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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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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Some Common Estate Planning Mistakes Best Avoided

As can often be the case, many extremely talented people accumulate large estates and they often are not prepared to take on the task of organizing the transfer of assets, according to the Reno Gazette Journal in “Yes, even celebrities make estate planning mistakes.”

Here are the top four biggest mistakes:

No will. Biggest names: Prince, Aretha, Amy Winehouse and that is just a few. That means your affairs aren’t in order and your loved ones are not protected. Winehouse left an unwritten song about her finances, but she also left a $6.7 million estate. She had a brother and an ex-husband, but no direction as to who should get what. Without a will, her estate went through the probate process and was distributed to her parents. You need to have a will to name guardians of your minor children and ensure that your assets are distributed, according to your wishes.

Not setting up a trust. Celebs want their glamorous red-carpet photos all over Instagram and Facebook, but that doesn’t mean they want their personal finances to become public record. A will is a public document and a living trust keeps things private. There was more than one tragedy that followed Whitney Houston’s death. Her will named Bobbi Kristina Brown as her sole beneficiary. However, her daughter died three years later. Then her estate was tangled up with an IRS battle over the valuation of recording royalties. The bill from the IRS: $2.2 million in additional taxes. Her ex, Bobby Brown, may yet end up the heir of the Houston estate. That may not be what Whitney wanted.

A living trust keeps your estate private. It designates who is entitled to your assets, and how they are to receive them. It names trustees, and may provide tax benefits.

Not keeping the plan up to date. Life is all about change. Financial conditions, health, family relationships, divorce, marriage, birth, adoptions, estrangements: everything changes. The world-famous author Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park and many, many other best-sellers, was diagnosed with throat cancer, when his sixth wife was pregnant. His will was not updated. She had to sue to include the baby as an heir, and a daughter from a prior marriage opposed it. The judge ultimately ruled that the baby should inherit. However, simply updating his will would have taken care of everything, minus the resulting stress, cost and rancor.

Disabled before death. Estate planning is for the living also. You may be disabled and need help in managing your financial affairs. One out of 10 people over age 65 are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, then at age 85, the rate skyrockets to one out of three. One celebrity whose dementia led to a nasty family rift was Etta James, the blues singer best known for the classic “At Last.” She had signed power of attorney over to a son from a prior marriage in 2008. Her husband of more than 40 years said that she was already suffering from dementia and was not competent to sign any legal documents. The son wanted to limit the amount of money the singer’s husband spent on her medical care. They finally settled, and her husband was named as conservator. However, he was given a limit of $350,000 for care for his wife. Etta James passed away shortly thereafter.

Celebrities are not the only ones who make enormous mistakes, when it comes to estate planning. However, they are the ones that we read about.

An estate planning attorney can advise you on creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances and can help you avoid those costly mistakes.

Reference: Reno Gazette Journal (Nov. 14, 2018) “Yes, even celebrities make estate planning mistakes”

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