Will the Girlfriend Get the Life Insurance or the Wife?

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Who will get my boyfriend’s property if he dies? Me or his wife?” says that a couple that’s lived together for some time where one is still married to another can create some issues. If the boyfriend has a life insurance policy and 401(k) with the girlfriend as beneficiary, they should draft a will to make certain that the estranged wife does not get that money.

Despite the fact that the girlfriend is the named beneficiary of the life insurance and the 401(k), there is more you need to think about.

Without a will, probate assets (the assets held by individuals in their own name without a beneficiary designation or assets held in joint names as tenants in common) will be transferred by the laws of intestacy.

The laws of intestacy provide first to a spouse and/or children of the deceased, without regard to whether the couple are living together.  If the deceased had no spouse or children, state intestacy laws say that property passes to parents then siblings.

As far as the life insurance policy and 401(k), absent a valid waiver, the boyfriend’s spouse will certainly have a legal right to the 401(k) and may have a contractual claim on the life insurance either through a premarital agreement or a property settlement agreement.

Therefore, even if the assets are paid out to the girlfriend, the contractual claim may provide the spouse with a successful action against her.

A spouse may also have rights to the policy or part of the 401(k) as a result of the marriage in a future divorce proceeding.

Contact an experienced estate planning attorney to prepare your estate planning documents.

Reference: nj.com (June 21, 2021) “Who will get my boyfriend’s property if he dies? Me or his wife?”

 

Do Stepchildren Inherit?

When an individual passes away without a will, the state laws of intestacy instruct how the person’s probate estate will be distributed.  Only assets that would have passed through a person’s will are impacted by intestate succession laws. This typically includes only assets owned alone in his or her name.

For instance, in Nebraska, under intestate succession, who inherits depends on whether the deceased had living children, parents, or other close relatives, when he or she died.  In Nebraska, if the decedent was married and died without a will, what the decedent’s spouse will receive depends on whether the decedent had any living parents or descendants, such as children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. If the decedent did not, then his or her spouse inherits all of the intestate property.

Under New Jersey’s intestacy statute, when a decedent is survived by a spouse and children who are not children of the surviving spouse (stepchildren), the surviving spouse is entitled to the first 25% of the intestate estate, but not less than $50,000 nor more than $200,000– plus one-half of the remainder of the intestate estate.

However, nj.com’s recent article entitled “Who gets this house after spouse dies with no will?” explains that the laws of intestacy don’t control the distribution of assets that were jointly owned with a right of survivorship (like a house) or that have a beneficiary designation (like life insurance).

If the house was jointly owned as husband and wife in joint tenancy with the right of survivorship, the surviving spouse solely owns the entire house by operation of law, upon the death of the first spouse. The stepchildren do not have any right to the proceeds of the sale of the house.  However, if the decedent spouse owned the house only in his or her own name or the house was titled by the spouses as “tenants in common,” then the laws of intestacy would apply.

Tenancy in common is an arrangement where two or more people have ownership interests in a property.  The big difference between joint tenants and tenants in common is that joint tenants have the right of survivorship (which gives them ownership of the property when one owner dies), tenants in common do not.  With a tenancy in common, the tenants can own different percentages of the property. Tenants in common can also gift their share of the property to anyone upon their death.

Contact an experienced estate planning attorney in your area if you have questions.

Reference: nj.com (May 5, 2021) “Who gets this house after spouse dies with no will?”

 

Do I Need More Than a Will?

If you die without a will (i.e., intestate), a court will determine who inherits your assets and who would care for any surviving children as a guardian.  CNBC’s recent article entitled “A will doesn’t cover all your bases when it comes to end-of-life decisions. Here’s what else you need” explains that some assets pass outside of the will including retirement accounts and life insurance.

Start your estate planning with a will which is just one piece of an “estate plan.” Creating a plan for your assets helps make certain that your wishes will be carried out upon your death and that family grumbling doesn’t escalate into destroyed relationships. Here are some additional things about estate planning you should know.

What passes via your will. A will is a document that allows you to say who gets what when you die. However, there are some assets that pass outside of the will, such as retirement accounts like 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs), and life insurance policies. As a result, the person named as a beneficiary on those accounts will get the money, no matter what your will says. Regular bank accounts also can have beneficiaries listed on a payable-on-death form, also known as a POD. If you own a home, check how it’s titled to ensure it ends up passing as you wish upon your death.

Executor. As part of the will-making process, you’ll need to name an executor of your will (sometimes called a personal representative). This entails making sure that assets are liquidated, the assets go to the proper beneficiaries, paying any debts not discharged and selling your home.

To prepare a will, you can hire an estate planning attorney in your local area, who knows state law. If use an online option, note that not all of the web-based alternatives will necessarily reflect the specifics of your state’s law. Online forms or software may not be compliant with your local law.

Living Will. An estate plan will typically include a few other legal documents, such as an advance health-care directive, also known as a living will. This document states your wishes, if you become incapacitated due to illness or injury, like whether you want to be kept on life support if there’s no hope of recovery.

Powers of Attorney. If you become incapacitated, your designated attorney-at-fact or agent will handle your medical and financial affairs. Similar to selecting an executor, be certain that he or she is trustworthy and smart, with the ability, skill set, time and desire to make such decisions and do these tasks.

Make a list of critical documents. Create an organized list of information your executor will need to settle your estate and include passwords, so your online accounts can be accessed.

Look at a trust. If you want your children or loved ones to receive money but don’t want to give a young adult or someone with poor money management free access to a lot of cash, you can create a trust for your beneficiaries. A trust holds assets on behalf of your beneficiaries, so they can only receive money according to how (or when) you’ve stated in the trust documents.

Again, it is important that you contact an experienced estate planning attorney to help you.

Reference: CNBC (July 27, 2020) “A will doesn’t cover all your bases when it comes to end-of-life decisions. Here’s what else you need”

 

What Do I Need in My Estate Plan in Addition to a Will?

American Legion’s recent article, “Planning beyond the will” says that it’s important that your estate planning papers are synced with your wishes and the current law, but you should also look at some items outside of the fundamental documents:

Beneficiary designations. This includes life insurance policies, IRAs, current and former employer retirement plans and annuities. A beneficiary designation supersedes any instructions in a will or trust. As a result, it’s important that your designations reflect your current wishes and are synced with the rest of your estate plan.

Property title. Be sure that you know how your property is titled. If the family home is titled as joint tenants with rights of survivorship then it will pass seamlessly to the surviving owner. There are also potential income-tax implications. Ask your estate planning attorney about this and the best way to address title concerns.

Personal property plans. This could be as simple as giving your trustee or executor the authority to make decisions designating instructions with respect to specific property in your will or trust, or incorporating a personal property memo into your plan. The guidance you give can alleviate major problems when you’re no longer around to settle disputes.

A continuity book. In the military, it’s common that just as you’re getting used to your responsibilities, it’s time to PCS (Permanent Change of Station) or switch jobs. Many leaders require a continuity book that helps bridge that knowledge gap so your successor has an idea of what to do. You can adopt this practice in your personal affairs. This can include an inventory of your assets, liabilities and insurance policies. This “continuity book” should also include your social media account passwords, key contacts, funeral wishes and the location of your key estate planning documents and list your estate planning attorney. This is an important resource for trustees and executors as they assume their duties.

Enjoy the holidays and this year work on making sure that your family spends many more happy holidays together.

Reference: American Legion (October 18, 2019) “Planning beyond the will”

 

How Do I Deed My Home into a Trust?

Say that a husband used his inheritance to purchase the family home outright. The wife signed a quitclaim deed to him to put the property into his living trust with the condition that if he died before his wife, she could live in the home until her death.

However, a common issue is that the husband or the creator of the trust never signed the living trust. So what would happen to the property if the husband were to die before the wife?

This can be complicated if the couple lives out-of-state and it’s a second marriage for each of the spouses. They both also have adult children from prior marriages.

The Herald Tribune’s recent article, “Home ownership complications need guidance from estate planning attorney,” says that in this situation it’s important to know if the deed was to the husband, individually or to his living trust. If the wife deeded the home to her husband, individually, he then owns her share of the home. However, if the wife deeded the home to his living trust, and the trust was never created, the wife may still own the husband’s interest in the home. You need to contact an experienced estate planning attorney if this is the case.

First, the wife should see if the deed was even filed or recorded. If it wasn’t recorded or filed, she could simply destroy the document and keep the status of the title as it was. However, if the document was recorded and she transferred ownership to her husband, he would be the sole owner of the home, subject to her marital rights under state law.

If the trust doesn’t exist, her deed transfer to an entity that doesn’t exist would create a situation, where she could claim that she still owned her interest in the home. However, the home may now be owned by the spouses, as tenants in common, rather than joint tenants with rights of survivorship.

To complicate things further, if the husband now owns the home and the wife has marital rights in the home, upon his death, she may still be entitled to a share of the home under her husband’s will, if he has one, or by the laws of intestacy. However, the husband’s children would also own a share of his share of the home. At that point, the wife would co-own the home with his children.

You can see how crazy this can get. It’s best to seek the advice of a qualified estate planning attorney to guide you through the process and make sure that the proper documents get signed and filed or recorded.

Reference: The (Sarasota, FL) Herald Tribune (September 8, 2019) “Home ownership complications need guidance from estate planning attorney”

 

How Should I Title My Property in My Estate Plan?

Pauls Valley Democrat’s recent article, “Considerations in how to title your property,” says that there are several types of “automatic” transfer of property methods that don’t require probate.

The first is Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship. This form of ownership passes title to the survivor immediately upon death and avoids probate. The transfer to the survivor happens automatically at the death of one of the joint owners.

To complete the transfer, one must confirm the death in the county records and effectively give notice that one joint tenant has died, and that the ownership is now in the survivor(s) name. This is usually accomplished, by having the survivor complete an Affidavit of Surviving Joint Tenant. The affidavit affirms the death of one party (in many cases a spouse), and the survivorship to title of the other party. This affidavit and a certified copy of the death certificate are filed with the county.

The survivor now owns the property as an individual. He or she can now sell or deed the property to others, including children, without a probate action to clear the title.

Next is Tenancy in Common. Ownership as a tenant in common gives an undivided interest in the whole property (like a third), which stands on its own and can be bought and sold. Tenancy in Common is used when two or more people want to keep their title separate from the other at death. Therefore, an undivided one-half owner has the right to use the entire property including the right to benefit from one-half of the rent, lease or crop share. However, if several people own an undivided interest, control, usage and management can become complicated.

If, for some reason, a husband and wife own their property as tenants in common, and one spouse dies, his undivided interest remains as a part of his estate. In that case, his estate must be probated to provide a clear transfer of title to the surviving spouse or to other heirs.

It’s an added expense for the survivor that can be avoided if another form of ownership is used.

Thinking through these factors is a critical component of successful estate planning. Plan in advance with the help of a seasoned estate planning attorney. Don’t create bigger problems for yourself or your heirs, by trying to avoid upfront costs.

Reference: Pauls Valley (OK) Democrat (August 21, 2019) “Considerations in how to title your property”

 

Your Will Isn’t the End of Your Estate Planning

Even if your financial life is pretty simple, you should have a will. However, there’s more work to be done. Assets must be properly titled, so that assets are distributed as intended upon death.

Forbes’ recent article, “For Estate Plan To Work As Intended, Assets Must Be Properly Titled” notes that with the exception of the choice of potential guardians for children, the most important function of a will is to make certain that the transfer of assets to beneficiaries is the way you intended.

However, not all assets are disposed of by a will—they pass to beneficiaries regardless of the intentions stated in the will. Your will only controls the disposition of assets that fall within your probated estate.

An example of when a designated beneficiary controls the disposition of a financial asset is life insurance. Other examples are retirement accounts, such as a 401(k) or an IRA. When there’s a named beneficiary, assets will be distributed accordingly, which may be different than the intentions stated in a will.

The title of real estate controls its disposition. When property is jointly owned, how it is titled determines if the decedent’s interest in the property passes to the surviving partner, becomes part of the decedent’s estate, or passes to a third party. Titling of jointly owned property can be complicated in community property states.

In the same light, a revocable trust is an inter vivos or living trust that’s created during the grantor’s life, as part of an estate plan.

Such a trust can be used to ensure privacy, avoid the expenses and delays in the probate process and provide for continuity of asset management. A critical part of the planning is that the grantor must transfer (or retitle) assets to the trust.

Wills are very important in estate planning. To ensure that your estate plan fulfills your intentions, talk to an estate planning attorney about the proper titling of your assets.

Reference: Forbes (May 20, 2019) “For Estate Plan To Work As Intended, Assets Must Be Properly Titled”

 

How Should My Home be Titled with a Loved One?

Whether you’re single, coupled up, or married, deciding how to hold title to your family home is one of the most critical decisions home buyers make. The effects of that decision may not be apparent for years, says The Washington Post in the recent article, “What you need to know about holding title to a home with a loved one.”

There are three primary ways to title property between spouses. Joint tenancy is the least common and typically must include the language “with right of survivorship and not as tenants in common.” Spouses typically acquire title as “tenants by the entireties,” which only applies to spouses in a limited number of states.

When a couple acquires a home before marriage, in some states, a premarital joint tenancy automatically becomes tenants by the entireties, when they marry. However, the drawback to joint tenancy, is that it’s possible for one spouse’s interest to be alienated by deed or by a judgment lien or bankruptcy. In some states, a joint tenancy can be partitioned, so that the ownership can be separated.

A surviving spouse doesn’t have to do anything upon the death of a spouse, depending on how they held title to their home. Ask your estate planning attorney about any changes to the title of the property, to be certain that title is set up this way.

There are many ways married couples or those in a civil union can hold title to a home. Joint tenancy with rights of survivorship again gives each owner the ability to own the entirety of the home upon the death of the co-owner. This transfer is automatic and doesn’t require any paperwork or legal processing.

Tenancy by the entireties gives the couple the same survivorship rights as a joint tenancy deed, but it also affords the couple certain protections against some creditors. It provides that debts entered into by one of the spouses, shouldn’t cause the loss of the home.

The third form of ownership is to hold title as tenants in common. Here, each owner has a specific percentage ownership interest in the home. When a co-owner dies, that person’s share goes to the person designated in the will or by the laws in the state where the property’s located.

In addition to these three ways to hold title, there are also various estate planning trusts that can be used. Ask your estate planning attorney about what’s best for your specific situation.

Reference: The Washington Post (April 15, 2019) “What you need to know about holding title to a home with a loved one”