How Much Power Does an Executor Have? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The Pauls Valley Daily Democrat’s recent article entitled “It doesn’t end with the will” explains that there is constant confusion about wills. This misunderstanding involves the scope of power of those named in the will as the personal representative (or executor) of the decedent’s estate. Let us try to straighten out some of these myths or pieces of bad information about wills and probate.

The Executor Does Not Need Court Permission. False. An estate executor or personal representative cannot distribute a decedent’s assets to themselves or to any heirs, until okayed by the court. Many people think that a will provides immediate authorization to distribute the assets of an estate.

If He Had A Will, We Do Not Need Probate. Another incorrect belief is that if a person dies with a will, probate is not needed or required. If a person has a will, the will and the distributions named in it can only be made valid by the probate court. There are ways to avoid the probate process. However, the fact that a person had a will does not do it.

The Executor Can Start Giving Away Stuff ASAP. This is also false. Some people think that as soon as a person receives appointment as the personal representative or executor from the probate court, they can begin distributing assets from the decedent’s estate. Nope. If this were true, it would defeat the objectives of probate, which is court oversight and control.

The Court Does Not Monitor The Executor’s Actions. This statement is also incorrect. The entire probate process is structured to provide a court monitored coordination of a decedent’s estate to make certain that his or her wishes are followed. This also helps to prevent unauthorized distributions or “raids” on a decedent’s assets by improper persons.

Remember, the executor’s Letters Testamentary authorize that person to act for the estate—they do not permit any distributions before court approval or final probate court order.

What Does Probate Do? Probate fulfills these purposes:

  • At death, the deceased’s property is subject to control and monitoring by the court.
  • The court then starts to see what the decedent’s wishes were for distribution and who was named to administer the estate.
  • The court must also review the scope of the estate, define all assets in the estate and determine all debts of the estate.
  • Probate requires a notice to creditors, so the executor has a complete list of debts of the estate and to give each creditor the opportunity to be paid.
  • The court watches any transfers, sales of assets or payments during probate.
  • The executor is authorized to receive money and manage the assets of the estate, but he cannot withdraw or transfer assets from the estate.
  • At a final hearing and after notice to interested parties, the court determines who should get distributions.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about the probate process and how to devise a complete estate plan.

Reference: Pauls Valley Daily Democrat (Oct. 1, 2020) “It doesn’t end with the will”

 

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How Do You Ask Parents about Estate Planning? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

How do you ask your parents about their estate planning? No matter how you slice it, it is a touchy subject to bring up.

You do not want to come off as greedy when asking your parents about their estate planning.  However, you need answers to certain questions to ensure that their financial wishes are carried out and there is a smooth transition of wealth and assets.

Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “How To Talk to Your Parents About Their Estate Plan (Without Making It Awkward)” shows us how to approach this touchy subject and get the info that you need.

Begin by asking your parents about whether they have an estate plan. You can tell them that they do not need to share the numbers and that you just want to be able to follow their instructions. A good way to start this conversation, is to acknowledge how awkward and difficult this conversation is for you. You should emphasize that you do not want to think about their deaths but are just trying to sort things out.

Experts say that you will likely get a better reception from your parents, if you let the conversation happen organically and not schedule a time to talk. No matter how you approach the topic of an inheritance from your parents, the objective of the discussion is to make certain they have a plan in place, so there will be a clear path for whomever is left behind to go forward. You can start by asking if they have these key legal documents:

  • A will
  • A power of attorney; and
  • A living will or health care directive.

Ask where your parents keep these documents and how you can access them, if necessary.

You should also ask if your parents have written funeral or burial instructions. You also need to ask them to give you other important information, so you can handle their finances if they are unable to or when they die. This includes account numbers and passwords, insurance policies, information on their retirement plan or pension administrator, as well as the contact information for their accountant, attorney, financial planner, or other financial professional.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Oct. 7, 2020) “How To Talk to Your Parents About Their Estate Plan (Without Making It Awkward)”

 

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Can I Fund a Trust with Life Insurance? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A trust is a legal vehicle in which assets are legally titled and held for the benefit of another party, the beneficiary, explains Forbes’ recent article entitled “How To Fund A Trust With Life Insurance.” The article says that trusts are often funded with a life insurance policy. This will provide assets to be used after the death of the insured for the benefit of their family. If you are a parent of minor children, the combination of life insurance and a trust may be the best way to make certain that your children have their financial needs satisfied and also make sure the assets are used in ways you want.

Trusts are either revocable or irrevocable. A revocable living trust is the most frequently used type of trust. It has some major benefits, like the ability to avoid probate, which can be an expensive and lengthy process. Assets in a revocable trust are accessible much more quickly than those left through a will.  Because they are revocable, the person who creates the trust (the grantor) can also make adjustments to the trust, as their situation changes.

A grantor will fund the trust with assets for the trust beneficiaries. For parents of minor children, funding a trust using term life insurance is an inexpensive tactic to make certain that your children are cared for after your death. Typically, each parent buys a life insurance policy, and in a two-parent household, usually each spouse names the other as the primary beneficiary with a revocable living trust as the contingent beneficiary.

If the second parent was to die, the life insurance policies would pay to the trust. The trustee would manage the trust assets for the minor children. Funding a trust with life insurance also benefits heirs, because it provides liquidity right after your death. Other assets like investment accounts and real estate can be very illiquid or have tax consequences. As a result, it can take a while to get to that equity.

On the other hand, term life insurance is a fast and tax-free funding way to build a trust. Purchase a term life policy that will last until your children are adults and out of college. In making the life insurance paid to a trust with your children as beneficiaries, you also have some control over the assets. If you name minor children as beneficiaries on a life insurance policy, they will not be able to use the money until they are an adult. Some children may also not be financially responsible enough to manage money as young adults in their 20s.

If you already own a life insurance policy and want to create a trust, you can transfer ownership of the policy to the trust. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Forbes (Sep. 17, 2020) “How To Fund A Trust With Life Insurance”

 

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What Estate Planning Documents Do I Need for a Happy Retirement? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Estate planning documents are made to help you and your family, in the event of your untimely demise or incapacitation.

These documents will give your family specific instructions on how to proceed.

The Winston-Salem Journal’s recent article entitled “4 Must-Have Documents for a Peaceful Retirement” looks at these critical documents in constructing an effective estate plan.

  1. Power of Attorney (POA). If you become incapacitated or become unable to make your own financial decisions, a POA will permit a trusted agent to manage your affairs. Have an estate planning attorney review your POA before it is executed. You can give someone a limited POA that restricts their authority to specific transactions. You can also create a springing POA, which takes effect only at the time of your incapacitation.
  2. Will. About 40% of Americans actually have a will. Creating a valid will prevents you from leaving a mess for your heirs to address after you die. A will appoints an executor who will manage your affairs in a fiduciary manner. The will also details your plan for the distribution of your property. Make certain that your will is also in agreement with other documents you have set up, so it does not create any questions.
  3. TOD/POD Designation Forms. A Transfer-on-Death (TOD) or Payable-on-Death (POD) designation lets you to assign your investment accounts to a named beneficiary. The big benefit here is that accounts with a named TOD/POD beneficiary pass directly to that person when you die. Any accounts without a TOD/POD beneficiary will be subject to the terms of your will and will be required to go through the probate process.
  4. Healthcare POA/Advance Directives. These are significant health-related documents. A healthcare POA allows your named agent to communicate your wishes to medical professionals, if you are unable. They also include instructions as to whether you want to have life-saving measures performed, if you have a cardiac or respiratory arrest. These healthcare documents also remove the need for your family to make difficult decisions for you.

Reference: Winston-Salem Journal (Sep. 20, 2020) “4 Must-Have Documents for a Peaceful Retirement”

 

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What Does It Mean to Be an Executor? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Being named an executor can be a big deal, undertaking confidence and trust that someone is appointing you to manage their estate after they have died. An executor has a long to-do list, according to The Cleveland Jewish News’ recent article entitled “Role of executor comes with many responsibilities.”

First, the executor must find the signed will and file it at the probate court to officially be appointed.

Next, the executor must collect all of the estate’s assets, as well as track down any debts like mortgages, credit card bills, car payments and the like.

Once the bills are paid, the executor will distribute the assets to the beneficiaries.

Finally, the executor is tasked with going to the probate court and state that the bills were paid, so all of the assets can be distributed. At that point, the executor is discharged.

Any adult can be named an executor as an executor of an estate. However, in some circumstances, a bond is required. The bonding company will decide if the executor is financially sound. If a person dies without a will, an individual can apply to be an administrator of the estate.

When naming an executor, before death, the estate owners should discuss the role and responsibilities of their named executor to have a smooth transition with no surprises for those left behind.

In addition, an alternate executor should be named in the event the first person is unwilling or unable to serve.

Executors should consult an estate planning attorney throughout the process. This legal assistance is important to guide the executor through all the required steps, so he or she can fulfill the fiduciary responsibilities.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help review the will with the executor, so he or she understands what it means. The attorney can also review the steps of being appointed and what their role of the executor is as far as collecting the assets and debts, along with the details about which the average non-attorney might not consider.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (Sep. 23, 2020) “Role of executor comes with many responsibilities”

 

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State Laws Have an Impact on Your Estate – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Will N.J. or Florida’s tax laws affect this inheritance?” notes that first, the fact that the individual from Florida is not legally married is important.

However, if she is a Florida resident, Florida rules will matter in this scenario about the vacation condo.

Florida does not have an inheritance tax, and it does not matter where the beneficiary lives. For example, the state of New Jersey will not tax a Florida inheritance.

Although New Jersey does have an inheritance tax, the state cannot tax inheritances for New Jersey residents, if the assets come from an out-of-state estate.

If she did live in New Jersey, there is no inheritance tax on “Class A” beneficiaries, which include spouses, children, grandchildren and stepchildren.

However, the issue in this case is the fact that her “daughter” is not legally her daughter. Her friend’s daughter would be treated by the tax rules as a friend.

You can call it what you want. However, legally, if she is not married to her friend, she does not have a legal relationship with her daughter.

As a result, the courts and taxing authorities will treat both persons as non-family.

The smart thing to do with this type of issue is to talk with an experienced estate planning attorney who is well-versed in both states’ laws to determine whether there are any protections available.

Reference: nj.com (July 23, 2020) “Will N.J. or Florida’s tax laws affect this inheritance?”

 

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How Do I Handle Inheritance? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The loss of a close loved one can make it very hard to think clearly and function effectively. Add to that the fact that you may have to make important decisions about an inheritance, and it can be an overwhelming time.

Motley Fool’s recent article entitled “5 Considerations for Managing an Inheritance” discusses some ways to be a responsible steward of the money you have received and how to best integrate new funds into your larger financial plan.

  1. Stop and organize your thoughts. After the funeral or memorial service, take time to grieve and reflect on the loss of your loved one. You should also not make any sudden, large changes to your life, if you have inherited a considerable amount of money or a valuable asset. After some time has passed, you should speak with the estate’s executor or court-appointed administrator about next steps.
  2. Create a plan and act on it. While the executor is tasked with winding up the deceased’s affairs, you might ask if you can help with an inventory of his or her assets in the estate. This should include both probate (assets without a named beneficiary) and non-probate (assets with a named beneficiary). It is helpful to make sure that you verify and then cancel your loved one’s subscription services and recurring household expenses (i.e., cable and electric). The executor will make that decision, but you may be able to help with some phone calls or emails to these companies. After the estate’s final expenses are paid, you should create an action plan and assign responsibilities. You’ll then be ready when the executor distributes the estate assets to heirs.
  3. Integrate to avoid mental accounting. After time has passed and you have received your inheritance, any new funds should be integrated into your own financial plan, as if it were earned income. If you do not yet have a written financial plan, talk to a fee-only financial planner who charges by the hour or on a fixed-rate.
  4. Make certain that your financial priorities are met. Your inheritance creates a critical chance to possibly change the trajectory of your net worth. You might use it to pay off or reduce long-standing debts, like student loans. Build your emergency fund — at least six months’ worth of living expenses — that will cushion you from unforeseen circumstances (like this pandemic!). You should also make sure that Roth contributions are made for the year.
  5. Get creative! If you have inherited non-financial assets, like a car, artwork or antiques, you should make sure you know their value and decide whether you will keep or sell them. You might also swap an item with another heir, or if you are not ready to absolutely part with an inherited item, you might offer them to other family or friends. It can be nice to know that an unused item is being put to good use by people you know. Another option is to repurpose the item or donate it.

Losing a close loved one is difficult enough, but the need to wisely manage your inheritance will be a big task. Follow these steps to help with that process.

Reference: Motley Fool (Aug. 8, 20020) “5 Considerations for Managing an Inheritance”

 

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What Does Pandemic Estate Planning Look Like? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

In the pandemic, it is a good idea to know your affairs are in order. If you already have an estate plan, it may be time to review it with an experienced estate planning attorney, especially if your family has had a marriage, divorce, remarriage, new children or grandchildren, or other changes in personal or financial circumstances. The Pointe Vedra Recorder’s article entitled “Estate planning during a pandemic: steps to take” explains some of the most commonly used documents in an estate plan:

Will: This basic estate planning document is what you use to state how you want your assets to be distributed after your death. You name an executor to coordinate the distribution and name a guardian to take care of minor children.

Financial power of attorney: This legal document allows you to name an agent with the authority to conduct your financial affairs, if you are unable. You let them pay your bills, write checks, make deposits and sell or purchase assets.

Living trust: This lets you leave assets to your heirs, without going through the probate process. A living trust also gives you considerable flexibility in dispersing your estate. You can instruct your trustee to pass your assets to your beneficiaries immediately upon your death or set up more elaborate directions to distribute the assets over time and in amounts you specify.

Health care proxy: This is also called a health care power of attorney. It is a legal document that designates an individual to act for you, if you become incapacitated. Similar to the financial power of attorney, your agent has the power to speak with your doctors, manage your medical care and make medical decisions for you, if you cannot.

Living will: This is also known as an advance health care directive. It provides information about the types of end-of-life treatment you do or do not want, if you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious.

These are the basics. However, there may be other things to look at, based on your specific circumstances. Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney about tax issues, titling property correctly and a host of other things that may need to be addressed to take care of your family. Pandemic estate planning may sound morbid in these tough times, but it is a good time to get this accomplished.

Reference: Pointe Vedra (Beach, FL) Recorder (July 16, 2020) “Estate planning during a pandemic: steps to take”

 

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How Do I Incorporate Cryptocurrency into My Estate Planning? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Planning for cryptocurrency has been neglected. It means that, in some cases, the cryptocurrency has been lost. There have been people who tossed their computer hard drives with thousands of bitcoins (now worth millions). They then spend days sifting through tons of garbage. To save your family from this trouble and embarrassment after you die, add your cryptocurrency into your estate plan to preserve the benefits and avoid the risks of cryptocurrency.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Estate Planning When You Own Cryptocurrency” says, first, you must preserve the benefits of your cryptocurrency.

Cryptocurrency is highly secure. However, that security is in danger, if the private key is carelessly recorded or discarded. With the private key, anyone can access the cryptocurrency. As a result, your planning and procedures must address how to secure this information. Just like cash, cryptocurrency is not traceable. In fact, there is no electronic or paper trail connecting the parties in a transaction involving cryptocurrency. Therefore, in order to preserve that privacy, you will need to plan so the other documentation in the transaction does not reveal these identities, or at least keep that information privileged. Remember that transferring cryptocurrency takes only seconds.

Because cryptocurrency, like precious metals and other commodities, can fluctuate wildly in value even during the course of a day, it must be treated like stock in a private company and other assets that are volatile in nature. Cryptocurrency also is not subject to government regulation, so no government is responsible for losses from fraud, theft or other malfeasance.

Trusts and other planning devices have a tough time with cryptocurrency, especially if the Prudent Investor Rule applies. Without specific language, the trust will not be capable of holding cryptocurrency. If that language is written too broadly, the trustee may be exempt from damages due to willful neglect.

Cryptocurrency is also taxed as property not as currency by the IRS, which means that the fair market value is set by conversion into U.S. dollars at “a reasonable exchange rate” and transactions involving cryptocurrency are subject to the capital gains tax regulations. As a result, you must have specific tax provisions in trusts, partnerships, LLCs, and other entities. Therefore, if you, or your business, own bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency, your estate, business succession, and financial plans need to address it specifically. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney for help.

Reference:  Wealth Advisor (August 4, 2020) “Estate Planning When You Own Cryptocurrency”

 

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Is It Easy to Change My Home’s Title from Tenants in Common to Joint Tenants? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Many couples may have purchased a home years ago with the original deed titled as “William Smith and Wilhelmina Smith”. In some states, like Georgia, this defaults to tenants in common. With Wilhelmina being William’s wife for decades, they thought it was time to think about changing the title to William Smith and Wilhelmina Smith, joint tenants with right of survivorship.

The Washington Post’s recent article entitled “Changing a home title from ‘tenants in common’ to ‘joint tenants’” looks at whether this would result in any adverse consequences, such as issues with the title insurance or taxes issues.

When you own a home in joint tenancy, should either of the owners die, that owner’s interest automatically goes to the surviving joint tenant. However, when people own a home as tenants in common, each person owns a specific share of that home. Therefore, our hypothetical couple William Smith and Wilhelmina Smith each owns a 50% interest in the home. If either of them were to die, his or her 50% interest in the home would be distributed, as provided in his or her will or as provided by state probate statute.

If people purchase a home but do not specify how they want to own the property, in most situations, the state law will say how the parties take title to the property when the deed is silent.

You can typically record a new document that puts both William Smith and Wilhelmina Smith on the title to the home, as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. When it is a simple change in the title from tenants in common to joint tenants, most state tax authorities will ignore that change.

To be sure you should ask an experienced estate planning attorney or the office that collects or assesses values in your location for more information. However, it is a pretty safe bet that the change will not affect a home’s value.

As far as the title insurance policy, after so many years, it would be doubtful there would be any problems. That is because the original title insurance policy named William Smith and Wilhelmina Smith as the insured. If they change the ownership from tenants in common to joint tenants, the Smiths are still the owners of the home and still named on that policy.

Reference: Washington Post (July 6, 2020) “Changing a home title from ‘tenants in common’ to ‘joint tenants’”

 

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys