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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Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh had No Will and That Is a Mistake

Former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh , who built the giant online retailer Zappos based on “delivering happiness,” died at age 46 from complications of smoke inhalation from a house fire. He left an estate worth an estimated $840 million and no will, according to the article “Former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh died without a will, reports say. Here’s why you should plan for your own death” from CNBC.

Without a will or an estate plan, his family will never know exactly how he wanted his estate to be distributed. The family has asked a judge to name Tony Hsieh ’s father and brother as special administrators of his estate.

How can someone with so much wealth not have an estate plan? Hsieh probably thought he had plenty of time to “get around to it.” However, we never know when we are going to die, and unexpected accidents and illnesses happen all the time.

Why would someone who is not wealthy need to have an estate plan? It is even more important when there are fewer assets to be distributed. When a person dies with no will, the family may be faced with unexpected and overwhelming expenses.

Putting an estate plan in place, including a will, power of attorney and health care proxy, makes it far easier for a family that might otherwise become ensnared in fights about what their loved one might have wanted.

An estate plan is about making things easier for your loved ones, as much as it is about distributing your assets.

What Does a Will Do? A will is the document that explains who you want to receive your assets when you die. It can be extremely specific, detailing what items you wish to leave to an individual, or more general, saying that your surviving spouse should get everything.

If you have no will, a state court may decide who receives your assets, and if you have minor children, the court will decide who will raise your children.

Some assets pass outside the will, including accounts with beneficiary designations. That can include tax deferred retirement accounts, life insurance policies and property owned jointly. The person named as the beneficiary will receive the assets in the accounts, regardless of what your will says. The law requires your current spouse to receive the assets in your 401(k) account, unless your spouse has signed a document that agrees otherwise.

If there are no beneficiaries listed on these non-will items, or if the beneficiary is deceased and there is no contingent beneficiary, then those assets automatically go into probate. The process can take months or a year or more under state law, depending on how complicated your estate is.

Naming an Executor. Part of making a will includes selecting a person who will carry out your instructions—the executor. This can be a big responsibility, depending upon the size and complexity of the estate. They are in charge of making sure assets go to beneficiaries, paying outstanding debts, paying taxes for you and your estate and even selling your home. Select someone who is trustworthy, reliable and good with finances.

Your estate plan also includes a power of attorney for someone to handle financial and legal affairs, if you become incapacitated. An advance health-care directive, or living will, is used to explain your wishes, if you are being kept alive by life support. Otherwise, your loved ones will not know if you want to be kept alive or if you would prefer to be allowed to die.

Having an estate plan is a kindness to your family. Don’t wait until it’s too late to take care of it.

Reference: CNBC (Dec. 3, 2020) “Former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh died without a will, reports say. Here’s why you should plan for your own death”

 

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What Debt Must Be Paid after I Die?

When you pass away, your assets become your estate, and the process of dividing up debt after your death is part of probate. Creditors only have a certain amount of time to make a claim against the estate (usually three months to nine months).

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Debt After Death: What You Should Know” explains that beyond those basics, here are some situations where debts are forgiven after death, and some others where they still are required to be paid in some fashion:

  1. The beneficiaries’ money is partially protected if properly named. If you designated a beneficiary on an account — such as your life insurance policy and 401(k) — unsecured creditors typically can’t collect any money from those sources of funds. However, if beneficiaries weren’t determined before death, the funds would then go to the estate, which creditors tap.
  2. Credit card debt depends on what you signed. Most of the time, credit card debt doesn’t disappear when you die. The deceased’s estate will typically pay the credit card debt from the estate’s assets. Children won’t inherit the credit card debt, unless they’re a joint holder on the account. Likewise, a surviving spouse is responsible for their deceased spouse’s debt, if he or she is a joint borrower. Moreover, if you live in a community property state, you could be responsible for the credit card debt of a deceased spouse. This is not to be confused with being an authorized user on a credit card, which has different rules. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney, if a creditor asks you to pay off a credit card. Don’t just assume you’re liable, just because someone says you are.
  3. Federal student loan forgiveness. This applies both to federal loans taken out by parents on behalf of their children and loans taken out by the students themselves. If the borrower dies, federal student loans are forgiven. If the student passes away, the loan is discharged. However, for private student loans, there’s no law requiring lenders to cancel a loan, so ask the loan servicer.
  4. Passing a mortgage to heirs. If you leave a mortgage behind for your children, under federal law, lenders must let family members assume a mortgage when they inherit residential property. This law prevents heirs from having to qualify for the mortgage. The heirs aren’t required to keep the mortgage, so they can refinance or pay off the debt entirely. For married couples who are joint borrowers on a mortgage, the surviving spouse can take over the loan, refinance, or pay it off.
  5. Marriage issues. If your spouse passes, you’re legally required to pay any joint tax owed to the state and federal government. In community property states, the surviving spouse must pay off any debt your partner acquired while you were married. However, in other states, you may only be responsible for a select amount of debt, like medical bills.

You may want to purchase more life insurance to pay for your debts at death or pay off the debts while you’re alive.

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 2, 2020) “Debt After Death: What You Should Know”

 

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How Does Probate affect Real Estate Transactions?

For a family whose 91-year-old mother lives in her home, has a will and has appointed two sisters as Power of Attorney and executors of her estate, the question of handling the transfer of the home is explored in a recent article from the Herald Tribune, “Transfer title now or go through probate in the future?”

The family wasn’t sure if it made more sense to transfer the title to her two daughters and son while she was still living, or let the children handle the transfer as part of the estate. The brother may wish to purchase the home after the mother passes, as he lives with his mother.

If nothing is done, the house will be part of the probate estate. A case will have to be opened, a representative will be appointed by the court (usually the executor of the will) and then the executor can sell assets in the estate, close accounts and deal with the IRS and the Social Security Administration. The probate process can be time-consuming and expensive, depending on where the mother lives.

There are a number of steps that could be taken to simplify things. The mom’s assets can be held jointly, so they pass to the surviving owner, or a trust can be created, and her assets be titled to the trust, so they pass automatically to beneficiaries.

The issue of the house becomes a little more complicated because there are so many options. If the house has appreciated significantly over the years, keeping it in the estate will minimize taxes that have to be paid if and when it is sold.

For example, let’s say the house has increased in value by $250,000. Under current tax law, the mother can exclude up to $250,000 in profits from the sale of the home. This is the exclusion before the sale of a primary residence where the owner has lived in the home for two out of the last five years.

If she signs a quitclaim deed now to give the home to her three children, the IRS will consider this a gift to the three children. Her cost basis in the property (what she paid for the home, plus the cost of any material or structural improvements) will be transferred to the children. However, when the children go to sell the property, they won’t have that same $250,000 exclusion. The three siblings will have to pay federal income or capital gains tax on the same of the home.

However, if the home remains in the mother’s estate when she passes, the siblings inherit the home at the stepped-up basis. In other words, the value of the house (for estate tax purposes) will rise to the current market value at the time of her death, and not the value when she paid for the house. If the children decide to sell the house immediately, there won’t be any profit and there won’t be any taxes.

Depending on the state’s laws, the children might be able to use a transfer on death deed that would let the property transfer automatically to heirs upon the mother’s death. The siblings then inherit the property at the stepped-up value.

Here’s another question to consider: how does the cost of setting up trusts and transfer on death deeds compare to the estimated cost of probating the estate?

This family, and others in the same situation, should speak with an estate planning attorney to evaluate their options. The siblings in this case need to clarify whether their brother wants to buy the house and if he is able to do so. The mom then needs to make a decision, while she is still able to do so, because after all, it’s still her home.

Reference: Herald-Tribune (Nov. 7, 2020) “Transfer title now or go through probate in the future?”

 

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Intestate – How Does Court Choose an Executor if a Will Isn’t Available?

Intestate – An executor is the person who’ll manage your estate by protecting your assets, paying your debts and distributing the remaining property according to the terms in the will. But Programming Insider’s recent article, “Role of the Court When There is No Will For an Estate, asks “what would happen if someone dies without a will and, therefore, without appointing a personal representative?”

This is known as dying intestate . When it happens, the probate court must decide who will act as the estate’s administrator or personal representative. The judge’s decision will be based on state law, which will say how to prioritize potential fiduciaries in an administrator’s appointment. Every state has a prioritized list of preferred executors, and some states offer detailed guidance, like Oklahoma, which has a prioritized list. If more than one person is equally entitled to be appointed, a court has the option to appoint one or more executors.

The probate court has the final decision as to who will serve as the estate’s administrator or personal representative, even including a person who is named as executor in a will or is entitled to be chosen as a valid executor. The court will award authority to an administrator and will issue letters of administration if intestate or letters of testamentary when there is a Will. This authorizes the person to serve as an estate’s personal representative. Some people who might otherwise be entitled to serve as an executor may be disqualified based on state law. Here are some of the factors that a judge may consider when disqualifying a potential executor:

  • An executor must be an adult, who is at least 18 years old. However, some states require the minimum age of 21.
  • Criminal History. Some states don’t permit someone who’s been convicted of a serious crime to serve as the fiduciary representative of a decedent’s estate. Other states only require a potential executor to notify the court of any felony convictions.
  • Residency. This may be a factor in a person’s ability to serve as a personal representative. Some states let nonresidents serve in some circumstances. Some let nonresidents serve, if it’s a close relative. Finally, some other states require a nonresident executor to post a bond or use an agent within the state to process services and the court’s communication.
  • Business Relationship. There may be state laws as to who may be an executor if the decedent was an active member of a partnership; and
  • It also may be difficult for a noncitizen to serve as an estate’s personal representative.

Generally, probate judges have a lot of latitude and discretion on this selection.

Reference: Programming Insider (Nov. 9, 2020) “Role of the Court When There is No Will For an Estate

 

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What Did Steve Bing ’s Estate Plan Look Like?

Hollywood Producer Steve Bing committed suicide in Los Angeles in June at the age of 55, says Page Six’s recent article entitled “Steve Bing worth just $300,000 at time of death.”

In June, Father’s Day came and went and Steve Bing, the film producer and philanthropist, failed to call his friend, the legendary rocker Jerry Lee Lewis at his Mississippi home.

“I knew something wasn’t right,” said Lewis’ wife, Judith. “It was the first time. Steve even called me on Mother’s Day.”

Bing first met Lewis as a 15-year-old starstruck fan in the 1980s, when he snuck into the Palomino Club in North Hollywood to watch him perform. The pair struck up a friendship, and Bing told friends it was the Palomino shows that inspired him to teach himself to play the piano. In time, their relationship deepened. Bing took the down-and-out Lewis and reignited his stalled career, by coproducing his acclaimed comeback album “Last Man Standing” in 2006. The 84-year-old Lewis thought of Bing as a son.

“He was in a great mood,” Judith said of her and Jerry’s last phone conversation with Bing, three days before Father’s Day. “It was uplifting. He was joking with Jerry about women. He had an awesome sense of humor. He talked about getting us a place in Palm Springs. He said, ‘I don’t want you staying at the Motel 6.’”

On June 22, the following Monday, Judith received a call from Bing’s assistant informing her that the 55-year-old Bing died after falling 27 stories from his luxury high-rise in Century City. The authorities ruled it a suicide.

“I had no clue whatsoever that he’d commit suicide,” she said.

Judith feared that her husband, who had a stroke last year, might suffer another one. Therefore, she told him that Bing had a massive heart attack.

In September, a judge ruled that Bing’s estate would be administered by Kira Kerkorian, his daughter with tennis pro Lisa Bonder. His money was supposed to be bequeathed to the Clinton Foundation. However, there are several debts to be settled first by the estate.

Bing was known to have a substance abuse problem. However, he was said to have been sober for several months before his death and had been speaking with a therapist twice a day. He had also reconnected with Damian, his son with actress Elizabeth Hurley.

However, he reportedly disinherited his two children in his will. His estate is valued at roughly $337,000, although properties aren’t included. That’s according to documents obtained exclusively by DailyMail.com.

Bing also had a trust established in 1983, and President Clinton’s Foundation was listed as a beneficiary.

He had completed in 2001, before he knew Kira had been born and while Hurley was pregnant. In his will he wrote, “Whether or not such child is mine, it is my intention not to provide in this Will for such child (or any other child as to which I may be the father) in this Will or for the offspring of any such child or children, whether now living or hereafter born.”

Reference: Page Six (Oct. 19, 2020) “Steve Bing worth just $300,000 at time of death”

 

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What Do I Do If Property I Just Inherited Has a Mortgage?

Bankrate’s recent article entitled “Does the home you inherited include a mortgage?’ explains that when a family member dies, there can be questions about wills, inheritances and how best to settle financial affairs. It can be a stressful time, and complicated, especially when real estate is a part of the equation. Let’s look at some specific situations and how to address them.

Inheriting a mortgage. In many instances, a person will inherit both a home and the mortgage that goes with it. If that’s the case, ask for help from an attorney who specializes in elder law or estate planning. Even though the borrower died, the mortgage still must be repaid. Therefore, if you’ve inherited it, you’ll have to decide how the loan and property will be handled. If you move into the home, you may be able to assume the mortgage and continue paying it. You might also think about a cash-out refinance and pay that way. You can also sell the home. Heirs have a good deal of leverage dealing with this in an estate situation thanks to federal law, which can help them assume an existing loan. You should ask your attorney about estate taxes and capital gains taxes from a sale.

Assuming a mortgage. Typically, if you’re assuming the loan, the lender will be willing to work with you. Mortgages frequently have a “due-on-sale” or “due-on-transfer” clause that requires full repayment of the loan, in the event of a change in ownership. In certain estate situations, federal law prevents the lender from calling the loan, even if it has such a clause. Surviving spouses also have special protections to ensure that they can keep an inherited home.

Inheriting a reverse mortgage. If the home involves a reverse mortgage or a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), your options vary according to the circumstances of the borrower who died. If you inherited a reverse mortgage from a parent, your options include the following:

  • Paying off or refinancing the balance and keeping the home
  • Selling the home for at least 95% of the appraised value; or
  • Agreeing to a deed in lieu of foreclosure.

There is a six-month window for the balance to be repaid. This can be extended, if the heir is actively trying to pay off the debt. If the reverse mortgage isn’t paid off after a year, the lender is required by HUD to begin the foreclosure process. This has negative connotations. However, it is a normal part of settling a reverse mortgage, once the last borrower or non-borrowing spouse passes away. If you’re a surviving spouse, and you’re on the reverse mortgage, nothing will change.

If the mortgage is underwater. If the value of the inherited home is less than the outstanding debt, the home has negative equity or is “underwater.” If the mortgage is a non-recourse loan (the borrower doesn’t have to pay more than the value of the home), the lender may have few options outside of foreclosure. The same usually applies for a reverse mortgage: the most that will ever have to be repaid, is the value of the home. The heirs are fully protected, if the home isn’t worth enough to pay off the entire HECM balance.

When there’s no will. If a borrower dies without a will, there will be more complications and expense when handling a home with a mortgage (or any other assets). Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney regarding your specific situation.

Reference: Bankrate (Oct. 22, 2020) “Does the home you inherited include a mortgage?’

 

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Why Is the Art Dealer, Andre Zarre ‘s Family Contesting His Will?

Andre Zarre didn’t have a wife or children. He is believed to have amassed a valuable art collection in the years since he opened the Andre Zarre Gallery on New York’s Upper East Side in 1974.

The gallery closed several years ago, because of Zarre’s health problems.

ArtNews’ recent article entitled “A New York Art Dealer Just Left His Multimillion-Dollar Estate to the Owner of a Deli in Queens—But His Family Is Crying Foul” explains that Yeje met Zarre in 2016. He  reportedly cared for Zarre over the last eight months of his life, including when the dealer contracted the coronavirus.

Zarre recovered but fell in his Park Avenue apartment in July. Yeje drove him to the hospital, where he reportedly died of a heart attack.

“I washed him, I bought his groceries and fed him. He trusted me and I took care of him,” Yeje, who is 50, told the New York Post. “He was an awesome person.”

Friends of the dealer say they questioned his actions, when he reportedly began investing in the Palermo Delicatessen in Glendale, Queens last fall.

“[Zarre] was really going blind and could barely put one foot in front of the other,” Nick Wolfson, a friend of Zarre and one his gallery’s artists, told the New York Post, wondering if failing health had made the elderly dealer vulnerable to a swindle.

Zarre’s first cousin Arkadiusz Tomasik, who lives in the United Kingdom, claims that Zarre always told him that he’d inherit the estate. He questions the validity of the will leaving everything to Yeje, especially since Zarre was legally blind.

Yeje has offered Zarre’s family $45,000 and land that the art dealer owned in his native Poland, in exchange for not challenging the will. Tomasik is reportedly thinking about legal action.

If Tomasik disputes the will, he will file a lawsuit that seeks to invalidate the art dealer’s will. He will have to show that the will was signed under undue influence, by fraud, that Zarre didn’t have the capacity to sign the will or that the will wasn’t signed in accordance with New York law.

Reference: ArtNews (Oct. 19, 2020) “A New York Art Dealer Just Left His Multimillion-Dollar Estate to the Owner of a Deli in Queens—But His Family Is Crying Foul”

 

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