Why Living Trusts Do Not Make Sense for Most People

As we’ve often discussed here on the blog, having a well-designed estate plan – no matter the value of your property and assets – is a gift to your family and/or friends who will handle your affairs once you’re no longer living. And there are a lot of things to consider when working through the planning process.

From creating your will to ensuring that someone you trust is designated to make decisions for you via power of attorney should you become seriously ill or incapacitated, there is much to know and understand – especially if minimizing complications for your loved ones is your priority.

One component of estate planning that may fall under creating more complications for executors and heirs is the living trust. While these asset-protective arrangements have great value in some specific circumstances, unfortunately, living trusts are often sold to people who do not actually need them, and the truth is that they don’t tend to make sense for the average individual or estate plan.

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Understanding Death Taxes

Benjamin Franklin once wrote in a 1789 letter, “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” This bit of wry humor is true, of course. And in our modern time, we’ve figured out how to combine those certainties with what are commonly known as “death taxes.”

As with most things today, the term “death taxes” is politically charged – the name was devised (likely in the 1990s) to describe estate and inheritance taxes by opponents looking to have those repealed. Unfortunately, their efforts were unsuccessful, but the morbid name stuck.

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What to Expect During Probate in PA

In an earlier post here on the blog, we discussed the steps you should take to begin probating an estate in Pennsylvania. Today we’re picking up where we left off to let you know what you can expect once the probate process is underway.

It’s true that probate can be a time-consuming and expensive process, and it’s important to approach the responsibility in an organized manner. Once you’ve worked through all of the preparatory steps and paid the filing fee, it’s time to get down to the business of probate.

Don’t forget to stay organized, and remember that you can consult an attorney at any time for help if you get stuck. Just because you have not worked with an attorney from the beginning does not mean that you can’t call for a rescue if you run into trouble with creditors, family members, or anything else about the probate process.

Here’s what will happen next now that probate is open. Continue reading “What to Expect During Probate in PA”

A Step-by-Step Guide to Opening Probate in PA

Most people are overwhelmed by the idea of probating an estate in Pennsylvania, if they even understand the process at all. For good reason, no two estates are alike and not all will even require the formal probate process. For those that do, probate can become time-consuming and expensive, depending on the total value of the estate and other factors related to debt and assets. So it’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you’re facing the probate process.

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Avoid the Pitfalls that can Derail Your Estate Plan

Because there are so many ways that your wealth and assets can be passed on to your surviving family members and other heirs, it is easy to ruin even carefully thought-out estate plans. Your last will and testament may not be the final word on how assets are distributed to others, although many people mistakenly believe this is the case. Beneficiary designations on financial products, for instance, can override your will, and many common estate planning pitfalls may cause heartache and infighting among family members. Protect yourself by getting to know the major “land mines” that can potentially blow up your estate plan. Continue reading “Avoid the Pitfalls that can Derail Your Estate Plan”

7 Common Mistakes Executors Make During Probate

Few people feel fully prepared when they are named a Personal Representative (an Executor, or Executrix) in a loved one’s will. They are often worried about knowing how to probate an estate, what to do, and when to do it. And about making mistakes.

These worries are common, and completely understandable. Legal processes are daunting to most people to begin with, and figuring out how to probate an estate while grieving the loss of a loved one is even more so. On top of that, Personal Representatives can be held personally financially responsible when they make a mistake that results in a loss for the estate, making it sometimes an even more stressful experience.

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Help for Potential Guardians of Minor Children

For parents, a key component of estate planning is often selecting potential guardians for minor children should something tragic happen to one or both parents. These considerations can be double-sided emotionally and difficult to face. On the one hand, who would ever take care of your children just like you would? Facing such a decision also brings to light many fears and concerns. On the other hand, making the decision can be freeing in a way, because you know your children will be cared for if something happens.

Our firm understands the struggle that parents might face when dealing with such a decision, and we also understand the concerns that a potential guardian faces if the actual appointed time comes to pass. Many people agree to be named as legal guardians without ever really thinking the situation will occur where they will have to take charge of the children. That doesn’t mean they don’t love the kids or want this responsibility, but when the time comes, a guardian can be suddenly overwhelmed with the reality of the responsibility. Continue reading “Help for Potential Guardians of Minor Children”

Don’t Forget the Tax Man

If you are in a fiduciary relationship as an executor of an estate or a trustee of a trust, then you have to think about the wishes and needs of others. A fiduciary must make decisions that are in keeping with the law, the wishes of the deceased and the needs of the beneficiary. But you have to be careful not to forget other obligations, including taxes.

Many estates don’t pass the threshold for the federal estate tax, so you might think taxes aren’t a common concern for those in such positions. Just because you don’t have to worry about paying estate taxes doesn’t mean you don’t have to file any paperwork, though, and almost any estate will have to concern itself with at least one more income tax return.

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Seek Assistance Contesting Questionable Wills

Last week, we talked about what you might do if a loved one dies without a will and how various factors could impact your actions. What if your loved one did leave a will, but you don’t think that will is valid? In such cases, you might have to legally contest the will in probate.

While there are many reasons someone might contest a will, some legal arguments for will invalidation are going to stand above others. Perhaps one of the easiest ways to argue that a will is not valid is to produce a valid will that was signed after the will that was originally presented. This means that the will you produce was created by the deceased person when they were of sound mind and that they signed it in the presence of witnesses in keeping with state laws.

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What do You do if Your Loved One Died Without a Will?

If you believe you are a legal heir to someone’s estate, but that person has died without estate planning documents such as a will, you might not know what steps to take to claim your inheritance. The requirements for receiving assets or money that are left to you in such an estate depend on the laws of the state, whether there are other potential heirs and whether any assets are linked to beneficiary designations.

When someone dies without leaving a will or other estate documents, then the person is considered to have died intestate. Basically, that’s just a term for “without a will,” and intestacy estates are probated under the general laws of the state in question. Intestacy laws usually ensure that primary heirs, such as surviving spouses or children of the deceased, receive an inheritance under the estate. Depending on the situation, other family members such as step-children, grandchildren and siblings might also inherit something from an intestate process — especially if no other closer heirs are found.

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