Building Legacies that Last Estate Planning and Elder Law

Princess Diana’s Estate Plan

Princess Diana“Family is the most important thing in the world.” Diana, Princess of Wales, was the most beloved soul that left the world too soon. When Princess Diana died on August 31, 1997, the whole world mourned because their queen was gone and her legacy of social work was cut way too short thanks to the paparazzi. Unfortunately, Lady Diana Spencer’s failure to have a proper estate plan came into play 17 years after her death.

Along with creating a will, Diana had created a Letter of Wishes. That letter contained the fact that ¾  of her jewelry and prize possessions were to be given to her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry and the ¼ would be given to her 17 godchildren. Unfortunately, this letter was not recognized and her godchildren only received one item of Diana’s estate. This letter went undisclosed for several years until it was revealed due to the outrage of the parents of the godchildren who were supposed to receive the ¼ of Diana’s estate.

According to the executors of her estate, they had filed a “variance” after her death which was supposed to distribute the money to her sons until they turned 30 which of course did not occur.

In Diana’s case, Personal Property that is valuable and important should be directly in a will or trust. Not a letter. If Diana had done this in her estate plan, there would be no questions about what the deceased individual wanted. Also, there would have been no variances. Even though Diana was the beloved princess of the world, by making the mistakes and causing much havoc in her family, her estate plan ended up in turmoil.

Michelle Profit is an estate planning attorney serving Maryland and the District of Columbia. A Harvard Law School graduate, she has worked in the financial services industry for over 20 years. A dedicated advocate for all of her clients, Michelle Q. Profit personally handles each client case from start to finish to meet the client’s needs and objectives. Michelle listens in the consultation sessions and works with any other client accountants or financial planners to create a comprehensive estate plan.



Your Executor Is Important

One of the simplest things that you can do to help prevent your estate from facing difficulties, is to make the right choice about who your executor should be. MP900309139

People who get wills, normally put a lot of thought into how they would like their property to be distributed after they pass away. It is very important to them, that their wishes are carried out and everything goes to the appropriate heirs. However, often relatively little thought is put into who should make sure it all happens.

The person in charge is the executor. Instead of thinking about whether the person they are choosing is the right person, many people just pick a close friend or relative. This can be a very big mistake, if the person does not know what they are doing, as Forbes points out in "Choosing an Executor for Your Estate."

The executor of your estate will have a lot of work to do. There are often important tax decisions that need to be made quickly. The executor needs to determine what assets you have at the time you pass away.  However, they cannot just give those assets to the people you want to have them.

First, they need to go to probate court and be officially appointed to administer the estate. They will then need to determine, if you had any debt when you passed away. That debt normally needs to be paid out of your assets, before any property can be distributed.

Your executor needs to be someone who not only has the time to serve in the capacity, but also can handle administrative and financial tasks well. Put some thought into this important decision.

Reference: Forbes (May 16, 2018) "Choosing an Executor for Your Estate."


Do You Want Your Child to Be Your Executor?

MP900448494[1]Without thinking about it too much, many people designate one of their children to be the executor of their estate. They should think about it carefully, before doing so.

The executor of your estate should be someone you trust to handle your estate just as you want it handled. You want to be certain that the executor will faithfully follow the instructions laid out in your will, including distributing your assets according to your wishes.

Many people trust one of their own children above all other potential candidates for this responsibility. They name that child as their executor, having put little thought into the consequences of doing so. It is not always a good idea, as Texas Lawyer discusses in "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Executors."

Being an executor is not an easy job. If people do not know what they are doing, it is very easy for them to make mistakes. They can often be held personally liable for those mistakes.

An executor does more than just distribute the assets of the estate. He or she must be able to communicate with the court and with any heirs about the estate. If, for example, the executor and a sibling do not get along, there can be problems. In some cases, executors will need to invest assets for a period of time, before they can be distributed. The executors need to do that investing wisely.

Before naming one of your children to be the executor of your estate, think through whether it is a role you really want that child to have. It might be better, in some cases, to name a professional.

Reference: Texas Lawyer (March 6, 2018) "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Executors."


An Executor Cannot Make Everything Right

Last will

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?”

An Executor Is Powerful, So Choose Wisely

This key position determines if the estate is handled well.
An executor needs to be chosen carefully, according to the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog in "Selecting an Executor for Your Estate."
While there are others who will have a hand in determining how the estate administration goes, the executor with handle most of the decisions.
It is the executor who will have to make the biggest decisions and, unless someone complains, there will be little oversight from busy probate courts.
You need an executor who is trustworthy, understands financial matters, has the time to do the job properly, is willing to do the job, is patient and will seek the advice of experts, when necessary.
Finding someone who meets all of those qualifications, can be a challenging task for many people. However, it is necessary, if you want your estate to go smoothly.
Fortunately, if you do not have a friend or family member who fits the bill, there is someone you probably know who can help steer you in the right direction.
An estate planning attorney can guide you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances. They can also advise you on a good choice for an executor.
Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (July 13, 2017) "Selecting an Executor for Your Estate."

Model’s Estate Sues Chiropractor

Bigstock-Doctor-with-female-patient-21258332[1]The estate of a former Playboy model is suing a chiropractor for wrongful death.

One of the many tasks that the executor of an estate has, is to assess whether anyone owes the estate any money or could be determined to owe the estate money, if sued. If the answer to either question is yes, then the executor has a duty to act accordingly and try to collect on behalf of the estate for the benefit of the heirs.

A recent example of this comes from the estate of Katie May, a former Playboy model. May apparently suffered injuries during a photo shoot and went to a chiropractor for treatment.

The chiropractor worked on her neck. She later died.

The coroner determined the treatment injured her artery and cut off blood flow to her brain, as TMZ reported in "Playboy Model Katie May Estate Sues Chiropractor…Your Treatment Killed Her."

May's executor and the father of her child is suing the chiropractor for wrongful death on behalf of the estate. Even if he did not personally believe the coroner's report that the chiropractor was responsible for May's death, he would likely have an obligation to sue.

While this is an unusual case in that it features a Playboy model and an apparent death at the hands of a chiropractor, it illustrates something important. Executors have duties to the estate and some of those duties can be challenging.

It is for this reason that executors are advised to get the assistance of estate attorneys to help carry out their duties.

Reference: TMZ (June 14, 2017) "Playboy Model Katie May Estate Sues Chiropractor…Your Treatment Killed Her."


Executor Loses Fees

Bigstock-Financial-consultant-presents--14508974[1]Estate executors have a right to be paid reasonable fees for their services, but if they are not careful they can miss out and not get paid for the full value of what they do.

Being the executor of an estate can be a difficult and time-consuming work, especially if the estate will have to pay estate taxes to the IRS. Because of this it is important that executors be allowed to collect reasonable fees from the estate to encourage people to take the time to serve as executors.

If an executor is not careful he or she can lose out and may not be able to collect any fees.

The Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog discussed a recent example of that in "Section 6166 Lien Causes Executor to Miss Out on Fees."

In this case the executor took a Section 6166 election which allowed estate taxes to be deferred and an estate tax lien to be put on the property.

In such instances, when the property is sold, the proceeds are used to pay the estate tax.

This executor, however, had not yet collected his full fees and the property declined in value to a point below what was owed to the IRS.

The executor argued in court that his fee claim should take priority over the IRS' tax claim. However, the court ultimately disagreed and the executor will not be paid.

Executors should take notice of this case and make sure they work with estate attorneys and arrange to be paid their fees before taking Section 6166 elections.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (Oct. 18, 2016) "Section 6166 Lien Causes Executor to Miss Out on Fees."


Post Death Termination Fees

Bigstock-Elder-Couple-With-Bills-3557267[1]Families and estate executors have enough to worry about after someone passes away. Should they also have to worry about termination fees for canceling a contract with a utility? One state says no.

If you have ever wanted to move to a different cell phone provider, you are likely to have come across a problem. As long as you signed a contract with your current provider, you either have to continue to pay the contract or pay a termination fee.

Depending on where you live, you might have come across other termination fees for things such as cable, electricity and garbage service. These fees are normally seen as reasonable as long as the person who signed the contract is alive. However, some people have discovered that some companies refuse to waive the fees even if the person who signed the contract has passed away.

These post-death termination fees can put a real strain on many small estates. If the deceased had few assets, even a fee of a couple of hundred dollars can be difficult for the estate to pay.

The state of New York has decided to address this problem and recently passed a law that prohibits utility companies from charging termination fees after the contract holder has passed away.

Fox 5 reported on this new law in “NY: Utilities can’t charge termination fees after death.”

This small law could provide big relief to families who are going through the difficult process of grieving for a deceased loved one. In turn, the new law should not create an undue burden on the companies. It remains to be seen if other states will follow suit.

Reference: Fox 5 (Sept. 28, 2016) “NY: Utilities can’t charge termination fees after death.”