Giving all your money to charity might let you avoid disputes

There are a few ways that a person can have a say in their affairs after their death. In many cases, wishes that a person has expressed might be modified or even ignored. However, having a will that makes a person’s wishes clear can go a long way toward ensuring that those desires are carried out.

Having a confusing or ambiguous will can make the probate process confusing and potentially divisive for surviving family members and friends. In many cases, people complete a will with the intention of avoiding the problems that they end up causing. Having an attorney to help with the process might lead to many of these headaches being avoided.

In some cases, people might wish not to leave their estate and assets to individuals but instead to an organization, such as a charity. Quite often, this can be a relatively painless process for everyone involved. However, it is certainly a good idea to let the charity know in advance that it will be named as a beneficiary. This will enable administrators to handle the estate using their own attorneys and processes — something they will often be very willing to do in exchange for being the beneficiary.

Some people might be inclined to set up a trust in order to transfer their estates to charity in an orderly fashion. However, this might not be necessary, especially if all the funds are to be directed to a single entity. It might be wise for some people, however, which is where having an experienced attorney could be a real benefit.

Source:  The Lamar Ledger, ” Charity receiving estate will handle probate ,” Bruce Williams, April 14, 2014

Not keeping tabs on beneficiary arrangements can cause heartache

On our Queens probate and estate administration blog, we talk frequently about the necessity of getting one’s affairs in order. Making sure that our estate is in order by taking the necessary steps can ease the estate administration process after we’re gone. One thing in particular that people need to pay attention to is the beneficiary arrangements on accounts such as individual retirement accounts, such as IRAs.

The case of one man who died in 2009 can serve as a cautionary tale. The man, who had a daughter from a previous relationship, had a long-time girlfriend whom he never married. When the couple broke up in 1998, a judge divided their assets, even though they weren’t married. In exchange for a settlement saying she had no right to the man’s retirement accounts, he was able to remove her as a beneficiary on his will. However, he did not ever remove her as the listed beneficiary on his IRAs.

As a result, when he died, his former girlfriend was in line to receive the money. The man’s daughter sued, saying that the money wasn’t intended for the ex-girlfriend. However, a state court sided with the ex-girlfriend, saying that the instructions the man had left before his unexpected death did nothing to change that beneficiary designation.

It’s not uncommon to have a need to change beneficiary designations; life throws us curves all the time. However, when this happens, it’s important to take stock of these events because of how they could affect our family’s financial future.

Source:  Oregon Live, ” It’s Only Money: The dangers of neglecting your beneficiary designations ,” Brent Hunsberger, March 22, 2014

Fight over Mickey Rooney’s estate likely only just beginning

We often write on our blog about issues that celebrities run into when their wills are made public after their death. Due to their large estates, thanks to a lifetime of movie star salaries, there can be bitter fights among heirs. The estate of screen legend Mickey Rooney, who died recently at age 93, is experiencing some of these issues — although his estate wasn’t nearly as large as some people might have expected it to be.

Rooney, who appeared in productions from the 1920s through the present day, only has around $18,000 in his estate to be distributed. In recent years, he had fought public battles over money matters with the children of his wife, to whom he had been married for more than three decades. His most recent will , which the actor signed only a few weeks before he died, did not include his estranged wife or one of her children, nor does it include the actor’s eight biological children and two stepchildren from previous marriages.

Instead, the entire estate was left to his wife’s other son, who was his caretaker after Rooney and his wife separated in 2012. According to the actor’s conservator, Rooney’s other children were in a better financial position than he was. He chose to award his stepson the sum of his estate because he appreciated his efforts in being his caretaker.

There may yet be legal action from Rooney’s estranged wife and her son regarding the disposition of Rooney’s remains. Such a case can serve to remind people about the need to get affairs in order before death, so that those who are left behind are not bickering afterwards.

Source:  CNN, ” With not much in Mickey Rooney’s estate, fight possible over his remains ,” Alan Duke, April 9, 2014

Put careful thought into whom you will name as your executor

Few people actually look forward to estate planning. Putting yourself in the frame of mind to do it means that you have to think about what the world will be like after you’re no longer in it, which is not something that everyone wants to do. However, ultimately it’s something that needs to be done. It’s a way of having a say in your affairs after you’re gone, which is certainly preferable to leaving no instructions behind — and having your estate eaten up by taxes and fees.

While figuring out the “what” is important — such as whether or not to set up a trust to distribute your assets — the “who” is also important. If you do choose to set up a trust, then selecting a trustee to handle the distribution of the trust assets is of critical importance as well.

Trustees play an important role. It’s up to them to oversee the trust, and to make sure that your wishes are carried out. Many people might select a family member to do this job, but that might not be the best option for everyone. It is also a good idea to name a contingent trustee, so that if your first choice cannot serve because of incapacitation or death, there is no doubt as to who should step into the role.

Whatever you choose, you do not have to make the choice without professional advice. An experienced attorney can aid in this decision to make sure your wishes are carried out as you specify.

Source:  The Times of Trenton, ” Rossi: How to choose the right executor for your estate ,” Kurt Rossi, March 30, 2014