Trusts to protect your estate from your spouse’s future spouse
Compiled by Kenneth Vercammen
Many married persons have basic Wills that say if they pass away their estate goes 100% to their spouse, and then their children. However, in our modern age, there is an outside possibility that your spouse may get remarried after you pass away. In New Jersey, a spouse can “Elect against the Will”.
In general, a surviving spouse dissatisfied with his or her share under the Will of the deceased spouse may renounce the will and elect to take his or her statutory share of the testator’s entire estate. The surviving spouse is entitled to one-third of the estate provided that at the time of death, the surviving spouse and decedent had not been living separate and apart in different habitations. Generally, the surviving spouse must elect to take his/her elective share by filing a complaint within six months after the appointment of a personal representative of the decedent's estate.
So, if you get married on a Saturday and die on a Sunday, the new spouse could possibly file a complaint to obtain 1/3 of the assets you worked for.
Occasionally, a husband will say if I die I want my assets to go into a Trust within the Will to support my wife, then the assets go to your surviving children upon your death. This way if they wife remarries she cant leave the money she inherited to the new husband or outsiders. The wife sometimes wants to protect the family’s money after she dies from her husband’s new mail order bride. Below are a few ideas NJ attorneys may set up to help protect the family’s money.
Revocable Living Trust & Irrevocable Trusts
A Revocable Living Trust is a legal device that allows you to maintain complete control over your assets and avoids Probate. However, a Revocable Trust does not reduce Estate Tax and does not protect your assets from nursing home fees.
Because there is no probate of a Revocable Living Trust, your private financial matters remain private, there are no probate costs, no long delays and loss of control, and no fragmentation of the estate. However, since you still control the trust, it cannot shield assets from Nursing Home, Medicaid or Estate Taxes. To do that, you will need to hire an attorney to prepare an Irrevocable Trust. Fees are minimum $3,000- $5,000 for trusts.
A Revocable Living Trust can easily be structured to automatically create separate Trusts upon the death of either your spouse. Here's how it works. If the wife dies first, the husband has total control of his Trust. Also, for the remainder of his life, he receives all income from her Trust and has the use of the assets whenever needed for living expenses. When he dies, each Trust will claim its tax exemption, and some will go tax-free to their children, or any other beneficiary they designate, without having to go through probate.
A Trust, which cannot be changed or canceled once, it is set up without the consent of the beneficiary. contributions cannot be taken out of the trust by the grantor. Irrevocable trusts offer tax advantages that revocable trusts don't, for example by enabling a person to give money and assets away even before he/she dies. Opposite of revocable trust.
You Maintain Complete Control Over Your Property In a Revocable Living Trust
The principle behind a Revocable Living Trust is simple. When you establish a Living Trust, you transfer all your property into the Trust, and then name yourself as trustee, or you can name you and your spouse as co-trustees of the Trust. The trustees maintain complete control over the property, the same control you had before your property was placed in trust You can buy, sell, borrow, pledge, or collateralize the trust property. You can even discontinue the Trust if you choose. That is why it is called a "Revocable" Living Trust. We will explain the "Irrevocable Trust" at the end of the article.
Transferring Property Into the Trust
The transfer of title to property into the Trust is a relatively simple matter when you hire an attorney. Anywhere you have assets, you will get help in transferring your property into the Trust. Your attorney, securities investor, etc., will provide you with assistance needed to transfer your property into your Revocable Living Trust. Your attorney will provide the information and assistance you need to properly fund your Trust.
Probate records are public, your Trust documents are private. A Trust will safeguard the privacy of your family and your private financial matters.
Naming A Trustee
Most people name themselves and their spouse as the initial Trustees of a Revocable Trust. This is usually true unless one spouse is incapacitated to the point that he or she is not able to manage your assets in the same way you do now. However, for an Irrevocable or Medicaid trust, the spouse cannot be the trustee.
Gifts To Religious And Charitable Organizations
Many people wish to give a portion or sometimes all of their assets to a religious or charitable organization in order to carry on the work of those organizations that have given them comfort or peace of mind during their lifetimes. This is easily accomplished with a Revocable Living Trust.
NJ Estate Tax
A New Jersey estate tax return must be filed if the decedent's gross estate plus adjusted taxable gifts exceeds $675,000. It must be filed within nine months of the decedent's death (nine months plus 30 days if the Form 706 method is used).
Current Federal tax laws allow you to leave an unlimited amount to a spouse, tax-free. When your spouse dies, the estate is entitled to a $5,250,000 tax exemption. The first $5,250,000 goes to your beneficiaries free of estate tax. However, the NJ Estate Tax starts at $675,000.
The NJ Estate Tax is in addition to any NJ Inheritance Tax.
WHAT IS CREDIT SHELTER TRUST IN A WILL?
The Credit Shelter Trust (sometimes referred to as a “Bypass Trust” or an “A/B Trust”) is a popular estate planning technique used by married couples with combined assets to avoid the NJ Estate Tax.
The purpose of the Credit Shelter Trust was to avoid the wasting of federal and state exemptions on the death of the first spouse. Instead of leaving all assets to the surviving spouse and thereby exposing the surviving spouse’s estate to more tax, Nursing Home & Medicaid issues, plus elective share by a future spouse, both spouse’s Wills are drafted to establish a Credit Shelter Trust to come into existence and be funded on the first spouse’s death.
In a typical Credit Shelter Trust, the surviving spouse is entitled to receive all of the income from the Trust for his or her lifetime, and has the right to demand principal distributions for his or her health, education, support and maintenance in his or her accustomed manner of living. Distributions in excess of that standard require the cooperation of a Co-Trustee – often an adult child of the surviving spouse or a trust department of a bank.
Since NJ is eliminating the NJ Tax, a Testamentary Trust within the Will is still a useful device to help ensure children and grandchildren with receive money down the road. Otherwise, the surviving spouse can spend all the money in Atlantic City. The surviving spouse could also get remarried and do a new Will leaving all assets to the new spouse. Many families want to protect at least some of the money from wasteful spending or a new spouse.
If the Intervivos Trust technique is implemented as part of a Client’s Estate Plan, you can hire the attorneys for a separate fee to assist the Client in re-titling his or her assets so that assets are available to fund the Credit Shelter Trust. Re-titling is necessary because most Clients tend to hold assets jointly with right of survivorship and assets must be titled individually in a person’s name in order to be eligible to fund a Credit Shelter Trust. We work with a tax attorney to help our clients.
Irrevocable Trust Accounts: Irrevocable trust accounts are deposits held by a trust established by statute or a written trust agreement in which the grantor (the creator of the trust - also referred to as a trustor or settlor) contributes deposits or other property and gives up all power to cancel or change the trust.
An irrevocable trust also may come into existence upon the death of an owner of a revocable trust. The reason is that the owner no longer can revoke or change the terms of the trust. If a trust has multiple owners and one owner passes away, the trust agreement may call for the trust to split into an irrevocable trust and a revocable trust owned by the survivor. Because these two trusts are held under different ownership types, the insurance coverage may be very different, even if the beneficiaries have not changed.
WHAT IS MEDICAID..........
Medicaid is a Federal medical bills assistance program that pays medical bills for eligible, needy persons. It is administered by each state. All payments are made directly to the providers of medical and other health care services. The Medicaid-eligible person does not pay the health care provider for services. The only exception is a patient in a Medicaid-approved nursing facility who may be required to contribute part of his/her income toward the cost of care.
It is important to note Medicaid typically has a lien on assets you own.
Someone can avoid Medicaid and nursing home liens by settling up an Irrevocable Trust and waiting 60 months to apply for Medicaid.
Kenneth A. Vercammen is an Edison, Middlesex County, NJ trial attorney who has published 125 articles in national and New Jersey publications on business and litigation topics. He often lectures to trial lawyers of the American Bar Association, New Jersey State Bar Association and Middlesex County Bar Association.
He is a highly regarded lecturer on litigation issues for the American Bar Association, ICLE, New Jersey State Bar Association and Middlesex County Bar Association. His articles have been published by New Jersey Law Journal, ABA Law Practice Management Magazine, and New Jersey Lawyer. He is co-chair of the ABA Probate & Estate Planning Committee.
He has served as a Special Acting Prosecutor in nine different cities and towns in New Jersey and also successfully handled over One thousand Municipal Court and Superior Court matters in the past 28 years.
In his private practice, he has devoted a substantial portion of his professional time to the preparation and trial of litigated matters. He has appeared in Courts throughout New Jersey several times each week on Criminal and Litigation matters, Municipal Court trials, and contested Probate hearings. He serves as the Editor of the popular legal website www.njlaws.com
KENNETH VERCAMMEN & ASSOCIATES, PC
ATTORNEY AT LAW
2053 Woodbridge Ave.
Edison, NJ 08817