Reasons to Look at Your Estate Plan 

By Jan Nelson, Trust Officer

By Jan Nelson, Trust Officer

The new year is a great time to revisit items you may have been putting off. One item you should take care of sooner rather than later is reviewing your estate plan. In order to help you start the year off right, here are our top reasons to review your estate plan. 

  1. Major Life Changes. Life is dynamic and major life changes can significantly impact your estate plans. Consider theses moments as triggers for review: 
  2. Marriage – Update your plan after tying the knot. Include your new spouse, and possibly stepchildren, if desired. Have your wishes align with your current family structure. 
  3. Divorce or Separation – Following a divorce, adjust provisions related to your ex-spouse and consider removing them from your power of attorney and living will. 
  4. Birth or Adoption – The birth of a child or grandchild is a great time to update your estate plan so they are included. Likewise with the adoption of a child or grandchild. 
  5. Illness or Disability – If someone relevant to your estate plan faces a serious illness or disability, make sure you review your documents promptly. 
  6. Financial Changes. Your financial situation is ever evolving. If your net worth has grown (or declined) substantially, this could affect your estate plan. 
  7. Change to your State of Residence. Different states have different laws. If you have changed your state of residence, have a qualified estate planning attorney review your plan to make sure it complies with local regulations. 
  8. Tax Law Updates. Tax laws change every year. Reviewing your estate plan periodically can help you take advantage of tax-saving opportunities, while also making sure your plan still conforms if other provisions of the law have changed. With the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and its historically high estate tax exemptions set to expire at the end of 2025, check now with your attorney and accountant to see if this may affect you. Local attorneys have told us they are well in the midst of planning for this possible sunset, and it may not be possible to complete the planning if started too late. 
  9. Evolving Family Dynamics. Family relationships also evolve over time. Oftentimes a family member may need financial support now with the condition that other beneficiaries will get a larger share of the estate to equalize. One important thing to note is that if you are planning on doling out unequal inheritances to “equal” individuals such as your children, you may want to have the conversation now to explain the reasoning behind the decision.  
  10. Peace of Mind. Regular updates provide peace of mind, knowing your wishes are up-to-date and aligned with your current life stage. It doesn’t matter if you’re in your 20’s or 90’s, everyone should have some sort of estate plan. 

Estate planning isn’t a one-time task. Regular reviews ensure your legacy remains intact and your loved ones are well-cared-for. We encourage you to revisit your estate plans periodically to safeguard your financial future.  


Heartland TrustReasons to Look at Your Estate Plan 
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Unequal Inheritance: Aspects to Consider

Jennifer M. Johnston, CTFA

All families have their own dynamics. Some families have children who fall into similar levels of economic stability, while some families have children who are all unique and have a wide range of financial and personal success that result in different abilities to care of themselves and their families in the way they may have been accustomed to growing up or the way you may want to see.  

How do parents approach this when it is time to prepare or review their estate planning documents? First you need to decide if this is an issue for you. If your children are equally capable of taking care of themselves and have the equal ability to do so then this may be a moot issue for you.  

However, if you have one child who is a successful attorney, another child who is a successful preschool teacher, and another who struggles with addiction and holding down a job you may have some things to consider when it comes to an equal or unequal inheritance amongst your children. 

An unequal inheritance may also be thought of as an equitable inheritance.  Where an equal inheritance beneficiaries receive the same share, an equitable (or unequal) inheritance beneficiaries receive what is deemed fair by the Grantor given their individual circumstances. Of course “fair” is discretionary and where the complexities start and emotions can run high if the inheritance isn’t dealt with properly.

Here are some common reasons why an unequal/equitable inheritance may be considered by parents:

  • Special needs
  • Addiction
  • Difference in earnings
  • Gifts given during lifetime 
  • Stepchildren
  • Sibling with more children
  • Legal issues
  • Grandchildren
  • A child providing care to the grantor during life
  • Differences in cost to live in a certain area
  • A younger child who hasn’t completed their education or established a career

If you decide that an unequal or equitable inheritance is right for your situation the most important things you can do, aside from updating your estate planning documents, are to communicate and document your decision with your beneficiaries.

Communicate: Communication with your children is essential and the sooner the better.  Or if you find yourself on the flipside and are a beneficiary set to receive an unequal share think about gently bringing up the subject in order to understand why this decision has been made before your loved one is gone. 

Communication, regardless who initiates it, should be priority number one if your estate is not going to be divided equally.  (It is also a good idea to discuss your estate plan with your beneficiaries if you do plan for an equal division as there could be concern the division should be unequal/equitable given each beneficiaries unique situation.) An open discussion will help everyone understand where both parties are coming from.  Emotions may attempt to take the driver’s seat during the conversation so going into it with compassion and understanding is a good mindset to remind everyone to strive for.

Document: Once everyone has been involved in the discussion, whether everything is agreed to or not it is extremely important that everything is clearly documented. Some of the details to document include:

  • Date of the discussion.
  • Names of who were present.
  • Details of what was discussed.
  • Reasons why the inheritance will be distributed in unequal shares must be well documented.  The same is true if you are going to make equal shares but there are concerns loved ones may think unequal/equitable shares should be distributed.
  • Note and make it clear the Grantor(s)/Trustor(s) are of sound mind at the time of this discussion. 
    • Your estate document should also make clear that at the time of this discussion and the execution of any legal documents that contain this decision the Grantor(s)/Trustor(s) are making a conscious decision and are under no duress.
  • If possible obtaining signatures from all of the attendees. This can be a valuable document to include with your trust or will and may even be referenced in your applicable document.  

If the aforementioned steps are not taken to document a discussion was had with the entire family (including everyone who is receiving and/or may be excluded from a class of individuals who is not receiving anything) there is a higher probability the document (will or trust) may be contested or challenged in court. This is an expensive and stressful process for all involved and most certainly not what any parent wants to leave as part of their legacy. 

Speak with your attorney about including a “no contest” clause in your will or trust. A no contest clause is basically a “you get nothing” clause if you challenge the inheritance you are to receive (in some states this only applies if there is no probable cause). This clause is meant to deter someone who is receiving an inheritance they do not agree with from seeking legal action. Sadly it may do nothing to keep someone who has been excluded from an inheritance from taking legal action as they have nothing to lose from suing the estate or trust.

While HTC cannot offer legal or tax advice we love being a part of your team to work with you and your attorney and CPA to help make your estate plan the best one for you. If you are in need of a referral for an attorney or CPA we would be happy to provide a few for you. We look forward to connecting with you soon!

Jennifer Johnston, CTFA – Trust OfficerUnequal Inheritance: Aspects to Consider
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Is a Trust Right For You?

We have all heard the horror stories about families being torn apart after their parents pass away. Brothers, sisters, and long-lost family members who have spent years in court fighting over land, money, family heirlooms – big and small – and more. There will never be a family Christmas or birthday celebration together again.

This is not the vision or dreams that Mom and Dad held so close. This is not why they worked so hard and saved so much to give a better life to their kids and grandkids.

A trust can help.

Many of my clients did not see themselves as trust people until they knew the facts and benefits. Many believed trusts are only for the ultra-wealthy and famous, but that could not be further from the truth.

Jon BensonIs a Trust Right For You?
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Choosing a Beneficiary for Your IRA or 401(k)

Adapted from Broadridge Investor Communication Services

Choosing a Beneficiary for Your IRA or 401(k)
Selecting beneficiaries for retirement benefits is different from choosing beneficiaries for other assets such as life insurance. With retirement benefits, you need to know the impact of income tax and estate tax laws in order to select the right beneficiaries. Although taxes shouldn’t be the sole determining factor in naming your beneficiaries, ignoring the impact of taxes could lead you to make an incorrect choice.
In addition, if you’re married, beneficiary designations may affect the size of minimum required distributions to you from your IRAs and retirement plans while you’re alive.

Heartland TrustChoosing a Beneficiary for Your IRA or 401(k)
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When Does an Estate Go Through Probate?

Whether you have a last will and testament or not, your estate may have to go through the probate process. Probate is the legal process to administer and settle the estate of an individual who has passed away. When a person dies, their estate consists of assets, both real and personal property, they own on their date of death. It also includes the decedent’s debts, final expenses, and unpaid taxes. Somebody needs to be in charge of an estate to settle the affairs on behalf of the decedent.

Missy Zarak, Trust OfficerWhen Does an Estate Go Through Probate?
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Understanding Gift and Estate Taxes

Adapted from Broadridge Investor Communication Services

If you give away money or property during your life, those transfers may be subject to federal gift and estate tax and perhaps state gift tax. The money and property you own when you die (i.e., your estate) may also be subject to federal gift and estate tax and some form of the state death tax. These property transfers may also be subject to generation-skipping transfer taxes. You should understand all of these taxes, especially since the passage of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (the 2001 Tax Act), the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 (the 2010 Tax Act), the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (the 2012 Tax Act), and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The recent Tax Acts contain several changes that make estate planning much easier.

Background on federal gift and estate tax

Under pre-2001 Tax Act law, no federal gift and estate tax was imposed on the first $675,000 of combined transfers (those made during life and those made at death). The tax rate tables were unified into one — that is, the same rates applied to gifts made and property owned by persons who died in 2001. Like income tax rates, gift and estate tax rates were graduated. Under this unified system, the recipient of a lifetime gift received a carryover basis in the property received, while the recipient of a bequest, or gift made at death, got a step-up in basis (usually fair market value on the date of death of the person who made the bequest or gift).

The 2001 Tax Act, the 2010 Tax Act, the 2012 Tax Act, and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act substantially changed this tax regime.

Heartland TrustUnderstanding Gift and Estate Taxes
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Wills: The Cornerstone of Your Estate Plan

Adapted from Broadridge Investor Communication Services

If you care about what happens to your money, home, and other property after you die, you need to do some estate planning. There are many tools you can use to achieve your estate planning goals, but a will is probably the most vital. Even if you are young or your estate is modest, you should always have a legally valid and up-to-date will. This is especially important if you have minor children because, in many states, your will is the only legal way you can name a guardian for them. Although a will does not have to be drafted by an attorney to be valid, seeking an attorney’s help can ensure that your will accomplishes what you intend.

Heartland TrustWills: The Cornerstone of Your Estate Plan
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What is a Trust Officer?

To understand who a trust officer is and what they do first requires that you understand what a trust is. Here’s a quick review: A trust is a vehicle used to hold property. A trust can hold the title to anything (like art, vehicles, and even pets!) but the most common assets in a trust are investments, real estate (residential, commercial and farmland), and sometimes partnerships and LLCs.

Trusts are established by someone known as a grantor/trustor who wants to establish control of these assets during their life and after they are deceased. There are various reasons for this control. Sometimes it is due to estate and tax planning but almost always there is an underlying desire to protect the assets for the trust’s beneficiaries, those who will benefit from the trust once the grantor is gone.

Trusts are managed by a trustee, who in turn is a fiduciary. A fiduciary must follow legal and ethical standards that binds the trustee to make decisions in their client’s best interest and provides the highest level of care a client can receive. A trustee’s responsibility is to safeguard the assets of the trust and ensure they are managed according to the terms of the trust document, while following current state and federal laws.

Jennifer Johnston, CTFA – Trust OfficerWhat is a Trust Officer?
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What Can Heartland Trust Company Do for You?

Here at Heartland Trust Company, we are proud of the great reputation we have built in the community over the last 30 years. We know that if we do business the right way, we will be here for a long time. Our mission statement says it all: “We provide a lifelong commitment to the well-being of those we serve.”

Our reputation is everything, and that is why we choose to adopt the fiduciary standard. This means we apply the industry’s highest financial, ethical, and legal standards to the services we provide for our clients. We always act in our client’s best interest, and we would not do it any other way. We do things our own way, and we do it to benefit our clients. And even though trust is our middle name, we do much more than that.

Trust Administration
We started out as a trust company and we continue to provide these high levels of financial and ethical care that these special accounts require. We can serve as trustee, co-trustee, or agent for the trustee (usually for an individual named as trustee who would like assistance with responsibilities such as recordkeeping, asset management, and tax preparation). Types of trusts we administer include:
 Revocable Living Trusts
 Irrevocable Trusts
 Special Needs Trusts
 Charitable Trusts

Jan Nelson, Trust OfficerWhat Can Heartland Trust Company Do for You?
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Do I Need a Trust?

Oftentimes when I am meeting with clients, we spend a significant amount of time focusing on fully understanding their personal and financial lives. This allows us to make sure that we can holistically address all of their needs, goals, and dreams for the future.

During this process, we discuss in-depth the best ways we can customize a plan to make it all happen.

Two of the most common questions I hear from clients are: 1) What is the difference between a trust and a will, and 2) Why it is important to document my wishes to best care for my family?

Simply defined, a will determines how your assets will be fully distributed after you die; a trust is a legacy to your heirs. Your trust details how your assets will be held and managed for the benefit of your heirs at your direction.

There are many different kinds of trust, each having its own focus and determined impact and benefit.

Jon BensonDo I Need a Trust?
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