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estates Archives

Irrevocable Trusts

A trust is a mechanism wherein assets are set aside for certain beneficiaries and managed by a trustee subject to the terms of the document. Irrevocable trusts cannot subsequently be modified or terminated. Irrevocable trusts can help protect assets for parties who may need long-term care. Elderly persons needing long-term care often try to utilize Medicaid to assist with the expenses. Medicaid is a need-based health care program so there are limits on the amount of income and assets a party can have when seeking eligibility. An individual should plan ahead to make sure any countable assets and income are structured so as not to affect any future applications for Medicaid. Medicaid can look back five years from the date of an application so it is important to do any relevant estate planning well in advance.

Wills for Heroes

Wills for Heroes is a program in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Bar Association that provides free wills, living wills, and powers of attorney to first responders and their spouses/significant others. Proof of military or public service affiliation is required. Appointments are required and can be made on the Pennsylvania Bar Association website. Each appointment is for one hour. At the conclusion of the appointment, each participant will have their final, notarized documents to take home with them. If a spouse or significant other is also participating, their appointment will be immediately following that of the first responder. The program is made possible through the time of volunteers including attorneys, reviewers and witnesses.

Accounting for an Estate

An accounting is one of the final steps in administering an estate. It is the final reconciliation of all assets in the estate, all expenses of the estate, and any interim distributions. A formal accounting is filed with the court. An informal accounting may be done as well and is presented to the beneficiaries as a summary of the administration of the estate. Pennsylvania and New Jersey accept the national standard form for filing of accounting. The accounting should list all the items that were received into the estate. This may be separated into categories such as real estate, cash accounts, personal property, bonds, mutual funds, etc. 

Inventory for an Estate

An inventory of probate assets will need to be filed with the court in the process of probating the will. The first step for the executor or administrator is to gather information on what assets exist. For real estate, ownership should be confirmed first via review of deed or a title search. If the home is not promptly sold, it should be appraised to obtain an accurate value. Be sure to inventory the contents of the home as well. This is particularly important if the will provides for specific bequests of personal property such as jewelry, collections or automobiles. For bank accounts and securities, statements should be obtained from the financial institution or broker. 

Annuities

An annuity is an investment of a resource in order to receive a fixed payment. Once the investment is annuitized, the original investment cannot be returned. At that point, the characterization of the investment is changed from an asset to income. An annuity is considered marital property and subject to division in the event of divorce. Parties should be careful to review the terms of the annuity contract in determining the best way to split this asset. The goal should be to minimize any tax implications or penalties in dividing the asset. The best option may be off-setting the value of the annuity with another asset in the divorce such as a marital residence.

Inheritance Taxes

Pennsylvania does apply a tax on assets passed through probate or intestacy. The amount of tax depends on the value of the estate as well as the relationship of the beneficiaries to the decedent. There is no tax imposed for assets passing to a surviving spouse or to a child under 21 years old. There is a 4.5% tax for assets passing to children over 21, parents or grandparents. There is a 12% tax for assets passing to siblings. There is a 15% tax for all other transfers including to aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins or persons of no relation. There are some institutions exempt from the inheritance tax including certain government entities and charitable organizations.

Medicaid Planning

Medicaid is a need-based health care program. It is a federal program that is administered on a state level. Elderly persons needing long-term care often try to utilize Medicaid to assist with the expenses. Appropriate estate planning can assist in this regard. Since Medicaid is for low-income individuals, there are limits on the amount of income and assets a party can have. An individual should plan ahead to make sure any countable assets and income are structured so as not to affect any future applications for Medicaid. Medicaid can look back five years from the date of an application so it is important to do any relevant estate planning well in advance.

After Your Divorce, Make These Changes Immediately

The process of getting divorced can be hard to move through.  When you are finally divorced you will probably want a break from making decisions and taking care of legal matters.  However, it is crucial to immediately update a few important areas of your life including your will, life insurance beneficiaries, and other estate planning documents.  

Inventory of Probate Assets

An inventory must be filed with the court in administering an estate. The inventory should identify all probate assets of the decedent at the time of death. This may require some investigation by the executor. A good starting point is to monitor the decedent's mail for evidence of statements for accounts. In an increasingly electronic society, however, access to digital accounts may be more productive as more and more parties elect for email correspondence over hard copies in the mail.

Probate Assets

Not every asset owned by a party at the time of death will be subject to the probate process or pass under the direction of the will. Probate assets are those for which there is no pre-existing designation as to who should get the asset. Examples of typical assets that will be subject to probate include individually owned bank accounts, cars, personal property, business interest, real property held as tenants in common, cash, and life insurance with no beneficiary. These types of assets should be distinguished from any account with a beneficiary designation as those accounts will pass to the beneficiary. Also, joint accounts will usually go to the other party whose name is on the account.

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