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While administrating an estate is a lot of work, the process is usually straightforward. Nonetheless, executors/administrators sometimes made mistakes. The TOP FIVE common mistakes are listed below:

1. Not opening an estate right away

When opening an estate, it is usually best to open an estate shortly after someone passes away. As time passes, it is more likely that assets become forgotten, beneficiaries pass away, statutes of limitations expire, businesses have no clear decision maker, or personal property gets destroyed. Taxes are due within 9 months of passing (more on that below).

In the event that the estate has no will, family members may have issues opening an estate. For example, a family member may become difficult to find as time passes. Another possibility is that as time goes by, other family members may pass away, in which there are more steps in distributing funds or you will need to distribute funds to the estates of the deceased relatives.

2. Not paying inheritance taxes in a timely manner

Inheritance tax is due within 9 months from the date of passing. If not paid by that date, the estate is subject to penalties and interest. Furthermore, a 5% discount is available in the event that the inheritance tax is paid within 3 months from passing. Not paying the inheritance tax could be costly to the estate if not paid.

3. Not giving notice to creditors

Creditors are entitled to collect what is owed to them prior to beneficiaries. While a person is alive, a creditor who is not paid can file suit to collect in court for breach of contact up to four years after the breach. However, once an estate is open and an executor advertises in two newspapers (one in the local legal newspaper and one in a newspaper of general circulation), creditors only have 1 year to make a claim. By delaying the advertising (or not giving any notice), the executor is only delaying the distribution.

4. Distributing assets to beneficiaries prior to paying creditors

As stated above, creditors are entitled to collect what is owed to them prior to distribution to beneficiaries. In the event that executors distribute funds to beneficiaries without leaving enough to pay creditors, the executor may be personally liable to pay the creditors. In most cases, they will need to be reimbursed by the other beneficiaries, but that is not always possible or easy (for example, a family member refuses to return money, the family member already spent the funds and can no longer pay the estate back, or a family member cannot be located or passed away since distribution). While I suggest that all beneficiaries sign an acknowledgement and agreement to refund the money in the event of overpayment, enforcement is sometime a challenge. For this reason, it is best to make sure all creditors are paid prior to distribution.

5. Not following the terms of the will

An executor is required to distribute the funds pursuant to the will. In the event that the will is not followed and a beneficiary gets less than what he or she is entitled, the executor may be personally liable. Prior to closing out the estate, family members should sign a settlement agreement wherein they accept the amounts received and approve of the estate expenses. If any family members disagree, then the estate will need to be resolved through an audit and adjudication and have the matter approved by the Judge. Again, if the executor does not follow the terms of the will, then the matter will not be approved.

While proper estate planning is essential, mistakes do happen. Below are the TOP FIVE some common mistakes:

1. Conflicts between legal documents
Many clients do not realize that some property does not transfer through the estate. For example, a deed supersedes the will. In other words, if the deed is titled as joint tenants with right of survivorship, then it bypasses the will upon your death. In other words, the will can leave it to one person, but the deed will override the will.

Similarly, accounts in joint names or with beneficiaries go to the survivors/beneficiaries, despite what the will says.

2. Not leaving enough in the residue (i.e. specific bequests are too high)
Some people want to give specific gifts or amounts of money to a designated person. The remainder (or residue) is then given to the other beneficiaries. The intent is that people are not forgotten, with the bulk of the estate going to the closest family members. Unfortunately, people do not realize that the residue is sometimes smaller than anticipated. There are several reasons for this – estate costs (probate fees, inheritance tax, attorney fees, creditors) are higher than anticipated, real estate sells for less, the stock market and retirements accounts are lower than when the will was prepared, or you spend more than you expected to during your lifetime.

For this reason, you want to revise your will every few years to make sure that the distribution is as planned.

3. Not checking with executors/trustees
When drafting a will, you will need to name an executor, and potentially a trustee and/or guardian. Because there is a lot of work that needs to be done, many people are reluctant to put in the time or energy. Furthermore, some people are reluctant to become the executor because they believe that it will cause issues with other family members. It is best to confirm with the potential executor that they are agreeable to take on this endeavor.

4. Not reviewing the will after life changing events
It is important to review the will every few years. Life changing events happen all of the time, so whenever you or a family member goes through divorce, gets married, has children, loses a loved one, or has a falling out with a family member, you need to make sure that the will reflects the changes. Additionally, you want to make sure that the named executor remains up to the task.

5. Moving to another state
There are different requirements for all states. If you are moving to another state, you should consult an attorney in the new state to make sure that your most recent will is still valid.

6. Ambiguity in terms
There are times when a will is ambiguous. This can happen when there are two family members with the same name (senior vs. junior or when someone with the same first name marries into the family and takes the other’s last name). It can also occur when you give a specific item (i.e. my favorite ring to my daughter), and no one knows for certain what item you are referring. Furthermore, if you are giving percentages of your estate to family members, you need to make sure that the estate adds up to 100%.

As you are unable to clarify this upon your passing, it is imperative that all terms of the will are clear when it is prepared. If there are any ambiguities, it is likely up to the court to determine your intent.

Wills for Heroes is a program in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Bar Association that provides free wills, living wills, and powers of attorney to first responders and their families. Appointments are required along with proof of military or public service. There is also a limit on the size of the estate to utilize this service. Appointments can be made online at the Pennsylvania Bar Association website. Each appointment slot is one hour. Each participant will have their final, notarized documents to take home with them by the conclusion of their appointment. If a spouse or significant other is also participating, their appointment will be immediately following that of the first responder. The program is made possible through the time of volunteers including attorneys, reviewers and witnesses.

Lehigh County has a “Wills for Heroes” event coming up on Saturday, August 18 2018. The event is being held at the Barrister Club. Their address is 1114 W Walnut Street, Allentown, PA 18102. Appointments begin at 11 a.m. For more information and events at other locations throughout the state, you can visit www.pabar.org/wfh/. Other upcoming dates include September 8, 2018 for York County and September 12, 2018 for Philadelphia. Our firm is also able to assist with estate planning documents at a reasonable cost including trusts, wills, living wills and powers of attorney. Please contact our office if you would like additional information or to set up an appointment.

After a family member’s death, the first step should be to determine if they had a last will and testament. If so, you will want to locate the original will and make sure it has been properly signed and witnessed. The named executor will need to go to the Register of Wills with the original will, photo identification, and some method of payment to open the estate. If the named executor does not want to act they can sign a renunciation which would allow someone else to take on the role. The Register of Wills will give the executor a short certificate of letters testamentary. This document authorizes the executor to handle the decedent’s estate. If a loved one has passed away without a will, the Pennsylvania laws on intestacy will govern how their estate is handled. The closest kin can apply to the Register of Wills to be designated as the administrator of the estate. They will also be granted a short certificate as proof of their authority to handle the estate.

The executor or administrator has the responsibility for identifying and managing all the assets and debts as well as identifying beneficiaries and their contact information. Notice should be provided to all possible beneficiaries. Notice should also be provided to all possible debtors by publishing notice in the local law reporter as well as a local newspaper of general circulation. The executor or administrator should notify social security, employer(s), banks, insurance companies, retirement plans, etc. regarding the death of the decedent. Ideally within three months of the date of death, the executor or administrator should pay estimated taxes on the estate to get a discount. Taxes for the estate will depend on the size of the estate. A federal estate identification number should be obtained. The executor or administrator also needs to make sure the final individual tax return for the decedent is prepared and filed in addition to the inheritance tax return.

The process of getting divorced can be hard to move through.  When you are finally divorced you will probably want a break from making decisions and taking care of legal matters.  However, it is crucial to immediately update a few important areas of your life including your will, life insurance beneficiaries, and other estate planning documents.  

Your divorce agreement may include some estate planning language as it pertains to your children, including how life insurance beneficiaries must be maintained.  It is critical to not only follow these agreements, but to ensure that the other pieces of your estate are changed so your ex-spouse is removed and can no longer control your life or handle any of your affairs should something happen to you.  

Your Will

If your last will includes your former spouse, then you will need to update that information so your final arrangements, distribution of personal items, and your financial matters are handled according to your wishes.  Remove your former spouse as your executor and ensure that they are no longer the recipient of any of your personal property.  Additionally, should anything happen to you or your ex-spouse, you should name a guardian for your children.  

Beneficiaries on Financial Accounts


Beneficiaries on your life insurance policies as well as investment and bank accounts need to be changed according to the policies and procedures established by each institution.  Clearly stating your wishes in your will that you want your children to inherit your money is not enough.  Each company is going to have a different form that needs to be correctly filled out to properly change your beneficiaries.  If it is not done correctly the previous beneficiary stands, and your ex-spouse may wind up with a significant amount of money.  Click here to read more about changing your life insurance policies.

Other Estate Planning Docs

 

Power of Attorney documents should be updated.  In the event that you are rendered incapacitated, you want a trusted relative or friend to have the authority to make decisions for you.  This includes matters related to your health as well as your financial matters.  

When we work with clients we always work through these issues to ensure that your best interests are protected through your divorce and into your new adult life.  Taking the time to ensure your will is properly updated after your divorce will give you peace of mind as you will know your final wishes are clearly stated.  

Additional Resources: https://www.reviews.com/life-insurance/

Bucks County has a “Wills for Heroes” event this upcoming Saturday, May 14, 2016. This is a program in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Bar Association that provides free wills, living wills, and powers of attorney to first responders and their spouses/significant others. Proof of military or public service affiliation is required. Appointments are required and can be made on the Pennsylvania Bar Association website. Each appointment is for one hour. At the conclusion of the appointment, each participant will have their final, notarized documents to take home with them. If a spouse or significant other is also participating, their appointment will be immediately following that of the first responder. The program is made possible through the time of volunteers including attorneys, reviewers and witnesses.

This week’s “Wills for Heroes” event is being held at Bucks County Community College, Lower Bucks Campus, 1304 Veterans Highway, Bristol, PA 19007. The event starts at 11 a.m. For more information, you can visit www.pabar.org/wfh/. Our firm is also able to assist with estate planning documents at a reasonable cost including wills, living wills and powers of attorney. Please contact our office if you would like additional information or to set up an appointment.

Click here to read more about estate planning.

After your divorce it is very important to update your estate planning documents, most importantly your will. If you leave your old will in place your financial assets, property and even the care of your children may wind-up in the hands of those who you no longer want – your former family members or ex-spouse.

Select a new executor of your will: the executor of your estate is the person who will be charged with distributing your wealth and property. While they are to follow your wishes, if your executor is still your former spouse he/she may not do as you wish or add undo stress when dealing with your family members. When you select an executor make sure they understand your wishes and

Clearly outline who gets what items: Part of the reason you want to clearly spell out the distribution of your items is to avoid fighting by your loved ones after the fact. This can include a family heirloom or an important piece of your jewelry. Rather than have your children fighting over items they were “promised” it is so much easier if you

Name a guardian for your minor children:

In most cases, upon your death your former spouse would be given full custody of your children. If that would not be in the best interest of your children then you will need to spell out why and we suggest you do that under the advisement of an attorney. Furthermore, if your former spouse is no longer in your children’s life due to domestic violence, alcoholism or drug abuse, it is critical that your will contain the right wording and plan for your children. Protecting

Estate planning may seem tedious but is there to protect your wishes should you pass on. Do not rely on state law to handle your estate. Take a proactive approach and ensure that financial assets and care of your children are handled by a responsible individuals who will ensure your children, financial assets and valuables are handled properly.

Bucks County has several upcoming “Wills for Heroes” events. This is a program in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Bar Association that provides free wills, living wills, and powers of attorney to first responders and their spouses/significant others. Appointments are required and can be made on the Pennsylvania Bar Association website. Each appointment is for one hour. At the conclusion of the appointment, each participant will have their final, notarized documents to take home with them. If a spouse or significant other is also participating, their appointment will be immediately following that of the first responder. The program is made possible through the time of volunteers including attorneys, reviewers and witnesses.

Upcoming dates and locations for events in our area are as follows:

Saturday, April 5, 2014 – Bucks County Public Safety/Emergency Services Training Center in Doylestown, PA

Saturday, April 12, 2014 – Northeast Regional Campus of the Community College of Philadelphia

Saturday, April 26, 2014 – Community Fire Company #1 in Riegelsville, PA

Saturday, May 17, 2014 – Richlandtown Fire Company in Bucks County, PA

Click here for more information on Wills for Heroes.

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 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 nonexercise 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. 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.

Click here to read more on Estates and Probates.