Frequently Asked Questions

Estate Planning with Marie Edmonds in Medina, Ohio
A good estate plan is one that accomplishes your goals, upon your disability or death, while leaving you in control while you are alive and well. If your plan takes care of you and your loved ones if you become disabled and enables you to give what you have to whom you want, the way you want and when you want, it has succeeded.
If at some time you become incapacitated, that is, mentally unable to manage your financial affairs due to age or illness, your family may find itself in a difficult position if you have not done the proper planning. If you have not designated someone in a durable power of attorney to handle your financial affairs, your family will need to petition the Probate Court to become your guardian. A guardian then needs to get the Court’s approval prior to spending your money on you and also report annually those expenditures. This can be avoided by naming an agent under a Power of Attorney who can then handle all of your financial matters for you, depending on what authority you have given your agent.

Another important document during incapacity is a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. This is where you name someone to make your medical decisions for you if you become unable to make them yourself, either temporarily or permanently.

Everything in your name alone, with no joint owner or beneficiary named, will pass through Probate upon your death and be governed by your will. There are many methods to avoid probate – having assets owned jointly with someone, naming a payable on death beneficiary, or having assets owned by your trust. Whether avoiding probate is the best choice for you is dependent upon your family circumstances and your goals.

Proper planning can avoid probate and accomplish all your goals for you and your family.

If you have minor children (under the age of 18), it is critical that you name a guardian for them upon your death. A guardian is a person appointed by the Court to raise your children until they reach the age of majority. You may name anyone you choose as the guardian for your minor children. However, if you do not name someone, the Court is limited on whom it can name, with one important requirement being the guardian must then be an Ohio resident. The only place that a guardian can be named is in your will.

Your estate plan can also provide, however, that any funds your children are inheriting are to be held in trust for them beyond the age of 18. The person named to handle your children’s funds is called a trustee. You can give your trustee specific or general directions on how you would like your money spent for your children. You can also decide at what age you would like your children to take over their funds. The trustee can be the same person as the guardian, but need not be.

Whether there will be any federal estate tax payable upon your death depends on the size of your estate, who the beneficiaries are, the law in effect at the time of your death and your estate plan. Be aware that Ohio does have its own independent estate tax, with a current exemption from tax of $338,333. As a married couple as your estate exceeds the federal exemption amount or the Ohio exemption in any significant amount, tax planning becomes important in order to minimize the tax effects upon your heirs.
We often hear a wish by families to protect their children’s inheritance from potential creditors or divorces. If that is an important goal for you, trust planning may be the appropriate solution.
Living Trusts With Marie Edmonds in Medina, Ohio
When a loved one passes away, his or her estate often goes through a court-managed process called probate or estate administration where the assets of the deceased are managed and distributed. If your loved-one owned his or her assets through a well-drafted and properly funded Living Trust, it is likely that no court-managed administration is necessary, though the successor trustee needs to administer the distribution of the deceased. The length of time needed to complete the probate of an estate depends on the size and complexity of the estate and the local rules and schedule of the probate court.

Every probate estate is unique, but most involve the following steps:

  • Filing of a petition with the proper probate court
  • Notice to heirs under the Will or to statutory heirs (if no Will exists)
  • Petition to appoint Executor (in the case of a Will) or Administrator for the estate
  • Inventory and appraisal of estate assets by Executor/Administrator
  • Payment of estate debt to rightful creditors
  • Sale of estate assets
  • Payment of estate taxes, if applicable
  • Final distribution of assets to heirs
A living trust is a set of instructions on how you want your assets spent or distributed upon your disability and death. A Living Trust can be used to hold legal title to your assets and provide a mechanism to manage them. You (and your spouse) are the trustee(s) and beneficiaries of your trust during your lifetime. You also designate successor trustees to carry out your instructions as you have provided in case of death or incapacity. Unlike a Will, a Trust usually becomes effective immediately after incapacity or death. Your Living Trust is “revocable” which allows you to make changes and even to terminate it. One of the great benefits of a properly funded Living Trust is the fact that it will avoid probate and minimize the expenses and delays associated with the settlement of your estate.
Like a Will, a Living Trust is a legal document that provides for the management and distribution of your assets after you pass away. However, a Living Trust has certain advantages when compared to a Will. A Living Trust allows for the immediate transfer of assets after death without court interference. It also allows for the management of your affairs in case of incapacity, without the need for a guardianship or conservatorship process. With a properly funded Living Trust, there is no need to undergo a potentially expensive and time-consuming public probate process. In short, a well-thought out estate plan using a Living Trust can provide your loved ones with the ability to administer your estate privately, with more flexibility and in an efficient and low-cost manner.
Creating a revocable Living Trust and transferring your assets to the name of that trust will not affect your ability to control such assets. During your lifetime when you are mentally competent, you have complete control over all your assets. You may engage in any transaction as the trustee of your Trust that you could before you had a Living Trust. There are no changes in your income taxes. If you filed a 1040 before you had a trust, you continue to file a 1040 when you have a Living Trust. There are no new Tax Identification Numbers to obtain. Because a Living Trust is revocable, it can be modified at any time or it can be completely revoked if you so desire. Upon your incapacity, your durable power of attorney comes into effect and allows your loved ones to transact on your behalf according to the instructions you have laid out in the Living Trust. Upon your passing, the Living Trust can no longer be modified and the successor trustee(s) you have designated will then proceed implement your wishes as directed such as transfer of your assets to your beneficiaries.
Assets with beneficiary designations such as a life insurance policy or annuity payable directly to a named beneficiary need not be transferred to your Living Trust. Furthermore, money from IRAs, Keoghs, 401(k) accounts and most other retirement accounts transfer automatically, outside probate, to the persons named as beneficiaries. Bank accounts that are set up as payable-on-death account (POD for short) or an “in trust for” account (a “Totten Trust”) with a named beneficiary also pass to that beneficiary without having to be titled into your trust. However, when you do your estate planning, it is important to seek the counsel of an experienced attorney who is familiar with the intricate regulations of retirement accounts and can coordinate the appropriate beneficiary designations with your overall estate plan.
Federal law prohibits financial institutions from calling or accelerating your loan when you transfer property to your Living Trust as long as you continue to live in that home. The only exception to the federal law, enacted as part of the 1982 Garn-St. Germain Act is that it does not provide protection for residential real estate with more than five dwelling units. However, we find that most clients who do own residential property with more than five dwelling units tend to own them through a business entity and not directly in their individual names and hence are not concerned with the five dwelling exception.
Estate Taxes with Marie Edmonds in Medina, Ohio
There are two types of death taxes that you should be concerned about: the federal estate tax and state estate taxes. The federal estate tax is computed as a percentage of your net estate. Your net taxable estate is comprised of all assets you own or control minus certain deductions. Such deductions can be for administrative expenses such as funeral and burial costs as well as charitable donations. The current amount that is exempt from federal estate tax in 2015 is $5.43 million, indexed to inflation. The federal estate tax is currently “repealed” for the year 2010, but the repeal “sunsets” on December 31, 2010. Instead of an estate tax, heirs of decedents who pass away in the year 2010 will now have to use the original price paid for an asset when computing their tax liability, instead of the value upon the owner’s death. Those who pass away in the year 2011 and onward are subject to an applicable exclusion amount of only $1,000,000 which means that everything over that amount is subject to estate taxes.

Even if you believe that that you may not be affected by the federal estate tax, you still need to determine whether you may be subject to state estate and inheritance taxes. Further, you may have a taxable estate in the future as your assets appreciate in value. You should regularly review your estate plan with an estate planning attorney to ensure your estate plan takes into account changes in the tax laws as well as shifts in your individual circumstances.

*There is currently no Ohio estate tax, but other states may have a state estate or inheritance tax.

Your taxable estate comprises of the total value of your assets including your home, other real estate, business interests, your share of joint accounts, retirement accounts, and life insurance policies – minus liabilities and deductions such as funeral expenses paid out of the estate, debts owed by you at the time of death, bequests to charities and value of the assets passed on to your U.S. citizen spouse. The taxes imposed on the taxable portion of the estate are then paid out of the estate itself before distribution to your beneficiaries.
The federal government allows every married individual to give an unlimited amount of assets either by gift or bequest, to his or her spouse without the imposition of any federal gift or estate taxes. In effect, the unlimited marital deduction allows married couples to delay the payment of estate taxes at the passing of the first spouse because at the death of the surviving spouse, all assets in the estate over applicable exclusion amount ($2,000,000 in 2007) will be included in the survivor’s taxable estate. It is important to keep in mind that the unlimited marital deduction is only available to surviving spouses who are United States citizens.
A Credit Shelter Trust, also known as a Bypass, Family, or A/B Trust; is used to eliminate or reduce federal estate taxes and is typically used by a married couple whose estate exceeds the amount exempt from federal estate tax. For example, in 2009, every individual is entitled to an estate tax exemption on the first $3.5 million of their assets.

Because of the Unlimited Marital Deduction, a married person may leave an unlimited amount of assets to his or her spouse, free of federal estate taxes and without using up any of his or her estate tax exemption. However, for individuals with substantial assets, the Unlimited Marital Deduction does not eliminate estate taxes, but simply works to delay them. This is because when the second spouse dies with an estate worth more than the exemption amount, his or her estate is then subject to estate tax on the amount exceeding the exemption. Meanwhile, the first spouse’s estate tax credit was unused and, in effect, wasted. The purpose of a Credit Shelter Trust is to prevent this scenario. Upon the death of the first spouse, the Credit Shelter Trust establishes a separate, irrevocable trust with the deceased spouse’s share of the trust’s assets. The surviving spouse is the beneficiary of this trust, with the children as beneficiaries of the remaining interest. This irrevocable trust is funded to the extent of the first spouse’s exemption. Thus, the amount in the irrevocable trust is not subject to estate taxes on the death of the first spouse, and the trust takes full advantage of the first spouse’s estate tax credit. Special language in the trust provides limited control of the trust assets to the surviving spouse which prevents the assets in that trust from becoming subject to federal estate taxation, even if the value of the trust goes on to exceed the exemption amount by the time the surviving spouse dies.

*There is now a way to prevent the unused credit from being wasted.

Our homes are often our most valuable assets and hence one of the largest components of our taxable estate. A Qualified Personal Residence Trust, or a QPRT (pronounced “cue-pert”) allows you to give away your house or vacation home at a great discount, freeze its value for estate tax purposes, and still continue to live in it. Here is how it works: You transfer the title to your house to the QPRT (usually for the benefit of your family members), reserving the right to live in the house for a specified number of years. If you live to the end of the specified period, the house (as well as any appreciation in its value since the transfer) passes to your children or other beneficiaries free of any additional estate or gift taxes. After the end of the specified period, you may continue to live in the home but you must pay rent to your family or designated beneficiary in order to avoid inclusion of the residence in your estate. This may be an added benefit as it serves to further reduce the value of your taxable estate, though the rent income does have income tax consequences for your family. If you die before the end of the period, the full value of the house will be included in your estate for estate tax purposes, though in most cases you are no worse off than you would have been had you not established a QPRT. An added benefit of the QPRT is that it also serves as an excellent asset/creditor protection vehicle since you no longer technically own the property once the trust is established.
There is a common misconception that life insurance proceeds are not subject to estate tax. While the proceeds are received by your loved ones free of any income taxes, they are countable as part of your taxable estate and therefore your loved ones can lose over forty percent of its value to federal estate taxes. An Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust keeps the death benefits of your life insurance policy outside your estate so that they are not subject to estate taxes. There are many options available when setting up an ILIT. For example, ILITs can be structured to provide income to a surviving spouse with the remainder going to your children from a previous marriage. You can also provide for distribution of a limited amount of the insurance proceeds over a period of time to a financially irresponsible child.
A Family Limited Partnership (FLP) is simply a form of a limited partnership among members of a family. A limited partnership is one which has both general partners (who control management) and limited partners (who are passive investors). General partners bear unlimited personal liability for partnership obligations, while limited partners have no liability beyond their capital contributions. Typically, the partnership is formed by the older generation family members who contribute assets to the partnership in return for a small general partnership interest and a large limited partnership interest. Then the limited partnership interests are transferred to their children and/or grandchildren, while retaining the general partnership interests that control the partnership.

The FLP has a number of benefits: Transferring limited partnership interests to family members reduces the taxable estate of the older family members while they retain control over the decisions and distributions of the investment. Since the limited partners cannot control investments or distributions, they can be eligible for valuation discounts at the time of transfer which reduces the value of their holdings for gift and estate tax purposes. Lastly, a properly structured FLP can have creditor protection characteristics since the general partners are not obligated to distribute earnings of the partnership.

*There is also the possibility for a surviving spouse to use the deceased spouse’s unused exemption.  If your estate is large, you should discuss this with your attorney.

Incapacity Planning with Marie Edmonds in Medina, Ohio
A durable power of attorney is a document in which you appoint someone to carry on your financial affairs in the event that you become disabled. Unless you have a properly drafted power of attorney, it may be necessary to apply to a court to have a guardian or conservator appointed to make decisions for you when you are disabled. This guardianship process is time-consuming, expensive, often costing thousands of dollars and emotionally draining.

There are generally two types of durable powers of attorney: a “present” durable power of attorney in which the power is immediately transferred to your attorney in fact; and a “springing” or future durable power of attorney that only comes into effect upon your subsequent disability as determined by your doctor. When you appoint another individual to make financial decisions on your behalf, that individual is called an “attorney in fact”. Anyone can be designated, most commonly your spouse or domestic partner, a trusted family member, or friend. Appointing a power of attorney assures that your wishes are carried out exactly as you want them, allows you to decide who will make decisions for you, and is effective immediately upon subsequent disability.

Generally, any individual over the age of majority and who is legally competent can establish a power of attorney.
In general, an agent (or “attorney in fact”) may be anyone who is legally competent and over the age of majority. Most individuals select a close family member such as a spouse, sibling or adult child, but any person such as a friend or a professional with outstanding reputation for honesty would be ideal. You may appoint multiple agents to serve either simultaneously or separately. Appointing more than one agent to serve simultaneously can be problematic because if any one of the agents are unavailable to sign, action may be delayed. Confusion and disagreement between simultaneous agents can be another cause of inaction. Therefore, it is usually more prudent to appoint one individual as the primary agent and nominate additional individuals to serve as alternate agents if your first choice is unwilling or unable to serve.
The law allows you to appoint someone you trust – for example, a family member or close friend to decide about medical treatment options if you lose the ability to decide for yourself. You can do this by using a “Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care” or Health Care Proxy where you designate the person or persons to make such decisions on your behalf. You can allow your health care agent to decide about all health care or only about certain treatments. You may also give your agent instructions that he or she has to follow. Your agent can then make sure that health care professionals follow your wishes and can decide how your wishes apply as your medical condition changes. Hospitals, doctors and other health care providers must follow your agent’s decisions as if they were your own.
A Living Will informs others of your preferred medical treatment should you become permanently unconscious, terminally ill, or otherwise unable to make or communicate decisions regarding treatment. Almost all states have instituted living will laws to protect a patient’s right to refuse medical treatment. Even if you receive medical care in a state without living will laws this document is useful to a court trying to decide what an unconscious patient would want. In conjunction with other estate planning tools, it can bring peace of mind and security while avoiding unnecessary expense and delay in the event of future incapacity.
Some medical providers have refused to release information, even to spouses and adult children authorized by durable medical powers of attorney, on the grounds that the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, prohibits such releases. In addition to the above documents, you should also sign a HIPAA Authorization Form that allows the release of medical information to your Agents, your Successor Trustees, your family and other people whom you designate.
Special Needs Planning With Marie Edmonds in Medina, Ohio
While you can certainly bequest money and assets to those with special needs, such a bequest may prevent them from qualifying for essential benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid programs. However, public monetary benefits provide only for the bare necessities such as food, housing and clothing. As you can imagine, these limited benefits will not provide those loved ones with the resources that would allow them to enjoy a richer quality of life. But if parents leave any assets to their child who is receiving public benefits, they run the risk of disqualifying the child from receiving them. Fortunately, the government has established rules allowing assets to be held in trust, called a “Special Needs” or “Supplemental Needs” Trust for the benefit of a recipient of SSI and Medicaid, as long as certain requirements are met.
Generally, a Special Needs Trust should be established no later than the beneficiary’s 65th birthday. If you have a disabled or chronically ill beneficiary, you may want to consider establishing the Special Needs Trust at an early age. One benefit of having the Trust in place is that if the disabled beneficiary becomes the recipient of funds such as gifts, bequests or a settlement from a lawsuit they can immediately be transferred to the Special Needs Trust without affecting that individual’s eligibility for government benefits.
While Special Needs Trusts are typically established by parents for their disabled children, any third party can establish a Special Needs Trust for the benefit of a disabled beneficiary. It is important to seek the assistance of competent counsel when creating a Special Needs Trust. Indeed, a poorly drafted Trust can easily be subject to “invasion” by the government agencies who provide benefits. Our law firm has the experience and the expertise to establish effective Special Needs Trusts for anyone who wishes to provide for a disabled beneficiary. Under Ohio law, a third party (not the beneficiary) can establish what is called a Wholly Discretionary Trust, which is meant to prevent any assets funded into this trust from being counted as a resource for the purpose of  the beneficiary qualifying or retaining government benefits like Medicaid or SSI.   Under this kind of trust, the beneficiary cannot serve as the trustee.  The trustee has the sole and absolute discretion to make distributions from the trust, without any stated guidelines. 
Yes, you should still establish a Special Needs Trust to protect your disabled beneficiaries from potential creditors. For example, if your disabled beneficiaries are ever sued in a personal injury action, the assets in the trust would not be available to the plaintiffs. Furthermore, because the funds in the Special Needs Trust are not countable as available assets for purposes of determining government benefit eligibility, more of your money can be used for those supplemental expenditures that will allow your disabled beneficiary to enjoy a higher quality of life. Otherwise, much of your assets will be used to pay for private care benefits that are extremely expensive and can drain even significant sums of money over a period of years.