5 things you should know before you agree to be an executor

When my father died ten years ago and I found out he had named me as his executor, I thought “Okay.  It’s no big deal.”  Was I ever wrong!  I didn’t realize how much time, effort and frustration would be necessary to get everything settled. And I didn’t know that I would also have to be a detective.

 AARP recently published an article that listed five questions you should ask yourself before you agree to become an executor.   You might feel flattered if asked but think carefully about the questions and be sure it’s something you’re comfortable taking on.

1.  Do you have the time to take on this project?  When I started the process, I didn’t realize that it would be more than a year before my dad’s estate would be settled and that, during that year, getting all of the paperwork done and answering all of the government’s questions would often feel like a full time job.

2.  Do you have the skills to handle the process?  You have to be very organized and good with numbers.  Keeping massive spread sheets and tracking all of the paperwork nearly drove me crazy.

3.  Do you have the temperament to deal with all of the details?  I am a fairly calm, easy going person but I found myself getting very frustrated when confronted by people who made ridiculous demands.  One example I can remember is when the state of New Jersey (where my father died) asked me to sign a bunch of papers in black ink, get them notarized and send them in.  I did that and was shocked when I received a letter from a government office saying that I needed to resign them in blue ink, get them notarized again and send them back.  I did it and got one more letter.  It told me that I had not completed the forms correctly.  Believe it or not, it the letter said that the forms needed to be signed in black ink! 

4.  Do you know the rules of the state in which the estate is being settled?  Estate rules are very complex and I ended up hiring an attorney to help me get everything processed correctly.  Many people take this step after realizing what is involved.  For example, if you incorrectly declare the value of the estate, there can be legal repercussions, not just for the estate but for you as well.

5.  Can you afford to be the executor of the estate?  I lived in California and my dad died in New Jersey.  Some things just couldn’t be handled by phone; this necessitated a few expensive trips back and forth across the country.  And it’s not just the money.  What’s your time worth?  Can you afford to handle this job for nothing?  In some states, executors are permitted to charge a fee that is a percentage of the value of the estate.  However, since this money comes out of the estate, taking a fee may cause conflict with family members.

If you agree to be an executor, be prepared to devote a great deal of time to the project.  Be patient and don’t let little things get to you.  Stay organized and check every detail.  You will get through settling the estate…eventually.

For more information about estate planning and settling an estate, go to www.diesmart.com.

 

What are your top five regrets?

An Australian nurse, Bronnie Ware, spent several years working in palliative care, taking care of people in the last 3 – 12 weeks of their life.  She interviewed these people, recorded their dying epiphanies and wrote about them in her blog “Inspiration and Chai.”      Her blog got so much attention that she eventually published her findings in a book called “The Top Five Regrets of Dying”.    

She asked the patients what they regretted and what they would do differently if they could do it over again.   In her blog, Ms. Ware outlined the five most common themes.  They were:

1.  I wish I had had the courage to live a life that was true to myself rather than the one that others expected of me.

How many of us put our dreams on a back burner and do what our family thinks we should do instead of what we really want to do?

2.  I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

What have you given up in pursuit of your work goals?  Have you missed out on important events in your family’s life or not made time for things that you now wish you had done?

3.  I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Have you been resentful because you couldn’t tell someone how you really felt?  Were you afraid to speak up when you probably should have?

4.  I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Is there someone who you lost touch with because you were just too busy or so caught up in your own life that you just didn’t make the effort?

5.  I wish I had let myself be happier.

Are you content but not really happy?  Is there something you could have done different that would have made your life a happier one?

What are your top regrets?  Take a minute and think about them.  Don’t come to the end of your life and then be filled with regret about things that you could have done differently.

We can’t help you with the way you have lived your life until now but we can help you think about estate planning and how you can get your affairs in order.  Don’t pass onto your loved ones a regret about the way you left your estate.  Go to www.diesmart.com for more information.

A major issue related to divorce of same sex couples – Defeat of DOMA doesn’t solve every problem

Although DOMA has been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, there is a major issue related to the divorce of same sex couples.

This issue is exemplified by the plight of Adam Cardinal, a gay man.  More than four years ago, Mr. Cardinal married his love, who happened to be of the same sex.  They were married in New Hampshire where same sex marriages are legal.

The couple subsequently moved to Florida, where their marriage is not considered legal and it is in Florida where the problem arose.

Several months ago, they separated and wanted a divorce.  However, since their marriage was not recognized in Florida, they could not obtain a divorce there.

The other option, returning to New Hampshire where they were married, was not feasible.  Although you just need a short visit to marry in New Hampshire, that state requires at least a one year residency before it will grant a divorce.  Since the former couple did not have the flexibility to pick up their lives and move back to New Hampshire, they are stuck.

They cannot divorce or remarry.  They are in limbo.  If one of them dies in a state where same sex marriage is legal, and he does not have a will, their still legal spouse may inherit everything.  Even though Mr. Cardinal and his spouse did not merge their funds, the lack of legal paperwork signifying the end of their marriage may cause financial issues in the future.

Six of the states that recognize same sex marriage, including Delaware and Vermont, allow nonresident couples who married in the state to divorce under some circumstances, but those circumstances are not clear cut.

DOMA was just recently overturned and a lot of details about the related wide ranging issues remain to be addressed.  States have a lot of work ahead of them as they figure out how to handle all of the specific issues related to same sex marriage and divorce.

To learn more about estate planning and other issues related to end of life issues, go to www.diesmart.com.

Celebrity grave sites – unique stops for tourists

Time Magazine recently published a list of the “Top 10 Celebrity Grave Sites”.  They are very popular places for tourists to visit.  In fact, people from all over the world visit them every year.  Half of the list belongs to popular musicians; the rest belongs to movie stars, an author and a member of the British royal family.  Many of these celebrities died prematurely and their deaths were surrounded by mystique which persists to this day.

The most popular site is that of Princess Diana, whose burial site is on the Spencer family estate, Althorp, in North Hampshire, England.  During the summer, tourists can visit a shrine on the grounds but not her actual resting place.

The grave of Bruce Lee is ranked #2.  His grave in Seattle’s Lakeview Cemetery still draws visitors from all over the world, including a trio of Mongolians who trekked 3,700 miles to pay their respects on the 53rd anniversary of his birth; the trip reportedly took seven months and wore out five pairs of boots. He remains the greatest Kung Fu teacher ever and a box-office smash.

#3 is the resting place of Marilyn Monroe.  She is buried in Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles, the burial site of many Hollywood celebrities.  She was the iconic female sex-symbol of the ’60s and has lasted as a sex-symbol to this day.  According to Limousine driver Benny Hill, who offers tours of celebrity graves, her crypt is not only the most frequently visited at the cemetery, but the most discolored from constant fondling. According to Hill, it’s “the dirtiest one there. You look at the wall and there is lipstick, fingerprints, handprints.”

According to Time Magazine, the 4th most popular grave site is that of Elvis Presley.  He died of a prescription drug overdose and was first buried in a mausoleum in Forest Hills Cemetery in Memphis, TN.  However, vandalism was a major problem; some thieves even tried to steal his body.  So his grave was moved to Graceland, his former home.  Admission to Elvis’ grave is part of the Graceland tour.  Although he’s been dead since 1977, 600,000 people still visit his grave-site every year.

Jim Morrison takes the 5th place.  This musician is buried at Pere-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.  Although other famous musicians and writers are buried there, Morrison’s plot is the most visited site there.  Although there are conflicting reports about the cause of his death, people agree that his grave site is one of the most disrespected celebrity sites in the world.  His grave has been the site of drug parties and his marker has been defaced with graffiti.

In 6th place is the grave of Bob Marley, the Jamaican reggae singer.  In 1991 the government of Jamaica declared his birthday as a national holiday.  Since then, thousands of fans have held an annual music festival near his grave – a mausoleum that was built a few feet from his childhood home in the village of Nine Miles, Jamaica.

The Irish writer, James Joyce, is next in 7th place.  Surprisingly, he is not buried in Ireland.  In 1902, he left Ireland because of political turmoil and died after undergoing ulcer surgery in Switzerland.  After his death, he was buried in Fluntern Cemetery in Zurich.  His wife tried to move Joyce’s body to Ireland but the Irish government denied her request.

Frank Sinatra, who was buried in Desert Memorial Park near Palm Springs, CA with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a pack of Camel cigarettes, is in 8th place.

In 9th place is John Belushi.  He died of a drug overdose in 1982 and the public attention his grave-site on Martha’s Vineyard got was unmanageable.  His tombstone got trashed and fans continually littered the area around his grave.  His widow then moved his remains to another site in the same graveyard, away from the tombstone.  However, rumors also persist that his remains are now buried in Illinois with his family.

The last celebrity in Time Magazine’s list is country music singer and composer, Johnny Cash.  He died in 2003 and is buried next to his wife, June Carter, in a cemetery in Hendersonville, TN.  The site draws many people, who travel to the site to pay their respects.  Some of them leave guitar picks and money behind.

Some other famous writers whose grave-sites are frequently visited are:

  • Oscar Wilde, who is buried in Pere Lachise in Paris, died more than 100 years ago and yet people still visit his grave.
  • Mark Twain (whose real name was Samuel Clemens), was born 175 years ago.  Yet 2,000 to 3,000 people per year visit his grave at Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, NY.
  • William Shakespeare lived from 1564  to 1616; today, thousands of people visit his tomb in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, England at the Holy Trinity Churchyard.

For more information about funerals and burial options, go to www.diesmart.com.

Unclaimed property – Are you a beneficiary but you don’t know it?

Over the last five years or so, a study has been conducted to determine how insurance companies ensured that beneficiaries of life insurance policies were notified that a relative with a life insurance policy had died.

The study was initiated by California Comptroller John Chiang, who used a Connecticut auditing firm to examine the payment practices of 21 life insurance companies nationwide.  The Controller’s investigation “has revealed an industry-wide practice of companies both failing to pay death benefits to the beneficiaries of life insurance policies and ignoring their legal duty to turn the money over to the State for safe keeping.  Instead, companies would draw-down the policies’ cash reserves in order to continue collecting premium payments from the deceased.  Once the cash reserves were depleted, the company would cancel the policy.  Past audits also found that insurers did not routinely cross-check the owners of dormant accounts with government databases listing the deceased.  In other cases, companies had direct knowledge of the policy owner’s death, but still did not notify the beneficiaries.”

When questionable practices were uncovered, lawsuits ensued.  The premise of one of the latest was that insurers used the Social Security Death Master File to determine whether  those insured who had living benefit riders to annuities had died and, if so, they acted promptly to stop payments.  However, the Death Master File and other means weren’t used as often to ensure that beneficiaries of life insurance policies were promptly notified that a relative with a life insurance policy had died, and the funds from that policy paid out.

In the case of one recent lawsuit, the lead plaintiff claimed that he was notified only in 2010, four years after the death of the insured, and then only by the state of Illinois Treasurer’s Office…not by the insurance company.  He received only a small sum, and it wasn’t until June 2012 that a larger sum was paid, without a good explanation.

Earlier this month (June 2013), Mr. Chiang reached a settlement on behalf of the state of California and its residents with 11 insurance companies who had been found to have underpaid life insurance benefits.  The agreements he reached required the 11 companies to do the following:

  • Restore the full value of all impacted accounts dating back to 1995;
  • Fully comply with California’s unclaimed property laws and cooperate with the Controller’s efforts to reunite these death benefits, annuity contracts and retained asset accounts with their owners or, in many cases, the owners’ heirs;
  • Pay the policy beneficiaries 3% compounded interest on the value of the held amounts from 1995, or from the date of the owner’s death, whichever is later.

If the benefits are not paid to the heirs within a specified period of time, the law requires businesses to send the list of abandoned property to the state.  In California, the period of time is three years; it varies by state.  In many states, this has become a large source of revenue.  However, the states’ first goal is to return the money to its rightful owners.

Many other states have followed California’s lead, filed suits against the major insurance companies, and will also benefit from California’s settlement with those 11 companies.

To learn more about beneficiaries and estate related topics, go to www.diesmart.com.