The Wiewel Law Firm, an estate planning law firm in Austin, Texas
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Category: Estate Planning

What must be done when a loved one dies?

What Must Be Done when a Loved One Dies?

What must be done when a loved one dies? When a member of a family dies, it falls to the people left behind to pick up the pieces. Someone has to find out if the person left a last will, get the bills paid, stop Social Security or other automatic payments and file final tax returns. This is a hard time, but these tasks are among many that need to be done, according to the article “How to manage a loved one’s finances after they die” from Business Insider.

This year, more families than usual are faced with the challenge of taking care of the business of a loved one’s life while grieving a loss. When death comes suddenly, there isn’t always time to prepare.

The first step is to determine who will be in charge. If there is a will, then it contains the name of the person selected to be the executor. When a married person dies, usually the surviving spouse has been named as the executor. Otherwise, the family will need to work together to pick one person, usually the one who lives closest to the person who died. That person may need to keep an eye on the house and obtain documents, so proximity is a plus. In a perfect world, the person would have an estate plan, so these decisions would have been made in advance.

Don’t procrastinate. It is hard, but time is an issue. After the funeral and mourning period, it’s time to get to work. Obtain death certificates, and make sure to get enough certified copies—most people get ten or twelve. They’ll be needed for banks, brokerage houses and utility service providers. You’ll also need death certificates for taking control of some digital assets, like the person’s Facebook page.

The first agency to notify is Social Security. If there are other recurring payments, like VA benefits or a pension, those organizations also need to be notified. Contact banks, insurance companie, and financial advisors.

Get the person’s credit cards into your possession and call the credit card companies immediately. Fraud on the deceased is common. Scammers look at death notices and then go onto the dark web to find the person’s Social Security number, credit card and other personal identification info. The sooner the cards are shut down, the better.

Physical assets need to be secured. Locks on a house may be changed to prevent relatives or strangers from walking into the house and taking out property. Remove any possessions that are of value, both sentimental or financial. You should also take a complete inventory of what is in the house. Take pictures of everything and be prepared to keep the house well-maintained. If there are tenants or housemates, make arrangements to get them out of the house as soon as possible.

Accounts with beneficiaries are distributed directly to those beneficiaries, like payable-on-death (POD) accounts, 401(k)s, joint bank accounts and real property held in joint tenancy. The executor’s role is to notify the institutions of the death, but not to distribute funds to beneficiaries.

The executor must also file a final tax return. The final federal tax return is due on April 15 of the year after death. Any taxes that weren’t filed for any prior years, also need to be completed.

This is a big job, which is made harder by grief. Your estate planning attorney may have some suggestions for who might be qualified to help you. An attorney or a fiduciary will take a fee, either based on an hourly rate for services performed or a percentage of the entire value of the estate. If no one in the family is able to manage the tasks, it may be worth the investment.

Reference: Business Insider (May 2, 2020) “How to manage a loved one’s finances after they die”

 

What must be done when a loved one dies?

Adding Charitable Giving Into An Estate Plan

One way many people decide to give to charity, is to donate when they pass away. Adding charitable giving into an estate plan is great way to support a favorite cause.

When researching this approach, you can easily become overwhelmed by all of the tax laws and pitfalls that can make including charitable gifts in your estate plan seem more complex than it needs to be. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney to help you do it correctly and in the best way for your specific situation.

One way to give is to dictate giving in your will. When reading about charitable giving and estate planning, many people might begin to feel intimidated by estate taxes, feeling their heirs won’t get as much of their money as they hoped. Including a charitable contribution in your estate plan will decrease your estate taxes. This helps to maximize the final value of your estate for your heirs. Speak with your estate planning attorney and make certain that your donation is properly detailed in your will.

Another way to leverage your estate plan to donate to charity, is to name the charity of your choice as the beneficiary on your retirement account. Charities are exempt from both income and estate taxes, so going with this option guarantees the charity will receive all of the account’s value, once it’s been liquidated after your death.

You can also ask your estate planning attorney about a charitable trust. This type of trust is another vehicle by which you can give back through estate planning. For instance, a split-interest trust allows you to donate your assets to a charity but keep some of the benefits of holding those assets. A split-interest trust funds a trust in the charity’s name. You receive a tax deduction any time money is transferred into the trust.

However, note that the donors will continue to control the assets in the trust, which is passed onto the charity at the time of your death. You have several options for charitable trusts, so speak to an experienced estate planning attorney to select the best one for you.

Charitable giving is an important component of many people’s estate plans. Talk to your probate attorney about your options and go with the one that’s most beneficial to you, your heirs and the charities you want to remember.

Reference: West Virginia’s News (Feb. 27, 2020) “Estate planning and donating”

 

What must be done when a loved one dies?

Why You Need an Advance Directive Right Now

The number of Americans who have died in the last few months because of COVID-19 is staggering, reports Inside Indiana Business in an article that advises readers to “Get Your Advance Directives in Place Now.”  This is why you need an advance directive right now. Just talking with family members about your wishes is not enough. You’ll need to put the proper legal documents in place. It’s not that hard, and it is necessary.

Only one in three Americans has completed any kind of advance directive. Many younger adults don’t feel the need to complete these documents, but there have been many examples that prove this is the wrong approach. Both Terri Schiavo and Karen Ann Quinlan were only in their twenties when they were not able to make their wishes known. Family members fought in and out of court for years.

The clinical realities of COVID-19 make it hard for healthcare workers to determine their patient’s wishes. Visitors are not permitted, and staff members are overwhelmed with patients. COVID-19 respiratory symptoms come on rapidly in many cases, making it impossible to convey end-of-life wishes.

Advance directives are the written instructions regarding health care decisions, if you are not able to communicate your wishes. They must be in compliance with your state’s laws. The most common types of advance care directives are the durable power of attorney for health care and the living will.

A durable power of attorney for health care names a person, usually a spouse or family member, to be a health care agent. You may also name alternative agents. This person will be able to make decisions about your health care on your behalf, so be sure they know what your wishes are.

A living will is the document that states your wishes about the type of care you do or don’t want to receive. Living wills typically concern treatments like CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), breathing machines (ventilators), dialysis, feeding tubes and certain treatments, like the use of an IV (intravenous, meaning medicine delivered directly into the bloodstream).

Studies show that people who have properly executed advance directives are more likely to get care that reflects their stated preferences.

Traditional documents will cover most health situations. However, the specific symptoms of COVID-19 may require you to reconsider opinions on certain treatments. Many COVID-19 patients need ventilators to breathe and do subsequently recover. If in the past you wanted to refuse being put on a ventilator, this may cause you to reconsider.

Almost all states require notarization and/or witnesses for advance directives and other estate planning documents to be valid. Many states, including Indiana and New York, now allow for remote notarization.

Talk with your estate planning attorney about putting all of your estate planning documents in order.

Reference: Inside Indiana Business (June 8, 2020) “Get Your Advance Directives in Place Now”

 

What must be done when a loved one dies?

Plan for Your Pet During the Pandemic

If you have a pet, chances are you have worried about what would happen to your furry companion if something were to happen to you. However, worrying and having an actual plan are two very different things, as discussed at a Council of Aging webinar. Take the time to plan for your pet during the pandemic. That’s the subject of the article “COA speakers urge pet owners to plan for their animal’s future” that appeared in The Harvard Press.

It’s stressful to worry about something happening, especially during this pandemic, but it’s not that difficult to put something in place. After you’ve got a plan for yourself, your children and your property, add a plan for your pet.

Start by considering who would really commit to caring for your pet, if you had a long-term illness or in the event of your unexpected passing. Have a discussion with them. Don’t assume that they’ll take care of your pet. A casual agreement isn’t enough. The owner needs to be sure that the potential caretaker understands the degree of commitment and responsibility involved.

If you should need to receive home health care, don’t also assume that your health care provider will be willing to take care of your pet. It’s best to find a pet sitter or friend who can care for the pet before the need arises. Write down the pet’s information: the name and contact info for the vets, the brand of food, medication and any behavioral quirks.

There are legal documents that can be put into place to protect a pet. Your will can contain general directions about how the pet should be cared for, and a certain amount of money can be set aside in a will, although that method may not be legally enforceable. Owners cannot leave money directly to a pet, but a pet trust can be created to hold money to be used for the benefit of the pet, under the management of the trustee. The trust can also be accessed while the owner is still living. Therefore, if the owner becomes incapacitated, the pet’s care will not be interrupted.

An estate planning attorney will know the laws concerning pet trusts in your state. Not all states permit them, although many do.

A pet trust is also preferable to a mention in a will, because the caretaker will have to wait until the will is probated to receive funds to care for your pet. The cost of veterinary services, food, medication, boarding or pet sitters can add up quickly, as pet owners know.

A durable power of attorney can also be used to make provisions for the care of a pet. The person in that role has the authority to access and use the owner’s financial resources to care for the animal.

The legal documents will not contain information about the pet, so it’s a good idea to provide info on the pet’s habits, medications, etc., in a separate document. Plan for your pet during the pandemic. —your pet’s well-being may depend upon it!

Reference: The Harvard Press (May 14, 2020) “COA speakers urge pet owners to plan for their animal’s future”

 

What must be done when a loved one dies?

Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts

Using trusts as part of an estate plan creates many benefits, including minimizing estate taxes. One type of trust is known as an “intentionally defective grantor trust,” or IDGT. How does a intentionally defective grantor trust work? It’s a type of irrevocable trust used to limit tax liability when transferring wealth to heirs, as reported in the recent article “Intentionally Defective Grantor Trust (IDGT)” from Yahoo! Finance. It’s good to understand the details, so you can decide if an IDGT will help your family.

An irrevocable trust is one that can’t be changed once it’s created. Once assets are transferred into the trust, they can’t be transferred back out again, and the terms of the trust can’t be changed.  You will want to talk with your estate planning attorney in detail about the use of the IDGT, before it is created.

An IDGT allows you to permanently remove assets from your estate. The assets are then managed by a trustee, who is a fiduciary and is responsible for managing the trust for the beneficiaries. All of this is written down in the trust documents.

However, what makes an IDGT trust different, is how assets are treated for tax purposes. The IDGT lets you transfer assets outside of your estate, which lets you avoid paying estate and gift taxes on the assets.

The intentionally defective grantor trust gets its “defective” name from its structure, which is an intentional flaw designed to provide tax benefits for the trust grantor—the person who creates the trust—and their beneficiaries. The trust is defective because the grantor still pays income taxes on the income generated by the trust, even though the assets are no longer part of the estate. It seems like that would be a mistake, hence the term “defective.”

However, there’s a reason for that. The creation of an IDGT trust freezes the assets in the trust. Since it is irrevocable, the assets stay in the trust until the owner dies. During the owner’s lifetime, the assets can continue to appreciate in value and are free from any transfer taxes. The owner pays taxes on the assets while they are living, and children or grandchildren don’t get stuck with paying the taxes after the owner dies. Typically, no estate tax applies on death with an IDGT.

Whether there is a gift tax upon the owner’s death will depend upon the value of the assets in the trust and whether the owner has used up his or her lifetime generation-skipping tax exemption limit.

Your estate planning attorney can help establish an IDGT, which should be created to work with the rest of your estate plan. Be aware of any exceptions that might alter the trust’s status or result in assets being lumped in with your estate. Funding the IDGT also takes careful planning. The trust may be funded with an irrevocable gift of assets, or assets can be sold to the trust. Your attorney will be able to make recommendations, based on your specific situation.

Reference: Yahoo! Finance (June 3, 2020) “Intentionally Defective Grantor Trust (IDGT)”

 

What must be done when a loved one dies?

Using Retirement Funds in a Financial Crisis

For generations, the tax code has been a public policy tool, used to encourage people to save for retirement and what used to be called “old age.” However, the coronavirus pandemic has caused many households to begin using retirement funds in a financial crisis. Lawmakers have responded by making it easier to tap these accounts. The article “Should You Tap Retirement Funds in a Crisis? Increasingly, People Say Yes” from The Wall Street Journal asks if this is really a good idea.

This shift in thinking actually coincides with trends that began to emerge before the last recession. People were living and working longer. Unemployment and career changes later in life were becoming more commonplace, and fewer and fewer people devoted four decades to working for a single employer, before retiring with an employer-funded pension.

For those who have been affected by the economic downturns of the coronavirus, withdrawals up to $100,000 from retirement savings accounts are now allowed, with no early-withdrawal penalty. That includes IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts) or employment-linked 401(k) plans. In addition, $100,000 may be borrowed from 401(k) plans.

Americans are not alone in this. Australia and Malaysia are also allowing citizens to take money from retirement accounts.

Lawmakers are hoping that by using retirement funds now, it may help households prevent foreclosures, evictions and bankruptcies, with less of an impact on government spending. With trillions in retirement accounts in the U.S., these accounts are where legislators frequently look when resources are threatened.

However, there’s a tradeoff. If you take out money from accounts that have lost value because of the market’s volatility, those losses are not likely to be recouped. And if money is taken out and not replaced when the world returns to work, there will be less money during retirement. Not only will you miss out on the money you took out, but on the return, it might have made through years of tax-advantaged investments.

The danger of using retirement funds in a financial crisis is that if these accounts are widely seen as accessible and necessary now, a return to saving for retirement or the possibility of putting money back into these accounts when the economy returns to normal may not happen.

IRA and 401(k) accounts began to supplant pensions in the 1970s as a way to encourage people to save for retirement, by deferring income tax on money that was saved. By the end of 2019, IRAs and 401(k) types of accounts held about $20 trillion in the US.

Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research has estimated that even before the coronavirus, early withdrawals were reducing retirement accounts by a quarter over 30 years, taking into account the lost returns on savings that were no longer in the accounts. For many people, taking retirement funds now may be their only choice, but the risk to their financial future and retirement is very real.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (June 4, 2020) “Should You Tap Retirement Funds in a Crisis? Increasingly, People Say Yes”

 

What must be done when a loved one dies?

What You Need to Know about Drafting Your Will

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 can’t 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. Here’s what you need to know about drafting your will.

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

If you don’t 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 estate plan, your assets may not go to them.

The courts will typically pass on assets to your closest blood relatives, despite the fact that it wouldn’t 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 don’t 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’s no beneficiary is 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 learning what you need to know about drafting 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”

 

What must be done when a loved one dies?

How Can You Disinherit A Child?

How can you disinherit a child, and be sure that your plan is going to stand up to challenge? Let’s say you want to leave everything you own to your children, but you can’t stand and don’t trust their spouses. That might make you want to delay making an estate plan, because it’s a hard thing to come to terms with, says a recent article “Dealing with disinheritance, spouses” from the Times Herald-Record. There are options, but make the right choice, or your estate could face challenges.

Some people choose to leave nothing at all for their child in the will, so that if there is a divorce or if the child dies, their assets won’t end up in the daughter or son-in-law’s pocket. For some parents, particularly those who are estranged from their children, this can create more problems than it solves.

Disinheriting a child with a will is not always a good idea. If you die with assets in your name only, they go through the court proceeding called probate, when the will is used to guide asset distribution. The law requires that all children, even disinherited ones, are notified that you have died, and that probate is going to occur. The disinherited child can object to the provisions in the will, which can lead to a will contest. Most families engaged in litigation over a will become estranged—even those that weren’t beforehand. The cost of litigation will also take a bite out of the value of your estate.

A common tactic is to leave a small amount of money to the disinherited child in the will and add a no-contest clause in the will. The no-contest clause expressly states that anyone who contests the will loses any right to their inheritance. Here is the problem: the disgruntled child may still object, despite the no contest clause, and invalidate the will by claiming undue influence or incapacity or that the will was not executed properly. If their claims are valid, then they’ll have great satisfaction of undoing your planning.

A trust is better to disinherit a child than a will. Not only do trusts avoid probate, but (unless state law requires otherwise at death) the children do not receive notice of the creation of a trust. An inheritance trust, where you leave money to your child, names a trustee to be in charge of the trust and the child is the only beneficiary of the trust. The child might be a co-trustee, but they do not have complete control over the trust. The spouse has no control over the inheritance, and you can also name what happens to the assets in the trust, if the child dies.

This kind of planning is called “controlling from the grave,” but it’s better than not knowing if your child will be able to protect their inheritance from a divorce or from creditors.

With a national divorce rate around fifty percent, it’s hard to tell if the in-law you welcome with an open heart, will one day become a predatory enemy in the future, even after you are gone. The use of trusts can ensure that assets remain in the bloodline and protect your hard work from divorces, lawsuits, creditors and other unexpected events.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (June 6, 2020) “Dealing with disinheritance, spouses”

 

What must be done when a loved one dies?

What Should I Keep in a Safe Deposit Box?

What should I keep in a safe deposit box? A safety deposit box isn’t a smart choice for everything. Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “9 Things You’ll Regret Keeping in a Safe Deposit Box” advises that there are some items you might not want to lock up in your bank, which isn’t open nights, holidays, or weekends. During this pandemic, hours of operation for many businesses are reduced. In fact, some financial institutions, like Bank of America, have temporarily closed some locations. There are other banks that require an appointment for in-branch services, like accessing your safe deposit box. This would create a headache for you in your attempt to retrieve important documents or items when you need them.

While keeping things in a safe deposit box is wise, there are some important items you should consider storing elsewhere, because you’ll need to access more often or on short notice. Maybe they should be in a fireproof safe that’s secured to the floor in your home.

Cash. Keeping a wad of cash in a safe deposit box, isn’t a good idea because if you need it in a pinch and the bank is closed, you’re out of luck. In addition, that cash will lose its buying power over time because of inflation and some banks don’t allow cash in a safe deposit box. Finally, cash in a safe deposit box isn’t protected by the FDIC. To have FDIC insurance (covering up to $250,000 per depositor per insured bank), your cash needs to be deposited in a qualifying deposit account, such as a checking account, savings account, or CD.

Your Passport. OK, most of us don’t need your passport in hand at a moment’s notice. However, you may need to take an emergency trip, which will happen during non-banking hours. Without your passport handy, there’s not much you can do about those calls in the middle of the night requiring you to dash.

The Original Copy of Your Will. You may want to keep a copy of your own will, your spouse’s and any in which you’re named the executor in a safe deposit box. However, don’t store the original copy of your will there, particularly if you’re the only owner. That’s because after your death, the bank will seal the safe deposit box, until your executor can prove she has the legal right to access it. This could mean a long and potentially expensive delay before your will is executed and your assets can be disbursed to the intended heirs. Keep the original copy of your will with your estate planning attorney or in a location where your executor can get to it without any legal hassles.

Letters of Instruction. Many people write a letter of instruction to accompany their will. This letter can describe whether you want to be buried or cremated and the type of service you want. This letter can include details on specific bequests of sentimental items, but it’s no help if its’ locked in your safe deposit box.

Durable Power of Attorney (POA). This document gives a trusted friend, family member, or professional adviser the authority to financial make decisions on your behalf. However, if your POA is in a safe deposit box that no one can access, the person you’re depending on to protect you at your time of need could find her hands tied. Keep the original POA with the original copy of your will and give copies to those who may need it one day.

Advance Directives. A living will and a health care proxy are sometimes collectively known as advance directives, but each has a unique purpose. A living will states your wishes for end-of-life care, and a health care proxy (also known as a health care power of attorney) names a person to make medical decisions for you, if you can’t make them yourself. Neither is any good locked away in an inaccessible safe deposit box.

Uninsured Jewelry and Collectibles. Heirloom jewelry and your valuable stamp collection and rare coins are good candidates for a safe deposit box, but they must be properly insured. The FDIC doesn’t insure contents, and neither does the bank, unless it’s stated in your agreement.

Any Illegal or Dangerous Items. Your bank should provide you with a list of items that are not permissible to keep in a safe deposit box. This will include things like firearms, illegal drugs and hazardous materials.

Reference: Kiplinger (June 1, 2020) “9 Things You’ll Regret Keeping in a Safe Deposit Box”