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best way to own real estate in estate planning

What is the best way to own real estate?

Do you own real estate? Is it your home? A vacation home? Or rental property? It’s important to pay special attention to how you own your real estate. Here we take a look at the different types of real estate and information about the best form of ownership. This is important when you’re thinking about estate planning and asset protection.

Your Home

Because your primary residence (your homestead) receives special tax treatment, be very careful with how you own your home. In states like Florida, tenancy by the entirety offers married couples creditor protection. This protection is from the creditors of one of the spouses while still preserving relevant tax benefits. It also allows automatic transfer of ownership to the surviving spouse upon the death of the first spouse without court involvement. Transferring ownership of the primary residence to a joint revocable trust may also be an option if you live in a state that allows the tenancy of the entirety protection to transfer to the joint revocable trust. Ownership by the trust also means that the real estate will pass through the trust document instead of the probate process.

If you are single, owning the property in your name allows you to take advantage of tax benefits for primary residences. Transferring ownership to a revocable living trust may also allow you to retain the applicable tax benefits with the added benefit of avoiding the probate process. If you are worried about asset protection, certain types of irrevocable trusts can help. But those may require you to give up some control of the property.

The bankruptcy code may provide more protections for a primary residence (e.g., your state may have a homestead exemption). However, in some states, transferring your primary residence to a trust may eliminate the homestead exemption because the trust rather than you (the debtor) will be deemed to be the owner of the residence. If this situation could apply to you, it is important that you meet with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney before transferring your primary residence to a trust.

Vacation Home

For some families, their vacation home has not only high monetary value but also significant emotional value. Ownership of a vacation home by a trust or limited liability company (LLC) can be advantageous because it addresses two main priorities: ease of transfer to the next generation and asset protection.

With a trust or LLC, you are able to establish rules for how the property is to be used and maintained, as well as designate what is to happen to the vacation home once you pass away. This can be a great solution if you want to ensure that the vacation home stays in the family for generations with minimal family conflicts.

An additional benefit of having an LLC own your vacation home is that it provides limited liability from outside claims. If you get a judgment against your LLC, the creditor is limited to the accounts or property owned by the LLC to satisfy the creditor’s claims. Therefore, the judgment creditor cannot look to your personal accounts or property or those of the other members. Also, if a judgment is entered against you or another member for a claim unrelated to the LLC, it will be harder for a creditor to force a sale of the vacation home. This can be incredibly helpful if you wish to pass the vacation home on to the next generation without worrying about the individual financial situation of each new member.

Watch out for Single-Member LLC’s in Florida!

In some states, like Florida, a single-member LLC (an LLC in which you are the only member) does not enjoy the same protection from your personal creditors. The rationale of these laws is that your creditors should be able to seek relief through your LLC interests to satisfy their claims because there are no other members that will be negatively impacted by seizure of money and property owned by the LLC.

If the vacation home has been in the family for many years, it is important to consult with us and your tax advisor to make sure that transferring your vacation home to a trust or LLC will not cause an increase in your property taxes or other unintended consequences.

Rental Property

Because rental property is an income stream rather than a residence, asset protection is usually the primary concern. Rental property owners are at a higher risks for law suits. That is because the occupants can change over time. Transferring ownership of the rental property to an LLC is a great option. If a renter gets hurt on the property, sues the LLC and gets a judgment that exceeds any property insurance you have, the renter can seek satisfaction of any claims only from the accounts and property owned by the LLC, not from your personal accounts and property or those of any other owners of the LLC.

In addition, ownership by the LLC may protect the rental property from your personal creditors. However, if you are forming a single-member LLC, it is important to have us check state law to make sure creditor protection is available.

Call us today! (813) 902-3189

Regardless of what type of real estate you own, we are here to help you.  Call us to schedule an Estate Planning Session! Let’s discuss your current and future real estate ventures and the best way to protect them.

Want to learn more about us before scheduling your Estate Planning Session? Schedule a free 15-minute telephone consultation or send us a message. 

Will These Life Insurance Mistakes Hurt You?

Life insurance is an important part of estate planning and taking care of the people you love after you pass away. Here are some common mistakes that you should avoid.

1. Not naming a beneficiary

Too many people forget to name a beneficiary or backup beneficiaries. Those mistakes can result in your life insurance proceeds having to go through the probate court process. That can tie up your money for months and even open up the life insurance proceeds to your creditors. And that can wipe out your funds.

2. Naming an individual as beneficiary to take care of that money for someone else

You might be tempted to list someone you know and trust as beneficiary of your life insurance, with the understanding that he or she would use that money to take care of another person that you have in mind. This could result in a number of problems. For example, you list your sister as beneficiary of your life insurance so that she can take care of your daughter.

3. Not keeping your beneficiaries up to date

Too many people forget to update their beneficiary designations.  You should review your beneficiary designations at least once a year so that you can make sure you update them upon events like divorce, deaths, and births.

4. Naming a minor as beneficiary

We see this ALOT. And it can result in expensive and time consuming complications for your family. That is because in Florida, minor children can’t directly inherit assets over $15,000. If a minor is listed as the beneficiary, the proceeds of your insurance will be distributed to a court-appointed custodian (guardian of the property), who will be in charge of managing the funds (often for a fee) until the age of majority, at which point all benefits are distributed to the beneficiary outright.

Instead of naming a minor as beneficiary, consider setting up a trust to receive the insurance proceeds, and name a trustee to hold and distribute the funds to a minor child you would want to benefit from your insurance proceeds. By doing so, you get to choose not only who would manage your child’s money, but also how and when the funds are distributed and used.

5. Naming an individual with special needs as beneficiary

If a loved one has special needs, chances are you want to help provide for a lifetime of care and protection. But if you leave the money directly to someone with special needs, it could disqualify that individual from receiving much-needed government benefits. Consider creating a “special needs trust” to receive the insurance proceeds. That way the money won’t go directly to the beneficiary upon your death, but it would be managed by the trustee you name and dispersed according to the trust’s terms, without affecting benefit eligibility.

You owe it to your loved ones to get this right.

Naming life insurance beneficiaries might seem pretty straight forward. But if you mess this up, you can create pretty big problems for the people you love.  But don’t worry, we can support you in planning for the people you love, whether it’s through life insurance or other tools such as wills or trusts.  Schedule an estate Planning Session to get started.

Call us at (813) 902-3189.

Part 2: Use Estate Planning to Avoid Adult Guardianship and Elder Abuse

Part 2: Use Estate Planning to Avoid Adult Guardianship and Elder Abuse

In  Part 1 of this series, we discussed how some professional adult guardians have used their powers to abuse the seniors placed under their care. Here, we’ll discuss how seniors can use estate planning to avoid the potential abuse and other negative consequences of court-ordered guardianship.

As our senior population continues to expand, an increasing number of elder abuse cases involving professional guardians have made headlines. The New Yorker exposed one of the most shocking accounts of elder abuse by professional guardians, which took place in Nevada and saw more than 150 seniors swindled out of their life savings by a corrupt Las Vegas guardianship agency.

The Las Vegas case and others like it have shed light on a disturbing new phenomenon—individuals who seek guardianship to take control of the lives of vulnerable seniors and use their money and other assets for personal gain. Perhaps the scariest aspect of such abuse is that many seniors who fall prey to these unscrupulous guardians have loving and caring family members who are unable to protect them.

Keep your family out of court and out of conflict

Outside of the potential for abuse by professional guardians, if you become incapacitated and your family is forced into court seeking guardianship, your family is likely to endure a costly, drawn out, and emotionally taxing ordeal. Not only will the legal fees and court costs drain your estate and possibly delay your medical treatment, but if your loved ones disagree over who’s best suited to serve as your guardian, it could cause bitter conflict that could unnecessarily tear your family apart.

Furthermore, if your loved ones disagree over who should be your guardian, the court could decide that naming one of your relatives would be too disruptive to your family’s relationships and appoint a professional guardian instead—and as we’ve seen, this could open the door to potential abuse.

Planning for incapacity

The potential turmoil and expense, or even risk of abuse, from a court-ordered guardianship can be easily avoided through proactive estate planning. Upon your incapacity, an effective plan would give the individual, or individuals, of your choice immediate authority to make your medical, financial, and legal decisions, without the need for court intervention. What’s more, the plan can provide clear guidance about your wishes, so there’s no mistake about how these crucial decisions should be made during your incapacity.

There are a variety of planning tools available to grant this decision-making authority, but a will is not one of them. A will only goes into effect upon your death, and even then, it simply governs how your assets should be divided. Your incapacity plan should include a variety of planning tools, including some, or all, of the following:

  • Healthcare power of attorney: An advanced directive that grants an individual of your choice the immediate legal authority to make decisions about your medical treatment in the event of your incapacity.
  • Living will: An advanced directive that provides specific guidance about how your medical decisions should be made during your incapacity.
  • Durable financial power of attorney: A planning document that grants an individual of your choice the immediate authority to make decisions related to the management of your financial and legal interests.
  • Revocable living trust: A planning document that immediately transfers control of all assets held by the trust to a person of your choosing to be used for your benefit in the event of your incapacity. The trust can include legally binding instructions for how your care should be managed and even spell out specific conditions that must be met for you to be deemed incapacitated.
  • Family/friends meeting: Even more important than all of the documents we’ve listed here, the very best protection for you and the people you love is to ensure everyone is on the same page. As part of our planning process, we’ll walk the people impacted by your plan through a meeting that explains to them the plans you’ve made, why you’ve made them, and what to do when something happens to you.

It could be a good idea (though it’s not mandatory) to name different people for each of the roles in your planning documents. In this way, not only will you spread out the responsibility among multiple individuals, but you’ll ensure you have more than just one person invested in your care and supervision. In that case, it’s even more critical that everyone you’ve named understands the choices you’ve made, and why you have made them.

Don’t wait to put your plan in place

It’s vital to understand that these planning documents must be created well before you become incapacitated. You must be able to clearly express your wishes and consent in order for these planning strategies to be valid, as even slight levels of dementia or confusion could get them thrown out of court. It’s also important that you frequently review and update your estate documents due to changes in assets or relationships.

Retain control even if you lose control

To avoid the total loss of autonomy, family conflict, and potential for abuse that comes with a court-ordered adult guardianship, meet with us. While you can’t prevent your potential incapacity, you can use estate planning to ensure that you at least have some control over your how your life and assets will be managed if it ever does occur.

If you haven’t planned for your incapacity, schedule a Planning Session right away, so we can advise you about the proper planning vehicles to put in place. And if you already have an incapacity plan, we can review it to make sure it’s been properly set up, maintained, and updated.

Call our office today at (813) 902-3189 to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article and learn how to get this $500 session at no charge. 
pet-trust-estate-planning

How can you use estate planning to take care of your pet?

If you have a pet, he or she probably feels like part of your family.  So it makes sense to take care of your pet if you become incapacitated or pass away. Because if you don’t make any plans, your beloved companion could end up in an animal shelter or worse.

The law looks at pets as personal property. So you can’t just name your pet as a beneficiary of your will or trust without some careful planning.

Be careful with your Will.

Since you can’t name your pet as a beneficiary, you might consider leaving your pet and money for its care in your will to a trusted person who would be your pet’s new caregiver. But your pet’s new caregiver would not be legally required use the funds properly. In fact, your pet’s new owner could legally keep all of the money for themselves and drop off your beloved friend at the local shelter.

You’d like to think that you could trust someone to take care of your pet if you leave him or her money in your will to do so. But it’s impossible to predict what circumstances might arise in the future that could make adopting your pet impossible.

Also, a will has to go through the court process known as probate, which can last for months. That can leave your pet in limbo for a while.  And remember that a will only goes into effect upon your death, so if you’re incapacitated by accident or illness, it would do nothing to protect your companion.

Consider a pet trust.

A pet trust in a revocable living trust in order to be completely confident that your pet is properly taken care of and the money you leave for its care is used exactly as intended.

This way, you can lay out detailed, legally binding rules for how your pet’s chosen caregiver can use the funds in the trust. And unlike a will, a pet trust does not go through probate. So it goes into effect immediately and works in cases of both your incapacity and death.

Also, a  pet trust allows you to name a trustee. That trustee is legally required to manage the trust’s funds and carry out your wishes. And to provide a system of checks and balances to ensure your pet’s care, you might want to name someone other than the person you name as caregiver as trustee.

Do right by your pet.

With Myrna’s guidance and support, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your beloved pet will receive the kind of love and care it deserves when you’re no longer around to offer it. Contact us today to get started.

Call us at (813) 902-3189.

Part 2: The real cost of not planning

This article is part of a series discussing the true costs and consequences of failed estate planning. The series highlights a few of the most common—and costly—planning mistakes we encounter with clients. If the series exposes any potential gaps or weak spots in your plan, meet with us to learn how to do the right […]

Blended Families, Avoid This $100,000 Mistake.

Picture this: At Thanksgiving, you have your eye on that last piece of pie. You can practically taste it. As you reach for it, someone else grabs it and there’s a tug of war. Do you share it? Does one of you give up and find another dessert? Does someone intervene and decide for you? Are you in a family that will laugh this off? Or is there some drama?

When the stakes are high and there’s money and property involved, the resulting conflict is enough to ruin anyone’s appetite.

Picture this: You’re in a blended family where there’s Mom, Step-Dad, and Mom’s kids from her first marriage. Mom dies without a Will. Step-Dad is distraught, but takes comfort in knowing that the house is almost paid off. There’s about $200,000 of equity. Mom always meant to put Step-Dad on the deed, but never got around to it. Unfortunately for Step-Dad, the “default setting” that is set by Florida law is for him to only inherit half of his wife’s estate. The step-kids inherit the other half.

Step-Dad has 3 options if he wants to keep living in the home.

Option 1: Take a life estate in the home and at his death, the house goes to the step-kids.
Option 2: Take a one half undivided interest in the home as a tenant in common with the step-kids. (The step-kids could force a sale if they wanted to.)
Option 3: Buy out the step-kids’ half share.

Everyone’s upset and relationships are strained. Will the step-kids sign over their interest to Step-Dad for free? Will it take $100,000 to buy out the step-kids? With a thoughtful estate plan, this blended family could have avoided this mess and saved $100,000, plus court costs and lawyers’ fees.

Call our office today at (813)902-3189 to schedule a Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session at no charge.

You and your parents, the Sandwich Generation

The average age of parents raising children in the US continues to rise, leaving many middle-aged Americans in a category commonly referred to as the “sandwich” generation.

This growing population of adults are often still raising kids at home when they become responsible for the care of their own aging parents. The stress and financial strain of managing taking care of both your children and your parents can become overwhelming. The following tips can help make this challenging life stage easier to manage, and more enjoyable for everyone.

Assess the Financial Situation

Taking time to thoroughly understand the complete financial picture of your home is important when you step into a role of responsibility for your aging parent. You can prepare for all possibilities, and avoid surprises, by working with a professional to consider how your role in the care of your parent will affect the plans you are making for your family’s financial future. Take advantage of our Estate Planning Sessions, a comprehensive planning process encompassing your concerns and needs.

Plan Ahead

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying that, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Planning for your family’s future means preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. As you navigate helping your aging parent with their own important Estate Planning decisions, take time to make sure your own estate wishes are taken care of too, so that you can focus on the present knowing the future is taken care of.

Be sure to include:

  • Medical power of attorney – appoints a person to make medical decisions if you are unable to do so
  • Durable power of attorney – designates a person to make financial decisions if you are unable to do so
  • Living will – expresses your wishes for end of life decisions
  • Will – carries out your wishes in the event of your death
  • Kids Protection Plan – designates a legal guardian for your minor children in the event of your incapacitation or death

Pay Attention to Red Flags

Even if your aging parent is still quite capable, work together to get a handle on their financial situation, and be on the lookout for signs that anything is falling through the cracks. Common red flags are:

  • Frequent calls from creditors
  • Forgetfulness when it comes to bills and deadlines
  • Unopened mail

Utilize professional legal and financial support when necessary and communicate clearly so everyone knows who is responsible for what.

Practice Good Self Care

Stress is one of the most common consequences of caring for two generations at once. Balancing the responsibilities of raising children and caring for aging parents with good self-care and “me time” is vital over the long-haul. Remember that adequate rest and good nutrition will provide you with the extra energy you’ll need when times get tough. Most importantly, remember that you don’t have to do it alone!

Now is the perfect time to schedule a Planning Session, where we’ll review your current financial situation in light of your future responsibilities. With our assistance, you’ll gain tuhe confidence of knowing you’re making the most empowered, informed and educated legal and financial decisions for yourself and the ones you love.

Contact us at (813) 902-3189 to plan your Estate Planning Session!