Category Archives: Probate

Probate. Probate property. Probate forms. Probate fees. Probate costs.

Helen and Les Brown were born on the same day, remained married for 75 years and died just one day apart at age 94.  What a wonderful story of true love.  It would be great if there were more couples like them in the world.

75 year marriageBut, while thinking about this great couple, being a part of the Die Smart community I can’t help but think about their estate.  It’s bad enough if one person dies and a family member has to settle the estate, including dealing with lawyers, probate court and the mounds of paperwork that are necessary.  But the double work of settling the estates of two people can be massive.

Did they have wills, trusts, POD accounts?  Will one estate have to be settled before the other one?  Did they have their affairs in order?

To learn about what you should do to make sure you can avoid probate and make it easier for your loved ones to settle your estate after you’re gone, go to diesmart.com.

6 estate planning lessons we can learn from James Gandolfini

James GandolfinoEverybody thinks celebrities have teams of lawyers that help them protect their assets and ensure that their affairs are in perfect order.  This is not always true.  In fact, many people don’t know the lessons that are included in this About.com blog by Julie Garber.  And they are lessons that, if not learned, can cost your family time, money and public exposure after you die.

James Gandolfini, who died in June, is used as an example of these 6 estate planning  lessons.  It’s important that you read about these lessons and be sure that you have protected your estate.  If you don’t, your loved ones may be caught up in a public probate process that will cost them a great deal of time and money.

For more about probate, what it is and how you can avoid it, go to www.diesmart.com.

 

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.

 

Need a death certificate? Here’s how to get one.

Someone wrote to us at diesmart.com and said she needed help finding an attorney so she could get an original death certificate of a deceased relative.

A death certificate is the official certified document which is filed upon a person’s death.  You might wonder why she would need an original or certified copy.  There are several possible reasons; here are just a few of them.

  • To settle an estate
  • To end government services such as Social Security or Medicaid
  • To collect on an insurance policy

We may not know the exact reason she needs one but there is one thing that is certain; she definitely doesn’t need an attorney to get a death certificate.

Here are the simple steps that she, and anyone else who needs one, should take.  There are several websites that offer to help you obtain copies of death certificates.  However, those copies are not certified or “official”.

1.  Determine whether you are eligible to receive a death certificate.  In most states, you must be a surviving relative of the deceased, their authorized representative or executor, or a funeral director in charge of the disposition of the deceased.

2.  Find the contact information for the department of vital statistics in the state where the person died.  This department may be part of the state’s department of health and human services or the state’s records department.  Regardless of its name, it is where all births, deaths, marriages and divorces are recorded for that state.  You can usually find the contact information by searching the web.  You will need the mailing address for submitting a request and, if you have questions about the process, you should also find their phone number.

3.  Some states require a letter with a great deal of information about the deceased as well as the requestor.  Others have a form available online which can be downloaded.  Regardless of whether it’s a letter or a form, you will have to provide the necessary information and either mail it to the facility or take it there.

Here’s the information that must be provided:

  •  Full name of the deceased
  • Date of the request
  • Deceased’s date of birth and date of death
  • Location of the death (city, state, county)
  • The deceased’s gender – male or female
  • Your relationship to the deceased
  • Why the certified copy of the death certificate is needed
  • A copy of your driver’s license or, at least, your driver’s license number and issuing state
  • Your name and current address
  • Your handwritten signature

4. Write a check for the amount due.  Most states charge between $10 and $15 per certified copy and it usually takes a week or 10 days for you to receive the copy.  In addition, some states offer same day service for a higher fee.

5.  Place the completed application or letter in an envelope, along with any identity documents and a check or money order to cover the fee.  Also enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope in which the certificate you’ve requested can be sent to you.  Mail this material to the department address which you obtained earlier.

Although a lawyer may be very helpful in resolving many of the issues that arise after someone dies.  However, he or she is not needed if you only want to receive a death certificate.

For more information about death certificates, go to www.diesmart.com.

Zombie Bank Account – Will Bill Payments Stop After You Die?

Do you have a list of all of your automatic payments? If you receive paper bills and then write checks to cover them, there’s no problem. When you die, your heirs can just notify those companies who are sending the bills that you are deceased and they can close the accounts. But if you have payments automatically taken out of your checking account or charged to a credit card every month, your heirs will not find paper bills and may not know who they need to notify.

Even though Richard Palmer, Sr.’s family thought they had closed his bank account after he died, a month later it sprang back to life and started processing incoming charges  (this type of account is called a zombie bank account) and electronic payments kept being made….until there was an overdraft of $888,888!

You should make a list of all of the automatic payments that are made on your behalf every month and put a list of those payments with your important papers. That way, your family will know who to contact after you’re gone and they won’t find themselves with a huge overdraft like the family of Richard Palmer, Sr.