One of the most critical yet often forgotten steps in the estate-planning process is preparing a surviving spouse to take over a family’s financial affairs. Even if you checked off all the boxes on your estate-planning to-do list, creating a will, properly titling accounts, naming beneficiaries and structuring assets for tax efficiency, your plan may fail if your named beneficiaries do not know what they need to do to settle your estate and manage the inheritance you created for them.
The death of a spouse or a parent can be one of the most difficult and overwhelming experiences individuals will go through in their lives. The emotional and mental pain can be debilitating at a time when those you left behind are also tasked with planning a funeral, paying bills and making important decision that will affect their lives for years to come. Even if you were deliberate and shared every detail of your estate plan with your beneficiaries before your passing, the list of things they must do can still become overwhelming.
One of the first calls a widow/widower and/or child of a deceased should make is to contact the decedent’s trusted financial advisors who hopefully have deep experience navigating these matters and the benefit of knowing the details of the decedent’s estate plan and his or her specific wishes. Financial advisors, accountants and lawyers can help surviving family members gather important estate-planning documents, such as wills and trusts, and inventory your intangible assets, including bank and brokerage accounts, retirement savings plans and insurance policies. This step will also help introduce your beneficiaries to the tax rules and financial implications of rolling over inherited retirement accounts, which, depending on the type of account, can include required minimum distributions (RMDs) and forced withdrawals over a 10-year period.
Ensure your beneficiaries have access to funds they will need to pay immediate expenses. They will need to request from the funeral home multiple copies of your death certificate. This document is required to change ownership of accounts, including the name on utility bills, and claiming life insurance proceeds and other benefits to which they are entitled, including Social Security benefits. A surviving spouse will also need to assess Social Security benefits claiming strategies and, in some cases, contact the decedent’s employer to receive unpaid wages and continue health insurance coverage without interruption.
When preparing your beneficiaries to settle your estate, it is equally important that you share with them or a trusted advisor the login information for your digital assets and online accounts, including those on social media platforms. Not only can this help surviving family members continue paying important bills and maintaining their medical, home and automobile insurance coverage, but it is also one of the best things you can do to preserve your online legacy and protect your identity from theft and fraud.
As previously mentioned, the settling of a decedent’s estate comes with a minefield of tax implications that beneficiaries may overlook. For example, there is an individual federal income tax return filing requirement in the year of the decedent’s death. If there is a surviving spouse, he or she may file a joint income tax return in that year. There could also be a federal estate tax filing requirement for the decedent’s estate, which the IRS considers to be a separate taxable entity from the individual decedent. Depending on where a decedent lived and the state where his or her assets are located, there may also be state income tax filings and payment obligations that surviving spouses and other beneficiaries must address.
Finally, it is important for beneficiaries to meet with advisors and understand how their inheritances will affect their individual financial planning, investment profile, estate plans and income tax liabilities in the future. Investments must be attended to and not put on auto pilot or ignored.
You and your surviving spouse should not underestimate the various tax, legal and investment matters that will need to be addressed after death. Advanced planning is one of the best ways you can reduce and even alleviate these burdens on your loved ones.
About the Author: David L. Burg, CFP®, JD, LL.M., MBA, CLU®, ChFC®, RICP®, CRPS®, ADPA®, CASL®, is a is a financial planner with Provenance Wealth Advisors, an Independent Registered Investment Advisor affiliated with Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors + CPAs and a registered representative with Raymond James Financial Services. He can be reached at the Firm’s Miami office at (305) 379-8888 or via email at email@example.com.
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David L. Burg, CFP®, JD, LL.M., MBA, CLU®, ChFC®, RICP®, CRPS®, ADPA®, CASL® is a registered representative of and offers securities through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC.
Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse the opinions or services of Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors + CPAs. PWA is not a registered broker/deal and is independent of Raymond James Financial Services. Investment Advisory Services offered through Raymond James Financial Services Advisors, Inc., and Provenance Wealth Advisors.
This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. Any opinions are those of the advisors of PWA and not necessarily those of Raymond James. While we are familiar with the tax provisions of the issues presented herein, as Financial Advisors of RJFS, we are not qualified to render advice on tax or legal matters. You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional. Prior to making any investment decision, please consult with your financial advisor about your individual situation.
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Posted on February 15, 2022