personal representative

Serving Southwest Florida

Helping clients plan for their family's future, by creating an efficient, thoughtful and comprehensive estate plan that preserves their legacy and gives them peace of mind.

Changing Your Personal Representative

If you are wondering about changing your personal representative (or executor) of a will after the fact, KAKE.com’s recent article entitled “How to Change the Executor of a Will” says that the process is pretty simple. Even so, you should work with an experienced estate planning attorney to make certain that it is completed correctly, and it’s legal.

The personal representative (or PR) of a will is the individual you name to be responsible for carrying out the terms of your will. By designating a PR, you’re giving him or her the authority to handle certain tasks related to the distribution of your estate. In Florida, your personal representative must be a resident of Florida or related to you.

It’s okay to name a beneficiary of your will a personal representative. A personal representative must undertake certain tasks, such as the following:

  • Getting death certificates
  • Starting the probate process
  • Making an inventory of the decedent’s assets
  • Notifying the decedent’s creditors of his or her death
  • Paying any outstanding debts and closing bank accounts; and
  • Distributing assets to the beneficiaries named in the will.

The personal representative can’t change the terms of the will. They can only make sure that its terms are carried out.  A PR can be paid a fee for their services, which can be a percentage of the value of the estate or a reasonable hourly rate. State laws vary on this compensation approach.

There are a few reasons why changing your personal representatives may be necessary, such as if:

  • Your original PR dies or becomes seriously ill and can’t fulfill his or her duties
  • You named your spouse as PR but you divorce
  • The individual you originally designated as PR no longer wants the responsibility or is not a resident of Florida
  • Your relationship with your PR has deteriorated; and
  • You think someone else would be better equipped to administer your will.

Note that you don’t need to give a specific reason for changing your personal representative. There are two ways to do this: (i) add a codicil to an existing will; or (ii) draft a brand-new will. A codicil is a written amendment that you can use to change only the provisions of your will needing changes without having to write a new one. The codicil must be executed with the same formalities as your original will.

If you need to change more than just changing your personal representative, you might want to draft a new will, which entails the same process as the one you followed when making your original one. You should also destroy all copies of the original will to avoid confusion and potential challenges to the terms of the will after you die. It’s wise to use an experienced estate planning attorney to help you replace an existing will and when changing your personal representative.

Reference: KAKE.com (Dec. 29, 2020) “How to Change the Executor of a Will”

 

Letter of Last Instruction

It is important to know that a Letter of Last Instruction does not pass through a legal process. It’s an informal but organized method of providing your family with instructions on the decisions related to financial and personal matters that should be made when you die. This can also be an alternative way of ensuring that your family are cared for after your death and to prevent issues that could arise from not probating the will.

Qrius’ recent article entitled “How to Prepare a Letter of Last Instruction” explains that preparing it can relieve your relatives of added headaches and stress after your death because it can provide crucial information on personal, financial and funeral matters. Here are some ideas as to what to include in your Letter of Last Instruction:

Personal info. This is a basic information like your full name, date of birth, father’s name and mother’s maiden name, address, Social Security number and place of birth. Add information about significant people in your life, like family, friends, business partners, clergy and others you’d like to be notified about your death.

Business and Financial Contacts. List the contact info of your business and financial partners, as well as your accountant and investment adviser. Include information on your insurance policies, as well as your bank account details.

Legal Document Location. Make sure your executor can find important legal documents, such as your will, tax returns, marriage license, Social Security card, birth certificates, trust documents, deeds, veteran benefits info and contracts. State the location of those documents in your Letter of Last Instruction.

Loan and Debt Info. Make a list of creditors containing collateral and payment terms, along with any credit card account numbers and loan account numbers. Likewise, list the people who owe you money, including their contact info and collateral and payment terms.

Usernames and Passwords. Include a section with your usernames and passwords for your online banking accounts, social media email, computer, smartphone and other electronics, so your executor or someone responsible for overseeing your estate can be certain your accounts and financial information are not compromised after your death.

Beneficiaries. Make a list of the names and contact details of all your beneficiaries with additional information on specific instructions you may want to give to clarify your intentions on the distribution of the assets.

Funeral Arrangements. Include your desires as to your funeral arrangements, such as the type of flowers, pictures and service music. You can also state the clothes in which you wish to be buried, the type of service and location and other items that will help your family with this task.

Once you have the letter, be sure your executor or at least a close family member knows where it can be located after your death.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney for pointers on writing your Letter of Last Instruction and keep updating it regularly.  We can help.

Reference: Qrius (Dec. 8, 2020) “How to Prepare a Letter of Last Instruction”

Personalized Estate Planning

Just as a custom-tailored suit fits better than one off the rack, a custom-tailored, personalized estate plan works better for families. Making sure assets pass to the right person is more likely to occur when documents are created just for you, advises the article “Tailoring estate to specific needs leads to better plans” from the Cleveland Jewish News.

The most obvious example of personalized estate planning is a family with a special needs member. Generic estate planning documents typically will not suit that family’s estate planning.

Every state has its own laws about distributing property and money owned by a person at their death, in cases where people don’t have a will. Relying on state law instead of a will is a risky move that can lead to people you may not even know inheriting your entire estate.

In the absence of a personalized estate plan, the probate court makes decisions about who will administer the estate and the distribution of property. Without a named personal representative, the court may appoint a local attorney to take on this responsibility. An appointed attorney who has never met the decedent and doesn’t know the family won’t have the insights to follow the decedent’s wishes.

The same risks can occur with online will templates. Their use often results in families needing to retain an estate planning attorney to fix the mistakes caused by their use. Online wills may not be valid in your state or may lead to unintended consequences. Saving a few dollars now could end up costing your family thousands to clean up the mess.

Estate plans are different for each person because every person and every family are different. Estate plan templates may not account for any of your wishes.

Generic plans are very limited. A personalized estate plan custom created for you takes into consideration your family dynamics, how your individual beneficiaries will be treated and expresses your wishes for your family after you have passed.

Generic estate plans also don’t reflect the complicated families of today. Some people have family members they do not want to inherit anything. Disinheriting someone successfully is not as easy as leaving them out of the will or leaving them a small token amount.

Ensuring that your wishes are followed and that your will is not easily challenged takes the special skills of an experienced estate planning attorney.  Let us help you create a personalized estate plan.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (Dec. 9, 2020) “Tailoring estate to specific needs leads to better plans”

Suggested Key Terms: Inheritance, Estate Planning Attorney, Will, Probate Court, Executor, Beneficiaries, Special Needs Families, Disinheriting

Estate Administration Tips

More than 75% of advisors polled by Key Private Bank said the most difficult part of estate administration is dealing with interfamily dynamics, according to a survey released in 2019.

Channel 10 Boston’s recent article entitled “Executor of a Family Estate? Here’s How to Avoid Infighting Over Inherited Wealth” reports that the bank surveyed 130 of its client-facing advisors about their experience with individuals who are doing estate planning.

“The sensitivities of talking about estate planning often present emotional hurdles to putting a plan in place — especially when multiple marriages and blended families are involved,” stated Karen Arth, Head of Trust with Key Private Bank, in the survey release.  The victim is often the personal representative who is responsible for the estate administration.

Many family conflicts surrounding assets and estate planning are caused by miscommunication. The older generation should ask their children to join the conversation. Without this step, there can be a lack of clarity and transparency from generation to generation. The older generation believes that it did everything right in their estate planning, but often they don’t explain their reasoning to their children and didn’t give their children a chance to offer any input.

One way to prevent drama, as well as ways to remedy conflicts already started, is to begin the communication while everyone is alive.

When a person dies, they may leave an entire estate, with a lifetime of items to family. However, many of these items might not be listed in the will. As a result, the family must divide them up among themselves. Conflicts around sentimental value can arise during the estate administration. It is a good idea to seek help from a third party, so they can bring clarity and allow everyone to cool down. There are facilitators who can help. They are not just financial advisors and family dynamics experts but also professional mediators, who can help the family come to an agreement.

It is critical to have an open dialogue, when it comes to dividing up assets. One way to avoid conflict is for the heirs to create wish lists of items they’d like, that can then be reviewed by the personal representative of the estate. Some people categorize items into groups of equal value, and others decide who gets what by rolling the dice. Whatever the method, open communication is vital to avoiding conflict during estate administration.

We can address these issues and help you plan your estate.

Reference: Channel 10 Boston (Nov. 12, 2020) “Executor of a Family Estate? Here’s How to Avoid Infighting Over Inherited Wealth”

 

Personal Representatives When There Is No Will

A Personal Representative (or Executor) is the person who’ll manage your estate by protecting your assets, paying your debts and distributing the remaining property according to the terms in the will. But Programming Insider’s recent article, “Role of the Court When There is No Will For an Estate, asks “what would happen if someone dies without a will and, therefore, without appointing a personal representative?”

This is known as dying “intestate.” The probate court must decide who will act as the estate’s administrator or personal representative when there is no will. The judge’s decision will be based on state law, which will say how to prioritize potential fiduciaries in an administrator’s appointment. Every state has a prioritized list of preferred personal representatives, and some states offer detailed guidance, like Oklahoma, which has a prioritized list. If more than one person is equally entitled to be appointed, a court has the option to appoint one or more executors.

The probate court has the final decision as to who will serve as the estate’s administrator or personal representative, even including a person who is named as personal representative in a will or is entitled to be chosen as a valid executor. The court will award authority to an administrator and will issue letters of administration or letters of testamentary. This authorizes the person to serve as an estate’s personal representative. Some people who might otherwise be entitled to serve as an executor may be disqualified based on state law. Here are some of the factors that a judge may consider when disqualifying a potential executor:

  • An executor must be an adult, who is at least 18 years old. However, some states require the minimum age of 21.
  • Criminal History. Some states don’t permit someone who’s been convicted of a serious crime to serve as the personal representative of a decedent’s estate. Other states only require a potential executor to notify the court of any felony convictions.
  • Residency. This may be a factor in a person’s ability to serve as a personal representative. Some states let nonresidents serve in some circumstances. Some let nonresidents serve, if it’s a close relative. Finally, some other states require a nonresident executor to post a bond or use an agent within the state to process services and the court’s communication.
  • Business Relationship. There may be state laws as to who may be an executor if the decedent was an active member of a partnership; and
  • It also may be difficult for a noncitizen to serve as an estate’s personal representative.

Generally, probate judges have a lot of latitude and discretion on this selection.  Let us help you select a personal representative.

Reference: Programming Insider (Nov. 9, 2020) “Role of the Court When There is No Will For an Estate

 

What’s Involved in the Probate Process

SWAAY’s recent article entitled “What is the Probate Process in Florida?” says that while every state has its own laws, the probate process can be fairly similar. Here are the basic steps in the probate process:

The family consults with an experienced probate attorney. Those mentioned in the decedent’s will should meet with a probate lawyer. During the meeting, all relevant documentation like the list of debts, life insurance policies, financial statements, real estate title deeds, and the will should be available.   The lawyer will prepare and file petitions and documents and explain the probate process.

Filing the petition. The probate process would be in initiated by the personal representative (executor in other states) named in the will. He or she is in charge of distributing the estate’s assets. If there’s no will, you can ask an estate planning attorney to petition a court to appoint a personal representative. When the court approves the estate representative, the Letters of Administration are issued as evidence of legal authority to act as the personal representative. The personal representative will pay state taxes, funeral costs, and creditor claims on behalf of the decedent. He or she will also notice creditors and beneficiaries, coordinate the asset distribution and then close the probate estate.

Noticing beneficiaries and creditors. The personal representative must notify all beneficiaries of trust estates, the surviving spouse and all parties that have the rights of inheritance. Creditors of the deceased will also want to be paid and will have three months to make a claim on the estate.

Obtaining the letters of administration (letters testamentary) obtained from the probate court. After the personal representative obtains the letter, he or she will open the estate account at a bank. Statements and assets that were in the deceased name will be liquidated and sold, if there’s a need. Proceeds obtained from the sale of property are kept in the estate account and are later distributed.

Settling all expenses, taxes, and estate debts. By law, the decedent’s debts must typically be settled prior to any distributions to the heirs. The personal representative will also prepare a final income tax return for the estate. Note that life insurance policies and retirement savings are distributed to heirs despite the debts owed if they transfer by beneficiary designation outside of the will and the probate process.

Conducting an inventory of the estate. The executor will have conducted a final account of the remaining estate. This accounting will include the fees paid to the personal representative and attorney, probate expenses, cost of assets and the charges incurred when settling debts.

Distributing the assets. After the creditor claims have been settled, the personal representative will ask the court to transfer all assets to successors in compliance with state law or the provisions of the will. The court will issue an order to move the assets. If there’s no will, the state intestate succession laws will decide who is entitled to receive a share of the property.

Finalizing the probate process. The last step in the probate process is for the personal representative to formally close the estate. The includes payment to creditors and distribution of assets, preparing a final distribution document and a closing affidavit that states that the assets were adequately distributed to all heirs.  Learn more about the probate process by contacting our office.

Reference: SWAAY (Aug. 24, 2020) “What is the Probate Process in Florida?”

 

What Needs to Happen after a Spouse Dies?

Making funeral arrangements, paying medical bills and closing down accounts are just the start of the tasks that a surviving spouse must take charge of, advises the recent article “Checklist for Handling the Death of a Spouse” from U.S. News & World Report. It can be overwhelming, especially with the intense emotions that come with such a large loss.

Having a checklist of specific tasks may make this difficult time less stressful. This is because you will be able to see what has been accomplished, and what is yet to come.

Start by getting organized. Make a list of what you need to do and add to it as you think of new tasks. You should also track what you are doing, using a notebook to keep a record of who you spoke with and when. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask a family member or trusted friend. Being organized is a big help, when there are so many things that need to be done during such a hard time.

Review your spouse’s will and estate plan. Gather all the documents, from their last will and testament to insurance policies, trust paperwork and related documents. Call your estate planning attorney, since she can help you with settling the estate.

Identify the personal representative. If you are the personal representative, then you are the person in charge of managing the estate, including distributing assets. If someone else has been named, contact the person and be sure they are still willing and able to undertake the responsibilities.

Obtain original death certificates. All of the financial, legal and property matters will require an original death certificate, with a raised seal. It’s easier to have more than you need, so order ten to fifteen.

Talk with other professionals. The financial advisor, CP, and insurance broker, in addition to the estate planning attorney, will need to know that your spouse has passed. You will also need to notify the Social Security Administration. If your spouse was receiving benefits, depending upon when in the month they died, you may need to return money.

Avoid any big decisions. This is not the time to sell the house, move to another state or make any other large decisions, unless you must for financial reasons.

Carry out your spouse’s wishes. There is comfort in carrying out your loved one’s wishes. Giving money to a charity as per the will’s direction or handing a prized possession to a family member who will treasure it can be heartwarming, since it reminds you of the values that your spouse held dear.

Take time for yourself and your loved ones. Mourning and healing from loss are not easy times. Take the time to process the loss and grieve with other family members. Find comfort from those you love.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Aug. 28, 2020) “Checklist for Handling the Death of a Spouse”

Suggested Key Terms: Funeral Arrangements, Surviving Spouse, Executor, Estate Planning Attorney, Social Security, Mourning, Trusts, Last Will and Testament

You Need More than a Will for Estate Planning

As the coronavirus continues to sweep across through the U.S. and the death tolls continue to rise, many people are starting to put their estate plans in place, as reported by CNBC.com in the article “A will doesn’t cover all your bases when it comes to end-of-life decisions. Here’s what else you need.”

It’s true–your will, or last will and testament, is just one of several legal documents you need to help loved ones know what your wishes are. If there is no will, all kinds of problems are created. If you have minor children and no will, the court will decide who will care for them. With no will, the laws of your state determine who will receive your assets—even if it’s a relative you’ve never met—or one you’ve loathed for decades.

For those who have partners but are not married, no will means your assets won’t go to them. They also won’t have legal standing to fight back. The courts typically pass assets on to your closest blood relatives. That might not be what you want.

However, a will is only one part of your entire estate plan. You don’t need to live on “an estate” to have an estate. Actually, your estate refers to everything you own—financial accounts, possessions, real estate and digital assets. Putting a plan in place for those assets helps lessen the chances your family will fracture when you have died. Your assets will also go where you want them. It’s a kindness to your loved ones.

A will lets you convey your wishes about who gets what when you die, except for assets that pass outside of a will. These are accounts where you have named a beneficiary, like insurance policies, retirement accounts and jointly owned property. The beneficiary designations and joint ownership (with rights of survivorship) always supersede your will, which is where many people make big mistakes. If you don’t update your beneficiary designations as you move through life, the wrong person might inherit significant assets. There also won’t be anything your intended heirs can do about it.

Another big part of your will involves choosing a person to be in charge of carrying out your intentions—the personal representative (or executor). This is a job that requires someone who is responsible, reliable and comfortable with handling financial and legal matters.

You’ll also need a health care directives, sometimes called designation of health care surrogate and living will, to outline your wishes, if you become incapacitated because of illness or injury. This gives loved ones the instructions they need if, for example, you are on life support and a decision has to be made about whether to continue or to let you pass. Don’t forget a Durable Power of Attorney. This document allows a person of your choice to carry out all of your financial and legal affairs on your behalf. You want to pick someone who is smart and trustworthy. They might need to do everything from selling your home to managing your investments.

Estate planning also includes preparing all of the important documents in your life, so that your executor can find them easily, including your will itself, other legal documents, information about bank accounts, investment accounts and even your Social Security number. The more organized you can be, the more easily your loved ones will be able to administer your estate.

If you want your children to receive money from you but are concerned about their ability to manage an inheritance, you may want to add a trust to your estate plan. Your assets go into the trust, instead of directly into their hands. You also name a trustee who will oversee the trust. The trustee will decide when your children receive the money, according to your instructions. The distribution could be tied to achieving certain goals—like graduating from college or getting their first apartment. Further, if the trust is a revocable living trust, all assets titled in the trust will avoid probate.

One last point: many people today are downloading estate planning forms from the internet. The problem is, you don’t know if they are up-to-date, or even admissible in your state. Every state has its own estate laws, and no one document works in all states. Working with an estate planning attorney who knows the laws in your state eliminates the risk that a judge will toss out your will, because it does not comply with state law.

Reference: CNBC.com (July 27, 2020) “A will doesn’t cover all your bases when it comes to end-of-life decisions. Here’s what else you need.”

 

What Is a Fiduciary and a Fiduciary Duty?

First, a fiduciary duty is the requirement that certain professionals, like attorneys or financial advisors, work in the best financial interest of their clients. By law, members of some professions with clients are bound by fiduciary duty.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “What Is Fiduciary Duty?” explains that in a fiduciary relationship, the person who must prioritize their clients’ interests over their own is called the fiduciary. The person getting the services or assistance is called the beneficiary or principal.

You will frequently see a fiduciary relationship with certain types of professionals, like attorneys and financial advisors. A fiduciary duty is a serious obligation, and if a fiduciary doesn’t fulfill his or her duties, it’s known as a breach of fiduciary duty. Fiduciaries must act in a beneficiary’s best interest. They have two main duties: duty of care and duty of loyalty. Fiduciaries may have different or additional requirements, depending on their industry.

With the duty of care, fiduciaries must make informed business decisions after reviewing available information with a critical eye. Lawyers must act carefully in performing work for clients. Care is determined by the prevailing standards of professional competence in the relevant field of law and geographic region. To abide by the duty of loyalty, fiduciaries must not have any undisclosed economic or personal conflict of interest. They can’t use their positions to further their own private interests. For example, fiduciary financial advisors might adhere to the duty of loyalty by disclosing recommendations from which they’ll receive a commission.

Other common professions or positions that require fiduciary duties include directors of corporations and real estate agents, as well as those discussed below:

Trustee of a Trust. When you want your assets to transfer to someone after you die, you can put them into a trust. The trustee who’s in charge of the trust has a fiduciary duty to manage the trust and its assets in the best interests of the beneficiary who will one day inherit them.

Estate Personal Representative or Executor. The person who manages your estate and handles your affairs is your personal representative. He or she has a fiduciary responsibility to your heirs and next of kin to distribute the estate according to your wishes.

Lawyer. Your attorney must disclose any conflicts of interest and must work with your best interests in mind.

Financial Advisors. Financial advisors who are fiduciaries must act in the best interest of their clients and offer the lowest cost financial solutions to fit their clients’ needs. However, it important to note that not all financial advisors are fiduciaries.

Reference: Forbes (July 28, 2020) “What Is Fiduciary Duty?”