meant to speak generally. For slayer rule specifics, it’s important to consult with an experienced attorney in the jurisdiction in question.

Main Principles of the Slayer Rule

Generally speaking, the principle of the rule is that an estate plan beneficiary cannot inherit any property, fiduciary appointment, or power of appointment from a testator who the beneficiary intentionally and feloniously kills. The rule also applies if the beneficiary kills someone else (besides the testator) who had to die before they could inherit. In the case of an estate planning document (like a will), the entire will is interpreted by the court as if the slayer died before the testator. (This causes the gifts to said slayer-beneficiary to lapse.)

What if there is no will? The slayer rule still applies. So in the case of non-probate transfers (like a trust or a checking account with a beneficiary designation) the slayer could not inherit. The same goes if the slayer is an heir at law set to inherit under the state’s intestacy laws.

What Kind of Killing Triggers the Slayer Rule?

Typically the killing must be: 1) intentional; 2) felonious; and 3) without legal justification, like valid self-defense. Murder and some forms of manslaughter (such as voluntary manslaughter) tend to fulfill these requirements. Negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter typically won’t qualify, as the slayer lacks the required element of intent.

For example, let’s say Anna has a son named Billy. Anna’s husband (Billy’s father) had passed away previously and Billy was set to inherit his mother’s entire estate under her will. Billy loved his mom and liked to make sure she still got out and did fun things in her older age. One night Anna and Billy go out to dinner and order some wine. Billy drinks a bit too much, but because his mother’s eyesight is impaired, Billy still chooses to drive his mother home even though he’s impaired. The car crashes and Anna, unfortunately, dies as a result, but Billy lives. Even if drunk driving is a felony in the jurisdiction, Billy lacked the intent element as there’s no evidence that shows he intended to kill Anna. Thus, the slayer statute would not prohibit Billy from inheriting Anna’s estate.

Does There Have to be a Trial and a Conviction?

For the slayer rule to come into play, there doesn’t need to be a criminal trial or a criminal conviction. It is enough for a civil litigation court to find the slayer responsible for the other’s death by a preponderance of the evidence. Interestingly enough, even if an alleged slayer is acquitted of a crime, it does not stop the civil court from applying the slayer rule and barring the inheritance.

That said, if there is a final, unappealable criminal conviction finding the killing to be intentional and felonious, it would establish all the requirements of the slayer rule. There would be no other need for other proof because such a criminal conviction requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

 Smart Estate Planning 

Of course, the odds that the slayer rule will apply to most of our estates is (thankfully) extremely rare. But it’s analogous to a more common situation — the beneficiary dying before the testator. An issue that then complicates donative intent is if the testator fails to or doesn’t have time to update their estate plan and there’s no remainder (or back-up) beneficiary to inherit instead. When working with an experienced estate planner it’s a wise idea to name secondary beneficiaries, as well as “back-up” will executors or trust trustees. That way distribution or administration of your hard-earned assets is not left up to the court.

Questions about the slayer rule or other somewhat obscure estate planning laws? Need to get started on your estate plan? Don’t hesitate to contact me for a free consult!

real estate keys to house

It’s National Estate Planning Week (I know you’re as excited about it as we are!) which is a good excuse to bring up a hypothetical scenario: what happens, in terms of estate planning, if either the buyer or seller in a sale of real estate (like a house or land) dies before the closing?

It’s a situation that is fairly improbable, but it can and does happen. Plus, it’s good to explore just in case you ever find yourself dealing with this as the executor of a loved one’s estate.

Let’s say that you’re buying a house and you’ve already executed the contract (a purchase agreement) with the seller. Before the closing date, the seller passed away. What happens to the property? How does it fit into the seller’s estate plan? What is the executor responsible for? It’s easy to see how this can be a complicated conundrum.

Equitable and Legal Title

At this point, after the purchase agreement is drawn up and before the closing, you as the buyer hold an equitable title in the real property (the house). Equitable title is legal parlance meaning here that the buyer has a right to obtain full ownership of a property (or property interest). Equitable title comes with certain rights. For example, the seller can’t sell the property to a third party or subject the property to an encumbrance or a lien that would interfere with the buyer’s property interest.

Legal title, in comparison, is actual ownership of the land. In the period between the sale agreement and the closing, the seller holds the legal title to the property being sold. Legal title transfers to the buyer when the final payment is made (typically this is done at the closing or through an escrow process when the buyer receives the property deed in exchange for the payments made).

Like our hypothetical, if the seller dies during this point in the sales process this legal title in the property is a part of the seller’s estate. That means the seller’s estate can still sell the property (and is contracted to do so), collect the profit from the sale, and then disperse the profits as part of the decedent’s total gross estate to the beneficiaries.

What About the Seller’s Heirs?

The seller’s heirs-at-law and/or estate plan beneficiaries may have expected to inherit the house. But, if the seller entered into a valid contract for sale before they died, the estate’s executor is bound to honor the contract.

Note that sometimes there are required waiting periods where the executor must wait before executing documents for the estate (such as the sale of real estate). So, as the buyer, you can anticipate a reasonable time delay (think 30 days) compared to the schedule set out in the purchase agreement.

Of course, there are many rules of real estate and contract law that come into play, but in terms of property and how it plays into the estate planning process, these are the basics!

Enlist an Estate Planning Attorney to Help Everything Run Smoothly

If you do find yourself in the position of being the executor of a seller’s estate and that seller died in the midst of a real estate sale, don’t hesitate to enlist the expertise of an estate planner to help guide you how to best accommodate and fulfill your fiduciary duties.

On a related point, if you sell your house or purchase a new property, it may necessitate updates to your estate plan! Review your plan and then schedule a free consult to ensure all of your assets are properly accounted for in your plan.

Any questions about your specific estate planning situation? Contact GFLF at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or by phone,515-371-6077.

man writing on trust paper

If you’re unsure of what a trust is and how it works, you probably don’t have one. And, if you don’t have a trust, you’re not alone. About 57 percent of U.S. adults don’t have an estate planning document like a will or a trust even though they believe having one is important.

What Is a Trust? How Does It Work?

If you haven’t stopped to consider how a trust might help ensure that your wishes are followed and your assets are handled, you could be making a critical estate planning mistake.

A trust is simply a legal agreement among three parties—settlortrustee, and beneficiary—that provides instructions on how and when to pass assets to the trust’s beneficiaries. Let’s look at the role of each of these three parties, and then delve into how trusts work.

Settlor

A settlor—sometimes called the “donor, “grantor,” or “trustor”—is the person who creates the trust and has the legal authority to transfer assets into it.  

Trustee

The trustee is the person who agrees to accept, manage, and protect the assets delivered by the settlor. The trustee has a fiduciary duty to administer the assets according to the trust’s instructions and distribute the trust income and principal according to the rules outlined in the trust document and in the best interests of the beneficiary.

A trustee can be one, two, or more people. A trustee can also be what is known as a “corporate trustee,” such as a financial institution (like a bank) or a law firm that performs trustee duties and charge fees for their services. There are no formal requirements for being a trustee and nonprofessionals frequently serve as a trustee for family members and friends.

Beneficiary

The beneficiary is the person or entity benefiting from the trust. The beneficiary can be one person or entity or multiple parties. Also, trust beneficiaries don’t even have to exist at the time the trust is created (such as in the case of a future grandchild or charitable foundation that has not yet been established).

Trust Property

A trust can be either funded or unfunded. “Funded” mean that the settlor’s assets—sometimes called the “principal” or the “corpus”—have been placed into the trust. A trust is unfunded until the assets are in it (failing to fund a trust is a common estate planning mistake). 

Trust Assets

Trusts can hold just about any kind of asset: real estate, intangible property (like patents), business interests, and personal property. Common trust properties include farms, buildings, vacation homes, stocks, bonds, savings and checking accounts, collections, personal possessions, and vehicles.

“Imaginary Container”

Think of a trust as an “imaginary container” that holds and protects your assets. After the trust is funded, the trust property will still be in the same place before the trust was created—your land where it always was, your artwork on the wall, your money in the bank, your comic book collection in the den. The only difference is the asset will have a different owner: “The Jane Jones Trust,” rather than Jane Jones.

Transfer of Ownership

Putting property in a trust transfers it from personal ownership to the trustee, who holds the property for the beneficiary. The trustee has what is called “legal title” to the trust property and, in most instances, the law treats trust property as if it were now owned by the trustee. Each trust has its own taxpayer identification number, just like an individual.

But trustees are not the full owners of trust property. Trustees have a legal duty to use trust property as directed in the trust agreement and as allowed by law. The beneficiaries retain what is known as “equitable title”—the right to benefit from trust property as specified in the trust.

Assets to Beneficiary

The settlor provides terms in a trust agreement directing how the fund’s assets are to be distributed to a beneficiary. The settlor can provide for the distribution of funds in any way that is not against the law or against public policy. The near-limitless flexibility of trusts is a primary advantage for setting one up.

Types of trusts

A joke among estate planners says that the only limit to trusts is the imagination of the lawyers involved.  It’s true, though, that the number and kind of trusts are virtually unlimited.

Let’s start by taking a look at the four primary categories of trusts:

Inter vivos and Testamentary Trusts

Trusts that are set up during the settlor’s lifetime are called “inter vivos” trusts. Those that arise upon the death of the settlor, generally by operation of a will, are called “testamentary” trusts. There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of trusts, and how one decides depends upon the goals and purposes of the settlor.

Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts

Inter vivos and testamentary trusts can be broken down into two more categories: revocable trusts and irrevocable trusts. A revocable trust can be changed at any time during the settlor’s lifetime. Second thoughts about a provision in the trust or about who should be a beneficiary might prompt modification of the trust’s terms. The settlor can alter parts of the trust or revoke the entire thing.

Irrevocable Trust

An irrevocable trust is a type of trust that can’t be changed by the settlor after the agreement has been signed and the trust has been formed and funded. The terms of an irrevocable trust can’t be modified, amended, or terminated without the permission of the settlor’s beneficiary or beneficiaries.

A revocable living trust becomes irrevocable when the settlor dies because he or she is no longer available to make changes to it. But a revocable trust can be designed to break into separate irrevocable trusts at the time of the grantor’s death for the benefit of children or other beneficiaries.

You might wonder, “Why make a trust irrevocable? Wouldn’t you want to maintain the ability to change your mind about the trust or its terms?”

Not necessarily.

Irrevocable trusts, such as irrevocable life insurance trusts, are commonly used to remove assets from a person’s estate and thus avoid them being taxed. Transferring assets into an irrevocable trust gives those assets to the trustee and the trust beneficiaries forever. If a person no longer owns the assets, they don’t comprise or contribute to the value of his or her estate and so they aren’t subject to estate taxes upon death.

Revocable living trusts

There is no “one size fits all” trust—different kinds of trusts offer different benefits (and drawbacks) depending on a person’s circumstances. Age, number of children, health, and relative wealth are just a few of the factors to be considered. The most common trust my clients use is a revocable living trust, sometimes referred to by its abbreviation, “RLT.”

A revocable living trust—created while you’re alive and that can be revoked or amended by you—has three advantages over other kinds of trusts:

 1. Money-Saving

Establishing a revocable living trust helps avoid costly probate—the legal process required to determine that a will is valid. Probate generally eats up about two percent (2%) of an estate, which can add up to a chunk of change you’d probably rather see go to your beneficiaries.

Avoiding probate also means avoiding other fees, such as court costs, that go along with it.

2. Time-Saving

A revocable living trust not only eliminates the costs of probate, but the time-consuming process of probate as well. Here in Iowa, probate can take several months to a year, or sometimes even longer, leaving beneficiaries without their inheritances until the very end of the probate process. The transfer of assets in a trust is much faster.

3. Flexibility

Don’t want your 16-year-old niece to inherit a half-million dollars in one big lump sum? I agree it’s probably not a good idea.

A revocable living trust offers flexibility for the payout of an inheritance because you set the ground rules for when and how distributions are made. For example, you might decide your beneficiaries can receive certain distributions at specific ages (21, 25, 30, etc.), or for reaching certain milestones, such as marriage, the birth of a child, or graduation from college.

last will and testament

Drawbacks

Despite the significant advantages of establishing a revocable living trust, there are drawbacks people should be aware of

For starters, trusts are more expensive to prepare than basic estate plan documents such as wills. However, the costs associated with sitting down with a lawyer and carefully putting in place a trust is, in my opinion, greatly outweighed by the money your estate will save in the end.

Creating a trust can also be an administrative bother at the start of the process because assets (farm, business, stock funds, etc.) must be retitled in the name of the trust. But, all things considered, this is a small inconvenience that is greatly outweighed by the smooth operation of a trust when you pass away.

You Can Trust me to Talk About the Best Trust(s) for You

Interested in learning more about trusts or questioning if you need one? Feel free to reach out at any time by email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com, or on my cell, 515-371-6077. If you want to simply get started on an estate plan (everyone needs at least the basic documents in place!) check out my estate plan questionnaire, provided to you free, without any obligation.

planned gift pink bow

A planned gift is literally what is sounds like. Sort of. The term refers to the process of creating a charitable bequest now that will take effect later. In other words, during your lifetime you plan for a gift that will be given a future date—usually at or upon your death. A planned gift is best accomplished as part of an overall estate plan and it is usually delivered through a will or trust.

While you can make provisions to give a specific dollar amount, there are many different types of planned gifts. You can make a planned gift of real estate, life insurance, and retirement plans, or tangible property (such as artwork). You can also remember organizations with planned gifts of charitable remainder annuity trusts (CRATs), charitable remainder unitrusts (CRUTs), Net Income with Makeup Charitable Remainder Unitrusts (NIMCRUTs), FlipCRUTs.

For now, let’s go over exactly what planned giving is; the benefits of planned giving; the kinds of charities you need to consider when making a planned gift; and the kinds of gifts that qualify for a tax deduction.

Who gives? Donors and benefactors

In July 2018, Warren Buffet donated about $3.4 billion to five charities, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—itself headed by the country’s most generous philanthropic couple who gave it $4.8 billion. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $1 billion to their charitable foundation.

It’s fun to read about the super-rich and their bountiful bequests, but you don’t have to be a modern-day Rockefeller or a member of the one percent to donate to charity or create a planned gift. Indeed, ordinary people with ordinary means can bequeath gifts that make an extraordinary difference.

In 2016, a legal secretary in Brooklyn, New York, who had worked at the same law firm for 67 years, bequeathed $8.2 million to, among others, New York City’s Henry Street Settlement and Hunter College to help disadvantaged students. Sylvia Bloom, who worked until she was 96 years old, saved her fortune through frugal living and savvy investing.

People make planned gifts for any number of reasons:

  • Streamline estate planning and closing;
  • Make a meaningful contribution to a cause or organization that reflects their beliefs and values;
  • Create a legacy that will have lasting impact into the future;
  • Gain income and tax benefits.

There are three types of planned gifts:

  • Outright gifts that use assets instead of cash;
  • Gifts that return income or other financial benefits to you in return for a contribution;
  • Gifts payable upon your death.

Who receives? Planned giving beneficiaries

Organizations love planned gifts. After what are known as “major gifts”—the six-figure endowment, the priceless Old Master painting, the stretch of valuable coastline—planned giving makes up the largest chunk of donations a nonprofit receives. Planned giving helps nonprofits weather fluctuations in other kinds of charitable giving and income, such as yearly donations and gift shop sales. It can alleviate the possibility of dipping into an endowment or cutting back on services and programs. Planned giving is also a way to develop and sustain relationships with donors — and in an increasingly competitive giving environment, nonprofits can’t afford to ignore planned giving programs. Even though organizations don’t immediately receive a planned gift, it is worth the wait.

The reality is that nonprofits can no longer simply ask donors to pony up with cash by writing a check. Donors expect and often demand an array of choices when it comes to helping their favorite nonprofits. Many if not most nonprofits have programs in place to accept planned gifts. But if you’re interested in donating an asset your favorite nonprofit isn’t accustomed to accepting, your best bet is to connect it with an experienced nonprofit attorney to make your gift a reality.

Not all nonprofits are the same when it comes to giving

When we talk about “charitable giving,” it is usually when referring to a particular kind of nonprofit organization. Specifically, organizations formed under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service tax code.(Click to the IRS website to check if a possible beneficiary is a qualified 501(c)(3).) A 501(c)(3) can come in many different forms: foundations, charities, churches, community organizations, schools. They all have one thing in common in that they are formed to benefit the general public, not individuals, not for the mutual benefit of their members (such as homeowners associations, and not for political coalitions).

Be aware, however, that not every nonprofit is a 501(c)(3) organization. There are actually 29 types of nonprofits in the U.S. federal tax code, but when it comes to planned giving you can only take a tax deduction if you donate to one that the IRS has conferred 501(c)(3) status. Contributions to non-501(c)(3) groups, charities, and organizations can be valuable to recipients and make you feel good as well. It’s just that the federal government is not going to give you a tax break for your donation. Knowing what you can and can’t claim helps you maximize the potential tax savings that the charitable tax deduction to a 501(c)(3) offers.

Before we discuss what kinds of giving qualify for a tax deduction, here are some that don’t qualify:

Promises and pledges

Let’s say you made a charitable pledge of $150 to a 501(c)(3), but only gave $50 that particular tax year. You can only deduct from your taxes the $50 that you actually donated that year. Once you donate rest of the pledge (the remaining $100) you can deduct that amount for the tax year in which this occurred.

Political support

While it is important to be involved in the democratic process, monetary support is not considered charitable giving. Monies given to political candidates, campaigns, parties, and political action committees (PACs), as well as money spent to host or attend fundraising events, or to purchase advertising, lawn signs, and bumper stickers are not considered charitable giving.

Fundraising and special event tickets

I’m sure you can’t count the number of times you’ve bought raffle or lottery tickets, bingo cards, and partook other kinds of games of chance. These classic and popular fundraising methods support charities and are fun to imagine winning, but you can’t claim a deduction for them.

Personal benefit gifts

The IRS considers a charitable contribution to be one-sided. This means if you receive something in return for your 501(c)(3) donation — from a tote bag to a T-shirt, from a side of beef to a three-course meal — only the amount above the fair market value of the item/service is deductible. Let’s say your neighbor’s child is selling popcorn to raise money for a scouting troop. You buy a bag of popcorn for $10 whose retail value is $6. This amounts to a $4 charitable donation. Similarly, you purchase a $75 ticket to a fundraising dinner sponsored a favorite charity. The dinner would cost you $30 at a restaurant, so your charitable deduction would be $45.

Gifts without proof

Cash placed in your church’s collection plate, dropped into the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle, and handed to a student for a cupcake at a bake sale…these are all worthy donations, but you can’t just guesstimate how much you’ve given and deduct the amount from your taxes. Of course, I believe, you gave, but the IRS demands documentary proof of all cash donations, no matter the amount in order for you to claim the deduction. Proof might be bank records such as a canceled check, a receipt from the nonprofit organization, or a pay stub if the donation was made through a payroll deduction. For single cash donations of more than $250, the IRS requires a statement from the organization.

Gifts to individuals

I’ve seen many successful crowdfunding campaigns to support any number of good causes. Let’s say a friend is raising money for her child’s expensive medical procedure through an online site and you make a donation to help her reach her goal. Or, perhaps your nephew is raising money for a mission trip over the summer and you write him a check for $25. Unfortunately, contributions earmarked for certain individuals (despite their economic, medical, educational or other needs) are not deductible according to the IRS. However, if you donate to a qualified organization that in turn helps your friend or nephew, that contribution would be deductible — although you can’t designate your donation to be directed to that person. Again, a contribution can’t be given directly or indirectly to a specific individual and still be tax-deductible.

Bountiful opportunities for charitable giving

It may seem like there are a lot of kinds of giving and plenty of nonprofits that do not qualify for the tax benefits you’re looking for, but don’t worry!  There is a multitude of ways for you to show your generosity and contribute to a charity that can minimize your estate taxes, bypass capital gains taxes, and receive current tax deductions. Of course, planned giving is not the only kind of giving. Unplanned giving is no less a means of showing your generosity and supporting those organizations whose mission and activities you believe in.

I’d love to discuss your charitable giving goals and options tailored to your individual situation. Don’t hesitate to contact me via email or by phone (515-371-60770).

coffee-book-table-word-nerd

In the past I’ve written about specific “legal words of the day” where we take a deep dive into terms that can be confusing, misleading, or unknown. A few of the favorites? Breach of contract, subpoena, and inclusion rider. But, if you’re a word nerd like me, one word or phrase per blog post is not enough! Read on for nine important words related to a key estate planning tool you should know about—trusts.

Trust

To begin, what’s a “trust” itself? No, a trust is not like “I trust you to care for my dog while I’m on summer vacation.” Think more “trust fund kid,” except know that trusts are definitely not just for the wealthy. Trusts can be key to helping you achieve your estate planning (and charitable giving) goals.  At its most basic, a trust is a legal agreement between three parties: the settlor (or grantor), the trustee, and beneficiary. Let’s look at the meaning of these three parties, and then delve more into words which explain how a trust works.

Grantor

All trusts have a grantor, sometimes referred to as the “settlor” or “trustor.” The grantor creates the trust and has legal authority to transfer property to the trust.

Trustee

The trustee is the person who receives the property and accepts the obligation to hold the property for the benefit of the beneficiary. The trustee is responsible for managing the property according to the rules outlined in the trust document and must do so in the best interests of the beneficiary. A trustee can be one, two, or many persons.

Corporate Trustee

There is a specific type of trustee called the corporate trustee. Many banks, other financial institutions, and even a few law firms have trust departments to manage trusts and carry out duties of trustees. These are professional trustees (so they should be very good at their roles) and charge fees for services rendered.

Beneficiary

The beneficiary is the person or entity benefiting from the trust. The beneficiary can be one person/entity or multiple parties (true also of grantor and trustee). Multiple trust beneficiaries do not have to have the same interests in the trust property. Also, trust beneficiaries do not have to even exist at the time the trust is created (such as a future grandchild, or charitable foundation that has been set up yet).

Concurrent Interests or Successive Interests

In cases of multiple beneficiaries, the beneficiaries may hold concurrent interests or successive interests. An example of concurrent interests is a group of beneficiaries identified as grandchildren of the grantors, who all receive distributions after their grandparents’ deaths. An example of successive interests is a trust in which one beneficiary has an interest for a term of years, and the other beneficiary holds a future interest, to become possessory only after the present interest terminates.

Principal, or Corpus, or Res

A trust can be either funded or unfunded. By funded, I mean that trust property has been placed “inside” the trust. This property is called the “principal,”  “corpus,” or “res.”  A trust is unfunded until property is transferred into the name of the trustee of the trust.

Inter Vivos Trusts and Testamentary Trusts

One common way to describe trusts is by their relationship to the life of their grantor. Those created while the grantor is alive are referred to as inter vivos trusts or living trusts. Trusts created after the grantor has died are called testamentary trusts.

Probate

A major benefit of trusts is avoiding “probate.” Probate is a court process that involves filing the will and a petition in probate court, followed by an inventory, property appraisal, totaling of owed debts and taxes, and payments of court costs and attorney’s and executor’s fees. After all of that is finished what’s left goes to the grantor’s beneficiaries. The estate of any decedent, whether s/he had a will or did not have a will, has to go through probate. A funded living trust can be a smart way to have your estate avoid the probate process. How does this work? Upon death the trustee simply distributes the assets within the trust as directed by the grantor. The caveat is that the property must be transferred to the trust.

Language lesson done for the day!

Beyond these important words, you should also know that trusts can have great utility in estate planning.

Among many other benefits, trusts have the advantages of:

  • saving money, including probate costs and other taxes and fees;
  • being extremely flexible;
  • efficiently moving assets to your heirs and beneficiaries; and
  • privacy.

Do you have an estate plan? Have you thought about a trust? I offer a free one-hour consultation,  please always feel free to email me at gordon@gordonfischerlafirm.com or call me at 515-371-6077.

What’s the most interesting estate planning-related word you’ve learned? Share it in the comments below!

GoFisch blog

Mark Twain famously said, “A classic is something everybody wants to have read, but no one wants to read.” Life insurance is a little like that. Everyone needs it, but we don’t like to talk about it much.

Life Insurance as Key Estate Planning Tool

Life insurance is an amazing estate planning tool. I cannot stress enough the importance of life insurance. I, of course, don’t sell it, so I have no economic stake here. It’s just that life insurance is generally reasonably and affordably priced, yet still so helpful with so many financial goals. Replacing a breadwinner’s earnings is one of the most commons ways it is utilized. But, it can also provide liquid assets for a small business when a key partner dies. Life insurance can also cover costs that you might forget about, like funeral costs or unpaid taxes. While there are many advantages to life insurance, and you most definitely need it, life insurance can also create estate planning issues.

Three Estate Planning Issues Life Insurance May Create

The major issue created by life insurance is that of the “sudden windfall” to your beneficiary. Do you really want, say, your 19-year-old to inherit several hundred thousand dollars at once? Even oldsters with experience managing finances may find a huge influx of cash to be overwhelming.

Another issue to consider: does your beneficiary receive government benefits? If so, proceeds from your life insurance policy might make your beneficiary ineligible for further benefits. By the way, don’t think that those receiving government aid are all elderly. Quite the opposite! A vast majority of Medicaid recipients are under age 44. Regardless of age, any beneficiary on Medicaid, or similar government aid program, is at risk of losing benefits without careful estate planning.

Finally, for high-net-worth (HNW) individuals and families, there is the issue of the federal estate tax. Everything owned in your name at death is included in your estate for estate tax purposes. Yes, that includes the death benefit proceeds of your life insurance policy. Considering that many policies carry quite hefty death benefits (several hundred thousand dollars, or more, not being unusual), this is definitely something for those with HNW to carefully consider.

In Trusts we Trust

I’ve explained trusts generally before. A quick primer: in simplest terms, a trust is a legal agreement between three parties: grantor, trustee, and beneficiary. This allows a third party (the trustee) to hold assets for a beneficiary (or beneficiaries).

There are a nearly infinite variety of trusts. One type of trust is an irrevocable life insurance trust or ILIT.

So, what IS an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust?

Think of an ILIT as an “imaginary container,” which owns your life insurance policy for you. This provides several benefits. An ILIT removes the life insurance from your estate, i.e., lowers estate tax liability. Like other trusts, an ILIT allows you to decide how, when, and even why your named beneficiary receives life insurance proceeds.

Wait, what was that about the three parties?

The grantor is you, the purchaser of life insurance.

The trustee can be anyone you, as grantor, chooses — an individual(s) or a qualified corporate trustee (like the trust department at your bank). But, note a major difference between an ILIT and other kinds of trusts – with a large number of other trusts, you can name yourself as trustee. With an ILIT, you wouldn’t want to do so, because the IRS may then determine that life insurance really hasn’t left your estate.

Who can be a beneficiary of an ILIT?

Most often, spouses, children, and/or grandchildren are the named beneficiaries of an ILIT. But really, it can be any individual(s) you, as grantor, choose.

Your beneficiary and your life insurance proceeds

The conditions under which a beneficiary receives distributions from an ILIT is up to you. You can, for example, specify that your beneficiary receives monthly or annual distributions. You can decide the amounts. You may even dictate that your beneficiary receives distributions when s/he reaches milestones which you choose. For example, you can provide for a large(r) distribution when a beneficiary reaches a certain age, graduates from college or post-graduate program, buys a first home, marries, or has a child. Or, really, just about any other condition or event that you decide is appropriate.

You also have the option to build in flexibility, so that your trustee has the discretion to provide distributions when your beneficiary needs it for a special purpose, like pursuing higher education, starting a business, making an investment, and so on.

And, of course, if your beneficiary is receiving government benefits, an ILIT can account for that, as well.

Good gosh, is there anything an ILIT CAN’T DO?

Once again, an ILIT is irrevocable. While an ILIT provides a great deal of flexibility, there’s one action for certain you can’t take — you cannot transfer a policy owned by an ILIT into your own name. So, if you think that someday you may need to access the policy’s cash value for your own purposes, you probably shouldn’t set up an ILIT.

Options for “ending” an ILIT

Now, I suppose, there’s nothing requiring you to continue making insurance payments into your ILIT. Depending on the kind of policy you have, your policy may lapse as soon as you miss your premium payment. Or, if your policy has cash value, these funds may be used to pay premiums until all the accumulated cash is exhausted. So, that’s an option for “ending” an ILIT.

I bet you have some questions. Let’s talk!

An ILIT can provide you, your loved ones, and your estate with significant benefits. To learn more, contact me at my email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com, for a free consultation, without obligation. You can also give me a call at 515-371-6077.


*Yes, you’re right – ILIT is really not a word, but an acronym. You caught me. It’s just that Legal Word of the Day sounds more exciting than Legal Acronym of the Day. Also, congratulations to you for being the kind of person who reads footnotes.

**In 2019 an individual must have an estate of more than about $11.18 million, and a married couple an estate of more than $22.8 million, before they need to worry about federal estate taxes.