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Meet Michelle Wheeler from our Probate Team

I essentially work with the executor/administrator/trustee and help them manage the assets and expenses of the decedent.  It’s like taking over a person’s financial life after they have passed.

If we need to probate, I prepare the court documents and set up the appointment to get the executor/administrator appointed.  Once that’s done there is estate/trust advertising, bank accounts to manage, securities (stocks, bonds, etc.) to sell or transfer, life insurance/annuity/retirement claim forms to file, an inheritance tax return needs to be filed 9 months from date of death (tax estimate paid within 3 months of death to get tax discount), bills to be paid, selling or transferring real estate, etc.  Once an appraisement letter is received from the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue for the inheritance tax (6-9 months or longer from the date the return was filed), we can make final distributions and close out the matter.  It is a lengthy and time-consuming process that can be frustrating.  I do my best to make the process as comfortable as I can.

Myths and Mysteries of the Probate Process:

  1. Even if all assets are in trust, joint name or have specific beneficiaries assigned, it’s the same process except for the estate administration. We still have to get date of death confirmation values on all assets, account for all debts and expenses paid and prepare a Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax return.  Unfortunately, it is not a quick process.
  2. Depending on the company the amount of paperwork needed to transfer, sell or claim assets can be overwhelming. Please be patient.  Once all claim forms are signed and filed, it can take 10 days to a few weeks for the claim to be reviewed once it is in the company’s computer system.  This is not usually a quick process.
  3. I need the following information to start working on a file: bank statements including decedent’s date of death, current deed on all real estate, investment/brokerage statements including decedent’s date of death, life insurance/annuity/retirement paperwork, copy of most recent personal income tax return, copies of bills paid and/or checks drawn.
  4. Stock certificates should be deposited with a broker or investment service. Stock certificates are like holding cash in your hand.  If the certificate is lost, there is a lost certificate fee to get it reissued.  Please keep your investment safe.
  5. If there is only a bank account with $10,000 or less in the decedent’s name alone on a date of death, a spouse, any child, father or mother, or any sister or brother (preference in that order) can close the account with a copy of the death certificate and the invoice showing the funeral is paid in full. No probate is necessary.

If you would like to learn more about avoiding the probate process, please give us a call at 717-845-5390.

 

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When Cohabitating Goes Wrong

This blog discusses cohabitating in the context of two adult individuals who live together but who are not married. They can be a partner, significant other, or simply friends. We will not be discussing the pitfalls of owning property jointly or other obvious pitfalls of cohabitation but rather we will be discussing the downfalls of not having estate planning documents to allow that significant person in your life to help make decisions.

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, you must be married in order to have certain rights under the context of the healthcare statute. It also requires marriage to have rights under the intestate succession statute in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. However, many adult individuals will decide later in life to never get married for one reason or another.

This is certainly a personal choice and preference, but if you are not legally married you will not have the ability to go into a hospital to make a decision for your partner or significant other. Without having a Healthcare Power of Attorney in place that appoints an agent your partner or significant other would have no ability or authority to make decisions for you. Instead family members, who may or may not have been involved in your life, for years would be able to come in and make those decisions.  

Often times if there is a guardianship proceeding that has to occur (because you don’t have a Power of Attorney or Health Care Directive in place), the Court will often defer to family members rather than individuals who are cohabitating with the alleged incapacitated individual. While this is certainly not set in stone, my experience personally is that the Court will defer to family and blood rather than a significant other relationship in appointing a guardian.

It is certainly a person’s choice to not get married and not to take the next step for one reason or the other, but we highly encourage those individuals to make sure that they have, at a minimum, in place a financial Power of Attorney and Health Care Directive and strongly suggest having a Last Will and Testament as Well so that your wishes are known and can be carried out.  This will at least save some heartache in the end.

If you would like to learn more about avoiding estate complications, please give us a call at 717-845-5390.

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Why is it Important to Understand or Learn Probate in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania?

This is a question that we receive all of the time in our office.  The answer is because you could have personal liability as an executor and because there may be ways to avoid probate it if you understand it and plan ahead.

Probate is merely the Commonwealth’s rule book and the process that you must go through if there is an asset in a person’s sole name at the time of their death.  This excludes jointly held accounts and accounts with a beneficiary designation on the account.  Probate is not good or bad.  It is simply the process the Commonwealth requires us to follow in order to properly distribute assets to beneficiaries.  

A personal representative, also known as an executor (or executrix if they are female), if they are named in a Will, or an administrator if they are taking authority under the intestate succession under the statute, are personally liable to the beneficiaries and to the government to properly administer the estate, make certain all debts and expensive of the decedent are paid, pay all inheritance tax and other taxes owed and to distribute the remainder of the assets to the beneficiaries pursuant to the Will or the intestate statute.  A personal representative must understand the entire process and all of the legal requirements that the Commonwealth imposes, such as notices to heirs, notices to creditors, advertising of the appointment of a personal representative and filing with the Orphans’ Court, Register of Wills certifications and notices as items are completed or when the estate is complete.  There is also a requirement for a Pennsylvania inheritance tax to be prepared and filed and, in some cases, a fiduciary income tax return as well.  If any of these steps are not properly completed and a beneficiary, a government entity, or a charity receives less money than what they were entitled to there can and will be personal liability imputed on the personal representative.  

It is essential to understand this liability to make a decision as to whether to hire an attorney to assist in the process.  There is very little upside to not hiring a professional but a lot of potential downsides to not doing so, and therefore, typically, it is a much smarter decision to engage an attorney to assist you.

Probate can be avoided by either making an asset jointly owned or designating a beneficiary for that asset.  However, before somebody makes an asset jointly owned or designates beneficiary for an asset they should understand the legal implications of doing so as there may be considerations beyond probate in doing so.  Remember jointly owned assets or assets with designated beneficiaries don’t avoid inheritance tax, only probate is avoided.

If you have any questions concerning probate or whether you need to probate please call the office at (717) 845-5390 or visit our website at www.bellomoassociates.com

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Planning For Retirement And Enjoying The Remaining Years

When it comes to planning for retirement, the most important person may, probably, be a financial planner or someone to make sure that you have enough money to enjoy those years the way that you want to.  However, equally as important is to make sure that you have completed your estate planning at the same time.  Oftentimes people think of estate planning as a death plan, but in reality estate planning is everything before that as well.  Incapacity can hit us at any time, and it’s imperative that you have your basic estate planning documents in place so that during those wonderful years, if you were unable to do something for yourself, somebody would be authorized to do it for you.  

Some basic items that we always recommend everybody to have in place is a Financial and a Medical Power of Attorney, as well as a Living Will.  These documents will allow you to make sure that your financial and medical decisions can be made for you if you are not able to make them.  It will avoid any fights with family members or anyone who you do not want to have access to your information and will also avoid the expense and the emotional heartbreak of a guardianship proceeding.  A Living Will will allow you to make your end of life decisions if you are “end stage medical”.  This is a period in time when two qualified physicians state in writing that there is no realistic hope of recovery, that a person will always remain vegetative, comatose, permanently unconscious, terminally ill.  If two doctors state this and that there is no realistic hope of recovery, a Living Will will allow you to decide whether you want heroic and lifesaving measures or whether you want them to withdraw treatment.  The most important piece is that the individual gets to decide for themselves, so that their loved ones don’t feel as though they had to make that difficult decision to pull the plug or to play “God”.  Finally, a Last Will and Testament will allow you to make the decisions about what will happen at your death and in the future, and along with your financial planner, who assisted you in making sure that you have enough money for retirement, they will, also, ensure that the assets are designated properly to go to the correct beneficiaries.  

Enjoying your time in retirement and enjoying those wonderful years will be much better knowing that you have protected yourself in case of an unforeseen incident or accident, et cetera.  The time to plan for that is now to allow you to enjoy each and every day to its fullest and not be worried about the worse-case scenario in case you didn’t plan. Enjoy those final years!

If you would like to learn more about this, please give us a call at 717-845-5390.

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My Loved One Will Stay Home Forever

This is a statement that we hear on a regular basis in our office when we talk about aging and potentially needing assistance for our loved ones in the future.  Most people, if asked, would choose or want to stay home as long as they possibly can.  We often are abruptly interrupted when we start talking about alternatives such as assisted living facilities or personal care homes or long-term care facilities.  

It is certainly admirable to want to stay home as long as possible and there are a lot of things that can be done to help ensure that that can occur.  The time to start discussing what it is going to look like for a loved one to stay home is now.  Take a look at the house and the configurations of the house to determine if it is suitable and adaptable to allow somebody to age there.  Is there a possibility of putting ramps in or having a stair lift installed to assist with getting up and down steps within the home.  Are there appropriate handrails or grab bars in bathrooms and other places.  We highly recommend that you ask a geriatric care manager to come to your home to assist with evaluating its adaptability and suitability for people as they age.  

If you find yourself in a situation where a loved one needs care now, we highly recommend that you look at non-medical options to have someone come into the person’s home to assist them with their needs.  Non-medical options are plentiful in the York and surrounding areas and allow families to know that their loved ones will have a companion during the day and potentially get reminders throughout the day about taking medication, going to the restroom, or getting meals.   Oftentimes all that people need is simple reminders and someone just taking a look to make sure that they are remaining safe in their home.  If the situation gets worse and the individual begins to need medical care we are also very lucky in our area that we have several medical options for care in the home.  I would highly recommend that you research both the medical and non-medical options in our area to see how plentiful and wonderful these companies are. 

As a person ages in place, and as their care needs increase, sometimes it is impossible to have somebody continue to remain in their home because it may become unsafe.  There are certainly a lot of options before this becomes a possibility but if a person begins to wander from the home or if the home is not able to be adapted to be safe for them we may have no choice but to move them into another type of setting.  However, with proper planning and assistance from outside companies and family members it is possible to age in place in your home for a long time.   We highly encourage you to have these conversations ahead of time so that you’re not having them in a crisis situation which makes the conversation much more difficult.  

If you would like to learn more about estate planning and elder law, please give our office a call at 717-845-5390.

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