What Debts Must Be Paid During Probate?
Which debts do I pay during probate?

What Debts Must Be Paid During Probate?

Everything that must be addressed in settling an estate becomes more complicated, when there is no will and no estate planning has taken place before the person dies. Debts are a particular area of concern for the estate and the executor. What has to be paid, and who gets paid first? These are explained in the article “Dealing with Debts and Mortgages in Probate” from The Balance.

Probate is the process of gaining court approval of the estate and paying off final bills and expenses, before property can be transferred to beneficiaries. Dealing with the debts of a deceased person can be started, before probate officially begins.

Start by making a list of all of the decedent’s liabilities and look for the following bills or statements:

  • Mortgages
  • Reverse mortgages
  • Home equity loans
  • Lines of credit
  • Condo fees
  • Property taxes
  • Federal and state income taxes
  • Car and boat loans
  • Personal loans
  • Loans against life insurance policies
  • Loans against retirement accounts
  • Credit card bills
  • Utility bills
  • Cell phone bills

Next, divide those items into two categories: those that will be ongoing during probate—consider them administrative expenses—and those that can be paid off after the probate estate is opened. These are considered “final bills.” Administrative bills include things like mortgages, condo fees, property taxes and utility bills. They must be kept current. Final bills include income taxes, personal loans, credit card bills, cell phone bills and loans against retirement accounts and/or life insurance policies.

The executors and heirs should not pay any bills out of their own pockets. The executor deals with all of these liabilities in the process of settling the estate.

For some of the liabilities, heirs may have a decision to make about whether to keep the assets with loans. If the beneficiary wants to keep the house or a car, they may, but they have to keep paying down the debt. Otherwise, these payments should be made only by the estate.

The executor decides what bills to pay and which assets should be liquidated to pay final bills.

A far better plan for your beneficiaries, is to create a comprehensive estate plan that includes a will that details how you want your assets distributed and addresses what your wishes are. If you want to leave a house to a loved one, your estate planning attorney will be able to explain how to make that happen, while minimizing taxes on your estate.

Reference: The Balance (March 21, 2019) “Dealing with Debts and Mortgages in Probate”

 

Estate Planning: Do My Debts Die with Me?

When you die, your debts do not. Your executor will be required to pay them using your assets. That means that any unpaid debt can reduce the wealth you’ve left behind for your heirs. In some cases, your family members could even need to pay your debt.

Reader’s Digest’s recent article, “This Is What Happens to Your Debt When You Die,” explains that not all debt is created equal. With secured debt, like a mortgage or car loans, your estate can either pay off your debts in full or continue making installment payments. Another option is to sell the property or turn it over to the lender to satisfy the debt.

However, any unsecured debt, such as credit cards, bills, or personal loans, is typically just paid from the estate. The estate is everything you own, such as assets, bank accounts, real estate and other property.

Note that student loans are the exception, but there are some caveats. Most federal student loans, along with private loans without a cosigner, are discharged with proof of death. Thus, your heirs won’t be responsible for those loans. However, if your private student loan was cosigned, that person will be required to pay it off. There are also some loans, like PLUS loans, that while technically forgiven, could leave the parent who took it out with higher taxes.

The way to protect both yourself and your family, is to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to get your affairs in order.

Creating an action plan for your outstanding debt is a critical component of the estate planning process. You also need to ask about other end-of-life plans, like medical directives, wills and trusts to manage your assets, when you pass away.

You should also review your life insurance policy to make certain that it’s up-to-date, and don’t forget to review your named beneficiaries.

If your beneficiaries are assigned correctly, some of your assets may bypass probate and be protected from creditors. Therefore, anyone who’s listed on your policy won’t be forced to hand over their money to satisfy your debt.

Reference: Reader’s Digest “This Is What Happens to Your Debt When You Die”

 

Why Should I Create a Trust If I’m Not Rich?
Why should I create a trust if I'm not rich?

Why Should I Create a Trust If I’m Not Rich?

It’s probably not high on your list of fun things to do, considering the way in which your assets will be distributed, when you pass away. However, consider the alternative, which could be family battles, unnecessary taxes and an extended probate process. These issues and others can be avoided by creating a trust.

Barron’s recent article, “Why a Trust Is a Great Estate-Planning Tool — Even if You’re Not Rich,” explains that there are many types of trusts, but the most frequently used for these purposes is a revocable living trust. This trust allows you—the grantor—to specify exactly how your estate will be distributed to your beneficiaries when you die, and at the same time avoiding probate and stress for your loved ones.

When you speak with an estate planning attorney about setting up a trust, also ask about your will, healthcare derivatives, a living will and powers of attorney.

Your attorney will have retitle your probatable assets to the trust. This includes brokerage accounts, real estate, jewelry, artwork, and other valuables. Your attorney can add a pour-over will to include any additional assets in the trust. Retirement accounts and insurance policies aren’t involved with probate, because a beneficiary is named.

While you’re still alive, you have control over the trust and can alter it any way you want. You can even revoke it altogether.

A revocable trust doesn’t require an additional tax return or other processing, except for updating it for a major life event or change in your circumstances. The downside is because the trust is part of your estate, it doesn’t give much in terms of tax benefits or asset protection. If that was your focus, you’d use an irrevocable trust. However, once you set up such a trust it can be difficult to change or cancel. The other benefits of a revocable trust are clarity and control— you get to detail exactly how your assets should be distributed. This can help protect the long-term financial interests of your family and avoid unnecessary conflict.

If you have younger children, a trust can also instruct the trustee on the ages and conditions under which they receive all or part of their inheritance. In second marriages and blended families, a trust removes some of the confusion about which assets should go to a surviving spouse versus the children or grandchildren from a previous marriage.

Trusts can have long-term legal, tax and financial implications, so it’s a good idea to work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Barron’s (February 23, 2019) “Why a Trust Is a Great Estate-Planning Tool — Even if You’re Not Rich”