What do you do when you have a child you’d like to disinherit from your estate? It’s not as easy as you think, so make sure you follow the proper procedures to specifically cut them out. Don’t just leave their name out of things and think that this will accomplish your goals as the laws in most states will presume you intended to have them be an heir unless you specifically state otherwise. Your children, along with your spouse (if you have one), are the presumed heirs to your estate by law in the absence of an estate plan. As a result, it is important to complete an entire list of your children in the estate plan and to specifically mention any child who will not be an heir to your estate by stating something like, “it is the intention of the settlor (you) to disinherit the following child from the estate.” It’s that simple; just make a clear writing indicating that you specifically intend them not to be an heir to your estate and they’re out.
If you have a problem child who you still want to provide for but want some strings attached, you can add a lot of excellent restrictions and controls to the estate through a well drafted trust. For example, you could state that the problem child can’t inherit their share of the estate if they have a drug or alcohol addiction. You could also be specific about something in their life. Say you had a child with legal issues or that has creditors chasing them down. You could state that the trust will only distribute once the child has resolved issues in their lawsuit or with creditors. Many trusts will have a spendthrift clause that addresses creditor issues for all heirs but you can also make it specific to an issue an heir may have that you want resolved before they inherit.
It is important to note that a trust (or will) cannot be created and enforced to go against public policy, promote illegal activities, and promote tortuous acts. One of the common problematic clauses is one which requires a child to divorce their spouse in order for them to receive their inheritance. For example, you can’t say, “Johnny doesn’t get anything from the estate so long as he is married to Susie”. Many courts view this as a violation of public policy as it promotes divorce. As a result, avoid clauses such as these and seek the guidance of an attorney when adding clauses which disinherit or significantly restrict a child’s inheritance.
When you establish an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement account you are required to designate the beneficiary of that account so that the institution/custodian holding the account knows who will receive the account upon your death. You will die one day (sorry for the bad news), and without a properly completed beneficiary designation, your account will be stuck and won’t be able to be moved until a probate court orders otherwise. The form can be completed easily, so make sure you take care of this important step when establishing your retirement accounts and bank accounts.
What’s a beneficiary designation?
A beneficiary designation is simply a written and signed statement placed on record with your account custodian that specifies who receives your account upon your death. Beneficiary designations are used on IRA accounts, 401(k) accounts, HSA accounts, and life insurance policies. Beneficiary designations are used by IRA custodians, 401(k) account custodian/administrators, banks/credit unions, and life insurance companies to pass the deceased persons account on to the person(s) designated on the form without reference to the deceased person’s will, trust, and without the involvement of the probate courts. As a result, your beneficiary designation form is a powerful instrument.
You can list a primary beneficiary and secondary beneficiaries. A primary beneficiary is the first person whom you list, and this person or persons receive the account upon your passing. A secondary (aka “contingent”) beneficiary is someone you list who receives the account if the primary beneficiary is not living. For example, a common way to list your beneficiary designations is to list your spouse as your primary beneficiary and your children as your secondary beneficiary. If your spouse is not living when you die, then your account passes to your secondary beneficiary.
To have a valid beneficiary designation you must ensure the following:
- Designation: Use your institution’s/custodian’s form and designate the person(s) you desire as your beneficiary by listing their name, city/state, date of birth, and relationship to you. You can list one beneficiary or multiple beneficiaries in percentages. So, for example, if you had two children you wanted to receive the account, you would list them as 50% each on the designation form.
- Sign the designation: This may be eSigned using an eSign method accepted by your institution/custodian.
- Spousal waiver where applicable: If you have a spouse and you HAVE NOT listed your spouse as your primary beneficiary, then your spouse must sign a spousal waiver agreeing to someone else being listed as the primary beneficiary and your spouse’s signature on the waiver must be notarized. This is required as a matter of law. Failure to provide the waiver will result (at best) to your surviving spouse receiving at least half of your account upon your passing with the rest passing to your secondary beneficiaries.
- Coordinate with your estate plan: If you list your trust for estate planning as the beneficiary of your IRA, 401(k), or other retirement account, you must provide a copy of the trust to your institution/custodian. The trust must have readily identifiable beneficiaries who receive your account upon your passing and must be considered a see-through trust (most revocable living trusts are).
The beneficiary designation is the “trump card”
Your beneficiary designation is the “trump card” when it comes to estate planning documents. For example, your beneficiary designation on your retirement account or bank account will control over a will which states someone different is to receive all your assets. As a result, it is critical that you provide a beneficiary designation for every account you have, and that these designations are updated when certain major life events arise.
Action required in three common situations
If you already provided beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts, bank accounts or life insurance, it is critical that you review them and update them upon the following events:
- Divorce: There are plenty of cases when someone who failed to update their beneficiary designation passes away and their ex-spouse ends up receiving the account. This is usually contrary to the account owner’s wishes, but if you fail to update your beneficiary designations, your heirs could be in this predicament. (Talk about not leaving gracefully!) This situation is now going to be ugly for your ex, your new spouse (if you had one), and your children.
- New child: If you have a new child who was not previously identified as a beneficiary, you should update your designations to add this new child.
- New estate plan: If you establish an estate plan (will, or ideally, revocable living trust), you should ensure that your wishes in your beneficiary designations for your retirement accounts and bank accounts match-up with the terms of your trust.
When to list your trust versus your spouse/children directly
Even if you have a revocable living trust, you may want to list your spouse as your primary beneficiary. As a rule of thumb, most estate planning attorneys recommend that, for IRA or 401(k) accounts, you list your spouse as your primary beneficiary and your trust as your secondary beneficiary. The reason is that your spouse can receive your retirement account upon your passing and can do what is called a spousal rollover. This rule only applies to spouses. For example, under a spousal rollover, the retirement account of the deceased person can be transferred/rolled over into an IRA surviving spouse. This is an advantageous way for a spouse to receive a retirement account as the account is treated simply as an account of the surviving spouse, and is not subject to RMD or other quirky rules associated with inherited retirement accounts (aka “inherited IRAs” or “beneficiary IRAs”). Rather, the funds are just treated as a Traditional IRA or Roth IRA of the surviving spouse.
Your Trust can be listed second, and, in the case where your primary beneficiary is not living, certain provisions in your trust designated to protect the funds from creditors or misappropriation from inheriting children or other heirs would apply. Your children, or other heirs under your trust who are listed as secondary beneficiaries on your form would receive the funds from your retirement account in an inherited IRA (aka “beneficiary IRA”) and would have RMD requirements to remove funds from their account over their life expectancy. This is sometimes called a “stretch IRA” and is a great tax strategy as it allows them to extend the tax-free (Roth) or tax-deferred (Traditional) benefits of the account over their own lifetime.
Remember, the beneficiary designation is critical and must be completed properly. Take the extra time to get it done right, and check up on the designations on any of your existing accounts that you may be unsure of. It’s better to get these things squared away and in order now than to presume that you completed them right when you set-up the account long ago.
keys to house with home ownership documents
Real estate may be owned in your personal name, in a business name, or in a trust. You may have heard of revocable living trusts, corporations, LLCs, series LLCs, or limited partnerships. Here’s a quick guide to where you should own different types of properties.
1. Personal Residence
Your home should be owned in your revocable living trust. A living trust is an excellent choice to own your personal residence as the property can pass under the terms of your trust upon your death and your heirs won’t need to go to probate court to transfer ownership. If your residence is owned in your personal name it can only pass to your children/heirs after you’ve gone to probate court which requires far more legal fees and time than setting up a trust now. For homes with significant equity you may want to consider a domestic asset protection trust which can protect the equity in the home from personal creditors.
2. Rental Property
Your rental property should be owned in an LLC. Rental properties generate income and wealth but they can also create liabilities. If a rental property is owned in your personal name everything that happens on the home creates personal liability to you and a plaintiff can go after all of your personal assets, income, and wages. On the other hand, if a rental property is owned in an LLC the plaintiff will be required to sue the LLC and can’t go after the LLC owner personally. In certain states where you have lots of properties you may want to consider a series LLC which provides liability protection in the LLC between multiple properties such that if something happens to one property in the series LLC it doesn’t effect the other properties in the series LLC. An LLC owned by one person or a married couple isn’t too difficult to manage and generally doesn’t require a separate LLC tax return. Instead, you report the property and its profit/loss on your personal return in the same way you ‘d report the profit/loss if you owned it in your personal name. In most instances, limited partnerships should not be used to hold rental properties as your tax losses and write offs are restricted when you own them in a limited partnerships.
3. Land or Second Home
Your land or second home should be owned in your revocable living trust. Again, this helps keep your assets coordinated with your estate plans and outside of probate court. For land or second homes with significant equity you may want to consider a limited partnership or domestic asset protection trust which can protect the property from the owner’s personal liabilities. Generally, an LLC is not used unless the property itself creates liability. For example, if you rent your second home or cabin you may want an LLC for liability protection but most second homes or parcels of land do not create liability and therefore do not need an LLC.
4. Where Should Properties Never Be Held
Except for short short term real estate holds (under one year) properties should not be owned in a s-corporation and should never be held in a c-corporation. Additionally, we rarely recommend clients use land trusts to own property for asset protection purposes as land trusts provide little actual asset protection beyond making the owner of the property difficult to determine at the county records.
There are lots of options and many nuances to how you should own your real estate. For a more detailed and specific analysis for your properties please contact the law firm for an estate and asset protection plan that fits your needs. We can also assist with deed transfers to get your properties into the right place.
When it comes to transferring property, such as our rental properties into LLCs and our personal residence into a Trust, it can be confusing understanding the differences between a Quit Claim Deed, Warranty Deed and other terms that may be thrown out.
Some states use the term “Grant Deed”, California being one of the most preeminent. The reality is that a Grant Deed can be used as a Quitclaim Deed OR a Warranty Deed. It essentially depends on the verbiage used inside the terms of the Deed itself. Bottom line- Make sure that you look at the language used in the deed itself. Don’t think that because you have a Grant Deed you have all of the benefits of a Warranty Deed. Here is a brief description of each type of Deed:
A quitclaim deed transfers whatever ownership interest a person has in a property. It makes no guarantees about the extent of the person’s interest. Quitclaim deeds are also frequently used when there is a “cloud” on title — that is, when a search reveals that a previous owner or some other individual, like the heir of a previous owner, may have some claim to the property. The transferor can sign a quitclaim deed to transfer any remaining interest.
A warranty deed transfers ownership and explicitly promises the buyer that the transferor has good title to the property, meaning it is free of liens or claims of ownership. Also, whatever the ‘title’ of the deed is you may use, check the verbiage in the deed itself to understand what warranties you may be making, if any. The transferor guarantees that he or she will compensate the buyer if that turns out to be wrong. The warranty deed may make other promises as well, to address particular problems with the transaction.
Always double check the ‘local’ state and county laws regarding the type of deed to use when transferring property and what the different types of deeds actually provide. HOWEVER, we generally recommend the Warranty Deed when transferring property to yourself, your trust, or your own company; because we want to make sure that the Title Policy and all of its benefits transfer to the Grantee of your deed.