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

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

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

How a Letter to Your Executor Conveys Your Wishes

A detailed, informative letter can be invaluable to your executor to make your wishes known, says the article “Why You Should Write a Letter to Your Executor—and What to Say in It” from The Wall Street Journal. Your last will and testament does have many directions. However, there may be things you want your executor to know that may not be included in your will. This is especially important if death is sudden. The letter, which you should sign and date, can help prevent potential disputes, by minimizing any confusion around your intentions, priorities and goals.

Here are some things to consider when drafting a letter to your executor.

Your thoughts about wealth. Share your story about how you came to the assets that you are leaving in your will. How was your wealth created, what do you value and what are your long-term goals for your wealth? Do you want family members to invest the assets, so they grow over generations, or do you want them used for college education costs for grandchildren?

Describe key players in the family. It is best if your executor knows the members of your family.  However, they may not know the family dynamics or history. Giving them your insights, may help them anticipate issues. Does one child tend to take over and speak for everyone, without being asked? Are there substance abuse issues in the family that need to be considered? Present your executor with your concerns, so they can be mindful of how the family works (or doesn’t) as a unit.

What matters to you? This is especially important, if you don’t want your heirs to be dependent upon their inheritance, instead of becoming self-reliant. Share your values to encourage their earned success. Make it clear if you want to protect the family wealth, so it can be used to empower future generations and for family members to be responsible for their own financial well-being.

Give your executor the power to made decisions, even when that means saying no. Considering the size of your wealth and the family members who are your heirs, you probably have a good idea of who would do what with their inheritance. If you don’t want your wealth to be used for a start-up by a son who always bets on the wrong horse, say so in the letter to your executor. If you are hopeful that a daughter will use her inheritance for a down payment on a home for her family, you should also express that.

Some wishes for your wealth can be expressed through the use of trusts and other wealth planning tools. Your estate planning attorney will help create a plan that incorporates asset protection, tax planning and tools to distribute wealth in the way that you wish. An experienced estate planning attorney has worked with many families and understands the challenges and pitfalls that are presented any time wealth is transferred from one generation to the next.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (April 8, 2020) “Why You Should Write a Letter to Your Executor—and What to Say in It”