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FAQ: My dad passed with $5,000 in a checking account. Can I get these funds to pay for the funeral?

Answer:  Yes.  Pennsylvania has a statute that allows a bank, credit union, and other savings institutions to pay the amount on deposit to the spouse, any child, the father or mother or any sister or brother of the decedent (in that order of preference) if the total amount on deposit does not exceed $10,000.

You must provide a funeral bill receipt or an affidavit of a licensed funeral director that states that satisfactory arrangements for payment of funeral services have been made.

Bank personnel generally do not know about this law, so it might take a little extra effort to make this happen.  Here is what you could do: 1) have an original death certificate to give to the bank; 2) have the funeral bill receipt or the affidavit of the funeral director as mentioned above to give to the bank; 3) have a photo ID ready and if there is no surviving spouse, have a death certificate for the other deceased spouse; 4) call the bank where the funds are held and discuss your intentions and set a time to visit the branch; 5) be prepared to present the bank with all the information listed above and take this citation to the PA law 20 P.a.C.S. § 3101 with you because an inexperienced customer service rep at a bank might need to send it to their legal counsel for approval.

The process above is a pretty straightforward one.  For many people, this is the first question they have when calling or emailing our office.  If this is the only issue in an estate that you are handling, then hopefully this is all the answer you will need.  But, it’s important to remember that probate and estate administration is a legal process and the representative of the estate can run into liability if he or she mishandles the administration to the detriment of the beneficiaries.  And, the estate administration process can be emotional, complex, and time consuming.  We help families sort out all the legal issues involved in estate administration and protect the representative from liability.  We handle all types of estate administrations from simple to quite complex.  If you are handling the estate of a loved one and are questioning how best to get it done, contact Baroni Estate Planning & Elder Law.  We can help.

Prince’s Public Estate Drama – it all goes to his sister and five half-sisters

It is a pretty sad time for fans of music with the recent deaths of Chris Cornell, David Bowie, and Prince, among others.  These are, in my opinion, some of the greatest creative minds and musical masters the world will ever see.

Prince (Prince Rogers Nelson) was 57 years old when he died last year of an accidental drug overdose.  It appears that Prince had done no estate planning whatsoever.

The Inventory filed by the Personal Representative of Prince’s estate shows $25 Million in Real Estate alone.  Click here to see the actual inventory filed in the Probate Court.  It is likely that his combined real estate holdings will not be his most valuable assets compared to the value of his intellectual property, business interests, and catalog of 50 albums. These things will continue to generate significant revenue for many years. Much of his estate has not yet been valued, but it looks like it could be hundreds of millions of dollars.  The transfer of wealth for estates of this size is usually controlled through trusts and other legal directives.  From Court records to date, which are all available to the public, it appears that Prince did not have any such planning strategies in place.

With no trust in place, Prince’s estate will go through the probate process in the Minnesota court system.  The appointed representatives of the estate will be left to figure out what Prince owned, value each piece of property, pay the income and estate taxes, and distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries of the estate.

Prince has one sister and five half-sisters. A Minnesota Court has declared that his estate will be distributed to these six individuals.  While we can’t speculate about how Prince would have wanted his estate distributed, stories of Prince’s charitable nature during his lifetime suggest that he would have probably wanted to leave money to support charities. Stories of his private personal nature also suggest that he would have wanted to avoid such a public display and invasion of privacy.

In any event, if no will or trust turns up, Prince’s estate will be a media drama that unfolds in public.

What if Prince had not died from that drug overdose, but was instead incapacitated and unable to manage his health and financial affairs?  Who would have made decisions for him about his medical care, businesses, and finances? A court, in a public guardianship proceeding, would have had to appoint a guardian or conservator.  This person could have been a complete stranger to Prince.

Estate planning is not just for music icons worth hundreds of millions of dollars.  It is for everyone.  No matter the size of a person’s estate, a comprehensive estate plan will establish control, address incapacity, and direct the transfer assets how, to whom, and when you want.

How to Make Your Inheritance Last

A 2012 study by Ohio State researcher Jay Zagorsky found that about one-third of Americans who receive an inheritance have negative savings within two years of getting their money, and of those who receive $100,000 or more, nearly one in five spend, donate or simply lose it all.  If you are about to receive an inheritance, there are several steps you can take to insure your funds will last longer than a few years.

Don’t Make Any Hasty Decisions.  Once you receive your money, don’t make any hasty decisions about what to do with it.  Instead, park the funds in a safe place such as a savings account, money market, or CD until you have had enough time to put together a long term financial plan.  If you don’t already have one, set up an emergency fund that will cover six months of expenses.  If you already have an emergency fund, consider adding to it to cover one year of expenses.  If you are married, you will need to decide early on if you want to keep your inheritance in your separate name or place the funds in joint names with your spouse.  If you are considering giving some of your inheritance to your children, you could invoke a gift tax or negative income tax consequences and should only proceed with gifting once you understand all of the consequences.

Still Working?  Put Away More Towards Your Retirement.  If you are working and are not contributing the maximum to your 401(k), bump up your withholding, particularly if you are not meeting your employer’s match.  If your employer does not offer a 401(k), start funding an IRA.  Note that if you have inherited a traditional IRA, any withdrawals you make will be included in your taxable income.  You can minimize the income tax consequences by only taking required distributions and leaving the balance invested inside of the inherited IRA.

Hire a Team of Professional Advisors.  You will need a team of professionals to help you develop long term plans for your inheritance.  A financial advisor will help analyze your current finances and build a solid financial foundation to include investment advice, insurance (life, long term care, and liability), credit and debt management, college savings, and retirement planning.  Your advisor can also help you look into the future and plan for long term financial goals, such as purchasing a first or second home or starting a charitable foundation.  An accountant will help you determine cash flow and minimize capital gains and other income taxes.  An estate planning attorney will help you create or update your estate plan (everyone needs a will, revocable trust, advance medical directive and durable power of attorney), decrease or eliminate estate taxes (federal and/or state), set up a gifting strategy, meet your charitable goals, create a family legacy, and protect your inheritance from creditors, predators, and lawsuits.

If your inheritance is large enough, it has the potential to last your lifetime.  Don’t go it alone.  We are here to answer any questions you have about receiving, growing, donating, protecting and ultimately passing on your inheritance to your loved ones.

Celebrity Wills – Jerry Garcia

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Jerry Garcia had 5 custom guitars made by Doug Erwin. This is what Jerry’s will stated regarding those instruments:

FIFTH GUITARS
I give all my guitars made by DOUGLAS ERWIN, to DOUGLAS ERWIN, or to his estate if he predeceases me. livingtrustnetwork.com

After Jerry’s death in 1995 this bequest was the subject of a legal battle between the remaining Grateful Dead band members and Erwin. The band claimed the guitars were the band’s property and therefore not part of Garcia’s probate estate. The suit was settled with Erwin getting 2 of the guitars, which he sold at auction for about $1.75 million. Wikipedia

Making a will to appoint a Guardian for your children

My wife and I had our first child 4 years ago. A few months before she was born, I think we spent about 3 hours in babies r us, and probably 10 or more hours online and in books studying up on the safest carseat for her. If you’re a parent, then I assume you probably had a similar experience.  We all want to protect our kids and make sure they are as safe as possible.

Here’s the part no one likes to think about. What if something happens to us? Who will be there for the kids? Or, maybe you already thought about it and went and got some life insurance. That’s a step in the right direction, but there’s more.

Under the unpleasant circumstances of both natural parents deaths, there are two answers to the question of who will take care of the kids:

(1) your kids will be cared for by the Guardian(s) you appoint in your will, or

(2) the court will appoint a Guardian if you have not named one.

Regardless of the size of your estate, parents of minor children (under the age of 18) should have wills naming a Guardian or Guardians for their children.

In Pennsylvania, there are two types of Guardians for minors: (1) Guardian of the Person, and (2) Guardian of the Estate. Those two can be the same person serving as Guardian of the Person and Estate of the minor child.

The Guardian of the Person is the person that will make general decisions related to the care of the child. The Guardian of the Estate handles the money forming the Guardianship Estate for the child. Some people appoint the same person for both positions.

In the event of the deaths of both of the natural parents, failure to have appointed a Guardian by will makes a court proceeding necessary to determine who the Guardian of your children will be.

Family harmony and the best interests of the minor children are best preserved by appointing a Guardian or Guardians in your will as opposed to subjecting them to court proceedings.

Additional planning can provide even greater guidance and control over the management of money you leave for minor children by including a trust for the benefit of a minor child or children in your will.

Such a trust is generally known as a testamentary trust because it is created by your will at the time of your death. In such a situation, the trust is only funded upon the death of the individual who created it.

For more information on trusts for minors, I’ll be writing a new post soon titled “trusts for minor children.”