Category: Funeral Planning

assets not covered by a will

Assets not Covered by a Will

A last will and testament is one part of a holistic estate plan used to direct the distribution of property after a person has died. A recent article titled “What you can’t do with a will” from Ponte Vedra Recorder explains how wills work, and the types of assets not covered by a will.

Wills are used to inform the probate court regarding your choice of guardians for any minor children and the executor of your estate. Without a will, both of those decisions will be made by the court. It’s better to make those decisions yourself and to make them legally binding with a will.

Lacking a will, an estate will be distributed according to the laws of the state, which creates extra expenses and sometimes, leads to life-long fights between family members.

Property distributed through a will necessarily must be processed through a probate, a formal process involving a court. However, some assets are not covered by a will and do not pass through probate. Here’s how non-probate assets are distributed:

Jointly Held Property. When one of the “joint tenants” dies, their interest in the property ends and the other joint tenant owns the entire property.

Property in Trust. Assets owned by a trust pass to the beneficiaries under the terms of the trust, with the guidance of the trustee.

Life Insurance. Proceeds from life insurance policies are distributed directly to the named beneficiaries. Whatever a will says about life insurance proceeds does not matter—the beneficiary designation is what controls this distribution, unless there is no beneficiary designated.

Retirement Accounts. IRAs, 401(k) and similar assets pass to named beneficiaries. In most cases, under federal law, the surviving spouse is the automatic beneficiary of a 401(k), although there are always exceptions. The owner of an IRA may name a preferred beneficiary.

Transfer on Death (TOD) Accounts. Some investment accounts have the ability to name a designated beneficiary who receives the assets upon the death of the original owner. They transfer outside of probate.

Here are some things that should NOT be included in your will:

Funeral instructions might not be read until days or even weeks after death. Create a separate letter of instructions and make sure family members know where it is.

Provisions for a special needs family member need to be made separately from a will. A special needs trust is used to ensure that the family member can inherit assets but does not become ineligible for government benefits. Talk to an elder law estate planning attorney about how this is best handled.

Conditions on gifts should not be addressed in a will. Certain conditions are not permitted by law. If you want to control how and when assets are distributed, you want to create a trust. The trust can set conditions, like reaching a certain age or being fully employed, etc., for a trustee to release funds.

Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to fully understand what assets are covered – and not covered – by a will; and whether further planning, such as a trust, is right for you.

If you would like to learn more about wills and how to distribute assets, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Ponte Vedra Recorder (April 15, 2021) “What you can’t do with a will”

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how the probate process works

What to Do First when Your Spouse Dies

Forbes’ recent article entitled ‘Checklist for Handling the Death of a Spouse” tells us what to do first when your spouse dies:

Get Organized. Create a list of what you need to do. That way, you can tick off the things you have done and see what still needs to be done. Spending the time to get organized is critical.

Do an Inventory. Review your spouse’s will and estate plan, and then collect the documents you will need. Use a tax return to locate various types of financial assets.

Identify the Executor. The executor is the individual tasked with carrying out the terms of deceased’s will.

Get a Death Certificate. Request multiple copies of the death certificate, maybe at least a dozen because every entity will need that document.

Contact Your Professional Advisors. You will need to tell some professionals that your spouse has passed away. This may be your CPA, your estate planning attorney, financial advisors and perhaps bankers. These contacts will probably know nearly everything that is required to be done. You will also need to contact the Social Security Administration and report the death.

Take a Step Back. Take a breath. You should take the time to process your emotions and grieve with the other members of your family. Check on everyone and make sure the loved ones remaining are doing all right.

Avoid Making Any Major Decisions. Do not make any major financial decisions for a year. This includes things such as selling a house or making a lump sum investment. After the death of a spouse, you are emotional and looking for advice. It is easy to be pressured into making a decision that might not be in your best interests. Allow yourself permission to be emotional and not make any decision because you recognize you are grieving.

Make Certain Your Spouse’s Wishes Are Carried Out. The best way to honor your spouse is to make sure their requests and wishes are carried out. You are the only individual who can do that. So take the time to consider what to do first when your spouse dies. Your spouse expects you to take care of their last wishes the way they had intended.

If you are interested in learning more about planning after your loved one passes away, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Forbes (Aug. 28, 2020) ‘Checklist for Handling the Death of a Spouse”

 

when mom refuses to get an Estate Plan

Some Fundamental Responsibilities of an Executor

If you are asked to be an executor, you should learn some of the basics of the job before agreeing to the task. An executor is the individual named to distribute a decedent’s property that passes under his or her will. The executor also arranges for the payment of debts and expenses. There are some fundamental responsibilities of an executor.

WMUR’s recent article entitled “Settling an estate” explains that if the executor is not willing or able to do the job, there’s usually an alternate executor named in the will. If there’s no alternate, the court will designate an executor for the estate.

Depending on the estate, it can be a consuming and stressful task to address all of the issues. Sometimes, a decedent will leave a letter of instruction which can make the process easier. This letter may address some of the responsibilities of an executor, like the decedent’s important documents, contact info, a list of creditors, login information for important web sites and final burial wishes.

One of the key documents is a will. The executor must get a hold of a copy and review it. You can work with an estate planning attorney to determine the type of probating (a process that begins with getting a court to approve the validity of the will) is needed.

The executor should conduct an inventory of the decedent’s assets, some of which may need to be appraised. If the decedent had a safe deposit box, the contents must be secured. Once the probate process is finished, assets then may be sold or distributed according to the will.

Asset protection is critical and may mean changing the locks on property. The executor may be required to pay mortgages, utility bills and maintenance costs on any property. He or she must change the name of the insurance on home and auto policies. Any brokerage accounts will need to be re-titled. The final expenses also need to be paid.

The funeral home or coroner will provide death certificates that will be needed in the probate process, and for filing life insurance claims.

If the decedent was collecting benefits, such as Social Security, the agency will need to know of the decedent’s death to stop benefits. Checks received after death must be returned. The executor will file a final federal and state tax return for the decedent, if necessary. There also may be an estate and gift tax return to be filed.

These are just some of the fundamental responsibilities of an executor. An executor’s task can be made easier with the help an estate planning attorney.

If you would like to learn more about being an executor, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: WMUR (Dec. 23, 2020) “Settling an estate”

 

when mom refuses to get an Estate Plan

Creating a Letter of Last Instruction

It is important to know that a Letter of Last Instruction does not pass through a legal process. It’s an informal but organized method of providing your family with instructions on the decisions related to financial and personal matters that should be made when you die. This can also be an alternative way of ensuring that your family are cared for after your death and to prevent issues that could arise from not probating the will. There are things you need to know when creating a letter of last instruction.

Qrius’ recent article entitled “How to Prepare a Letter of Last Instruction” explains that preparing it can relieve your relatives of added headaches and stress after your death because it can provide crucial information on personal, financial and funeral matters. Here are some ideas as to what to include when creating your letter of last instruction:

Personal info. This is a basic information like your full name, date of birth, father’s name and mother’s maiden name, address, Social Security number and place of birth. Add information about significant people in your life, like family, friends, business partners, clergy and others you’d like to be notified about your death.

Business and Financial Contacts. List the contact info of your business and financial partners, as well as your accountant and investment adviser. Include information on your insurance policies, as well as your bank account details.

Legal Document Location. Make sure your executor can find important legal documents, such as your will, tax returns, marriage license, Social Security card, birth certificates, trust documents, deeds, veteran benefits info and contracts. State the location of those documents in your Letter of Last Instruction.

Loan and Debt Info. Make a list of creditors containing collateral and payment terms, along with any credit card account numbers and loan account numbers. Likewise, list the people who owe you money, including their contact info and collateral and payment terms.

Usernames and Passwords. Include a section with your usernames and passwords for your online banking accounts, social media email, computer, smartphone and other electronics, so your executor or someone responsible for overseeing your estate can be certain your accounts and financial information are not compromised after your death.

Beneficiaries. Make a list of the names and contact details of all your beneficiaries with additional information on specific instructions you may want to give to clarify your intentions on the distribution of the assets.

Funeral Arrangements. Include your desires as to your funeral arrangements, such as the type of flowers, pictures and service music. You can also state the clothes in which you wish to be buried, the type of service and location and other items that will help your family with this task.

Once you have the letter, be sure your executor or at least a close family member knows where it can be located after your death.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney for pointers on creating your letter of last instruction and keep updating it regularly.

If you would like to learn more about letters of instruction, and other instruments in an estate plan, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Qrius (Dec. 8, 2020) “How to Prepare a Letter of Last Instruction”

 

when mom refuses to get an Estate Plan

What Needs to Happen after a Spouse Dies?

What needs to happen after a spouse dies? Making funeral arrangements, paying medical bills and closing down accounts are just the start of the tasks that a surviving spouse must take charge of, advises the recent article “Checklist for Handling the Death of a Spouse” from U.S. News & World Report. It can be overwhelming, especially with the intense emotions that come with such a large loss.

Having a checklist of specific tasks after a spouse dies may make this difficult time less stressful. This is because you will be able to see what has been accomplished, and what is yet to come.

Start by getting organized. Make a list of what you need to do and add to it as you think of new tasks. You should also track what you are doing, using a notebook to keep a record of who you spoke with and when. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask a family member or trusted friend. Being organized is a big help, when there are so many things that need to be done during such a hard time.

Review your spouse’s will and estate plan. Gather all the documents, from their last will and testament to insurance policies, trust paperwork and related documents. Call your estate planning attorney, since she can help you with settling the estate.

Identify the executor. If you are the executor, then you are the person in charge of managing the estate, including distributing assets. If someone else has been named, contact the person and be sure they are still willing and able to undertake the responsibilities.

Obtain original death certificates. All of the financial, legal and property matters will require an original death certificate, with a raised seal. It’s easier to have more than you need, so order ten to fifteen.

Talk with other professionals. The financial advisor, CP, and insurance broker, in addition to the estate planning attorney, will need to know that your spouse has passed. You will also need to notify the Social Security Administration. If your spouse was receiving benefits, depending upon when in the month they died, you may need to return money.

Avoid any big decisions. This is not the time to sell the house, move to another state or make any other large decisions, unless you must for financial reasons.

Carry out your spouse’s wishes. There is comfort in carrying out your loved one’s wishes. Giving money to a charity as per the will’s direction or handing a prized possession to a family member who will treasure it can be heartwarming, since it reminds you of the values that your spouse held dear.

Take time for yourself and your loved ones. Mourning and healing from loss are not easy times. Take the time to process the loss and grieve with other family members. Find comfort from those you love.

If you would like to learn more about how to handle an estate after a loved one dies, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Aug. 28, 2020) “Checklist for Handling the Death of a Spouse”

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when mom refuses to get an Estate Plan

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”

 

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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