Estate Planning Avoids Problems With Selling the Family Home

Estate planning can help avoid problems when selling the family home.
Estate planning can help avoid problems when selling the family home.

Family members who are overtaken with grief are often unable to move forward with selling the family home after a parent has passed away. If the family home was not being well maintained while the parent was ill or aging, it might fall into further disrepair. When siblings have emotional attachments to the family home, things can get even more complicated. The difficulty of selling a parent’s home after their passing, depends to a large degree on what kind of estate planning the parent has done.

Much also depends on the family’s ability to ask for help and work with the right professionals in handling the sale of the home and managing the estate. The earlier the process begins, the better.

Parents can take steps while they are still living to ward off unnecessary complications. It may be a difficult conversation but having it will make the process easier and allow the family time to focus on their emotions, rather than the sale of property. This is why is is important to address what happens to the family home in an estate plan.

Here are a few pointers:

Make sure your parents have a will or a living trust. Many Americans do not. A survey from Caring.com found that only 42% of American adults had a will or a trust, and other estate planning documents.

After a parent passes away, there may be costs associated with maintaining the property and fixing any overdue repairs. Make sure to save all receipts and estimates.

Also, the Executor or successor Trustee under the parent’s estate planning documents should secure the property immediately. That may mean having the locks changed as soon as possible. Once an heir (or someone who believes they are or should be an heir) moves in, getting them out adds another layer of complication.

Be realistic about the value of the property. Have a real estate agent run a competitive market analysis on the property and consider an appraisal from a licensed appraisal. Avoid any accusations of impropriety—don’t hire a friend or family member. This needs to be all business.

To keep disagreements to a minimum, the Executor or successor Trustee should frequently update the heirs on how the sale of the house is progressing.

The biggest roadblock to selling the family house is often the emotional attachment of the children. It’s hard to clean out a family home, with all of the mementos, large and small. The longer the process takes, the harder it is.

This is not the time for any major renovations. There may be some cosmetic repairs that will make the house more marketable, but substantial improvements won’t impact the sale price. Remove all family belongings and show the house either empty or with professional staging to show its possibilities. Clean carpets, paint, if needed and have the landscaping cleaned up.

Keep tax consequences in mind. Depending on where the property is, where the heirs live and how much money is being inherited, there can be estate, inheritance and income taxes.  It is usually better to sell an inherited property as quickly as possible. When a property is inherited at death, the property value is “stepped up” to fair market value at the time of the owner’s death. That means that you can sell a property that was purchased many years ago, but not pay taxes on the value gained over those years.

Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney about what will happen when the home needs to be sold. It may be better for parents to create a revocable trust in advance, which will direct the sale, allow a child to continue living in the home for a certain period of time, or instruct the one child who loves the home so much to buy it from the trust. Trusts are typically easier to administer after parents pass away and can be very helpful in preventing family fights.

Dealing with issues in advance through estate planning will help minimize conflicts after a parent passes away. Learn more avoiding estate planning mistakes.

Reference: The Washington Post (May 16, 2019) “With proper planning, selling a parent’s house can be a relatively painless process”

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Power of Attorney: Why It Is Important

Don't wait to create a power of attorney.
Don’t wait to create a power of attorney.

Unfortunately, you never know when a power of attorney will be needed to allow someone else to make financial and medical decisions for you. An accident or sudden illness can occur without warning. A power of attorney is a necessary document if your are too ill, injured, or lack the mental capacity to make your own decisions. The article, “Why you’re never too young for a power of attorney” from Lancaster Online, explains what these documents are, and what purpose they serve.

There are two basic power of attorney documents or “POA’s”: one for making financial decisions and one for making medical decisions. A financial POA may be effective immediately or when a doctor certifies that you are unable to handle your financial affairs. A medical POA  becomes effective when you cannot communicate a medical decision. Until then, you are completely in charge of decisions related to your medical care.

If you don’t have a POA and you are unable to make financial and medical decisions for yourself, a guardian must be appointed in a court proceeding to make decisions for you. This is an expensive and time consuming process and the outcome may not be what you would have wanted.

Anyone over the age of 18 should have a financial and medical power of attorney. Many parents start realizing this when their children go off to college. Parents are often surprised and frustrated when they find out that, because their college age children are considered adults, the parents no longer have access to their children’s financial and medical information, not even in an emergency.  That’s why our next client education seminar on June 26 is devoted to what estate planning documents students need to have in place before they go off to college. (See our website at www.galliganmanning.com for more details and information on how to register.)

While it’s never too early for a person 18 years of age or older to have medical and financial powers of attorney in place, you could wait until it’s too late. If you become incapacitated, you cannot sign a POA. We often see this when children of aging parents contact us in a panic because their parents never executed powers of attorney. If the aging parent lacks capacity and cannot sign a POA, the family is faced with the need to pursue a guardianship.

You should work with an estate planning attorney to create the powers of attorney you need.  An estate planning attorney will be able to tailor your POA to your exact needs. They will also make sure to create a document that gives proper powers to the people you select.

Review your POA’s at least annually to be sure that the people you have selected are still the people you want taking care of your financial and medical matters, if the need should ever arise.

Most important of all, don’t wait to have powers of attorney created for you. They are even more important than a Will because the powers of attorney affect your care while you are alive.

Learn more about powers of attorney and other estate planning documents.

Reference: Lancaster Online (May 15, 2019) “Why you’re never too young for a power of attorney”

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When You Need an Elder Law Attorney

An elder law attorney can guide you through the issues that affect us as we age.
An elder law attorney can guide you through the issues that affect us as we age.

The conversation that you have with an estate planning attorney, when you are in your thirties with a new house, young children, and many years ahead of you is different from the one you’ll have when you are much older. That’s the time to consult an elder law attorney. When you are older, you face a whole new set of issues, including rising health costs and the possibility of needing long term care. An elder law attorney knows that you are about to enter a time in your life when your estate planning documents are more likely to be used, says the article “Learn about legal documents and Medicaid” from the Houston Chronicle.

As we get older, the need to address long term care becomes more important. Elder law attorneys warn that there are many options that may be foreclosed if planning is not done ahead of the time. This is the time to talk to an elder law attorney to create a road map that anticipates the care you may require as you get older and how to pay for it. Making the right decisions now, could have a big impact on the quality of your life in the future.

This is also the time to update your financial and medical powers of attorney. Because of your experiences, there may be certain preferences you have for health care treatment. In addition, your elder law attorney may advise you to include a broad gifting power in your financial power of attorney which may be necessary to help you qualify for government assistance.

You should also review your other estate planning documents to make sure that they still reflect how you wish your estate to pass at your death. Your elder law attorney may suggest adding provisions to protect a surviving spouse’s eligibility for Medicaid or other government assistance in case it is needed.

It may be that your estate plan will include trusts, or that certain assets will need to be retitled. An elder law attorney can guide you through this stage of your life to make sure that you are prepared for what the future holds.

Learn more about elder law and medicaid at our website.

Reference: The Houston Chronicle (April 19, 2019) “Learn about legal documents and Medicaid”

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