WHERE THERE’S A WILL… YOU CAN AVOID PROBLEMS
One of the simplest and most neglected legal tasks we can perform for our families is to prepare a will. When you have a will you and you alone decide who will receive what you want your heirs to receive. Without a will, the State makes those decisions for you. And that often leads to a lot of unpleasantness among family members.
When you visit my office for a will, or more comprehensive state plan, we’ll cover all the necessary issues. We’ll talk about any questions or concerns you may have. I’ll then quote you a flat, fixed fee. No surprises. Then I shall personally prepare all the documents and review them with you. Together we’ll make sure you have the estate plan that’s right for you and your family and it won’t cost your children’s inheritance to do it!
Here’s a useful checklist that I review with all my clients:
ESTATE PLANNING CLIENT CHECKLIST
To develop the estate plan that's right for you, please consider the following items. It is important to provide your lawyer with as much detail as you can for each of the following items. Please do not hesitate to call our office with any questions as you go through this process.
1. Inventory of assets. Prepare a list of your possessions: cash, stocks, bonds, real estate, pension, IRA, cars, jewelry, etc.
2. Beneficiaries, i.e. who gets what (include contingent beneficiaries, too, in case your original beneficiary dies)
3. Name your EXECUTOR (also name a contingent Executor in case your first Executor cannot or will not serve). What kind of powers do you want your Executor to have? Discuss with your attorney before the will is prepared.
4. Do you wish to make any charitable gifts?
5. Are there any specific bequests (i.e. Joe gets Aunt Sally's vase; but if the vase is lost or damaged, Joe gets nothing).
6. Do you wish to make an anatomical gift?
7. List your payable on death (POD) assets--life insurance, other financial or other assets which are POD to a named beneficiary.
8. How do you want death (inheritance) taxes paid, by your residuary estate or by the beneficiaries, individually?
9. Are you likely to receive any potential inheritances yourself?
10. Children's Trust. This will protect your assets for your children while they are minors.
11. Who will be Guardian of your children if both you and your spouse die? Either you decide…or the state will decide for you.
12. Other trust interests you might like to create (marital deduction, charitable, living trust, etc.).
13. Power of attorney. Is one necessary or wise in your situation?
14. Advance Directive for Health Care (Living Will).
HOW TO HANDLE AN ESTATE
The Executor of a Will, or Administrator of an estate where there is no will, is known as the Personal Representative (PR). When you have been named Executor or Administrator you will find yourself faced with a variety of legal tasks to perform. This is not made any easier by the fact that you are still grieving over the loss of a loved one or friend.
Most PRs hire an attorney to handle these tasks. There are several good reasons for this. The job of PR is time consuming, there are specific legal deadlines with a variety of forms and reports to file with the court, and tax matters must be addressed. Perhaps most important is that the legal responsibility for failure to administer the estate in accordance with the law can fall personally upon the PR.
An experienced lawyer can handle most estates effectively and efficiently to be sure all requirements are met and the heirs can receive their bequests.
I use an Estate Administration Checklist as a tool to be sure that when I handle an estate for a client, we both know just where we need to go and what we need to get there.
Here’s that checklist:
Get the original will or determine there is no will in existence
Make arrangements for anatomical gifts if any
Follow funeral and burial instructions
Obtain the death certificate
Locate witnesses to the will unless the will is self-proving
Petition the court for letters:
County of probate
Letters of Administration
Obtain short certificates
Advertise grant of letters
Open estate bank accounts
Inventory safe deposit box and personal property
Make note of tax matters to be addressed:
Due date of U.S. Estate Tax Return
Due date of Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Return
Due date for 5% discount on inheritance tax
Due date for Pennsylvania Estate Tax Return
Send copies of will to all beneficiaries; notify Attorney General of any charitable bequests
Apply for Decedent’s last Social Security check, lump sum benefits or VA and any other death benefits
Return Social security check for the month in which the decedent died
Collect insurance proceeds
Discuss payment of debts with Personal Representative
WITHIN THREE MONTHS
Make complete list of assets with appraisal of real estate, vehicles, furniture and personal effects
Request family exemption if qualified
File any past due personal Property Tax Returns
Make preliminary estimated inheritance tax payment to get 5% discount
Prepare list of gifts and property transfers made within three years of death
WITHIN NINE MONTHS
Prepare inventory of assets
File Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Return
Pay balance of any inheritance tax due
File any necessary federal returns
Prepare account of estate
Obtain agreement of all parties to account
Formal accounting with court if no agreement
File status reports with Register of Wills after two years and annually thereafter
Final US tax form 1040 and PA 40 for decedent’s lifetime
Fiduciary returns if necessary
Personal property tax returns.