Category: Funeral Planning

Choosing an Executor can be a Difficult Decision

Choosing an Executor can be a Difficult Decision

Choosing an executor can be a difficult decision. Planning for death-related events isn’t as much fun as planning a weekend getaway. Therefore, you’d be forgiven for procrastinating. However, that doesn’t mean you can put off naming an executor forever, says a recent article from AARP, “7 Things to Know About Appointing an Executor.”

Your executor needs to possess the stamina, patience, and persistence to complete the tasks of this role. If they don’t, having your estate administered may become difficult or impossible. Serving as an executor can be harder than people think. Problems begin when someone names a family member just because they are family—which is not the best reason.

It’s best to name someone rather than no one, advises the article. You can always change the executor if they decide they don’t want the responsibility or die before you. If you don’t name anyone, the court will decide for you, It may not be someone you know or the last person you want to handle your estate.

Things can get even more complicated if you don’t leave clear instructions, including where to find your important documents, the keys to your home and car and usernames and passwords to various digital assets. Instead of making everything harder for the ones you love, it’s best to make it easier.

There are seven main tasks for the executor to complete. The first is planning the funeral. You can make that easier by expressing your wishes to your executor and leaving the information in documents. Don’t add it to your will—the executor may not see the will until long after you’ve been buried or cremated.

The executor must obtain a death certificate, find the will and retain an estate planning attorney. The death certificate is issued by your county of residence and is signed by the physician who verified your death. If you’ve had a valid will prepared, your property will be distributed according to the terms of the will. Assets in trusts or accounts with beneficiary designations will go directly to your heirs. Everyone should review their beneficiary designations regularly and update as needed. The beneficiary designations surpass any wishes in the will.

Notify the probate court. Your executor or attorney will need to petition the probate court in the area where you live. They’ll complete a form to obtain a Letter of Administration or Letters Testamentary. These are used to prove that they are the court-approved executor.

Inform all interested parties. Deaths must be reported to employers, Social Security, friends, and family members. Anyone who might have an “interest” in the estate needs to be notified. In some jurisdictions, this requires publishing a death notice in the local paper several times shortly after the person has passed. Banks and other financial institutions also need to be notified.

Pay all debts and file taxes. If applicable, the executor must settle all obligations with creditors and file income, inheritance, or estate taxes.

Create an inventory of assets and plan for distribution. This includes probate and non-probate assets. This includes assets that are jointly owned or held in trust. Next, the executor determines what is sold, kept, donated, or discarded.

Distribute assets among beneficiaries. This occurs only after any estate liabilities, including taxes and paying creditors, are settled.

Complete the final accounting and all required forms. Your executor must dissolve existing accounts and ensure that the court has everything needed to settle your estate.

Your will helps your loved ones navigate the process of settling your estate. Include clear instructions in a letter of intent, so they know what accounts they must deal with. Above all, make sure that the person you name to serve as executor can handle the tasks and the family dynamics accompanying grief.

Choosing an executor can be a difficult decision to make. Consult with your estate planning attorney. He or she will have the experience and expertise to help you make an important decision. If you would like to learn more about the role of the executor, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: AARP (Aug. 8, 2023) “7 Things to Know About Appointing an Executor”

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Finding a Missing Heir can be Challenging

Finding a Missing Heir can be Challenging

If someone dies without leaving a will or naming beneficiaries, a probate judge will likely consider the next of kin the heir. Known as intestate succession, this doesn’t prevent family members who aren’t blood relatives from receiving much of the estate. Finding a missing heir can be challenging.  That’s why it’s important to locate family members easily after death.

Next Avenue’s recent article, “Where’s Your Heir?” says that in some states, such as Florida, companies can help with an “heir search.” Using the information available to identify the heir, these companies do the due diligence on behalf of the executor or personal representative to locate the heirs and distribute the property or inheritance according to the (deceased benefactor’s) wishes.

Finding someone can require searching a proprietary database or looking at genealogy websites. One company helped find a missing sibling who was homeless and hadn’t been in contact with his family for more than ten years.

In another case, a mother of four children was discovered to be an adoptee only after her death. Further research found that the adoptee’s birth mother had purchased Certificates of Deposit in their names as an inheritance.

To support its networks of genealogical researchers, private investigators, and other agents across the country, these companies charge to find missing heirs.

The heir often pays the fee, ranging from 20% to 30% of the full inheritance amount.

Note that legitimate heir hunters will provide their licenses and other credentials when they first make contact. They won’t ask potential heirs to pay money before they have their inheritance. The arrangement should be a contingency where they get paid once the heir has received their inheritance.

Finding a missing heir can be challenging for an executor. With this in mind, when creating a will, an experienced estate planning attorney will have the creator of the will be as specific as possible in naming heirs or recipients of the estate.

It’s crucial to use the full legal name of each heir. Another best practice is to include the heirs’ dates of birth on documents, especially when heirs have a common name. If you would like to learn more about probate, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Next Avenue (July 3, 2023) “Where’s Your Heir?”

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Checklist Helps Put Affairs in Order

Checklist Helps Put Affairs in Order

As the Baby Boomer generation ages, so too come the very real conversations around end-of-life planning. It can be a daunting and emotionally difficult subject. A checklist helps put your affairs in order and provides you and your loved ones with some peace of mind. National Institute on Aging’s recent article, “Getting Your Affairs in Order Checklist: Documents to Prepare for the Future,” has some steps to consider when getting your affairs in order.

  1. Plan for your estate and finances. Common documents include a will and a power of attorney. A will states how your property, money and other assets will be distributed and managed when you die. A power of attorney for finances names someone who will make financial decisions for you when you are unable.
  2. Plan for your future health care. Many people choose to prepare advance directives, which are legal documents that provide instructions for medical care and only go into effect if you can’t communicate your wishes due to disease or severe injury. A living will tells doctors how you want to be treated if you can’t make your own decisions about emergency treatment. A power of attorney for health care names your health care proxy. This individual can make health care decisions for you if you cannot communicate these yourself.
  3. Put your important papers and copies of legal documents in one place. You can set up a file, put everything in a desk or dresser drawer, or list the information and location of papers in a notebook. Consider getting a fireproof and waterproof safe to store your documents for added security.
  4. Tell someone you know and trust the location of your important papers. Someone you trust should know where to find your documents in case of an emergency.
  5. Talk to your family and physician about advance care planning. A doctor can help you understand future health decisions and plan the kinds of care or treatment you may want. Discussing this with your doctor is free through Medicare during your annual wellness visit, and private health insurance may also cover this. Share your decisions with your loved ones to help avoid any surprises about your wishes.
  6. Give permission in advance to discuss your condition with your caregiver. You can give your caregiver permission to talk with your doctor, lawyer, insurance provider, credit card company, or bank. This is different from naming a health care proxy. A health care proxy can only make decisions if you cannot communicate them.
  7. Review your plans regularly. Look over your plans at least once yearly and when any major life event occurs, like a divorce, move, or major change in your health.

A checklist helps put your affairs in order and gives you and your loved ones a roadmap to address any changes or issues that come up in the future. If you would like to learn more about end-of-life planning, please visit our previous posts.  

Reference: National Institute on Aging (July 25, 2023) “Getting Your Affairs in Order Checklist: Documents to Prepare for the Future”

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Irrevocable Funeral Trust helps Families with expenses

Irrevocable Funeral Trust helps Families with expenses

Yahoo Finance’s recent article, “Pros and Cons of an Irrevocable Funeral Trust,” explains that an irrevocable funeral trust is a legal entity that helps families with end-of-life costs, such as funeral and burial expenses.

With this trust, you’re establishing a formal trust fund, a separate legal entity that owns the money you contributed to it. The purpose is to hold your money until you die. It then releases the funds to pay for your funeral, burial and other end-of-life expenses.

As with all trust funds, the trust has a trustee who manages its money. Here, the trustee is determined by an insurance company or funeral services company through which you set up the trust. It will usually hold as its single asset a life insurance policy that you’ve purchased.

The trust fund owns this life insurance policy and is named as the sole beneficiary. When you die, the fund collects the policy’s payment and uses this money to pay for your end-of-life costs.

A funeral trust may also name a specific funeral home as the trust’s beneficiary. For example, a given funeral home may agree to a fixed price for a funeral and burial.

When you die, the trust pays out its funds to the funeral home to cover the costs of your funeral, burial and any associated services.

As with most trusts, you can establish both revocable and irrevocable funeral trusts.

With a revocable funeral trust, you maintain ownership and control of the money and can withdraw it anytime.

However, with an irrevocable funeral trust, you no longer own the money, so you can’t withdraw it.

While an irrevocable funeral trust helps families pay for potentially expensive end-of-life expenses, it locks up your money for good and can’t be amended. If you would like to learn more about funeral planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Yahoo Finance (April 29, 2023) “Pros and Cons of an Irrevocable Funeral Trust”

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There are Burial Benefits Available to Veterans

There are Burial Benefits Available to Veterans

There are burial benefits available to veterans through the VA. Only about one in five veterans who died last year were buried free of charge in department or state-run veteran cemeteries. Less than half of individuals eligible for some type of burial or gravesite financial assistance took advantage of the benefit, says Military Times’ recent article entitled, “VA officials work to raise awareness of cemetery, burial services.”

“I want even more veterans and family members to know about and take advantage of the final benefits a veteran earns for their service,” said Matthew Quinn, undersecretary for memorial affairs at the National Cemetery Administration.

“They have the option to choose VA for their final wishes. And we will take care of them and their loved ones in a manner that mirrors their own dedicated service and devotion to our nation, in perpetuity.”

NCA officials are trying to emphasize VA burial services as the U.S. nears the 50th anniversary of the agency assuming control of national veterans cemeteries. There are now 155 such resting places managed by VA and another 121 funded by the department. However, the use of the burial benefits lags behind other well-known VA support services.

Quinn said several factors cause the low usage rate for burial services, including “family wishes” that multiple individuals be interred in the same plot. Only spouses and certain other dependents can be buried with a headstone alongside a veteran in a national cemetery.

However, other assistance — such as free headstones for veterans being interred at private cemeteries and free medallions for existing headstones to denote the deceased individual’s veteran status — are often overlooked because family members and funeral homes aren’t familiar with the benefits.

VA provided about 350,000 headstones for veterans’ graves last year, and another 12,000 medallions.

Quinn said while vets don’t have to use the services, those interested should consider applying before any of the services are needed to ensure they have the options ready.

“Applying for eligibility prior to the veteran’s death ensures that necessary service records are in order, so grieving family members do not have to search for military discharge papers while they are already under great stress,” he said. There are burial benefits available to veterans and your estate planning attorney can help you get the most out of these benefits as a part of your overall planning. If you would like to learn more about burial and funeral planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Military Times (Jan. 24, 2023) “VA officials work to raise awareness of cemetery, burial services”

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Burial Insurance can give you Peace of Mind

Burial Insurance can give you Peace of Mind

Burial insurance can give you peace of mind when you are already emotionally fragile after the death of a loved one. Burial insurance—also called end-of-life insurance, final expense, or funeral insurance—is a whole life insurance policy that’s designed to pay for the costs of your burial. These costs may include a memorial service, cremation costs, a headstone for your grave or other expenses associated with end-of-life arrangements.

Bankrate’s recent article entitled “Burial insurance” explains that if you have your affairs in order, your family already knows what will happen when you die. You may have given instructions for how you’d like your body to be treated, as well as ideas for your memorial service or what you want written on a tombstone.

However, all of these things cost money. If you don’t want your family to be stuck paying those costs, you may want to consider a burial policy.

Because the payout for burial insurance is small compared to many regular life insurance policies, the premiums can also be quite affordable. The policies are easy to purchase and don’t require a medical exam. However, there may be a waiting period and the policy may offer only limited benefits in the first two years.

Burial insurance policies cover all the normal costs incurred by someone’s death, such as:

  • Embalming
  • Memorial Service
  • A casket
  • Flowers
  • Cremation costs
  • A burial plot
  • The cost of transporting the body and/or remains
  • A headstone; and
  • Payment to clergy.

One type of burial policy, called a guaranteed issue life insurance policy, is available without any medical or health questions. It’s designed for those who are seriously ill and can’t get a policy any other way.

If all the appropriate arrangements have been made, the process of filing a burial insurance claim should be fairly smooth. Allow burial insurance to give you that peace of mind at an extremely difficult time. If you would like to read more about funeral expenses, and other issues related to probate, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Bankrate (March 5, 2021) “Burial insurance”

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Funeral Trust is an Option for Final Expenses

Funeral Trust is an Option for Final Expenses

A funeral trust is an option for final expenses. A funeral trust is an inter vivos trust created by an individual, while alive, with the objective of covering final expenses associated with future funeral arrangements.

Anyone competent and of legal age can set up a funeral trust. Family members can open a trust for immediate family members, such as parents, siblings, spouses, children, or stepchildren.

Bank Rate’s recent article entitled “The pros and cons of funeral trusts” advises to first choose a reputable funeral home provider.

You can accomplish this by looking at online reviews or use local word of mouth recommendations to find the top funeral home provider with a good reputation.

Funeral trusts are also sold through insurance companies, in which case they’re typically funded with single-premium whole life insurance. Next, see how much your funeral will cost and check the funeral cost limitations set by your state.

You can then compare the various methods of funding a prepaid funeral trust. Cash, savings bond, CD’s, payment plans, or final expense insurance (burial life insurance) may be used to fund a prepaid trust.

Consider consulting an elder law attorney. He or she can help consumers understand the legalities and tax requirements involved in funeral trusts.

You then need to confirm that proceeds from the trust will be accepted as payment. If the funeral home you selected won’t accept the funds from the trust as payment for services, your family could be left confused and frustrated after your death.

Ask an elder law attorney about relocation regulations before opening your funeral trust. You should confirm that if you move across state lines, the trust can be changed to the new state. If you relocate, be certain that you change the trustee and beneficiary to the new funeral home you’ll use.

Make certain that family members are aware of your plans. You can provide your executor and all your heirs with a copy of the trust, as well as contact information for the funeral home and the beneficiary if different.

You then need appoint an independent trustee, who will audit the funeral bill for reasonableness and pay any excess to the family.

Finally, don’t forget to fund the trust. A funeral trust is an option for final expenses, but only if it is properly funded. If you would like to learn more about funeral planning, and additional issues related to probate, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Bank Rate (Feb. 8, 2021) “The pros and cons of funeral trusts”

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Becoming an Executor should be considered Carefully

Becoming an Executor should be considered Carefully

Becoming an executor should be considered carefully before accepting or refusing. These decisions are usually made based on relationships and willingness to help the family after a loved one has died. Knowing certain processes are in place and many are standard procedures may make the decision easier, according to the useful article “Planning Ahead: Should you agree to serve as an executor?” from Daily Local News.

A family member or friend is very often asked to serve as executor when the surviving spouse is the only or primary beneficiary and not able to manage the necessary tasks. In other instances, estates are complex, involving multiple beneficiaries, charities and real estate in several states. The size of the estate is actually less of a factor when it comes to complexity. Small estates with debt can be more challenging than well-planned large estates, where planning has been done and there are abundant resources to address any problems.

Prepare while the person is alive. This is the time to learn as much as you can. Ask to get a copy of the will and read it. Who are the beneficiaries? Speak with the person about the relationships between beneficiaries and other family members. Do they get along, and if not, why? Be prepared for potential conflict with the estate.

Find out what the person wants for their funeral. Do they want a traditional memorial service, and have they paid for the funeral already? Any information they can provide will make this difficult time a little easier.

What are your responsibilities as executor? Depending on how the will is prepared, you may be responsible for everything, or your responsibilities may be limited. At the very least, the executor of an estate is responsible for:

  • Locating and preparing an inventory of assets
  • Getting a tax ID number and establishing an estate account
  • Paying final bills, including funeral and related bills
  • Notifying beneficiaries
  • Preparing tax returns, including estate and/or inheritance tax returns
  • Distributing assets and submitting a final accounting

If the person has an estate planning attorney, financial advisor and CPA, meeting with them while the person is alive and learning what you can about the plans for assets will be helpful. These three professional advisors will be able to provide help as you move forward with the estate.

These tasks may sound daunting but being asked to serve as a person’s executor demonstrates the complete trust they have in your abilities and judgment. Therefore, becoming an executor should be considered carefully. Yes, you will breathe a sigh of relief when you complete the task. However, you’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing you did a great service to someone who matters to you. If you would like to learn more about the role of the executor, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Daily Local News (June19, 2022) “Planning Ahead: Should you agree to serve as an executor?”

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Be Cautious when Buying Funeral Services

Be Cautious when Buying Funeral Services

Planning a funeral is stressful. It is important to be cautious when buying funeral services. People usually don’t buy funeral services frequently, so they’re unfamiliar with the process. Add to this the fact that they’re typically bereaved and stressed, which can affect decision-making, explains Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, an advocacy group. In addition, people tend to associate their love for the dead person with the amount of money they spend on the funeral, says The Seattle Times’ recent article entitled “When shopping for funeral services, be wary.”

“Grieving people really are the perfect customer to upsell,” Slocum said.

The digital age has also made it easier to contact grieving customers. Federal authorities recently charged the operator of two online cremation brokerages of fraud. The operator misled clients and even withheld remains to force bereaved families to pay inflated prices.

The Justice Department, on behalf of the Federal Trade Commission, sued Funeral & Cremation Group of North America and Legacy Cremation Services, which operates under several names and the companies’ principal, Anthony Joseph Damiano. The companies, according to a civil complaint, sell their funeral services through the websites Legacy Cremation Services and Heritage Cremation Provider.

These companies pretend to be local funeral homes offering low-cost cremation services. Their websites use search engines that make it look like consumers are dealing with a nearby business. However, they really act as middlemen, offering services and setting prices with customers, then arranging with unaffiliated funeral homes to perform cremations.

The lawsuit complaint says these companies offered lower prices for cremation services than they ultimately required customers to pay and arranged services at locations that were farther than advertised, forcing customers to travel long distances for viewings and to obtain remains.

“In some instances when consumers contest defendants’ charges,” the complaint said, the companies “threaten not to return or actually refuse to return” remains until customers pay up.

Mr. Slocum of the Funeral Consumers Alliance recommends contacting several providers — in advance, if possible, so you can look at the options without pressure. And ask for the location of the cremation center and request a visit. Also note that cremation sites in the U.S. are frequently not located in the same place as the funeral home and may not be designed for consumer tours.

Note that the FTC’s Funeral Rule predates the internet and doesn’t require online price disclosure. Likewise, most states don’t require this either.

It is wise to be cautious when buying funeral services. Last year during the pandemic, the government issued a warning about fraud related to the funeral benefits. They said FEMA had reports of people receiving calls from strangers offering to help them “register” for benefits. If you would like to learn more about planning for a funeral, and other related topics, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Seattle Times (May 15, 2022) “When shopping for funeral services, be wary”

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The Estate of The Union Season 2, Episode 2 – The Consumer’s Guide to Dying is out now!

The Estate of The Union Season 2, Episode 2 – The Consumer’s Guide to Dying is out now!

Dealing with a funeral home after the death of a loved one is something no one relishes.

In this episode of the Estate of the Union, we interview Nancy Walker, the Executive Director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Central Texas, a non-profit that helps people navigate this unpleasant task. Nancy hits on the perils of the process and even discusses “natural burials.” Learn what the organization is and how they are an important resource for making educated choices and arrangements prior to end of life.

This is fun, innovative and informative. Despite the topic, you will love it!

To learn more about Nancy Walker and the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Central Texas, please visit their website: www.fcactx.org

We’ve got fifteen episodes posted and more to come. We hope you will enjoy them enough to share it with others. These are available on Apple, Spotify and other podcast outlets. Click on our logo to listen on Spotify.

In each episode of The Estate of The Union podcast, host and lawyer Brad Wiewel will give valuable insights into the confusing world of estate planning, making an often daunting subject easier to understand. It is Estate Planning Made Simple! The Estate of The Union Season 2, Episode 2  – The Consumer’s Guide to Dying can be found on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or anywhere you get your podcasts. Please click on the link below to listen to the new installment of The Estate of The Union podcast. We hope you enjoy it.

The Estate of The Union Season 2 premiere - Millennials’ Mysteries Uncovered Part 2

Texas Trust Law focuses its practice exclusively in the area of wills, probate, estate planning, asset protection, and special needs planning. Brad Wiewel is Board Certified in Estate Planning and Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. We provide estate planning services, asset protection planning, business planning, and retirement exit strategies.

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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 Texas Trust Law to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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