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

Balancing retirement with special needs planning

Understanding The Role Of An Executor

Have you been named an executor of an estate? Like many people, you may not have any idea what you are supposed to do. An estate executor or executrix is the person who has been named to administer the estate of a deceased person. Understanding the role of an executor is vital to ensuring an estate is properly managed and distributed.

The executor is appointed by the testator of the will (the person who makes the will) or by a court, when there was no prior appointment (and the individual dies intestate).

As the executor, you take a chance in distributing the estate before everyone has approved a final accounting and signed a Refunding Bond and Release.

This means that the heirs accept their distribution and release the executor from any claims concerning his or her administration of the estate.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Can I distribute inheritances now or do I have to wait?” says that if one of the beneficiaries doesn’t accept the executor’s form of accounting and his or her purported share, the executor will need to bring an action in court seeking its approval of a formal accounting and release as executor.

This process can be very expensive and, if there is no misfeasance by the executor found by the court, the expenses are usually paid for from estate funds. This reduces the total pay-out to heirs. As a result, it reduces all the beneficiaries’ distributive shares.

An executor has a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the estate, which means he or she must manage the estate as if it were their own and manage the assets prudently. Thus, an executor can’t do anything that intentionally harms the interests of the beneficiaries.

If the executor decides to pay some beneficiaries before all of the named beneficiaries agree to the distributions, he or she may not have the funds to bring the formal accounting action in court.

It’s usually a best practice to wait until everyone approves the accounting and provides the necessary paperwork, before making any distributions to any heirs. To learn more about drafting a will, consider our previous post, What You Need To Know About Drafting Your Will.

Reference:nj.com (May 8, 2020) “Can I distribute inheritances now or do I have to wait?”

 

Balancing retirement with special needs planning

Probate versus Trust Administration

Probate versus trust administration. What are differences? Are they the same? Many people get these two things confused. A recent article, “Appreciating the differences between probate and trust administration,” from Lake County News clarifies the distinctions.

Let’s start with probate, which is a court-supervised process. To begin the probate process, a legal notice must be published in a newspaper and court appearances are needed. However, to start trust administration, a letter of notice is mailed to the decedent’s heirs and beneficiaries. Trust administration is far more private, which is why many people chose this path.

In the probate process, the last will and testament and any documents in the court file are available to the public. While the general public may not have any specific interest in your will, estranged relatives, relatives you never knew you had, creditors and scammers have easy and completely legal access to this information.

If there is no will, the court documents that are created in intestacy (the heirs inherit according to state law), are also available to anyone who wants to see them.

In trust administration, the only people who can see trust documents are the heirs and beneficiaries.

There are cost differences between probate and trust administration. In probate, a court filing fee must be paid for each petition. There are also at least two petitions from start to finish in probate, plus the newspaper publication fee. The fees vary, depending upon the jurisdiction. Add to that the attorney’s and personal representative’s fees, which also vary by jurisdiction. Some are on an hourly basis, while others are computed as a sliding scale percentage of the value of the estate under management. For example, each may be paid 4% of the first $100,000, 3% of the next $100,000 and 2% of any excess value of the estate under management. The court also has the discretion to add fees, if the estate is more time consuming and complex than the average estate.

For trust administration, the trustee and the estate planning attorney are typically paid on an hourly basis, or however the attorney sets their fee structure. Expenses are likely to be far lower, since there is no court involvement.

There are similarities between probate and trust administration. Both require that the decedent’s assets be collected, safeguarded, inventoried and appraised for tax and/or distribution purposes. Both also require that the decedent’s creditors be notified, and debts be paid. Tax obligations must be fulfilled, and the debts and administration expenses must be paid. Finally, the decedent’s beneficiaries must be informed about the estate and its administration.

The use of trusts in estate planning can be a means of minimizing taxes and planning for family assets to be passed to future generations in a private and controlled fashion. This is the reason for the popularity of trusts in estate planning.

It should be noted that a higher level of competency—mental comprehension—must be possessed by an individual to execute a trust than to execute a will. A person whose capacity may be questionable because of Alzheimer’s or another illness may not be legally competent enough to execute a trust. Their heirs may face challenges to the estate plan in that case.

Reference: Lake County News (July 4, 2020) “Appreciating the differences between probate and trust administration”

 

Balancing retirement with special needs planning

Consider Planning Your Own Funeral

Making your way through the process of the death of a family member is an extremely personal journey, as well as a very big business that can put a financial strain on the surviving family. Save your family stress and consider planning your own funeral.

Rate.com’s recent article entitled “Plan Your Own Funeral, Cheaply, and Leave Behind a Happier Family”  notes that on an individual basis, it can be a significant cost for a family dealing with grief. The National Funeral Directors Association found that the median cost for a traditional funeral, with a basic casket that also includes a vault (the casket liner most cemeteries require) can cost more than $9,000. With the cost of a (single) plot and the services of the cemetery to take care of the burial and ongoing maintenance and other expenses,  it can total more than $15,000.

Instead, if you opt for cremation and a simple service, it will run only $2,000 or less. That would save your estate or your family $13,000. Think of the amount of legacy that can grow from your last wishes.

If you want to research it further, it can be difficult. Without your directions, your grieving family is an easy mark for a death care industry that’s run for profit. Even with federal disclosure rules, most states make it impossible to easily comparison shop among funeral service providers, and online price lists aren’t required. However, you can do the legwork to make it easier on your family, when you pass.

Funeral homes also aren’t usually forthright about costs that are required rather than optional. The median embalming cost is $750.However, there’s no regulation requiring embalming. Likewise, a body need not be placed in a casket for cremation. The median cost for a cremation casket is $1,200 but an alternative “container” might cost less than $200.

The best thing you can do for your family is to write it down your wishes and plans and make it immediately discoverable.

It can be a great relief to tell your family everything you want (and don’t want). However, if that’s not feasible with your family dynamics, be certain that you detail of all your wishes in writing. You should also make sure that the document can be easily located by your executor.

Here’s a simple option: Write everything out, place your instructions in a sealed envelope and let your children and the executor know the location of the letter.

The elementary step of planning your own funeral can be the start to helping their decision-making when you pass away, and potentially provide some extra money to help them reach their goals.

Reference: rate.com (June 21, 2020) “Plan Your Own Funeral, Cheaply, and Leave Behind a Happier Family”

 

Balancing retirement with special needs planning

Selecting a Beneficiary for My 401(k)

What is the best way to select a beneficiary for your 401(k)?  WTOP’s article “How to pick a beneficiary for your 401(k) plan” instructs us on how to make certain your 401(k) savings get to your intended heir.

  1. Name a Beneficiary. Designating a beneficiary of your retirement account lets that person receive your financial bequest without the need to access to your will, financial documents, or go through probate. In designating a beneficiary, carefully think about who that will be, just as you would for any other asset you intend to leave to your heirs.
  2. Name Contingent Beneficiaries. A contingent beneficiary will get the assets from the account in the event that all of the primary beneficiaries have died. Review your beneficiary designations at least annually to ensure each beneficiary, and their assigned percentage, is still appropriate.
  3. Update Your Named Beneficiaries After Significant Life Events. When you begin a job in your 20s, you might list your parents or siblings as the beneficiary of your account. However, when you marry, you may change your beneficiary to your spouse. If you want to leave your retirement account balance to your children, you must update your beneficiary form upon the birth of each child, or you might leave the youngest out, if you die unexpectedly.

Divorce or remarriage is another reason to change your beneficiary forms. If you remarry and do not select a new beneficiary, your ex-spouse may get your remaining retirement assets.

Note that beneficiary forms are unique to each 401(k) plan. This means that if you have multiple 401(k) accounts with previous employers, you’ll have to update each one.

You can also consider combining old 401(k) accounts or rolling them over into an IRA to make your beneficiary designations and investments easier to manage.

Many 401(k) plans let you update your beneficiaries online.

  1. Inform Your Beneficiaries About Your Accounts. Your heirs may be required to get in touch with the financial institution to get their inheritance. Tell them where you have accounts, so they know what to expect and can claim your unused retirement funds. Be certain that everyone has the information. That way, there’s no question and access to those funds will be easy.

Reference: WTOP (June 8, 2020) “How to pick a beneficiary for your 401(k) plan”

 

Balancing retirement with special needs planning

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”

 

Balancing retirement with special needs planning

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”

 

Balancing retirement with special needs planning

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”

 

Balancing retirement with special needs planning

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”

 

Brad Wiewel discussed his new book Surviving Texas Probate

Brad Wiewel discusses Surviving Texas Probate

In the second part of our video series, Brad Wiewel discussed his new book, Surviving Texas Probate, on KXAN.  Brad and host Rosie Newberry talked about how the Probate process works in Texas.  The conversation addressed what makes the system in Texas different from other states, some of the common mistakes in planning that complicate the Probate process, and how proper planning can avoid Probate all together.

Brad’s discussion of his new book, Surviving Texas Probate, is also available on KXAN’s website: https://www.kxan.com/studio-512/surviving-texas-probate-with-the-wiewel-law-firm/

Balancing retirement with special needs planning

Looking at tapping an Inherited IRA?

Are you looking at tapping an inherited IRA this year?  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 don’t need the money may consider doing a spousal transfer, rolling the spouse’s IRA funds into their own. The RMD doesn’t 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”