• “He/She/They would never have wanted that.”

    “He/She/They would never have wanted that.”

    I often have conversations about probate with people who argue about the distributions of their loved one. People tell me all of the time that their mom, dad, uncle, brother, etc. would have never wanted property to go to this particular child, sibling, cousin, etc. And while I obviously can’t argue with their personal knowledge of their family dynamic, I often find myself giving default answers according to the rules that they don’t want to hear and that I wish I didn’t have to say.

    Missouri, like all other states, has rules for distributing your property to your relatives if you choose not to do any estate planning. These rules are created by statute and not open to interpretation from any judge. I’ve heard stories of neglect, loss of affection, alienation, rudeness, and conceitedness toward decedents, but none of them matter when it comes to distribution for someone who doesn’t have an estate plan. No judge or jury can change the fact that even though a particular sibling might not have treated mom or dad with the appropriate amount of respect, that sibling will inherit property just like everyone else.

    My advice is to make sure that you have an estate plan in place so that your property doesn’t get distributed according to the rules of the state. I also tell people to review their estate plan every 3-5 years to make sure that they have everything that they want included in it.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this. Don’t hesitate to call and see what I can do for you.

  • How Long Does Probate Take?

    How long does probate take?

    Most people that I talk to share a story with me about long probate takes. The story usually involves a loved one’s estate being open for several years, costing a lot of money, and the person being very confused as to how the estate was opened or closed.

    In MO, for probate purposes, estates are divided by size. An estate with under $40,000.00 in assets that need to be administered through the court is considered a small estate and can be finalized through a variety of relatively quick procedures. Every estate with a value of greater than $40,000.00 typically needs to be fully administered through the court, regardless of whether or not the person had a will.

    Once an estate is opened and the required notice is published, R.S.Mo. 473.840 states that the earliest that the estate can be closed and the assets can be distributed is 6 months and 10 days from the date of the publication. In actuality, you should plan on probate lasting at least 8 months from the date of death.

    Knowing that probate takes so long to complete, I encourage people to explore estate planning options so their loved ones don’t have to be subjected to a lengthy probate process.

    Thank you for reading this. Please don’t hesitate to call me to see what I can do for you.

  • Should you tell anyone about your estate plans?

    Should you tell anyone about your estate plans?

    People will often ask me if they should provide copies of all of their estate planning documents to their loved ones. I tell them that supplying copies to other people isn’t necessary, but there are a few things to consider.

    Since your estate planning documents are generally private and not published anywhere during your lifetime, you should probably take some action to let people know that you have an estate plan somewhere. If you keep your estate plan in a safe at your home, you should probably let someone know there are documents in the safe and how to access them in the case of an emergency. If you rent a safe deposit box at a bank, you might want to verify with the bank that a loved one can access the contents if necessary.

    If you have a durable power of attorney and/or a health care directive, you might want to consider providing copies of those documents to any financial institution you have an account at and to your primary care physician.

    Since there are time limits for asserting claims in probate court, it is a good idea to make sure that any beneficiary, and particularly a beneficiary who might not expect to inherit something from you, knows that you have made provisions for that person. You don’t want to spend the time and resources required for estate planning only to have an intended beneficiary receive nothing because of a legal technicality.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this. Don’t hesitate to call and see what I can do for you.

  • How is a beneficiary deed recorded?

    When I discuss beneficiary deeds with my clients, they often have several common questions about them.

    Do I keep the deed?
    Does it have to be taken to the courthouse?
    Can you do this for me?

    In order for a beneficiary deed to avoid probate and legally transfer your house to your loved ones upon your death, it has to be recorded with the recorder of deeds in the county you reside in. This is a process that your attorney should be familiar with and offer to do for you. Once the deed is recorded, it will be stamped (letting you know that it has been recorded) and should be returned to you.

    I do not advocate attempting to create and file your own beneficiary deed, even if you’ve found a form or template online that you believe to be legally acceptable. While they may seem simple, there are important details and significant ramifications to beneficiary deeds.

    If you have any questions about beneficiary deeds or are looking to protect your home from probate, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

  • Beneficiary deed v. Quitclaim deed

    Many people come to my office looking to pass their home to their loved ones and avoid probate. I’ll often get questioned about whether a quitclaim deed or a beneficiary deed is the best mechanism for avoiding probate.

    A quitclaim deed (or a warranty deed) conveys the interest of the property owner to someone else immediately. Just like the sale of any other piece of property, the house belongs to the grantee the moment that the deed gets filed with the recorder of deeds.

    A beneficiary deed lists one or more beneficiaries who will receive the real property upon the death of the owner or owners as long as they own the property when they pass away. Unlike a quitclaim deed, the beneficiary has no immediate interest in the property and cannot prevent the sale of the home during the lifetime of the owner or owners.

    I recommend a beneficiary deed as opposed to a quitclaim deed for my clients for several reasons.

    1. Liability. When a parent gives his or her interest in the home to a child or jointly titling it with the child by way of a quitclaim deed, it opens the door for potential creditors of the child to try and file an action for the home. If the child is married and is getting divorced, for example, the court may view the home as marital property. If a beneficiary deed is used instead, the creditors cannot attach to the property during the life of the parent.

    2. Taxes. There can be tax consequences to transferring the property during the parent’s life that wouldn’t exist at the death of the parent. By conveying interest to the child in a quitclaim deed, the child may not get the benefit of a step up in basis and the parent may need to file a gift tax return for the transfer. If a beneficiary deed is used, as long as the value of the parent’s property is less than the federal estate tax limit (5.49m in 2017), there are most likely not going to be any tax consequences to the child receiving the home at the death of the parent.

    3. Control. If a parent gives part or all of his or her interest in a house to a child during the parent’s life by a quitclaim deed, the child now has control of part or all of the home. If there is a quarrel, the kid can kick the parent out of the home. I’ve never had a parent think that his or her kid would ever do that. It may not even be the choice of the child, but a choice of their spouse or significant other. A beneficiary deed, however, won’t forfeit any of the parent’s control during his or her lifetime.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this and please don’t hesitate to call and see what I can do for you.

  • What is a probate bond?

    A probate bond ensures that the personal representative of an estate follows the directions of the court for the distribution of estate property. The bond functions like an insurance policy for the estate. If the personal representative decided to steal from the estate or withhold money from heirs, the bond company would pay for the difference up to the amount of the bond.

    A probate bond is required for all estates over $40,000.00 in value in Missouri. For most counties, the only exception is if the decedent waived the need for a bond in his or her will.

    How much does a probate bond cost?

    The cost of a probate bond is usually a fixed percentage (approximately .5%) of the value of the estate. For example, if the estate contained assets valued at $150,000.00, the cost of the bond premium would be approximately $750. Furthermore, the personal representative has to financially qualify in order to have the bond issued.

    The cost of a probate bond is something to consider for your loved ones. If you have questions about how to avoid probate bonds or would like to know if your current will waives the need for a probate bond, don’t hesitate to call me to see what I can do for you.

  • Why I recommend reviewing your estate plan every 3 to 5 years.

    I recommend that every person review his or her estate plan every 3 to 5 years for several reasons.

    Laws change. State and federal laws regarding taxes, wills and trusts change every year. Some of these changes are small, others are huge. Many of these changes will have an impact on your estate plan, and reviewing your estate planning needs and goals every 3 to 5 years ensures that your wishes will be carried out.

    Life happens. Kids grow up, loved ones pass away and grandchildren are born. Major life events will undoubtedly change your estate planning needs.

    Mistakes happen. Since people make mistakes, it’s important to review your estate plan for possible errors. You don’t want beneficiaries accidentally omitted because you or your attorney forgot to include them in your will or trust.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please don’t hesitate to contact me to see what I can do for you.

  • The problem with mortality.

    I have a difficult time reconciling the fact that my body, unlike my amazing jokes, will not live on forever. This is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome in estate planning. Nobody wants to think about their own death or someone in their family passing. I was always taught to not think about the future. Instead, think about it as if you passed away yesterday. How would you want your assets to be distributed? Who would you like to take care of your final matters? Who would you want to wind down your business? Who might be best suited to take care of your children or other family members? What would life be like for your loved ones today if you had passed away yesterday?

    An estate plan is critical. Whether you have a trust, will or both, having an instrument that instructs your loved ones as to your wishes and provides proper authority to execute those wishes is extremely important. In addition to providing a blueprint for your loved ones, there is peace of mind in knowing that you’ve done what you can to make your passing a little easier.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this post and please don’t hesitate to contact my office to see what I can do for you.

  • If you have a Bank of America account you should read this.

    Under Missouri law, things like stock certificates, insurance agreements, bonds and bank accounts are considered non-probate transfers when a person dies. People commonly refer to these paid benefits as payable on death (POD). This means that they can be distributed to your family, friends or loved ones immediately and without having to go through probate court. All you have to do is designate a beneficiary. This is usually done on a beneficiary designation form. Every bank uses these and they typically look like every other form that you fill out when you open a checking or savings account.

    So what’s the problem? If you don’t designate a beneficiary, the money in your account goes into probate, making the process time consuming and possibly expensive. In my experience, people with accounts at large institutions like Bank of America commonly do not have a beneficiary designation form on file. This can become a huge problem as families tend to rely on this money for expensive end of life costs.

    So what can you do to prevent this? Go to your bank or insurer and verify that you have a beneficiary designation form on file and that it is properly filled out. You should also make sure that it lists the proper beneficiary. For example, my beneficiary designation at age 29 is different than it was at 18, when I first opened my bank account and filled out a beneficiary designation form.

    It is very important that your beneficiary designation forms are properly filled out and accurately reflect your wishes for when you pass.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this post and please don’t hesitate to contact my office to see what I can do for you.

  • Why you should consider a transfer on death designation on your car title.

    In Missouri, you are allowed to place a transfer on death designation (TOD) on your vehicle title. While a TOD designation has no affect during your lifetime, it allows your vehicle to be immediately transferred on your death to the person that you designate. In order to obtain a TOD designation, all you need to do is indicate so on a title application at the DMV.

    Why is a TOD designation important? When you pass away, your vehicle, unless titled in a trust, has to go through probate. This is sometimes a costly process and almost always takes at least one month from the date of death to initiate. That means that your loved ones will have to wait for the court to issue an order allowing your vehicle to be transferred or sold, which could take months. Allowing your vehicle to pass immediately to your loved ones eases their burden at the end of your life and offers you peace of mind by knowing that you’ve taken measures to protect your loved ones after your passing.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this post and please don’t hesitate to contact my office to see what I can do for you.