Four Tips For Effortless Estate Administration

Being put in charge of a loved one’s estate doesn’t have to be stressful. If you are the executor of an estate or successor trustee of a trust, then you have a legal responsibility to manage the assets of the trust or estate in accordance with both the will/trust and applicable State laws. According to Judy Martel at Bankrate, “The executor’s natural inclination is to “make everyone happy and distribute the assets . . . but if the executor rushes and misses some crucial legal steps, he or she could be found personally liable. This is where having an attorney who knows the rules will help.”

Since this can be a difficult task for anyone, here are our Four Tips for Effortless Estate Administration:

One: Locate and Protect All Assets

According to  Foxbusiness  The very first thing an Estate Executor or Trustee should do is determine, locate, and protect all assets. Assets can be property, artwork, bank accounts, and more. This is most likely the first thing your attorney will ask you for.

Two: Decide Who Gets What

Deciding who gets what is often the most stressful part of this process, because often times people have vested interests in certain things due to nostalgia, or value.  Bankrate  says It’s important to remain impartial to all parties involved and follow the guidelines of any wills or trusts. Identify and inventory the decedent’s property, and have that property appraised, Pay debts and taxes, and Distribute the remaining property according to the terms of the Will or Trust.  If there is no Will or Trust you must use your State’s laws of intestate succession (this is usually supervised by the probate Court).

Three: Take Your Time

You don’t have to rush this process. According to  HanleyLaw,  the Executor’s [or Trustee’s] natural inclination is to “make everyone happy and distribute the assets.” However be sure that while doing this you follow the proper legal guidelines in the proper order. Take everything a step at a time. It’s easy to become daunted by how much there is to be done. Divide everything into small steps, and focus on one step at a time.

Make sure to use due diligence with each step in order to make the entire process go as smoothly as possible. Expect there to be a few hiccups along the way, that’s just a part of the job, and prepare accordingly.

Four: Seek Professional Advice

You can avoid mistakes by consulting with an estate attorney who is a State Bar Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law.  Your financial advisor and CPA can also provide  expertise. We encourage you to reach out to the Law Offices of Joel A. Harris for any Estate Administration needs.

How Marriage and Divorce Affect Estate Plans

Having an Estate Plan is the best way to insure that your family is protected from probate, taxes, and the unexpected upon your death. Your Estate Plan will direct how your assets will be divided -and if done right – will leave provisions for covering debt and other expenses, and avoid family fights and other problems.

Marriage and divorce significantly affect your Estate Plan if you have one, and make estate planning even more important if you do not. However, even happily married couples often procrastinate creating an Estate Plan thinking their spouse will automatically get everything – including the responsibility of managing the estate. Here are some things every couple needs to know about marriage, divorce and estate planning.

Getting Married

Marriage proposal. Man with boquet of flowers kneeling and give engagement ring for his girlfriend

First, both newlyweds will need to change the beneficiary on their insurance policies, existing wills or trusts, retirement accounts and health savings accounts. You both will also need to decide if you want to designate a secondary beneficiary in case you both die, or if you want to leave more detailed instructions in a will or trust.

Next, you will need to update any existing wills or trusts. Or, if you don’t have one, this would be the perfect time to get one. It’s important for your new spouse and you to know how you want your assets allocated should anything happen to you both, how much you want parents and children to get and who should oversee your matters should you both become incapacitated. If you have a prenuptual agreement, a new Estate Plan will probably be required to follow the requirements of the prenup (normally there is always a prenup for second or later marriages).

As part of your Estate Plan, you will also need to create financial and medical durable powers of attorney, otherwise your spouse will not be able to handle your individual affairs should you become too ill to do so -being married is not enough in California. Powers of attorney are even more critical for unmarried couples, as you will have no rights to take care of each other without them.

Getting Divorced

Once the divorce process is started, you are restricted from making changes to your Estate Plan, assets and beneficiaries. Your divorce attorney will explain this to you. However, it is important to start updated your Estate Plan, starting with your powers of attorney. You probably don’t want your soon-to-be former spouse able to make your financial and medical decisions during the difficult divorce process.

After divorce, you will need a new Estate Plan. You will replace your old marital Will and Living Trust, update beneficiaries, nominate Guardians for minor children of your choice, determine who will handle your affairs upon incapacity or death, and otherwise insure that your “new” affairs are in order. We cannot count how many times a family has come to us upon a loved one’s death only to learn that their former spouse is still the beneficiary of old life insurance polices and retirement plans – don’t be that person!

Are you getting married or divorced? Or do you just have questions about your Estate Plan? Contact us today to schedule your consultation or Estate Plan review.

I’m Young and Don’t Have Many Assets, Do I Need an Estate Plan?

I have bad news for you: young people die. Death, unfortunately, isn’t reserved for the elderly. While we tend to think of Estate Plans, Wills and Trusts as things for old people, it’s just as important for young people – especially young parents – to plan for their death too. You may think, “well I don’t have any assets, why would I need an Estate Plan?”

Here is why:

  1. Who will oversee making medical decisions for you, if you can’t? A healthcare directive is set up now, to make sure, if the time comes that you can’t make your own decisions about your healthcare, your wishes are known and someone is designated to act and speak on your behalf. This can save your surviving loved ones a lot of heartache and stress about making difficult decisions.
  2. Who will oversee your financial affairs?
    young father daughter having fun
    With an Estate Plan, you will assign an Agent or Trustee to manage your final financial affairs. This should be someone you trust and who is responsible enough and willing to carry out your final wishes. Their duties would include paying your bills when you are sick, collecting all your assets, paying off your debts (through your estate), determining the value of your holdings, distributing assets and if necessary, hiring an attorney.
  3. Who will care for your minor children? For young families, this may be the single biggest reason for an Estate Plan. If one parent dies, the surviving parent will raise the children (unless they are physically or emotionally unable). But what if you both die? In that case, the court will appoint a guardian, without knowing your wishes. If you want to ensure your crazy father-in-law doesn’t get your children, you will need a plan that clearly states WHO will get guardianship of your children
  4. What happens to your savings and investments? Make sure you have beneficiaries designated on your retirement and investment accounts. And make sure they are current! In a Forbes article, Young People need Estate Plans too, they advised, “add beneficiaries to your bank account, by asking the bank for a POD (payable on death) form. A will can take a while for the court to process, but with beneficiaries, your heirs just need to show up with a death certificate and some form of ID and they can get immediate access to your accounts.” However, this does NOT work if you heirs are under 18, and even at the legal age of 18, they may be poor money managers. A trust will solve this problem by holding money for your children, to take care of them until they are older and, hopefully, more responsible.
  5. Life Insurance may be your biggest asset. Even if you don’t have a big estate, it’s crucial to have a life insurance policy large enough to pay off your debts, educate your children, and provide living expenses for those you leave behind. Often your living trust will be the beneficiary of your life insurance policies.
  6. young lady with cell phone smilngWho gets your prized possessions? In times of duress, people can become angry and bitter. Save parents, siblings, children and your spouse from having to fight over your sentimental belongings. Put in writing who gets what. You will save them from a lot of stress by doing so.
  7. What will happen to your Social Media accounts? In the grand scheme of things, this may not seem like a big deal. But imagine your social media accounts ending up in the hands of a bitter child or an estranged spouse, upon your death. You wouldn’t want just anyone posting on your behalf while you’re alive – and you certainly wouldn’t want just anyone “speaking” and posting on your behalf when you’re gone. Make a list of your accounts, logins and passwords and make it clear who you want to handle those accounts – and how you want them handled – when you no longer can. While you’re at it, provide online banking information to your spouse, agent, executor and/or successor trustees as well.

Tragedy can strike anyone, at any time. Be sure your family is protected. Get your Trust or Estate Plan in order today. Contact us for no-obligation consultation. We’re here to help.