Inheritance

How Does a Probate Proceeding Work?

A Will, also known as Last Will and Testament, is a legal document that is used in probate court.  It’s used when a person dies with assets that are in their name alone without a surviving joint owner or beneficiary designated, says the Record Online in the article “Anatomy of a probate proceeding.”

So, how does a probate proceeding work?

How does a probate proceeding work
Probate has been referred to as the law suit you file against yourself after you pass away.

Probate is a judicial or court proceeding, where the probate court has jurisdiction over the assets of the person who has died. The court oversees the personal representative’s payment of debts, taxes and probate fees, in addition to supervising distribution of assets to the person’s beneficiaries. The personal representative of the will has to manage the probate assets and then report to the court.

Without a will, things can get messy. A similar court proceeding takes place, but it is known as intestate succession, and the assets are distributed according to state law.

To start the probate proceeding, the personal representative completes and submits a Petition for Administration with the probate court. Most personal representatives hire an estate planning attorney to help with this. The attorney knows the process, which keeps things moving along.

The probate petition lists the beneficiaries named in the will, plus certain relatives who must, by law, receive legal notice in the mail. Let’s say that someone disinherits a child in their will. That child receives notice and learns they have been disinherited. Beneficiaries and relatives alike must return paperwork to the court stating that they either consent or object to the provisions of the will.

A disinherited child has the right to file objections with the court, and then begin a battle for inheritance that is known as a will contest. This can become protracted and expensive, drawing out the probate process for years. A will contest places all of the assets in the will in limbo. They cannot be distributed unless the court says they can, which may not occur until the will contest is completed.

In addition to the expense and time that probate takes, while the process is going on, assets are frozen. Only when the court gives the all clear does the judge issue what are called Letters of Administration, or “Letters Testamentary,” which allows the executor to start the process of distributing funds. They must open an estate account, apply for a taxpayer ID for the account, collect the assets and ultimately, distribute them, as directed in the will to the beneficiaries.

Now that you know a little about how a probate proceeding works you’re probably asking whether a will contest, or probate be avoided? Avoiding probate, or having selected assets taken out of the estate, is one reason that people use trusts as part of their estate plan. Assets can also be placed in joint ownership, and beneficiaries can be added to accounts, so that the asset goes directly to the beneficiary.

By working closely with an estate planning attorney, you’ll have the opportunity to prepare an estate plan that addresses how you want assets to be distributed, which assets may be placed outside of your estate for an easier transfer to beneficiaries and what you can do to avoid a will contest, if there is a disinheritance situation looming.

Reference: Record Online (August 24, 2019) “Anatomy of a probate proceeding”

Do I Need a Will?

Yahoo Finance’s recent article on this subject asks “Do You Really Need a Will?” As the article explains, without a will, you’ll be “intestate”—which means you’ll have no say in what happens to your assets and belongings once you pass away.

Do I need a will?
If you don’t have a will your assets will be distributed according to state law.

Many people ask the question, “Do I need a will?” Each state has its laws concerning the distribution of a person’s assets if they die without a will. These laws most likely won’t mesh with your personal wishes. If you don’t have a will, ask yourself why you don’t. Perhaps you think you don’t need one. However, more than likely you do. If you’re putting off starting this important estate planning task, here are some things to consider.

Just about everybody needs a will, but you definitely should have one if you’re married, you have minor children, you have real estate, or you have investments in the stock market. You should also have a will if you have possessions, such as cars, furniture, jewelry, paintings, and computers?

As far as your money and possessions, you probably have some thoughts as to who gets what. You may want to chip in on the education of some younger relatives or give specific pieces of jewelry to those who you know will appreciate them. If you have minor children, you probably have very definite ideas about who should be their guardians if you die.

With a will, you have control. Without a will, the state in which you live will distribute your assets according to its laws, regardless of your wishes.

After you pass away, there could be surprise money coming to you, and without a will, you have no control over where these funds go. Your estate could get some cash from returned security deposits, medical reimbursements, or refunds from utility companies. Furthermore, if you die in a car accident and there’s an insurance settlement, you have no say who gets those funds, which could be substantial.

You also need to think about your pets, and who would be the best person to care for your animals.

So, the answer to the question, “Do I need a will”, is almost certainly, yes.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (July 21, 2019) “Do You Really Need a Will?”

How Can I Sell My Parent’s Home Without a Hassle After They’ve Passed Away?

Much of the work of selling his parent’s home after they passed away fell on Carlson, then 28, since the other beneficiary was her older sister, who lives in New York City.

sell my parents home
With the right planning, selling your parent’s home after they’ve passed away doesn’t have to be difficult.

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s recent article, “With proper planning, selling a parent’s house can be a relatively painless process—or not,” says that after finding a real estate agent with estate sale experience, she learned about probate, as well as the local building codes and repairs that needed to be made.

She even had to tell her father’s friend, who’d been bunking in the cabin, that he’d have to move out.

Coping with a death of a parent is challenging enough, and selling their home can be an added stressor for children. It’s even worse, if they die without a will. Grieving family members may be ill-equipped to make decisions, and allow the home to fall into disrepair. Siblings may also have emotional attachments to it and unrealistic expectations about the value of the home.

The job of selling your parent’s home after they’ve passed away can be difficult and long or it can be relatively easy. It depends in large part on the heirs’ ability to ask for help and hiring a professional who knows the local housing market. Experts say the sooner the process starts, the better. Parents can also take actions while they’re alive to help avoid complications. This discussion may be difficult and awkward, but it’s worth it to be informed, so adult children are not scrambling while grieving. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Be certain that both parents have a will.
  • Be prepared to spend some money, because there are costs associated with maintaining and selling the property (you’ll get the money back after the house sells).
  • The executor should change the locks to keep heirs out.
  • Ask a real estate agent to run a competitive market analysis and have an appraisal done by a licensed appraiser.
  • Designate a contact person, so the executor can keep all heirs informed.

A big deterrent to selling a parent’s house after they’ve passed away is typically the emotional attachment of the children.  Experts say that while cosmetic fixes can pay off, more substantial improvements generally don’t.

There are also estate, inheritance, and income taxes that can impact the net sales proceeds. There’s a benefit to selling an inherited property, because when a property is inherited after a death, the property value is “stepped up” to fair market value at the time of the owner’s death.

Reference: The Philadelphia Inquirer (June 22, 2019) “With proper planning, selling a parent’s house can be a relatively painless process—or not”

How Do Transfer on Death Accounts Work?

Almost all estates with wills go to probate court. This is not a major issue in some states and an expensive headache in others. By learning how Transfer on Death accounts work, and using them as an additional estate planning tool, you can avoid some assets going through probate, says Yahoo! Finance in the article “Transfer on Death (TOD) Accounts for Estate Planning.”  

How Do Transfer on Death Accounts Work
Assets in a Transfer on Death account avoid probate court in Florida.

So, how do Transfer on Death accounts work?

A TOD account automatically transfers the assets to a named beneficiary, when the account holder dies. Let’s say you have a savings account with $100,000 in it. Your son is the beneficiary for the TOD account. When you die, the account’s assets are transferred directly to him without having to go through probate.

A more formal definition: a TOD is a provision of an account that allows the assets to pass directly to an intended beneficiary.  This is the equivalent of a beneficiary designation. (Note that the laws that govern estate planning vary from state to state, but most banks, investment accounts and even real estate deeds can become TOD accounts.)  If you own part of a TOD property, only your ownership share will be transferred.

TOD account holders can name multiple beneficiaries and split up assets any way they wish. You can open a TOD account to be split between two children, for instance, and they’ll each receive 50% of the holdings, when you pass away.

A couple of additional benefits to keep in mind: the beneficiaries have no right or access to the TOD account, while the owner is living. And the beneficiaries can be changed at any time, as long as the TOD account owner is mentally competent. Just as assets in a will can’t be accessed by heirs until you die, beneficiaries on a TOD account have no rights or access to a TOD account, until the original owner dies.

Simplicity is one reason why people like to use the TOD account. When you have a properly prepared will and estate plan, the process is far easier for your family members and beneficiaries. The will includes an executor, who is the person who takes care of distributing your assets and a guardian to take care of any minor children. Absent a will, the probate court will determine who the next of kin is and distribute your property, according to the laws of your state.

A TOD account usually requires only that a death certificate be sent to an agent at the account’s bank or brokerage house. The account is then re-registered in the beneficiary’s name.

Whatever is in your will does not impact how the Transfer on Death account works. If your will instructs your executor to give all of your money to your sister, but the TOD account names your brother as a beneficiary, any money in that account is going to your brother. Your sister will get any other assets.

Speak with an estate planning attorney about how a Transfer on Death account works and whether one might be useful for your purposes.

Reference: Yahoo! Finance (June 26, 2019) “Transfer on Death (TOD) Accounts for Estate Planning”

What Are the Basics About Trusts?

Forbes’s recent article, “A Beginner’s Guide To Reading A Trust,” says that as much as attorneys have tried to simplify documents, there’s some legalese that just can’t be avoided. Let’s look at the basics about trusts and a few tips in reviewing your trust.

Basis about trusts
Understanding basic trust terms is essential.

First, familiarize yourself with the terms. There are basic terms of the trust that you’ll need to know. Most of this can be found on its first page, such as the person who created the trust. He or she is usually referred to as the Donor, Grantor or Settlor (here in Florida we use the term Settlor). It is also necessary to identify the Trustee and any successor trustees, who will hold the trust assets and administer them for the benefit of the Beneficiaries.

You should next see who the Beneficiaries are and then look at the important provisions concerning asset distribution. See if the trustee is required to distribute the assets all at once to a specific beneficiary, or if she can give the money out in installments over time.

It is also important to determine if the distributions are completely left to the discretion of the trustee, so the beneficiary doesn’t have a right to withdraw the trust assets.  You’ll also want to check to see if the trustee can distribute both income and principal.

The next step is to see when the trust ends. Trusts usually end at a specific date or at the death of a beneficiary.

Other important basic trust provisions include whether the beneficiaries can remove and replace a trustee, if the trustee has to provide the beneficiaries with accountings and whether the trust is revocable or irrevocable. If the trust is revocable and you’re the settlor, you can change it at any time.

If the trust is irrevocable, you won’t be able to make any changes without court approval. If your uncle was the donor and he passed away, the trust is most likely now irrevocable.

In addition, you should review the basic trust boilerplate language, as well as the tax provisions.

Talk to an estate planning attorney about any questions you may have and to help you interpret the basic trust terms.

Reference: Forbes (June 17, 2019) “A Beginner’s Guide To Reading A Trust”

Leaving a Legacy Isn’t Just About Money

A legacy is not necessarily about money, says a survey that was conducted by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch Ave Wave. More than 3,000 adults (2,600 of them were 50 and older) were surveyed and focus groups were asked about end-of-life planning and leaving a legacy. The article, “How to leave a legacy no matter how much money you have” from The Voice, shared a number of the participant’s responses.

Leaving a Legacy
Most people would rather be remembered for how they lived their life instead of how much money they made.

A total of 94% of those surveyed said that a life well-lived, is about “having friends and family that love me.” 75% said that a life well-lived is about having a positive impact on society. A mere 10% said that a life well-lived is about accumulating a lot of wealth.

People want to be remembered for how they lived, not what they did at work or how much money they saved. Nearly 70% said they most wanted to be remembered for the memories they shared with loved ones. And only nine percent said career success was something they wanted to be remembered for.

While everyone needs to have their affairs in order, especially people over age 55, only 55% of those surveyed reported having a will. Only 18% have what are considered the three key essentials for leaving a legacy: a will, a health care directive and a durable power of attorney.

The will addresses how property is to be distributed, names a personal representative of the estate and, if there are minor children, names who should be their guardian. The health care directive gives specific directions as to end-of-life preferences and designates someone to make health care decisions for you, if you can’t speak for yourself. A power of attorney designates an agent to make financial decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so, because of illness or incapacity.

An estate plan is often only considered when a trigger event occurs, like a loved one dying without the proper documents in place. That is a wake-up call for the family, once they see how difficult it is when there is no estate plan.

Parents age 55 and older had interesting views on leaving inheritances and who should receive their estate. Only about a third of boomers surveyed and 44% of Gen Xers said that it’s a parent’s duty to leave some kind of inheritance to their children. A higher percentage of millennials surveyed—55%–said that this was a duty of parents to their children.

The biggest surprise of the survey: 65% of people 55 and older reported that they would prefer to give away some of their money, while they are still alive. A mere 8% wanted to give away all their assets, before they died. Only 27% wanted to give away all their money after they died.

Reference: The Voice (June 16, 2019) “How to leave a legacy no matter how much money you have”

What Will Anderson Cooper Inherit From his Mother Gloria Vanderbilt?

The 95-year-old Gloria Vanderbilt was “a vestige of another era, reminiscent of Brooke Astor in her longevity and tangible connection to the Gilded Age of railroad and oil barons, who left their mark on New York society,” said Trust Advisor in its recent article, “Does A Long Island Landscaper (And Not Anderson Cooper) Inherit Gloria Vanderbilt’s Fortune?”  

However, unlike Brooke Astor, Vanderbilt was born in the limelight. Her long life started in the center of dynastic politics that got both messy and public. She and her trust fund became commodities in her parents’ divorce.

It’s reported that she had to sell off a few houses to pay the tax bills. Anything left behind is well-hidden in some estate planning documents. With her family fortune dwindling over time, Vanderbilt’s fashion empire came and went. However, the distributions kept coming to fill the holes. The old Vanderbilt fortune may be gone.

Her children and grandchildren built the careers they wanted, investing their inheritances into passion projects, with little or no immediate payday. Some are novelists, filmmakers and TV journalists. Gloria built a fashion empire of her own.

As the baby, Anderson was closest to his mother. He has probably accumulated the most personal wealth after years on CNN, so he doesn’t need his mom’s money. Her oldest son Stan probably doesn’t need the money either.

Stan has a successful landscaping business in Long Island. Any Vanderbilt money he inherited along the way, is probably well invested.

There’s also a third son, Stan’s brother Chris. He walked out years ago and never really came back, at least publicly. It’s assumed that he was disinherited at the time. Now, no one is sure if Gloria wrote him out of the will. She may have written him back in. There was allegedly a bit of a thaw in the last few years.

Reference: Trust Advisor (June 17, 2019) “Does A Long Island Landscaper (And Not Anderson Cooper) Inherit Gloria Vanderbilt’s Fortune?”

Are Inheritances Taxable?

Inheritances come in all sizes and shapes. People inherit financial accounts, real estate, jewelry and personal items. However, whatever kind of inheritance you have, you’ll want to understand exactly what, if any, taxes might be due, advises the article “Will I Pay Taxes on My Inheritance” from Orange Town News. An inheritance might have an impact on Medicare premiums, or financial aid eligibility for a college age child. Let’s look at the different assets and how they may impact a family’s tax liability.

Bank Savings Accounts or CDs. As long as the cash inherited is not from a retirement account, there are no federal taxes due. The IRS does not impose a federal inheritance tax. However, there are some states, including Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, that do have an inheritance tax. Speak with an estate planning attorney about this tax.

Primary Residence or Other Real Estate. Inheriting a home is not a taxable event. However, once you take ownership and sell the home or other property, there will be taxes due on any gains. The value of the home or property is established on the day of death. If you inherit a home valued at death at $250,000 and you sell it a year later for $275,000, you’ll have to declare a long-term capital gain and pay taxes on the $25,000 gain. The cost-basis is determined, when you take ownership.

Life Insurance Proceeds. Life insurance proceeds are not taxable, nor are they reported as income by the beneficiaries. There are exceptions: if interest is earned, which can happen when receipt of the proceeds is delayed, that is reportable. The beneficiary will receive a Form 1099-INT and that interest is taxable by the state and federal tax agencies. If the proceeds from the life insurance policy are transferred to an individual as part of an arrangement before the insured’s death, they are also fully taxable.

Retirement Accounts: 401(k) and IRA. Distributions from an inherited traditional IRA are taxable, just as they are for non-inherited IRAs. Distributions from an inherited Roth IRA are not taxable, unless the Roth was established within the past five years.

There are some changes coming to retirement accounts because of pending legislation, so it will be important to check on this with your estate planning attorney. Inherited 401(k) plans are or eventually will be taxable, but the tax rate depends upon the rules of the 401(k) plan. Many 401(k) plans require a lump-sum distribution upon the death of the owner. The surviving spouse is permitted to roll the 401(k) into an IRA, but if the beneficiary is not a spouse, they may have to take the lump-sum payment and pay the resulting taxes.

Stocks. Generally, when stocks or funds are sold, capital gains taxes are paid on any gains that occurred during the period of ownership. When stock is inherited, the cost basis is based on the fair market value of the stock or fund at the date of death.

Artwork and Jewelry. Collectibles, artwork, or jewelry that is inherited and sold, will incur a tax on the net gain of the sale. There is a 28% capital gains tax rate, compared to a 15% to 20% capital gains tax rate that applies to most capital assets. The value is based on the value at the date of death or the alternate valuation date. This asset class includes anything that is considered an item worth collecting: rare stamps, books, fine art, antiques and coin collections fall into this category.

Speak with an estate planning attorney before signing and accepting an inheritance, so you’ll know what kind of tax liability comes with the inheritance. Take your time. Most people are advised to wait about a year before making any big financial decisions after a loss.

Reference: Orange Town News (May 29, 2019) “Will I Pay Taxes on My Inheritance”

What Should I Keep in Mind in Estate Planning as a Single Parent?

Most estate planning conversation eventually come to center upon the children, regardless of whether they’re still young or adults.  So what should you keep in mind in estate planning as a single parent?

Talk to a qualified estate planning attorney and let him or her know your overall perspective about your children, and what you see as their capabilities and limitations. This information can frequently determine whether you restrict their access to funds and how long those limitations should be in place, in the event you’re no longer around.

Kiplinger’s recent article, “Estate Planning for Single Parents” explains that when one parent dies, the children typically don’t have to leave their home, school and community. However, when a single parent passes, a child may be required to move from that location to live with a relative or ex-spouse.

After looking at your children’s situation with your estate planning attorney to understand your approach to those relationships, you should then discuss your support network to see if there’s anyone who could serve in a formal capacity, if necessary. A big factor in planning decisions is the parent’s relationship with their ex. Most people think that their child’s other parent is the best person to take over full custody, in the event of incapacity or death. For others, this isn’t the case. As a result, their estate plan must be designed with great care. These parents should have a supportive network ready to advocate for the child.

Your estate planning attorney may suggest a trust with a trustee. This fund can accept funds from your estate, a retirement plan, IRA and life insurance settlement. This trust should be set up, so that any court that may be involved will have sound instructions to determine your wishes and expectations for your kids. The trust tells the court who you want to carry out your wishes and who should continue to be an advocate and influence in your child’s life.

Your will should also designate the child’s intended guardian, as well as an alternate, in case the surviving parent can’t serve for some reason. The trust should detail how funds should be spent, as well as the amount of discretion the child may be given and when, and who should be involved in the child’s life.

A trust can be drafted in many ways, but a single parent should discuss all of their questions with an estate planning attorney.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 20, 2019) “Estate Planning for Single Parents”

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