You know the old saying, “You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Unfortunately, this adage rings true for many surviving spouses, who are simply not up for the stress of administering an estate or trust after their spouse dies. Unfortunately, failing to begin or complete administration can cause even greater headaches for later beneficiaries, especially as more time goes by. If you find yourself in the position with a stubborn surviving parent, finding a way to ensure that the administration is handled will save everyone a lot of grief in the future.
Have a conversation
Speaking to a parent shortly after the death of their spouse about estate administration can be very awkward. Sometimes it seems easier to simply let the parent complete or not complete this necessary task on their own time. However, if too much time passes before you get involved, serious problems may develop, particularly in second marriages. For example, many trusts are created as “A-B Trusts” for a variety of reasons; in these trusts, assets must be divided into the “A” pot and the “B” pot and administered separately. If creation of both trusts was mandatory in the trust, then attempting to fund the “stale” trust years later or after the second spouse’s death could create unsavory tax consequences and inequitable property divisions. Disclaimers (i.e. renouncing the inheritance), often done for tax planning purposes, must also be completed relatively shortly after death and preserving the option of “portability” for estate tax purposes requires the filing of a timely estate tax return. If your parent has not completed any tasks in furtherance of estate administration within the first few months, it is important to find out why.
Determine the Reason for Avoidance
Oftentimes people do not know where to start or believe that the process will be too complicated. The assistance of an experienced attorney can ease these concerns and make the process more manageable. Sometimes, people are worried that it will be too expensive to take care of everything. However, the longer one waits to complete probate or trust administration, the more time consuming and expensive the process becomes. Still other times, the death of a spouse can seem overwhelming and individuals would rather not deal with it. No matter the initial reason, at some point it will be impossible to avoid dealing with the assets such as when a home needs to be refinanced or access to a bank account becomes necessary.
Offer to Do It Yourself
No one ever said the surviving spouse must always close the deceased spouse’s affairs. If you are concerned that life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and other assets will not be transferred appropriately, it may be possible to gain the authority to do so yourself. By doing so, you can ensure that everything is transferred to the surviving spouse or children as appropriate. If the surviving spouse really does not want to handle the estate, then perhaps the best thing is to let them avoid it. In this very difficult situation, you do not have to let the surviving spouse tie your hands as you helplessly await the emergency that will require proper asset administration. Dealing with this delicate situation early may help you avoid unnecessary time and expense down the road!
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