Inherited Property? What You Need to Know

There are many options for what to do with inherited property, but they depend on debts, costs of property, beneficiaries and your needs.

Many clients wonder what to do with inherited property, particularly real property like a house.  There are choices, and they depend on several factors. Are there other siblings who also have inherited portions of the ownership of the house? Is there another owner who needs to be bought out? Can the heir afford to take on the responsibilities and expenses of a home? Is someone else already living there?  These are all questions presented in the article “What to do when inheriting a house” from The Mercury.

There’s a tax issue to consider, for starters. Property that was titled in the name of the decedent at the time of death or is part of their estate taxable estate and then inherited, receives what is called a “step-up” in basis. This means that there is no federal tax due on the appreciation in value from the time the person purchased the home to the time that the person died.  They may also be state taxes as well.

Let’s say the person bought the home for $100,000 and at the time of her death the property is worth $300,000. The federal government will not tax the $200,000 difference between the original value and the DOD (Day of Death) value of the home. If the heir obtains an appraisal shortly after the death of the home owner and then moves in or if you already live there and the house is transferred into your name, the “clock” starts running again for another tax break, which is an additional $250,000 exclusion from capital gains on resale after you have lived there for two years.  If the property is sold shortly after the person’s death to a third party in an arms-length deal, the sales price would be the DOD value of the inherited property.

Now, this all assumes that any other beneficiaries have been satisfied as to the ownership of the house. A good elder law estate attorney will be able to help with the details, including the transfer of title.

Another issue: is there a mortgage on the house? If so, the new owner may need to satisfy the lender and refinance. If the heir has enough money to meet monthly payments, a strong credit rating to be able to get a mortgage and enough income to maintain the home, then it should be a relatively simple transaction.

Have the home inspected before moving in. Is the inherited property in good shape? If repairs need to be done, are they budget-friendly, or will they make the inheritance too expensive to be financially viable?  Who will pay for it?  The estate, the heirs, or a new owner?

Property maintenance is another consideration. If the estate can carry costs associated with the property until the property is sold and if the estate can pay for repairs, upgrades and maintenance so the house can be sold for a good price, then that is a reasonable approach to take. If there are other beneficiaries, they should all part of a discussion about how much money is worth investing in the house and what the return on investment will be.

One key concern that I’ve told countless clients over the years is decide early what to do with the inherited property, and stick with the plan.  Maintaining the property is time consuming, potentially costly, carries a risk in the form of liability and may prevent the estate from making liquid distributions if it isn’t sold.  Some of the worst estate administrations I’ve dealt with involved not deciding what to do with inherited property, and that lead to unnecessary cost and years of administration. So, the executor or trustee should decide earlier what to do with the property.

Finally, if the language of the will says “equally to my three children” or language similar to that and one sibling wants to buy out the other two, then an agreement on the value of the house and a plan for working out timing of the sale will need to be created. An estate planning or elder law attorney will be able to help create a family settlement agreement that will include an informal accounting, whereby all of the heirs receive their fair share of the inheritance and all sign off that they have agreed to the transaction.

Reference: The Mercury (Jan. 15, 2020) “What to do when inheriting a house”

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The Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Some of the biggest estate planning mistakes are easy to avoid, including having an up-to-date will, checking beneficiary designations and planning younger.

Nobody likes to plan for events like aging, incapacity, or death. However, failing to do so can cause families burdens and grief, thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours.

Fox Business’ recent article, “Here are the top estate planning mistakes to avoid,” says that planning for life’s unexpected events is critical. However, it can often be a hard process to navigate. Let’s look at the top estate planning mistakes to avoid, according to industry experts:

  1. Failing to sign a will (or one that can be located). The biggest mistake is simply not having a will. I’ve written on this often (see here for example https://www.galliganmanning.com/everyone-needs-an-estate-plan/), but unfortunately clients consistently say they didn’t think they needed a will. Estate planning is critically important to protect you, your family and your hard-earned assets—during your lifetime, in the event of your incapacity, and upon your death.  In addition to having a will, it needs to be findable. The Wall Street Journal says that the biggest estate planning error is simply losing a will. Make sure your family has access to your estate planning documents.
  2. Failing to name and update beneficiaries. An asset with a beneficiary designation supersedes any terms in a will. Review your 401(k), IRA, life insurance, and any other accounts with beneficiaries after any significant life event. If you don’t have the proper beneficiary designations, income tax on retirement accounts may have to be paid sooner. This may lead to increased income tax liability, and the designation of a beneficiary on a life insurance policy can affect whether the proceeds are subject to creditors’ claims.  In many cases where clients tried to avoid probate, one broken beneficiary designation becomes the sole reason to probate the will.

There’s another mistake that impacts people with minor children, which is naming a guardian for minor children and then naming that person as beneficiary of their life insurance, instead of leaving it to a trust for the child. A minor child can’t receive that money. It also exposes the money to the beneficiary’s creditors and spouse.

  1. Failing to consider powers of attorney for adult children. When your children reach age 18, they’re adults in the eyes of the law. If something unfortunate happens to them, you may be left without any say in their treatment. In the event that an 18-year-old becomes ill or has an accident, a hospital won’t consult with their parents if a power of attorney for health care isn’t in place. Unless a power of attorney for property is signed, a parent may not be able to take care of bills, make investment decisions and pay taxes without the child’s signature. This could create an issue when your child is in college—especially if he or she is attending school abroad. It is very important that when your child turns 18 that you have powers of attorney put into place.

If you have any of these estate planning mistakes in your plan, please contact us for a consultation to fix these mistakes for you and your family.

Reference: Fox Business (October 15, 2019) “Here are the top estate planning mistakes to avoid”

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Probate: Dissolving the Mystery
It is important to understand the probate process before deciding whether and how to avoid it.

Probate: Dissolving the Mystery

probate and estate planning
If you want to avoid probate, work with an experienced attorney to coordinate your plan and assets.

Probate avoidance is a common concern for our clients.  They frequently seek ways to pass their assets to their loved ones without going through probate.  Although it can be avoided with proper estate planning, probate avoidance should be done carefully and at the advice of an attorney as using piecemeal strategies usually don’t work, and sometimes create bigger problems.  For example, consider using trusts in your estate planning.  See this article for more information.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/how-do-trusts-work-in-your-estate-plan/

Before considering whether you want to avoid probate, it is important to understand what the process is.  The Street’s recent article on this subject asks “What Is Probate and How Can You Avoid It?” The article looks at the probate process and tries to put it in real-life terms.

Probate is the process by which an Executor (person put in charge of the Will) goes to court to prove the validity of the Will and their authority to be in charge of the estate.  I find it helpful to remember that the word probate is essentially Latin for “prove it.”

Every state’s process is different, but in Texas, the Executor starts by filing the Will and an application to probate along with other documents necessary to that case.  Next, there is a hearing before a probate judge.  The Executor and her attorney ask the judge to admit the Will to probate as the valid Will of the decedent and ask that the Executor be empowered to handle the decedent’s affairs as directed in the Will.

Once the Will is admitted to probate and the Executor agrees to serve, there are many tasks for them to complete.  They include the following:

  • Giving notice to the beneficiaries in the Will;
  • Giving notice to potential creditors of the estate;
  • Gathering, valuing and categorizing the decedent’s assets;
  • Prepare an inventory of those assets;
  • Paying off any of the deceased’s existing valid debts or fighting invalid ones;
  • Paying final taxes or expenses of the estate; and
  • Distributing the deceased’s property to those directed by the Will

The above are just the basic responsibilities of the Executor.  The probate process becomes more complicated when a creditor appears, the family disagrees, assets are entangled or cumbersome, such as land or business interests, or the Will was written without the aid of an attorney.  Even worse, it is hard for an Executor to locate assets in the first place!  This can make estates drag on months or even years.  I recently spoke with a client whose family is still going through a probate 10 years after the decedent has passed.

With all of that uncertainty, it is worth discussing your wishes with an experienced estate planning attorney who will be able to explain what strategies are used to avoid probate, how to remove certain assets from the process, or whether it needs to be avoided at all.  The key, as with all estate plans, is to find the option that fits your goals for you and your family.

Reference: The Street (July 29, 2019) “What Is Probate and How Can You Avoid It?”

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