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Careful estate planning may help people prevent inheritance disputes between their new spouses and their children from prior marriages upon their passing.

It is fairly common for people in Pennsylvania to remarry after a divorce, and often, one or both spouses may have children from a previous relationship. While these blended families offer people new opportunities to love and live, they can pose some challenging estate planning and inheritance issues. Therefore, having a carefully thought out estate plan that takes into account their new spouses’ needs, as well as those of their children’s, may help people prevent family disputes following their deaths.

Review beneficiary designations

The way people list their beneficiaries on retirement accounts, life insurance policies and other such accounts will affect how these benefits are disbursed upon their deaths. For example, it is common for people to update their beneficiary designations to their new spouses upon getting remarried. However, if they name only their new spouses, then they are able to specify their own new beneficiaries. This means that the original policy holders’ children may be bypassed altogether.

As such, people should make their intentions clear when designating their beneficiaries. They may name who the accounts should pass to after their spouses’ deaths or indicate specific percentages that each of their beneficiaries should receive.

Designate specific property separately

People often have family heirlooms or cherished personal property that they intend to pass on to certain children. Without a carefully designed plan, however, AARP points out that their new spouses may be entitled to claim up to half of the assets in people’s wills. Thus, it may be helpful if people leave a separate list of this property, sometimes referred to as a personal property memorandum. This list should describe each item to be gifted in detail and provide specific instructions as to who should receive each item upon their passing.

Consider inheritance timing

For couples who have not previously been married, inheritance timing is somewhat easy. People often leave their assets to their spouses, and their estates are passed on to their children after their spouses pass away. When it comes to second or subsequent marriages, however, withholding distributions of their children’s inheritances until after the death of their new spouses may create hostility and impatience. Therefore, people may consider establishing trusts or outright transfers that occur at the time of their deaths in order to accommodate the needs of both their surviving spouses and their children.

Working with an attorney

In the ideal situation, people in Pennsylvania could rely on their spouses and their children to work out inheritances to all their benefit after they pass away. However, even in long-term second marriages, new spouses and children from prior marriages may have drastically different ideas of what they are entitled to. As such, it will benefit people who have remarried or who are planning to get remarried to seek legal guidance. An attorney can explain their rights, including establishing wills and trusts, and help them set up a plan that provides for the needs of both their current spouses and their children from prior marriages.

Careful estate planning may help people prevent inheritance disputes between their new spouses and their children from prior marriages upon their passing.

It is fairly common for people in Pennsylvania to remarry after a divorce, and often, one or both spouses may have children from a previous relationship. While these blended families offer people new opportunities to love and live, they can pose some challenging estate planning and inheritance issues. Therefore, having a carefully thought out estate plan that takes into account their new spouses’ needs, as well as those of their children’s, may help people prevent family disputes following their deaths.

Review beneficiary designations

The way people list their beneficiaries on retirement accounts, life insurance policies and other such accounts will affect how these benefits are disbursed upon their deaths. For example, it is common for people to update their beneficiary designations to their new spouses upon getting remarried. However, if they name only their new spouses, then they are able to specify their own new beneficiaries. This means that the original policy holders’ children may be bypassed altogether.

As such, people should make their intentions clear when designating their beneficiaries. They may name who the accounts should pass to after their spouses’ deaths or indicate specific percentages that each of their beneficiaries should receive.

Designate specific property separately

People often have family heirlooms or cherished personal property that they intend to pass on to certain children. Without a carefully designed plan, however, AARP points out that their new spouses may be entitled to claim up to half of the assets in people’s wills. Thus, it may be helpful if people leave a separate list of this property, sometimes referred to as a personal property memorandum. This list should describe each item to be gifted in detail and provide specific instructions as to who should receive each item upon their passing.

Consider inheritance timing

For couples who have not previously been married, inheritance timing is somewhat easy. People often leave their assets to their spouses, and their estates are passed on to their children after their spouses pass away. When it comes to second or subsequent marriages, however, withholding distributions of their children’s inheritances until after the death of their new spouses may create hostility and impatience. Therefore, people may consider establishing trusts or outright transfers that occur at the time of their deaths in order to accommodate the needs of both their surviving spouses and their children.

Working with an attorney

In the ideal situation, people in Pennsylvania could rely on their spouses and their children to work out inheritances to all their benefit after they pass away. However, even in long-term second marriages, new spouses and children from prior marriages may have drastically different ideas of what they are entitled to. As such, it will benefit people who have remarried or who are planning to get remarried to seek legal guidance. An attorney can explain their rights, including establishing wills and trusts, and help them set up a plan that provides for the needs of both their current spouses and their children from prior marriages.

Pet owners who anticipate their pets outliving them should know the essential facts about pet trusts to be able to decide what is right for their situations.

Estate planning in Pennsylvania involves a lot of different considerations, including drafting a will, selecting an estate administrator, planning for the probate process and setting up any trusts. One kind of trust that people often overlook is a pet trust. A pet trust is a great way for pet owners to ensure that their animal companions will receive the optimal level of care necessary for them to have happy lives after their owners’ deaths. Knowing the answers to some common questions about pet trusts can help pet owners to decide if a pet trust is right for their estate plans.

What exactly is a pet trust?

A pet trust is a legal arrangement to ensure that a pet will receive the proper care and maintenance it needs after its owner passes away. While typically used for animals with longer lifespans such as parrots and horses, a pet trust can be set up for any animal and will last for the duration of the animal’s lifetime. When it is set up, a designated caregiver is set up as a “trustee” who will be given a set amount of funds that is determined by the grantor of the trust, based on what the pet’s needs are anticipated to be. This may be done in whatever manner the grantor specifies in the trust, but it is usually done as a disbursing of funds at regular intervals.

How is a pet trust different from putting a pet in a will?

There are limitations to what can be put in a will, and when someone inherits money from a will, he or she is not necessarily going to be monitored as far as what he or she spends the money on. A pet trust instills in the trustee a legal obligation to utilize the designated funds exclusively for the care of the specified pet. A pet owner can also specify the expected standard of care for the pet to receive for the remainder of its life. Another benefit to a pet trust is the option to designate a remainder beneficiary. In the event that the pet passes on before all of the funds of the pet trust are exhausted, this beneficiary will receive anything that is left over in the trust.

The decision as to whether or not to go with a pet trust can be a complex matter. There are many details to be worked out, especially if there are multiple pets involved. It may be prudent for someone who is considering this option to discuss the matter with an attorney in the local area who practices estate planning law.

It is possible for a spouse intentionally left out of the other spouse’s will to still receive a share of the estate in the event of death. Pennsylvania law provides for an “elective share” pursuant to 20 Pa. C.S. 2203(a). This law provides that if a person is still married at the time of their death with no divorce pending, the surviving spouse can elect to receive 1/3 of that person’s estate. There are items that are excluded from the estate in instances where an elective share will be applied. 2203(b) states the following exceptions: (1) any conveyance made with the express consent or joinder of the surviving spouse; (2) the proceeds of insurance, including accidental death benefits, on the life of the decedent; (3) interests under any broad-based nondiscriminatory pension, profit sharing, stock bonus, deferred compensation, disability, death benefit or other such plan established by an employer for benefit of its employees and their beneficiaries; (4) property passing by the decedent’s exercise or non-exercise of any power of appointment given by someone other than the decedent.

To simplify, a surviving spouse cannot receive any portion of something that they already agreed to give away by way of previously consenting to it. As it relates to subsections (2), (3) and (4), accounts that have a beneficiary designation will pass to the named beneficiary. Additionally, the surviving spouse waives the right to seek other items they may have been entitled to if they choose to exercise the elective share. The surviving spouse must reduce to writing their intent to exercise the elective share and timely file with the court. Either spouse may waive their right to exercise the elective share before or during the marriage or even after death of their spouse. This waiver could be included in a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement, for example. It is wise to consult with an attorney to see if choosing the elective share is the best outcome if you are left out of a spouse’s will.

Not every asset owned by a party at the time of death will be subject to the probate process or pass under the direction of the will. Probate assets are those for which there is no pre-existing designation as to who should get the asset. Examples of typical assets that will be subject to probate include individually owned bank accounts, cars, personal property, business interest, real property held as tenants in common, cash, and life insurance with no beneficiary. These types of assets should be distinguished from any account with a beneficiary designation as those accounts will pass to the beneficiary. Also, joint accounts will usually go to the other party whose name is on the account.

Assets that are put into joint names within a year of date of death can still be subject to inheritance tax on the full amount of the account though ultimately a non-probate asset. If assets have been put into joint names over a year from date of death then only 50% of the account would be taxed. Ideally, you should plan for how those taxes will be apportioned. Business interests may also end up being non-probate if there is a partnership agreement spelling out what happens in the event of death. If there is a buy-out of the decedent’s interest, that is taxable and should be listed on the inheritance tax return. Where the decedent’s interest is just assumed by the remaining partners in the business then there is no tax and no need to do probate.

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The executor of your will is the person designated to be responsible for the administration of your estate. They are required to act in a fiduciary capacity and carry out the wishes as stated in the will. It is a good idea to talk to your executor about your desires regarding your assets and debts as stated in the will. Your executor or other trustworthy party should know where the original will is kept as well. The executor will need to take the will to the Register of Wills to open the estate and be formally recognized as the party authorized to handle the estate. From there, the executor will need to identify all the assets and debts the decedent had at the time of death. An inventory will need to be filed with the court.

The executor should also notify social security, employer(s), banks, insurance companies, retirement plans, etc. regarding the death of the decedent. The executor is responsible for safekeeping and/or maintenance of the estate until the time of distribution. The executor should review the will to identify all possible beneficiaries as they will need to be notified. The executor will usually open an estate bank account to consolidate assets and be able to pay necessary bills and taxes. The last income tax return for the decedent needs to be filed as well as an inheritance tax return. The executor must keep detailed records of all transactions that occur as an accounting is usually part of the final process of distributing and closing the estate. Executors may receive financial compensation for their services. An executor may also elect to retain an attorney to ensure the proper administration of the state in lieu of undertaking the responsibility on their own.

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One of the first steps to take after a loved one dies is to find out if they had a will. If there was a will, the second step is to make sure the will is valid. There are a few requirements for a valid will in Pennsylvania. First, the will must be signed by the deceased party or decedent. Ideally, there will also be signatures of two witnesses. A self-proved will includes an additional affidavit signed by the decedent and the witnesses that the signatures on the preceding will were valid and that the decedent signed the will knowingly and voluntarily. This affidavit can be signed simultaneously with the will or at a subsequent date so long as the testator and witnesses are available to sign. Sample language for an acknowledgment and affidavit is below.

We, the Testator and the witnesses respectively, whose names are signed to the attached or foregoing instrument, being first duly sworn, do hereby declare to the undersigned authority that the Testator signed and executed said instrument as their last will and testament in the presence and hearing of the witnesses, and that they had signed willingly, and that they executed it as their free and voluntary act and deed for the purposes therein expressed, and that each of the witnesses at the request of the Testator, in the presence and hearing of the Testator and each other, signed the will as witness, and that to the best of his or her knowledge the Testator was at the time at least eighteen years of age, of sound mind and under no constraint, duress, fraud or undue influence. Click here to read more about wills.