What’s Involved in an Estate Inventory? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

If you are named as executor of an estate, you will be tasked with identifying all the assets of the decedent. Let’s look at some of the options you may have for identifying assets:

  • The deceased’s will if they have one
  • Their financial statements or legal documents
  • Their recent tax returns
  • Abandoned asset database searching; and
  • A public property records search.

Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “What Is Included in an Estate Inventory?” says you may also be able to find assets for an estate inventory by talking to the decedent’s financial advisor, estate planning attorney, or relatives. An executor must be as thorough as possible, so the final inventory list submitted to the probate court is accurate and complete.

If you are planning your estate, you can make this job easier for your executor by creating an estate inventory yourself. Keep a copy of this inventory with a copy of your will, if you have one in place. (If you do not have a will, draft one sooner rather than later.) If you pass without a will in place, your assets would be distributed according to state law.

If you are making an inventory of your estate, include the types of assets for which an executor might search. Depending on your financial situation, your personal estate inventory might include:

  • A 401(k) plan or similar employer-sponsored retirement plan
  • Traditional or Roth IRAs
  • Business retirement accounts, such as a solo 401(k) or SEP IRA if you are self-employed
  • Taxable brokerage accounts
  • A Health Savings Account (HSA)
  • College savings accounts
  • Life insurance policies
  • Bank accounts
  • Vehicles
  • Real estate and land
  • Personal possessions that are valued at $500 or more; and
  • Family heirlooms, antiques, or collectibles.

The executor’s job can be simplified by making a list of any liabilities or debts that you owe. This can include a mortgage on your home, auto loans, private student loans, credit cards, installment loans, business loans, tax liens, medical bills and personal loans. Once you complete your personal estate inventory you may want to file a copy of it with your estate planning attorney. Review your inventory annually to make certain that it is up to date.

Knowing what is included in an estate inventory can make your job as an executor easier. If you submit an incomplete inventory, it may delay the probate process.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Feb. 15, 2022) “What Is Included in an Estate Inventory?”

 

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What Sparks the Contesting of a Will? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A last will and testament is the document used to direct your executor to distribute assets and property according to your wishes. However, it is not uncommon for disgruntled or distant family members or others to dispute the validity of the will. A recent article titled “5 Reasons A Law Will May Be Contested” from Vents Magazine explains the top five factors to keep in mind when preparing your will.

Undue influence is a commonly invoked reason for a challenge. If a potential beneficiary can prove the person making the will (the testator) was influenced by another person to make decisions they would not have otherwise made, a will challenge could be brought to court. Undue influence means the testator’s decision was significantly affected by a person who stood to gain something by the outcome of the will and made a concerted effort to change the testator’s mind.

Even if there was no evidence of fraud, any suspicion of the testator’s being influenced is enough for a court to accept a case. If you think someone unduly influenced a loved one, especially if they suffer from any mental frailties or dementia, you may have cause to bring a case.

Outright fraud or forgery is another reason for the will to be contested. If there have been many erasures or signature styles appear different from one document to another, there may have been fraud. An estate planning attorney should examine documents to evaluate whether there is enough cause for suspicion to challenge the will.

Improper witnesses. The testator is required to sign the will with witnesses present. In some states, only one witness is required. In most states, two witnesses must be present to sign the will in front of the testator. A beneficiary may not be a witness to the signing of the will. Some states have changed laws to allow for remote signings in response to COVID. If the rules have not been followed, the will may be invalid.

Mistaken identity seems farfetched. However, it is a common occurrence, especially when someone has a common name or more than one person in the family has the same name, and the document has not been properly signed or witnessed. This could create confusion and make the document vulnerable to a challenge. An experienced estate planning attorney will know how to prepare documents to withstand any challenges.

Capacity in the law means someone is able to understand the concept of a will and contents of the document they are signing, along with the identities of the people to whom they are leaving their assets. The person does not need to have perfect mental health, so people with mild cognitive impairments, such as depression or anxiety, may make and sign a will. A medical opinion may be needed, if there might be any doubt as to whether a person had testamentary capacity when the will is signed.

A will contest can be time-consuming and expensive, so keep these issues in mind, especially if the family includes some litigious individuals.

Reference: Vents Magazine (May 6, 2022) “5 Reasons A Law Will May Be Contested”

 

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How Can I Help My Family After I Pass Away? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

In addition to attempting to arrange a spouse’s funeral, a grieving person must try to locate the deceased’s will, the executor, information on the family’s finances and the various family accounts’ usernames and passwords.

Starts at 60’s recent article entitled “How to take care of your family in life and in death” explains that estate planning is always a difficult subject to deal with, because no one wants to arrange things for when they die.

However, good communication and planning make the life of the surviving spouse and family easier, particularly during the inevitably stressful time of dealing with the death. Let’s look at seven key points of estate planning:

Communication. Sharing information is crucial. Both spouses should be aware of the family’s investments and advisors. The advisers should also know both clients to help make any transition as seamless as possible. Where one spouse has taken responsibility for the financial affairs, he or she should leave specific instructions concerning who to contact in the event of their death and what steps to be taken.

Bank accounts. It is important to know what bank accounts the couple has, and, importantly, what are the accounts’ usernames and passwords. They should also make the executor or adult children aware of the location of the keys to the safety deposit box or the code to the safe at home.

Financial contacts. The couple should divulge important family financial contacts, such as an accountant, estate planning attorney, their insurance broker and financial advisors.

Will. Determine where their wills are kept and if they are up to date. Note the names of the executors. You should also see if the executors are aware they have been named as executors, and if the couple has any power of attorney documents.

Life Insurance. See if the couple has life insurance and note the details of the policy, as well as the agent’s contact information.

Other family assets. Your other valuables should be recorded with the specific ownership of each noted and shared with an estate planning attorney. This includes companies, motor vehicles, boats, vacation homes and art collections.

Reference: Starts at 60 (April 2, 2022) “How to take care of your family in life and in death”

 

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

What Happens Financially when a Spouse Dies? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Losing a beloved spouse is one of the most stressful events in life, so it is one we tend not to talk about. However, planning for life after the passing of a spouse needs to be done, as it is an eventuality. According to a recent article from AARP Magazine, “The Financial Penalty of Losing Your Spouse,” the best time to plan for this is before your spouse dies.

You will have the most options while your spouse is still living. Estate plans, wills, trusts, and beneficiary designations can still be updated, as long as your spouse has legal capacity. You can make sure you will still have access to savings, retirement, and investment accounts. Create a list of assets, including information needed to access digital accounts.

Make sure that your credit cards will be available. Many surviving spouses only learn after a death whether credit cards are in the spouse’s name or their own name.

Get help from professionals. Review your new status with your estate planning attorney, CPA and financial advisor. This includes which accounts need to be moved and which need to be renamed. Can you afford to maintain your home? An experienced professional who works regularly with widows or widowers can provide help, if you are open to asking.

A warning note: Be careful about new “friends.” Widows are key targets of scammers, and thieves are very good at scamming vulnerable people.

Be strategic about Social Security. If both partners were drawing benefits, the surviving spouse may elect the higher benefit going forward. If you have not claimed yet, you have options. You can take either a survivor’s benefit based on your spouse’s work history, or the retirement benefit based on your own work history. You will be able to switch to the higher benefit, if it ends up being higher, later on.

Be careful about your spouse’s 401(k) and IRA. If you are in your 50s, you are allowed to roll your spouse’s 401(k) or IRA into your own account. However, do not rush to move the 401(k). You can make a withdrawal from a late spouse’s 401(k) without penalty. However, it will be taxable as ordinary income. If you move the 401(k) to a rollover IRA, you will have to pay taxes plus a 10% penalty on any withdrawals taken from the IRA before you reach 59 ½. Your estate planning attorney can help with these accounts.

Use any advantages available to you. The IRS will still let you file jointly in the year of your spouse’s death. Tax rates are better for married filers than for singles. Any taxable withdrawals you’ll need to take from 401(k)s or IRAs may be taxed at a lower rate during this year. You may decide to use the money to create a rollover Roth IRA or to put some funds into a non-tax deferred account.

Do not rush to do anything you do not have to do. Selling your home, writing large checks to children, or moving are all things you should not do right now. Decisions made in the fog of grief are often regretted later on. Take your time to mourn, adjust to your admittedly unwanted new life and give yourself time for this major adjustment.

Reference: AARP Magazine (May 13, 2022) “The Financial Penalty of Losing Your Spouse”

 

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Do Single People Need Estate Planning? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

In evaluating your needs for estate planning, look at what might happen if you die intestate – that is, without a last will and testament. Your assets will likely have to go through the probate process, which means they will be distributed by the court according to the state intestate succession laws, says Hood County News’ recent article entitled “Even ‘singles’ need estate plans.”

Even if you do not have children, you may have a few nephews or nieces—or children of cousins or friends— to whom you would like to leave some of your assets. This can include automobiles, collectibles and family memorabilia. However, if everything you own goes through probate, there is no guarantee that these individuals will end up with what you wanted them to have.

If you want to leave something to family members or close friends, you will need to say this in your will. However, you also may want to provide support to one or more charitable organizations. You can just name these charities in your will. However, there may be options that could provide you with more benefits.

One option is a charitable remainder trust. With this option, you would transfer appreciated assets – such as stocks, mutual funds or other securities – into an irrevocable trust. The trustee, whom you have named (note that you could serve as trustee yourself) can then sell the assets at full market value, avoiding the capital gains taxes you would have to pay if you sold them yourself, outside a trust. If you itemize, you may be able to claim a charitable deduction on your taxes. The trust can purchase income-producing assets with the proceeds and provide you with an income stream for the rest of your life. At your death, the remaining trust assets will pass to the charities you have named.

There is also a third entity that is part of your estate plans: you. Everyone should make arrangements to protect their interests. However, without an immediate family, you need to be especially mindful of your financial and health care decisions. That is why, as part of your estate planning, you may want to include these two documents: durable power of attorney and a health care proxy.

A durable power of attorney allows you to name a person to manage your finances, if you become incapacitated. This is especially important for anyone who does not have a spouse. If you become incapacitated, your health care proxy (health care surrogate or medical power of attorney) lets you name another person to legally make health care decisions for you, if you cannot do so yourself.

Reference: Hood County News (Dec. 17, 2021) “Even ‘singles’ need estate plans”

 

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Can I Plan My Estate to Avoid Leaving Residual Assets? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

When looking into your estate plan, you see the term “residuary estate.” This is any part of your estate that has not been distributed to your heirs through a will. It is also called estate residue or residual estate. However, it simply means assets that are left over once your will has been read, the assets have been distributed to your heirs and any final expenses have been paid.

Proper estate planning can help you avoid leaving residual assets behind, says Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “Residuary Estate Definition and Example.” An experienced estate planning attorney can help you select a structure for your estate that accomplishes your objectives.

A will lets you state how you want your assets to be divided among your heirs when you pass away. However, it is possible that not all of your assets will make it into your will for some reason. Any assets that are not included in your will or distributed through a trust automatically becomes part of your residuary estate when you pass away.

Residual estates can be created without advance planning. For example, your heirs may be left to deal with a residuary estate if:

  • You neglected to include certain assets in your will;
  • You acquired new assets after drafting your will and failed to amend the document for the distribution of these assets; or
  • Someone you named in your will dies before you or is unable to receive their inheritance for some other reason.

Assets that are designed to have a named beneficiary but do not have one, can also be included in the residuary estate.

When a residuary estate exists, it can complicate the probate process for your family. Any unclaimed or otherwise overlooked assets would be distributed according to the state’s inheritance laws, after any estate taxes, outstanding debts or final expenses have been paid.

You should also know that it is possible to have a residuary beneficiary of a living trust. This person would receive any property or assets transferred to the trust that were not designated for specific beneficiaries. If you create a trust properly, there should be a provision for each beneficiary you want to be included and which assets they should receive. However, you could still run into issues if a named beneficiary dies, and you haven’t named anyone as a residuary beneficiary.

A residuary estate is something you may need to plan for when creating a will or trust. Fortunately, it is pretty easy to do so by including the proper wording in your will and trust documents. Ask an estate planning attorney to eliminate confusion and to plan your estate properly.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Dec. 30, 2021) “Residuary Estate Definition and Example”

 

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Taking Care of Dying Parent’s Financial Affairs Can Be Challenging – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

It is not uncommon for adult children to have to face a parent’s decline and a stay in hospice at the end of their life. The children are tasked with trying to prepare for his passing. This includes how to handle his financial matters.

Seniors Matter’s recent article entitled “How do I handle my father’s financial matters now that he’s in hospice?” says that caring for a sick family member is a challenging and emotional time. Because of this major task, it is easy to put financial considerations on the back burner. Nonetheless, it is important to address a few key issues.

If a family member is terminally ill or admitted to hospice – and you are able to do so – it may be a good idea to start by helping to take inventory of your family member’s assets and liabilities. A clear idea of where their assets are and what they have is a great starting point to help you prepare and be in a better position to manage the estate.

An inventory may include any and all of the following:

  • Real estate
  • Bank accounts
  • Cars, boats and other vehicles
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Life insurance
  • Retirement plans (such as a 401(k), a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA and a SEP IRA);
  • Wages and other income
  • Business interests
  • Intellectual property; and
  • Any debts, liabilities and judgments.

Next, find out what, if any, estate planning documents may be in place. This includes a will, powers of attorney, trusts, a healthcare directive and a living will. You will need to find copies.

This is hard to do while a loved on is dying, but it can make the aftermath easier and less stressful.

Reference: Seniors Matter (Feb. 22, 2022) “How do I handle my father’s financial matters now that he’s in hospice?”

 

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

Why Do I Need a Will? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Some people mistakenly think that not having a will allows their probate assets to bypass the time and expense of probate. No, that is not true.

Probate assets are those assets with no surviving joint owner, designated beneficiary, or are not titled in a revocable living trust.

If you die without a will, your probate property still must go through probate, says Fed Week’s recent article entitled “Expressing Your Will with a Will.”

Therefore, you should have a will. If probate avoidance is a concern, you can ask an experienced estate planning attorney about utilizing various non-probate transfer methods, to include creating a trust. If you have a revocable living trust, you can keep control over the trust assets while you are alive.

The assets placed in revocable living trust during your lifetime can be distributed at your death, under the terms of the trust, without the requirement of probate.

When you draft a will, you cannot simply forget about it. Special life events, such as births, adoptions, deaths, marriages, and divorces, all may require you to revisit your will. After each change, make certain that your current will is both safe and accessible. You can leave a copy of your will with your executor.

If you decide to keep your will somewhere else, your executor and other loved ones should know that location. The estate planning attorney who prepared your will should have a copy, as well as a memo revealing the location of the original.

Regardless of where you put your will, you should create a separate document for your funeral and burial instructions. That is because wills typically are not read until days or weeks after death.

It will not help your survivors make prompt decisions about a funeral or a memorial service.

A separate letter should be used to specify your final wishes and your executor should know where these instructions are located.

These arrangements include seeing if there is a pre-arranged funeral plan, meeting with a funeral director to make arrangements for the funeral services, confirming cemetery arrangements and choosing the necessary casket or urn, grave marker and funeral stationery.

Reference: Fed Week (Feb. 22, 2022) “Expressing Your Will with a Will”

 

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What Can a Trust Do for Me and My Family? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A trust is defined as a legal contract that lets an individual or entity (the trustee) hold assets on behalf of another person (the beneficiary). The assets in the trust can be cash, investments, physical assets like real estate, business interests and digital assets. There is no minimum amount of money needed to establish a trust.

US News’ recent article entitled “Trusts Explained” explains that trusts can be structured in a number of ways to instruct the way in which the assets are handled both during and after your lifetime. Trusts can reduce estate taxes and provide many other benefits.

Placing assets in a trust lets you know that they will be managed through your instructions, even if you are unable to manage them yourself. Trusts also bypass the probate process. This lets your heirs get the trust assets faster than if they were transferred through a will.

The two main types of trusts are revocable (known as “living trusts”) and irrevocable trusts. A revocable trust allows the grantor to change the terms of the trust or dissolve the trust at any time. Revocable trusts avoid probate, but the assets in them are generally still considered part of your estate. That is because you retain control over them during your lifetime.

To totally remove the assets from your estate, you need an irrevocable trust. An irrevocable trust cannot be altered by the grantor after it has been created. Therefore, if you are the grantor, you cannot change the terms of the trust, such as the beneficiaries, or dissolve the trust after it has been established.

You also lose control over the assets you put into an irrevocable trust.

Trusts give you more say about your assets than a will does. With a trust, you can set more particular terms as to when your beneficiaries receive those assets. Another type of trust is created under a last will and testament and is known as a testamentary trust. Although the last will must be probated to create the testamentary trust, this trust can protect an inheritance from and for your heirs as you design.

Trusts are not a do-it-yourself proposition: ask for the expertise of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: US News (Feb. 7, 2022) “Trusts Explained”

 

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What Assets Should Be Considered when Planning Estate? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The numbers of Americans who have a formal estate plan is still less than 50%. This number has not changed much over the decade. However, the assets owned have become a lot more complicated, according to a recent article from CNBC titled “What happens to your digital assets and cryptocurrency when you die? Even with a will, they may be overlooked.”

Airline miles and credit card points, social media accounts and cryptocurrencies are different types of assets to be passed on to heirs. For those who do have an estate plan, the focus is probably on traditional assets, like their home, 401(k)s, IRAs and bank accounts. However, we own so much more today.

Start with an inventory. For digital assets, include photos, videos, hardware, software, devices, and websites, to name a few. Make sure someone you trust has the unlock code for your phone, laptop and desktop. Use a secure password manager or a notebook, whatever you are more comfortable with, and share the information with a trusted person.

You will also need to include what you want to happen to the digital asset. Some platforms will let owners name a legacy contact to handle the account when they die and what the owner wants to happen to the data, photos, videos, etc. Some platforms have not yet addressed this issue at all.

If an online business generates income, what do you want to happen to the business? If you want the business to continue, who will own the business, who will run the business and receive the income? All of this has to be made clear and documented properly.

Failing to create a digital asset plan puts those assets at risk. For cryptocurrency and nonfungible tokens (NFTs), this has become a routine problem. Unlike traditional financial accounts, there are no paper statements, and your executor cannot simply contact the institution with a death certificate and a Power of Attorney and move funds.

Another often overlooked part of an estate are pets. Assets cannot be left directly to pets. However, most states allow pet trusts, where owners can fund a trust and designate a trustee and a caretaker. Make sure to fund the account once it has been created, so your beloved companion will be cared for as you want. An informal agreement is not enforceable, and your pet may end up in a shelter or abandoned.

Sentimental possessions also need to be planned for. Your great-grandmother’s soup tureen may be available for $20 on eBay, but it is not the same as the one she actually used and taught her daughter and her granddaughter how to use. The same goes for more valuable items, like jewelry or artwork. Identifying who gets what while you are living, can help prevent family quarrels when you are gone. In some families, there will be quarrels unless the items are in the will. Another option: distribute these items while you are living.

If you can, it is also a good idea and a gift to your loved ones to write down what you want in the way of a funeral or memorial service. Do they want to be buried, or cremated? Do they want a religious service in a house of worship, or a simple graveside service?

If you are among those who have a will, you probably need it to be reviewed. If you do not have a will or a comprehensive estate plan, you should meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to address distribution of assets, planning for incapacity and preparing for the often overlooked aspects of your life. You will have the comfort of expressing your wishes and your loved ones will be grateful.

Reference: CNBC (Jan. 18, 2022) “What happens to your digital assets and cryptocurrency when you die? Even with a will, they may be overlooked”

 

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