An Executor Cannot Make Everything Right

Executors often want to address past grievances that some family members have with each other. They cannot always do so.

Imagine that you are made the executor of your mom’s will. You have several other siblings and the will gives all of you an equal share.

One of your brothers has borrowed a lot of money from your mother over the years and never paid any of it back.

Although there is no documentation for any of these loans, you might be tempted to use your powers as the executor of your mother’s estate to collect the debt from these loans.

This is essentially the situation that a reader recently wrote into the Napa Valley Register to ask about in “Can mom make son pay debt?”

There are several problems with what the executor wants to do.

The first is that loans to children are often more gifts than they are loans. The mother probably “loaned” the money to the sibling, knowing that it would never be paid back. That makes it a gift.

The second problem is since the loans are undocumented, there is no way to prove they happened short of a court battle over them.

The third problem is that even if these were considered loans and not gifts, they would likely be well outside the statute of limitations, unless they were made recently.

It can be tempting for executors to want to redress past wrongs. However, they should be careful before doing so.
Executors do not have unlimited powers and should consult with an estate attorney before doing anything that is outside the directions given by the probate court.

Reference: Napa Valley Register (Oct. 26, 2017) “Can mom make son pay debt?”

Who Needs A Will? You Do!

Many people do not think that they need a will. They are all almost always wrong. Everyone with any property at all needs a will.

Some of the common perceptions about estate planning are just plain wrong.

In fact, many people do not think they need a will. Why? Because wills are something only rich people get.

They think that if they only have only a little bit of money or property, then everything they have will simply pass wherever their family decides.

However, that is not what happens.

For example, if a person has a car when he or she passes away, then someone has to decide who gets that car. A related person cannot just show up at the appropriate government office and have the title changed into his or her name.

It does not work that way.

A court must decide who will get that car.

For that reason, everyone who has any property at all needs a will, as CNBC explains in “Think you’re not rich enough to need a will? Think Again.”

In the absence of a will, a deceased person’s property will be distributed according to the state’s laws of intestate succession. Those laws determine which relations have priority to receive the estate and the court distributes everything accordingly.

Bottom line: the deceased has absolutely no say in who gets his or her property.

Instead of relying on a court to divide your property, get a will.

It does not have to be complicated.

An estate planning attorney can create a simple will for you, even if you do not have many assets.

Reference: CNBC (Oct. 24, 2017) “Think you’re not rich enough to need a will? Think Again.”

After-Born Children

When a person has children after creating a will, the status of that will varies from state to state.

Estate planning attorneys always remind clients that if there are significant changes in their lives they need to revisit their estate plans and make any necessary changes.

Having more children definitely counts as a significant change in a person’s life. Despite the advice of the attorneys, many people do not change their wills after they have more children.

That means courts have to decide what to do about the children and the will.

In Georgia the will gets revoked, as the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog discusses in “State Law on After-born Children Leads to Revocation of a Will.”

In a recent court case, a Georgia man created a will in 1989. He later had three children out-of-wedlock, but he never updated his will to include the children.

The Georgia court decided that the will was, therefore, invalid and revoked it.

The man’s estate would thus be distributed according to the state’s laws of intestacy, as if the will never existed at all.

Every state treats these after-born children (who are not mentioned in wills) differently.

Talk to an estate planning attorney about the laws in your state.

Better yet, ask the estate planning attorney to help you, if you have had more children since you created your will.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (Oct. 17, 2017) “State Law on After-born Children Leads to Revocation of a Will.”

Considerations for Elderly Widows

Many elderly women are not fully prepared for what might happen after their spouses pass away.

We live in an age where, at least on a legal level, men and women are treated equally. Women can now enjoy a far greater range of possibilities than their ancestors would have ever imagined.

However, just because the law says one thing, does not mean that each individual woman fully enjoys its advantages.

Even today, many women defer family finances to their husbands.

This is especially true for older women, which can leave the women poorly prepared to handle things after their husbands pass away, as The New York Times discusses in “Helping Women Over 50 Face Their Financial Fears.”

The biggest thing for most women, is that they need to know how to manage the day-to-day finances. They need to learn how much money there is, what bills need to be paid and how any money should be invested.

Some widows also have problems in that their husbands own a business that they inherit and do not know how to run.

The best way to deal with these problems is to avoid them, if at all possible.

Husbands and wives should discuss things to make sure the wife is prepared, in case the husband passes away.

Other widows have legal problems, since their stepchildren might seek to challenge the widows’ inheritances in court. These problems need to be addressed with the help of an experienced estate attorney.

Reference: New York Times (Sep. 1, 2017) “Helping Women Over 50 Face Their Financial Fears.”

Traveling Overseas

Before you go on a vacation in a foreign country, you should make plans to see an estate planning attorney.

Going on your first vacation to a foreign country can be an exciting experience. You will see all sorts of things you cannot find in the U.S.

If you are about to undertake such a visit, you have probably made all sorts of plans about what you want to see at your destination of choice. You might have even purchased new clothing, luggage, cameras and other things to take on your trip.

There is one more thing that you need to plan for that you might not have considered.
You need to plan for the worst case scenario and visit an estate planning attorney as the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog discusses in “So You’re Going on a Trip.”

In all likelihood, nothing bad will happen to you while you are in a foreign country.

The odds are in your favor.

However, the world can be a dangerous place and it is important to make sure you have your general affairs in order, just in case.

At a minimum, you will want to get a general durable power of attorney and a health care power of attorney, so if you are injured or get sick on your trip someone else has the legal authority to handle your day to day needs.

It is also a good idea to get a full estate plan, so your family is taken care of, just in case the worst happens.

You should not be afraid to go to a foreign country on vacation, but you should prepare as if you are.

Visit an estate planning attorney.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (July 31, 2017) “So You’re Going on a Trip.”

Hire the Right Attorney for Your Estate Plan

Most attorneys are specialists in their particular practice areas. For your estate planning, you should hire an attorney who is a specialist in estate planning.

Human beings can only become truly knowledgeable in a limited number of areas. We cannot all be experts on everything. This is true even within disciplines.

For example, if you wanted to learn something about the history of 16th century Britain, you would be unlikely to learn very much by asking a historian who specializes in the Roman Empire. You would want to ask a historian who specializes in English history. Even better would be asking someone who only studies 16th century Britain.

A similar need for specialization is even more obvious, when you think about your health.

If you need heart surgery, you would not seek the services of an ear, nose and throat specialist. You would not even want a neurosurgeon. You would want a cardiac surgeon.

The same thing is true with legal matters and estate planning, as the Norman Transcript points out in “The right attorney is needed for wills and estate planning.”

Estate planning is a complicated and specialized legal field.

Only attorneys who have dedicated their lives to studying the field can be guaranteed to give you the services that you need. You might know someone who is excellent in criminal law or who excels at writing contracts.

While he or she might even be willing to help you with your estate planning, you would be better off going to an estate planning expert.

Many avoidable mistakes are made when people do not seek out the services of attorneys who specialize in estate planning. Do not let those mistakes happen with your estate plan.

Reference: Norman Transcript (March 5, 2017) “The right attorney is needed for wills and estate planning.”

You Can Die From a Broken Heart

Debbie Reynolds passed away from a stroke one day after the death of her beloved daughter. Could a broken heart have been the cause?

You have probably heard someone suggest that another person they know passed away from a broken heart. When someone passes away soon after the death of a loved one, such as a spouse or child, it is common to say that the death was caused by a broken heart.

The death of Debbie Reynolds, only one day after the death of her daughter, has quickly been attributed to the phenomenon. However, some people doubt whether there is any such thing in reality or if it is just a common myth.

It can actually happen, according to FOX News in “Debbie Reynolds’ death: Can you die of a broken heart?”

After an acute stressor, such as the death of a loved one, it is possible for part of a person’s heart to become enlarged and to stop pumping properly. The rest of the heart will continue to function normally and might compensate for the enlarged portion by working harder. This can lead to heart attacks or strokes, which can cause death.

The phenomenon is known as Broken Heart Syndrome, although there is also a Latin name that textbooks use.

The syndrome normally only occurs in people who have previously had some sort of heart difficulty. Since that includes many elderly people, whether they are aware of it or not, it is important for estate attorneys, elder law advocates and family members to be aware of the syndrome.

Make sure that an elderly person who has lost a loved one has the care and support they need, so they do not suffer from broken heart syndrome.

Reference: FOX News (Dec. 30, 2016) “Debbie Reynolds’ death: Can you die of a broken heart?”