Q: My uncle recently died. I received a notice from his family attorney stating I am a beneficiary in my uncle’s estate. Am I also an heir? What exactly do these terms mean?
A: Under Kansas law, a beneficiary is a person or organization that receives money or property because someone specifically named them in their Will or Trust. In your case, because you’ve been notified that you are a beneficiary, your uncle mentioned you in his Will by name to receive something from his estate. The item(s) being given could be things like money, property, or personal items like jewelry or a family heirloom. Beneficiaries can include a person, charity, or organization.
An heir is a relative who would inherit under the laws after the death of someone. If the deceased person (also known as the decedent) did not have an estate plan in which he or she named beneficiaries then the heirs would inherit the property. What property an heir is entitled to after the death of a decedent is determined according to the laws of the State that the decedent was a resident of when he or she died. In Kansas, an heir could be a spouse, child, parent, sibling, niece or nephew. For instance, if an unmarried individual dies in Kansas and does not have children, Kansas law states that their property is to be distributed equally to their parents. One common misconception is that if a person in Kansas dies and they are married with minor children, all of their property will be distributed to their spouse. This is not true. Instead, half of the property will be distributed to their spouse and half to their minor children. Oftentimes, people want their property to go to individuals other than their heirs. This is one of the reasons why it is a good idea to have an estate plan in place and to know who your heirs are if you don’t.
An important thing to note is that a person can be both a beneficiary and an heir. In fact, most Wills and Trusts are set up by individuals leaving property to their heirs who they are naming as beneficiaries in their estate planning documents. For example, a child named in a Will set up by their parent is a beneficiary of the Will and an heir of their parent.
For more information on beneficiaries and heirs, contact Davis & McCann, P. A., Dodge City, KS. We are members of Wealth Counsel, a national consortium of Estate Planning Attorneys and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). We focus our practice on providing clients with the best legal advice on Estate Planning, Medicaid and Long-term Care Planning, Family Business/Small Business Succession Planning, Probate, Trust Administration, Real Estate Transactions, and related matters.
Aunt Ethel died a few weeks ago. Her remaining assets are fairly modest. Their value doesn’t justify going through the expense of a full probate. What’s the family to do if the beneficiaries still want those remaining assets? How can the assets be transferred to the beneficiaries without costing an arm and a leg?
Enter the Small Estate Affidavit.
In Kansas, if there is no real estate involved (including minerals) and the personal property of a decedent (a/k/a deceased person) is valued under $40,000, a Small Estate Affidavit can be used to transfer the estate assets to the beneficiaries. Small Estate Affidavits are forms used to grant authority to a person (usually an executor or beneficiary named under a Will or an heir of the decedent) to transfer and take responsibility for a deceased person’s personal property assets. However, if the value of the personal property exceeds $40,000, or if real estate is owned in the estate, a different probate proceeding will be required to transfer the estate assets.
If the probate process confuses you, you’re in good company. Here are some common misconceptions surrounding probate:
1. If you have a Will, your family will not have to go through a probate. Not true! In fact, if you do Will-based planning, you are planning for a probate. This means your estate will go through a court process, open to public examination, before your beneficiaries will receive their inheritance. According to a 2018 EstateExec survey, on average it takes almost 16 months to settle a U. S. estate. That’s a significant wait time for beneficiaries to receive the assets you intended them to have.
2. Probate is a simple and speedy process. While this sometimes can be true with uncomplicated estates or low value
Q: If I add my child’s name to the title of my house, wouldn’t that be the easiest way to keep my house out of probate and transfer it quickly to my child after my death?
A: The answer to your question is a solid “maybe”. Your personal circumstances will dictate whether this estate planning strategy is the best move for you.
Adding your child’s name to your deed could speed the transfer of that asset to your beneficiaries, and keep it out of probate. But, before you run off and put your child’s name on the title of your house you should consider the risks.
1. By adding your child to the title of your home, you have made a gift that is subject to gift taxes. The gift is likely far below the current federal gift tax exclusion amount, so you shouldn’t have to pay gift taxes. However, you may need to file a gift tax return if the gift is over the annual exclusion amount.
2. If you need KanCare (Medicaid) assistance to pay for nursing home care within 5 years of adding your child’s name to the deed, you could be penalized when requesting benefits.
3. If your child dies before you, his/her interest in your home becomes part of his/her estate. This interest in your home will be subject to his/her liabilities and would pass to his/her beneficiaries as named in your child’s own estate plan. Someone you don’t trust could become the new co-owner of your home.
4. If you decide to sell the house and move, your child could legally refuse to transfer ownership back to
You’ve been named in a Last Will and Testament as an Executor of a Kansas Estate, so now what do you do? Before you begin your role as Executor, here are a few things you might want to know.
As Executor, you have the responsibility of distributing the assets of the Estate to the intended beneficiaries, pursuant to the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. You must understand complex legal and/or financial concepts during the course of your job. As a result, Executors should hire an experienced probate attorney to assist them with the probate process and help them avoid costly mistakes. Here is a basic summary of what you can expect the probate process to include:
Probate is a judicial process whereby the decedent’s assets are transferred to his or her heirs or other beneficiaries. Probate also can be referred to as an estate administration. In Kansas, your estate will fall under one of two categories: testate or intestate. If the decedent had a Last Will and Testament, he or she would have a testate estate. An intestate estate occurs when the decedent died leaving no Last Will and Testament and the state laws of intestacy determine who is entitled to the decedent’s assets.
Typically, the surviving family members of the decedent will seek the counsel of an experienced probate attorney to navigate the probate process. The attorney will determine whether the Last Will and Testament is valid, conclude whether a probate is necessary, and will advise the Executor or Estate Administrator in his or her duties.
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