Florida Estate Planning and Probate Law Blog focused on recent case law and planning ideas.

SELECTING THE RIGHT TRUSTEE FOR YOUR TRUST

Upon creation of a Revocable or Irrevocable Trust (a legal arrangement through which a trustee holds legal title to property for another person), you will need to appoint an individual or trust company to serve as its trustee (person or entity in charge). With a Revocable Trust, that individual is typically the creator of the Trust. With an Irrevocable Trust, this can be either an individual or individual (but not the creator). Regardless of the type of Trust created, it is important to appoint an individual or institution to serve if the named individual or institution is unable to continuing serving for the Trust. Selection of the right trustee can be crucial to making sure the intent of the Trust is fulfilled and your goals accomplished. Their responsibilities include making proper investments, paying bills, keeping accounts, and preparing tax returns. The main consideration when selecting a trustee is whether they are trustworthy and can manage the assets in the beneficiary's best interest. Regardless of whom may be selected, it is important to revaluate the selection every few years to ensure they are the right individual or entity for the job and still capable of fulfilling their obligations to the beneficiaries. The right individual or institution today may not be right tomorrow.

YEAR END RETIREMENT PLANNING TIPS


Year end retirement planning deadlines you need to meet in order to qualify for income tax deductions and credits:

Make last-minute 401(k) contributions. An employee can contribute up to $18,000 to a 401(k) account in 2015. Workers age 50 and older can make catch-up contributions worth an additional $6,000, or a total of $24,000 in 2015, which are also due by Dec. 31. An investor over age 50 who is in the 25 percent tax bracket and maxes out his traditional 401(k) will save $6,000 on his federal income tax bill. But even a smaller contribution of $5,000 would save him $1,250 in taxes. At a minimum, double check that you have saved enough to get any employer match offered by your company.

Take required minimum distributions. Retirees born before July 1, 1945, are required to take distributions from their individual retirement accounts and 401(k) plans by Dec. 31, 2015. The distribution amount is calculated by dividing the account balance by an IRS estimate of your life expectancy, and sometimes a spouse's age is also taken into account. The penalty for missing a required distribution is a stiff 50 percent of the amount that should have been withdrawn. However, if you turned 70 1/2 in 2015, which is those born after June 30, 1944, and before July 1, 1945, there is a special rule that allows you to delay your first required distribution until April 1, 2016. But the second (and all subsequent) distributions will be due by Dec. 31 of the same year. Retirees who delay their first required minimum distribution will need to take two distributions in the same year. "Taking a double distribution in 2016 could cause you to pay more for taxes and may even push you into a higher tax bracket," says Helga Cuthbert, a certified financial planner for Cuthbert Financial Guidance in Decatur, Georgia. "You're usually better off taking it the year you turn 70 1/2."

Extra time for IRA contributions. You have until April 15, 2016, to contribute up to $5,500 to an IRA that can be applied to tax year 2015. Workers age 50 and older are eligible to contribute an additional $1,000, for a total contribution of $6,500 in 2015. You can reduce the amount you owe and help increase your retirement savings by putting some money in an IRA. 

Claim the saver's credit. If your adjusted gross is below $30,500 for individuals, $45,750 for heads of household and $61,000 for couples in 2015 and you contribute to a 401(k) or IRA, you may be able to qualify for the savers credit. This valuable tax credit is worth between 10 and 50 percent of the amount you contribute to a retirement account, up to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for couples.

Get ready for 2016. 401(k) and IRA contribution limits will remain the same in 2016. But if you weren't able to max out your accounts in 2015, consider setting your contribution amount a little higher next year. If you get a raise, bonus or tax refund, redirecting part of it to a retirement account will set you up for a lower tax bill in 2016.

FLORIDA GUARDIANSHIP REFORM - IS IT ON THE WAY?

For decades, states have granted courts the power to appoint guardians or conservators for elderly or disabled people unable to tend to their basic needs. Most appointed guardians are family members, but judges can turn to a growing industry of professional, unrelated guardians. Often the guardians are granted broad authority over a ward’s finances, medical care and living conditions. But guardianship systems across the country are plagued by allegations of financial exploitation and abuse, despite waves of reform efforts, according to a Wall Street Journal Page One story. As a result, critics say, many elderly people with significant assets become ensnared in a system that seems mainly to succeed at generating billings. “These laws which were designed to protect the vulnerable are being used against them to exploit them,” says Dr. Sam Sugar, founder of Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, an advocacy group. Because guardianship systems vary by state and county and record-keeping systems are inconsistent, precise national data is unavailable. But the roughly 1.5 million adult guardianships in the U.S. involve an estimated $273 billion in assets, according to Anthony Palmieri, auditor for the guardianship fraud program in Palm Beach County, Fla. The problems are more urgent as aging baby boomers cause the population of seniors nearly to double by 2050, according to Census estimates. In New Jersey, the number of adult guardianships added annually increased 21% from 2009 to 2014, to 2,689 cases. Guardians properly supervised by courts typically do a good job protecting elderly people from exploitation by acquaintances and others, says Catherine Seal, a guardianship attorney in Colorado Springs, Colo., and president-elect of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. “The worst cases that I see are the ones where there is no guardian,” she says. Expenses that arise as a result of a guardianship, including lawyers for both guardians and wards, typically get paid from the ward’s assets. (In some jurisdictions, there is a public guardian’s office that handles cases for indigent clients.) The financial arrangement, critics say, encourages lawyers and guardians to perpetuate guardianships indefinitely. Check out the story for anecdotes involving guardians and their wards. Linda McDowell, of Sequim, Wash., lost about $470,000 in assets during her 30-month stay in Washington state’s guardianship system. After Ernestine Franks of Pensacola, Fla., was placed into guardianship, withdrawals from a $1.3 million trust set up to pay her expenses jumped to $297,000 in 2014 from $94,000 in 2011, when Ms. Franks mostly made her own financial decisions. Article published in the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 30, 2015.