Do I Qualify as an Eligible Designated Beneficiary under the SECURE Act? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

An eligible designated beneficiary (EDB) is a person included in a unique classification of retirement account beneficiaries. A person may be classified as an EDB, if they are classified as fitting into one of five categories of individuals identified in the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act. The bill passed in December 2019 and is effective for all inherited retirement accounts, as of the first of this year.

Investopedia’s recent article entitled “Eligible Designated Beneficiary” explains that these people get special treatment and greater flexibility to withdraw funds from their inherited accounts than other beneficiaries.

With the SECURE Act, there are now three types of beneficiaries. It is based on the individual’s connection to the original account owner, the beneficiary’s age, and his or her status as either an individual or a non-person entity. However, an EDB is always an individual. On the other hand, an EDB cannot be a trust, an estate, or a charity, which are considered not designated beneficiaries. There are five categories of individuals included in the EDB classification. These are detailed below.

In most instances, except for the exceptions below, an EDB must withdraw the balance from the inherited IRA account over the beneficiary’s life expectancy. There is optional special treatment allowed only for surviving spouses, which is explained below. When a minor child reaches the age of majority, he or she is no longer considered to be an EDB, and the 10-year rule concerning withdrawal requirements for a designated beneficiary applies.

Here are the five categories of EDBs.

Owner’s surviving spouse. Surviving spouses get special treatment, which lets them step into the shoes of the owner and withdraw the balance from the IRA over the original owner’s life expectancy. As another option, they can roll an inherited IRA into their own IRA and take withdrawals at the point when they would normally take their own required minimum distributions (RMDs).

Owner’s minor child. A child who is not yet 18 can make withdrawals from an inherited retirement account using their own life expectancy. However, when he or she turns 18, the 10-year rule for designated beneficiaries (who are not EDBs) applies. At that point, the child would have until December 31 of the 10th year after their 18th birthday to withdraw all funds from the inherited retirement account. A deceased retirement account owner’s minor child can get an extension, up until age 26, for the start of the 10-year rule, if he or she is pursuing a specified course of education.

An individual who is disabled. The tax code says that an individual is considered to be disabled if he or she is “unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or to be of long continued and indefinite duration.” A disabled person who inherits a retirement account can use their own life expectancy to calculate RMDs.

An individual who is chronically ill. The tax code states that “the term ‘chronically ill individual’ means any individual who has been certified by a licensed healthcare practitioner as—

  • being unable to perform (without substantial assistance from another individual) at least two activities of daily living for a period of at least 90 days, due to a loss of functional capacity,
  • having a level of disability similar (as determined under regulations prescribed by the Secretary in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services) to the level of disability described in clause (i), or
  • requiring substantial supervision to protect such individual from threats to health and safety due to severe cognitive impairment.”

A chronically ill individual who inherits a retirement account can use their own life expectancy to determine the RMDs.

Any other person who is less than 10 years younger than the decedent. This is a catch-all that includes certain friends and siblings (depending on age), who are identified as beneficiaries of a retirement account. This also excludes most adult children (who are not disabled or chronically ill) from the five categories of EDBs. A person in this category who inherits a retirement account is permitted to use their own life expectancy to calculate RMDs.

Reference: Investopedia (June 25, 2020) “Eligible Designated Beneficiary”

 

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What Should I Know about Beneficiaries? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

When you open almost any kind of financial account, like a bank account, life insurance, a brokerage account, or a retirement account – the institution will ask you to designate a beneficiary. You will also name beneficiaries when you create a will or other legal contracts that require you to specify someone to benefit. With some trusts, the beneficiary may even be you and your spouse while you are alive.

The beneficiary is typically a person, but it could be any number of individuals, as well as the trustee of your trust, your estate, or a charity.

When you are opening an account, many people forget to choose a beneficiary, mainly because it is not necessary to do so with many financial accounts. However, you should name your beneficiaries, because it ensures that your assets will pass to the people you intend. It also eliminates conflict and can decrease legal interference.

There are two basic types of beneficiaries: a primary beneficiary and a contingent beneficiary. A primary beneficiary (or beneficiaries) is first in line to get the distributions from your assets. You can assign different percentages of your account to this group. A contingent beneficiary will benefit, if one or more of the primary beneficiaries is unable to collect (typically upon death).

You should review the designations regularly, especially when there is a major life event, such as a death, divorce, adoption, or birth. This may change who you want to be your beneficiary.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help you make certain that any language in your will, does not conflict with beneficiary designations. Beneficiary designations take precedence over your will.

You can have a minor child as a beneficiary, but a minor usually cannot hold property. Consequently, you will need to set up a structure, so the child receives the assets. You can appoint a guardian who will keep the assets in custody for the minor. You may also be able to use a trust to the same effect but with an added benefit: you can state that the assets be given to beneficiaries, only when they reach a certain age or for a certain purpose, like buying a first home or for college tuition.

With estate planning, ask an attorney to help you structure any legal documents, so they achieve your aims without creating further complications.

Reference: Bankrate (July 1, 2020) “What is a beneficiary?”

 

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Social Security and Medicare and the Impact on Retiree Taxes – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A 70% increase in Medicare premiums to $559 was a complete surprise to a woman who became a single taxpayer when her husband died. She felt like she was being punished for being a widow, she said in a recent article titled “Retirees, Beware These Tax Torpedoes” from Barron’s. With a 2018 modified adjusted gross income of $163,414, a combination of required minimum distributions, Social Security and her husband’s pensions, she went from being in the third-highest Medicare bracket into the second highest Medicare bracket. All it took was $414 dollars to exceed the $163,000 limit.

This is not the only tax trap awaiting unwary retirees. Lower- and middle-income taxpayers get hit by what is commonly referred to as “tax torpedoes,” as rising income during retirement triggers new taxes. That includes Social Security income, which is taxed after reaching a certain limit. The resulting marginal tax rate—as high as 40.8%—is made worse by a Medicare surtax of 0.9% on couples with taxable income exceeding $250,000. Capital gains taxes also increase, as income rises.

It may be too late to make changes for this tax-filing year, even with a three-month extension to July 15. However, there are a few steps that retirees can take to avoid or minimize these taxes for next year. The simplest one: delay spending from one year to the next and be extra careful about taking funds from after-tax accounts.

What hurts most is if you are on the borderline of a bracket. Just one wrong move, like selling a stock or taking a distribution, puts you into the next bracket. You need to plan carefully.

One thing that will not be a concern for 2020 taxes: required minimum distributions. While many retirees get pushed into tax traps because of taking large RMDs, the emergency legislation passed in response to the coronavirus crisis (the CARES Act) eliminated RMDs for this year.

However, the RMDs will be back in 2021, so now is a good time to start thinking about how to avoid any of the typical tax torpedoes. RMDs used to start at age 70½; the SECURE Act changed that to 72.

If you do not need the money from an RMD in 2021, one workaround is to take it as a qualified charitable distribution. That avoids triggering higher taxes or higher future Medicare premiums. The administrator of the tax-deferred account needs to be instructed to make a donation directly to a charity.

An even better strategy: take steps long before Medicare income limits or tax torpedoes hit. If you can, live on after-tax savings, Roth IRA accounts or inherited money. Spend that money first, before tapping into tax-deferred accounts. You can then take advantage of being in a lower tax bracket to convert money from tax-deferred money to convert to Roth IRAs.

Another story of a tax hit that was avoided: a man with an income of about $80,000 prepared to take $4,000 from a tax-deferred account for a vacation. The couple’s normal top tax bracket was 12%, but they hit the income limit on Social Security taxes. The $4,000 in additional income would have caused $3,400 in Social Security income to be taxed, making his marginal tax rate 22.2% instead of 12%. With the help of a good advisor, the couple instead took $3,000 from a Roth IRA and sold a stock position for $1,000, where there were practically no capital gains generated.

Incomes at all levels can be hit by these tax and Medicare torpedoes. A skilled advisor can help protect your retirement and Social Security funds.

Reference: Barron’s (July 6, 2020) “Retirees, Beware These Tax Torpedoes”

 

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Coronavirus Makes Estate and Tax Planning an Urgent Task – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought estate planning front and center to many people who would otherwise dismiss it as something they would get to at some point in the future, says the article “Estate and Life Insurance Considerations During the Covid-19 Pandemic” from Bloomberg Tax. Many do not have a frame of reference to address the medical, legal, financial, and insurance questions that now need to be addressed promptly. They have never experienced anything like today’s world. The time to get your affairs in order is now.

What will happen if we get sick? Will we recover? Who will take care of us and make legal decisions for us? What if a family member is in an assisted living facility and is incapacitated? All of these “what if” questions are now pressing concerns. Now is the time to review all legal, insurance and financial plans, and take into consideration two new laws: the SECURE Act and the CARES Act.

An experienced estate planning attorney who focuses in estate planning will save you an immense amount of money. Bargain hunters be careful: a small mistake or oversight in an estate plan can lead to expensive consequences. A competent legal professional is the best investment.

Here is an example of what can go wrong: A person names two minor children—under age 18—as beneficiaries on their IRA account, life insurance policy or bank account. The person dies. Minors are not permitted to hold title to assets. Minors in New York are considered wards of the court in need of protection and court supervision. Therefore, in this state, the result of the beneficiary designation means that a special Surrogate’s Court proceeding will need to occur to have a pecuniary guardian appointed for the minors, even if the applicant is their custodial guardian.

Another “what if?” is the support for a disabled or special needs beneficiary who may be receiving government support. If the parents are gone, who will care for their disabled child? What if there are not enough assets in the estate to provide supplemental financial support, in addition to the government benefits? Life insurance can be used to fund a special needs trust to ensure that their child will not be dependent upon family or friends to care for their needs. However, if there is no special needs trust in place, an inheritance may put the child’s government support in jeopardy.

Here are the core estate planning documents to be prepared:

  • Last Will and Testament
  • Revocable Living Trust
  • Durable General Power of Attorney
  • Health Care Declaration

The SECURE Act changed the rules regarding inherited IRAs. With the exception of a surviving spouse and a few other exempt individuals, the required minimum distributions must be taken within a ten- year time period. This causes an additional income tax liability for future generations. There are strategies to reduce the impact, but they require advance planning with the help of an estate planning attorney.

Reference: Bloomberg Tax (June 18, 2020) “Estate and Life Insurance Considerations During the Covid-19 Pandemic”

 

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Five Top Reasons to Add Beneficiaries to Investment Accounts – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

One way to show loved ones that you care, is by having an estate plan and communicating your wishes to them clearly, notes the article “Why You Should Add Beneficiaries to Your Investment Accounts Now” from The Street. That includes adding beneficiaries to your retirement and investment accounts. This simple step will help save heirs time, money and emotional stress at a time when they are likely to be overwhelmed with grief and paperwork.

They will retain more of your estate and get it faster too. When beneficiaries are assigned to investment and retirement accounts, the assets pass directly to them. If there are no beneficiaries, the asset may have to go through probate, the legal process of settling an estate when someone dies.

Probating an estate usually involves going to court, which is something your beneficiaries would probably prefer not to deal with during a challenging time. A typical probate case could last a year, sometimes longer, depending on where you live. During this time, your beneficiaries are not able to access their inheritance. Going to court also means court fees, attorney fees, lost time, and additional stress.

Let us not leave out how much of a bite probate can take out of your estate. Depending on its complexity, probate can consume anywhere from 0.5% to 5% of the estate.

Removes one stress for loved ones. Having assets transfer directly to beneficiaries lessens what can be an intense burden for heirs, while they are grieving. Once the account provider is notified of the death of the account holder, the provider typically notifies beneficiaries. The beneficiaries have to provide the correct documentation, like a death certificate, but that is a whole lot easier than going through probate. Obtaining death certificates is usually part of the executor’s responsibility and does not cost very much.

Beneficiary designations override your last will and testament. By law, a beneficiary designation determines who receives assets, regardless of what is in your will. That is why it is so important to make sure your beneficiary designations are up to date. What happens if you neglect to update your beneficiaries on a life insurance policy purchased when your children were young? For instance, what if you are divorced from their father, but you forget to replace him as the policy beneficiary? In that case, your ex-spouse will receive the policy proceeds, no matter how many years you have been divorced.

It is easy and relatively painless. Updating or establishing beneficiaries is one of the easiest parts of estate planning. Start by making a list of your accounts, which you should have anyway and contact the account custodian to find out who is listed as a beneficiary. If no one has been named, get directions on how to establish the beneficiary designation and if possible, name a secondary beneficiary.

If you have an IRA or a 401(k), your account will typically offer a beneficiary form within the account. If you have investment accounts, you will need to request a form from the custodian.

Special rules for retirement account beneficiaries. There are rules about leaving retirement plan assets to a spouse, so if you want to leave those assets to children or grandchildren, your spouse will have to sign off on that, with a waiver. Depending upon where you live, a spouse may be entitled to half of the assets in an IRA, even if other beneficiaries are listed, unless there is written consent.

Reference: The Street (June 12, 2020) “Why You Should Add Beneficiaries to Your Investment Accounts Now”

 

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What You Need to Know about Drafting Your Will – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A last will and testament is just one of the legal documents that you should have in place to help your loved ones know what your wishes are, if you cannot say so yourself, advises CNBC’s recent article entitled, “Here’s what you need to know about creating a will.” In this pandemic, the coronavirus may have you thinking more about your mortality.

Despite COVID-19, it is important to ponder what would happen to your bank accounts, your home, your belongings or even your minor children, if you are no longer here. You should prepare a will, if you do not already have one. It is also important to update your will, if it is been written.

If you do not have a valid will, your property will pass on to your heirs by law. These individuals may or may not be who you would have provided for in a will. If you pass away with no will —dying intestate — a state court decides who gets your assets and, if you have children, a judge says who will care for them. As a result, if you have an unmarried partner or a favorite charity but have no legal no will, your assets may not go to them.

The courts will typically pass on assets to your closest blood relatives, despite the fact that it would not have been your first choice.

Your will is just one part of a complete estate plan. Putting a plan in place for your assets helps ensure that at your death, your wishes will be carried out and that family fights and hurt feelings do not make for destroyed relationships.

There are some assets that pass outside of the will, such as retirement accounts, 401(k) plans, pensions, IRAs and life insurance policies.

Therefore, the individual designated as beneficiary on those accounts will receive the money, despite any directions to the contrary in your will. If there is no beneficiary listed on those accounts, or the beneficiary has already passed away, the assets automatically go into probate—the process by which all of your debt is paid off and then the remaining assets are distributed to heirs.

If you own a home, be certain that you know the way in which it should be titled. This will help it end up with those you intend, since laws vary from state to state.

Ask an estate planning attorney in your area — to ensure familiarity with state laws—for help with your will and the rest of your estate plan.

Reference: CNBC (June 1, 2020) “Here’s what you need to know about creating a will”

 

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How a Charitable Remainder Trust Works – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The least popular beneficiary is almost always the federal government. Most people are concerned that their estate will need to pay taxes and do what they can through estate planning to keep federal estate tax liability to a minimum. However, with federal estate and gift tax exemptions at $11.58 million per person this year, and twice that when properly used with the spousal exemption, most people do not need to worry about the federal estate tax, explains The News Enterprise in the article “New federal law resurrects Charitable Remainder Trust.”

The passage of the SECURE Act, effective January 1, 2020, made big changes in how we need to plan for taxes for beneficiaries. Federal estate and gift tax exemptions did not change, but anyone who inherits a retirement account is likely to find fewer options than before the SECURE Act.

Charitable remainder trusts have been used for many years to avoid high capital gains taxes on appreciated assets. Appreciated assets are placed into trusts and no taxes are due on the transfer.  The donor also gets a charitable tax deduction. The amount in the trust grows, while paying out a small amount to beneficiaries in installment payments.

With the passage of the SECURE Act, non-spousal beneficiaries, with certain exceptions, must withdraw the entire amount of the qualified retirement account within ten years. Generally, beneficiaries may not roll the account into their own qualified account, and there are no required annual distributions. However, there is a ten-year window to empty the account. Taxes are due on every withdrawal, whether it takes place over ten years or as a single withdrawal.

By using a CRT, the full amount of the account may be transferred into the CRT, no taxes are due, and the donor (or the donor’s estate) gets a charitable deduction.

The trust is simply an instrument created, so that a beneficiary may receive regular payments, which may include the donor, beneficiaries or multiple beneficiaries, over the span of their lives, or in a set number of years, with the remainder interest of at least ten percent of the initial contribution paid to a qualified charity at the end of the trust.

This effectively creates a stretch for the IRA, with withdrawals being taxed to the beneficiary, over a longer time span. With only ten percent being required to be donated to a charity, those who plan on making a donation to a charity anyway receive a benefit, and their beneficiaries can receive a lifetime income stream.

Speak with your estate planning attorney to learn how a CRT could be part of your estate plan.

Reference: The News Enterprise (June 2, 2020) “New federal law resurrects Charitable Remainder Trust”

 

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Elder Financial Abuse Fraud Occurs, When No One’s Watching – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The case of Nice vs. U.S. is a dramatic example of what can happen when there are no professionals involved in an elderly person’s finances and one person has the power to make transactions without supervision. In the article “Tax case reveals possible intrafamily fraud” from Financial Planning, a trusted son allegedly decimated his mother’s IRA and left her estate with $500,000 tax bill.

Mrs. Nice and her husband had been married for more than 60 years. Before he died in 2002, her husband arranged to leave significant assets for his wife’s care. Their son Chip was named executor of the husband’s estate and moved in with his mother. In 2007, she was diagnosed with dementia. As her condition deteriorated, Chip allegedly began fraudulent activities. He gained access to her IRAs, causing distributions to be made from the IRAs and then allegedly taking the funds for his own use.

Chip also filed federal income tax returns for his mother, causing her to execute a fraudulent power of attorney. The federal tax returns treated the IRA distributions as taxable income to Mrs. Nice. She not only lost the money in her IRA but got hit with a whopping tax bill.

In 2014, Mrs. Nice’s daughter Julianne applied for and received a temporary injunction against Chip, removing him from her mother’s home and taking away control of her finances. Chip died in 2015. A court found that Mrs. Nice was not able to manage her own affairs and Mary Ellen was appointed as a guardian. Julianne filed amended tax returns on behalf of her mother, claiming a refund for tax years 2006-07 and 2009-13. The IRS accepted the claim for 2009 but denied the claims for 2006 and 2010-2013. The appeal for 2009 was accepted, but the IRS never responded to the claim for 2007. Julianne appealed the denials, but each appeal was denied.

By then, Mrs. Nice had died. Julianne brought a lawsuit against the IRS seeking a refund of $519,502 in federal income taxes plus interest and penalties. The suit contended that because of her brother’s alleged fraudulent acts, Mrs. Nice never received the IRA distributions. Her tax returns for 2011-2014 overstated her actual income, the suit maintained, and she was owed a refund for overpayment. The court did not agree, stating that Julianne failed to show that her mother did not receive the IRA funds and denied the claim.

There are a number of harsh lessons to be learned from this family’s unhappy saga.

When IRA funds are mishandled or misappropriated, it may be possible for the amounts taken to be rolled over to an IRA, if a lawsuit to recover the losses occurs in a timely manner. In 2004, the IRS issued 11 private-letter rulings that allow lawsuit settlements to be rolled over to IRAs. The IRS allowed the rollovers and gave owners 60 days from the receipt of settlement money to complete the rollover.

Leaving one family member in charge of family wealth with no oversight from anyone else—a trustee, an estate planning attorney, or a financial planner—is a recipe for elder financial abuse. Even if the funds had remained in the IRA, a fiduciary would have kept an eye on the funds and any distributions that seemed out of order.

One of the goals of an estate plan is to protect the family’s assets, even from members of their own family. An estate plan can be devised to arrange for the care of a loved one, at the same time it protects their financial interests.

Reference: Financial Planning (March 6, 2020) “Tax case reveals possible intrafamily fraud”

 

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Tapping an Inherited IRA? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Many people are looking at their inherited IRAs this year, when COVID-19 has decimated the economy. The rules about when and how you can tap the money you inherited changed with the passage of the SECURE Act at the end of December 2019. It then changed again with the passage of the CARES Act in late March in response to the financial impact of the pandemic.

Things are different now, reports the article “Read This Before You Touch Your Inherited IRA Funds” from the News & Record, but one thing is the same: you need to know the rules.

First, if the owner had the account for fewer than five years, you may need to pay taxes on traditional IRA distributions and on Roth IRA earnings. This year, the federal government has waived mandatory distributions (required minimum distributions, or RMDs) for 2020. You may take out money if you wish, but you can also leave it in the account for a year.

Surviving spouses who do not need the money may consider doing a spousal transfer, rolling the spouse’s IRA funds into their own. The RMD does not occur until age 72. This is only available for surviving spouses, and only if the spouse is the decedent’s sole beneficiary.

The federal government has also waived the 10% early withdrawal penalty for taxpayers who are under 59½. If you are over 59½, then you can access your funds.

The five-year method of taking IRA funds from an inherited IRA is available to beneficiaries, if the owner died in 2019 or earlier. You can take as much as you wish, but by December 31 of the fifth year following the owner’s death, the entire account must be depleted. The ten-year method is similar, but only applies if the IRA’s owner died in 2020 or later. By December 31 of the tenth year following the owner’s death, the entire IRA must be depleted.

Heirs can take the entire amount in a lump sum immediately, but that may move their income into a higher tax bracket and could increase tax liability dramatically.

A big change to inherited IRAs has to do with the “life expectancy” method, which is now only available to the surviving spouse, minor children, disabled or chronically ill people and anyone not more than ten years younger than the deceased. Minor children may use the life expectancy method until they turn 18, and then they have ten years to withdraw all remaining funds.

There is no right or wrong answer, when it comes to taking distributions from inherited IRAs. However, it is best to do so, only when you fully understand how taking the withdrawals will impact your taxes and your long-term financial picture. Speak with an estate planning attorney to learn how the inherited IRA fits in with your overall estate plan.

Reference: News & Record (May 25, 2020) “Read This Before You Touch Your Inherited IRA Funds”

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Do Beneficiaries of a Will Get Notified? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

In most instances, a will is required to go through probate to prove its validity.

Investopedia’s recent article entitled “When the Beneficiaries of a Will Are Notified” explains that there are exceptions to the requirement for probate, if the assets of the diseased are below a set dollar amount. This dollar amount depends on state law.

For example, in Alabama, the threshold is $3,000, and in California, the cut-off is an estate with assets valued at less than $150,000. If the assets are valued below those limits, the family can divide any property as they want with court approval.

The beneficiaries of a will must be notified after the will is filed in the probate court, and in addition, probated wills are placed in the public record. As a result, anyone who wants to look, can find out the details. When the will is proved to be valid, anyone can look at the will at the courthouse where it was filed, including anyone who expects to be a beneficiary.

However, if the will is structured to avoid probate, there are no specific notification requirements.  This is pretty uncommon.

As a reminder, probate is a legal process that establishes the validity of a will. After examining the will, the probate judge collects the decedent’s assets with the help of the executor. When all of the assets and property are inventoried, they are then distributed to the heirs, as instructed in the will.

Once the probate court declares the will to be valid, all beneficiaries are required to be notified within a certain period established by state probate law.

There are devices to avoid probate, such as setting up joint tenancy or making an asset payable upon death. In these circumstances, there are no formal notification requirements, unless specifically stated in the terms of the will.

In addition, some types of assets are not required to go through probate. These assets include accounts, such as pension assets, life insurance proceeds and individual retirement accounts (IRAs).

The county courthouse will file its probated wills in a department, often called the Register of Wills.

A will is a wise plan for everyone. Ask a qualified estate planning attorney to help you draft yours today.

Reference: Investopedia (Nov. 21, 2019) “When the Beneficiaries of a Will Are Notified”

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