Here is a nice article from Ahmed Shaikh, a certified estate planning specialist, on the classic tale of Cinderella!
An Estate Plan for Cinderella’s Parents
Here is a nice article from Ahmed Shaikh, a certified estate planning specialist, on the classic tale of Cinderella!
The question of will forgery or undue influence of a testator is not a common question, but one that does come up periodically in an estate planner’s office. The movies have given people certain expectations when it comes to a death in the family and probating a will: a book-lined office, the entire family assembled for a formal reading of the will, shocked and angry reactions as a loved one’s fortune goes to an unknown and unlikely character…
This Hollywood portrayal may be generally off base, but the basic premise is based on the very real feelings that come with the death of a loved one: helplessness, confusion, familial bonds, and sometimes even betrayal. A will doesn’t have to be forged for there to be strong feelings of anger or suspicion when the contents end up being different than the family was led to expect. And while forged or secret wills may not be as common as the movies would have us believe, they aren’t completely unheard of either.
So what should you do if you suspect that the will of a loved one has been forged or tampered with? First of all, don’t try to deal with the situation alone. Dealing with the death of a loved one is stressful and emotional, and everyone—including you—is likely to be quicker than usual to react without thinking. Instead, seek the advice of a trusted third party (an estate or probate lawyer is ideal,) someone who can help you distance yourself and look at the situation objectively.
Will forgeries are very rare, but incidents of testators (especially elderly testators) being unduly influenced by a selfishly motivated caregiver or family member are much more common. If you suspect foul play was involved in the creation of a loved one’s will, make an appointment with an estate or probate specialist. We can help you work through your suspicions in a safe environment and explore your options should you feel the need to take action.
The subject of probate is one that nobody wants to learn about too early; in fact, most people would probably avoid it altogether if they could. Unfortunately, the probate process can be very confusing and frightening when you are forced to become intimately acquainted with it—especially if you have no prior experience with or knowledge of it.
For a beneficiary, probate can be lengthy, expensive and frustrating; but if you have been named as executor, probate can suddenly become an overwhelming maze of deadlines, notifications and potential liabilities. This is why many executors choose to hire a probate lawyer to help them through the process.
If you are the executor of a small estate with a straightforward will and one or two beneficiaries who are not contentious then you can probably do without an attorney. But you will want to think about hiring an attorney if you are serving as an executor under any of the following circumstances:
* There are a number of beneficiaries who are not on friendly terms, or a number of beneficiaries receiving varying sizes of inheritance.
* The decedent had large estate with many different assets, especially if the assets are not commonly held.
* The decedent was a resident in a different state than your own home state.
A large number of creditors are making claims on the estate.
* There is a disagreement about the will, or if more than one will was found.
* The will is challenged or contested.
These are only a few of the reasons why you might want to consider hiring an attorney to help you through the probate process. If you aren’t sure whether you’ll need an attorney, don’t hesitate to call our office for a consultation. We can help walk you through the process and consider any obstacles that might arise. A little bit of foresight, and knowing you have an experienced professional on your side, can make all the difference in the probate process.
Most people die in a hospital; sometimes after a long and slow decline, sometimes after a quick and unexpected tragedy. If you are an executor of the deceased’s estate this is significant because it means that there are usually final medical bills to be paid. What most executors do not know is that these final medical bills are not necessarily just like all the other final expenses, especially when it comes to filing a final tax return for the estate; this article from SmartMoney.com explains why.
“…When a person incurs medical expenses and dies before they are paid, the executor of the decedent’s estate can elect to treat those medical expenses as if they were paid when incurred – as long as the estate pays the expenses within one year after the date of death. In other words, this election allows those expenses to be deducted on the decedent’s final Form 1040, even though they were not paid by the date of death.”
Many executors may not think of this because medical expenses can only be deducted if they exceed a certain percentage of the deceased’s adjusted gross income (7.5% to be exact); but health care being what it is, final medical expenses can quite often reach this point.
This sounds easy, but be careful if the deceased’s estate exceeds the $3.5 million estate tax exemption—you may want to look into other options. The article suggests that in this case it might be beneficial to “forgo the election and count the unpaid medical expenses as liabilities on the estate tax return.”
As the executor of an estate you may have more options than you are aware of when it comes to taxes, probate, and achieving the best results for the beneficiaries. If you are unsure about any of these—or other—issues, please contact our office, we can help advise you on all angles of the trustee or probate process.
Anyone who has lost a close friend or family member knows that what a difficult, painful, and overwhelming time it can be. We are often asked to help our clients through probate process when a loved one dies, but probate isn’t the only thing you’ll have to think about; in fact, it may not even be the first thing you should think about. We know that nothing can make this process easy, but we hope this brief guide can help make the process of dealing with the death of a loved one somewhat less overwhelming.
1. The first thing you’ll want to do is call close friends and family. They will share in your grief, and they can also share the responsibility of notifying others.
2. Contact a funeral director. This person can help walk you through the process of planning a memorial, making burial arrangements, and even writing an obituary. This can often be the most overwhelming task, not because it is particularly difficult, but because it has to be done so quickly; sometimes before the reality of death has had a chance to sink in with the survivors.
3. Find out if your loved one had a will. Contact their attorney (if they had one) and make sure you have the original for the probate court. If you aren’t sure how to file with will with the probate court you can contact an attorney, or check the website of the local probate office for the deceased.
4. Order multiple copies of the death certificate. You will need these for the insurance company, as well as for some of the steps below.
5. Collect the mail and contact all utility companies, credit card companies, debt collectors, etc.; call to notify them of the death and stop services.
6. Go through the deceased’s files and paperwork. This can be tedious, time-consuming, and confusing, depending on how organized your loved one was. This is important information you (or the executor or trustee) will need to file final tax returns and pass on to the probate court, so don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Dealing with the death of a loved one is one of the most difficult and overwhelming things you may ever have to do. If you are having a particularly hard time with the grieving process don’t be afraid to ask others to help with the more difficult items, or to hand the list over entirely to someone else if you feel unable to cope. This is when your own probate or estate planning attorney (or the deceased’s attorney, if they had one) can be especially helpful.
Although it sometimes feels as if time should stand still when someone we love passes away, life does go on, for better or worse. But the world is full of caring and knowledgeable people to help you through the process… if you only know where to look.
The public has been curious about the estate of Steve Jobs ever since he passed away in early October, but with his assets wisely protected with a trust, his family’s privacy regarding the distribution of inheritance has remained intact. (Privacy is only one of the many benefits of using a trust as part of your estate plan.) However, what is not a secret is that Mr. Jobs’ significant investments in both Disney and Apple stock will pose some interesting questions for his advisors and heirs. Whatever the family chooses to do, it’s clear that estate tax and capital gains tax laws will have to be taken into consideration.
This article in Investment News discusses what Jobs’ trustees or heirs might choose to do with his valuable investments. According to the article Jobs had billions of dollars invested in Apple and Disney stock. Now, “under the U.S. Tax Code, his heirs may sell shares of Apple and Disney, and avoid $867 million in capital gains taxes. If Apple’s late co-founder left his estate to his wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, the family won’t be liable for the 35% estate tax until she dies or gives money to others, according to estate planners.”
An executor or trustee has a responsibility not only to follow the wishes of the grantor of the trust, but also to look out for the best interests of the beneficiaries; which in this case may include selling or diversifying investments Jobs had chosen to hold onto for sentimental reasons.
Additionally, any executor or trustee will have tax laws to consider–not only the laws in place right now, but any changes to the estate or capital gains tax laws being considered by Congress for 2013. “The capital gains tax is set to rise to 20% in 2013, from 15%, and high-income Americans also will be subject to a 3.8% levy on unearned gains.” This means that advisors and heirs won’t want to wait too long before making any decisions.
The estate of Steve Jobs may be larger than most, but the same issues and questions will face the executors, trustees, and heirs of estates of all sizes. Whether you are a grantor, executor, heir or trustee, our office can help you through any questions or concerns you may be facing. Don’t be afraid to contact us.
Everyone will remember the “wonderful boon” that was the 2010 estate tax repeal, which (in theory) allowed decedents to pass on their assets free of any estate taxes. However, the situation was complicated in December of 2010 when, as this article in Bloomberg puts it, “Congress extended the tax retroactively [giving] executors of estates of people who died that year a choice. They could decide to skip the estate tax or pay the tax with a $5 million per-person exemption and a 35 percent top rate, the same as in 2011.”
Executors have had almost a year to consider their options, but now it is just about time to make the decision, because “the Internal Revenue Service is giving executors of estates of people who died in 2010 until Nov. 15 to opt out of the estate tax.” According to the IRS the forms and instructions for 2010 estate tax returns will be made available early this fall.
But executors don’t have to wait until the forms are available to consider which tax option might be the most profitable one. Many financial planners and estate planning attorneys have already done their research, and they’ve found that opting not to pay estate taxes may end up costing you more in the long run. This article in Forbes explains: “Opting out of the estate tax regime means opting out of stepped-up basis (for income tax purposes)… and opting into the modified carryover basis rule… One of the main plusses about estate tax is that it is paired with a stepped-up income tax basis. You should not be paying both estate tax and income tax on the same assets.”
Of course, each estate will be different depending on a number of factors, including the size of the estate, the nature of the assets, the preferences of the beneficiaries, and any previous planning the decedent may have done. Executors should consider their options carefully, and consult with an experienced estate planning attorney before deciding whether opting out of the estate tax is really in their best interest.
Some assets—such as real property, stocks and savings—are fairly straightforward when it comes to bequeathal to heirs; other assets—such as valuable artwork or antiques—are not so easy. How do you will an asset to a loved one when there is no deed of ownership? And just as importantly, how do these paperless assets figure into the size and administration of your “taxable estate”?
According to this article by Bonnie Kraham, how you dispose of these assets can be extremely important to the administration and taxation of your estate. One particularly dangerous method is referred to as “the empty hook” method, wherein “When the collector dies, the beneficiaries simply remove the artwork (from the hooks) in accordance with name tags on the items for the intended recipients. Thus, the estate is left with “empty hooks” of what may be part of a sizable taxable estate for estate tax purposes.”
The problem that arises with the “empty hook” method is that wealthy families who collect artwork or antiques as investments often have records of their purchases and sales, as well as a list of valuable items for insurance purposes. Any of these documents and records would be reviewed during probate or administration of the estate. “If you don’t fully disclose the value of your art collection, or don’t properly plan to gift art in compliance with estate tax rules and regulations, you can pass on tax fraud, instead of art, to your beneficiaries.”
Perhaps the best way to hold and legally dispose of your art or antiques collection upon your death is to transfer ownership of these valuable assets into a trust. “Transferring your art collection to a trust may be the most effective, efficient and transparent way to administer your estate after death . . . Trusts are private documents and, although the tax reporting remains the same for trust assets, trusts protect the privacy of an art collector or artist, which can be an emotional protection for the beneficiaries.” Additionally, keeping valuable artwork in trust provides an extra layer of protection from divorce or frivolous lawsuits during your lifetime.
Contact our office, or your own local estate planning attorney, for more information.
Being named as the executor of the estate of a deceased loved one comes with many challenges, including dealing with the probate system, and refereeing unhappy family members; but one of the most difficult (and least discussed) challenges is sorting through the plethora of paper and information that people collect over the course of a lifetime.
You can save your executor (and your family) time and money later by organizing your important documents and finances right now. If you’re not sure where to begin, or what information an executor would need to know, we’ve assembled a list of information and documents an executor might need quick and easy access to if anything were to happen to you:
Once you are organized, keep your information in an accessible place and make your executor aware of the location. This simple act of organization will not only benefit you right now, it will save your family and your executor much time, money and frustration later on.