The Estate Planning Goal of What To Do with Mom’s House
What To Do With Mom's House After She Dies

The Estate Planning Goal of What To Do with Mom’s House

It’s a not uncommon estate planning objective for the surviving parent to leave the family home to her children. At the parent’s death, estate planning questions often arise concerning how long the children have before they must sell it or change the deed. What if one sibling wants to live in the home for a while, before it is sold?

nj.com’s article on this subject asks, “Mom died and left us her home. What do we have to do next?” According to the article, the executor is tasked with gathering the assets, paying the debts and taxes (if any) and then distributing the assets, in accordance with the parent’s will.

If the home was in the parent’s name alone, it makes the property a probate asset that’s passed according to the will. In addition, if the will provides that under the residuary clause everything that’s left is to be distributed equally among the children, it will give the executor discretion to liquidate and then make the distributions.

There also may be a specific provision in the will covering the home.

There’s no specific timeline as to when the property has to be transferred. However, the executor is required to act prudently and in a reasonably timely manner.

In this situation, the home will most likely be sold. It is also the executor’s responsibility to pay the bills associated with the home, until a buyer is found.

If one child wants to live there, and it’s agreeable to everyone, make sure that she doesn’t refuse to leave, when it comes time to sell.

Note that landlord-tenant laws protect a tenant and may create an issue. The executor may want to talk with an attorney to determine what steps are necessary to protect against the tenant refusing to leave.

Learn how good estate planning lessens the chances of children fighting.

Reference: nj.com (April 1, 2019) “Mom died and left us her home. What do we have to do next?”

Does Estate Planning Include Your Account Passwords?
Good estate planning includes account passwords

Does Estate Planning Include Your Account Passwords?

With most bank customers receiving financial statements electronically instead of on paper, there are some actions you need to take to be sure your accounts are incorporated into your estate planning. Do you use passwords for your accounts? Of course you do. Should you incorporate your passwords into your estate planning? Absolutely you should. Not only your financial accounts, but what about your social media accounts such as Facebook? Would you like a loved one to take control of your Facebook account after you die or become disabled? How do they take control? When is the last time you saw a physical copy of a photograph? Nowadays photos are stored in the cloud. How does your family access those photos? Is sharing passwords the simple answer (it is not)? Does sharing passwords violate the law (it does)? Good estate planning no longer is limited to the stuff you can touch and feel. Much of our lives are saved in the cloud. This is what we call digital asset estate planning.

Kiplinger’s recent story, Your Estate Plan Isn’t Complete Without Fixing the Password Problem,” says that having online access to investments is a great convenience for us. We can monitor bank balances, conduct stock trades, transfer funds and many other services that not long ago required the help of another person.

The bad thing about these advancements, is that they can make for a very difficult situation for a surviving spouse or executor attempting to determine where the assets of a deceased person are held.

This was in the news recently, when the founder and CEO of a cryptocurrency exchange died unexpectedly. Gerry Cotten didn’t share the password to the exchange’s cold storage locker—leaving $190 million in cryptocurrency belonging to his clients totally inaccessible. Investors may never see their funds again.

You can see how important it is to provide a way for someone to access your data, if you become incapacitated or die.

The easiest, but least secure answer is to just give your passwords to a trusted family member. They’ll need passwords to access your accounts. They’ll also need a password to access your email, where electronic financial statements are sent. Another simple option is to write down and place all passwords in a safe deposit box.

Your executor or guardian/attorney-in-fact through a power of attorney (in the case of incapacitation) can access the box and your passwords to access your computer, email and financial platforms.

This is a bit safer than simply writing down and providing passwords to a trusted friend or spouse. However, it requires diligence to keep the password list updated.

Finally, the most secure way to safely and securely store passwords is with a digital wallet. A digital wallet keeps track of all your passwords across all your devices and does so in an encrypted file in the cloud.

There’s only one obstacle for an executor or surviving spouse to overcome—the password for your digital wallet.

See how you can incorporate your passwords and other digital assets in your estate planning.

Reference: Kiplinger (April 19, 2019) “Your Estate Plan Isn’t Complete Without Fixing the Password Problem”

Now You Are Executor of your Spouse’s Estate, What Happens Next?
Frustrated widow as exector

Now You Are Executor of your Spouse’s Estate, What Happens Next?

The loss of a spouse after decades of marriage is crushing enough, but then you are thrust into the role of executor. There comes a tsunami of decisions about your deceased spouse’s estate. What does an executor do? There are decisions about finances and tasks that demand attention, when you are least able to manage it. Even highly successful business owners can find themselves overwhelmed, says The New York Times in the article “You’re a Widow, Now What?”

Most couples tend to divide up tasks, where one handles investments and the other pays the bills.  However, moving from a team effort to a solo one is not easy. For one widow, the task was made even harder by the fact that her husband opted to keep his portfolio in paper certificates, which he kept in his desk. His widow had to hire a financial advisor and a bookkeeper, and it took nearly a year to determine the value of nearly 120 certificates. That was just one of many issues.

She had to settle the affairs of the estate as executor, deal with insurance companies, banks and credit cards that had to be cancelled. Her husband was also a partner in a business, which added another layer of complexity.

She decided to approach the chaos of being executor as if it were a business. She worked on it six to eight hours a day for many months, starting with organizing all the paperwork. That meant a filing system. A grief therapist advised her to get up, get dressed as if she was going to work and to make sure she ate regular meals. This often falls by the wayside, when the structure of a life is gone.

This widow opened a consulting business to advise other widows on handling the practical aspects of settling an estate and also wrote a book about it.

A spouse’s death is one of the most emotionally wrenching events in a person’s life. Women live longer statistically, so they are more likely than men to lose a spouse and have to get their financial lives organized. The loss of a key breadwinner’s income can be a big blow for those who have never lived on their own. The tasks come fast and furious, in a terribly emotional time.

Widows may not realize how vulnerable they are, after the death of their long-time spouses. They need to hold off on any big decisions and attack their to-do list in stages. The first task is to contact the Social Security administration, call the life insurance company and pay important bills, like utilities and property insurance premiums. If your husband was working, contact his employer for any unpaid salary, accrued vacation days and retirement plan benefits.

Next, name your adult children, trusted family members, or friends as agents for your financial and health care power of attorney.

How to take the proceeds from any life insurance policies, depends upon your immediate cash needs and whether you can earn more from the payout by investing the lump sum. Make this decision part of your overall financial strategy, ideally with a trusted financial advisor.

Determining a Social Security claiming strategy comes next. Depending on your age and income level, you may be able to increase your benefit. If you wait until your full retirement, you can claim the full survivor benefit, which is 100% of the spouse’s benefit. You could claim a survivor benefit at age 60, but it will be reduced for each month you claim before your full retirement age. If both spouses are at least 70 when the husband dies, a widow should switch to a survivor benefit, if her benefit is smaller than his.

Expect it to be a while, until you feel like you are on solid ground. If you were working when your spouse passed, consider continuing to work to keep yourself out and about in a familiar world. Anything that you can do to maintain your old life, like staying in the family home, if finances permit, will help as you go through the grief process.

Learn how a revocable living trust can avoid thrusting your widowed spouse into the role of executor.

Reference: The New York Times (April 11, 2019) “You’re a Widow, Now What?”