Blue Bell Probate and Estate Administration Law Blog

The role of executor in estate administration

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Administration on Aug 13, 2015.

Most Pennsylvania residents are aware that drafting a will is one of the best ways to ensure that assets pass down to their intended heirs. Many are unclear, however, about the role that an  executor plays within the estate administration process, and how to make the right decision for that role. The following information is offered in the hopes of clarifying what will be expected of an executor, and what considerations should be made in selecting the best possible fit. The executor of one’s will is responsible for filing the will to begin the probate process. From that point, he or she is expected to pay the debts held by the estate and also pay for any probate-related fees. It is important that the will enters into probate in a timely manner; failure to meet certain deadlines can cause the estate to pass as if there were no will in existence. The executor is also responsible for the distribution of assets laid out within the will. As such, he or she will need to know where assets are located, and how to access those assets. Having a comprehensive list of all accounts, property and other holdings can make the job of executor far easier to manage. When moving through the estate planning process, many Pennsylvania residents find that they do not have a good candidate for the job of executor. In such cases, a bank that has a designated trust department may offer a good fit. One’s estate planning attorney […]

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Does your estate planning package include these items?

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Aug 6, 2015.

When reviewing one’s estate plan, it is easy to overlook items that can make a big difference to loved ones. While most Pennsylvania residents who go through the estate planning process are able to take advantage of the more common documents and tools to craft their plan, many will leave out important items. The following are just some of the less obvious estate planning components that are available. One very basic form that can make it far easier for loved ones to sort out one’s affairs is a list of all assets and where those assets are located. By having the ability to access a list of assets, the individual(s) who will handle one’s estate can be assured that there are no items of significance that are being left out. This can also help reduce the risk of one’s will being challenged in court, because all heirs will have the ability to see the full range of assets and will know that everything has been included. Another commonly overlooked estate planning addition is personal correspondence with the friends and family who are left behind. Writing personal letters can help loved ones move through the grief process, and can add a very heartfelt touch to the often dry and impersonal documents that define an estate plan. In addition, an individual can include his or her reasoning for various inheritance choices within these letters, which can make it easier for heirs to accept those choices. When considering one’s estate planning package, many […]

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Pets and estate planning: Simple tips for success

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Jul 30, 2015.

In the hustle and bustle that occurs after a loss, many Pennsylvania families struggle to figure out how to best care for a beloved pet that is left behind. This is especially true in cases in which the death was sudden and there was no plan left in place for the care and custody of one or more animals. There are a few simple estate planning steps that can help ensure that one’s pets are properly cared for in the event of an owner’s death. Unfortunately, the only aspect of pet care and estate planning that is given any attention by the media is the use of trusts. In some cases, creating a trust that will cover the cost of pet care is an appropriate choice. An example would be an older dog that requires expensive medical care, or horses who require ongoing training and boarding. Most pets require a lower level of planning, most of which revolves around creating a base of information that can be passed on to the individual who will take over the animal’s care. A great place to begin is to compile a list of care providers and medical records. This can help the new owner continue the same level of care to which an animal has grown accustomed. If there will be a move, the new owner can ensure that those records are transferred to the new veterinarian. It is also helpful to include an overview of the animal’s personality, likes and dislikes. When […]

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Review long term care planning early and often

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Long Term Care Planning on Jul 16, 2015.

When it comes to estate planning, many Pennsylvania residents focus exclusively on how to pass down wealth from one generation to another. While this is a valid concern, families must also consider how to integrate long term care planning into the greater estate planning approach. Doing so can help ensure that loved ones are able to secure the proper level of care if and when that time comes. The cost of residential medical care continues to rise, and many families cannot afford to pay for these expenses out-of-pocket. Medicaid is the primary resource for those who need help covering the cost of nursing home or residential rehabilitation care. That said, there are a number of rules and restrictions that must be adhered to before Medicaid coverage will kick in. Individuals or couples are expected to “spend down” their own assets before Medicaid coverage will begin. This leaves a family in a difficult position, as the bulk of accumulated wealth must be depleted in order to secure assistance. When one spouse dies and leaves the bulk of his or her assets to the surviving spouse, the end result can be the fast depletion of that wealth by paying for nursing home care. A better approach is to place assets into an irrevocable trust, and name one’s spouse as a beneficiary. This gives him or her access to the wealth held within the trust, but protects those assets from creditors, lawsuits or the need to spend down existing wealth prior to qualifying […]

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Estate planning: Revocable living trusts for business owners

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Jul 9, 2015.

When an individual or family has worked for many years to build a successful business, one of their top priorities is ensuring that their children and grandchildren will have the ability to benefit from that investment of time and effort. There are a great many estate planning options available for Pennsylvania business owners, but many turn to a revocable living trust (RLT) to ensure that their intended heirs inherit assets as smoothly as possible. This powerful planning tool has a number of advantages, some of which are outlined below. A revocable living trust allows an individual or couple to exert a high degree of control over how assets will be passed down to their intended heirs. In situations in which one or more heirs may need a greater level of guidance or restraint when handling money, periodic disbursements can be set up, as opposed to a bulk inheritance that might be squandered. Another benefit of an RLT is the ability to avoid the probate process. For business owners, avoiding probate means that the details of their business and personal assets will be kept within the family. Probate is a public process, and the end result can be a loss of confidence on the part of business partners, investors, vendors and customers. By making use of an RLT, the details of how assets will be passed down to the next generation are kept private. In creating a complete estate planning package, an RLT should be accompanied by several other documents. The […]

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Test Post #1

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Firm News on Jul 2, 2015.

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IRS may limit an estate tax planning option

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Tax on Jul 1, 2015.

Many Pennsylvania families are aware of the benefits of creating a family-owned limited liability corporation or family limited partnership. These business structures allow one generation to pass wealth down to another without incurring a heavy tax burden. This strategy, however, may soon be limited or eliminated by the Internal Revenue Service, leaving many families waiting to see where their next estate tax planning moves should fall. The benefits of a family limited partnership lie in the tax discounts given for assets held within this type of business structure. Assets are placed into a family-owned business, which removes that wealth from the primary owner’s estate. Then, children or grandchildren are gifted limited partnerships in the business, but are not given control over the assets held within. Because of this limited connection, and the presumed decrease in marketability, the assets are valued at a lower rate than they would be under a different business structure. This means a reduced tax bill, and savings for all of the owners and partners. Recent comments from IRS officials, including statements made by an IRS tax attorney at a meeting of the American Bar Association, suggest that change may be on the horizon. The IRS has long sought to limit or even prevent tax discounts on limited-partnership business ventures. The ability to impose such changes is already present within the U.S. Tax Code. Should such changes take place, families in Pennsylvania and across the nation could find that their business assets are taxed at a value […]

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A single person’s guide to estate planning

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Jun 25, 2015.

When most Pennsylvania residents think about the creation of an estate plan, they focus on the eventual distribution of their accumulated wealth. This, however, is not the only function of the estate planning process. For single people, the focus is often on structuring a plan to cover one’s needs in the event of incapacitation. While drafting a will is always a good starting point, many singles go on to designate representatives who can handle various tasks in the event that illness or injury leaves an individual unable to perform those functions. In terms of making medical decisions, singles should consider designating a medical power of attorney. This person is tasked with directing the course of emergency and continuing medical care in the event of a serious illness or injury. Those decisions can and should be guided by means of a health care directive, which is a document that outline the type of care that the individual desires. Such directives can be as detailed as one likes, and specific types of medical interventions can be discussed within. When incapacitation occurs, medical care is not the only matter that requires attention. An individual can also designate a representative to handle all of his or her financial affairs if the need should arise. This can help ensure that bills are paid, pets are cared for and that one’s home is properly maintained if a serious medical emergency takes place. The individual chosen for this role should be trustworthy, and should be able and […]

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Proper file storage can avoid probate litigation

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Probate Litigation on Jun 19, 2015.

When planning one’s estate, most Pennsylvania residents feel certain that their heirs will not fight with one another over the provisions laid out within those documents. This, however, is never a given, and there are many cases in which families fall into contention after a parent or grandparent dies, which often leads to a legal battle. One of the best ways to protect against probate litigation is to properly store all estate planning paperwork, so that one’s wishes are clearly documented. One issue that can lead to conflict is when an individual creates one set of estate planning documents, but later drafts new versions that are meant to update or revise the old. If the most recent documents are not able to be located, the individuals who are included within the first set will have a strong legal case to have those documents honored. In order to avoid this outcome, additional steps must be taken. To begin, individuals who create new or updated estate planning documents should include a statement within the new version that directly addresses any previously existing paperwork. It should be stated that the new version is intended to eliminate any provisions laid out within earlier versions. By having this statement in place, it becomes far more difficult for individuals to contest the new documents in court. Proper storage of estate planning documents is also essential to ensuring a favorable outcome. Documents can be stored with one’s attorney, and all pages should also be scanned and stored […]

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Estate planning for same-sex couples

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Jun 11, 2015.

No two Pennsylvania residents will have the exact same set of estate planning needs. The manner in which these legal tools are drafted and combined is unique for everyone, and the estate planning process is one in which customization plays a central role. That said, certain residents will have specific needs that fall outside the norm. A prime example lies in same-sex couples, where a tailored approach is required. For same-sex couples, inheritance laws can be a challenge, as the legitimacy of same-sex marriage remains a topic of heavy legal debate. Couples who are unmarried, or who want an additional layer of protection as the legality of their union is under attack, may wish to take a more targeted estate planning approach. That planning begins with drafting a clear and valid will, in which one’s partner can be named as sole heir. In addition to a will, same-sex couples should also make the proper beneficiary designations. Accounts such as banking, investment and retirement accounts all ask for a named beneficiary. This person will inherit the assets held within those accounts at the time of the holder’s death, regardless of the presence or contents of a will. Also, same-sex couples who share a child should take steps to legitimize the legal relationship of both parents to that child. In some cases, this can take the form of the non-biological parent adopting the child. For other families, a written parenting agreement is a good fit, as is a document in which the […]

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