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Wills/Probate/Estates
Old 04-07-2008, 05:16 PM   #1
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Wills/Probate/Estates

Just starting the process of performing the role of an Executor for my recently passed Mom. She died unexpectedly but at least in a peaceful way--sleeping in her recliner with her cat in her lap.
Given the demographics of this Forum I suspect there is a lot of learning from similar experiences in this group. The sheer volume regulatory protocol has been a bit amazing. Forms for everything.
Some initial insight comes from finding out to just begin the role of Executor I have to complete paper work and appear before the Court in order to be "certified" as the Executor. Learned a new phrase--Letter of Testamentary. This is one of those documents that everybody and their mother wants a copy before you can do any business as the Executor. Vanguard will not release funds we set aside to meet her end of life expenses until they get the Letter and a Certified Death Certificate. We are moving at a pretty good pace but the process will take at least three weeks if we are lucky--meanwhile bills remain unpaid.
Also discovered in the process of filing a claim on a small whole life policy that shares issued when the life insurance demutualized some years back are sitting in the previous state's unclaimed property records. Where I also found remanents of her former husband's estate also sitting. Lots of special forms for these guys as well. One of the most interesting requirements is that I prove with correspondence or bill that she actually lived at the address shown when the property went to the state. (this will be interesting since it was a temporary apt which I did know she even lived).
Couple of "lessons" so far.
Make
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Old 04-07-2008, 05:23 PM   #2
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The address thing seems weird. It seems like if you can prove she owned the policy, which you can, this should work to prove she is entitled to the shares.

But yes, you will do a lot of dancing to gather everything. Get plenty of the Letters of Administration/Testamentary and plenty of certified death certificates.

I am sorry about your mom.
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Old 04-07-2008, 05:48 PM   #3
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I would suggest finding a local Attorney and discuss with him/her (initial consultations are free or relatively inexpensive). Make sure he specializes in probate and/or cases like yours. If you have to go to/thru probate you may find good references from your local court workers, unless you can find one from family referrals. Good luck, I did the same for my Mother about 12 years ago. I also offer my condolences.
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Wills/Probate/Estates
Old 04-07-2008, 05:51 PM   #4
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Wills/Probate/Estates

Just starting the process of performing the role of an Executor for my recently passed Mom. She died unexpectedly but at least in a peaceful way--sleeping in her recliner with her cat in her lap.
Given the demographics of this Forum I suspect there is a lot of learning from similar experiences in this group. The sheer volume regulatory protocol has been a bit amazing. Forms for everything. Much of the learning will not be "news" to our esteem legal members but nevertheless, maybe a discusssion here will make it easier for those of you yet to deal with this situation and/or make it easier for your heirs.
Some initial insight comes from finding out that to just begin the role of Executor I have to complete paper work and appear before the Court in order to be "certified" as the Executor. Learned a new phrase--Letter of Testamentary. This is one of those documents that everybody wants a copy before you can do any business as the Executor. Vanguard will not release funds we set aside to meet her end of life expenses until they get the Letter of Testamentary (will is not enough) and a Certified Death Certificate. We are moving at a pretty good pace but the process will take at least three weeks if we are lucky--meanwhile bills remain unpaid. Even to get the Transfer on Death funds moved at Vanguard it takes a Certified Death Certificate and Vanguard processing time--looks like a month to complete including waiting for death certificate.
Also discovered in the process of filing a claim on a small whole life policy that shares issued when the life insurance demutualized some years back are sitting in the previous state's unclaimed property records. Where I also found remanents of her former husband's estate also sitting. Lots of special forms for these guys as well. One of the most interesting requirements is that I prove with correspondence or bill that she actually lived at the address shown when the property went to the state. (this will be interesting since it was a temporary apt which I did know she even lived).
Couple of "lessons" so far.
Make sure you know where the Original signed notarized will is stored. Courts will only record the original and you can not start the process with out it being recorded.
Check Unclaimed property in any prior state of residence--both in the name of the deceased but also prior relatives/spouses who the deceased may have inherited or was joint owner.
Keep copies of death certificates of prior spouses where you can find them as you will need them for closing the books for pension providers,
Even a simple cremation will cost you $65 for a cardboard box for your final trip (WA state law supposely)
No matter how small your parent's living arrangement, they will have it "stuffed" with incredible amounts of paper and photos you will have to wade through to find the stuff you need. (Note to self, pitch more).

I suspect many more lessons but would welcome any other lessons Forum members are willing to share.

Thanks for all ideas/suggestions
NWsteve
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Old 04-07-2008, 06:42 PM   #5
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NWSteve..

No insights to share, luckily the board has experts.

I am going to my Mom's in Oregon for a few weeks to help take care of her while her boyfriend is traveling with his daughter. One of my top goals is to make sure all of her paper work is in order. I very much appreciate you taking the time to point out all of the gotcha since I am her executor.
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Old 04-07-2008, 07:03 PM   #6
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I've done this for DM, FIL and BIL.

Unfortunately, I'm in Canada and we have different rules (as do different states, I think). I'd recommend finding a lawyer who will help with the legal processes on a fee for service basis. Up here, most want a percentage of the estate. You can do it yourself (I did it with DM) but even at $200/hr, a lawyer can ease things. If the estate is 7 digits, find a fee-for-service guy.
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Old 04-07-2008, 07:31 PM   #7
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I've done this for DM, FIL and BIL.
You can do it yourself (I did it with DM) but even at $200/hr, a lawyer can ease things. If the estate is 7 digits, find a fee-for-service guy.
I would agree with you on the need if the estate is large or has real estate. Because most of my mom's assets transferred under TOD provisions, the remaining assets are relatively small. However, regardless of size, you still have to do a lot of the same steps. Wash State has a small estate proviso (less than 100K and NO real estate) that makes it supposely easier but you still have to do the basic stuff, the checks are just smaller.
One of the other posters in an earlier thread suggested two hours with a qualified probate attorney to get an overall feel for all that is involved. If you are just starting, this would be a good investment.
I think I failed to realized just what was in store as my mom handled her husband's death without much problem but I think that is because everything was joint owned and all that was required was a Death Certificate.
Thanks for the input and ideas
nwsteve
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Old 04-07-2008, 10:29 PM   #8
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I've done this for DM, FIL and BIL.

Unfortunately, I'm in Canada and we have different rules (as do different states, I think). I'd recommend finding a lawyer who will help with the legal processes on a fee for service basis. Up here, most want a percentage of the estate. You can do it yourself (I did it with DM) but even at $200/hr, a lawyer can ease things. If the estate is 7 digits, find a fee-for-service guy.
I was coexecutor for my mother's estate, with her lawyer. She lived in Ireland and named both of us to ensure that I would be able to do this long distance. However, the lawyer was a notorious procrastinator and I did most of the work, except for showing up in court, which was convenient for me since I live in Canada. The key to getting started is to get the death certificate ASAP. Luckily I had established a good relationship with my mother's physician. It is customary to have an executor charge 5% of the estate. I made the business case that I had already done most of the work and calculated that 5% would represent an exorbitant hourly rate, and offered to take over the executorship if the lawyer would not accept a fair fee for the portion of the work which only the lawyer could do, which we were able to negotiate. I then applied a project management approach with goals and deliverables. We had probate in 3 weeks.
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Old 04-07-2008, 11:32 PM   #9
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NWSteve,
Sorry about your mother at least it was a peaceful passing. My dad also died in his sleep. My late wife was not so lucky.

I helped my mother (and still do) with all the stuff from my dad's passing. I did all the stuff for my late wife also. It can be a real eye-opener and it takes a lot of time and effort to do it right.

Your state laws may differ but some of the things I had (and still have) to do include:

Get 20 copies of Death Cert.
Send letters to all utility companies, credit card companies, mortgage company, Social Security, former employers, Life Insurance companies, investment companies, etc. Notifying them of the death and sending a Test. Letter and Death Cert. I also had to do a POA (power of attorney) for some and Medalian Guarantee and other signature guarantees for investments.

You may have to probate her estate. Even with a will I have had to go to Probate twice on my wife's estate.

If any trusts are involved (maybe not in your case) the hurdles get higher. I am the Trustee for her estate. A tax return is required each year on the trust. Trust tax rates are higher than individual rates.

You must file a tax return for her estate within 9 months of her death. You can get an extention but the IRS wants the return soon; even if no estate tax is due.

Clean out any safe deposit boxes.

Disposition any realestate.

Disposition any government bonds. I had some cashed and some renamed.

Be patient...a lot of the stuff takes time and effort.

Again, I am sorry for your loss.
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Old 04-08-2008, 08:13 AM   #10
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If any trusts are involved (maybe not in your case) the hurdles get higher.
That's for sure. My mother's estate seemed very simple to me; no real estate, very few belongings, and nearly everything in trusts, some up to forty years old and some newer.

Upon her death last September our estate attorney told my brother (executor and retired former CPA/CFO) that despite no conflict among heirs, closing all of these trusts would take 6 months to a year. It looks like he was right, though we received partial distributions after 4-5 months.

Over 1/4 of her estate remains in the hands of the ever-so-slow-and-thorough Bank of Hawaii today, 6 months after her death. Given the behavior of the market during the past six months, it probably doesn't matter a whole lot except in the sense of emotional closure.
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Old 04-08-2008, 08:28 AM   #11
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Are there things an executor should do while his parents are living? Assuming wills and health proxy are in place.

Just a thought ...
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Old 04-08-2008, 08:30 AM   #12
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My condolences on the passing of your mother.

I handled the administration of my mother's will, and yes it is a steep learning curve, mostly for the vocabulary and procedures. There are books on how to handle it, the basic concepts are fairly simple, the devil is in the details.

SteveR covered just about everything you need to do. He's right about the 20 original copies of the death certificate and the Letter of Administration, which gives you the legal authority to act on behalf of the estate. The estate is a separate legal entity, almost like a corporation, if you can get your head wrapped around the concept.

My mother's was also fairly simple, no real estate and she had sold her car six months before.
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Old 04-08-2008, 09:51 AM   #13
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Condolences about your mother. I went through this all very recently, as I was executor on my sister's estate. Post questions as you come across them,and we'll all try to answer. One of the first things I would do is get a competent estate attorney.......
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Old 04-08-2008, 10:00 AM   #14
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Wow..steve.. nothing to add but THANKS, as you have opened my eyes to issues I had never considered, in particular "Letter of Testamentary" - never heard of it!
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Old 04-08-2008, 10:13 AM   #15
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To eliminate confusion, I am going to merge this thread with the other one that was posted with the same name.

I hope noone has a problem with that.......
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Old 04-08-2008, 11:56 AM   #16
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as well, my condolences, a phrase i use too much these days. just to offer some advanced warnings: as we still have mom's house in the estate's name (to protect my brother and therefore also my share of the estate from liability claims which could arise from his engineering firm), we are already a year and a half past burying mom yet the estate is not yet dissolved. so i still have to pay for lawyer and accountant.

but worse is that i'm always getting reminders of mom's death. court notices, lawyer bills, even from vanguard where i have moved the inherited ira. every statement on that account is addressed, not to me, but named to the estate of mom. even when i take the required yearly withdrawal, the reason for withdrawal on the statement reads: "death". i've spoken to vanguard to try to change all that but supposedly their computer program won't allow them to change it. so a year and a half later, and until i sell the house & deplete the inherited ira, this continues to be, to be kind, not fun.
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Old 04-08-2008, 11:50 PM   #17
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Thanks to all for your condolensces.
Your experiences certainly confirm mine so far. Lots and lots of paper work.
Picked up early on the need for multiple copies of the death certificate--got 20 ($20 each btw) and got funny looks from the funeral home employee. I also understand that a similar number of Letter of Testamentary are a good idea since anyone you contact as Executor will want one.
One of the purposes of starting this thread is hopefully is to alert other readers of the level of complexity and crud you have to wade into.
You can hire attorneys but they want a "chunk" and most of it is just process work for the sake of process.
I am also working with Vanguard and finding them incredibly beauracratic.
One day I have full access to my Mom's accounts as a Attorney in Fact (full power of attorney) and the day of her death, I have no access.
All power of attorneys are dissolved at death. Until I present Letter of Testamentary for my role as Executor I have no access to the account which I means I can not monitor any unauthorized action against the deceased account. The best I could do was to get them to freeze the account and that was a bit of an effort.
One thing I have found helpful was to be a joint owner on my Mom's checking account which has allowed me to pay some of her small bills.
I will not have access to her estate funds for paying taxes and funeral expenses until the Probate Court issues me the Letter of Teatamentary as evidence of my role as Executor. Moemg did well in getting it all done in 3 weeks. I think I will be doing well to get it done in 6 weeks depending on how fast I can get Letter from Probate Court after appearing this week.
Finance Dude, I have no problem in merging threads as the intent is to provide other members a future resource. I did not find much when I search on the topic except for a couple brief entries
Thanks again to all for sharing your experiences and condolences
nwsteve
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Old 04-09-2008, 07:34 AM   #18
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As we age or care for aged parents/relatives there are a couple of things we could all do to make life easier for those that survive us. Joint accounts are a major help as long as the joint owner can be trusted, next is named and contingent beneficiaries, single or multiple. Doing this can bypass probate in most cases and can make dealing with some financial institutions much easier. Lastly, a detailed or general, letter of instructions for your named executor of your will. The letter of instructions can, within the bounds of the will, make the executor's life much easier. For instance if the will has multiple beneficiaries, you may want to say something like don't cash in CD's above a certain rate until they mature. While the executor of the may be able the cash them immediately, and the other beneficiaries may desire them cashed, your desires may help the executor explain to the other beneficiaries why they should wait. Also the letter could say who you wanted to receive low value items that may have some sentimental value to the receiver.
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Old 04-09-2008, 09:57 AM   #19
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One thing I have found helpful was to be a joint owner on my Mom's checking account which has allowed me to pay some of her small bills.
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Joint accounts are a major help as long as the joint owner can be trusted, next is named and contingent beneficiaries, single or multiple. Doing this can bypass probate in most cases and can make dealing with some financial institutions much easier.
After my Dad passed away, my Mom made me a joint owner on all of her accounts.....checking, savings, CDs, MMs, etc. I'm also joint owner on her bank lock-box, so I can easily access any necessary paperwork that I may need.....POA, Durable POA for Health Care, Will, etc. All of her insurance policies and annuities have primary and secondary beneficiaries named. And probably one of the best things is that I know where everything is kept.....lock-box, safe, or file cabinet. And I also know where all of her accounts and policies are held.......which banks, which ins. companies, etc.

My Grandad and Dad had it set up like that, and it made settling Gramps affairs fairly easy.
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Old 04-09-2008, 11:03 AM   #20
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My experience is that putting your heirs names on titles leads to unexpected problems.

In one case a lady did that without telling her children. One died before the house needed to be sold so the asset wasn't included in the child's estate. The deceased had a widow and children.

Heirs get divorced so the asset becomes a part of the divorce.

Heirs develop personality quirks, financial problems.

As wonderful as my children are I would NEVER put them on the title of my assets. As another has suggested, prepare a revocable living trust and put the assets in the trust. The trust should provide for successor trustees and instructions upon death.
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