2014 Most Read Wills & Estate Planning Articles May Surprise You

Welcome to my first post of 2015!  In case you’re curious, below are the top ten most read articles in 2014 over at my Wills & Estate Planning Guidesite on About.com:

  1. See How the Federal Estate Tax Exemption Has Changed Since 1997
  2. How to Find a Deceased Person’s Will
  3. See How the Gift Tax Annual Exclusion Has Changed Since 1997
  4. Will Your Inheritance Cost You in Taxes?
  5. State Estate Tax and Exemption Chart
  6. 2014 State Death Tax Exemption and Top Tax Rate Chart
  7. State Inheritance Tax Chart
  8. How to Locate Online Probate Court Dockets and Request Copies of Documents
  9. What is a Revocable Living Trust?
  10. What Are the Grounds for Contesting a Will?

If you’re interested in reading any of the articles, simply click on the article name.

Well, that is certainly a hodge podge of topics, isn’t it?  – estate, inheritance and gift taxes, wills, probate dockets, revocable living trusts, will contests – but then again, estate planning covers a hodge podge of topics, that’s why my Guidesite currently has 19 different categories!

The final count on page views for my Wills & Estate Planning Guidesite in 2014 topped 8.4 million, so thanks to all of my readers for reading and my newsletter subscribers for subscribing – if you’re not a newsletter subscriber yet, you can sign up here:  Weekly Wills & Estate Planning Newsletter.

Where Should You Retire? It Depends on Who You Ask

A recent survey conducted by MoneyRates.com used the following factors to determine the list of the best and worst U.S. states for retirees:

  • The size and growth of the senior population
  • Economic factors
  • Crime
  • Weather
  • Life expectancy at age 65

Based on these five factors, Moneyrates.com found that the top ten states for retirees are as follows:

  1. Hawaii
  2. Iowa
  3. Idaho
  4. Florida
  5. Vermont
  6. Arizona
  7. Colorado and Maine (tie)
  8. Virginia
  9. Montana
  10. New Hampshire

Hmm.  Back in May, a similar survey conducted by Bankrate.com didn’t have Hawaii or Florida ranked among the top ten.  In fact, Hawaii didn’t even make the top twenty or thirty – Hawaii ranked #46 – and Florida barely made it into the top thirty – Florida ranked #39.

The factors Bankrate.com used to compile its list were as follows:

  • Cost of living
  • Crime rate (violence and property crimes)
  • Health care quality
  • State and local tax burden
  • Personal well-being
  • Weather

Using these six factors, below are the top ten U.S. states for retirees according to Bankrate.com’s survey:

  1. South Dakota
  2. Colorado
  3. Utah
  4. North Dakota
  5. Wyoming
  6. Nebraska
  7. Montana
  8. Idaho
  9. Iowa
  10. Virginia

So where should you retire?  Wherever you feel the most at home.

Photo: Aerial View of Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Alaska Joins Growing Number of States That Recognize Transfer on Death Deeds

Alaska is the latest state to recognize deeds that transfer ownership of real estate after death without the need for probate.

Dubbed “transfer on death deeds” (or “TOD deeds” for short) in some states, or “beneficiary deeds” in others, the list of U.S. jurisdictions that accept this type of deed through state legislation has grown to 25:

  1. Alaska
  2. Arizona
  3. Arkansas
  4. Colorado
  5. District of Columbia
  6. Hawaii
  7. Illinois
  8. Indiana
  9. Kansas
  10. Minnesota
  11. Missouri
  12. Montana
  13. Nebraska
  14. Nevada
  15. New Mexico
  16. North Dakota
  17. Ohio
  18. Oklahoma
  19. Oregon
  20. South Dakota
  21. Virginia
  22. Washington
  23. West Virginia
  24. Wisconsin
  25. Wyoming

Aside from this, three states – Florida, Michigan, and Texas – recognize “enhanced life estate deeds,” also known as “Lady Bird deeds,” under state common law, which in essence accomplish the same thing as TOD deeds.

How Does a TOD Deed Work?

How does a TOD deed work?  While the logistics vary from state to state, in general the owner of the real estate will sign a new deed which lists the beneficiaries who will inherit the property after the owner dies.  The new deed is then recorded in the applicable public land records (this is usually done at the court house of the county where the real estate is located and costs between $10 and $50).  Then, after the owner dies, their death certificate is recorded in those same public land records, and voilà, the beneficiaries named in the deed become the new owners of the property.

What happens if the owner decides they want to change the beneficiaries of the property after the new deed is recorded?  Then the owner will have to sign and record another TOD deed.

Is a TOD Deed Right for You and Your Family?

While the use of a TOD deed to avoid probate may appear to be a simple process, it is certainly not a “one-size-fits-all” solution to avoid probate and it is certainly not something you should attempt to do on your own because there are so many things that can go wrong.

If you are interested in using a TOD type of deed to avoid probate of your real estate after you die, then consult with an estate planning attorney in the state where your real estate is located to determine if this is the right solution for you and your family.

Photo: Aerial view of Aghileen Pinnacles, Lefthand Valley, Wilderness Area, Alaska; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

IRS Releases 2015 Estate Tax Exemption and Other Related Inflation Adjustments

Last week the IRS released Rev. Proc. 2014-61, which contains the 2015 inflation adjustments for the federal estate tax, gift tax, and generation-skipping transfer tax exemptions as well as the 2015 annual gift tax exclusions:

  • The estate tax exemption will increase from $5,340,000 in 2014 to $5,430,000 in 2015 (for those of you who are slightly dyslexic like me, these numbers will undoubtedly drive you crazy).  The top estate tax rate will remain at 40%.
  • The lifetime gift tax exemption will also increase from $5,340,000 in 2014 to $5,430,000 in 2015.  The top gift tax rate will remain at 40%.
  • The generation-skipping transfer tax exemption will also increase from $5,340,000 in 2014 to $5,430,000 in 2015.  The top generation-skipping transfer tax rate will remain at 40%.
  • The annual gift tax exclusion will be $14,000 in 2015, which is the same as the 2014 exclusion.  As mentioned above, the top gift tax rate will remain at 40%.
  • The annual gift tax exclusion for gifts to noncitizen spouses will increase from $145,000 in 2014 to $147,000 in 2015.  As mentioned above, the top gift tax rate will remain at 40%.

In addition, Rev. Proc. 2014-61 provides that estates and trusts will be subject to the following income tax brackets in 2015:

If Taxable Income Is:                  The Tax Is:

Not over $2,500 15% of taxable income
Over $2,500 but not over $5,900 $375 plus 25% of the excess over $2,500
Over $5,900 but not over $9,050 $1,225 plus 28% of the excess over $,5900
Over $9,050 but not over $12,300 $2,107 plus 33% of the excess over $9,050
Over $12,300 $3,179.50 plus 39.6% of the excess over $12,300

Read more:

Estate Planning, Sam’s Club Style

Along with buying all of your favorite items in bulk (like a 36-can case of Diet Dr. Pepper!), you can now get your estate plan done at a discount at Sam’s Club.

Yes, you read that right, Sam’s Club is now offering estate planning as well as other legal services.  Well, OK, that’s not exactly accurate.  While the retail warehouse club that is owned by Walmart hasn’t gone out and hired itself a bunch of attorneys and stationed them in its 640+ stores, it has teamed up with LegalZoom to give its business members up to a 25% discount on LegalZoom products.  This includes things like incorporating a business, idea protection, and wills and trusts.

And that’s not all – Sam’s Club business members can also shop for personalized health care plans (in collaboration with Aenta) and payroll services (in collaboration with Execupay).  Who knows what will be next?