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Aretha Franklin Didn’t Have An Estate Plan…

Aretha Franklin Didn’t Have An Estate Plan…

ARETHA FRANKLIN DIDN’T HAVE AN ESTATE PLAN

               Legendary singer Aretha Franklin died on August 16, 2018.  She was 76 years old and apparently died without an estate plan.

As an estate plan lawyer O’Fallon, I am surprised that Franklin, worth an estimated $80 million at her death, did not have her affairs in order.  Federal estate taxes will likely be incurred and the IRS will likely audit the estate because of the value.

The estates of celebrities can often result in years long court battles in the state where they died, among family members and non-family members alike.  I previously wrote about this type of mess with the estate of Prince, who passed away in April 2016.   His $200 million estate, over two years later, is still not settled and has been described simply as “a mess”.

https://www.legacylawmissouri.com/update-estate-prince-two-years-later/

Franklin died intestate (without a will) in Michigan, so the laws of that state will control.  She was survived by four sons, all between the ages of 48 and 63.  Under Michigan law, each of her sons should received a ¼ interest in her estate, or about $20 million.  However, these figures are subject to reduction as creditors come out of the woodwork to make claims against her estate.  Whether these claims are legitimate have to be resolved by the probate court and probate attorneys near me.  This can result in attorney fees growing and growing, as well as the basis costs of litigating these claims eating up the value of the estate.

Apparently Franklin had been advised many times by her lawyers to create an estate plan, but never did so.  “She never told me “No, I don’t want to do one.  She understood the need.  It just didn’t seem to be something she got around to” said Don Wilson, a Franklin lawyer for almost three decades.

This lack of follow through with creating a will is not uncommon.  As a will trust lawyer St. Peters, I often meet with people who state that they knew that they needed to get their affairs in order, but can’t explain what took so long.

My opinion has always been that because it’s not pleasant to think about, many people put off getting an estate plan together as long as possible.  Others are the exact opposite.  I’ve found that younger people, particularly new parents are very proactive about creating powers of attorney, naming guardians in their wills, a trust for young children and other documents to protect their family.

The other phenomenon I see though is that people learn from the mistakes of their own family.  The loss of a parent or a sibling and the mess that ensued with their estate can be a huge influence in someone getting their affairs together to avoid the same headache for their children.

 

Common Estate Planning Terms in Wills and Trusts….

Common Estate Planning Terms in Wills and Trusts….

Common Estate Planning Terms in Wills and Trusts

Estate planning is an area of the law with plenty of legalese. The placement of certain in documents like Missouri wills and especially special needs trusts attorney St.Common Estate Planning Terms in Wills and Trusts
Estate planning is an area of the law with plenty of legalese. The placement of certain in documents like Missouri wills and especially special needs trusts attorney St. Peters, Missouri can make a huge difference in the document.

Here are some commonly used estate planning terms in wills and trusts.

Wills

Testator / Testatrix: The person creating the will. Formally, a male creating a will is a testator, whereas a female is referred to as a testatrix.

Executor: The person or persons named in a will who will administer the estate when the testator dies. The person in charge. In Missouri and other states, an executor is called a personal representative.

Beneficiary: The person(s) named in a will that the testator wants to inherit their property. In a trust, this person is also referred to as a beneficiary.

Heir: The persons who will receive your property if you do not have a will in place when you die. Dying without a will is called “dying intestate” and each state, including Missouri has a list of heirs that receive your property when you die intestate and in what order. For example, in Missouri, many people don’t know that if a spouse passes away and does not have a will, all non-joint property owned by the deceased spouse goes partially to the children, if any, and partly to the surviving spouse. All receiving property are referred to as heirs.

Bequest: A specific item listed in a will, other than real estate, to be distributed at death as a gift. Example: “I give all of my silver coins to Joe.” The bequest is only the silver coins, not any others and Joe is the beneficiary of the item.

Devise: Real estate given at death, received by a devisee. Example: “I give my 10 acre farm to Joe.” The testator has devised the farm to Joe, the devisee.

Bequeath: Means that the testator is giving property to someone other than a person. Example: “I give my book collection to the St. Charles County Library.”

Bond: A policy that requires the executor to insure the estate, usually for the value of the estate. The idea is that if the executor runs off with the money, the heirs / beneficiaries are protected by the bond in place. A testator can state that no bond is required in their will.

Real Property: Land of any acreage and/or a home. Also includes anything affixed to the property. Example: Joe has a 10 acre farm, which includes his home. He also has a pole barn which is attached to the land. All are examples of real property.

Tangible Personal Property: Any property that you can actually touch. Example: Loose cash is personal property. Cash in a bank account is not personal property.

Intangible Property: Any property that you cannot touch. Example: Mutual funds that you hold in an account are intangible property.

Titled Property: Property that may or may not be tangible that has a registration. Example: A bank account. It is titled in your name, has an account and you get statements every month in the mail. Also an insurance policy because it has a policy number, a named insured and beneficiary.

Revocable Trusts

Grantor: The person creating the trust. Also referred to as a Settlor or Trustor.

Trustee: An individual or individuals listed in the trust to administer the trust for the grantor. The grantor and trustee are often the same person.

Beneficiary: Same as with a will, a person listed to receive assets in a trust.

Estate Tax: A tax levied either by the federal government and some states when a person passes away. The estate tax is much less of an issue because the estate tax exemptions are much higher than they used to be.

Estate Tax Exemption: An amount of money that a person is allowed to have when they pass away that does not result in federal estate tax being levied. In 2018, for a person this amount is approximately $11 million dollars. Any amount above that, without proper planning in place, is subject to taxation.

No-Contest Clause: A provision in a trust (or a will) that states that if a beneficiary to the trust contests their inheritance, they risk losing that inheritance if they file a lawsuit. These provisions vary greatly, but are enforced by courts and are a good way to ensure that beneficiaries don’t litigate your estate when you pass away.

These are just some of the terms that you would come across in a will or trust lawyer O’Fallon, MO. Creating documents with an estate planning lawyer is just part of the process. The real important part is understanding how they work and what the terms mean. Don’t get discouraged, we are all masters of our own knowledge and what’s natural to you would be unnatural to your attorney!

 

Update: The Estate of Prince, Two Years Later…

Update: The Estate of Prince, Two Years Later…

 

UPDATE:  THE ESTATE OF PRINCE, TWO YEARS LATER

The world mourned the death of Prince on April 21, 2016.  After the initial shock of his death, apparently from a drug overdose, passed, his estate became a central issue with his surviving relatives.

Right after his death, I wrote that his probate estate would be a mess:

https://www.legacylawmissouri.com/prince-died-what-about-estate/

Unfortunately, I was right.

First, none of his heirs have received a dime from the probate estate.  That’s in part because Prince had not even created a will, which complicated things initially because hundreds of people came out of the woodwork claiming to be related to the singer.

Since then, it has been determined that his six surviving siblings will share equally in his estate.  However, there’s an ongoing issue:  The executor of his estate and the IRS cannot agree on what the estate is worth.  Until they do, nothing can be distributed to the siblings.

So who is getting paid from the estate?  The executor and their lawyers have collected $5.9 million in fees and expenses.  They’ve requested additional fees already and more are obviously expected after that.

A rich celebrity like Prince should have had a will at the very least.  That was either a failure of him to follow advice from what you can only imagine was a team of managers, lawyers and accountants or, less likely, the advice was never given to him by his team which would be incredible incompetence.

Had Prince created a will, the beneficiaries of that will would have been determined right away.   The process would definitely be further along and likely the will would have contained terms regarding the assets of his estate and directions to the executor.

Had Prince created a properly funded living trust St. Peters (or series of trusts more likely) he could have avoided probate all together and his estate would be resolved in private.  It would be a quicker process and a much cheaper one.

And likely his heirs would already be spending their inheritance.

Avoiding Probate: It’s Not Just About Money…

Avoiding Probate: It’s Not Just About Money…

 

AVOIDING PROBATE:  IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT MONEY

               As an estate planning attorney, a central goal that I preach is for my clients to avoid probate.  Most of my clients associate probate with something akin to the plague and people like bankers, insurance agents, financial advisors, TV hosts and society at large have done a good job educating clients on the simple premise that they should avoid probate at all costs.

But why?

Most people would guess the expense.  That is certainly a legitimate reason.  In Missouri, a probate administration can lead to costs to the court, big expenses being paid to your personal representative (also known as the executor) and, if you want the easy version of probate in Missouri, independent administration, the services of a knowledgeable and experienced probate attorney.  In a recent probate, an approximately $450,000 estate ended up costing about $1,000 in costs to the court for filing fees, inventory fees and various other expenses and approximately $31,000 in fees split equally between  the personal representative and attorney .

Think about that for a second…that represents almost a 7% loss in the value of your probate estate due to costs and fees, or one more percent than you pay to sell a home!  But here’s a big difference…real estate commissions are unavoidable.  Probates costs and fees are not.

But forget about money and costs for a second, because there are three other huge reasons to avoid probate, that are largely overlooked.

Those are:

  1.   Time: In Missouri, you have to wait 10 days after death before you can file in most cases and then the estate cannot be closed for at least six months.  Best case, therefore, you are looking at a 190 day process.  In most cases, you can add at least a couple of months.  In some cases, the estate won’t be closed for at least a year, sometimes longer.  So, not only have you lost a loved one, but now as a beneficiary or heir of an estate you have to wait a long time to get your inheritance!
  1.  Complexity:  I work on probates every day and while I do a great job for my clients I have to say….I don’t like doing them.   Absolutely cannot stand them.   St. Charles County has a terrific probate division but many of my probates are in St. Louis County and they are a nightmare to deal with.  If you can get through to someone, you will get two different answers from two different people.  Every county has a different set of procedural details that must constantly be adhered to, which is tough because those details seem to change by the month.   Probates are comparable to getting your teeth pulled.  The smallest details can delay them for days and even weeks.
  1. Family Issues / Strife:  Imagine with your family who would be more than a little bit anxious / conspiratorial about an inheritance owed to them.  If someone makes out a will and then dies, unlike on TV, there is generally not a reading of the will.  That is largely a Hollywood created fiction.  In larger estates with a variety of distant relation family members or different beneficiaries (like people that don’t know each other), it might make sense to have a will reading.  So people think that something is being hidden from them when the personal representative and the attorney for the estate don’t just cut them a check.  Probates cause family tensions and in families where there is already tension, it can only aggravate things.  As I noted above, you have to wait at least 190 days in most probates before the estate can be distributed and closed and that’s because creditors have a right to make a claim against the estate.  I very rarely authorize early disbursement of an estate for this reason.  Who knows who is out there claiming they are owed money.  If the money in the estate is immediately distributed, how are you going to get it back if a creditor shows up out of the blue in the last month making a huge claim against the estate?

Half of my estate planning clients are meeting with me because they know they need to.  The other half are meeting with me because they just had some terrible disaster happen in there family or watch it affect someone they know, so now they want to avoid it.

Here’s the silver lining:  It is easier than ever to avoid probate with a living trust or even without a living trust under some circumstances.  In less than an hour Legacy Law Center can sit down with you, figure out what your particular circumstances are, what you need based on those circumstances, tell you what it costs and give you a accurate timeline of when it will be completed, signed and in your hands protecting you and your family.

 

Do I Need An Attorney For Probate In Missouri?

Do I Need An Attorney For Probate In Missouri?

Do I Need An Attorney For Probate In Missouri?

    Yes.  You do need an attorney in Missouri for probate.  Here is why:  First, in order to proceed with an independent probate administration, state law requires it.  Under RSMo. 473.787 (3) (link:  http://www.moga.mo.gov/mostatutes/stathtml/47300007871.html), an independent personal representative (executor) shall “secure the advice and services of an attorney” on legal questions arising in connection with matters related to the opening of a probate estate, applying for an the issuance of letters testamentary or administration, preservation of estate assets, the inventory of the probate estate, dealing with creditor claims and their payment or resolution, filing of tax returns, making distribution and the closing of the estate.

So basically Missouri law requires it if you want to proceed independently.  The alternative is to proceed with a supervised probate estate, which is often specifically not called for either under the will of the decedent.   Because the last will and testament controls the actions of the personal representative, often an attorney must be hired.

Secondly, a probate estate should be opened with the assistance and services of a probate attorney because opening, administering and closing an estate is complex.   That’s a practical consideration.  In addition, probate matters can be very emotionally draining for families.  If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you know how emotionally charged that situation can be.  If you’re the executor named in the will,  you’re often going to feel a lot of pressure to get things done quickly.  I’ve seen this happen in the closest of families.  Family members often don’t understand that just because there is money in the estate, that money just can’t be immediately divided and checks cuts.

Also, remember, the problem is that you owe a “fiduciary duty to the persons interested in the estate” (i.e. the heirs or beneficiaries).   There is no incentive for you to handle the estate alone and in fact, if you do so and then claim you were not up to the task, you can be held personally liable for any of your errors.   Frankly, a person handling an estate without any knowledge how to do so is already engaging in a breach of their fiduciary duties.

Finally, remember the probate process in Missouri is complicated and requires you to devote time to handle it.  Very few estates are as simple as people believe.  Assets cannot be found, creditor claims pop up that were previously unknown.  Deadlines must be met and the court has little to no mercy on those that claim they aren’t attorneys.  With the help of an attorney, those deadlines can be met and headaches can be avoided.

Your best bet is to work with a probate attorney and let them handle all of the filings.  The best part?  You’ll still be involved in the process and still earn a statutory fee (usually the same amount as the attorney) for serving.