There Is a Difference between Probate and Trust Administration

Many people get these two things confused. A recent article, “Appreciating the differences between probate and trust administration,” from Lake County News clarifies the distinctions.

Let’s start with probate, which is a court-supervised process. To begin the probate process, a Petition must be filed in court and often a court appearances is needed. However, to start trust administration, a letter of notice is mailed to the decedent’s heirs and beneficiaries. Trust administration is far more private, which is why many people chose this path.

In the probate process, the last will and testament and any documents in the court file are available to the public. While the general public may not have any specific interest in your will, estranged relatives, relatives you never knew you had, creditors and scammers have easy and completely legal access to this information.

If there is no will, the court documents that are created in intestacy (the heirs inherit according to state law), are also available to anyone who wants to see them.

In trust administration, the only people who can see trust documents are the heirs and beneficiaries.

There are cost differences. In probate, a court filing fee must be paid for each petition. The fees vary, depending upon the jurisdiction. Add to that the attorney’s and personal representative’s fees, which also vary by jurisdiction. Some are on an hourly basis, while others are computed as a sliding scale percentage of the value of the estate under management. For example, each may be paid 4% of the first $100,000, 3% of the next $100,000 and 2% of any excess value of the estate under management. The court also has the discretion to add fees, if the estate is more time consuming and complex than the average estate.

For trust administration, the trustee and the estate planning attorney are typically paid on an hourly basis, or however the attorney sets their fee structure. Expenses are likely to be far lower, since there is no court involvement.

There are similarities between probate and trust administration. Both require that the decedent’s assets be collected, safeguarded, inventoried and appraised for tax and/or distribution purposes. Both also require that the decedent’s creditors be notified, and debts be paid. Tax obligations must be fulfilled, and the debts and administration expenses must be paid. Finally, the decedent’s beneficiaries must be informed about the estate and its administration.

The use of trusts in estate planning can be a means of minimizing taxes and planning for family assets to be passed to future generations in a private and controlled fashion. This is the reason for the popularity of trusts in estate planning.

It should be noted that a higher level of competency—mental comprehension—must be possessed by an individual to execute a trust than to execute a will. A person whose capacity may be questionable because of Alzheimer’s or another illness may not be legally competent enough to execute a trust. Their heirs may face challenges to the estate plan in that case.

Reference: Lake County News (July 4, 2020) “Appreciating the differences between probate and trust administration”

 

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‘ Siegfried & Roy ’ Star Roy Horn Named Siegfried His Executor

Legal documents revealed that Siegfried & Roy performer, Roy Horn’s last will and testament was filed in the Las Vegas courts on June 18, 2020, according to the article “’Siegfried & Roy’ Star Roy Horn’s Will Names Siegfried As Executor Of His Multi-Million Dollar Estate” as reported in The Blast. The document gave Siegfried Fischbacher the power to administer and distribute Horn’s assets after his death. If Siegfried was not able to perform the tasks, Roy Horn had named Lynette G. Chappell as the alternate executor.

Lynette G. Chappell was the performer’s longtime assistant.

Roy Horn died at age 75 after contracting COVID-19. Siegfried had told an interviewer that he drove to the hospital with Lynette and was able to see his life partner one more time before he died.

Roy Horn also named Siegfried’s longtime lawyer, John Moran Jr., to be co-executor of his estate with Chappell, if Siegfried was unable or unwilling to be his executor.

The will, which was signed in 2016, also included directions that Roy Horn’s multi-million estate be distributed to beneficiaries, which were named in a private trust. The trust was not attached to the legal filing that included the last will and testament, so the names of his beneficiaries will remain private. The will does state that Roy Horn is unmarried and has no children. He was survived only by his brother, Werner Horn.

Siegfried was given broad powers to manage all of the financial issues of the estate, including paying for the funeral and any expenses regarding handling Horn’s remains. As the executor, the personal representative is empowered to perform any act necessary to administer the estate and any trust established under the will. The will also permits Siegfried to hold, retain, invest, sell or manage any real or personal property, distribute assets of the estate without requiring pro-rata distribution of specific assets, employ attorneys, accountants, custodians, and any other agents or assistants as the executor deems necessary and to pay them and pay for their expenses from income or principal.

According to reports, Siegfried and Roy had a combined estimated net worth of more than $100 million, after they had signed several highly lucrative contracts to perform their award-winning show on the Las Vegas Strip.

The duo performed on the Las Vegas Strip for decades, until 2003, when their show abruptly ended when Roy was attacked on stage by a white tiger. He was dragged off the stage by the tiger and suffered severe injuries, including a severed spine, a stroke and massive blood loss.

Siegfried revealed in a recent interview with a German publication that Roy Horn had been cremated and his ashes are being kept in a chapel in their Las Vegas compound.

Reference: The Blast (June 27, 2020) “’Siegfried & Roy’ Star Roy Horn’s Will Names Siegfried As Executor Of His Multi-Million Dollar Estate”

 

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How Can You Disinherit a Child and Be Sure it Sticks?

How to disinherit a child – Let’s say you want to leave everything you own to your children, but you can’t stand and don’t trust their spouses. That might make you want to delay making an estate plan, because it’s a hard thing to come to terms with, says a recent article “Dealing with disinheritance, spouses” from the Times Herald-Record. There are options, but make the right choice, or your estate could face challenges.

Some people choose to leave nothing at all for their child in the will, so that if there is a divorce or if the child dies, their assets won’t end up in the daughter or son-in-law’s pocket. For some parents, particularly those who are estranged from their children, this can create more problems than it solves.

If you Disinherit a child with a will is not always a good idea. If you die with assets in your name only, they go through the court proceeding called probate, when the will is used to guide asset distribution. The law requires that all children, even disinherited ones, are notified that you have died, and that probate is going to occur. The disinherited child can object to the provisions in the will, which can lead to a will contest. Most families engaged in litigation over a will become estranged—even those that weren’t beforehand. The cost of litigation will also take a bite out of the value of your estate.

A common tactic is to leave a small amount of money when you disinherit child in the will and add a no-contest clause in the will. The no-contest clause expressly states that anyone who contests the will loses any right to their inheritance. Here is the problem: the disgruntled child may still object, despite the no contest clause, and invalidate the will by claiming undue influence or incapacity or that the will was not executed properly. If their claims are valid, then they’ll have great satisfaction of undoing your planning.

How can you disinherit a child, and be sure that your plan is going to stand up to challenge?

A trust is better in this case than a will. Not only do trusts avoid probate, but (unless state law requires otherwise at death) the children do not receive notice of the creation of a trust. An inheritance trust, where you leave money to your child, names a trustee to be in charge of the trust and the child is the only beneficiary of the trust. The child might be a co-trustee, but they do not have complete control over the trust. The spouse has no control over the inheritance, and you can also name what happens to the assets in the trust, if the child dies.

This kind of planning is called “controlling from the grave,” but it’s better than not knowing if your child will be able to protect their inheritance from a divorce or from creditors.

With a national divorce rate around fifty percent, it’s hard to tell if the in-law you welcome with an open heart, will one day become a predatory enemy in the future, even after you are gone. The use of trusts can ensure that assets remain in the bloodline and protect your hard work from divorces, lawsuits, creditors and other unexpected events.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (June 6, 2020) “Dealing with disinheritance, spouses”

 

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What If Grandma Didn’t Have a Will and Died from COVID-19?

Grandma Didn’t Have a Will – The latest report shows about 1.87 million reported cases and at least 108,000 COVID-19-related deaths were reported in the U.S., according to data released by Johns Hopkins University and Medicine.

Here’s a question that is being asked a lot these days: What happens if someone dies “intestate,” or without having established a will or estate plans?

If you die without a will in California and many other states, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state “intestate succession” statutes.

Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “My loved one died without a will – now what?” explains that there are laws in each state that will dictate what happens, if you die without a will.

In Pennsylvania, the laws list the order of who receives upon your death, if you die without a will: your spouse, your children, and then your parents (if still alive), your siblings, and then on down the line to cousins, aunts and uncles, and the like. Typically, first on every state’s list is the spouse and the children.

You may also have some valuable assets that will not pass via your will and aren’t affected by your state’s intestate succession laws. Here are some of the common ones:

  • Any property that you’ve transferred to a living trust
  • Your life insurance proceeds
  • Funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement accounts
  • Any securities held in a transfer-on-death account
  • A payable-on-death bank account
  • Your vehicles held by transfer-on-death registration; or
  • Property you own with someone else in joint tenancy or as community property with the right of survivorship.

These types of assets will pass to the surviving co-owner or to the beneficiary you named, whether or not you have a will.

It’s quite unusual for the government to claim a deceased person’s estate. While it might be allowed in some states, it’s considered a last resort. Typically, we all have some relatives.

If you have a loved one who has died without a will, or if Grandma didn’t have a Will, speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about your next steps.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (June 1, 2020) “My loved one died without a will – now what?”

 

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What You Need to Do with a Family Member’s Assets after they Die?

The Dallas Morning News’ recent article entitled “Three things to do on the death of a loved one” explains the steps you should take, if you are responsible for a family member’s assets after they die.

Be sure the property is secured. A deceased person’s property becomes a risk in some instances. Friends and family will help themselves to what they think they should get, including the deceased’s personal property. Once it is gone, it is hard to get it back and into the hands of the individual who’s legally entitled to receive it.

Criminals also look at the obituaries, and while everyone is at the funeral or otherwise unoccupied, burglars can break into the house and steal property. Assign security or ask someone to stay at the house to protect the property. You can also change the locks. Credit cards, debit cards, and checks need to be protected. The deceased’s mail must be collected, and cars should be locked up.

Make funeral plans. If you’re lucky, the deceased left a written Appointment of Burial Agent with detailed instructions, which can make your job much easier.

For example, Texas law lets a person appoint an agent to be in charge of funeral arrangements and to describe the arrangements. An estate planning attorney can draft this document as part of an estate plan. You should see if this document was included. If you’re listed as the agent, present the paper to the funeral home and follow the instructions. If there are no written instructions, the law will say who has the authority to make arrangements for the disposition of the body and to plan the funeral.

Talk to an experienced attorney. When a person dies, there is often a lapse in authority. The decedent’s power of attorney is no longer in effect, and the executor designated in the will doesn’t have any authority to act, until the will is admitted to probate and the executor is appointed by the probate judge and qualifies by taking the oath of office and filing a bond, if required. Direction is needed earlier rather than later, on what you’re permitted to do. The probate of a will takes time.

It is best to get started promptly, so that there’s an executor in place with power to handle the affairs of the decedent.

Reference: Dallas Morning News (April 10, 2020) “Three things to do on the death of a loved one”

 

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What is a Letter Testamentary for an Estate?

Mom just passed away. You walk into the bank to get the money out mom’s bank account. But you are shocked when the bank says you are not allowed to have access to the bank account without getting a letter testamentary.

What?

The bank manager tells you: “A Letter testamentary can be gotten from a lawyer.”

You say: But I have her Last Will and Testament. I am supposed to get all the money. But still no luck convincing the banker.

So you go to the lawyer’s office and say, “I need a letter from a lawyer to get into mom’s bank account.”

Unfortunately, a letter testamentary is a court order. To get that court order you have to go through a court process called probate.

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The client answers a series of questions online, and the Probate Petition and related papers are immediately created.

But even better, a lawyer in my office then reviews it for accuracy, makes corrections and sends it to the client to sign.

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What is a Letter of Appointment for an Estate?

Mom just passed away. You walk into the bank to get the money out mom’s bank account. But you are shocked when the bank says you are not allowed to have access to the bank account without getting a letter of appointment.

What?

The bank manager tells you: “A Letter of Appointment can be gotten from a lawyer.”

You say: But I have her Last Will and Testament. I am supposed to get all the money. But still no luck convincing the banker.

So you go to the lawyer’s office and say, “I need a letter from a lawyer to get into mom’s bank account.”

Unfortunately, a letter of appointment is a court order. To get that court order you have to go through a court process called probate.

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I have developed a new web based probate system that allows an individual client to go through probate at home, online, but with a lawyer. This is not a Do It Yourself system.

The client answers a series of questions online, and the Probate Petition and related papers are immediately created. But even better, a lawyer in my office then reviews it for accuracy, makes corrections and sends it to the client to sign.

We file the paperwork and we are the attorney of record. It’s perfect for
• family friendly situations
• personal injury cases
• bank managers dealing with customers who need to go through probate for one bank account.

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What Is a Testamentary Trust and Do You Need One?

Testamentary Trusts – A couple doing some retirement planning has an updated will and a medical power of attorney in place, prepared with the help of an estate planning attorney. They own some rental property, a small business and life insurance, but their estate is not large enough for them to worry about the federal estate tax.

Do they need or want a testamentary trust to be part of their estate plan? That’s question from a recent article titled “It’s the law: Testamentary trusts provide protection for assets” from the Post Register.

First, there are many different types of trusts. A living trust, also known as a revocable trust, irrevocable trusts and testamentary trusts are just three types. The testamentary trust only comes into effect at death under a last will and testament, and in some cases, depending on how they are structured, they may never come into effect, because they are designed for certain circumstances.

If you leave everything to your spouse in a will or through a revocable trust, your spouse will receive everything with no limitations. The problem is, those assets are subject to claims by your spouse’s creditors, such as business issues, a car accident, or bankruptcy. The surviving spouse may use the money any way he or she wishes, during their lifetime or through a will at death.

Consider if your spouse remarried after your death. What happens if they leave assets that they have inherited from you to a new spouse? If the new spouse dies, do the new spouses’ children inherit assets?

By using a testamentary trust, assets are available for the surviving spouse. At the death of the surviving spouse, assets in the trust must be distributed as directed in the language of the trust. This is especially important in blended families, where there may be children from other marriages.

Trusts are also valuable to distribute assets, if there are beneficiaries with an inability to manage money, undue spousal interference or a substance abuse problem.

Note that the trust only protects the decedent’s assets, that is, their separate property and half of the community property, if they live in a community property state.

The best solution to the issue of how to distribute assets, is to meet with an estate planning attorney and determine the goal of each spouse and the couple’s situation. People who own businesses need to protect their assets from litigation. It may make sense to have significant assets placed in trust to control how they pass to family members and shield them from possible lawsuits.

Reference: Post Register (April 26, 2020) “It’s the law: Testamentary trusts provide protection for assets”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning, Testamentary Trusts, Asset Protection, Decedent, Surviving Spouse, Beneficiaries

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Will or a Trust, Which Takes Priority in a Conflict?

A will or a trust are separate legal documents that usually have a common goal of coordinating a comprehensive estate plan. But which takes priority in a conflict? The two documents ideally work in tandem, but because they’re separate and distinct documents, they sometimes can conflict with one another. This conflict can be accidental or on purpose.

A revocable trust is a living trust established during the life of the grantor. It can be changed at any time, while the grantor is still alive. Which has priority ? Since revocable trusts become operative before the will takes effect at death, the trust takes precedence over the will, in the event that there are issues between the two.

An Investopedia article from 2019, “What Happens When a Will and a Revocable Trust Conflict?” reminds us that a will has no power to decide who receives a living trust’s assets, such as cash, equities, bonds, real estate and jewelry because a trust is a separate entity. It’s a separate entity from an individual. When the grantor dies, the assets in the trust don’t go into the probate process with a decedent’s personal assets. They remain trust property.

When a person dies, their will must be probated, and the deceased individual’s property is distributed according to the terms in the will. However, probate doesn’t apply to property held in a living trust, because those assets are not legally owned by the deceased. As such, the will has no authority over a trust’s assets, which may include cash, real estate, cars, jewelry, collectibles and other tangible items.

Let’s say that the family patriarch named Christopher Robin has two children named Pooh and Roo. Let’s also assume that Chris places his home into a living trust, which states that Pooh and Roo are to inherit the home. Several years later, Chris remarries and just before he dies, he executes a new will that purports to leave his house to his new wife, Kanga. In such an illustration, Chris would have needed to amend the trust to make the transfer to Kanga effective, because the house is trust property, and Chris no longer owns it to give away. That home becomes the property of the children, Pooh and Roo.

Which has priority ? This can be a complex and confusing area, so work with an experienced estate planning attorney to be sure you don’t end up like Kanga with nowhere to live.

Remember a revocable trust is a separate entity and doesn’t follow the provisions of a person’s will upon his or her death.  It is wise to seek the advice of a trust and estate planning attorney to make sure proceedings go as you intend.

While a revocable trust supersedes a will, the trust only controls those assets that have been placed into it. Therefore, if a revocable trust is formed, but assets aren’t moved into it, the trust provisions have no effect on those assets, at the time of the grantor’s death. If Christopher Robin created the trust but he failed to retitle the home as a trust asset, Kanga would have been able to take possession under the will. Oh bother!

Reference: Investopedia (August 5, 2019) “What Happens When a Will and a Revocable Trust Conflict?”

 

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Why a Last Will Is the Foundation of an Estate Plan

An estate planning lawyer has many different tools to achieve clients’ estate planning goals. However, at the heart of any plan is the Last Will, also known as the “last will and testament.” Even people who are young or who have modest levels of assets should have a will—one that is legally valid and up to date. For parents of young children, this is especially important, says the article “Wills: The Cornerstone of Your Estate Plan” from the Sparta Independent. Why? Because in most states, a will is the only way that parents can name guardians for their children.

Having a will means that your estate will avoid being “intestate,” that is, having your assets distributed according to the laws of your state. With a will, you get to determine who is to receive your property. That includes your home, car, bank and investment accounts and any other assets, including those with sentimental value.

Without a will, your property will be distributed to your closest blood relatives, depending upon how closely related they are to you. Few individuals want to have the state making these decisions for their property. Most people would rather make these decisions for themselves.

Property can be left to anyone you choose—including a spouse, children, charities, a trust, other relatives, a college or university, or anyone you want. There are some limits imposed by law that you should know about: a spouse has certain rights to your property, and they cannot be reversed based on your will.

For parents of young children, the will is used to name a legal guardian for children. A personal guardian, who takes personal custody of the children, can be named, as well as a property guardian, who is in charge of the children’s assets. This can be the same person, but is often two different people. You may also want to ask your estate planning attorney about using trusts to fund children’s college educations.

The will is also a means of naming an executor. This is the person who acts as your legal representative after your death. This person will be in charge of carrying out all of your estate settlement tasks, so they need to be someone you trust, who is skilled with managing property and the many tasks that go into settling an estate. The executor must be approved by the probate court, before they can start taking action for you.

There are also taxes and expenses that need to be managed. Unless the will provides directions, these are determined by state law. To be sure that gifts you wanted to give to family and loved ones are not consumed by taxes, the will needs to indicate that taxes and expenses are to be paid from the residuary estate.

A will can be used to create a “testamentary trust,” which comes into existence when your will is probated. It has a trustee, beneficiaries and directions on how distributions should be made. The use of trusts is especially important, if you have young children who are not able to manage assets or property.

Note that any assets distributed through a will are subject to probate, the court-supervised process of administering and proving a will. Probate can be costly and time-consuming, and the records are available to the public, which means anyone can see them. Many people chose to distribute their assets through trusts to avoid having large assets pass through probate.

Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney about creating a will and the many different functions that the will plays in settling your estate. You’ll also want to explore planning for incapacity, which includes having a Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, and Medical Directives. Estate planning attorneys also work on tax issues to minimize the taxes paid by the estate.

Reference: Sparta Independent (Dec. 19, 2019) “Wills: The Cornerstone of Your Estate Plan”

Suggested Key Terms: Last Will and Testament, Guardian, Executor, Trusts, Power of Attorney, Probate Court, Testamentary Trust, Estate Planning Attorney

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