Blue Bell Probate and Estate Administration Law Blog

Estate planning, sitcom style

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Sep 23, 2016.

When it comes to celebrities making plans for their estates, many of the examples provided revolve around what not to do. However, a recently published article takes an unusual approach to the topic of celebrity estate planning. The piece focuses on the fictional families featured in the hit television series “Modern Family.” That show is a great catalyst for discussion on the matter, as there are several different family types featured in the storyline, just as there different types of families in Pennsylvania. The Dunphy family is a blend of many different types of relationships. The patriarch of the family is married to a much younger woman who has a child from a previous relationship. He also has two adult children from a previous marriage. In their example, estate planning would revolve around providing wealth for both his current wife as well as as his children and grandchildren. It would also be important to include his stepson into the mix. One of the adult children has a traditional marriage with biological children. For them, estate planning might focus on outlining the care needs of the parents while also providing for an inheritance for the children. The other adult child is in a committed same-sex union. For those characters, estate planning can be a bit more complex. A priority would be ensuring that the wishes of both parties were clearly outlined in regard to both long-term care planning as well as inheritance matters. Many Pennsylvania residents enjoy the show “Modern Family,” which takes […]


Making the case for professional estate administration

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Administration on Sep 12, 2016.

For many Pennsylvania residents, hammering out the details of a complex estate plan can be an arduous process. Once all of the documents have been properly drafted and all essential decisions have been made, the time comes to determine who will be tasked with handling estate administration duties. Many families assume that the role of estate administration should be given to a surviving spouse or adult child. In many cases, however, family members are poorly suited for the task at hand. For example, consider a family in which the husband has managed all aspects of household finances over the course of many decades. Although his wife may have only good intentions, she may lack the financial skills needed to handle estate administration duties. In addition, a surviving spouse is likely to be overcome with emotion after the loss of a partner. This is the worst possible timeframe in which to be asked to handle complex financial matters. In the case of adult children, there are many instances in which a child is ill-equipped to handle the responsibility of estate administration. Some may lack the emotional maturity or financial savvy needed to gather assets, contact the appropriate parties and proceed with distributing wealth and property to the designated heirs. In the worst-case scenario, asking a child to handle these matters can place him or her in a difficult position in relation to other siblings or extended family members. A solution lies in handing over estate administration duties to a qualified professional. […]


Estate planning for parents of addicts or alcoholics

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Sep 9, 2016.

The urge to take care of one’s children remains strong in the lives of Pennsylvania parents long after kids have reached the age at which they should be taking care of themselves. For parents who have adult children struggling with addiction, the desire to help them through those challenges can feel overwhelming. Estate planning becomes a far trickier proposition for these families who must balance the desire to provide an inheritance to their child with the need to avoid playing the role of enabler. One option is to place the child’s inheritance into an annuity. This ensures that the beneficiary will always have a stable source of financial support, no matter what choices he or she may make. However, annuities are inflexible investment options. If the adult child should need a larger measure of financial support, he or she would be unable to obtain additional funding from the annuity. This could prove to be an impediment to seeking treatment at a rehab facility or entering an outpatient drug counseling program. Trusts offer a greater degree of flexibility but require management. There are professional trust administration services available, but that approach comes at a cost. Some families choose to ask a responsible child or relative to manage the trust and decide whether or not to approve large disbursements. This approach, however, places the family member under a great deal of pressure and can have a negative impact on their relationship with the beneficiary of the trust. Determining which way to go […]


Ease estate administration by making a personal inventory

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Administration on Sep 1, 2016.

All Pennsylvania residents are aware that the purpose of creating a comprehensive estate plan is to provide a means for handing down wealth and possessions to loved ones who will be left behind. In structuring an estate plan, there are a number of options available, and a solution for virtually every set of needs. When it comes to easing the estate administration process, individuals should place themselves in the position of the party or parties who will be tasked with handling this important role. Distributing assets and items of personal property can be stressful if the estate administrator is unsure of the full extent of those assets. For example, if a father has handed estate administration duties to his eldest son, that also places a heavy burden of responsibility upon his shoulders. When the time comes, the son will be expected to handle the transfer of assets and property to the intended heirs. However, if he is uncertain of exactly what is held and to whom each item should be distributed, stress and anxiety can result. The best way to address this issue is by taking a full inventory of all items of personal property, and including that inventory within the estate planning package. This includes items both large and small, as many seemingly invaluable items of personal property hold great emotional value for loved ones. In addition, it is equally important to review this inventory on an annual basis. Over time, property is acquired, lost, destroyed or sold. Having […]


Tips for protecting against probate litigation

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Probate Litigation on Aug 25, 2016.

The primary purpose of an estate plan is to smooth the way for the loved ones that an individual will leave behind. The details of most plans focus on how assets will be handed down and outline which individuals are entitled to which pieces of property. It is important to note, however, that there is always a risk of one or more family members finding fault with a plan and pursuing probate litigation as a potential remedy. The best way to protect against such an outcome is to make an effort to create a clear and comprehensive plan that can withstand any number of legal challenges in a Pennsylvania court of law. This begins by keeping one’s will up-to-date. As time goes on, the structure of a family changes; loved ones pass away, marriages and divorces take place. and babies are born. If an estate plan does not reflect these changes, it becomes easier for a family member to argue that a plan is not indicative of an individual’s current intentions. For example, there have been many cases in which wills are unclear on the matter of children. If older children are mentioned by name within the legal document, a younger child can be completely left out of his or her intended inheritance. A similar issue arises when a will simply states that “children” are entitled to a share of certain assets. Do stepchildren count under this definition? What about stepchildren from a previous marriage? Children born out of wedlock can […]


Estate tax savings option could be coming to an end

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Tax on Aug 19, 2016.

Some Pennsylvania families have been able to enjoy a profitable estate planning option that involves transferring interests in a family-controlled business. That option may be coming to a close, however, with the announcement of proposed regulations that the IRS would like to employ. Should those proposals become law, this opportunity for families to reduce their estate tax and gift tax obligations could be severely limited. Currently, family members can transfer interests in a family-controlled business under a discounted valuation plan. The shares are valued far lower than similar shares that are traded on the open market. Part of that discount is based on the assumption that the limited nature of the shares would make them less marketable and therefore more difficult to sell. The value is also lowered due to the fact that the shareholders have limited control over the company. The proposed regulations would strictly limit the application of such discounts. That would leave family members open to higher taxation. It would also make the transfer of interests in a family-controlled entity a far less attractive means of transferring wealth from one generation to the next. For Pennsylvania families who have made use of these valuation discounts, there is still a measure of hope. The proposed changes are not yet law, and many experts expect stout resistance to them in court. That could take years to resolve, leaving families with a window in which to take advantage of the current state of affairs. If the changes are passed into […]


Failure to have strong estate planning measures may backfire

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Aug 11, 2016.

In Pennsylvania and elsewhere, the accepted premise is that anyone with an average number of assets needs to have an estate plan. There are many horror stories of substantial losses or inconveniences suffered by people who did not have an estate plan or who did not keep it updated. Partial estate planning can also leave a void that comes back to haunt the benefactor or the family later on. For a married couple, the failure to have an estate plan can lead to confusion, inconvenience, temporary lack of access to assets and loss of assets in potential cases to other persons not favored by the decedent. The problems of a married couple without an estate plan may be magnified greatly if it is a second marriage for both, or if one of the spouses has children from a prior marriage. Even with a will, there may be a significant problem if the decedent did not make provisions outside the will to assure the distribution of assets to children from a prior marriage. The last will and testament is the centerpiece of the estate plan. The will makes it all much easier and prevents the assertion of ownership of assets by those not included in the will. A person dying without a will leaves family members relying on the provisions of state law, which may not protect and favor the individuals that the decedent wanted favored. The failure to update the estate plan and to do normal housekeeping can also result […]


Estate planning for a second marriage

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Aug 5, 2016.

Falling in love is one of the most amazing experiences that a human being can have. When Pennsylvania residents are lucky enough to find love a second time, they are often excited to begin a new marriage. Starting a second family offers a range of challenges, especially for those who have children from a prior union. It is important to take a carefully considered estate planning approach to ensure that all of an individual’s loved ones are cared for when the time comes. In many cases, children are fearful that their parent’s new spouse will not have their best interests at heart in the long run. Virtually everyone knows of a family in which a second or subsequent spouse inherited everything, only to cut out children and other heirs who were not protected with proper planning. The best way to address these concerns is with a comprehensive estate plan that outlines the wishes of the parent. There are a number of options that give individuals the ability to provide for both their new spouse and existing children from a former marriage. Trusts are one option, as is titling certain assets jointly. In addition, a thorough will can outline which items of personal property are intended to go to which designated heir. When it comes to estate planning and second marriages, it is important to approach with caution. No Pennsylvania resident wants to alienate a new spouse, or cause children anxiety and concern. By addressing this issue early in the second […]


Lessons to be learned from Hillary Clinton’s estate planning

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Jul 29, 2016.

Part of the process of running for the office of the President of the United States involves disclosing one’s personal financial information. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton recently submitted her accounting of her family’s assets. Her disclosure has led to important estate planning lessons for many in Pennsylvania and beyond. Candidates are allowed to use wide value ranges to list their various assets, so the exact net worth of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s estate is not known. However, the public can see some of the couple’s estate planning measures, including how they have chosen to address one of their homes. The Clintons have placed the home into a residence trust in order to achieve tax savings when the property is eventually passed on to their chosen beneficiary. By placing the home into a residence trust (the Clintons actually split the value of the home between two such trusts), the property’s value for tax purposes will be frozen at the value when the trust was funded. That means that the gift taxes due from that transfer will be based on that value, which will likely be far below the eventual value of the home. Once the trust period comes to an end, the Clintons’ named beneficiary will receive the property. The catch in this estate planning approach is to choose the proper length for the residence trust. It should be long enough to allow for maximum appreciation, yet short enough to ensure that the owners do not pass away prior to […]


Trust administration can ease family concerns

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Trust Administration on Jul 22, 2016.

In many Pennsylvania families, leaving behind assets to loved ones is not a simple matter. Some families have spent decades amassing their wealth, but they may have children or grandchildren who do not share their same financial acumen. That can result in a scenario in which heirs squander their inheritance, sometimes emerging in even worse financial circumstances than before they received a financial windfall. For such families, the creation of trusts and professional trust administration can provide peace of mind. By creating a trust, families can structure the terms by which their loved ones will inherit accumulated wealth. Those terms can be as loose or as restrictive as the grantors feel necessary. Once wealth is placed within the trust, it is protected from loss through divorce, legal judgments or seizure by creditors. In essence, this allows a family to take steps to protect their chosen heirs from themselves. By setting out the terms that govern how trust distributions are made, families can limit access to the base of wealth that is held within the trust. That can give heirs a chance to learn how to manage their wealth or to mature and become more financially balanced. Once a trust is in place, selecting professional trust administration services can add additional peace of mind. When the trust is handled by an individual or team that is highly skilled at managing these financial tools, the grantors can rest assured that their hard work will go to their chosen heirs in the manner […]

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