Here is a Fox Business article with good points about why you need a Will, but it fails to mention that having a Will instead of a comprehensive estate plan means your family may be forced to go through probate in California. Probate, if it can be avoided, should be avoided by having a Living Trust drafted to address the concerns mentioned in this article. The trust takes the place of the Will and avoids probate.Tweet
Most estate plans are created at least in part to protect heirs (generally spouses and children) from the sometimes devastating blow of estate taxes; but with all the recent changes to estate tax law, some plans that were drafted years ago and never updated by their creators won’t work as intended anymore—and heirs may end up looking for a way to protect themselves against the unintended consequences of these well-intentioned estate plans. This is a subject that we have touched on before on our blog, but is worth mentioning again as we close in on 2013.
This article in the New York Times explains what it means if you disclaim (or turn down) an inheritance, and when you may want to employ this tactic.
“Historically, lawyers have recommended disclaimers to repair estate planning oversights that bring negative tax consequences — as when parents left money to already affluent adult children. In such a case, the children could disclaim, so the inheritance would go their own children instead, rather than facing the possibility that this money might be taxed in their own estates.”
Although this is an interesting solution to be considered in some cases, there are no easy answers to the question of what to do when you are the beneficiary of an estate that has taken an unexpected turn. If you have any questions whatsoever about an inheritance—or about your own estate plan—call your estate planning attorney for help.
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.
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.
If you are the executor of the estate of a decedent who died in 2010 you may think you’re in the clear. After all, there was no estate tax in 2010 right? Making distributions should be a piece of cake. Wrong. Because of the estate tax election available on the estates of 2010 decedents, administering those estates will actually be more work than you may think.
The repeal of the estate tax in 2010 also brought with it a repeal of the “step up in basis,” meaning that heirs selling inherited assets were taxed based on the original acquisition cost of the assets, not on their value as of the date of the taxpayer’s death. This generally resulted in a higher tax paid on assets than the normal estate tax rate—not good for taxpayers. But 2010 estates don’t have to go by these rules. The legislation passed in December of 2010 gave 2010 estates the opportunity to elect whether they wanted to use the 2010 estate tax laws, or the new laws for 2011. This article in Forbes explains what this means:
“The 2010 Tax Relief Act restored the estate tax for individuals dying in 2010 with a $5 million per person exemption and a maximum rate of 35%. It also repealed the modified carryover basis rules for property acquired from a decedent who died in 2010. However, estates of individuals dying in 2010 can elect zero estate tax and the modified carryover basis rules that would have applied before they were repealed. That means the basis of assets acquired from the decedent would be the lesser of the decedent’s adjusted basis (carryover basis) or the fair market value of the property on the date of the decedent’s death.”
In general this tax election is a good thing, it allows executors to choose which tax formula will cost the beneficiaries the least in taxes; but it does mean a lot more paperwork and a lot more attention to detail. If you are the executor of an estate of a decedent who died in 2010, don’t hesitate to call us. We can answer your questions and help you explore your options.
Serving as executor or trustee of a will or a trust is an honor… but it’s also a job—a BIG job—and not one to be taken lightly. The role of executor or trustee can be one of great financial power, but it carries with it a heavy fiduciary obligation. Fiduciary obligation means that an executor or trustee must act in the best interests of the beneficiaries; it means that although the executor or trustee may be doing all the work, he or she may see very little return on that work, which is all for the benefit of the named beneficiaries.
If you have been nominated (or are currently serving) as an executor or trustee there are a few things you’ll want to remember as you go about your duties:
1. The will or trust is your guide, the mission statement by which you should operate; read and understand the document completely, and have an attorney help you, if necessary.
2. You need to be pro-active—to an extent. If you are managing a large amount of money or assets over a period of time it is probably not in the best interests of the beneficiary to let those funds sit in a savings account. Create (with an advisor, if necessary) a financial plan for the trust assets.
3. Although you may be handling the estate assets, you should not have any personal financial dealings with the trust. You should under no circumstances borrow from or lend money to the trust. Keep your finances separate!
4. Communication and transparency is key! Keep detailed records of all of your actions and transactions regarding the will or trust, and send regular reports to the beneficiaries. Regular communication prevents unhappy surprises or angry lawsuits in the future.
5. You don’t have to do it alone. If you were picked as a trustee because of your financial knowledge and experience—great! But if you were picked because you are the oldest, or the most responsible, or the favorite you may feel overwhelmed by the job ahead of you. Don’t try to muddle through alone, get the help and support of an experienced attorney or advisor.
Coping with the death of a loved one can be a crushing task. There are so many things to do and details to remember; all of this at a time when each small task can serve as a reminder of your loss. At such a time it can be helpful to know that you’re not going through this alone; there are a number of people who can help when you begin to feel overwhelmed. To relieve some of the stress, and help ensure that no important task is forgotten, we offer a list of people to call after the death of a loved one:
Funeral home - This will likely be your first call. The funeral home you or your loved one has selected will be able to help you with a lot of the immediate details and tasks. The funeral director will also be able to help you obtain 10-20 copies of the death certificate, something you will need later.
Family and Friends - This probably goes without saying. Not only will you want to notify family and friends, but they can also help with a lot of the endless tasks and overwhelming details. Don’t be afraid to delegate.
Veteran’s office (if deceased was a Vet.) - If the deceased was a Veteran you may have to stop benefit payments; you may also be able to get assistance with the funeral or memorial service.
The deceased’s employer - You will need to do this not only to inform the employer of the death, but also regarding termination of health insurance.
Attorney or Tax Professional - You will need to know what to do about probating the deceased’s estate, filing tax returns, dealing with bank accounts, etc. An attorney or tax professional can help. It is especially important to find out if your loved one had any existing estate documents.
Office of Social Security - If your loved one was receiving benefits you’ll need to stop payments. You will also want to find out if survivors are entitled to any benefits.
Insurance company of the deceased – You will probably need to file a claim. This is something your attorney or accountant may be able to help with.
Local Newspaper - You’ll want to publish an obituary or notice of death, as well as information about the funeral or memorial service.
Credit card companies and utilities - Give notification of death and pay off any remaining balances.
Bank - Arrange to change any joint accounts or to open an account in your name. Do not close any accounts right away!
Although this list is a good starting point; a complete list of people to call and things to do will depend on where the deceased lived and the details of their estate. Contact your loved one’s estate planning attorney (or your own) to ensure that nothing is left to chance.
A trust is the single most effective estate planning tool available. There are many different types of trusts. Among the better known and more commonly used are revocable living trusts, irrevocable trusts and testamentary trusts. In addition to protecting your privacy, a trust will help you leave what you want, to whom you want, in the way you want—at the lowest possible overall cost.
A Living Trust is a document created by you and your estate planning attorney to manage your assets and wealth as you see fit when you are no longer around to do so. There are many benefits from creating Living Trust, including minimizing tax liability, promoting certain behavior from the next generation, protecting assets from creditors and judgments, and many other benefits. The Living Trust also avoids probate, which we all know is a long expensive process that exposes all of our private affairs to the public domain of the court system. Assets held in trust pass without being subject to probate, so your estate can save the money that would normally get spent during the probate process, which can add up to several thousands of dollars. Probate can also be a long process, taking over a year to complete in some circumstances. This blog article discusses the increasing delay assocaited with Probate as the courts continue to cut costs, have days of furlough and experience other delays, all contributing to the time spent in the probate system.
Here are some pointers made by the California State Bar on the use and need of Living Trusts in California.