When Someone Dies

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Chapter 1: As Death Approaches
Checklist:
• Who's in charge before the death?
• Does the person have an advance medical directive, also called a durable power of attorney for health care?
• If the person prepared an advance directive/durable power of attorney for health care...
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Who gets to keep Mom’s jewelry?
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Chapter: The Days and Weeks after the Death: Financial Issues

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A
The simple answer is ‘no,’ and do not let credit card companies try to convince you otherwise. The only person responsible for your sister’s debts is your sister ( or potentially her husband if they comingled assets or lived in a state that recognizes community property).  Credit card companies only care about liquid assets. They rarely go after furniture and clothes because it’s just not worth the hassle. So, in this case, technically, the $700 should be given to the credit card company. But that’s all because no one is responsible for the rest of her bills.  If a person dies and has liquid assets—cash, stocks, a 401(k)—sufficient to cover her debts AND you receive that money, then you are legally obligated to pay the debts of the person up to the amount of the cash value of the liquid assets you received. However, if the estate is small enough so that a probate proceeding is not required, even then credit card companies rarely pursue heirs. The smart thing to do is to send back a recent credit card bill with a photocopy of your sister’s death certificate. Normally, the credit card company will go away. If they continue to pursue you, AND you have some money from your sister, you should pay but only up to the $700.
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Legally, your mother died ‘intestate,’ meaning she died without a valid will. In that case, state law dictates who inherits her property. In Ohio, the law says that each of you and your brother inherit everything equally. So, that means your brother and you each owns half the house. You can take her death certificate to the county and have them record your ownership. You and your brother are called ‘tenants-in-common’ and both your names go on the deed to the house. Given that you both own the house, each of you is allowed to live there, rent it out, and each of you is responsible for the taxes, insurance and upkeep. Given that you are living there, you owe your brother some rent. If he agrees, you can pay all the costs of maintaining the property, and perhaps a little money to your brother, and continue to live there. However, if your brother wants the money for the house, you have two choices. You can have it appraised and then pay him his half. In effect, you are buying him out and you can record a new deed showing you are the sole owner. Most banks will loan you the money to buy him out. If you cannot do this, and your brother gets ‘nasty,’ he can sue for partition. In other words, he can get a court order forcing you to sell the house and give him half the proceeds. Try to work this out with your brother. He has every right to compel a complete sale of the house if you do not come to a better agreement.
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When three people inherit an estate in equal thirds, each person owns an equal third of every asset in the estate. Obviously, cash is easy to divide. But jewelry, the silver set, a painting, are often hard, if not impossible, to divide equally. There are two solutions. The most common solution is for you three to sell everything and split the cash. However, many people agree to divide things other ways. For example, you might keep the jewelry, your sister takes the silver service and your brother takes the painting. If you three agree to that division, it’s perfectly legal. Try to negotiate with your siblings and find a fair way to divide things up.
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The answer is ‘no.’ Since your children did not receive any money from their father’s estate, they have no duty to pay off his loans, including student loans. Had they received significant money from the estate, then they would be liable for their father’s debts up to the amount distributed to them. You should send a death certificate to the loan processing division along with a note indicating that he died with no assets and that the estate is not going in to probate as a result. That should be the end of it.
A
Technically, the answer is ‘yes.’ Under most state laws, as a named beneficiary, especially once your rights become irrevocable, which is the case upon the death of the grantor, you are required to receive notice of your status and notice that you have a right to review copy of the trust. But it is often the case that people do not know the law on this issue and it can get ugly. You may need to hire a lawyer to compel production of the document. Try being nice, and then reconsider. Note that your rights may still be ‘revocable’ as to your mother’s half of the trust, but your father’s half became fixed as to both income and principal beneficiaries upon his death.
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I do not know the answer to this question, and it requires a Florida lawyer to answer it. Many states recognize what is called a ‘transfer on death’ deed. Some states allow a TAD transfer to occur outside of probate. I suspect this is permitted in Florida, especially if the financial institution is willing to acknowledge the transfer. However, you need to check with a Florida lawyer. I was also not aware that TAD deeds could be used for anything other than real estate. So your questions to the lawyer are: does Florida recognize ‘transfer on death’ transfers of personal property (i.e. the money) and does the transfer occur outside of probate? Good luck, and let me know what you learn!
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You need to go to the Illinois DMV with her car registration and a death certificate and some evidence that you are her heir or executor and entitled to change registration. The last document can be satisfied with a simple affidavit in most states. Good luck.
Q
There seems to be one major aspect missing to your book. I read the entire book and have done my best to do everything right. My mom passed away 3 months ago with approximately $3K in the bank, overdue bills, and a house worth between $40K and $50K full of junk from yard sales and in major disrepair. Nothing in the house was of real value. And she had no insurance policies. I needed to use personal funds to pay for the funeral and the expenses of getting the house to a barely livable level so that I could take a leave of absence from work to clean out a house filled with items that were either destroyed by mice or worth less than a dollar each at a yard sale (which is how she got the junk). All of which was fine because we'd sell the house and I'd get repaid. As I found a buyer, MassHealth comes along and makes a claim against the estate for $453,653.16. Your book left me totally unprepared for such a thing. My mom died less than a month after her 72nd birthday and lived at home. She was in and out of the hospital at the end and had a stay in rehab. Then she was in a facility for the last 10 days of her life. I knew the estate could be charged for the 10 days of long term care. But that is not what they are asking for repayment of. They are asking for 100% repayment of all medical bills they have ever paid. This is more than a person with poor insurance ends up paying for medical expenses. Everything that was done, was a waste of time and money. Paying to get a will was a waste of time and money. You might have mentioned this up front in your book. The fact that MassHealth (medicaide) can make a claim on the estate for more than 10 times the value of the state is a bit outrageous and worth prominent note in a book like this.
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Doreen, Thank you for the note. What a horrible experience. You should consult with an attorney. It appears that they may be charging you for stuff that is covered by Medicare or Medicaid.  Good luck.
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Generally the answer is ‘no.’ The will is filed as part of probate and if there is no probate you need not file. But there may be local rules that differ. You will need to change title on the house that may require filing of the will with the death certificate with the county when you file to change title, which you should do now.
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Dan, I am sorry but your email is too confusing. It is not clear whether Dad signed a codicil or not, and if he did whether you want to challenge his mental state. You need to hire a lawyer IMMEDIATELY. If your new step mother is petitioning the court, you simply MUST respond with full force because if she gets access to the money and property she will dissipate it, and, even if you win a law suit later, you will never find the money. So, I’m sorry but hire a lawyer NOW!
A
Hi. This is a complicated problem and you need a lawyer. Basically, in many states, irrespective of the will, a person’s spouse is entitled to certain things, including the residence. But you need counsel to make sure that any interest she has is clearly delimited and that ultimately his will prevails. Good luck.
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Generally, without a will, the two brothers inherit equally. The fact that one brother ‘renounced’ the relationship does not mean anything, although if he clearly has no interest then he can refuse the inheritance. The person in charge of the estate usually is required to notify all heirs. If you intend to avoid paying, you should consult a lawyer. There may be ways to accomplish your goals.