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Settling an estate - in the name of love

True Wealth: Judith McGee


February means Valentine’s Day — a day when thoughtful gifts are given to express our affection. Flowers, chocolates, pretty cards — it’s a charming tradition for couples, fun for the kiddies, and a gesture of love for friends and family.

But I believe there is another, more significant act of love we can offer our families any time of the year. While this might not sound at all romantic, it is of vital importance. I refer to this gift as “leaving our affairs in dying order.”

I knew a man whose wife had all their possessions organized and labeled. She said, “I never know when someone will come in and go through my things after I’m gone, so I make sure my home is always in dying order.” This was her gift of love.

We all should understand how to settle an estate after a family member dies. But many of us still procrastinate and never put our own affairs in order. If you fail to leave any legal documents or personal instructions, the survivors are left with confusion, as well as grief.

Here are some things to remember:

* All personal property must be accounted for within 60 days of the death. After which the estates can be reviewed and assets tallied to determine what is liquid, what should be sold, and what is tax deferred. Personal property must first be defined and valued before it can be determined how things are to be distributed.

* It’s important to understand that many kinds of assets aren’t passed by will, such as:

* Life insurance proceeds, real estate, bank accounts, and other assets held in joint tenancy, tenancy by the entirety, or community property with right of survivorship.

* Property held in a living trust.

* Funds in an IRA, 401(k), or retirement plan for which a beneficiary was named.

* Funds in a payable-on-death (POD) bank account.

* Stocks or other securities held in a transfer-on-death (TOD) account.

(These assets are distributed in accordance with the documents that legally designate beneficiary and/or co-ownership.)

Intestate succession laws

If no will or trust has been established, the estate is settled under intestate succession laws, which means the survivors could lose control.

* Intestate succession laws refer to groups of people such as “children” and “issue.”

* Don’t assume to know what the term “children” means until you check your state’s laws. In Oregon, if there were children of a prior marriage and the person remarried, both the children and the widow/widower will share 50/50 of the assets not otherwise distributed by beneficiary or joint tenancy title.

Distribution of assets

There are many other complex topics that must be understood including:

* How one qualifies as the surviving spouse.

* Legal separation or pending divorce.

* Common-law marriages.

* Same-sex marriage.

* Adopted children.

* Stepchildren.

* Foster children.

Keep in mind there is much more here to consider than just complicated legalize; it’s also important to take the emotional loss into account.

Love letters

Often the grieving of adult children survivors goes unrecognized. Leaving a personal “valentine” for each one can be a most meaningful gift regardless of what month it is; a “love letter” might recall some of the fun you shared, or memories of an event that gave you both pleasure.

Your love letter to your spouse may include your personal feelings about possessions or investments: how you would want these items handled, or the name of the advisors on whom your spouse can count when help is needed.

Professional guidance

Obviously, we can’t cover the details of all these important issues in the space of this article. This is why we always recommend consulting with a wealth manager or an attorney and estate lawyer to offer you the necessary professional guidance.

Judith A. McGee is chairwoman and chief executive officer of McGee Wealth Management Inc., an independent registered investment advisor. She is a co-branch manager of, and offers securities through, Raymond James Financial Services Inc. (Member FINRA/SIPC) in Portland. Contact her at 503-597-2222 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The information has been obtained from source considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing materials is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of Judith A. McGee and not necessarily those of Raymond James.

Please note: Changes in laws may occur at any time and could have a substantial impact upon each person’s situation. While we are familiar with the provisions of the issues presented herein, as Financial Advisors of RJFS, we are not qualified to rend advice on tax or legal matters.