If you are a Maine resident and your assets are less than $5.7 million dollars (2019), then the answer is “no.” The amount is doubled at the Federal level. This number includes all your assets – retirement, life insurance, real estate, and even assets held in revocable and many irrevocable trusts. If you die with real estate in Maine, a simple form stating that your estate is under the amount is all that is necessary to be filed to release the property. As a result of these higher exemption amounts, most people can have fairly simple estate plans, if they choose. Some people with trusts may find that they have old language in their documents that is outdated and unnecessary. If you are nearing the exemption levels in Maine it’s never too late to start gifting to keep your estate under the exemption amount.
Many people want to give cash to friends and family, but are afraid they will have to pay tax on the gifts. Good news- it turns out that it has never been easier to give away money. Each person has the right to give $15,000 per person, per calendar year, with NO reporting to anyone. This means you can give $15,000 to your son, $15,000 to his wife, $15,000 to each grandchild, $15,000 to your neighbor, etc. There is no limit to the number of people. But, if you give more than $15,000 to any one person, you do have to report it through an informational return. This return would merely state the gift and counts toward your ability to give a total of $5.7 million away (2019 amount in Maine) during your life, and double that at the Federal level. See blog post about estate tax. If you are like most people, you will be well under these exemption amounts and you never have to worry about triggering any taxes. So, if you want to help someone out with a down payment on a house, or whatever else and you think you can afford it, talk to your accountant first, but chances are that taxes will not be due on gift.
What happens to your assets (real estate, bank accounts, etc.) that are in your name alone if you die without a will? Your assets will go to whoever the State of Maine, or whatever State you are a resident when you die, thinks they should. When you die without a will you die intestate, and the laws of intestacy kick in. Sometimes this can lead to disastrous results. For example, you own a home alone but have lived there with a life partner for many years, and you die without a will, your life partner is not a beneficiary under the laws of intestacy. If you have no children that house could go to your parents or your siblings or even your distant cousins, that you may have nothing to do with. The simplest way to ensure that your assets go to the people you want is to execute a will.
If you have not properly planned, timeshares can inadvertently saddle your loved ones with headaches and needless expenses when you die. Few people realize that most timeshares are deeded real property, even if it is only a week in Sedona or two weeks in Hawaii. If you own the timeshare jointly with someone (e.g., a spouse or friend), you may be fine. But what if you and your spouse die in a common accident? Or your spouse has passed and you now own it yourself alone? Owning real property subjects you to a probate in that state when you die. If you do own a timeshare, make sure you have thought about succession planning. Some options are to place the timeshare in a trust, or to add a child or friend you wish to inherit your timeshare deed before you die (assuming they are willing to take on the annual expense after you are gone). Otherwise, you may end up costing your family far more money dealing with the timeshare than it is actually worth, not to mention the added stress!
I find many blended families avoid the topic of wills and succession planning because it can create tension between spouses. It can raise touch point issues in the relationship. Maybe you are much closer to your kids than your spouse’s kids. You may have even lost touch with children because of hurt feelings when you divorced and remarried. If you don’t confront this sensitive area you can leave behind a mess when you die. A home that has been in your family for generations could end up with step-kids or people you have no relationship with. A beloved spouse could be forced from the home when you die. The only way to ensure your wishes are carried out is to start the discussion and visit an attorney to come up with a plan.
Make sure your loved ones are protected.