Estate Planning

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Year End Estate Planning Tip #5 – Make Gifts that Your Family Will Love but the IRS Won’t Tax

Don’t let the chaos of the holiday season prevent you from avoiding federal gift tax by making “annual exclusion” gifts, medical payments gifts, and educational gifts.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

If You Die Without a Will or Trust, Does Your Spouse Inherit Your Entire Estate?

If you are married and you die without a Last Will and Testament, you may mistakenly believe that your spouse will still inherit your entire estate.  Not so fast.  Who will inherit your estate depends on several different factors:

1.   How is your property titled?  Is your property titled in your name alone, in joint names with your spouse, in joint names with a child or other relative, or does it have a beneficiary designated?  Knowing how all of your property is titled is the real key to understanding who will inherit it after you die.  For example, if your home is titled in joint names with rights of survivorship with your spouse, then your spouse will inherit the home.

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Friday, June 14, 2019

3 Asset Protection Tips You Can Use Now

A common misconception is that only wealthy families and people in high risk professions need to put together an asset protection plan.  But in reality, anyone can be sued.  A car accident, foreclosure, unpaid medical bills, or an injured tenant can result in a monetary judgment that will decimate your finances.  Below are three tips that you can use right now to protect your assets from creditors, predators and lawsuits.

What Exactly is Asset Protection Planning?

Before getting to the tips, you need to understand what asset protection planning is all about.
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Friday, May 24, 2019

Why You Should Give Your Spouse Power Of Attorney

Married couples will often have legal estate documents prepared together.  Such documents may include a will, leaving all property to the surviving spouse and/or the couple’s children, and a heath care proxy (sometimes known as a living will) to direct the spouse how to handle medical issues if one spouse becomes incapacitated.   However, another estate document may be beneficial for spouses -- a durable power of attorney.  

What is a durable power of attorney?

A durable power of attorney (POA) is a power of attorney given in the event of disability (whether mental or physical) by one spouse and directs the other spouse how to handle certain business or monetary activities detailed in the agreement.  Some instances of disability could include mental illness, physical illness, advanced age, drug use, alcoholism, confinement or disappearance.  

While state law may grant spouses certain rights to act for the other spouse, some activities may or may not be covered.  A power of attorney also helps spouses who may have separate ownership of property by giving the spouse the right to act on behalf of the incapacitated spouse. 

Some examples of business decisions in real estate matters where the well spouse is not a co-owner (perhaps because the real estate was a premarital asset or for other tax reasons) and can act for the incapacitated spouse are:

  • If the incapacitated spouse owns rental property, the other spouse can collect rent
  • To pay real estate taxes for properties that may not in both spouses ownership
  • To handle issues related to any mortgages
  • To take out property insurance

Some other general business related functions a durable power of attorney can include: 

  • To sue on the collect of a debt
  • To file for bankruptcy
  • To write checks and do banking transactions
  • To sell stock or other securities
  • To file tax returns
  • To manage retirement accounts
  • To borrow money
  • To make loans
  • To make charitable donations
  • To hire attorneys, accountants or other professionals

In the event state law did not allow a spouse to do any of the functions described above for its incapacitated spouse, a durable power of attorney signed by the incapacitated spouse before the disability (and notarized for validity) can come in handy in a family emergency. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Selling Your Business

The majority of businesses in the United States are small businesses. To understand the impact that small business has, consider the fact that small business generates nearly 60% of all new jobs within the United States. Amazon, Walmart, and other big companies often stand out with their massive revenues and employment numbers, but at the end of the day, the primary drivers behind the economy are small business.

If you have a family business or personal business that you’ve built up, you are likely one of these economic drivers. For many families and individuals, the business becomes an identity. Family businesses in particular are susceptible to acting as an identity for that family. Thus, for many small business owners planning for retirement, the question of what to do with the small business is a major stressor. For a family business, the transfer of control and ownership from one generation to the next can be incredibly complicated and strenuous. If it’s not a family business, then the question is primarily how to effectuate the sale and estate planning repercussions. The following sections will give an overview of general considerations for family-owned businesses and then general concerns relating to the sale of a business.

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Monday, May 13, 2019

3 Ways to Minimize Estate Planning Fees

Today, it is impossible to put together even a simple estate plan without the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney. Why? Because estate planning laws vary greatly from state to state and these laws are extremely convoluted and constantly changing.  

One wrong word, one missing signature, or one procedure not followed to the letter of the law can partially or completely invalidate a Last Will and Testament, Revocable Living Trust, Advance Health Care Directive, , or Durable Power of Attorney.  

Though attorney fees may feel expensive, they’re actually not when viewed in light of the service and protections provided.  In fact, estate planning fees are best viewed as an investment, not an expense.
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Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Preventing Will Contests

So, you have a will, but is it valid?  A will can be contested for a multitude of reasons after it is presented to a probate court.  It is in your best interest to have an attorney draft the will to prevent any ambiguity in the provisions of the document that others could dispute later. 

A will may be targeted on grounds of fraud, mental incapacity, validity, duress, or undue influence.  These objections can draw out the probate process and make it very time consuming and expensive.  More importantly, an attorney can help ensure that your property is put into the right hands, rather than distributed to unfamiliar people or organizations that you did not intend to provide for. 

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Friday, February 15, 2019

4 Reasons Everyone Needs an Estate Plan

Many people are under the misconception that estate plans are only necessary for those with substantial wealth. In fact, estate plans are important for everyone who wants to plan for the future. For those unfamiliar with the concept, an estate plan coordinates the distribution of your assets upon your death. Without an estate plan, your estate (assets) will go through the probate system, regardless of how much or how little you have. There are many reasons that everyone needs an estate plan, but the top reasons are:

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Friday, January 18, 2019

Removing a Trustee

Trustees are responsible for administering a trust for the benefit of the beneficiaries. In some instances, multiple trustees may administer a trust as co-trustees. Occasionally, issues arise causing the beneficiaries of a trust or the co-trustees to pursue removal of a trustee. These issues could be general unhappiness with trust accounting or failure of the trustee or co-trustee to provide information when requested. In short, the grantor (creator) of the trust, co-trustees, the trust beneficiaries,  and the  probate court have the ability to remove a trustee

Reasons a Trustee Can Be Removed

The reasons for removal of a trustee depend upon the trust documents and applicable state law. Generally, a trustee can be removed for:

  • Incapacity – Trustees may be removed if they become incapacitated, whether due to medical issues or self-inflicted incapacity due to drug and alcohol abuse.
  • Violating the terms of the trust – Trustees may be removed if they violate the terms of the trust, such as not consulting with a co-trustee in a decision.
  • Failure to account or report as required – Trustees have an obligation to account for trust activity and report as required by the beneficiaries. Failure to accurately report the requested information is grounds for removal.
  • Self-dealing – Trustees owe beneficiaries fiduciary duties which require them to always act in the best interest of the trust and the beneficiary. Selling trust property to one’s self at a discount constitutes self-dealing and is grounds for removal.
  • Theft of trust property – Due to the fiduciary duties described above, theft of trust property is a violation of those fiduciary duties and is grounds for removal.

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Friday, January 11, 2019

An Overview of Retirement Plan Options

Retirement planning is essential given ever-increasing life expectancies in the United States. Unfortunately, many Americans fail to save adequate amounts to make it through retirement. Often, individuals believe that they will be fine on Social Security. However, Social Security is only designed to compensate for 40% of your income; Social Security is designed to be an income supplement rather than a sole income source. To make matters worse, workers tend to overestimate how late into their life they will be able to work. Inadequate savings and an inability to work produce an exceptionally stressful retirement. Remember, it’s never too late to start saving.

401(k) Plans

401(k) plans are employer-sponsored retirement plans that offer tax advantages to investing. When investing through a 401(k) plan, you will declare how much of your paycheck you would like to contribute to the 401(k). The employer will then contribute the designated amount before taxes to your 401(k) account. The contributions made to your 401(k) account are non-taxable meaning that your taxable income is decreased by the amount contributed. As of 2018, the maximum amount that a taxpayer can contribute to a 401(k) account is $18,500. The tax advantages of the 401(k) plan mean that if the taxpayer earns $80,000 annually in salary and contributes $10,000 to his or her 401(k) plan, then the taxpayer’s taxable income for that year would be decreased to $70,000. When the taxpayer begins to withdraw from the 401(k) account, those withdrawals will be treated as taxable income.

However, money contributed to a 401(k) plan may not be withdrawn before the age of 59.5 without incurring a penalty unless certain exceptions apply. Unfortunately, not all employers offer 401(k) plans. If your employer doesn’t offer a 401(k) program, make sure to take advantage of other retirement plan options such as a Traditional IRA or a Roth IRA.

Traditional and Roth IRA

The Traditional IRA functions very similar to a 401(k) plan except that it does not have to be employer-sponsored. This means that if your employer doesn’t offer a 401(k), or you’d like to contribute more than the 401(k) contribution limit, you can set up a Traditional IRA. From a tax perspective, a Traditional IRA functions the same as a 401(k): the amounts contributed are not taxed and distributions are taxed.  However, unlike a 401(k), the contributions to your Traditional IRA are made by you. As a result, whatever you contribute to your Traditional IRA will then be deducted from your taxes when you file.

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Law Offices Of Michael J. Wittick, A Professional Law Corporation is located in Irvine, CA and serves clients with estate and wealth preservation matters throughout Irvine, Lake Forest, Laguna Woods, Laguna Hills, Foothill Ranch, Tustin, Aliso Viejo and the surrounding areas.

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