(916) 572-6048
Planning For The Unexpected Costs of Caring for Elderly Parents In Your Home

Planning For The Unexpected Costs of Caring for Elderly Parents In Your Home

Multi-generational households are becoming the new (or maybe it’s really old) in vogue way to handle the care of aging parents. And we’re all for it so long as you consider the implications and set your family up for success.

With Mom or Dad moving in, you can anticipate some extra expenses, not just financially, but possibly emotionally as well. But it’s hard to know what to expect, and you might face costs you didn’t see coming. Having an elderly parent move in with you is a major life event that requires financial and emotional preparation. Here are some unexpected costs of caring for elderly parents to get you thinking about what lies ahead, if you decide to move mom or dad into your home.

Remodeling

Many people don’t think about the modifications they might need to make to their home to welcome an elderly parent. If your parent is living with you long-term, you will want to make him or her comfortable, which might entail adding a new addition to your home, creating a private living space out of a shared area, making accommodations for single-level living if your parent cannot navigate the stairs, or adding mobility adaptations such as a walk-in bath or chair lifts.

Lost Work Productivity

Moving your elderly parent in, helping him or her get acquainted with the area, and checking out activities can all eat into your work week. Expect further loss of productivity if you have to take your parent to run errands, to medical appointments, or to therapy sessions. You can look into senior transportation services if you are unable to take time off from work, but remember to budget for the extra expense.

Home Help

In-home care can be a significant expense, but unless you are able to take time away from your busy day, your elderly parent might need it. Long-term care insurance will sometimes cover some or all of the costs, and you might be able to get assistance from certain programs through the VA or other community organizations.

Miscellaneous Household Expenses

The costs of simply having another household member can be unexpectedly high, especially if that member spends most of his or her day at home. You should expect such extra expenses as increased heat and electricity bills, special foods, and personal care products. Remember that elderly parents have special needs, and those needs can be expensive.

Medical Expenses

ven with insurance, your parent might have steep out of pocket costs for co-pays, prescriptions, mobility aids, supplements, vitamins, and other uninsured medical expenses. For certain conditions, these costs can quickly add up.

Long-Term Expenses

As your parent ages, his or her needs will change, too. These changing needs can result in unexpected long-term costs. When your parent’s retirement funds are exhausted or when they face deteriorating health, you might have to consider the staggering costs of long-term care in an assisted living facility or nursing home.

Therapy

Moving mom or dad into your home could bring up all of the unresolved emotional issues that have not yet been addressed within your family dynamic. This isn’t something to be afraid of, so long as you have the right support. On the contrary, it can be a great opportunity to heal inter-generational wounds that would otherwise get passed on to you and your children and their children.

Caring for an elderly parent can result in unexpected expenses and unexpected benefits, as well. Now that they have become dependent on you, you might also need to consider making changes to your insurance policies or revising your estate plan. If you are ready to take the step of officially becoming caregiver for mom or dad, meet with us for guidance.

5 Common Estate Planning Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

5 Common Estate Planning Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Since estate planning involves thinking about death, many people put it off until their senior years or simply ignore it all together until it becomes too late. This kind of unwillingness to face reality can create major hardship, expense, and mess for the loved ones and assets you leave behind.

While not having any estate plan is the biggest blunder you can make, even those who do create a plan can run into trouble if they don’t understand exactly how estate plans function.

Here are some of the most common mistakes people make with estate planning:

Not creating a will

While wills aren’t the ultimate estate planning tool, they’re one of the bare minimum requirements. A will lets you designate who’ll receive your property upon your death, and it also allows you to name specific guardians for your minor children. Without a will, your property will be distributed based on your state’s intestate laws (which are probably not in alignment with your wishes), and a judge will choose a guardian for your children under 18. Oh, and then your kids will get whatever you own outright, with no guidance, direction, or intention, as long as they’re over 18.

Not updating beneficiary designations

Oftentimes, people forget to change their beneficiary designations to match their estate planning desires. Check with your life insurance company and retirement-account holders to find out who would receive those assets in the event of your death.

If you have a trust, you’ll likely want the trust to the beneficiary. This does not happen automatically upon creating a trust. You actually have to make the change. See the section below for more on funding your trust.

And you never want to name a minor as a beneficiary of your life insurance or retirement accounts, even as the secondary beneficiary. If they were to inherit these assets, the assets become subject to the control of the court until he or she turns 18.

Not funding your trust

Many people assume that simply listing assets in a trust is enough to ensure they’ll be distributed properly. But this isn’t true. Some assets—real estate, bank accounts, securities, brokerage accounts—must be “funded” to the trust in order for them to be actually transferred without having to go through court. Funding involves changing the name on the title of the property or account to list the trust as the owner.

Unfortunately, most lawyers have been trained to create a trust, but not make sure assets are actually transferred into the trust. Crazy, right?!? But we see it all the time. And of course, when you acquire new assets after your trust is created, you must make sure those assets are also titled into your trust. However, most lawyers are not trained to make sure this happens either.

Part of being a Personal Family Lawyer® law firm means we make sure your assets are inventoried, titled properly, and the inventory is maintained throughout your lifetime, so your assets aren’t lost and do not get stuck in court upon your incapacity or death.

Not reviewing documents

Estate plans are not a “one-and-done” deal. As time passes, your life circumstances change, the laws change, and your assets change. Given this, you must update your plan to reflect these changes—that is, if you want it to actually work for your loved ones, keeping them out of court and out of conflict.

We recommend reviewing your plan annually to make sure its terms are up to date. And be sure to immediately update your estate plan following major life events like divorce, births, deaths, and inheritances. We’ve got built-in processes to make sure this happens—ask us about them.
Moreover, an annual life review can be a beautiful ritual that puts you at ease knowing you’ve got everything handled and updated each year.

Not leaving an inventory of assets

Even if you’ve properly “funded” your assets into your trust, your estate plan won’t be worth much if heirs can’t find your assets. Indeed, there’s more than $58 billion dollars worth of lost assets in the U.S. coffers right now. Can you believe that? And it happens because someone dies or becomes incapacitated but their assets cannot be found.

That’s why we create a detailed inventory of assets, indicating exactly where to find each asset, such as your cemetery plot deed, bank and credit statements, mortgages, securities documents, and safe deposit box/keys. And don’t forget digital assets like social media accounts and cryptocurrency, along with their passwords and security keys. We cover all of this in our plans.

Beyond these common errors, there are many additional pitfalls that can impact your estate planning. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we’ll guide you through the process, helping you to not only avoid mistakes but also implement strategies to ensure your true Family Wealth and legacy will continue to grow long after you’re gone.

Five Key Differences Between a Will vs a Trust

Five Key Differences Between a Will vs a Trust

One of the first questions clients often ask me is, what is the difference between a will and a trust, and why should I want one or the other?  There are five key things a will can’t do – avoid the expense of probate, immediately transfer your assets to your heirs, protect you and your heir's privacy, avoid estate taxes, and provide incapacity protection.  But a complete estate plan with a living trust can handle all of these things.

A Will Does Not Shield Your Heirs from the Expense of Probate

This often comes as a surprise to many people, but it’s true – wills do not avoid probate.  If the gross value of your estate is over $150,000 in California, your heirs will have to go through the entire slow, expensive and public process of probate even if you have a will.  And probate is expensive.  Even a modest estate of $200,000 would incur $14,000 in attorney and executor fees.

A Will Won’t Immediately Transfer Your Assets to Your Heirs

While it is theoretically possible to conclude a probate matter in about 6 months, most estates take even longer.  What this means is that your beneficiaries may need the money from the estate but they won’t have access to their inheritance until after the court is satisfied that all creditors have been notified, and the estate is in a position to be closed, and the assets distributed.   A trust puts the successor trustee immediately in charge.

A Will Won’t Protect You or Your Heirs’ Privacy

Probate is a public court proceeding.  One of the required documents for a probate case is a complete inventory detailing all of the assets, and all of the expenses and all of the income during the time of the probate case.  The order for distributing all of the assets details exactly who gets what.  In today’s world of identity theft, this information is a treasure trove from a scammers perspective.

A Will Can’t Protect Your Estate from Estate Taxes

Estate tax planning for high net worth individuals involves a number of different legal strategies, but none of them involve creating a simple will.  The reason is that a will deals with what is in your estate, and in order to deal with estate taxes, we look at ways to move assets out of your estate.

A Will Provides No Incapacity or Disability Protection

A will only takes effect at a person’s death.  But if you are unable to make medical or financial decisions, who will be able to make those decisions on your behalf?  An executor under a will won’t be able to help you.

The One thing Only a Will Can Do

In California, the one thing a will can do, but a trust can’t, is nominate a guardian for your minor children.  That is one reason why all of our estate plans that include a living trust also include a will.  A will is always included as a backup document to a living trust.

4 Warning Signs Your Elderly Relative May Be the Victim of Financial Abuse

Some of the most disturbing crimes against the elderly involve financial exploitation. While physical abuse is often easy to spot, financial abuse can be more difficult to detect, as victims often have no idea they’re being swindled until their money suddenly vanishes.

Most victims are more than 70 or 80 years old, and involve crimes like fraud, embezzlement, identity theft, along with welfare and insurance scams. If you’re caring for an elderly loved one, be on the lookout for the following red flags of financial abuse:

1. Unusual financial transactions or spending
The most obvious sign an elderly family member is being exploited is if there are sudden changes to their spending, banking, and/or financial practices. At the same time, the person may start behaving secretively, confused, or otherwise atypical about money matters. A few of the most frequent actions include:

● Someone who is normally meticulous about their finances suddenly starts seeing unpaid bills, non-sufficient funds warnings, and/or unexplained credit card charges.
● The elderly person starts opening, closing, or changing banking and investment accounts, especially without regard to penalties or fees.
● Someone with consistent spending patterns starts showing a sharp increase in spending and/or investing.
● The person’s account sees a suspicious increase in ATM use, withdrawals, and/or checks made out to unfamiliar recipients.

2. The appearance of a “new” person in their life
Because they’re often alone and isolated, seniors are particularly susceptible to being “befriended” by strangers who take advantage of their loneliness to exploit them. And it may not be a stranger—relatives who haven’t been around for years can suddenly start spending lots of time with the person.

This situation is particularly dangerous when the new acquaintance, caregiver, or relative spends time in the person’s home, where they have easy access to the person's accounts, financial statements, and personal documents.

One sign that something is amiss is if the senior acts unusual when it comes to the new caregiver or friend. They may seem nervous when that person is around, stop participating in their usual social events, or be reluctant to speak about the person with you. This is a red flag the new person may be trying to isolate or control them.

3. Unneeded goods, services, or subscriptions
Outside of loneliness, the elderly are often physically unable to handle household chores and maintenance like they used to. Given this, they’ll likely need service providers to take care of the work for them. But every new person they surround themselves with is a potential swindler.

Watch for unscrupulous door-to-door salesmen and home repair contractors, who stop by offering unsolicited products or services, especially related to home remediation issues. And they don’t have to physically present to perpetrate fraud—there are countless telemarketing and email scams that target unsuspecting seniors in order to make a quick buck or steal their identity.

One fairly common scam involves inviting the older person to a free lunch or dinner in exchange for listening to a “seminar” about a financial product or service. The elderly often feel obligated to “buy something” after getting what they thought was a free meal.

Make sure that another adult relative is present before signing any contracts, and always consult with us if you’re unfamiliar with a new investment or financial opportunity.

4. Changes to wills, trusts, titles, power of attorney, etc.
The worst cases of financial abuse of the elderly can even involve the person making changes to wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents. Other potentially harmful changes can involve deeds, refinanced mortgages, property titles, and/or adding someone to a joint account.

Pay especially close attention if the older person seeks to grant power of attorney to someone out of the ordinary, as this can open the door for massive theft of assets and potentially fatal changes in a senior’s caregiving services.

One major advantage to establishing a relationship with a lawyer during your early years is so we can get to know you while you’re young, healthy, and clear, and then monitor if anything goes awry in your later years.

One reason financial scams are so hard to detect is that the elderly—like all of us—are embarrassed to admit they’ve been swindled, or they may not want to get a new “friend” or relative in trouble by telling others about their suspicions.

However, anyone can fall prey to financial fraud, so it’s important the elderly know that you’ve hired us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to provide trusted advice and guidance for all financial and legal matters. We can help secure your family’s most valuable assets with robust legal protections to prevent fraud and scams of all kinds. Call us today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session to make the most empowered and informed decisions for yourself and the family members you love.

Give Your Trust an Annual 10 Point Checkup

Give Your Trust an Annual 10 Point Checkup

This is the check engine light on your estate plan.  I’m going to give you ten quick and easy things everyone can check off on their estate plan.

1. Banks

Trusts avoid probate because they are funded with your assets, and yes, that includes your bank accounts.  It is important that your successor trustee be able to instantly take on your responsibilities if you should become incapacitated or pass away.  If you have assets outside the trust, that hinders their ability to carry out the job you’ve given them.  If you’re wondering about adding your child to your bank account, read this first.

2. Real Estate

Have your purchased a new piece of property or refinanced?  If you have, you may have a significant asset outside your trust and exposed to probate.  Check your deed to see if it names you as trustees or if you’re holding title as something else - joint tenants for example.  Talk to your estate panning attorney about any real property not in your trust.

3. Beneficiary Designations

Life insurance and retirement plans are controlled not by a will or trust, but by the beneficiary designations, typically using a form provided by the company.  Most of the time these assets should not be placed in your trust, but there are exceptions for both life insurance and retirement plans.  If you aren’t sure, check with your attorney.

4. Other Assets

In California it is typical to leave vehicles outside of the trust, but have a general assignment to the trust.  Other assets such as business interests and individually held stock shares require specific steps to transfer into the trust.

5. Power of Attorney

Your financial decision maker should have a copy of the document.  In addition, your banks should have a copy as well.  Most financial institutions have a policy of rejecting Power of Attorney that are over 5 years old.  If you just let your power of attorney sit in your trust binder, and 10 or 15 or 20 or more years later your agent dusts it off and brings it into a bank,

6. Health Care Directive

Just like the Power of Attorney should go to the bank, your Health Care Directive should go to your doctor.  If there is an emergency, your family shouldn’t have to worry about finding your estate planning binder, digging out the Directive and bringing it to the emergency room.  If you give it to them ahead of time, the hospital can just look in their records.

7. Trustees

If you created your trust when you children were young, you probably named a trusted relative or friend as the trustee.  Now that your children are grown, it is time to review whether that should be changed.

8. Beneficiaries

How you distribute your estate is unique to every family, and should be something that is reviewed regularly.  Does your estate plan accurately reflect your current wishes of who gets what?

9. Financial Position

Some changes in financial situation can impact how your estate plan works.  In some instances recent changes in federal estate tax law can allow estate planning attorneys to simplify your estate plan.  If you’ve downsized and simplified, maybe your estate plan should be updated.  By the same token, if your proverbial ship has come in, and your estate is significantly larger than it was when you created your estate plan originally, you should review your plan for the best tax and asset protection strategies.

10. Changes in Family Dynamics

Some plans are built around assumptions about how children will react, or particular assets that one or two children care about that the others don’t.  You should review those assumptions regularly, and if they’ve changed, make sure your plan can either handle the change, or change your plan.

Your family is relying on having an effective estate plan to save them from legal headaches.  Spend a few minutes each year to run through this quick checklist to make sure everything will work the way you want it to work.

Tax Benefits of Buying a Second Home

Buying a second home can provide you with a place to relax, unwind, and escape from it all. It can also provide you with substantial savings if you take advantage of these tax benefits of buying a second home.

Mortgage Interest

Mortgage interest paid on up to $1.1 million in debt on your first and second homes is fully deductible. Typically, this rule only applies if you treat your second home as a home and not a rental property. But some mortgage interest may still be deductible if you occasionally rent out your second home. To benefit from this deduction, you must use the property for 14 days or more than 10% of the number of days you rent it out a year, whichever is longer.

Tax-Free Profit

You can take up to $500,000 in profit from the sale of a home tax-free if it is your primary residence and you meet the two-year ownership and use requirement. Typically, you do not get the same tax benefit from the sale of a second home. But people have taken advantage of this rule by converting their second home to their primary residence before the sale, thus reaping the tax-free profit.

But in 2009, Congress added a few more restrictions to limit the amount of tax-free profit you can take from a second home. Now, a portion of the profit from the sale of a second home is taxable. The portion is determined by the ratio of the amount of time after 2008 you treated the residence as a second home or rental property and the amount of time you owned it.

Buying a second home can offer many benefits. But to maximize the value of your investment, work with a lawyer to make sure you are not overlooking any potential legal, insurance, financial, or tax problems or opportunities. You must meet other requirements—such as living in the home for two years before you sell it—to take advantage of some of these tax benefits. A Personal Family Lawyer® can help you ensure you meet the requirements, so you can reap all the benefits of owning a second home.

4 Cryptocurrency Risks and Scams and How to Navigate Them — Part 2

Last week, we shared the first part of our series on cryptocurrency risks and scams, and if you haven’t read it yet, you can do so here. In part two, we discuss two more common traps to be wary of when investing in digital currency.

If you are considering using cryptocurrency as an investment vehicle, talk with us first.

3. Pyramid/Ponzi Schemes That Will Trade For You
Because dealing with cryptocurrency can be a complex affair, online scammers have developed complicated cons similar to traditional pyramid and ponzi schemes. People have lost a lot of money in such scams, and unless you’re well-versed in the technology, they can be difficult to spot.

One giant red flag to watch for is giving your money to others who invest/trade for you, or if you only get paid when you recruit new members.

Also avoid buying upfront “packages” (The Gold Package) promising varying returns. And if you see the words “This isn’t a pyramid scheme” in the marketing materials, you may want to look a little more closely!

Unless you get to hold the keys to your private wallet containing your crypto directly or trade via a reputable exchange like Coinbase, you very well could be dealing with a scammer. And while plenty of people will make money in cryptocurrency pyramid/ponzi schemes, many will lose. That could include you or people you care about, if you get involved in crypto this way.

4. Fake ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings)
While new cryptocurrency can be created without any public investment or offering, many use an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) to fund their startup initiative. ICOs are basically IPOs (Initial Public Offerings) for cryptocurrency and a highly effective way to crowdfund vast sums of money extremely quickly. In fact, recent ICOs have raised millions of dollars in mere minutes.

This speed comes from the fact that ICOs are barely regulated—a good thing if you’re looking to raise money quickly and avoid the rigorous and time-consuming regulations involved with traditional capital raising. But it can bad, too, as the lack of regulation is a big neon welcome sign to scammers.

The lack of legal oversight has resulted in numerous fake ICOs being created by crypto con men, who go to great lengths to convince potential investors of their fake coin’s legitimacy. If you’re just getting started with cryptocurrency, it’s probably best to avoid ICOs until you really understand what you are investing in. In fact, that’s a good rule of thumb with any crypto investment, if you don’t understand the technology beneath it, start by learning that—and understand “what this crypto actually does”—before you invest. Contact us if you’d like help with that.

Of course, not all ICOs are fake, and if you’re tech-savvy, they can be quite lucrative. In fact, many tout ICOs as the future of venture capitalism and fundraising.

But no venture capitalist would ever fund a startup without proper vetting, and the same applies to altcoins. Check the background of the people directly involved with the project and those serving as advisors. Use Google and social media like LinkedIn to verify these are real people with stellar reputations, and their advertised skills and knowledge match those found on online resumes and CVs. And make sure you understand what the cryptocurrency proposes to do and that you believe the team behind it can accomplish that goal, as with any business investment you would make.

And as with any investment, beware of deals that promise unrealistically high returns and/or just sound way too good to be true—that’s sign they likely are.

If you’re serious about adding cryptocurrency to your family’s investment portfolio, take the next step in your education by contacting your Personal Family Lawyer®. As your trusted advisor, we’ll help you incorporate cryptocurrency into your family’s financial and estate planning, so you can get the most bang for your crypto buck.

4 Cryptocurrency Risks and Scams and How to Navigate Them — Part 1

It’s no secret that Bitcoin and other brands of cryptocurrency are one of the hottest new investment opportunities. And if you’re not already invested, you may be considering how to get in, what exactly is the best way to get in, and you should definitely be considering risks and potential scams that are easy to get caught by if you’re not eyes wide open on the issues surrounding cryptocurrency.

Launched in 2009, Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency, and since then, it has evolved from something only computer geeks and hackers talked about into a global phenomenon that’s transformed how the entire world views money.

Bitcoin is still the most popular—and valuable—digital currency. As of November 2017, a single Bitcoin was worth more than $10,000, with the currency’s total market capitalization at roughly $158 billion. Bitcoin’s smashing success spawned a legion of other coins, known as “altcoins,” such as Ethereum, Litecoin, and Ripple, and the global market value for all cryptocurrency is currently more than $300 billion.

The huge amounts of money transitioning into the world of cryptocurrency has attracted equally large numbers of investors, looking to tap into this seemingly boundless source of new money. However, because it’s largely unregulated, involves extremely complex technology, and offers significant anonymity, the cryptocurrency market has also garnered the attention of cyber criminals.

Indeed, cryptocurrency’s brief history is filled with stories of people losing major money through hacking and a variety of other traps and scams. As with any new investment opportunity, the key to safety with cryptocurrency is education. While you should always do your own research before investing, here are a few of the most common scams to watch for and how to know whether investing in or using cryptocurrency is right for you.

1. Shady Exchanges

A cryptocurrency exchange is an online platform for trading one cryptocurrency for another or for fiat currency like the U.S. dollar. These platforms are where you buy in and cash out your cryptocurrency, so they’re essential to the crypto market. Exchanges typically charge a fee for each transaction and are based on current market rates or rates set by sellers/brokers.

Bitcoin’s popularity has caused the number of exchanges to explode, but not all exchanges are trustworthy. In the past, major exchanges have disappeared overnight and taken all of the digital currency with them, while others offer horrible customer service, and/or make getting your money out extremely difficult.

Your best bet is to stick with the largest, most popular exchanges like Coinbase, Kraken, and Bittrex. That said, legitimate smaller exchanges are out there and can be used safely, provided you’ve done your research. Indeed, there are numerous websites that rank and review crypto exchanges for quality, security, and customer service. If the reviews are largely negative, note that it’s difficult to cash out your altcoins, or mention the customer service is exceptionally poor and/or slow, steer clear.

2. Picking Your Wallet

In order to store cryptocurrency, you’ll want a digital wallet, as that’s the safest way to hold your cryptocurrency. Exchanges are for buying and selling, but not the safest for storing.

Your cryptocurrency wallet doesn’t actually “store” money like a traditional wallet; rather, it stores passcodes, known as keys, that allow you to send and receive digital currency to and from the wallet. There are many different wallets available, but not all of them are totally secure.

Wallets come in two forms: hot and cold. A “hot” wallet stores your cryptocurrency in a location that’s connected to the internet—exchange-based wallets, desktop wallets, and mobile wallets. Because they’re connected to the internet, hot wallets are the most convenient, but that also makes them vulnerable to hacking. A “cold” wallet, conversely, stores your cryptocurrency in a location that’s completely offline. Ironically, the most secure type of wallet for storing digital currency is a cold “paper” wallet.

Paper wallets involve printing out your keys and storing them in a secure location. While paper wallets are the most secure option, if you lose the codes, it’s the same as losing paper currency—you’re screwed, meaning there is no way to recover your investment. Paper wallets are also inconvenient—you have to send your money back to an exchange to use it—which can be a pain if you’re using cryptocurrency on a daily basis.

If you primarily use cryptocurrency as a long-term investment, you should store all of your crypto in a paper wallet. If you’re receiving, spending, or trading frequently, however, you should use both a hot/online and paper/offline wallet. Like real-world wallets, store the money you need for the day in your hot/online wallet, but keep the majority of your funds in a paper/offline wallet for safekeeping.

In all cases, whether you have crypto in a hot wallet, paper wallet, or directly in an exchange, make sure you’ve given the details of where it’s stored and how to access it to the people who need to know in case you’re incapacitated or when you die. Otherwise, it’s completely lost. If the people you love don’t know how to find and access it, it’s the same as it not existing at all. Please talk with us about this if you have any cryptocurrency now that may not have been included in your estate plan, or if you do obtain any in the future. Remember: if your family doesn’t know how to access it, it will be lost if you become incapacitated or when you die.

In addition to safety, investing in cryptocurrency comes with an array of other legal, financial, and tax issues you’ll need to consider. The good news is, as your Personal Family Lawyer we can guide you through these challenges and help you incorporate cryptocurrency investments into your family’s overall financial and estate-planning strategies. Contact us today to get started.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on cryptocurrency risks and scams.

Pay For a Loved One’s Education With an Education Trust Fund

Today’s parents are all too familiar with the budget-busting cost of funding a child’s college education. It can be challenging enough to put aside sufficient savings for a single child’s education, but for multiple kids, the price tag can make donating a kidney for extra cash seem downright reasonable!

In fact, a survey by The College Board found that the “moderate” cost for all expenses (tuition, fees, books, room and board) for a year of in-state public college averaged $24,610 in 2016-2017. A similarly moderate budget for a private college averaged $49,320.

But don’t freak out just yet! If you’re savvy about estate planning, you can use an education trust fund to save for your child or grandchild’s education expenses and specify exactly how you want those funds used.

You can create an education trust that is payable during your lifetime (living trust) or upon your death (testamentary trust). The disbursements from the trust are designated for a beneficiary's education, and you can specifically designate how and when the funds are to be distributed—meaning the beneficiary can only receive the funds if they’re compliant with your terms.

Education trusts can be used to fund not only a traditional university education, but any type of learning institution, such as trade schools, educational workshops, community colleges, and private academies. Or even alternative education, such as travel, workshops, retreats, business building programs, and the like. You get to decide exactly how broad or how limited the use of the funds can be.

Trusts can be created for multiple beneficiaries, whether through separate trusts for each individual or a single trust that funds all beneficiaries. If a single trust is established for multiple beneficiaries, you can require the assets to be distributed in a number of ways: equally, using a set amount, by percentage, or the decision as to how much each beneficiary receives can be left to the trustee’s discretion.

Education trusts aren’t generally set up as tax-saving vehicles, as would be the case with a traditional 529 Plan (which does provide tax savings, but has much more restrictive use). That said, there could be some tax savings if the income of the trust is taxed at your beneficiary’s tax rate, which could be lower than your personal tax rate on income.

The only part of the trust that will be taxable is income earned by the investments in the trust (interest and dividends). The trust owes yearly income taxes on income above $600; however, if the trust distributes that income, the beneficiary is responsible for paying taxes at their rate.

The trust is only responsible for taxes on income not distributed by year’s end. And that income is taxed at trust tax rates, which could be higher than the beneficiary’s rate—and possibly even higher than your personal tax rate, so make sure you are clear about whether income should be distributed before year’s end for each year the trust earns income.

If the education trust is irrevocable, meaning that the gift cannot be taken back, and the amount contributed is less than the annual gift tax exemption amount ($14,000 in 2017), then no gift-tax return is required. If the gift exceeds that amount, then it would be necessary to file a gift-tax return, reporting the gift and using up part of your lifetime exemption of $5.49 million. A married couple can exempt $10.98 million in their lifetime.

If you’re interested in funding your children’s or grandchildren’s education using an education trust, we can walk you step-by-step through the process.