Taking time to grieve after the death of a relative

The immediate period after the passing of a relative is not easy and can mix heartbreak and confusion. You might feel you have to start quickly on all of your plans to handle the estate of your loved one. However, you should not feel pressured to swiftly carry out your New York estate plan. There is only one step to worry about off the bat.

The first step you should take as soon as possible is to secure the tangible property of your loved one. You want to make sure that the tangible assets your relative owned will not go missing before it is time to distribute them to whoever is listed in your relative’s will, or, if there is no will, through whatever means your relative planned. There are times when assets may vanish if someone else has access to them.

Agingcare.com explains that after this step, you can take the time to grieve . The financial matters of your relative’s estate will not require immediate attention. However, if your loved one was issued a Social Security check after passing away, you will have to go through the proper procedures listed on the Social Security Administration’s website to return it.

Also make sure that, if your relative made a will, you file the will for probate as soon as you can. This will help prevent delays with the probate process and keep you from feeling stressed out. On top of your grief, you do not need to worry about your estate plan taking longer to carry out than it has to.

You should also plan on seeing an attorney, but you do not have to make an immediate visit. An article on Caring.com points out that the period following the death of a loved one is very emotional and you may  carry those feelings with you into the attorney’s office. Waiting a while can help clear your mind and let you address estate issues with your attorney in a calmer manner.

Is there a problem if executors are slow to communicate?

It is a scenario that some people face. A family member has passed, yet the executor of their deceased loved one’s New York estate has barely reached out with news about the estate and its assets, if the executor has communicated at all. You might think something is up and are exploring legal action against the executor. However, slow communication may not be a sign that you should worry, at least not yet.

As ThinkAdvisor points out, estate administration is not a quick process . It may take months or perhaps even years to complete because of the various legal hurdles that the executor must get over, including sending the estate through probate and dealing with creditors who are claiming some of your loved one’s assets due to old debts. There might also be tax problems that could take years to resolve. All of these duties may hamper an executor from making regular communications to beneficiaries.

The range of responsibilities can feel overwhelming for some executors. In addition to the ordinarily slow process of administrating an estate, an executor may lag in talking to you due to trying to figure out how to handle the duties of the office. Some executors may be occupied seeking out help from outside parties, such as an attorney, to figure out legal and financial matters.

Nevertheless, beneficiaries of an estate will want to know that assets promised to them are in good hands. An executor, even if not ready to dispense the assets, should still let the beneficiaries know that the estate is secure. Shortly thereafter, an executor should convey a description of how the estate will be administrated and copies of the important estate planning papers. Regular communication from the executor to the beneficiaries should follow.

Since it is possible an executor’s lack of communication is not due to malice, it could be a smarter move to reach out to the executor or discuss the matter with fellow beneficiaries to decide on how to approach the executor. However, if an executor continues to remain silent or is too vague or infrequent in talking to you, you might want to see if the estate is having any problems that the executor could be covering up. Consultation with an attorney would also be appropriate.

Probate litigation can take many forms. For that reason, do not consider this article as offering any legal advice, and read it only for educational benefit.

What happens to overseas assets in estates?

Whether your will could pass through probate without your overseas assets diminished by U.S. tax depends on a variety of factors. It also is possible that you could avoid putting some of these assets in your will by establishing a trust, thereby avoiding the probate process in most cases. 

For assets you do not wish to place in trust ownership or move to the United States, you would probably want to consider a number of key points for each. It is often helpful to keep in mind that the court will likely have a different set of rules for nearly every gift you intend to bestow.

The most common concern for wills in terms of United States taxes and foreign assets is often the gift tax. Real estate, securities and other forms of wealth you intend to transfer from outside of the country may be subject to this tax if they come from certain non-treaty nations and exceed a specified dollar value. 

Only a few foreign countries hold gift tax treaties with the United States. As stated on the IRS website, these select nations include some of the USA’s most dedicated  business and trading partners :

  • The United Kingdom
  • Japan
  • Denmark
  • Australia

However, it is not always safe to assume that a court would your assets as foreign. It would be in your best interests to look at each line item in your will individually to determine the exact IRS definition under which it might fall.

Knowing the details of these treaties could be an important first step in developing a strategy for your foreign assets in an estate plan. however, laws change all the time and this should not be considered specific advice. It is only meant to inform and educate.

The financial responsibilities of serving as an estate executor

Losing someone you love is difficult, especially if you were close with that person. The situation can become even more complicated if the deceased party asked you to serve as the executor of their estate or the trustee for their trust.

That means that not only do you have to deal with grief, but you also have to handle the complex financial and legal responsibilities of administering an estate. The first step toward fulfilling your obligations to your deceased loved one is familiarizing yourself with your responsibilities as the trustee or executor .

It is your job to tie up loose ends after someone dies

An executor helps address all outstanding issues in someone’s legal and financial life after their physical life is over. You will handle the financial and legal details related to their passing and the liquidation of their assets.

Typically, you will have some financial and legal obligations to fulfill prior to disbursing the assets from the estate. Often, these responsibilities include:

  • paying bills
  • paying taxes
  • closing accounts
  • assessing liabilities and debts
  • locating assets
  • locating beneficiaries and heirs
  • serving notice
  • handling any probate proceedings

Obviously, there are many complicated steps involved in estate administration. As soon as you assume your mantle of authority, you should review the last will. Whether you go over it with your own attorney or the attorney who drafted it, it’s important to understand the request and obligations outlined in the last will or estate plan. From there, you will want to secure all important financial documentation related to the estate, ranging from outstanding bills to text documents.

You must pay debts before you disperse anything to other people

No matter the emotional significance of a valuable asset, you do not have the right to disperse anything from the estate until all outstanding debts and obligations of the deceased get paid in full. That is why reviewing financial documentation is critical.

Once you understand what obligations the testator left to you, you can quickly handle them and move on to locating and organizing assets for heirs and beneficiaries. Anytime you disburse funds, whether it is to a child of the deceased or a creditor, make sure that you have accurate records and receipts. If someone chooses to challenge your role in the future, that documentation can prove that you performed your fiduciary duty with care and diligence.

If you are uncertain about the right steps to take, it is best to refer to the advice of an experienced estate administration attorney in Jamaica. In some cases, you could be held legally or financially responsible for mistakes you make in good faith while dealing with an estate. The best way to avoid any such liability is to carefully comply with the terms of the will and with the law.

Understanding “undue influence”

While creating an estate plan is a wise move for any adult living in New York, many people fail to take important steps to plan for their futures and get their affairs in order until they are old or in particularly poor health. This can prove problematic, however, because in some cases, other people take advantage of older Americans who they believe they can easily influence, and they may exploit the trust of an aging American if they think doing so would be to their benefit. At Joseph A. Ledwidge, P.C., we understand that undue influence is a common reason courts may deem a will invalid, and we have considerable experience helping others with similar concerns pursue solutions that meet their needs.

According to the American Bar Association, undue influence, although somewhat difficult to define, refers to someone’s efforts to  manipulate someone else for his or her own personal gain. While undue influence can affect virtually anyone, those with memory loss and related issues are particularly vulnerable to this type of treatment. Older Americans, for example, may find that others exploit them for their own financial gain, and those responsible for doing so may try to isolate the victim in an effort to better protect themselves from detection.

Deciphering between undue influence and simple persuasion can prove difficult, however, so many judges and juries consider certain factors when determining whether  undue influence is at play. For example, a judge or jury will likely consider the vulnerability of the victim and the degree of authority the influencer has over this person when determining whether someone experienced undue influence.

Judges and juries may also consider the tactics used by the influencer, and the results of the influencer’s behavior, before making final determinations about undue influence. You can find out more about this and other common reasons for contesting wills by visiting our webpage.

Putting homes in trusts

Many people in the New York City area rent their primary residence. However, for those who own their homes, these parcels of real estate are often among the largest single-item assets in their portfolios. This, combined with the fact that property values are high in the area, has the potential to cause a considerable amount of loss in the probate process.

The way most people avoid this loss is by using trusts. As mentioned on CNN, this type of ownership has the potential to avoid the probate process entirely . Trusts are legally distant from the person who establishes them, and many are not dissolved upon that person’s death. Rather, those who use these financial tools typically plan ahead so that certain heirs gain access to the funds and assets held within.

Trusts seem more complex on paper than they often are in reality. The most commonly used trusts are rather simple in terms of function. They are official stores of wealth that one may transfer assets to, modify the terms of and withdraw from if one has certain prescribed funding, modification and beneficiary privileges. Per FindLaw: People often name themselves as beneficiaries of their trusts, a title they schedule to pass to their children  under certain conditions.

The FindLaw resource also mentions the fact that those who felt burdened by trust paperwork in the past may find the processes surrounding funding and deed paperwork more streamlined now. Even so, performing these tasks is often not as straightforward as it might be for other types of simple ownership structures, such as brokerage or banking accounts. However, there are many ways that an estate planner might address this complexity, potentially allowing a higher percentage of an estate to weather probate without diminishing.