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Most Helpful Articles of 2022 According to Our Members

Check out our first annual article roundup– our top 15 most helpful articles of 2022, according to our members.

Welcome to our first annual roundup of the top 15 articles from the Trust & Will Learn Center! These articles have been chosen based on their popularity and helpfulness among our readers. Whether you're just starting to think about estate planning or you're well on your way to creating a plan that works for you and your loved ones, we hope that you'll find something here that resonates with you. From the basics of creating a Will and Power of Attorney, to more complex topics like Trusts and Medicaid planning, we've got you covered. So, grab a cup of coffee, get comfortable, and read on to discover the top 15 articles that our readers couldn't get enough of this year.

Top 15 Articles of 2022 Included:

  1. How to write a condolence message

  2. How to create a Trust Fund in a few simple steps

  3. Understanding the probate process

  4. How to transfer a property after death when there is no Will

  5. Top ways to spend your lottery winnings

  6. What’s the difference between a Will and a Trust?

  7. Which assets go through probate?

  8. How to find out if someone has died

  9. 5 powerful celebration of life ideas

  10. What is a Trust Fund?

  11. What happens if a deceased person owes taxes?

  12. What is a trustee and what is their role in an estate plan?

  13. What to do when someone dies

  14. Everything you need to know about probate fees 

  15. What happens to your mortgage after you die?

How to write a condolence message

Writing a condolence message or sympathy card after someone's passing can be an emotional experience and one that needs to be addressed with extreme sensitivity. Families will be grieving and overwhelmed by the funeral planning process. Your note should express compassion and avoid saying anything that could possibly offend or agitate the family. To help, below are five expert tips for writing condolence message, followed by examples tailored to specific types of loss:

  • Keep it short: Your sympathy note should be sweet, sincere, and to the point. 

  • Avoid making inappropriate comparisons: It’s impossible to know how someone feels, even if you’ve gone through a similar situation.

  • Make it personal: Speak from the heart– try to recall a nice memory you have of the deceased or offer something specific that you will honestly follow through with. 

  • Don’t rehash the tragedy: There is no need to dwell on the specifics of the deceased’s passing in your condolence message. Leave it at, “I’m sorry [name] passed away.”

  • Respect the person’s religious preferences: If you aren’t sure about the bereaved family’s religious values, stick to simply offering words of condolence and support.

Want to keep reading? Go to the full article.

How to create a Trust Fund in a few simple steps

A trust fund is a legal arrangement in which assets are held by a trustee on behalf of a beneficiary. Trust funds can be set up for a variety of purposes, such as providing a college fund, passing down real estate, or as a tool to pass down other inheritances and assets. Setting up a trust fund for a child can help to potentially reduce estate taxes in the future, potentially reduce gift taxes in the future, keep your estate out of probate, allow you to protect loved ones with special needs, and offer protection from lawsuits or creditors. 

The process of setting up a trust fund for your children can be broken down into the following steps: specifying the purpose of the Trust, clarifying how the Trust will be funded, deciding who will manage the Trust, legally creating the Trust and Trust documents, and transferring assets into the Trust. For a full breakdown of these steps, check out the full article.

Understanding the probate process

Probate is a legal process that takes place after a person has passed away. The court will oversee the distribution of the person's estate to the proper heirs. Probate is easier if a person has a Will and/or Living Trust that clearly defines their wishes, including naming beneficiaries and an executor.

Probate can be avoided through estate planning, including creating a Trust where assets are placed which bypass the probate process. In the absence of a Will or Trust, the court will appoint someone to represent the estate and make decisions for the deceased person. Property and assets such as inheritance, non-titled property, and partner-owned investment property may go through probate. Keep reading here.

How to transfer a property after death when there is no Will

When the owner of a house dies, the property must go through the probate process, which involves paying debts, closing accounts, and distributing assets and belongings of the deceased. Generally, assets such as real estate will either switch ownership to a beneficiary or be sold to pay for any debts. Can a house stay in a deceased person’s name? The answer is no, a house must transfer ownership after the original owner’s death, requiring a new title to be issued. This can be difficult without an estate plan.

If the owner of the house dies with a Will, the house will pass to the beneficiary named in the document. Once Probate court has validated the Will, the executor can assist with transferring the property to the heir. If the owner dies without a Will, all property and assets will be distributed according to the Intestate succession laws of that area.

It is important to note that A house cannot stay in a deceased person’s name, and instead ownership must be transferred according to their Will or the State’s Succession Law. Once the new owner is determined, that person must file for a new deed for the home with the county recorder’s office. To learn more about property transfers after death, click here.

Top ways to spend your lottery winnings

National Lottery Day was July 17, which made it a fun day to buy a ticket in the hopes of an unexpected windfall. Many people wonder what they would do if they won the lottery, such as quitting a job, buying a dream house, or going on a luxury vacation. However, there are smarter ways to stretch the dollars, instead of falling into financial and social pressures. These include waiting to share the good news, taking time to reflect, hiring legal and financial consultants, and paying off debt, as well as other ways to make sure you don't run out of money in the future. 

Is there another lottery coming up, or do you just like to daydream? Be sure to check out our full article.

What’s the difference between a Will and a Trust? (and which option is right for you?)

Wills and trusts are two important legal documents that help to distribute your assets and protect your loved ones when you pass away. They are similar in that both allow you to say who will receive your assets, but they differ in the ways they go about it. 

  • A Will is a simple document that goes into effect after you pass away. It allows you to name guardians for your children and pets, designate where your assets go, and specify final arrangements. However, Wills offer limited control over asset distribution, and they usually have to go through probate, which can be time-consuming and costly. 

  • A Trust, on the other hand, is a more complex document that can provide some great benefits. Trusts offer greater control over when and how your assets are distributed,can be used to minimize or avoid probate entirely, and can come in many different forms. It's important to note that trusts need to be funded by transferring assets to it and making the trust the owner, this is what makes the trusts a little more complex to set up.

Continue reading to learn which is right for you!

Which assets go through probate?

Estate planning is the process of preparing for the distribution of assets after death, and it's important to prioritize it early on to mitigate the stress on your loved ones and avoid an extensive probate process. Here are some of the key points highlighted in the article:

  • One way to ensure that your assets are distributed how you wish is to create a Will or Living Trust, where you name beneficiaries for specific assets.

  • Estate does not need to be worth a lot in order to go through probate. For example, in California, estates under $150,000 will not be subject to probate.

  • Probate assets are assets that are titled in the decedent's sole name, not jointly owned, not payable-on-death, don’t have any beneficiary designations, or are left out of a Living Trust

Assets that go through probate:

  • Bank or investment accounts, stocks and bonds, vehicles, business interests, real estate and other personal property or household items.

  • Tenants-in-common assets (this is when two or more individuals own a designated portion of a single asset).

  • Household items do have to go through the probate process, but they can be enumerated in the Living Trust to avoid probate.

Go to the full article!

How to find out if someone has died

There are several ways to find out if someone has passed, including searching online, using social media, and checking government records. Here are some specific options to consider:

  • Start an online search: Collect any identifying information about the person you believe has passed and type it into a search engine along with the word "death" or "obituary." You can also try searching for obituaries on online obituary finders or genealogy websites, or searching for gravesite records on sites like FindAGrave.com or FamilySearch.com.

  • Check Social Media: Many people use social media to announce a death in the family or post memorials about their loved ones, so scrolling through the profiles of a deceased person's family members and closest friends can be a good way to confirm whether or not someone has passed.

  • Word of Mouth: Ask family and friends if they know if the person passed away or if they have any information regarding their passing

  • The Newspaper or Local News: Check the local news papers and online news platforms to see if they've reported on the passing.

  • Archive Facilities: Look through historical records from local archives or historical societies

  • Government Records: Use government records such as death certificates, wills, and probate records to confirm passing.

Keep in mind that it may take more than one method of searching to find detailed information about a deceased person. Click here to learn more.

5 powerful celebration of life ideas

A celebration of life service is a planned event that allows friends and family to say goodbye to a loved one. It's a tradition that many find cathartic as it offers closure and healing for those who have lost a loved one. A celebration of life is different from a traditional memorial service in that it focuses on the joy a loved one brought to others, rather than a formal and religious tone. 

The service is often tailored to the deceased's personality and can be as grand or private as desired. People opt for a celebration of life because it allows for a unique and joyful way to honor their loved one, rather than a somber traditional funeral. Planning a celebration of life includes remembering the person's life, creating a meaningful speech, music, and other details that can be discussed with the funeral home. To learn more celebration of life ideas, check out the full article.

What is a Trust Fund?

(Spoiler alert: they aren’t just for the ultra wealthy)

A Trust Fund is a legal entity that contains assets or property on behalf of a person or organization. Trust Funds are managed by a Trustee, who is named when the Trust is created. Trust Funds can contain money, bank accounts, property, stocks, businesses, heirlooms, and any other investment types. These assets remain in the Trust until certain circumstances are met, at which point they will be distributed to the beneficiaries.

The creator of a Trust, who is referred to as the Grantor, will determine how and when assets will be distributed. Trust Funds can guarantee that assets are properly taken care of until beneficiaries come of age, while also allowing them to avoid probate. Trust Funds can also be used to designate funds for certain purposes, such as healthcare or educational costs. However, working with an experienced Estate Planning attorney to create a Trust Fund can be costly and can lead to awkward or difficult family conversations. There are different types of trust funds, like Blind Trust Fund, Unit Trust Fund and Common Trust Fund which work differently and have different benefits.

Learn more about trust funds and how they work.

What happens if a deceased person owes taxes?

If a deceased person owes taxes, the estate can be pursued by the IRS until the outstanding amounts are paid. The Collection Statute Expiration Date (CSED) for tax collection is roughly 10 years. The Administrator of the estate, or another representative of the deceased, will need to report all income made during the year prior to their death and file the necessary deceased tax return. The Administrator will be responsible for gathering all of the deceased person’s financial details, though they can request previous tax transcripts from the IRS. 

The person responsible for paying taxes on behalf of a deceased person will typically be named within the Estate Plan. Beneficiaries are not responsible for debts left by the deceased and by law creditors cannot treat them as such. It is important to prepare an estate for taxes and death with good planning and discuss with a lawyer. Keep reading to learn more.

What is a trustee and what is their role in an estate plan?

A Trustee is a person appointed to manage and administer the assets of a Trust. They are responsible for following the instructions given by the person who created the Trust, known as the Grantor. This can include managing finances, distributing funds to beneficiaries, filing taxes, and recording expenses and income. The Trustee must act in the best interest of the Trust, putting personal goals aside and following the instructions as outlined in the Trust. Choosing the right Trustee is an important decision and can include options such as friends or family, a lawyer or attorney, or a Trust company. Check out the full article here.

What to do when someone dies

Losing a loved one is never easy, and the days and weeks that follow can be overwhelming. To help navigate the difficult time, Trust & Will has created a step-by-step guide to assist with what to do when someone dies. The checklist includes: obtaining legal documentation of death, notifying necessary parties, making arrangements for the body, making arrangements for children and pets, securing assets, carrying out the decedent’s wishes, making funeral plans, and settling the estate. 

Each step is important in order to properly handle the deceased person's affairs. For example, obtaining legal documentation of death is necessary for accessing bank and other financial accounts, starting the probate process, filing a claim on life insurance, and other personal affairs. Notifying necessary parties is also important, starting with close family and friends, and then moving on to formal notifications such as the social security office, banks/mortgage companies, and financial advisors/brokers. In case of needing extra help, there are services like Lantern that provide in-depth guides, checklists, and resources to help with this difficult process. Click here to read more.

Everything you need to know about probate fees 

Probate is a legal process of settling an estate after an owner passes away, where the estate will first need to pay any debts and taxes, and then distributions can be made according to the instructions you leave about beneficiaries and inheritances. 

When it comes to probate fees, the exact fees will vary depending on state laws and the size and complexity of the estate, and the cost of probate may take a significant portion of the estate thus reducing the amount that beneficiaries will receive. Here are some of the common probate fees that might be incurred during the process:

  • Cost of a Probate Attorney and Accounting Fees

  • Court Fees

  • Filing Fee

  • Certificate Fee

  • Notifications

  • Executor and Bond Fees

  • Appraisal and Inventory Fees

  • Auditor Fees (If required)

  • Publication Fees (If required)

  • Legal Notice Fees (If required)

  • Transfer Taxes (if applicable)

  • Miscellaneous Fees

Whew! We know– that’s a lot. Check out the article for a full breakdown.

What happens to your mortgage after you die?

When a borrower dies, the process of assumption of mortgage after death is slightly different than other types of debt. Unless there is a co-borrower or co-signer on the mortgage loan, there is no legal requirement for any of the borrower's heirs to take on the responsibility of paying off the mortgage. In the traditional scenario, outstanding debt would be paid off out of the estate after passing away. If the home is left to someone and they wish to keep it, they would need to take over the mortgage. State laws and the borrower's estate plan determine how mortgage debt is handled after death. If there is a co-borrower or co-signer on the mortgage, they would be responsible for repaying the debt. If a designated beneficiary is in the borrower's will, the inheritor is only entitled to the title of the home, not the mortgage. If there is no designated beneficiary or provision made, the lender will sell the home to recoup their loan. Check out the rest of the article.

We hope you've enjoyed this look back at the top 15 articles from our learn center over the last year! Our team here at Trust & Will is dedicated to providing you with the latest and most useful information on estate planning and we're always here to help you with any questions you may have.

Whether you're just starting to think about your estate plan, or you're ready to take the next step, we're here to support you every step of the way. Remember that estate planning is not a one-time task but it's an ongoing process that should be reviewed and updated as your life changes. So make sure to revisit your estate plan regularly and make any necessary updates. Thanks for reading, and we look forward to connecting with you again soon on the Trust & Will blog!

Is there a question here we didn’t answer? Browse more topics in our learn center or chat with a live member support representative!

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