Estate Planning & Probate
5 Powerful Estate Planning Tools:
#1. Will: This communicates how your estate will be divided after death. You can avoid will contests among family members by ensuring that the process of completing & executing your will is valid.
#2. Living Will: This legal document communicates your wishes for medical care under specific circumstances. This is also known as a Healthcare Directive.
#3. Revocable Living Trust: People have different reasons for using trusts in their estate plan; charitable donations, control, probate avoidance among other factors.
#4. Healthcare Power of Attorney: This allows you to appoint someone to make decisions regarding your health care should you become incapable of making such decisions for yourself.
#5. Durable Power of Attorney: This gives another person the authority to make legal decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated and unable to do so.
10 things you should know following the death of a loved one.
1. A POWER OF ATTORNEY IS NOT VALID –
People believe that, as the power of attorney, they can legally administer the deceased’s estate. This is not true. A power of attorney is no longer valid after death. The only person permitted to act on behalf of the deceased’s estate is the personal representative or executor appointed by the court.
2. DO NOT TAKE OR DISTRIBUTE THE ASSETS –
Following the death, there is usually a period of chaos. This chaos presents an opportunity for those focused on personal benefit. An estate needs to be “opened” and a personal representative or executor needs to be appointed. Therefore, it is vital to protect every asset that belonged to the decedent. No one, family included, should take or distribute assets. It is very difficult to recover assets after they have been distributed or taken.
3. NOTIFY EVERYONE OF THE DEATH –
Following the death, it is wise to notify all credit card companies, government agencies (state and federal), cell phone carriers, utilities, and other related companies of the death. This will prevent additional charges on accounts and will allow them to convert their files over to a decedent’s status.
4. PROBATE ESTATE LIKELY NEEDS TO BE OPENED –
Even if the deceased didn’t have much money or assets, the estate must still be opened; debts and taxes of the deceased must be paid. Creditors and the IRS can pursue their money. They have the power to open an estate and pursue those who received the property. It is far better to open the estate and administer it properly. Estate Attorney Bendig will answer all of your questions.
5. DETERMINE IF A WILL EXISTS –
If an original will cannot be located, the best option is a copy. Contact the decedent’s attorney or accountant. It is common practice to store a will in a bank safe deposit box. Contact the bank where the decedent maintained his/her account. Remember, a will is not to be acted upon until the court admits that will to probate.
6. DEBTS & TAXES –
The debts and taxes are the responsibility of the estate, not the heirs or beneficiaries under the will. If there are insufficient assets in the estate to satisfy all the debts or tax obligations of the decedent, those debts and obligations do not become the responsibility of family and friends. Many will assume responsibility, believing it is the right thing to do, but they are not legally required to do so.
7. CREDITORS CAN REOPEN THE ESTATE –
Creditors have the right, after enough time passes, to petition the court to open the probate estate themselves. If this happens, the court will probably appoint an independent third party as the personal representative or executor. The executor will gather the assets of the decedent to satisfy all taxes, debts, and costs of administration for the estate.
8. GET SEVERAL COPIES OF THE DEATH CERTIFICATE –
Following the funeral, the death certificate should become available. Most funeral homes assist families with obtaining these certificates. You should get several copies of the death certificate. If you run out of copies, contact the Department of Vital Records.
9. SATISFY TAX RETURNS –
Following the death, the family should meet with an accountant to determine whether there is a need to extend any tax returns.
10. COMMUNICATE OFTEN –
Lack of communication usually leads to suspicion and resentment. Regular discussions will allow everyone to be involved in the process. Breakdowns in communication lead to litigation.
When you’re in need of an experienced and trusted estate attorney, don’t wait, give us a call.
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