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Some Thoughts on Settling an Estate or Trust - By John R. Bullis

Updated: May 10, 2023

The chances are pretty good we will all die sometime. When your relative or friend dies and names you as the person to settle everything, plan on doing a difficult job. You will probably need help from a CPA and an attorney, but you will get to do most of the work. First, start a diary or record of who you talked with, decisions made, questions to be answered, etc. That will save you a lot of time in the future. It is good to also record any expenses you paid for future reimbursement. Also, why not make notes of the driving you do and get reimbursed at 53.5 cents per mile in 2017. Reimbursements are not income to you but they are expenses the estate or trust can claim. Get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) as soon as you can. The bank will want that to allow you to open a new bank account for the estate or trust. Form SS-4 is fairly easy to fill out and you can apply for an EIN online. A new bank account is to receive all deposits and do all payments. That will help with the tax information and explaining what came in and where it went. Start a list of all assets with whatever title documents and information on each asset you can find. This is important since some items will not be included in the estate or trust. If the item is titled as JTWROS (Joint Tenants With Right of Survivorship) or POD (Pay on Death) or TOD (Transfer on Death) or other form of joint ownership, it goes to the survivor. The Will or Trust has no power over jointly held property. Also, an item with a beneficiary designation is not subject to the Will or Trust. That item just goes to the named beneficiaries. Examples of this are IRA accounts, Annuities and Life Insurance policies. Protect the assets by being sure insurance policies are continued and by doing whatever else you can to avoid losses while you are in charge of the estate or trust. Schedule qualified appraisers to value the assets as of date of death. Any collections worth more than $3,000 should be appraised (and insured). All real estate should be appraised. If the vehicle is old maybe the “blue book” will be good enough, but a dealer can help determine the value also. It is OK to take photographs or even a video. If some items are to be given to charities, do the list of the items before you take them to the charity, and a photo can help document the tax deduction. You will need each of the beneficiaries to give you their full name, social security number and mailing address. That is part of the information that is needed for the income tax return of the estate or trust. Did you hear “There’s never time to do it right, but always time to do it over.” John Meskimen

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