Administrator – What Happens when Homeowner Dies without Will?

Administrato – When parents die suddenly, in this case due to COVID-19, and there is no will and no discussions have taken place, siblings are placed in an awkward, expensive and emotionally fraught situation. The article titled “My parents died of COVID-19 and left no will. My brother lives rent-free in their home and borrowed $35,000. What now?” from MarketWatch sums up the situation, but the answer is complicated.

When there is no will, or “intestacy,” there aren’t a lot of choices.

These parents had a few bank accounts, owned their home outright and left no debts. They had six adult children, including one that died and is survived by two living sons. None of the siblings agrees upon anything, so nothing has been done.

One of the siblings lives in the house rent free. Another brother was loaned $35,000 for a down payment on a mobile home. He now claims that the loan was a gift and does not have to pay it back. There are receipts, but the money was paid directly to the escrow company from the mother’s bank account.

How do you determine if this brother received a loan or a gift? What do you do about the brother who lives rent-free in the family home? How does the family now move the estate into probate without losing the house and the bank accounts, while maintaining a sense of family?

For starters, an administrator needs to be appointed to begin the probate process and act as a mediator among the siblings. In some states, the administrator also requires a family tree, so they can know who the descendants are. Barring some huge change of heart among the siblings, this is the only option.

If the parents failed to name a personal representative and the siblings cannot agree on who should serve, an estate administration lawyer is the sensible choice. The court may name someone, if there is concern about possible conflicts of interests or the rights of creditors or other beneficiaries.

A warning to all concerned about how the appointment of an administrator works, or sometimes, does not work. Working with an estate planning attorney that the siblings can agree upon is better, as the attorney has a fiduciary and ethical obligation to the estate. While state laws usually hold the administrator responsible to the standard of care of a “reasonable, prudent” individual, not all will agree what is reasonable and prudent.

One note about the loan/gift: if the mother helped a brother to qualify for a mortgage, it is possible that a “Gift Letter” was created to satisfy the bank or the resident’s association. Assuming this was not a notarized loan agreement, the administrator may rule that the $35,000 was a gift. Personal loans should always be recorded in a notarized agreement.

This family’s disaster serves as a good lesson for anyone who does not have an estate plan. Siblings rarely agree, and a properly prepared estate plan protects more than your assets. It also protects your children from losing each other in a fight over your property.

Reference: MarketWatch (April 4, 2021) “My parents died of COVID-19 and left no will. My brother lives rent-free in their home and borrowed $35,000. What now?”

 

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Why Is Family of a Texas Governor Fighting over His Estate?

Dolph Briscoe Jr. was a Texas rancher and businessman and was the 41st Governor of Texas between 1973 and 1979. His oldest child, Janey Briscoe Marmion, established the foundation with her father to honor her only child, Kate, who died in 2008 at the age of 20.

The Uvalde Leader-News’ recent article entitled “Briscoe family lawsuit targets Marmion’s will” reports that Marmion’s original will filed in 2011 directed her assets to be placed in a revocable trust.

The foundation was to have received income from half of her wealth for 22 years. The rest was directed to the children of her brother Chip Briscoe and those of her sister Cele Carpenter of Dallas.

However, a second will executed by Janey Briscoe Marmion in 2014 and admitted to probate in the County Court in December 2018— a month and a day after her death—calls for three trusts, including two child’s trusts created by her father and a generation-skipping trust (GST). A GST is a type of trust agreement in which the contributed assets are transferred to the grantor’s grandchildren, “skipping” the next generation (the grantor’s children).

Marmion created the Janey Marmion Briscoe GST Trust, dated November 1, 2012, in which she gave a third of her assets to the foundation and the other two-thirds to be divided equally between Chip Briscoe’s sons.

Carpenter’s three children filed suit in Dallas and in Uvalde County last year challenging the validity of the 2014 will and contesting the probate.

Their complaint alleges that Janey Briscoe Marmion intended to include the three as beneficiaries, in addition to Chip’s two sons, and that the situation creates a disproportionate inheritance in favor of the Briscoe men.

The amount in question is more than $500 million, since the former Texas governor’s estate was estimated by Forbes to be worth as much as $1.3 billion in 2015. Governor Briscoe died in Uvalde in 2010 at the age of 87.

Reference: Uvalde (TX) Leader-News (March 11, 2021) “Briscoe family lawsuit targets Marmion’s will”

 

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Larry King and his Holographic Will .

The dispute over Larry King’s estate shines a harsh spotlight on what happens when an elderly person makes major changes late in life to his or her estate plan, especially when the person has become physically weakened and possibly mentally affected, due to aging and illness. A recent article from The National Law Journal, “Larry King Will Contest—Key Takeaways,” examines lessons to be learned from the Larry King will contest.

A handwritten will is most likely to be probated. King’s handwritten will was witnessed by two individuals and may rise to the standards of California’s rules for probate. California was likely King’s residence at the time of his death. However, even if King’s won’t satisfy one section of California estate law referring to probate, it appears to satisfy another addressing requirements for a holographic will.

Holographic will requirements vary from state to state, but it is generally a will that is handwritten by the testator and may or may not need to be witnessed.

The battle over the will is just a starting point. Most of King’s assets were in revocable trusts and will be conveyed through the trusts. He did not seek to revoke or amend the trusts before he died. News reports claim that the probate estate to be conveyed by the will is only $2 million, compared to non-probate assets estimated at $50 million—$144 million, depending upon the source.

Passing assets through trusts has the advantage of keeping the assets out of probate and maintaining privacy for the family. The trust does not become a matter of public record and there is no inventory of assets to be filed with the court.

Any pre- or post-nuptial agreements will have an impact on how King’s assets will be distributed. This is an issue for anyone who marries as often as King did. Apparently, he did not have a prenuptial agreement with his 7th wife, Shawn Southwick King. They were married for 22 years and separated in 2019. While Larry had filed for divorce, the couple had not reached a financial settlement. California is a community property state, so Southwick will have a legal claim to 50% of the assets the couple acquired during their long marriage, regardless of the will.

It is yet unclear whether there was a post-nuptial agreement. There are reports that the couple separated in 2010 after tabloid reports of a relationship between King and Southwick’s sister, and that there was a post-nuptial agreement declaring all of King’s $144 million assets to be community property. Southwick filed for divorce in 2010, and King sought to have the post-nup nullified. They reconciled for a few years and King was reported to have updated his estate plan in 2015.

The claim of undue influence on the will may not be easy to challenge. Southwick is claiming that Larry King Jr., King’s oldest son, exerted undue influence on his father to make a change using a Holographic will. They were not close for most of Larry Jr.’s life, but in the later years of his life, King made a transfer of $250,000 to his son. Southwick wishes to have those transfers set aside on the basis of undue influence. She claims that when King executed his handwritten will, he was highly susceptible to outside influences and had questionable mental capacity.

Expect this will contest to continue for a while, with the possibility that the probate court dispute extends to other litigation between King’s last wife and his oldest son.

Reference: The National Law Review (March 15, 2021) “Larry King Will Contest—Key Takeaways”

 

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How Do I Cancel a Loved One’s Credit Cards After They Die?

Insider’s recent article entitled “How to cancel a loved one’s credit cards and manage their points after they die” provides some general tips on the steps to take to cancel credit cards and manage loyalty points, after a family member or close friend passes away.

First, you should get legal advice before you start delving into the deceased person’s estate. Contact an experienced estate planning attorney. Typically, the executor of the deceased’s estate will be in charge of these tasks.

Review the situation and gather documents. After a death, there’s a lot to do. Once you receive a death certificate, the executor must begin managing the deceased’s finances.

First, you want the credit bureaus to note the death in the deceased’s credit report and to get a list of all credit cards they owned. You can contact one of the three nationwide credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion) to tell them about the death and get a copy of their credit report. The Social Security Administration usually notifies the credit bureaus of the death. However, personally contacting them will make certain that a death notice is entered in their credit report. This will decrease the risk of identity theft. When noted, lenders will see that the individual is dead and won’t issue credit. You only need to contact one bureau because they will automatically notify the others.

How to close the deceased’s credit cards. After you get the credit report, identify all open credit cards and contact each one to notify them of the death. Each issuer will have a different procedure for closing the card, but most will ask you to send a copy of the death certificate. Lenders may also automatically close cards when they see the death notice on the credit bureau report.

Paying off credit card debt after death. The CARD Act of 2009 set the rules for credit card debt after death. Once the lender is notified, it will close the credit card and provide a final bill to the estate within 30 days. While the estate is being settled, they can’t impose additional late fees, annual fees, or over-limit fees. However, the interest on the debt continues to accrue. Note that if the estate pays the debt within 30 days of receiving the final bill, there’s no additional interest charged.

Credit card rewards after death. Every credit card has its own rules for managing points after death. For instance, American Express Membership Rewards has a process to take ownership of an account, and Chase Ultimate Rewards terms state that “If we’re notified of your death, your points will be automatically redeemed for cash in the form of an account statement credit.” The miles and points earned with an airline or hotel are subject to the terms of that program. Review the rules of each credit card, airline and hotel loyalty program to understand how points will be managed.

How to simplify life for your family. You can make things easier for your loved ones, if you make a plan to handle your points, miles and credit card rewards. Similar to other assets, you should explain how you want your points to be used in your will. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help you.

Reference: Insider (Feb. 1, 2021) “How to cancel a loved one’s credit cards and manage their points after they die”

 

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Can You Be Forced to Inherit a Timeshare ?

Ask anyone who ever purchased a timeshare and changed their mind about it. Getting rid of a timeshare can be problematic. However, imagine if your parents purchased a timeshare and left it to you, with all the financial obligations? Some timeshare companies are now trying to make people continue to pay after they have died, warns a cautionary article “How to Avoid Inheriting a TImeshare You Don’t Want” from KSL-TV

One woman’s parents loved their timeshare. They travelled to one for skiing, another to relax in the sun, and others according to availability and their travel plans. The entire family went on trips and all enjoyed the flexibility. However, when both parents passed away just a few months apart, the timeshare company started sending letters demanding payment. The siblings didn’t want any part of it.

There had not been any discussions with their parents about what would happen to the timeshare. One of the daughters decided to put the monthly fee onto her credit card to be paid automatically, thinking this would be a short-term issue. When the timeshare company did not respond to the children’s attempt to contact the company to shut down the account, she had the automatic payments stopped. A collection notice showed up and demanded payment immediately.

However, is the family legally obligated to pay for the parental timeshare?

If you die owning a timeshare, it does become part of your estate and obligations are indeed passed onto the next-of-kin or the estate’s beneficiaries. However, they do not have to accept it, in the same way that anyone has the right to refuse any part of an inheritance. No one is legally obligated to accept something just because it was bequeathed to them. This is known as the right to disclaim, but it’s not automatic.

A local estate planning attorney will know how your state governs the right to disclaim. Generally speaking, a disclaimer of interest must be filed with the probate court, stating that you reject the timeshare. There are time limits–in some states, you have only nine months after the death of a loved one to file.

When the next-of-kin rejects the timeshare, it may go to the next heir, and the next, and the next, etc. Every family member must file their own disclaimer. If the share is disclaimed by all heirs, it is likely that the timeshare company will foreclose on the it. There may be leftover debts for unpaid fees, and the estate may have to fork over those payments.

A few tips: if you are planning on refusing a timeshare, you cannot use it. Don’t try it out, let a friend use it or go one last time. If you wish to disclaim something, you cannot receive any benefit of the thing you are disclaiming. Once you receive a benefit, the opportunity to disclaim it is gone.

Unwanted timeshares usually sell for far less than the original purchase price. Selling a timeshare involves a market loaded with scammers who promise a quick sale, while charging thousands of dollars upfront.

If possible, speak with your parents and their estate planning attorney to head the problem off in advance.

Reference: KSL-TV (Jan. 25, 2021) “How to Avoid Inheriting a TImeshare You Don’t Want”

 

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Was the Rock Star Prince ’s Estate Undervalued?

The ongoing battle over the estate of Prince has been complicated because he died without a will. Now, the IRS says that executors of the rock star’s estate undervalued it by 50% or about $80 million.

NBC News’ recent article entitled “IRS says Prince’s estate was undervalued by $80 million” reports that the IRS determined that Prince’s estate is worth $163.2 million—nearly double the $82.3 million valuation submitted by Comerica Bank & Trust, the estate’s administrator.

The difference in numbers for the most part concerns Prince’s music publishing and recording interests, according to court documents. These documents show that the IRS contends Prince’s estate owes another $32.4 million in federal taxes—nearly doubling the tax bill based on Comerica’s valuation, according to a report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The IRS also recently imposed a $6.4 million “accuracy-related penalty” on the Minneapolis native’s estate. Court documents say that the reason for the fine was a “substantial” undervaluation of assets.

Prince’s death of a fentanyl overdose on April 21, 2016, created one of the largest and most complicated probate court proceedings in Minnesota history. Estimates of his net worth have varied significantly, anywhere from $100 million to $300 million.

As Prince’s probate case continues in court, his six sibling heirs have grown increasingly grumpy. They are unhappy in part because the estate has written checks worth tens of millions of dollars to lawyers and consultants. However, nothing has gone to them.

Comerica and its lawyers at Fredrikson & Byron in Minneapolis hold that their estate valuations are solid.

Comerica sued the IRS this past summer in U.S. Tax Court in Washington, D.C., arguing that the agency’s calculations had numerous mistakes.

“What we have here is a classic battle of the experts — the estate’s experts and the IRS’ experts,” said Dennis Patrick, an estate planning attorney at DeWitt LLP in Minneapolis, who is not involved in the case. Valuing a large estate, Patrick added, “is way more of an art than a science.”

Comerica requested the tax court to hold a trial in St. Paul, which may significantly lengthen the settlement of Prince’s estate and generate more legal fees at the expense of Prince’s heirs.

Reference: NBC News (Jan. 3, 2021) “IRS says Prince’s estate was undervalued by $80 million”

 

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Will Contest – Am I Named in a Will?

Will Contest – Imagine a scenario where three brothers’ biological father passed away a decade ago. The father wasn’t married to the brothers’ mother, plus, he had another family with three children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. The father never publicly acknowledged that the three boys were his children. They’ve now heard rumors that he left them something in his will—which may or may not exist. The father’s wife has also passed away.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “How can we find out if our father left us something in his will?” explains that a parent isn’t required to leave his or her adult children an inheritance.

If a person doesn’t leave a will when they die, the intestacy laws of the state in which he or she dies will dictate how the decedent’s property is divided.

For example, if you die without a will in Kansas, your assets will go to your closest relatives. If there were children but no spouse, the children inherit everything. If there is a spouse and descendants, the spouse inherits one-half of your intestate property, and your descendants inherit the other one-half of your intestate property.

In Illinois, if you’re married and you pass away without a will, the portion given to your spouse is based upon whether you have living descendants, such as children and grandchildren.

In New Jersey, if the decedent is survived by a spouse and children—this includes any children who are not children of the surviving spouse—the surviving spouse gets the first 25% of the intestate estate, but not less than $50,000 nor more than $200,000, plus one-half of the balance of the intestate estate. In that state, the descendants of the decedent would receive the remainder.

Note that an intestate estate doesn’t include property that’s in the joint name of the decedent and another person with rights of survivorship or payable upon death to another beneficiary. In our problem above, the issue would be whether the three boys would’ve been entitled to a percentage of the property permitted under the state intestacy statute, or under a will if you could prove there was one.

However, the time for the three boys to make a will contest claim against their father’s estate would have been at his death. A 10-year delay is a problem. It may prevent a recovery because there are time limitations for bringing legal actions. However, they may have other claims, and there may be reasons you are not too late.

Will Contest Litigation is very fact-specific, and the rules are state-specific. The boys should talk to an estate litigation attorney, if they think there are enough assets to make at it worth their while.

Reference: nj.com (Dec. 29, 2020) “How can we find out if our father left us something in his will?”

 

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When is an Inheritance Community Property ?

Families with concerns about the durability of a child’s marriage are right to be concerned about protecting their children’s assets. For one family, where a mother wishes to give away all of her assets in the next year or two to her children and grandchildren, giving money directly to a son with an unstable marriage can be solved with the use of estate planning strategies, according to the article “Husband should keep inheritance in separate account” from The Reporter.

Everything a spouse earns while married is considered community property in most states. However, a gift or inheritance is usually considered separate property. If the gift or inheritance is not kept totally separate, that protection can be easily lost.

An inheritance or gift should not only be kept in a separate account from the spouse, but it should be kept at an entirely different financial institution. Since accounts within financial institutions are usually accessed online, it would be very easy for a spouse to gain access to an account, since they have likely already arranged for access to all accounts.

No other assets should be placed into this separate account, or the separation of the account will be lost and some or all of the inheritance or gift will be considered community property and belonging to both spouses.

The legal burden of proof will be on the son in this case, if funds are commingled. He will have to prove what portion of the account should be his and his alone.

Here is another issue about community property: if the son does not believe that his spouse is a problem and that there is no reason to keep the inheritance or gift separate, or if he is being pressured by the spouse to put the money into a joint account, he may need some help from a family member.

This “help” comes in the form of the mother putting his gift in an irrevocable trust.

If the mother decides to give away more than $15,000 to any one person in any one calendar year, she needs to file a gift tax return with her income tax returns the following year. However, her unified credit protects the first $11.7 million of her assets from any gift and estate taxes, so she does not have to pay any gift tax.

The mother should consider whether she expects to apply for Medicaid. If she is giving her money away before a serious illness occurs because she is concerned about needing to spend down her life savings for long term care, she should work with an elder law attorney. Giving money away in a lump sum would make her ineligible for Medicaid for at least five years in most states.

The best solution is for the mother to meet with an estate planning attorney who can work with her to determine the best way to protect her gift to her son and protect her assets if she expects to need long term care.

People often attempt to find simple workarounds to complex estate planning issues, and these DIY solutions usually backfire. It is smarter to speak with an experienced elder law attorney, who can help the mother and protect the son from making an expensive and stressful mistake.

Reference: The Reporter (Dec. 20, 2020) “Husband should keep inheritance in separate account”

 

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Can I Inherit Debt ?

When someone dies and leaves debts, you may ask if you have any personal liability to pay them. The answer is typically no, even though those debts don’t automatically disappear. However, there are situations in which you may have to address issues with a loved one’s creditors after they are gone, says KAKE’s recent article entitled “Can I Inherit Debt?”

The responsibility for ensuring the estate’s debts are paid, is typically that of the executor. An executor performs several tasks to wrap up a person’s estate after death. They include:

  • Obtaining a copy of the deceased’s will, if they had one, and filing it with the probate court
  • Notifying creditors and other entities of the person’s death (like the Social Security Administration to stop benefits)
  • Creating an inventory of the deceased’s assets and their value
  • Liquidating assets to pay off any debts owed by the estate; and
  • Distributing the remaining property to the individuals or organizations named in the deceased’s will (if they had one) or according to inheritance laws, if they didn’t.

In terms of debt repayment, executors must notify creditors who may have a claim against the estate. Creditors are given a set period of time to make a financial claim against the estate’s assets for repayment of debts. It’s not that uncommon for a disreputable creditor to attempt to get paid by the deceased’s relatives.

Any assets in the estate that have a named beneficiary, such as a life insurance policy, a 401(k), individual retirement account, payable on death accounts or annuity, would be transferred to that beneficiary automatically and cannot be touched by creditors.

You typically don’t inherit debts of another like you might inherit property or other assets from them. Thus, if a debt collector tries get money from you, you’re under no legal obligation to pay.

However, if you cosigned a loan with the deceased or opened a joint credit card account or line of credit, those debts are legally yours, just as much as they are the person who died. If they pass away, you’d be solely responsible for repaying them.

You should also know that you may be liable for long-term care costs incurred by your parents, while they were alive. Many states require children to cover nursing home bills, although they aren’t always enforced.

As for spouses, the same rules of debt responsibility apply. However, for debts that are in one spouse’s name only, it’s important to understand how living in a community property state can impact your liability for marital debts. If you live in a community property state (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin), debts incurred after the marriage by one spouse can be treated as a shared financial obligation.

Reference: KAKE (December 2, 2020) “Can I Inherit Debt?”

 

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How Much Should We Tell the Children about the Estate Plan?

Congratulations, if you have finished your estate plan. You and your estate planning attorney created a plan that is suited for your family, you have checked on beneficiary designations, signed all of the necessary documents and named an executor to carry out your directions when you pass. However, have you talked about your estate plan with your adult children? That is the issue explored in the recent article entitled “What to tell your adult kids when planning your estate” from CNBC. It can be a tricky one.

There are certain parts of estate plans that should be shared with adult children, even if money is not among them. Family conflict is common in many cases, whether the estate is worth $50,000 or $50 million. So, even if your estate plan is perfect, it might hold a number of surprises for your children, if you don’t speak with them while you are living.

The best estate plan can bequeath resentment and enduring family conflicts, if family members don’t have a head’s up about what you’ve planned and why.

If you die without a will, there can be even more problems for the family. With no will—called dying “intestate”—it is up to the courts in your state to decide who inherits what. This is a public process, so your life’s work is on display for all to see. If your heirs have a history of fighting, especially over who deserves what, dying without a will can make a bad family situation worse.

Not everything about an estate plan has to do with distribution of possessions. Much of an estate plan is concerned with protecting you, while you are alive.

For starters, your estate planning attorney can help you with a Power of Attorney. You’ll name a person who will handle your finances, if you become unable to do so because of illness or injury. A Healthcare Power of Attorney is used to empower a trusted person to make medical decisions for you, if you are incapacitated. Some estate planning attorneys recommend having a Living Will, also called an Advance Healthcare Directive, to convey end-of-life wishes, if you want to be kept alive through artificial means.

These documents do not require that you name a family member. A friend or colleague you trust and know to be responsible can carry out your wishes and can be named to any of these positions.

All of these matters should be discussed with your children. Even if you don’t want them to know about the assets in your estate, they should be told who will be responsible for making decisions on your finances and health care.

Consider if you want your children to learn about your finances during your lifetime, when you are able to discuss your choices with them, or if they will learn about them after you have passed, possibly from a stranger or from reading court documents.

Many of these decisions depend upon your family’s dynamics. Do your children work well together, or are there deep-seated hostilities that will lead to endless battles? You know your own children best, so this is a decision only you can make.

It is also important to take into consideration that an unexpected large inheritance can create emotional turbulence for many people. If heirs have never handled any sizable finances before, or if they have a marriage on shaky ground, an unexpected inheritance could create very real problems—and a divorce could put their inheritance at risk.

Talk with your children, if at all possible. Erring on the side of over-communicating might be a better mistake than leaving them in the dark.

Reference: CNBC (Nov. 11, 2020) “What to tell your adult kids when planning your estate”

 

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