“I’m so confused!  The woman at the bank said I have to keep this account here.  The guy at the insurance company said I should really do this.  And my friend said she didn’t do any of this.  I don’t know what to do!”

The above is a general excerpt of conversations I have with Executors all the time.  The first few months of handling an estate can be tough.  You have just lost someone close to you and now you need to sort out what they left behind and are dealing with so many people on so many matters.  You will get advice from almost everyone you encounter.  You will hear stories about how the person you are interacting with handled it.  And you will most certainly interact with someone who will adamantly insist they know the law and what they are telling you is the exact opposite of what your attorney told you.  Or at least you think it is the exact opposite.  Come to think of it, now you are not so sure because you have heard so many different things from so many different people. Continue Reading But my Friend Said… What to do When You Get Conflicting Advice

We’ve noticed a pattern recently. It is often that I receive a call from a client or a relative of a client the day someone dies asking what they need to do. A person bereft with emotion, overwhelmed, and sometimes in a state of shock just trying to make sense of everything coming at them at once. My advice is always the same: Take a deep breath and take a moment to grieve. We’ll walk you through what you need to do and when.

My job is to make this process as painless as possible. In a majority of the estates I handle, the person tasked with handling the estate was close to the decedent and impacted by their death. It is completely understandable that this person would be overwhelmed by all of the new information and questions coming at them. Continue Reading When a Loved One Passes

When I started law school it felt like the professors were speaking a different language.  And in a way, they were.  The legal profession uses so many terms that have very particular meanings, that even though lawyers tend to be very well spoken, it can be hard to understand what we are saying. A word can mean so many different things in different contexts.  Take the word harbor for example.  As a noun it is a sheltered area of water that is deep enough to anchor a boat in and as a verb it means to provide shelter.  A person can harbor a criminal on their boat which is docked in the harbor.  Sometimes words that people use regularly have a popular definition and a legal definition.  For example, people often say someone is harassing them when they receive a few unwanted text messages or phone calls.  Sure that can be annoying, but the behavior doesn’t meet the legal definition of harassment, which calls for behavior that goes far beyond the behavior of your average Joe with a texting problem.  So how are you to know what means what?  And how does this relate to National Estate Planning Week?  The estate world is no different than the criminal or civil world.  We have a vernacular all our own.  Below is a quick reference guide for some commonly used terms and a non-legal speak definition; terms you might find in some of my other blog posts. Continue Reading Common Estate Planning and Estate Administration Terms

The 11th National Estate Planning Week is upon us! Instead of focusing solely on estate planning, I’ll be focusing on what happens after the estate planning or the lack thereof, more specifically, the probate process. This is not meant to be a how to on the probate process or a substitute for consulting with a qualified attorney that focuses on estate administration. It is more of a primer or reference guide for those executors or administrators that are overwhelmed and would like guidance or clarification of the basics, or for the person that just wants to know more.

Last year, I touched briefly on what is probate. This year, I’ll go more in depth. Check in each day this week for a new article focusing on: what happens right after a loved one dies, an explanation of basic terms used during the probate process, what to do when you get conflicting advice, and the pitfalls of celebrity estates. If you are just too hyped over another National Estate Planning Week to wait for tomorrow’s blog article, you can look back over last year’s National Estate Planning Week articles here.

Lindsay Schoeneberger is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University School of Law and practices in a variety of areas, including Estate Planning and Estate Administration.

This post is part of our ongoing series exploring the impact of technology on legal issues.  For an introduction to the series and a collection of the posts in the series, check out this post.

“Thank you.  We have received your automatic payment.”  “Sign up for automatic bill pay to reduce your student loan interest rate.”  “Ensure your payments are never late!  Sign up to automatically pay your bill.”  “Reminder, monthly payment scheduled.”

Those email subject lines are taken directly from my personal email account.  I receive regular inquiries trying to persuade me to switch to automatic payments for all of my monthly bills.  Clearly from some of the subject lines you can see that I do have some bills (the small ones) set for automatic bill pay and flatly refuse to set up others.  Why?  Well in my law school days it was more to prevent an inadvertent overdraft than anything else.  However, now, it is more to prevent a mess in the event of my death.  Horribly morbid.  I know.  But I have a very good reason. Continue Reading Automatic Bill Pay: Blessing or Curse?

This post is part of our ongoing series exploring the impact of technology on legal issues.  For an introduction to the series and a collection of the posts in the series, check out this post.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog article about Facebook’s New Legacy Contact, wherein you can appoint someone to manage your account posthumously. When you fail to appoint someone, Facebook’s current policy allows your next of kin to only have partial access to the account in order to either turn it into an online memorial page or to delete it entirely.

It seems that the highest court in Germany has taken issue with this limited access for a legacy contact, having recently determined that a minor’s parents have the right to inherit their daughter’s Facebook account.  The parents of a 15 year old girl who passed away in 2012 sought access to her Facebook account in order to determine if her death was suicide.  Facebook refused, citing their Legacy Contact policy and concern for the privacy of the girl’s other contacts.  The Federal Court of Justice in Germany held that the account was similar to a person’s letters or private diary, both of which would pass on to a person’s heirs under German law. Continue Reading Germany Cracks Down on Facebook

If you come to see me asking for just a Will, I will ALWAYS discuss with you whether you need a Financial Power of Attorney and a Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will.  It is not because I am trying to upsell my services or print more paper and kill trees.  No, it is because I want to make sure you have the documents you need to protect yourself and to simplify things for your loved ones.

A proper estate plan deals with the here and now, the near future, and the distant future.  A proper estate plan is not just what happens when you die.  It has provisions for when your health declines and you can no longer act on your own behalf.  Most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the possibility of future illness, incapacitation or death, nor do you want to.  Leave that to me to guide you through the process of determining what you need.

The key to recognizing which documents are necessary is to understand each document and when it becomes active.  Most people know that a Will becomes active on death and deals with the distribution of your assets.  It can also name a guardian for your minor children, and set up trusts to protect those assets.  Continue Reading Myth #8- I only need a Will.

Last week, I covered the myth that you need to avoid probate.  One common reason people want to avoid probate is because they believe it is one way to avoid inheritance tax.  Not so fast.  Whether or not an asset is a probate asset has no bearing on whether or not it is subject to inheritance tax. Both probate and non-probate assets are subject to Pennsylvania inheritance tax. So while there are reasons to ensure your beneficiary designations are current to keep the assets out of probate, avoiding inheritance tax is not one.  Your IRA or 401(k) will still be subject to inheritance tax.

Are there ways to transfer wealth free of inheritance tax?  Sure.  Life insurance is a great way to do so.  But not everyone can afford or qualify for life insurance.  You can also gift during your life time.  However, this can create other tax concerns.  Under certain circumstances, trust assets may not be subject to inheritance tax, but you might spend more money putting those assets in trust than what you would ultimately be saving.  So what does all of this mean for you?  Finding ways to reduce inheritance tax is important and I always work with my clients to do so.  However, I am mindful of the fact that in some cases, paying inheritance tax is actually the lesser of two evils.  Don’t avoid inheritance tax when it ultimately can cost you or your beneficiary more money elsewhere. Work with a qualified attorney to discuss your goals, but keep an open mind.  A thoughtful estate planning attorney will take the time to understand your unique circumstances so that they are able to consider all options and recommend the best plan for you.

Lindsay Schoeneberger is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University School of Law and practices in a variety of areas, including Estate Planning.

“I need to avoid probate!”  I can’t tell you how many new estate planning consultations begin with questions relating to the belief that it is important to avoid the probate process.  Clients desiring to avoid probate often ask for a complex and costly estate plan.  When I first started practicing, I couldn’t figure out where this fear came from.  But a quick search of the internet provides some insight.  Countless articles, books, and lectures tout the importance of avoiding probate like it is some poison laced process that only the strong survive. Continue Reading Myth #5- I need to avoid probate!