You may have signed a Living Will, but scary mistakes can happen at the ER

August 5 Washington Post/Health & Science

“Don’t resuscitate this patient; he has a living will,” the nurse told the doctor, Monica Williams-Murphy, handing her a document.

Williams-Murphy looked at the sheet bearing the signature of the unconscious 78-year-old man, who had been rushed from a nursing home to the emergency room. “Do everything possible,” it read, with a check approving cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

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The nurse’s mistake was based on a misguided belief that living wills automatically include “do not resuscitate” (DNR) orders. Working quickly, Williams-Murphy revived the patient, who had a urinary tract infection and recovered after a few days in the hospital.

Unfortunately, misunderstandings involving documents meant to guide end-of-life decision-making are “surprisingly common,” said Williams-Murphy, medical director of advance-care planning and end-of-life education for Huntsville Hospital Health System in Alabama.

But health systems and state regulators don’t systematically track mix-ups of this kind, and they receive little attention amid the push to encourage older adults to document their end-of-life preferences, experts acknowledge. As a result, information about the potential for patient harm is scarce.

A new report out of Pennsylvania, which has the nation’s most robust system for monitoring patient-safety events, treats mix-ups involving end-of-life documents as medical errors — a novel approach. It found that in 2016, Pennsylvania health-care facilities reported nearly 100 events relating to patients’ “code status” — their wish to be resuscitated or not, should their hearts stop beating and they stop breathing. In 29 cases, patients were resuscitated against their wishes. In two cases, patients weren’t resuscitated despite making it clear they wanted this to happen.

The rest of the cases were “near misses” — problems caught before they had a chance to cause permanent harm.

Most likely, this is an undercount, said Regina Hoffman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, adding that she was unaware of similar data from any other state.

Asked to describe a near miss, Hoffman, co-author of the report, said: “Perhaps I’m a patient who’s come to the hospital for elective surgery and I have a DNR order in my [medical] chart. After surgery, I develop a serious infection and a resident [physician] finds my DNR order. He assumes this means I’ve declined all kinds of treatment, until a colleague explains that this isn’t the case.”

The problem, Hoffman explained, is that doctors and nurses receive little if any training in understanding and interpreting living wills, DNR orders and Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) forms.

Communication breakdowns and a pressure-cooker environment in emergency departments, where life-or-death decisions often have to be made within minutes, also contribute to misunderstandings, other experts said.

Research by Ferdinando Mirarchi, medical director of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Hamot in Erie, Pa., suggests that the potential for confusion surrounding end-of-life documents is considerable. In various studies, he has asked medical providers how they would respond to hypothetical situations involving patients with critical and terminal illnesses.

In one study, for instance, he described a 46-year-old woman who is brought to the ER with a heart attack and suddenly goes into cardiac arrest. Although she is otherwise healthy, she has a living will refusing all potentially lifesaving medical interventions. What would you do, he asked more than 700 physicians in an Internet survey.

Only 43 percent of those doctors said they would intervene to save her life — a troubling figure, Mirarchi said. Because this patient didn’t have a terminal condition, her living will didn’t apply to the situation at hand and every physician should have been willing to offer aggressive treatment, he explained.

In another study, Mirarchi described a 70-year-old man with diabetes and cardiac disease who had a POLST form indicating he didn’t want cardiopulmonary resuscitation but agreeing to a limited set of other medical interventions, including defibrillation (shocking his heart with an electrical current). Yet 75 percent of 223 emergency physicians surveyed said they would not have pursued defibrillation if the patient had a cardiac arrest.

One issue here: Physicians assumed that defibrillation is part of cardiopulmonary resuscitation. That’s a mistake: They’re separate interventions. Another issue: Physicians are often unsure what patients really want when one part of a POLST form says “do nothing” (declining CPR) and another part says “do something” (permitting other interventions).

Mirarchi’s work involves hypotheticals, not real-life situations. But it highlights significant practical confusion about end-of-life documents, said Scott Halpern, director of the Palliative and Advanced Illness Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

Attention to these problems is important but shouldn’t be overblown, cautioned Arthur Derse, director of the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “Are there errors of misunderstanding or miscommunication? Yes. But you’re more likely to have your wishes followed with one of these documents than without one,” he said.

Make sure you have ongoing discussions about your end-of-life preferences with your physician, your surrogate decision-maker, if you have one, and your family, especially when your health status changes, Derse advised. Without these conversations, documents can be difficult to interpret.

Here are some basics about end-of-life documents:

Living wills. A living will expresses your preferences for end-of-life care but is not a binding medical order. Instead, medical staff will interpret it based on the situation at hand, with input from your family and your surrogate decision-maker.

Living wills become activated only when a person is terminally ill and unconscious or in a permanent vegetative state. A terminal illness is one from which a person is not expected to recover, even with treatment — for instance, advanced metastatic cancer.

Bouts of illness that can be treated — such as an exacerbation of heart failure — are “critical,” not “terminal,” illness and should not activate a living will. To be activated, one or two physicians have to certify that your living will should go into effect, depending on the state where you live.

DNRs. Do-not-resuscitate orders are binding medical orders, signed by a physician. A DNR order applies specifically to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and directs medical personnel not to administer chest compressions, usually accompanied by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, if someone stops breathing or their heart stops beating.

The section of a living will specifying that you don’t want CPR is a statement of a preference, not a DNR order.

A DNR order applies only to a person who has gone into cardiac arrest. It does not mean that this person has refused other types of medical assistance, such as mechanical ventilation, defibrillation following CPR, intubation (the insertion of a breathing tube down a patient’s throat), medical tests or intravenous antibiotics, among other measures.

Even so, DNR orders are often wrongly equated with “do not treat” at all, according to a 2011 review in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

POLST forms. A POLST form is a set of medical orders for a seriously ill or frail patient who may die within a year, signed by a physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner.

These forms, which vary by state, are meant to be prepared after a detailed conversation about a patient’s prognosis, goals and values, and the potential benefits and harms of various treatment options.

Problems have emerged with the increased use of POLSTs. Some nursing homes are asking all patients to sign POLST forms, even those admitted for short-term rehabilitation or whose life expectancy exceeds a year, according to a recent article by Charlie Sabatino, director of the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging. Also, medical providers’ conversations with patients can be cursory, not comprehensive, and forms often aren’t updated, as recommended, when a patient’s medical condition changes.

“The POLST form is still relatively new, and there’s education that needs to be done,” said Amy Vandenbroucke, executive director of the National POLST Paradigm, an organization that promotes use of the forms. In a policy statement issued last year and updated in April, it stated that completion of POLST forms should always be voluntary, made with a patient’s or surrogate decision-maker’s knowledge and consent, and offered only to people whose physician would not be surprised if they die within a year.

This column is produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service and a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Anthony Bourdain Left Loved Ones In Limbo But The Heirs Will End Up Better Than Michael Jackson’s

Via The Wealth Advisor Scott Martin Contributor

He lived on the edge and died without warning. The family needed a disaster plan to minimize strain in the worst moments and smooth the financial transition afterward. These are teachable moments.

Anthony Bourdain chased gusto all over the planet, occasionally tracking into war and disaster zones along the way. There were moments when he could’ve gotten in over his head and never come home.

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A personal disaster plan would have been the responsible way to approach that kind of life. From the way news of his death spread last week, it’s fairly clear that level of forethought just wasn’t his style.

That’s a burden on those he left behind. At a moment when they’re already stunned and vulnerable, it’s up to them to make the hard decisions about managing the press, the authorities and the fans.

Let’s hope that his financial situation was in better shape. While the money will never bring him back, it can at least make life without him easier — provided of course it’s managed properly now.

The personal disaster plan

Enterprises, individual professionals and even well-run restaurants have succession plans. But while Bourdain’s life revolved around his personal participation in every venture, there’s no sign that the work can continue without him.

The TV show is unlikely to ever film again. There won’t be any new expeditions and no new episodes beyond what’s already ready to roll.

There won’t be any new books. There’s no archive of unreleased material waiting for a successor organization to release to bereaved fans.

And the window for him to ever open another restaurant has slammed shut. If he gave much thought to a creative executor to groom the intellectual property he built up in life, again, it would be a surprise.

Otherwise, that person or some other spokesperson he delegated would have stepped up to handle the announcements last week. Instead, everyone looked to Asia Argento, who was understandably shocked and stunned.

The family was quiet. His ex-wife isn’t active on public social media networks and their daughter is only 11. It was up to a colleague to find his body and his network to break the news to the world.

A lawyer, a financial advisor, an agent, a manager: someone could have been authorized to route messaging to the public and make absolutely sure nobody bothered the family.

That didn’t really happen here. There’s no crime in that beyond a missed opportunity to make a tidier transition, whether death comes by surprise or design.

And in the absence of any clear plan on that front, it remains to be seen whether there was a plan to keep his businesses afloat without his personal participation.

Bourdain never really created much of an institution around himself. The copyright on his books was never assigned to any trust, holding company or other entity. While he got production credit on his shows, the actual production company belonged to other people.

There’s no restaurant for his heirs to operate or sell off. He could’ve built a foodie empire to survive him, but evidently wasn’t interested.

His big dream, the Blade Runner themed global food court in New York, stalled last year. Whether that failure to create something lasting preyed on him, we just don’t know.

Again, that level of planning really wasn’t his style. Even if it could’ve made his heirs more comfortable down the road, we would’ve seen the hints years ago.

Healthier, maybe even wealthier

That said, there can be a morbid tinge to building a captive empire of intellectual property and operating businesses. Look at Michael Jackson, who was practically insolvent in life because he’d hoarded other people’s creative output as well as his own.

Jackson’s kids are reportedly billionaires now. He’s the best-selling musical artist in the world. But the cold equations of the estate forced the executors to sell off his songs and back catalog to pay the debts.

Bourdain’s books are seeing a similar posthumous bestseller effect now. Odds are good that ratings of unaired episodes will be the best ever. His daughter will get her piece of that income.

If he left a will — a big hypothetical, all in all — the rights and royalties may well go into a trust for her upkeep now and use when she’s an adult. Otherwise, the money flows into Unified Gifts To Minors Act (UGMA) accounts while the assets themselves sit in Unified Transfers To Minors Act (UGTA) accounts until she turns 18.

Unlike Michael Jackson’s kids, she has an immediate parental guardian to look out for her in the meantime. While mom and dad split up a few years ago, mom is definitely alive and well. As you’ll recall, she’s a professional kickboxer.

Reading between the lines, mom also got the $3 million New York condo as part of the split. She might already have all of the Bourdain cash as it is. Otherwise, sad to say, child support evaporates now.

Whatever Bourdain left behind for his daughter is that support. She can’t touch it for awhile. I hope he made arrangements for someone to monetize his legacy in the here and now.

With the right management, the Bourdain name and likeness stay vibrant and keep generating income. Maybe there actually are book drafts to polish, TV concepts to pitch. There might even be restaurant concepts looking for partners.

The potential here is vast. A creative and savvy executor can turn Bourdain’s name into the empire he never chased in life — maybe even a Michael Jackson scale franchise built on new approaches to food, new grocery models, who knows?

And without the $400 million debt hole Jackson’s heirs started with, right now Bourdain’s survivors are financially ahead of the game. I know it still hurts, but against the inevitability of pain sometimes the only thing we can do is stack the dollar signs.

When his daughter comes of age, she may pick up the family legacy. It belongs to her. That’s the best bequest of all.

 

Did You Know Choosing Retirement Account Beneficiaries Can Have Tax Implications?

While the execution of Wills requires formalities like witnesses and a notary, the reality is that most property passes to heirs through other, less formal means.

Many bank and investments accounts, as well as real estate, have joint owners who take ownership automatically at the death of the primary owner. Other banks and investment companies offer payable on death accounts that permit owners to name the person or people who will receive them when the owners die. Life insurance, of course, permits the owner to name beneficiaries.

All of these types of ownership and beneficiary designations permit these accounts and types of property to avoid probate, meaning that they will not be governed by the terms of a Will. When taking advantage of these simplified procedures, owners need to be sure that the decisions they make are consistent with their overall estate planning. It’s not unusual for a Will to direct that an estate be equally divided among the decedent’s children, but to find that because of joint accounts or beneficiary designations the estate is distributed totally unequally, or even to non-family members, such as new boyfriends and girlfriends.

It’s also important to review beneficiary designations every few years to make sure that they are still correct. An out-of-date designation may leave property to an ex-spouse, to ex-girlfriends or -boyfriends, and to people who died before the owner. All of these can thoroughly undermine an estate plan and leave a legacy of resentment that most people would prefer to avoid.

These concerns are heightened when dealing with retirement plans, whether IRAs, SEPs or 401(k) plans, because the choice of beneficiary can have significant tax implications. These types of retirement plans benefit from deferred taxation in that the income deposited into them as well as the earnings on the investments are not taxed until the funds are withdrawn. In addition, owners may withdraw funds based more or less on their life expectancy, so the younger the owner the smaller the annual required distribution.  Further, in most cases, withdrawals do not have to begin until after the owner reaches age 70 1/2. However, this is not always the case for inherited IRAs.

Following are some of the rules and concerns when designating retirement account beneficiaries:

  • Name your spouse, usually. Surviving husbands and wives may roll over retirement plans inherited from their spouses into their own plans. This means that they can defer withdrawals until after they reach age 70 1/2 and take minimum distributions based on their age. Non-spouses of retirement plans must begin taking distributions immediately, but they can base them on their own presumably younger ages.
  • But not always. There are a few reasons you might not want to name your spouse, including the following:
    • He or she is incapacitated and can’t manage the account
    • Doing so would add to his or her taxable estate
    • You are in a second marriage and want the investments to benefit your first family
    • Your children need the money more than your spouse
  • Consider a trust. In a number of the above circumstances, a trust can solve the problem, providing for management in the case of an incapacitated spouse, permitting assets to benefit a surviving spouse while being preserved for the next generation, and providing estate tax planning opportunities. Those in first marriages may want to name their spouse as the primary beneficiary and a trust as the secondary, or contingent, beneficiary. This permits the surviving spouse, or spouse’s agent if the spouse is incapacitated, to refuse some or all of the inheritance through a “disclaimer” so it will pass to the trust. Known as “post mortem” estate planning, this approach permits flexibility to respond to “facts on the ground” after the death of the first spouse.
  • But check the trust. Most trusts are not designed to accept retirement fund assets. If they are missing key provisions, they might not be treated as “designated beneficiaries” for retirement plan purposes. In such cases, rather than being able to stretch out distributions during the beneficiary’s lifetime, the IRA or 401(k) will have to be liquidated within five years of the decedent’s death, resulting in accelerated taxation.
  • Be careful with charities. While there are some tax benefits to naming charities as beneficiaries of retirement plans, if a charity is a partial beneficiary of an account or of a trust, the other beneficiaries may not be able to stretch the distributions during their life expectancies and will have to withdraw the funds and pay the taxes within five years of the owner’s death. One solution is to dedicate some retirement plans exclusively to charities and others to family members.
  • Consider special needs planning. It can be unfortunate if retirement plans pass to individuals with special needs who cannot manage the accounts or who may lose vital public benefits as a result of receiving the funds. This can be resolved by naming a special needs trust as the beneficiary of the funds, although this gets a bit more complicated than most trusts designed to receive retirement funds. Another alternative is not to name the individual with special needs or his trust as beneficiary, but to make up the difference with other assets of the estate or through life insurance.
  • Keep copies of your beneficiary designation forms. Don’t count on your retirement plan administrator to maintain records of your beneficiary designations, especially if the plan is connected with a company you worked for in the past, which may or may not still exist upon your death. Keep copies of all of your forms and provide your estate planning attorney with a copy to keep with your estate plan.
  • But name beneficiaries! The biggest mistake many people make is not to name beneficiaries at all, or they end up in this position by not updating their plan after the originally-named beneficiary passes away. This means that the plan will have to go through probate at some expense and delay and that the funds will have to be withdrawn and taxes paid within five years of the owner’s death.

In short, while Wills are important, in large part because they name a personal representative to take charge of your estate and they name guardians for minor children, they are only a small part of the picture. A comprehensive plan needs to include consideration of beneficiary designations, especially those for retirement plans.

If you have any question or planning needs, feel free to contact me.

Regards,

Brian

Stepmothers and Estate Planning: Who inherits?

Via Quentin Fottrell https://www.marketwatch.com/story/my-stepmother-inherited-my-fathers-estate-when-he-died-what-can-i-do-2016-11-18

Dear Moneyologist,

My dad passed away five years ago. He did leave a will on how he wanted his estate to be dispersed, but only if his current wife was also deceased. She was not, so she got everything. My question is: When she passes, is she required to honor our dad’s will? She has remarried, which is fine and I’m glad she’s happy. My dad has four biological children from his first two wives, and had none with the third wife, his widow when he passed away. We don’t want to take anything from our stepmother, we would just like our dad’s will honored when she passes. Is this even possible? Thank you for your time. They resided in South Carolina at the time of my dad’s passing.

Daughter Left Out in the Cold

Dear Daughter,

When it comes to inheritance, children usually fare better than stepchildren.

Your father’s wishes were honored, I’m afraid to say. He wanted everything to go to his wife and, in the event that she predeceased him, wanted his estate divided between his four children. But she didn’t and she inherited the whole kit and caboodle. You could talk to your stepmother about anything of special sentimental (or monetary) value, but if she chose to leave you anything that belonged to your father in her will it would be out of goodwill rather than legal necessity.

It may be that your father had meant to write a will that divided his estate more evenly between his wife and children, but that’s not what happened here. In this case, any non-probate assets — jointly owned bank accounts between your stepmother and late father, and any life insurance policies or brokerage accounts where your stepmother was named as beneficiary — will go to her. Anything that goes through probate (that is, the court process) will also go to her.

Ooops! Did you choose the wrong executor?

You finally got around to making your Will. You deserve a sigh of relief. But did you choose the right executor? Or have you burdened an unqualified or unwilling relative and put your Will at risk to be contested?

Generally speaking, the first person that comes to mind to be one’s executor is often an adult child or other family member, followed perhaps by a close friend. These individuals may be honored that you asked them, and will often accept this important duty. Some may even accept the duty despite not wanting the burden, just so they do not insult you.

Your choice of executor may be an emotional one, but also should be chosen based upon what is best for your estate, probate, and your needs. Choosing the executor of your estate is not a task to take lightly. An executor is the person responsible for managing the administration of a deceased individual’s estate. The time and effort involved will vary with the size of the estate. Even the executor of a small estate will have important duties that must be performed correctly, or the executor may be personally liable to the estate or the beneficiaries. One of the many jobs of the executor is to take an accurate inventory of the deceased individual’s assets. This includes making a list of all bank, brokerage and retirement accounts, insurance policies, real property, and any other assets the deceased owned. An inventory of personal effects, antiques or other valuables must be tabulated as well. A list of the estate’s inventory must ultimately be presented to the probate court for review.

This can be a very time-consuming task, and it may mean going through the deceased individual’s personal data or paperwork for information, interviewing heirs, or checking ownership documents at the local town hall. The information presented to the court is expected to be accurate and complete, so that the beneficiaries receive their inheritance on a timely basis. Of course, the executor must probate the deceased person’s Last Will, which may involve locating and notifying the person’s heirs. As if the demands of the probate process aren’t enough work, creditors must be paid, and final income tax returns must be filed. If the estate is large enough, a state and federal estate tax return may be required as well. Once this is complete, distributions to the estate’s beneficiaries must be calculated and dispersed. Of course, if the deceased person’s Last Will is contested, the executor must oversee this process as well. This may put an additional wedge between friends and/or family members. Further, it can add months and perhaps even years to the process, as well as some unwanted stress for the executor.

Tax laws and state and federal estate tax exclusion rates may be different than when the Will was written. If the surviving spouse plans to file for estate tax portability, an estate tax return may need to be filed even if no tax is owed.

Feel free to call me for an opinion on your choice of executor. If you prefer, I may also act as your executor if you do not have a qualified person in mind. This may remove the potential burden it can place on others and offer many efficiencies and time saving as well.

To learn more about the duties of an executor click here>

Regards,

Brian

Steps to Prevent a Contested Will

Emotions can run high at the death of a family member. If a family member is unhappy with the amount they received (or didn’t receive) under a Will, a Will contest may ensue. 

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Generally, only a person’s closest heirs, or “distributees” are able to contest a Will. Will contests can drag out for years, keeping all the beneficiaries from getting what they are entitled to. It may be impossible to prevent heirs from fighting over your Will entirely, but there are steps you can take to try to minimize squabbles and ensure your intentions are carried out.

Your Will can be contested if an heir believes you did not have the requisite mental capacity to execute the Will, someone exerted undue influence over you, someone committed fraud, or the Will was not executed properly.

The following are some steps that may make a will contest less likely to succeed:

  • Make sure your Will is properly executed. The best way to do this is to have an experienced elder law or estate planning attorney assist you in drafting and executing the will. Wills need to be signed and witnessed, usually by two independent witnesses.
  • Explain your decision. If family members understand the reasoning behind the decisions in your Will, they may be less likely to contest the Will. It is a good idea to talk to family members at the time you draft the will and explain why someone is getting left out of the Will or getting a reduced share. If you don’t discuss it in person, state the reason in the Will. You may also want to include a letter with the Will.
  • Use a no-contest clause. One of the most effective ways of preventing a challenge to your Will is to include a no-contest clause (also called an “in terrorem clause”) in the will. This will only work if you are willing to leave something of value to the potentially disgruntled family member. A no-contest clause provides that if an heir challenges the Will and loses, then he or she will get nothing. You must leave the heir enough so that a challenge is not worth the risk of losing the inheritance.
  • Prove competency. One common way of challenging a Will is to argue that the deceased family member was not mentally competent at the time he or she signed the Will. You can try to avoid this by making sure the attorney drafting the Will tests you for competency. This could involve seeing a doctor or answering a series of questions.
  • Remove the appearance of undue influence. Another common method of challenging a Will is to argue that someone exerted undue influence over the deceased family member. For example, if you are planning on leaving everything to your daughter who is also your primary caregiver, your other children may argue that your daughter took advantage of her position to influence you. To avoid the appearance of undue influence, do not involve any family members who are inheriting under your Will in drafting your will. Family members should not be present when you discuss the Will with your attorney or when you sign it. To be totally safe, family members shouldn’t even drive you to the attorney’s office.

Bear in mind that some of these strategies may not be advisable in certain states and certain situations. Feel free to talk to me about the best strategy for you.

(For more information on Wills click here.)

Regards,

Brian A. Raphan, Esq.

Will Drafter’s Failures Don’t Help Undue Influencer’s Case

A New York trial court determines that an incapacitated woman was unduly influenced by her agent under a power of attorney, noting that the testimony of an attorney who drafted a will for the woman on behalf of the agent did not carry much weight because the attorney spent insufficient time with the woman and failed to determine her knowledge of her estate. Matter of Mitchell (N.Y. Sup. Ct., No. 100163/14, June 3, 2016).

medicaid planning, appeal

Mary Mitchell appointed Gary Shadoian as her attorney-in-fact under a power of attorney. During the time he was her agent, she wrote him checks valued at more than $120,000, which he used to buy things for himself. Mr. Shadoian contacted an attorney on Ms. Mitchell’s behalf to draft a will. The attorney had one conversation with Ms. Mitchell over the phone and met her once in person. The attorney allowed Mr. Shadoian to be present when Ms. Mitchell executed her will even though Mr. Shadoian was a beneficiary of the will.

After Ms. Mitchell was repeatedly hospitalized for neglect, the court appointed guardians for her. The guardians filed suit against Mr. Shadoian, arguing that he unduly influenced Ms. Mitchell. At the trial, the attorney who drafted the will for Ms. Mitchell testified on behalf of Ms. Shadoian that he didn’t know Ms. Mitchell was incapacitated, but admitted that he didn’t make inquiries about her knowledge of her estate.

The New York Supreme Court rules that Mr. Shadoian exercised undue influence over Ms. Mitchell. The court determines Mr. Shadoian’s testimony was not credible, and that the testimony of the attorney that prepared Ms. Mitchell’s will “was too threadbare to carry much weight.” The court notes that the attorney “failed to make even elementary inquiries as to the actual size of [Ms. Mitchell’s] estate, her medical condition, her social and familial history. Contrary to usual practice, he allowed an unrelated person, designated as beneficiary, to orchestrate the completion and execution of the will.”

5 REASONS TO REVIEW A WILL >

You were appointed Executor…Now what?

Being the executor of an estate is not a task to take lightly. An executor is the person responsible for managing the administration of a deceased individual’s estate. Although the time and effort involved will vary with the size of the estate, even if you are the executor of a small estate you will have important duties that must be performed correctly or you may be liable to the estate or the beneficiaries.

Last Will & Testament

The executor is either named in the will or if there is no will, appointed by the court. You do not have to accept the position of executor even if you are named in the will.

The average estate administration takes one year, though you won’t need to work full time on it. Following are some of the duties you may have to perform as executor:

  • Find documents. If there is a will, but you don’t already know where the will is or the will hasn’t already been brought to court, you may need to find it among the deceased’s belongings. If all you have is a copy of the will, you may need to get the original from the lawyer who drafted it. You will also need to get a copy of the death certificate.
  • Hire an attorney. You are not required to hire an attorney, but mistakes can cost you money. You may be personally liable if something goes wrong with the estate or the payment of taxes. An attorney can help you make sure all the proper steps are taken and deadlines met.
  • Apply for probate. If there is a will, the court will grant you letters testamentary. If there is no will, you will receive letters of administration. This will officially begin your work as the executor.
  • Notify interested parties. Notify the beneficiaries of the will, if there is a will, as well as any potential heirs (such as children, siblings, or parents who may or may not be named in a will). In addition, you will have to place an advertisement for potential creditors in a newspaper near where the deceased lived.
  • Manage the deceased’s property. You will need to prepare a list of the deceased’s assets and liabilities, and you may need to collect any property in the hands of other people. One of the executor’s jobs is to protect the property from loss, so you will need to assure the property is kept safe. You will also need to hire an appraiser to find out how much any property is worth. In addition, if the estate includes a business, you may have to make sure the business continues to run.
  • Pay valid claims by creditors. Once the creditors are determined, you will need to pay the deceased’s debts from the estate’s funds. The executor is not personally liable for deceased’s debts. The estate usually pays any reasonable funeral expenses first. Other debts include probate and administration fees and taxes as well as any valid claims filed by creditors.
  • File tax returns. You need to make sure the tax forms are filed within the time frame set under the law. Taxes will include estate taxes and income taxes.
  • Distribute the assets to the beneficiaries. Once the creditors’ claims are clear, the executor is responsible for making sure the beneficiaries get what they are entitled to under the will or under the law, if there is no will. You may be required to sell property in order to fulfill legacies in a will. In addition, you may have to set up any trusts required by the will.
  • Keep accurate records. It is very important to keep accurate records of everything you do. You will need to create a final accounting, which the beneficiaries must review before the distribution of the estate can be finalized. The accounting should include any distributions and expenses as well as any income earned by the estate since the deceased died.
  • File the final accounting with the court. Once the final accounting is approved by the beneficiaries and the court, the court will close the estate. File a final report with the court and close the estate.

All this can be a lot of work, but remember that the executor is entitled to compensation, subject to approval by the court. Keep in mind that the compensation is counted as income, so you will need to declare it on your income taxes.

Removing the burden for an executor and family>

We are proud of our reputation in helping those in need especially around a time of grief. We have provided relief and comfort for countless families while expediting the process and clarifying the ‘legalease’ for our clients. Whether it’s a probate or non-probate estate each client gets the personal attention they need to make the process less of a burden. Feel free to call us for more information or email me personally at braphan@raphanlaw.com.

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Did rockstar Prince die without a Will?

Who will get his millions?

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This article in USA Today states; Prince left no will, according to documents filed Tuesday by his sister, Tyka Nelson, in probate court for Carver County, Minn., where the beloved pop icon died suddenly last week at his Paisley Park compound.

“The Decedent died intestate,” Nelson said in her petition for the appointment of a special administrator to deal with Prince’s estate, which has been widely reported to be valued at $300 million.

Nelson said her brother left no surviving spouse, no children and no parents.  Besides Nelson, his full sister, he is survived by half-brothers and half-sisters, whom Nelson names in her petition as “interested parties” to the Prince estate to her knowledge thus far.

The adult half-siblings are: John Nelson, Norrine Nelson, Sharon Nelson, Alfred Jackson and Omar Baker. She also listed another half-sister, Lorna Nelson, who has died and did not have children. There was at least one other sibling identified as a stepbrother, Duane Nelson, who also has died, but Tyka Nelson did not list him as an interested party.

“I do not know of the existence of a Will and have no reason to believe that the Decedent executed testamentary documents in any form,” Tyka Nelson stated in the petition.

It’s possible there is a will and Nelson doesn’t know about it, but no one has come forward yet to say so. Calls to the office of Prince’s longtime attorney, L. Londell McMillan, were not answered.

When someone dies intestate, without a will, a probate court takes over the administration of the decedent’s estate and distribution of assets, which Nelson listed as “Homestead, other real estate, cash, securities and Other.”

Her petition said Prince had “substantial assets consisting of personal and real property that requires protection.” He “owned and controlled business interests that require ongoing management and supervision.” And he “has heirs whose identities and addresses need to be determined.”

She said “an emergency exists to the extent that the appointment should be made without notice because immediate action and decisions need to be made to continue the ongoing management and supervision of Decedent’s business interests; and because the names and addresses of all interested parties are currently unknown.”

She named Bremer Bank, National Association, as Prince’s longtime banker, which would be in “the best position of any corporate trust company to protect the Decedent’s assets pending the appointment” of an executor.

According to estate lawyers contacted by USA TODAY, when there is no will, state laws on inheritance prevail. In Minnesota, for instance, half-siblings are treated the same as full siblings for the purposes of inheritance. Nelson’s filings on Tuesday come as a surprise. Estate lawyers and Prince’s former manager, Owen Husney, said they would have expected Prince to have drawn up a will and an estate plan long ago.

Husney said he was too smart to have overlooked something that crucial and he had teams of lawyers, business managers and accountants over the years who would have advised him it was crucial.

So what’s the lesson learned here? Let’s start with you should have a Will.

If you die without a Will, the people who inherit may not be those you want to receive your money or personal property when you die!  This could include remote relatives you haven’t spoken to in years. If the Public Administrator is appointed to administer the estate, they will auction or dispose of your intimate personal property and your family may never have an opportunity to receive, or pass on, items which may have wanted them to have.

If you die without a Will in New York, your estate will pass under the laws of the State of New York. When an estate is handled by the Public Administrator, heirs may be required to partake in potentially lengthy and costly legal proceedings to prove their relationships before they can inherit. The Court may also appoint a “Guardian ad Litem” for “unknown” persons.  This Guardian ad Litem, along with the Public Administrator, will get a fee from your estate! If your heirs cannot prove their relationship to the Court, your estate may be paid to the State of New York.

Having a Will can ensure those you select inherit from you, reduce expenses, and expedite handling of your estate. It also allows you to nominate an Executor, who is the person who collects your assets and delivers them to your beneficiaries.  If you have the right Executor, your estate should move swiftly. Lastly, if you already have a Will and haven’t reviewed it in over two years, now is the time to do so to ensure your current wishes are carried out.

If you have any questions about drafting a Will or revising an existing Will feel free to reach out to me.

Regards,

Matthew S. Raphan, Esq.

mraphan@raphanlaw.com

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