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What about a decedent’s bank accounts, investment accounts, stocks and bonds?
The Executor should provide a copy of the Letters Testamentary – the proof of his or her appointment obtained from the Surrogate Court - to each bank and investment company where the decedent had assets. Hopefully, the decedent previously provided the Executor with the list of his or her assets. If not, the Executor will need to look for bank statements, brokerage statements, or even a decedent’s income tax return to locate the accounts. The more information which the decedent had provided to the Executor in advance the better. Once the bank or brokerage company is notified, then the Executor will be the only person who will be permitted to deal with the assets in the decedent’s account. Eventually the Executor will set up a new separate account in the name of the estate to transfer assets into out of which estate bills can be paid and distributions can be made to the beneficiaries named in the decedent’s will . The Executor will need to get certain information from the financial institutions, such as (i) written conformation of the date of death values of the accounts; and (ii) income which is earned from the account both before and after the date of death. This information is needed to complete several forms an Executor must file, including an Inventory of Assets, estate and inheritance tax returns, and final income tax returns for both the decedent and the estate
What is the first thing an Executor named in a will must do after a person dies?
The first this that an Executor must do is “probate” the Will. Probate in the process by which an Executor obtains court approval to deal with a decedent’s assets. An Executor has no authority until the appropriate judge says so. In New York, the probate of the will occurs in the Surrogate Court located in the County where the decedent died. The process starts with the filing of a probate petition, the original Will, family tree and several other notices and consents with the Surrogate Judge.
Do You Have Enough Uninsured Motorist Insurance?
Auto accidents involving drivers with no insurance or too little insurance are common. Victims of these accidents are often shocked to learn that they will recover little, if any, money for their injuries and losses. Fortunately, there is an inexpensive way for most people to avoid this tragic situation by having enough uninsured and underinsured motorists insurance. Here is a brief explanation of each.
* Uninsured motorists insurance. This protects you in the event a person who causes an accident and injures you has no insurance or is a hit-and-run driver. It lets you collect money from your own insurance company for your injuries and losses, including medical expenses, lost wages, and money for pain and suffering.
To benefit from this valuable protection, you must have it as part of your auto insurance policy.
Uninsured motorists insurance can be one of the best auto coverages you buy, as it provides a great deal ofprotection and usually at a low cost.
* Underinsured motorists insurance. This protects you in the event a driver injures you and does not have enough insurance to pay for all your injuries and losses. For example, he or she may carry only the minimum amount of insurance required by law, but it may not be enough to cover all your injuries and losses. Your underinsured motorists insurance will protect you so that you will be fully compensated for your injuries and losses (up to the amount of your coverage).
Underinsured motorists insurance also must be part of your own auto insurance policy. It is also usually inexpensive. You should immediately review your auto insurance policies to make sure you have enough uninsured and underinsured motorists insurance. These types of insurance can make the difference between recovering money for all your injuries and losses in the event of a car accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver. If you have any questions about these or other auto coverages, contact your lawyer.
What is the Surrogate Judge’s role in the process?
The Judge will make sure: (i) that the probate petition and related documents are all in order; (ii) that the will was properly executed with at least two disinterested witnesses, (iii) that the decedent was legally competent when he or she signed the will, and (iv) that the decedent was not improperly influenced into signing the will. After all this, the Surrogate Judge will issue “Letters Testamentary” – a certificate that the Executor can use to start marshalling and managing the decedent’s assets. Without this certificate, the Executor is unable to take action.
Probate seems to be a fairly complicated process. Is there any way for a person to take steps prior to death to avoid or minimize the impact of probate?
Probate only applies to assets held in the decedent’s name alone. There are several ways for a person to own assets so that probate can be avoided. 1. Jointly owned assets which are titled in the name of the decedent and another person automatically pass to the joint owner upon the death of the other joint owner. The surviving joint owner only needs to give a death certificate to have the joint asset put in his or her name. With real estate, the property automatically passes to the joint owner even without a new deed. It is important to note that the asset must be titled as “joint tenants with the right of survivorship.” If the asset is titled as “tenants in common” then it will be subject to probate and not pass automatically to the joint owner. 2. Another way to avoid probate is to have a designated beneficiary for the account. For Life Insurance, IRA’s, retirement benefits and annuities, the owner can prepare and submit a beneficiary designation form setting forth who will receive the account after his or her death. Starting several years ago, a person can now name a beneficiary for regular investment and brokerage accounts. This is accomplished by using a “Transfer on Death” (TOD) form. It is important to note that a decedent’s Will does not govern the distribution of jointly owned assets or assets with designated beneficiaries. Thus, it is critical to coordinate beneficiary designations and jointly owned assets with the will provisions. 3. A third way to avoid probate is for the person to set up a revocable trust. We have talked about trusts before, but this one is different. The person who sets up the trust is not only its creator but also the trustee and the beneficiary. By putting assets into the trust prior to death, the trust will control the distribution of the decedent’s assets rather than the will, thereby avoiding probate. Revocable trusts have become quite popular and we will talk more about the pros and cons of a revocable trust next time.