Blue Bell Probate and Estate Administration Law Blog

Improve estate administration efficiency with good organization

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Administration on Oct 12, 2015.

Structuring a solid estate plan is the first step toward passing down wealth to one’s heirs. However, in order for the established plan to be effective, it is necessary to attain a high level of organization. The individual(s) who are entrusted with estate administration duties will be either empowered or limited by the organization of the estate plan. Pennsylvania residents should review their own estate planning package to ensure that the information laid out within is organized and easily accessible. Organization begins with a list of all of the pertinent documents that will be needed to settle an estate. This includes copies of the will, trusts and any personal documents such as letters to heirs. Having all of these items in one central location can make it far easier for the designated person or persons to begin the process of estate administration. It is also important to compile a list of all assets. This list will shift and change over time, as assets are acquired or sold. The list should include a description of each asset, where it is located and how to access account information, such as login and password details. It may be helpful to create separate lists for accounts (insurance, investments, savings) and items of property (real estate, vehicles, jewelry). Having a comprehensive breakdown of assets will help loved ones feel certain that they are not missing any items of value when settling the estate. A similar list should be made that outlines all of an individual’s […]

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Second marriage prompts estate planning changes

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Oct 8, 2015.

When entering into a second or subsequent marriage, Pennsylvania residents are often overwhelmed with gratitude at having another chance at love. In the fog of this gratitude, however, lurks the risk of making significant financial mistakes. Estate planning is an area in which many spouses fail to make changes or adjustments as they tie the knot a second time. The extent of the estate planning that many spouses undergo is to leave everything to each other, with the understanding that the surviving spouse will pass down wealth to the children of both parties. The flaw in this plan is that it fails to recognize the fact that people move on after the loss of a spouse. For many, this means moving on to a new spouse and perhaps even additional children. At that point, the surviving spouse will take on an entirely new set of priorities, which is perfectly normal. Those priorities may not include providing financial support to their stepchildren from a previous marriage. In this way, one’s adult children can be essentially cut off from their intended inheritance.    The best way to safeguard against this outcome is to structure a trust to pass down wealth to one’s children. A trust can be created that will provide financial support to a surviving spouse, while ensuring that remaining wealth is passed down to adult children and grandchildren. In this estate planning approach, Pennsylvania residents can ensure that their intentions are followed through on, no matter what the future might […]

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Trust administration can ensure care for children

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Trust Administration on Sep 28, 2015.

For most Pennsylvania parents, few things are more important than the safety and well-being of their children. To that end, parents will go out of their way to ensure that the needs of their children are met, especially while those children are still young. One way to safeguard against unplanned disaster is to address estate planning needs early, long before such plans are perceived as necessary. This includes planning for trust administration in the event that it might be needed. No parent wants to think about leaving a child behind, but none of us are able to know what the future holds. If a child loses one or both parents in an accident, a series of changes will be set into motion that can be difficult to adjust to. In the best case scenarios, parents will have made provisions to ensure that their kids are well cared for in such an event, which begins by selecting the best possible guardian(s) to provide love and support. The individuals entrusted with this role will have a great deal of adjustment to do on their end, as well. Becoming a guardian is usually a very sudden change, even when the issue has been thoroughly discussed. While a certain degree of confusion and anxiety is to be expected in such an event, there is no need to add financial strain to the mix. Parents in Pennsylvania can ensure that their chosen guardian has the financial means to assume their new role as caregiver by […]

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Benefits of trusts within estate planning

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Administration on Sep 28, 2015.

When considering various estate planning options, many Pennsylvania residents feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of options. One of the biggest choices to be made involves which vehicle is best suited to hand down assets: wills or trusts. While each family has a unique set of needs, trusts are an attractive option for many people and provide a number of estate planning benefits over wills. Perhaps the primary benefit of using a trust to pass down assets is the ability to avoid probate. The probate process is time-consuming, expensive and often very frustrating to those left behind to manage the process. With a trust, the assets placed within that vehicle will pass on to the named parties in a very efficient manner, outside of the probate process. Another advantage that trusts have over wills is a greater level of protection for your heirs. When assets are placed within a trust, those assets become the property of the trust itself and not the trustees. Trustees have the ability to access those assets as designated within the language of the trust. However, those assets are protected from creditors and the property division process within divorce. This means that the wealth that you intend to pass down to a loved one will be received by that individual and not subject to loss based on legal matters. When considering the differences between trusts and wills, it may be helpful to gain the advice of an estate planning attorney. He or she can sit down […]

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The gift of professional estate administration

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Administration on Sep 17, 2015.

For many Pennsylvania residents, an important part of the estate planning process involves determining who will serve as the executor of one’s will. However, in many cases this is a determination that is likely to lead to a great deal of stress for the individual tasked with that role. It is worth considering whether obtaining professional estate administration services is a good fit for your family’s particular needs. An estate administrator will assume most of the tasks for which an executor would have been responsible. This includes calling a meeting to read over the will, as well as answering any questions that loved ones may have as to the reasoning behind the distribution of assets. An administrator is emotionally detached from that process and can provide answers that are based in fact, not emotion. As a contrast, imagine your loved one standing before gathered heirs and trying to conduct an objective reading of the will. He or she is already dealing with an emotional reaction to the loss and is now asked to answer for estate planning decisions that he or she did not make. When loved ones have questions that the executor cannot properly answer, the result can be a high degree of animosity among heirs and a great deal of stress for the executor. Professional estate administration is in many ways a gift that an individual can give to his or her loved ones at a time when such a thoughtful act is needed the most. Allowing all […]

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Estate planning tips for unmarried couples

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Sep 10, 2015.

More and more people in Pennsylvania and elsewhere are choosing to alter the way in which they express their commitment to a partner. Rather than taking the traditional path of marriage, many couples choose to live together in a family structure outside of marriage. Regardless of the reasons behind such a choice, it is important to note that unmarried couples do not share the same rights as those who choose to walk down the aisle. This is especially true in regard to estate planning. For example, many people go through one marriage and divorce and decide that they do not want to encounter that particular set of legal difficulties in the future. They may go on to live within a fulfilling and loving relationship for many years, purchasing property together, planning for retirement and generally combining resources. However, if one partner dies without a clear estate plan in place, much of the couple’s shared property could be subject to loss during the probate process. In the absence of an estate plan, a probate court will be tasked with determining how to distribute the decedent’s assets according to state laws of intestacy. The law generally favors surviving blood relatives over unmarried partners, although each case is unique. In the worst case scenario, an individual could lose assets that he or she helped to acquire, all because there is no written legal directive to make the decedent’s final wishes clear to the court. In order to protect each other, unmarried partners should […]

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How to choose the best possible estate planning attorney

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Sep 3, 2015.

Estate planning is an event with which many in Pennsylvania have very little experience. This means that when the need arises to find a good estate planning attorney, many people have no idea where to begin. They realize that finding the best possible match is important, but they are not sure how to attain that goal and fear having to resort to searching online and choosing from random listings. A better approach is to begin by making a call to an attorney with whom you already have a relationship. Whether a professional who has assisted with a divorce, a civil dispute or another legal matter, attorneys tend to network with their colleagues from other areas of practice. Place a call and ask for a referral to a good estate planning attorney who has a practice in your area. Once a short list of attorneys has been compiled, schedule a set of initial appointments. During those meetings, pay close attention to each attorney’s approach. It is important to select a professional who is willing to listen to your goals and address any concerns about the overall process. This is also the time to ask about the estimated timeline and cost of the estate planning process. Take the time to meet with several candidates who were referred through trusted sources. Then, listen to your gut when it comes to making a choice. The professional relationship between a Pennsylvania client and his or her estate planning attorney may be brief in duration, but […]

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Young adults have specific estate planning needs

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Aug 27, 2015.

Many Pennsylvania readers are aware of the recent death of Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of musicians Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown. The 22-year-old passed away after being found face down in a bathtub in her home, and living in a comatose condition for nearly six months. Because she did not have the proper estate planning documents in place at the time of her incapacitation, her family was thrown into a tumultuous struggle over which party was entitled to direct the course of her medical care. Young people do not have the same estate planning needs as older adults. Often, there is very little in the way of assets that would be distributed in the event of death. However, incapacitation is a risk that everyone faces, regardless of their age. When a young adult becomes incapacitated due to a serious illness or injury, the course of their medical care can become a significant matter of contention among family members. This is especially true in cases where a young adult’s parents are no longer together and do not enjoy a healthy relationship. When parents do not see eye-to-eye on medical treatments or interventions, a nasty legal battle can result. In the case of Bobbi Kristina Brown, her mother predeceased her and her maternal family was at odds with her father over how she should be cared for once she slipped into a coma. These matters can be cleared up by drafting an advance health care directive package that clearly lists the person […]

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A fast and effective yearly estate planning checklist

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Aug 20, 2015.

Most Pennsylvania residents are aware of the importance of creating a fully fleshed-out estate plan. They may even be aware of the need to periodically review their estate planning package to ensure that their current wishes are properly documented. That said, actually sitting down and completing this task often falls by the wayside as individuals and families focus on more pressing daily obligations. Having a basic checklist in place and working through that list on an annual basis is a great way to ensure that one’s plan is fully up to date. During this annual review, individuals should begin by considering if their family dynamic has shifted during the past year. Changes in family structure can occur through marriage, divorce, the birth of a child or the death of a loved one. Any of these changes can necessitate a change in one’s estate plan. Failure to update a plan can lead to a number of problems at the time of one’s death, including disputes between family members or the unintentional disinheritance of a loved one. Next, it is important to consider whether any real property has been acquired in the previous year. If so, those assets should be addressed within the estate plan, including being placed within a trust if that is part of the larger estate planning track. It is also a good idea to consider if any accounts have been opened that require a beneficiary designation and to look at how those designations may shift the ultimate distribution […]

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Estate planning rules affected by recent Supreme Court ruling.

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Aug 14, 2015.

With the recent Supreme Court case in which same-sex marriage rights were the central focus, a number of other legalities concerning gay couples were also affected. One of those areas involves estate planning. Same-sex couples in Pennsylvania and across the nation will now have the same rights as heterosexual couples when it comes to matters of inheritance and incapacitation planning. One of the most significant aspects of the legitimizing of same-sex marriage involves the portability of one partner’s estate tax exclusion amount. Currently, that threshold sits at $5.43 million. Wealth accumulated beyond that point is subject to estate taxes. Prior to the recent Supreme Court case, same-sex partners were unable to take advantage of portability, which allows one spouse to retain any unused credit when his or her partner passes away. Now, however, same-sex partners will have full portability rights, which can greatly reduce the tax burden that the surviving spouse will eventually incur on his or her own estate. Another benefit now afforded to same-sex couples who marry involves the ability to be assigned the role of conservator or guardian in the event that one’s partner becomes incapacitated. While having the status of “spouse” over that of “partner” does not necessarily mean that a court will grant those rights, it is certainly a more likely outcome now that same-sex marriage has been legitimized at the highest judicial level. That said, it is always a good idea to draft the proper paperwork to designate power of attorney, guardian and other […]

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