What Is a Pour-Over Will?

If the goal of estate planning is to avoid probate, it seems counterintuitive that one would sign a will, but the pour-over will is an essential part of some estate plans, reports the Times Herald-Record’s article “Pour-over will a safety net for a living trust.”

If a person dies with assets in their name alone, those assets go through probate. The pour-over will names the trust as the beneficiary of probate assets, so the trust controls who receives the inheritance. The pour-over will works as a backup plan to the trust, and it also revokes past wills and codicils.

Living trusts became more widely used after a 1991 AARP study concluded that families should be using trusts rather than wills, and that wills were obsolete. Trusts were suddenly not just for the wealthy. Middle class people started using trusts rather than wills, to save time and money and avoid estate battles among family members. Trusts also served to keep financial and personal affairs private. Wills that are probated are public documents that anyone can review.

Even a simple probate lasts about a year, before beneficiaries receive inheritances. A trust can be settled in months. Regarding the cost of probate, it is estimated that between 2—4% of the cost of settling an estate can be saved by using a trust instead of a will.

When a will is probated, family members receive a notice, which allows them to contest the will. When assets are in a trust, there is no notification. This avoids delay, costs and the aggravation of a will contest.

Wills are not a bad thing, and they do serve a purpose. However, this specific legal document comes with certain legal requirements.

The will was actually invented more than 500 years ago, by King Henry VIII of England. Many people still think that wills are the best estate planning document, but they may be unaware of the government oversight and potential complications when a will is probated.

There are other ways to avoid probate on death. First, when a beneficiary is added to assets like bank accounts, IRAs, life insurance policies, or stock funds, those assets transfer directly to the beneficiary upon the death of the owner. Second, when an asset is owned JTWROS, or as “joint tenants with the right of survivorship,” the ownership interest transfers to the surviving owners.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to talk about how probate may impact your heirs and see if they believe the use of a trust and a pour-over will would make the most sense for your family.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (Sep. 13, 2019) “Pour-over will a safety net for a living trust.”

 

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What if a beneficiary is not a citizen?
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What if a beneficiary is not a citizen?

When a person dies without a will, the distribution of his or her estate assets is governed by the state’s intestacy statute and the question is what if a beneficiary is not a citizen. All states have laws that instruct the court on how to disburse the intestate decedent’s property, usually according to how close in relationship they are to the person who passed away.

A recent nj.com article responded to the following question: “My ex’s new wife isn’t a citizen. Does she get an inheritance?” The article explains that under the intestacy laws of New Jersey, for example, if the deceased had children who aren’t the children of the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse is entitled to the first 25% of the estate but not less than $50,000 nor more than $200,000, plus one-half of the balance of the estate.

Also, under New Jersey law, aliens or those who are not citizens of the United States are eligible to inherit assets.

In California, if you die with children but no spouse, the children inherit everything. If you have a spouse but no children, parents, siblings, or nieces or nephews, the spouse inherits everything. If you have parents but no children, spouse, or siblings, your parents inherit everything. If you have siblings but no children, spouse, or parents, those siblings inherit everything.

Also in California, if you’re married and you die without a will, what property your spouse will receive, is based in part on how the two of you owned your property. Was it separate property or community property? California is a community property state, so your spouse will inherit your half of the community property.

In that case, an ex-husband’s wife who lives in and is a citizen of the Philippines doesn’t need to be physically present in the state to inherit assets from her husband.

If the deceased owned property in the Philippines, the distribution of those assets would be according to the laws of that country.

Reference: nj.com (August 28, 2019) “My ex’s new wife isn’t a citizen. Does she get an inheritance?”

 

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What Will Happen to Jeffrey Epstein’s Will?

Jeffrey Epstein’s will was filed in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It’s a “pour-over will” that transfers all of his assets into a trust. The trust is secret, not open to the public, and is administered by trustees. Epstein’s will, which is a public document, claimed assets of more than $577 million.

However, none of that money can be moved into Epstein’s trust until a probate court decides what to do with the numerous claims made against the convicted sex offender and his estate.

CBS News’ recent article, “What we know about Jeffrey Epstein’s will, and what happens next with his estate,” provides a list of questions that can help explain what happens next with Epstein’s estate. His estate will be overseen by the two executors named in the will, attorneys Darren K. Indyke and Richard D. Kahn.

The terms of the trust are not public, because they’re not part of the will itself. Epstein’s creation of the trust is commonly done by those who desire privacy. Of course, there is some surprise because the will and the trust were created just two days before he died. One of the most intriguing parts of Epstein’s will is that it lists his domicile (his permanent residence) as the U.S. Virgin Islands. Domicile is important in determining which jurisdiction controls the estate. Domicile must be proven in a probate court, and is usually accomplished with tax returns, a driver’s license, or documented time spent in the jurisdiction.

Another question about Epstein’s will, is whether it will even be declared valid. His will, and thus his entire trust, can be held invalid, if the will wasn’t properly executed and if it wasn’t properly witnessed or signed. There can’t be any fraud, undue influence, or duress. Since the will was made right before his suicide, there’s no certainty of his mental capacity.

His testamentary capacity, which means his mental ability make a valid will or estate, will probably be decided by a probate judge. If his estate planning documents are voided, the assets would transfer to the beneficiary of the estate, which is his brother Mark Epstein. However, Mark would still be liable for creditors’ claims and any alleged victims’ lawsuits.

Epstein’s $577 million in assets will not pass from his estate into his private trust, until all creditors’ claims have been satisfied in a probate court.

Legal experts expect a long, drawn-out, and complex process for deciding the future of Epstein’s wealth.

Reference: CBS News (August 21, 2019) “What we know about Jeffrey Epstein’s will, and what happens next with his estate”

 

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How Do I Get an Executor to Sell My Mom’s Home?
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How Do I Get an Executor to Sell My Mom’s Home?

It’s not uncommon for a parent to leave his or her home to their children in equal shares but getting the executor to sell the home is not always easy.

Let’s assume that two sisters are both equal beneficiaries of their mother’s estate in New Jersey. Each adult child has retained an attorney. The executor, who’s a family friend, is moving slowly with the probate process, and it’s been more than a year of waiting. The executor of estate is the individual who is specifically designated in the deceased’s will to manage the estate.

In this case, the glacier-like progress of the executor is causing a strain on the sisters’ relationship. This results in the sisters fighting over the estate. One sister is in no hurry to sell the house, and the other feels frustrated and may have to just give her everything and walk away to save her sanity.

nj.com’s recent article on this topic asks “My mom’s executor won’t sell the house. What can I do about it?” The article says that these sisters probably tried to negotiate a resolution. However, there’s no reason to think the only way to resolve this is for you to “give her everything and walk away.”

The executor should sell the home and distribute the proceeds to the sisters.

If one of the children, her attorney, or the executor object to the sale of the home, a judge may need to intervene.

If there’s no issue, and the executor won’t act, a beneficiary can apply to the court to remove the executor. The judge may then name the two sisters as co-executors, so they can sell the home.

Although there would be legal fees and costs to go to court to get some action, if the executor won’t move, there may not be any other choice.

In addition, the sisters could ask the judge to decrease any executor commission that would be owed to the original slow-moving executor to cover the legal fees, if the judge agrees that the executor was acting improperly.

Reference: nj.com (August 10, 2019) “My mom’s executor won’t sell the house. What can I do about it?”

 

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What to Know Before Becoming an Executor?

An executor steps in for the person who wrote the will and makes sure that all the final arrangements are carried out. When you agree to be named the executor or personal representative of an estate, it’s a big decision. It is far more significant than most people realize. There are many responsibilities to think about, before agreeing to take on the role. Investopedia’s recent article, “5 Things to Consider Before Becoming an Estate Executor” lists five things to consider before saying yes.

  1. Complexity of the Estate. Typically, the larger the estate—which can be in terms of property, possessions, assets or the number of beneficiaries—the harder and more time consuming it will be. The best way to see how difficult the job will be, is to request to see a copy of the current will. If there are obvious red flags, like unequal distributions to children or trusts or annuities, it may be best to say no.
  2. Time Commitment. This job takes time and energy, and requires a lot of attention to detail. Truth be told, almost all has to do with the details. Before you agree to execute a will, you should be sure that you have the time to do the job. It’s also important to review your decision to serve as an executor every time your situation changes, like when you get married, have children or change locations. It’s not unusual for a testator to change executors throughout a lifetime.
  3. Immediate Responsibilities. You may agree to be an executor, thinking that it’ll be years before you have to do any work. However, that’s not always the case. You should be sure the testator is keeping a list of assets and debts and knows where the original will, and the asset list are being held and how to access them. You should also have a list of the contact info for attorneys or agents named by the testator. You can also discuss the testator’s wishes for a funeral or memorial service, including instructions for burial or cremation.
  4. Duties After the Testator Dies. This is when the executor must make funeral arrangements, locate the will, initiate probate, manage assets, pay all debts, submit tax returns and more. This can be a snap, if you’re organized and detail oriented.
  5. How You’ll Be Paid. Each state has laws on how an executor is paid. An executor is also entitled to be compensated for expenses incurred, as they carry out their responsibilities. Executors can also refuse compensation, which is common if you’re doing this for a member of your family.

It’s an honor to be asked to be an executor. It means the testator trusts you to carry out their final wishes and to see to their legacy. However, be sure that you’re up to the task.

Reference: Investopedia (June 25, 2019) “5 Things to Consider Before Becoming an Estate Executor”

 

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Is a Will Contest Worth It?

A Will Contest – If it helps, and it might not, this happens more frequently than you’d think. The response is sometimes shock, other times, it’s anger. However, according to this recent article from Forbes, “5 Things You Should Know About Contesting A Will,” before you start making revenge plans or hiring the most tenacious attorney in town, take a deep breath. You need to consider some cold hard facts:

  1. Litigation is expensive. Many people will ask if an attorney will take the case on a contingency fee basis—typically a third of what you receive, and he or she only gets paid if you do. Most probate attorney won’t take a will contest on a contingency fee, because there’s a risk they won’t get paid. If they do, be certain that you have an experienced estate planning attorney with experience in estate battles.
  2. Have lots of Rolaids on hand. You’re gonna need them. It’s a rough journey, one that can be full of lies, misrepresentations and accusations. There may also be a counter lawsuit against you. You’ll probably be deposed in a deposition, where the opposing lawyer will ask you questions about the case. You may be portrayed as greedy, and you might have to testify in court.
  3. Snap decisions are required. Once you hire your attorney for the will contest, he or she will work with you to develop a strategy for the case. Your attorney may recommend that you file suit immediately and be the first one into the courthouse. On the other hand, your counsel may think it best to send a letter to the attorney representing the person you’re suing with a request for information. Depending the response, you may decide to file suit. In most cases, you’ll have a limited time for a will contest. If you don’t do so within that time period, you can’t bring a lawsuit. Talk to an experienced attorney shortly after the death.
  4. You’ll probably reach a settlement. Once the litigation has begun, and the attorneys have had time to exchange information and do some fact finding (in what is known as the discovery process), your attorney will talk to you about the strengths and weaknesses of your case. It may be appropriate at that juncture for one side to present the other with a settlement offer. This would end the litigation without the time and expense of trial. This may be a wise option, if you’re tired of fighting and willing to consider a settlement instead of going to trial. Your attorney may also point out weaknesses in your case and advise you to be happy with getting a settlement. That way you can move on with your life. You should approach the settlement like a business decision, and try to keep emotion out of it.
  5. Expect emotional pain. While you may get some satisfaction if you win, you will may lose any connection with the people you bring to court. If you lose, well, that’s a lose-lose proposition. No matter how big the win, any underlying emotional issues will still be with you. Be prepared to be very businesslike about any will contest.

Reference: Forbes (May 21, 2018) “5 Things You Should Know About Contesting A Will”

 

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Did the Queen of Soul Leave a Will or Die Intestate?

Legendary vocalist Aretha Franklin passed away last August of pancreatic cancer. It was believed that she died intestate —without a will, even though she was survived by four adult sons.

The Detroit News’s recent article, “Handwritten wills found in Aretha Franklin home favor her four sons” reports that three handwritten wills have been discovered in one of her homes.

These documents suggest that Aretha had been considering what she wanted to leave to her heirs, if indeed the wills are found to have been written in her hand. Two of the wills discovered in a locked cabinet were dated 2010, eight years prior to her death.

Legal documents were filed by attorneys David J. Bennett and Kevin M. Check, who were hired by the personal representative of the estate, Franklin’s niece, Sabrina Garrett Owens. Bennett has been Franklin’s lawyer for more than 40 years.

According to the documents, Owens discovered a key to a locked cabinet that she previously couldn’t open. She found two holographic wills inside that were dated June 21, 2010 and October 20, 2010. Owens also found a spiral notebook with another purported holographic will dated March 31, 2014, under the cushions of a living room couch.

The court filing says that the heirs and their counsel “have been unable to reach a resolution with each other over the admission, validity and dispositive provisions of the purported Holographic Wills.”

Unlike traditional wills, the signing of holographic wills aren’t witnessed and are probated in several states, providing they’re authenticated by other means, such as by verifying the handwriting and the intended wishes they contain. Michigan recognizes holographic wills. New York does not. In New York you would die intestate.

Owens has asked for direction from County Probate Judge Jennifer S. Callaghan on how to continue as personal representative in the matter. A hearing is scheduled for this summer regarding intestacy.

“She remains neutral and wishes that all parties involved make wise choices on behalf of their mother, her rich legacy, the family and the Aretha Franklin estate,” a statement said of Garrett Owens, according to the Associated Press.

The new wills certainly add confusion to the probating of Franklin’s estate. The handwritten wills are hard to read and may be a bit embarrassing. If they were personally written by Franklin, some sections contain comments about relatives, attorneys, and even a “Ha, Ha, Ha” and “BS” when describing someone. In an another aside, she said that one attorney had been “grossly inefficient.”

Each document starts with “being in sound mind and physical health” pronouncement—one noted “with the exception of high blood pressure, a mass on the pancreas, diabetes …”

A common theme of these wills is that Aretha clearly wanted to care for her sons: she wanted her automobiles and property to be supervised by one son; and all of her artwork, copyrights, and future royalties from her music to be shared equally by all her boys. She also wanted them to have her personal papers, awards and gold records.

One statement said that she wanted two of her sons to “take business administration classes and get a certificate or degree.” She specifically directed that her grandchildren are also to be gifted.

The only dollar figure listed in the paperwork is a $1.6 million bank account. However, Aretha’s total worth from her various properties, jewelry, royalties and other assets have been estimated at roughly $80 million.

The IRS says that Franklin owed more than $6.3 million in back taxes. However, Bennett says that Franklin paid all her debts, including several million dollars in federal taxes.

If you die intestate, your wishes will not be carried out.

Reference: The Detroit News (May 20, 2019) “Handwritten wills found in Aretha Franklin home favor her four sons”

 

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