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how to perform the role of executor efficiently

How to Perform the role of Executor Efficiently

Executors are frequently relatives or friends designated in a last will as the final administrator of a deceased person’s estate. If you agreed to serve as an executor, you likely are aware of some of the tasks you will face, closing accounts, inventorying assets and distributing bequests. Even when it’s a relatively simple situation — one spouse dies and leaves everything to the other — there can be a lot of paperwork involved. It certainly can get more complicated when a widow dies, and there are several children and numerous assets. AARP’s recent article entitled “How to Be a Good Executor of a Will or Estate” says being an executor is a tough job. So, heed these steps to make certain that when the time comes for you to serve, you honor the decedent, serve his or her heirs and learn how to perform the role of executor efficiently.

Communicate. Be sure that you understand the last will writer’s wishes. You can request that he or she be specific about what he or she truly wants to happen with the estate after his or her death. The last will writer can give an explanation in a last letter of instruction. It’s an informal document to be read after he dies that explains his or her decisions.

Do the paperwork. When the person passes away, you must find the last will (the original, not a copy). The last will and the death certificate must be filed with the probate court to get letters testamentary. This authorizes the executor to take any actions required to administer the estate. Get at least a dozen extra certified copies of the death certificate because you’ll need these to cancel credit cards, sell a home, transfer title to a car and turn off the utilities.

Safeguard property. A vacant house may attract thieves who scan the obituaries, as well as relatives and neighbors who think they’re entitled to help themselves. After the death, lock up and secure the property. Move jewelry and other valuables to a safe place. Also, take pictures of the home’s interior to document its contents.

Get organized. The executor must maintain and sell an unoccupied house, stop Social Security payments, pay debts, close financial accounts and file taxes. Start a detailed to-do list, keep good records and create a list of assets and liabilities.

Get a thick skin. Closing out an estate entails managing the emotions of heirs. They also may be your siblings who are resentful of the authority you have been given. If so, give them regular updates to smooth bad feelings that may arise. Total transparency is best.

Distribute personal items. This can be a difficult process, so put a system in place to fairly divide the possessions. Even the most ordinary item may have deep sentimental value to an heir and could cause stress for the executor without your guidance.

Educate the heirs. Heirs and beneficiaries can’t be paid, until all taxes and debts of the estate are settled. Let them know that it may take many months before they’ll receive payment.

Final steps. Lastly, the executor must pay any debts and taxes owed by the estate, distribute the estate property and give an accounting for the estate to the beneficiaries.

If you have questions about how to perform the role of executor efficiently, ask an experienced estate planning attorney.

If you are interested in learning more about the role of Executor, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: AARP (May 7, 2021) “How to Be a Good Executor of a Will or Estate”

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Can I be paid as a caregiver?

Can I Be Paid as a Caregiver?

AARP’s recent article entitled “Can I Get Paid to Be a Caregiver for a Family Member?” says that roughly 53 million Americans provide care without pay to an ailing or aging loved one. They do so for an average of nearly 24 hours per week. The study was done by the “Caregiving in the U.S. 2020” report by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC). This begs the question: Can I be paid as a caregiver?

Medicaid. All 50 states and DC have self-directed Medicaid services for long-term care. These programs let states grant waivers that allow qualified people to manage their own long-term home-care services, as an alternative to the traditional model where services are managed by an agency. In some states, that can include paying a family member as a caregiver. The benefits, coverage, eligibility, and rules differ from state to state.

Veterans have four plans for which they may qualify:

Veteran Directed Care. This plan lets qualified former service members manage their own long-term services and supports. It is available in 37 states, DC, and Puerto Rico for veterans of all ages who are enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration health care system and need the level of care a nursing facility provides but want to live at home or the home of a loved one.

Aid and Attendance (A&A) benefits. This program supplements a military pension to help cover the cost of paying for a caregiver, who may be a family member. These benefits are available to veterans who qualify for VA pensions and meet certain criteria. In addition, surviving spouses of qualifying veterans may be eligible for this benefit.

Housebound benefits. Vets who get a military pension and are substantially confined to their immediate premises because of permanent disability can apply for a monthly pension supplement.

Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers. This program allows for a monthly stipend to a vet’s family member to be paid as a caregiver to provide assistance with everyday activities because of a traumatic injury sustained in the line of duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001.

Other caregiver benefits through the program include the following:

  • Access to health insurance and mental health services, including counseling
  • Comprehensive training
  • Lodging and travel expenses incurred when accompanying vets going through care; and
  • Up to 30 days of respite care per year.

Payment by a family member. If the person requiring assistance is mentally sound and has sufficient financial resources, that person can pay a family member for the same services a professional home health care worker would provide.

So yes, under certain criteria, you can qualify to be paid as a caregiver. It is best to work carefully with an Elder Law attorney who has experience managing Medicaid and VA issues.

Reference: AARP (May 15, 2021) “Can I Get Paid to Be a Caregiver for a Family Member?”

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What are the early signs of dementia?

What are the Early Signs of Dementia?

Many adult children are finally seeing their parents in person for the first time since the beginning of the COVID crisis. While it is a comfort to spend time together, you might notice changes in a parent’s behavior that was not apparent on the phone or Zoom. Could this be a sign of cognitive decline? What are the early signs of dementia?

Dementia can diminish focus, the ability to pay attention, language skills, problem-solving and visual perception. It can make it hard for a senior to control his or her emotions and lead to personality changes, says AARP’s recent article entitled “7 Early Warning Signs of Dementia You Shouldn’t Ignore.”

The article provides some of the warning signs identified by dementia experts and mental health organizations:

  • Difficulty with everyday tasks. Those with dementia may find it increasingly tough to do things, like keep track of monthly bills or follow a recipe while cooking. They also may find it hard to concentrate on tasks, take much longer to do them, or have difficulty completing them.
  • Repetition. Asking a question, hearing the answer, then repeating the same question a few minutes later, or telling the same story about a recent event multiple times, are causes for concern.
  • Communication issues. See if a senior has trouble joining in conversations or following along with them, stops abruptly in the middle of a thought, or struggles to think of words or the name of objects.
  • Getting lost. Those with dementia may have difficulty with visual and spatial abilities.
  • Changes in personality. A senior who starts acting unusually anxious, confused, fearful or suspicious; becomes upset easily; or loses interest in activities and appears depressed is cause for concern.
  • Confusion about time and place. Those who forget where they are or can’t remember how they got there should raise a red flag. You should also be concerned if a person becomes disoriented about time (asking on a Friday if it is Monday or Tuesday).
  • Troubling behavior. If a senior appears to have greater poor judgment when handling money or neglects grooming and cleanliness, it’s a concern.

Here are some of the methods that doctors use to diagnose early signs of dementia:

  • Cognitive and neuropsychological tests assess language and math skills, memory, problem-solving and other kinds of mental functioning.
  • Lab tests can help rule out non-dementia causes for the symptoms.
  • Brain scans like a CT, MRI, or PET imaging can detect changes in brain structure and function. They can identify strokes, tumors and other problems that can cause dementia.
  • Psychiatric evaluation can determine if a mental health condition is causing or impacting symptoms.
  • Genetic tests are critical, especially if someone is showing symptoms before age 60. The early onset form of Alzheimer’s is strongly associated with a person’s genes.

Stay aware of these early signs of dementia and make a plan for addressing your parent’s needs as they decline. Work with an Elder Law attorney to learn what you can do to ensure your loved ones are cared for in their later years.

If you would like to learn more about dementia and other cognitive issues, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: AARP (May 4, 2021) “7 Early Warning Signs of Dementia You Shouldn’t Ignore”

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Do You Have to Probate an Estate when Someone Dies?

Do You Have to Probate an Estate when Someone Dies?

Do You Have to Probate an Estate when Someone Dies? That is a question estate planning attorneys here almost every day. Probate is a Latin term meaning “to prove.” Legally, a deceased person may not own property, so the moment a person dies, the property they owned while living is in a legal state of limbo. The rightful owners must prove their ownership in court, explains the article “Wills and Probate” from Southlake Style. Probate refers to the legal process that recognizes a person’s death, proves whether or not a valid last will exists and who is entitled to assets the decedent owned while they were living.

The probate court oversees the payment of the decedent’s debts, as well as the distribution of their assets. The court’s role is to facilitate this process and protect the interests of all creditors and beneficiaries of the estate. The process is known as “probate administration.”

Having a last will does not automatically transfer property. The last will must be properly probated first. If there is a last will, the estate is described as “testate.” The last will must contain certain language and have been properly executed by the testator (the decedent) and the witnesses. Every state has its own estate laws. Therefore, to be valid, the last will must follow the rules of the person’s state. A last will that is valid in one state may be invalid in another.

The court must give its approval that the last will is valid and confirm the executor is suited to perform their duties. Texas is one of a few states that allow for independent administration, where the court appoints an administrator who submits an inventory of assets and liabilities. The administration goes on with no need for probate judge’s approval, as long as the last will contains the specific language to qualify.

If there was no last will, the estate is considered to be “intestate” and the laws of the state determine who inherits what assets. The laws rely on the relationship between the decedent and the genetic or bloodline family members. An estranged relative could end up with everything. The estate distribution is more likely to be challenged if there is no last will, causing additional family grief, stress and expenses.

The last will should name an executor or administrator to carry out the terms of the last will. The executor can be a family member or a trusted friend, as long as they are known to be honest and able to manage financial and legal transactions. Administering an estate takes time, depending upon the complexity of the estate and how the person managed the business side of their lives. The executor pays bills, may need to sell a home and also deals with any creditors.

The smart estate plan includes assets that are not transferrable by the last will. These are known as “non-probate” assets and go directly to the heirs, if the beneficiary designation is properly done. They can include life insurance proceeds, pensions, 401(k)s, bank accounts and any asset with a beneficiary designation. If all of the assets in an estate are non-probate assets, assets of the estate are easily and usually quickly distributed. Many people accomplish this through the use of a Living Trust.

Do You Have to Probate an Estate when Someone Dies? It depends on how your estate plan was created. Every person’s life is different, and so is their estate plan. Family dynamics, the amount of assets owned and how they are owned will impact how the estate is distributed. Start by meeting with an experienced estate planning attorney to prepare for the future.

If you are interested in learning more about probate and trust administration, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Southlake Style (May 17, 2021) “Wills and Probate”

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Consider a QTIP trust for your blended family

Consider a QTIP trust for your Blended Family

Many people have so-called “blended” families, where one or both spouses have children from a previous marriage. Estate planning can be hard for a spouse in a blended family who wants to provide for a surviving spouse and for children from an ex-spouse. Consider a QTIP trust for your blended family.

Fed Week’s recent article entitled “‘Blended’ Families Raise Special Estate Planning Considerations” suggests that one option may be a qualified terminable interest property or “QTIP” trust.

This kind of irrevocable trust is frequently used by those with children from another marriage.

A QTIP trust allows the grantor of the blended family to provide for a surviving spouse and maintain control of how the trust’s assets are distributed, once the surviving spouse dies.

Income (and sometimes the principal) generated from the trust is given to the surviving spouse to ensure that the spouse is cared for during the rest of his or her life. Therefore, with a QTIP:

  • At the death of the first spouse, the assets pass to a trust for the survivor. No one else can receive distributions from the trust; then
  • At the death of the second spouse, any assets left in the QTIP trust are passed to beneficiaries named by the first spouse to die. This is usually the children of the first spouse to die.

With a QTIP trust, estate tax is not imposed when the first spouse’s dies. Rather, estate tax is determined after the second spouse has died. Moreover, the property within the QTIP providing funds to a surviving spouse qualifies for marital deductions. As such, the value of the trust isn’t taxable after the first spouse’s death.

While this arrangement may appear to address the needs of both sides, in many remarriages the surviving spouse is much younger than the one who died.

In many cases, the surviving spouse may be close to the age of the children of the spouse who died. As a consequence, those children may have to wait a number of years for their inheritance.

To avoid this, a better approach would be to provide for biological children as well as for a surviving spouse at the first death. It might be time to consider a QTIP trust for your blended family. Assets can be divided at that time. If an asset division is impractical, the proceeds of a life insurance policy may help to provide some inheritance for all parties.

If you would like to learn more about estate planning for blended families, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Fed Week (May 7, 2021) “‘Blended’ Families Raise Special Estate Planning Considerations”

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When should children receive an inheritance?

When Should Children Receive an Inheritance?

Should an inheritance remain an inheritance, given to children only after their parents die, or should parents use some of the money to help their kids out while they are still living? When should children receive an inheritance? That’s a question that many families grapple with, reports a recent article “When to Give Inheritance Money to Your Kids,” from The Wall Street Journal.

Not every family can afford to give their children an advance on their inheritance, but for those who can, there are some things to consider:

Some financial advisors believe that “gifting with warm hands” is a better way to go. Parents can enjoy seeing their children and grandchildren benefit from having the help, based on when it is needed. Decoupling an inheritance children receive from parental death is a happier scenario than the alternative.

Others believe that current financial needs, taxes and the tax situations of the parents and children ought to be the deciding factor. First, is there enough money for the parents to live comfortably in retirement? That includes being prepared for the cost of an unexpected health crisis that might lead them to need short- and long-term care. Follow that by understanding the tax situation of both parents and heirs. Once those answers are fully formed, then a discussion about gifting can move forward.

Another school of thought is to stop saving every penny and enjoy life to its fullest right here, right now. Some people are more concerned with maxing out their 401(k) plans than enjoying their lives. A healthy balance between protecting assets for later years, creating wealth for the next generation and having some fun too is the goal for many families.

Regardless of how you see your situation, one thing is sure: if you have any concerns about how your children will handle an inheritance, make a gift while you are living. You’ll get to see how they handle it, responsibility or recklessly. This may inform your planning for the future, including the use of spendthrift trusts.

The pandemic has forced many people to confront their own mortality and consider how they really want to spend the rest of their lives, as well as their assets. Many parents are preparing to make changes in their estate and gifting plans to accommodate needs that have arisen as a result of COVID’s economic impact.

Talk with your children about finances—yours and theirs. Discuss their needs, especially if they have been unemployed for an extended period of time. If they need money for something critical, like paying for health insurance or catching up on student loans, the gift should be made with a clear understanding of its intended purpose.

When should children receive an inheritance? It is really determined by what you think is right. Your estate planning attorney can help create a plan that works while you are living and after you have passed. Trusts may be a strategic plan for sharing assets while you are alive, with some tax advantages.

If you would like to read more about inheritance, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (April 30, 2021) “When to Give Inheritance Money to Your Kids”

 

The Monthly Two Minutes - Blended Families

The Monthly Two Minutes – Blended Families

The Monthly Two Minutes – Blended Families

We’ve started a new monthly video series that we are calling the The Monthly Two Minutes and are excited to share the latest edition – Blended Families. The second episode deals with the complexity of blended families. Second marriages and step-children can make investment and estate planning more difficult. We discuss what financial advisors need to know.

As a reminder, we now have a our own Podcast, The Estate of the Union! It’s “Estate Planning Made Simple” and we tackle all kinds of topics relating to the board spectrum of estate planning. We’ve got four already posted and more to come. We hope you will enjoy them enough to share it with others. It’s available on Apple, Spotify and other podcast outlets.

Brad Wiewel is a Board Certified Texas estate planning attorney with a state-wide practice. Mr. Wiewel is an AV Rated attorney, which is the highest distinction for practicing attorneys in the legal world. Brad is licensed by both the Supreme Court of the United States and the Supreme Court of Texas. He received a B.A. from the University of Illinois, and graduated from St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio with distinction (Top 10%).

A SLAT allows you to protect assets

A SLAT allows You to Protect Assets

Interest in SLATs, or Spousal Lifetime Access Trusts, has picked up as the new administration eyes possible revenue sources from estate and gift taxes. According to a recent article titled “What Advisors Should Know About SLATs” from U.S. News & World Report, even if no changes to exemption levels happen now, the current federal lifetime gift and estate tax exclusion of $11.7 million will expire in 2026. When that happens, the exemption will revert to the pre-2018 level of about $6 million, adjusted for inflation. First, what is a SLAT? It’s an estate planning strategy where one spouse gifts assets to an irrevocable trust for the benefit of the other spouse. A SLAT allows you to protect assets by removing them from a joint estate, but the donor spouse may still indirectly retain access to the assets. The SLAT typically also benefits a secondary recipient, usually the couple’s children.

It’s important to work with an estate planning attorney who is knowledgeable about this type of planning and tax law to ensure that the SLAT follows all of the rules. It is possible for a SLAT that is poorly created to be rejected by the IRS, so experienced counsel is a must.

The attorney and the couple need to look at how much wealth the family has and how much the family members will need to enjoy their quality of life for the rest of their lives. The funds placed in the SLAT are, ideally, funds that neither of the couple will need to access.

If a donor spouse can be approved for life insurance, that’s a good asset to place inside a SLAT. Tax-deferred assets are also good assets for SLATs. Trust tax rates can be very high. If securities are placed into the trust and they pay dividends, taxes must be paid. When life insurance pays out, the proceeds are estate-tax and income-tax free.

SLATs also protect assets from creditors.

There are pitfalls to SLATs, which is why an experienced estate planning attorney is so important. Married couples with large estates may set up separate SLATs for each other, but they must take into consideration the “reciprocal trust doctrine.” SLATs cannot be funded with identical assets and they cannot be set up at the same time. The IRS will collapse trusts that violate this rule. One SLAT can be done one year, and the second SLAT done the following year, and they should be funded with different assets.

There’s also a trade-off: while the SLAT gets assets out of the estate, they will not receive a step-up in basis at the time of the donor spouse’s death. Basis step-ups occur when the deceased spouse’s share in the cost basis of assets is stepped up to their value on the date of death.

Divorce or the death of the recipient spouse means the donor spouse loses access to the SLAT’s assets.

The SLAT requires coordination between the estate planning attorney and the financial advisor, so anyone considering this strategy should act now so their attorney has enough time to take the family’s entire estate plan into account. There also needs to be a third-party trustee, someone who is not the recipient and not related or subordinate to the recipient.

Assets don’t have to be placed into the SLATs immediately after they are created, so there is time to figure out what the couple wants to put into the SLAT. A SLAT can be beneficial because it allows you to protect assets, however, forgetting to fund the SLAT, like neglecting to fund any other trust, defeats the purpose of the trust.

If you would like to read more about SLATs and other types of tools to protect assets, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (May 3, 2021) “What Advisors Should Know About SLATs”

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items Medicare doesn't cover

Items Medicare Doesn’t Cover

Medicare is wonderful program that helps seniors with the expense of medical bills later in life. Yet, there are items Medicare doesn’t cover and you need to be aware of them prior to entering the program. AARP’s recent article entitled “7 Things Medicare Doesn’t Cover” talks about some needs that aren’t part of the program — and how you might pay for them.

  1. Opticians and eye exams. Original Medicare will cover opthalmologic expenses like cataract surgery, but it doesn’t cover routine eye exams, glasses, or contacts. In addition, it’s usually not covered by Medigap plans (supplemental insurance available from private insurers to augment Medicare coverage). Some Medicare Advantage plans cover routine vision care and glasses. As such, it may be wise to purchase a vision insurance policy for a few hundred dollars a year for the expense of glasses or contact lenses.
  2. Hearing aids. Medicare covers ear-related medical conditions, but original Medicare and Medigap plans won’t pay for routine hearing tests or hearing aids. You may need to purchase insurance or a membership in a discount plan that helps cover the cost of such hearing devices.
  3. Dental care. Original Medicare and Medigap policies don’t cover dental care like routine checkups, dentures, or root canals. Some Medicare Advantage plans offer dental coverage, but if yours doesn’t, or if you opt for original Medicare, you may want to get an individual dental insurance plan or a dental discount plan.
  4. Care When Overseas . Original Medicare and most Medicare Advantage plans offer next to no coverage for medical costs incurred outside the U.S. However, there are a few Medigap policies that cover certain overseas medical costs. However, if you travel a lot, you might want this option. In addition, some travel insurance policies provide basic health care coverage. You should also look at medical evacuation (medevac) insurance for your time abroad. This is an inexpensive policy that will transport you to a nearby medical facility or back home to the U.S. in an emergency.
  5. Podiatry. Routine medical care for feet, such as callus removal, isn’t covered. Medicare Part B does cover foot exams or treatment, if it’s linked to nerve damage because of diabetes, or care for foot injuries or ailments. Therefore, you may want to set up a separate savings program for this expense.
  6. Cosmetic surgery. Elective cosmetic surgery isn’t included in Medicare. This includes procedures, such as face-lifts or tummy tucks. However, Medicare will cover plastic surgery in the event of an accidental injury. So, if you face these costs, you also may want to set up a separate savings program for them.
  7. Nursing home care. Medicare pays for limited stays in rehab facilities. This may be a situation where you have a hip replacement and need inpatient physical therapy for a few weeks. However, if you become so frail or sick that you must move to an assisted living facility or nursing home, Medicare doesn’t cover your custodial costs.

Having planning in place to address the items Medicare doesn’t cover is a prudent decision. Work closely with an elder law attorney who has familiarity managing Medicare expenses.

If you are interested in learning more about Medicare, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: AARP (Oct. 1, 2020) “7 Things Medicare Doesn’t Cover”

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prevent fighting over personal property

Prevent Fighting over Personal Property

Estate plans often don’t include sentimental items. These day-to-day objects can cause some of the worst arguments among survivors. A photograph, dads’ baseball mitt, or mom’s Bible can sometimes have greater sentimental value than we realize. In addition, it can be tricky to determine what is fair, when dividing personal items. So, how do you prevent fighting over personal property?

The wisest path on such decisions about personal property is to talk with heirs, while you are still alive and in good health.

Ask your adult children what they might want and why and ask what other family members should have and why.

You might discover, for instance, that your adult daughter thinks her brother should inherit their dad’s baseball glove because they were the ones who played catch. You might be left with the New Kids On The Block CDs because you are the music aficionado.

The other big plus for discussing personal property is that the would-be beneficiaries can have the opportunity to hear stories and memories that are connected to these gifts. You can even write the stories down. Here are some other questions to consider:

  • Do you want to include in-laws in the decision-making?
  • What happens to personal items, if a parent remarries?
  • When is the best time to begin the actual transfer (the worst time is right after a funeral when family members are not at their best)?

Take the time to address those items you know your family will treasure. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about how to prevent fighting over personal property. The attorney may suggest you draft what is known as a “personal property memorandum.” It is a list of items and the people selected to inherit them. You should mention the existence of the document in your will, but the memo can be changed as often as you want without having to update your will.

If you are interested in reading more about personal property, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Wall Street Journal (May 3, 2021) “You Don’t Want Your Heirs to Fight Over Your Assets? Here’s What to Do Now”

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Information in our blogs is very general in nature and should not be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Please feel free to contact The Wiewel Law Firm to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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