What to do with inheritance

jockewingAugust 5, 2008

My grandmother is very close to dying. She has told me she is leaving me 2/3 of her investments, which is about $300,000.00, plus sole ownership of her home, which is worth about $160-$175K.

I have a home with a remaining mortgage of $75K. I currently pay $700 a month on 6.1% (7 years into a 30). I have no other debts, although I have virtually nothing in savings. I am 32, with a 45K a year job. It is pretty solid, I guess, but who knows these days. No wife, no kids, don't plan on having any kids.

What should I do? Her home is nicer than mine, but I don't like it much more than my current one. Should I sell it or move into it? What to do with the money? Should I stay in my house and pay off the mortgage? Thank god for grandma, of course I love her very much, but it is nice to know I'm being taken care of by her. Without her, it looked like a bleak future.

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Just wanted to add:

Basically, I am interested in securing my future as much as possible. I might splurge on a decent used car $15K, and maybe $5k in new furniture, TV, stereo, decorating, etc.

The rest I want to save. I want safe investments for most of it, and I want to be able to have access to at least 75K at all times if needed (for a sense of security). I might buy a luxury item from time to time, but beyond that 5K, if even that, there will NOT be a huge standard of living increase for me. I want to get some stuff fixed up at my house and make it look nice, but I don't need granite countertops and marble tubs.

I get very nervous about the future and who knows about job security in this economy. I have had minor medical issues in the past that prevented me from working for nearly a year. I want to know I have a roof over my head and a little cash no matter what might happen.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2008 at 10:26PM
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You are a very fortunate young man to have such a generous grandmother, who has faced her future and decided to give you such a tremendous gift.

Some suggestions, from someone who is closer to your grandmother's age than to yours:

Love your grandmother, do nice things for her, and make her time left on earth happy. It will be some years before you understand the magnitude of her gift. That's not a remark against you, it's just the way of the world.

Continue to live modestly. Our deepest happiness comes not from "stuff", but from our interior lives, the development of our minds, and from our relationships to others. I'm impressed by the simplicity of the things you mentioned spending money on.

Do not sell your house. Just work on that 30-year mortgage year by year. Any money you put into paying the mortgage off earlier just gives you dead equity, in other words, money that you can't access unless you sell the house, other than through loans. You are at a prime age, not for having a paid-off mortgage, but for investing for the future!

If you're not educated in investing, then begin educating yourself. Take a class in money management or read some books - there are so many now - and listen to Bob Brinker, a money guru who is on the side of people like you and me. In our radio market he's on ABC on weekend afternoons. Perhaps subscribe to Money Magazine, but ignore their articles like "The five hottest stocks, mutual funds, etc. to buy now". Use them to get acquainted with the language of money management and the investment world. If you take the time to teach yourself, you will be able to handle this money by yourself, rather than paying a financial advisor whose first interest is himself, rather than you.

Get acquainted with a huge mutual fund brokerage house, such as Fidelity, Vanguard, T.Rowe Price. My favorite is Fidelity, because they have more investment possibilities than anyone else, and there is always someone knowledgable on the phone, 24/7, 365 days a year.

If you happen, sadly, to receive this money soon, before you're confidant about your knowledge of what to do with it, consider putting it into a TAX-FREE money market fund with a brokerage house such as Fidelity. That way, after you've paid any inheritance taxes, your money will be safe and untaxable while you decide what to do with it. True, the interest rate will be low. IMO it's a small price to pay for knowing that the money is safe while you are continuing to learn.

It's really late, and I must go, but I'll try to remember to return here and see what others have to say and maybe add more comments.

One more thing - do not be afraid of what you may be seeing on the news now. You are looking at an investment time-frame of perhaps 40 years.

Do you have a pension plan at work that you're already using? Do you have an IRA or a Roth IRA?

    Bookmark   August 6, 2008 at 4:56AM
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The one thing I wouldn't do now is to sell her house, but wait (could even be years) til the market is much healthier. And do be careful of people (mutual fund advisors) trying to sell you on their schemes - there are many, many out there, many with integrity, but a lot without. Watch out for high fees on retirement plans, and remember again that the market's down (and may go down further), so it might be best to put most of the money into things like high yield bonds with solid, reputable banks for at least a year or two til you've done more research, rather than tying the money up in any one 'basket'. Slow, solid growth is what you're after, the kind that will still be worthwhile in e.g. 40 yrs, regardless of how up or down markets get in the meantime. Lucky you!

    Bookmark   August 6, 2008 at 6:16AM
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Okay, but if I don't sell her house now, what do I do with it in the meantime? I can't keep both my current one and hers at the same time, can I? Should I rent one of them out?

And I try to be with my grandma all the time. I call her at least every other day and go to her house every Saturday and Sunday. We have a very small family. My dad is her only child. After my mom died, he remarried a terrible person and now has virtually nothing to do with us. Too bad for him, as my grandma is leaving him completely out of the will.

I had 2 brothers, last year one died, so I have only one other brother. He has a terrible relationship with grandma, she gave him 39K to help pay down his mortgage, and he wasted all the money and never even apologized to her. He basically stole the money. Completely insane how selfish he is. But basically he is almost out of the will.

So, due to the ugly actions of others, I am almost the sole heir now. My grandma is really the only family member I have left and I will be pretty much alone without her, it is very scary. At least I won't have to worry about money.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2008 at 7:00AM
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First, be aware that unless your grandmother has a clearly stated end-of-life plan for her health care, all that money can go in a hurry with one or two major hospitalizations and expensive post-discharge care. Compeltely separate from the money issue, it is CRITICALLY IMPORTANT that a written document exists which gives you medical power of attorney and clearly expresses her desires vis a vis terminal illness intervention (I'm an MD, I've seen the dark side). The other evil relatives will pop out of the woodwork demanding to keep her alive and your father's relationship technially trumps yours in a court of law without the medical power of attorney. If your grandma sensibly doesn't want any heroics, unless this is in writing the other family can bring all sorts of stupid legal nastiness against you for "letting her die so you can inherit". To my mind this is WAY MORE IMPORTANT than inheritance planning right now.

Assuming this is already handled, I would strongly recommend Eric Tyson's two For Dummies books, Personal Finance and Mutual Funds. How you handle the inheritance will depend a lot on how the funds currently exist. For example, my understanidng is that if you inherit stock shares directly, you will not have to pay any tax on them at all unless you later sell them for more than they were worth when you inherited it. If you inherit flat out cash, that's different. You will surrender the principle in annuities, does your grandma realize that she cannot will to you annuity principle amounts? there is often a death benefit but not close to the principle. Older people tend towards annuities, CD, bonds, and other ultra-stable investments. You can see that this gets complicated. Whatever you do, get yourself a good accountant to handle the inheritance transactions in the most tax-efficient fashion possible. THEN give the fine folks at Vanguard (my preference) or Fidelity a call, tell them you have X lump sum as inheritance and that you want to set up a long-term investment plan. None of these investments will be tax-sheltered (unless you inherit an IRA), this is a very important consideration in developing your portfolio.

As regards the house, what I hear from you is that right now you don't want headaches. So, pick the house you WANT to live in (giving some thought to how you might improve your grandma's house to make it your first choice) and then sell the other house. A vacant house is the second biggest headache there is, renters being the first. It is going to take a long time for the market to significantly improve in most parts of the country. If your grandma's house needs lots of updating, you are better off if you sell it now for what you can get (all profit for you). It is hard to make back your refurbishing money unless it is a simple paint and carpet job - let the new owners do the bathrooms, kitchens, and wall-moving to their taste.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2008 at 9:21AM
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Everything rileysmom said, and more:

Consider that you are 32 and have little savings. Do you have a retirement account, at least? If not, you are way behind where you should be, and losing the advantage of compounding returns on investments with every day that passes by.

I recently read an article by Greg McBride, CFA, on the Bankrate.com website, where he had this example about investment compounding:

"Starting to save for retirement at a younger age introduces the element of compounding. A 25-year old that invests $2,000 each year for 10 years, then stops, ends up with nearly $65,000 more than someone that starts at age 35 and invests $2,000 per year for the next 30 years. Both investors earned an average annual return of 8 percent, but the investor starting at age 25 invested only one-third as much as the investor that started at age 35. "

My suggestions are:
1) Fund a Roth IRA to the max, this year and every year in the future.

2) If your company has a 401k and matches, start a payroll deduction that at least matches the company percentage. Whenever you get a raise, increase your payroll deduction by at least that percentage.

MSN Moneys website has excellent basic articles. To start you off, there is a primer on retirement planning (linked below; the article itself has some good links as well)

Why do you need to start saving? Because Social Security was at best designed to provide 30% of your needed retirement income. With the pressure for reduction in benefits and raising the retirement age, you need a seriously large retirement portfolio to compensate.

Because people now live so long, financial planners recommend a 4% annual draw out of your portfolio. This means $1M gives you $40K annual income  not very much, as you know from your current salary. Imagine being 65 and having medications that are costing you $3K+ a year. ItÂs not an unusual scenario. Want to travel? ItÂs not going to be any cheaper traveling as a senior than as a young adult, unless you still enjoy scrimping. House maintenance or rent still has to be paid, too.

Using a Roth will allow you to shelter some from taxes but the relatively low annual limit makes it difficult to accumulate assets fast enough. IÂd suggest you keep at least 2/3 of your inheritance as an untouchable retirement portfolio.

How big a portfolio will you need to accumulate? Consider that with average returns, your portfolio should double at least every 15-25 years. The more conservative you are, the longer it will take.

When you get your inheritance, do a search on the MSN Money site for Tim MiddletonÂs columns. He did two recent columns on the "Best of" funds from Vanguard and Fidelity that should be read by anyone who is wondering what the difference is between these two giants.

As he points out: "Retirement investors shouldn't avoid risk; they should embrace it. Old age today lasts for decades, not years. The odds are you'll be around for 20 years after you start collecting Social Security. So you're a long-term investor even on your last day at work."

Both Vanguard and Fidelity are low cost, good companies. But they have very different approaches, per Tim Middleton again:

""Fidelity is a place, more than anywhere else, where you buy the manager," warns John Bonnanzio, the group editor of the Fidelity Insight investment letter. "You have to like Harry Lange" to buy Fidelity Magellan (FMAGX) despite that fund's famous name.

Although it's big, Fidelity remains a gunslinger among investment managers. Its corporate culture is as unlike Vanguard, which I wrote about recently in Part 1, as it is possible to be.

Where Vanguard is buttoned down and thrifty, Fidelity is a cowboy who aims to shoot out the lights. And this cowboy demands to be paid a premium for his marksmanship, whether he shoots straight or not. That puts a premium on managers' skills."

3) GET YOUR LEGAL AFFAIRS IN ORDER TOO. Rileysmom is absolutely correct that your grandmotherÂs affairs MUST be in order or there may be heck to pay. She is disinheriting people who have equal or better rights than you do to the money. To the courts, the fact that you are a nicer person doesnÂt count for very much.

But you also have a responsibility to get your affairs in order. The very fact that you donÂt have a spouse means your father is the logical court-appointed guardian of your estate. Do you want him making your medical decisions and financial investments? Does he know what you want or donÂt want? Have you thought about not just the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) but also End of Life scenarios (e.g., making you comfortable as you die or taking every possible step)?

Trusts are vastly oversold, but they do allow an estate to pass to heirs outside the probate courts, sometimes more quickly. Remember that the executor of a will gets paid for their work, but a trustee of a trust does not. Either way, death requires hours of work for any executor or trustee  if you want the trustee (who may or may not be the beneficiary) to be compensated, it must be stated in the actual trust. If you want the beneficiary of a trust to have access to the principal, you must specifically allow this to be done.

Any trust can be amended, or dissolved, by its originator. Any lawyer who draws up a trust, should you decide to have one, should spend time with you discussing the advantages and disadvantages of what you want to do with your assets. The flat fee should include a pourover will, healthcare and financial power of attorney documents. Some will take care of the real estate paperwork for you, putting the house into the trust. Usually changing bank accounts to the name of the trust is your responsibility, not the lawyerÂs.

Good luck to you and your grandmother going forward.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2008 at 3:26PM
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Jockewing - it sounds as though you are a devoted, kind grandson. I'm sorry that your family relationships aren't what they could be. But your grandma has you, and she's letting you know in the most down-to-earth way possible just how important that is.

Rileysmom17 is 100% correct about your needing medical power of attorney. Sorry I didn't think of that first, because it's crucial. Getting this done is not being mercenary; it's making sure that your grandmother's wishes are met.

Rileysmom17 - The OP should find out how the money is currently invested. I'm not sure about the tax implications with inherited stock (he really does need to see an accountant, because there could be a step-up issue, as there is with a house), but I do know about annuities. My mother left me her money, which was almost completely tied up in an annuity. If the annuity is just sitting there and has not been "annuitized" - that is, formally set to pay regular amounts for the rest of one's life - it is completely inheritable. My mom had not annuitized, thanks to the advice of a good accountant. So I inherited it all. The taxes were whopping and unavoidable. But once I paid them, I put that money into a Fidelity (and it could as easily have been Vanguard) tax-free money market account while I took my time deciding how to invest the money.

Jockewing - I also agree with Rileysmom17 about selling one of the two houses. Otherwise, you will have an empty house - a disaster waiting to happen - or a rental, which can also be a huge pain.

Oh - and keep meticulous records of what you do with the money. Your accountant will need them. One reason that I'm so interested in your story is because I was in virtually the same situation with my mother that you are with your grandmother, only I was much older. I didn't have your family issues, but I had to become my mother's conservator, following her massive stroke, and manage her money for over a year. It was a time of grief, but also a time of learning about how to invest for one's future.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2008 at 3:34PM
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Isn't there something about a revocable trust being void if it is made 'in anticipation of death'? Doesn't the originator need to live a certain period of time after making the trust for it to be valid? (Assuming the prior post was suggesting the OP's grandmother make one now.)

    Bookmark   August 6, 2008 at 5:39PM
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I guess I need to clarify some things--

My mother died about six years ago, before that, we had a somewhat normal family. My dad remarried very quickly, and his new wife is an absolute slug. She forced him by so many nefarious means to have nothing to do with us. My brother and I are suing my father right now over our forced heirship in our mother's estate. He told us he was going to pay us then just conveniently decided he didn't feel like it anymore. My grandmother is so sickened by this, she gave us the money to hire the lawyer. After my dad made his choice with the new wife (my dad was a well respected professional. --now he is a recluse, an alchoholic, doesn't work, I think may be a drug addict, etc.), my grandmother decided she didn't want him inheriting a thing of hers. At the time my grandfather died, in Lousiana, where I live, my father was technically a forced heir to 1/4 of the estate. My grandmother offered it to him, but he declined and signed away his rights to this. My grandmother told her lawyer in no uncertain terms she wants my father to get not one red cent of her money, and she repeats this mantra nearly daily. She made her will at least 2 or 3 years ago. She lives alone, drives, handles all of her own affairs, is of very sound mind. Her lawyer, doctor, and neighbor of several decades all attested to the fact that she was of sound mind when she wrote the will that left everything to me and my brothers.

Last year, my middle brother died unexpectedly. The only change my grandma made to the will was to give me what would have been his portion.

My grandmother has a paid off home, about 375,000 in an Edward Jones account (I'm not sure what type of investments, but knowing her, it is very conservative), she has a few CDs that haven't matured, and about $80K in cash in savings/checking accounts. My brother inherits a third of the Edward Jones account, I inherit everything else, except for nominal gifts to her neighbor and niece.

The lawyer has assured her that my father cannot win any type of challenge to the will, if he even tries for that matter. Am I safe?

I appreciate the advice about the medical power, I will try to find the right way to bring this up with her. She has stated many times that she has no desire at this point to be kept alive artificially, I hate to say it, but she is ready to go, honestly.

I don't want to sound greedy, as my grandmother is the most important person in the world to me, but after all the pain my father has caused, I'll be damned if he would even try to take something someone wanted to specifically leave to me. I mean an 89 year old woman doesn't legally have to leave a dime to a 60 year old son who doesn't even speak to her anymore, right? The forced heir age in Louisiana is 24, he
s WAY past that!

Please advise! And thanks for what ya'll have already told me. Honestly, I almost feel guilty for even asking these questions, but this is a life changing gift and I don't think anyone should be able to take it away from me. I care for my grandma more than my father, he hasn't even had a relationship with her at all in years. I call my grandma every day, go to her house every weekend, do whatever I can to help her. She even went to the funeral home yesterday and pre-paid all her arrangements and told me she did this so I wouldn't have to deal with my father AT ALL, as she knows I don't have the cash to pay for a funeral.

I just want to add, I am also named as executor. Can I legally keep my father out of her house after she dies? She said she doesn't want him taking a thing, I am to pick her flowers for the casket and her clothing, everything, and the household goods are mine to distribute how I see fit.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2008 at 8:30PM
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The extra background you offered is a huge help to getting the big picture. You have received very good advice about funding a Roth etc to the max. When the time is appropriate, though, grandma's Edward Jones broker is someone you should meet. If he/she has been a good partner for your grandmother through the years, you may want to continue working with him. He/she should have the tools available to help you model the investment portfolio to reach your financial goals. I wouldn't stress over this aspect of financial planning just yet...explore the tools available and go from there.

My aunt passed away about 1 yr ago and her only son inherited from her. My aunt had worked with a broker for quite a few years. In her case, the broker came to her funeral and introduced himself to my cousin. Once the funeral stuff was over and done with, my cousin had a series of appointments with the broker. Cousin is still using that broker and has modified the goals which my aunt originally established.

Re the lawyer and your dad challenging the will - if you trust the lawyer, you have to accept that he is looking out for what your grandmother intends. After grandma passes on, if you and your brother are the only 2 heirs, you can keep your dad out of the house...assuming your brother agrees. Hopefully your dad doesn't have keys. Cross that bridge when you get to it!!

Medical Power of attorney - yes, get one in place. Also talk with grandma about having her attorney draw up a durable power of attorney which would give you or someone the ability to, for example, write checks on her account to pay bills, conduct real estate transactions, etc etc, should she not be able to do those things. The durable power of attorney establishes a representative and it will cover all aspects other than medical.

It's clear you have pretty strong feelings about all that is going on. I don't blame you. You are doing some very wise things by asking questions now. Hang in there and I hope you're able to continue being there for your grandma!!

    Bookmark   August 6, 2008 at 9:54PM
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This is an interesting thread, and I think you're wise to start quietly thinking about events that will be life altering. But I'm getting one mixed signal. To wit - in the initial post it's stated that your grandmother is very close to dying, but in the clarification "She lives alone, drives, handles all of her own affairs, is of very sound mind. Is it simply her age that makes you believe death is imminent? If she were a member of my family, she would historically have 6 more years to anticipate.

Many people in that generation tend to waive the medical directive aspects of wills and estate planning - they want to believe when the time comes everyone "will do the right thing". Unfortunately, when it's not spelled out, trying to make decisions in the best interests of someone who no longer can causes a lot of agony.

We've dealt with Trusts which made the disbursal of assets, etc. quite simple. But if an estate goes to probate, I'm not sure your grandmother's lawyer can say with 100% accuracy that anyone who contests the will won't get a dime - contesters will have lawyers too and you just never know what the courts are going to award.

And as for keeping the house and contents secure after a death, a locksmith is probably your best bet as well as photographing jewelry or antiques or items of importance - if you feel the threat of things disappearing is real. Photographs are good to have in any case, simply for insurance purposes.

You have a wonderful relationship with your grandmother, she may be willing to sit down and have a frank discussion with you about all your concerns. And if she trusts you to be her best advocate, she may be open to making things easier for you. One of the easiest ways to get a real picture of her investments, interest and dividend producing assets, etc. is to take a look at her tax returns. And as a practical matter, if you're the one who is going to be dealing with someone's affairs, you simply have to know what those affairs are and where they are. You'll likely be the one to file her final tax returns and all. Banks, brokers, safety deposit box - do you have a signature card on file and access to her box?

And as for what to do with your future inheritance - my best recommendation is to use it as the foundation for your future security. 300k (plus or minus) is a good sum of money, but it's not bottomless. I've had acquaintances who've nickeled and dimed inheritances away thinking it could never end. Find a good broker (or stay with Edward Jones if they've done well for your grandmother) or financial advisor you trust, determine your risk tolerances, and put any future windfall to work for you.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2008 at 12:35AM
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As for what to bring up to her, and how to broach the topic--she's got a decent lawyer, so maybe someone in his office w/ some experience in elder law (or someone he can recommend, if his office is small) would be willing to sit w/ the two of you to run down a "checklist" of things she needs to deal w/ now, while she's feeling sharp: medical power of attorney in case somethign medical arises suddenly, durable power of attorney in case she needs someone to help pay bills, etc.; trust; status of investments; all that stuff.

And then it isn't coming from you, but rather TO her and you.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2008 at 9:04AM
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Think about this: would ANY lawyer tell you that a will s/he has drawn up could be easily disputed in court? I'm not saying your grandmother's lawyer is deceiving you...I'm just being the devil's advocate here. Even a frivolous case will cost you $$$ out of pocket in legal fees and time/angst. Look at it from the eyes of a judge who is a stranger to all of you - it's a case of "he said, she said."

talley-sue's suggestion of sitting down the lawyer and going over a checklist is a great one. Consider doing this, and as soon as possible.

It doesn't sound like the estate is large enough to pay estate taxes, unless she has some insurance she's forgotten about. Make sure to keep the records of the inherited stock transfer ALWAYS - they are your original cost basis for determining taxable or non-taxable appreciation.

Start keeping legal and financial records in clearly-marked folders. You don't need to do anything fancy, but make sure you know where all her papers are to be found and how to access them. When your grandmother dies, the executor can't do much without notarized copies of the death certificate, which usually takes 2-6 weeks to obtain.

If you are suing your father, I would definitely change the locks the moment your grandmother dies. And the photo record of any easily stolen valuables is an excellent idea.

I read an interesting proverb once, don't know if it's Irish or whoever - "Never say you know anyone until you've split an inheritance with them!" I certainly learned a lot about my sister under these circumstances, which is why I was very, very careful when I set up our estate, LOL.

I don't think your grandmother necessarily needs a trust. But I think you very well might. And I suggest you get a different lawyer than your grandmother has, because a second opinion can make all the difference in the world. The trick with working with lawyers is to ask them specifically what can go wrong, and how it can be best avoided. It's an educational process - you are going to learn a lot of things in the next ten years, and better safe than sorry, as the saying goes.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2008 at 12:10PM
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It doesn't sound like your grandma is in a terminal or near-terminal state right now. So one option is for her to exercise her perogative to gift family members with money (cash) annually. The limit per recipient used to be 10K, maybe it has gone up. In any event, this money is tax free to you. She has a lot of cash on hand and probably securities which are easily converted to cash. There are no tax consequences for her. She could gift you and your brother equally if she wished. This would allow you to immediately get started on your life financial planning, per the excellent advice given above.

As regards her health status, unless she has an illness which is likely to cause her death but is currently leaving her functional (there are some leukemias in this category), it sounds like she has planned for her property but maybe hasn't thought much about herself. A particularly thorny circumstance, even when family is not in a fight, is what to do when an older person with 100% of her marbles suffers a stroke or some other acute illness which is likely (but not definitely) going to impair her intellect and independence. Some folks, having reached 90+, feel that they've "had a good run" and truly want no major intervention. This needs to be spelled out to the greatest possible details, such as: "no surgery, no intubation, no cardioversion; antibiotics ok, medications to keep my heart pumping not ok, IV fluids for 30 days OK, tube feeds not OK."

Here would be a typical example: Grandma falls and breaks a hip. She needs her hip fixed otherwise she is incapacitated and in great pain. During surgery or after surgery, she suffers complications which affect her cardiopulmonary function or she has a stroke from a blood clot in her leg. She started out in the hospital with a simple fix-me task but now, wtihout treatment, she will die. She will have signed a DNR order upon admission. But, I can 100% guarantee you that the medical establishment will want to treat all these complications and they will regard you as a horrible person because your grandmother is dying of (treatable) surgical complications instead of an incurable disease process. So you end up and she ends up exactly where she does not want to be, semi-vegetative in and out of ICUs for months, then a nursing home, then back in the hospital. The more specifically she can document her willingness to accept or decline specific interventions the better you will feel and the more power you will have over the hospital when you start to say No No No. Ask her if her MD could help thw two of you with this discussion.

Sorry to run on so long it's just that I've been there and seen it.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2008 at 3:19PM
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Thanks for all the advice! But I have to admit, there is so much of it, it's starting to make my head spin!

My grandma definitely feels like she's had a run and has stated repeatedly if it's her time she's ready. She would not want to live in an uncapicitated state at all.

When I said she was close to dying, honestly I said that because I felt guilty writing this because she is still relatively healthy. Her mother, father and sister all died at almost the exact same age, which she is now, and I've noticed in the last year she is starting to really get shaky. She is literally shaking alot, can only go through the store for short periods of time, her knees are starting to hurt, it's taking longer for her to get out of the tub, etc. I hate to say it, but even though she still is pretty sharp and able to live alone, she's breaking down pretty quickly.

So can somebody please tell me what are the MAIN most important things to do right away? Medical power/other type of power of attorney? Meet with the lawyer?

I feel like a vulture or something talking about this when she's alive, but she has told me without my asking exactly what I'm supposed to inherit and that she doesn't want my dad to have anything. She's said things about helping my niece with the extra money she's leaving me since my brother is so irresponsible. I just feel like with everything that's gone wrong in my life lately, I'm not going to let this life-changing chance be screwed up.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2008 at 9:29PM
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The MAIN thing to do right away? Maybe get her to a doctor to see what's causing the symptoms! Just because her parents passed at a certain age (and they were not related genetically after all) and a sister, does not mean a thing about what's bothering her and it may well be that she's convinced herself it's time when in fact, a simple medication (medicine has moved - updated - at a very fast pace even in the last l0 years) might be all she needs. Don't let her say that there's no point... make her see someone and forget about money for now!

    Bookmark   August 7, 2008 at 10:44PM
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She does go to the doctor regularly, but there is no pill that can make you get out of the tub faster, make you have the energy to shop for more than an hour, etc. She is just getting OLD! I don't think there is any one thing wrong with her other than old age.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2008 at 11:20PM
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Most important things, IMHO, in order:

1) DNR and End of life discussion with doctor and grandma, per rileysmom's hair-raising but unfortunately accurate example.

2) Attorney creates durable healthcare power of attorney and financial power of attorney. In certain cases a POD (Payable Upon Death) designation can be added to financial accounts - be sure to ask the attorney for specifics. This can simplify asset transfers but is not suitable for every situation.

3) YOU begin to get your legal affairs in order - yes, before you inherit. You can do a simple will - ask your grandmother's lawyer if a handwritten will is legal. If not, you can purchase a simple standard one from legalforms.com or through Nolo Press (nolo.com). I guarantee you that when your grandmother becomes ill or dies, you will be way too stressed to remember to get your affairs in order. Create a durable healthcare power of attorney for yourself and give a copy to your doctor. Whoever you name as your guardian should always have an up-to-date copy - the last thing anyone wants to do in an emergency is argue with a bank officer or doctor because they claim they are your healthcare guardian, but can't prove it because your original is in your safety deposit box where nobody can get at it without a court order!

Remember that all legal documents should be updated whenever there is a life-changing event: marriage, divorce, birth, illness.

4) You may or may not have interest deductions you are claiming from your home mortgage. If you are, keeping your mortgage is not a bad idea - IF you can afford to start saving some money. Even your grandmother's inheritance won't take up all the slack in your lack of retirement assets.

If you cannot start saving the minimum of 10% of your salary because of the mortgage, then pay it off if/when you get the inheritance, and put that former mortgage payment away every month as retirement savings going forward.

5) Talk to friends and start writing down names of possible RE agents to interview. Again, when your grandmother becomes ill or dies, you'll be better off knowing you have this information already on file.

6) Start educating yourself on investing. Read a couple of books, and remember that you don't need to be an expert, you only need to be prudent (no investing in anything you can't explain to a 10-yr old) and consistent (start saving now and keep it up).

7) You don't need to keep so much in cash and shouldn't. Inflation eats away the value of it. Take the long view of investing - you are not going to need that money for at least 30 years. Today's chaotic markets are merely a blip in the historical financial markets. Trust me, at various times people claimed the sky was falling in the '70's, '80's, and '90's, too. Buy your vehicle, put $10K in high-interest savings, and invest the remainder.

Consider possibly hiring professionals to help you plan for your own financial future and retirement: a tax advisor and a financial advisor. You don't need them now, and won't necessarily need them even if you inherit tomorrow. But I would talk to a Certified Financial Planner (you can find one that works on an hourly basis, although you might have to search a bit) at least at ages 45 and 55, to make sure your financial assumptions and investments are on track.

Personally I wouldn't leave the brokerage accounts with your grandmother's brokers, but that's because: (a) I enjoy investing and spend a lot of time educating myself on the subject on a daily basis, and (b) I worked for an independent Certified Financial Planner for whom I developed enormous respect - he was worth his high fees, but many are not. Even with selling your grandmother's house, your total inheritance would barely make the minimum for most CFP's to handle. $500K sounds like a lot when you don't have it, but in reality it isn't much for retirement. You could probably just open an account at Fidelity or Vanguard, diversify the portfolio between at least 6 different mutual funds, and enjoy a 20-year ROI of at least 6-8% annually.

Remember because this is taxable money, the government will hit you for taxes on your capital gains. You don't want to "let the tax tail wag the dog," though; that's a common amateur error. Just try to pick funds where the managers aren't turning the portfolio over faster than average (you'll understand this sentence better when you start to learn the basics of investing).

8) Don't feel guilty. You are fortunate to be able to prevent some serious mistakes from being made, by being far-sighted enough to consider the "what if" scenarios. It is sensible and logical, and I congratulate you on being wise enough to ask for help.

9) If your niece is young enough when you do inherit, start either a Coverdell or 529 plan to help with educational expenses. They have tax advantages and are relatively easy to set up at any brokerage. Or you can buy life insurance - for instance, I have a level term policy where the primary beneficiary is my DH, but the contingent is one of my nieces.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2008 at 11:29PM
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Age is not a disease. Unless she is 90+ years now, she may well have quite a way to go, slower and shakier or not,

    Bookmark   August 8, 2008 at 4:57AM
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I gathered your grandmother is living by herself. Based on your additional information on her physical state, here is my to-do-in-order list for you. You can do it one step at a time if you feel overwhelmed by too many concurrent activities.

1] Get her hooked up ASAP with LifeLine or a similar "panic button" service. Unattended falls at home are the #1 incapacitator of otherwise "healthy" elderly people.

2] schedule an appointment with her doctor that includes you; make it clear to the office staff the purpose of the appointment and specifically ask them to schedule sufficient time (don't be shy)...as of recently doctors can bill for time spent on an office encounter primarily related to counselling, so you should not be getting any resentful, time-pressured vibes off the MD

If you feel you can initiate this discussion before the visit, try to feel your grandma out on the concept of specific yes/no items like I detailed above (note my list was not inclusive). If you don't feel comfortable, wait until the visit.

Ask the MD to write in the chart that it is your grandma's wish that you have medical power of attorney and have her sign it. This is pretty potent and should tide you over until you can get the lawyerly stuff.

3] let your grandma think about it, discuss it, whatever, and then have her reach closure on her yes/no list and then get that documented via an official living will and power of attorney

Whew! OK, you have now dealt with all the items that can create horrifyingly painful situations. The money part is easy.

4] start educating yourself about life money management, I still vote for the Eric Tyson books

5] start talking to knowledgeable friends to find a good accountant to help you handle the inheritance transition, as I mentioned and others have mentioned, you can save/lose $$$ depending on how exactly you "take possession" of your inheritance and how you move money around - does your grandma have an accountant now? if it is a longstanding relationship, the accountant will have a very detailed understanding of her funds and will likely be motivated to minimize loss to taxes

Let me state emphatically that you are DOING THE RIGHT THING on all counts, do not feel guilty or vulturish.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2008 at 11:18AM
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Wow, lots of great advice on here.

I wanted to add that your grandma might want to think about leaving your brothers share of her money to his kid[s]. Theres no reason why she has to leave it to him. She could even start now, as someone mentioned, by gifting money each year. Id suggest she set up an account that the parents cant raid for their own purposes. When I was a kid, I had an UGMA (Universal Gift to Minors Act) account. This was an account that was in my name, but grandma was custodian and added money periodically. I dont know if they still have that, or if theres something else now. You could walk into the bank and ask about custodial accounts for childrenthey probably even have a brochure.

DHs mom has set up all her accounts as joint accounts, with one or the other of her kids. She doesnt have a will (doesnt trust lawyers) but the joint account holder shouldn't have any problems with others challenging their right to the money. This might be an idea for some of your grandmas funds, although she should certainly keep her will in force.

Also, even though shes apparently made her wishes as for extraordinary measures medical treatment known to people, you might bring up the Terri Schiavo case as an example of why itd be a good idea for her to make sure all her wishes are in writing.

She might also want to add a handwritten note saying I have specifically disinherited _______ from my will because of _______. That would make a court a lot more likely to tell your father to take a hike if he contests the will. For that matter, I think you can add a proviso to a will that says basically anyone who contests the contents of this will is hereby barred from collecting.

Finally, ask if shes been tested for Parkinsons. My grandma and great-aunts all lived to between 91 and 101 and none of them had the shakes.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2008 at 12:53PM
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modern life interiors

If your grandmothers house is paid off try to spruce it up a bit and rent it.

Run a free ad on craigslist in your vicinity and state No fee rental. Describe the property as best you can and go from there. Brokers will be a bother. Try to do it yourself like on a weekend.

You can always do a credit check on the tenants and let them write the check to the credit agency with their signed application.

Don't forget to mail the check, too.

Ask for a security deposit of two month returnable when they move out and everything is ok.

Selling houses now is really bad because of the bank and mortgage debacle and other factors.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2008 at 1:48PM
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modern life interiors

Make sure in your grandma's will it states anyone who contests will automatically forfeit their share of the will.

If it does not state that than your grandma might have to rewrite an udated will.

An easier way for the house to be tranferred to you is if she adds your name to the deed.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2008 at 2:03PM
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>>An easier way for the house to be tranferred to you is if she adds your name to the deed.DO NOT do Joint Tenancy if there has been any sizable appreciation on the value of the house! Doing this eliminates an heir's "step-up" basis for capital gains tax when the house is sold.

Always discuss issues such as this with a qualified tax advisor BEFORE pursuing such options.

And here is the problem with asking advice on a free forum - sometimes the advice is worth exactly what you just paid for it....or not.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2008 at 11:08PM
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"So, due to the ugly actions of others, I am almost the sole heir now. My grandma is really the only family member I have left and I will be pretty much alone without her, it is very scary. At least I won't have to worry about money."

What would your grandma look to for care if something happened to you? Do you have someone in mind to help out in the event that you have an illness or accident before grandma passes? This might be something your dad or brother have already considered.

It doesn't sound like you can trust your dad or brother so you might want to ask grandma to introduce you to her advisors so you will have witnesses that she is of 'sound body and mind' in the event that your dad or brother try to dispute the will. This is especially important if she has a stroke or is otherwise unable to communicate her wishes. A picture tells a thousand words. A videotaped meeting might say even more in court.

Do you know her neighbors? Since she lives alone, it might help to ask grandma to introduce you to them so they will know who you are and can give you a heads up if they see anything 'irregular' occurring around her house. Leave your cell phone number with them so you can be contacted right away.

Since you said you like her house better than your own, would it be feasible for you to move in with her and sell yours? A Quitclaim deed might work out better than Joint Tenancy.

"My brother and I are suing my father right now over our forced heirship in our mother's estate. He told us he was going to pay us then just conveniently decided he didn't feel like it anymore. My grandmother is so sickened by this, she gave us the money to hire the lawyer."

Do you have enough money to take care of her bills in the event she becomes incapacitated? If not, you might consider asking grandma to set up a joint checking account with you now, so you will have enough money to be able to pay for those kinds of costs (utilities, taxes, lawyer, accountant, etc) in the event that she would need rehabilitation or while her estate is being settled.

"And here is the problem with asking advice on a free forum - sometimes the advice is worth exactly what you just paid for it....or not."

I have paid for bad advice from so called 'experts', as well as received excellent advice from strangers on the internet. Just do due diligence as you would in any other situation.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2008 at 12:15PM
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modern life interiors

This is a great thread.
I am learning, too

    Bookmark   August 9, 2008 at 3:38PM
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Just remember that with Louisiana's very different family laws, all recommendations from those of us outside of that state must be vetted by an attorney from Louisiana. Most other states have no Forced Heirs - a simple will can leave a person's estate to whomever they like. In LA, however, there are certain steps that have to be taken to ensure that a son is disinherited. There may also be other laws that make some of the ideas people gave above different for you and your grandmother.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2008 at 6:31PM
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Actually, in Louisiana, once past the age of 24, which my 60 year old father is, forced heirship is OVER (unless the child is mentally retarded or disabled and unable to provide for their own care). This changed a few years ago. When my grandfather died, my father signed away his forced heirship at the time as there was no age limit at that time.

I spoke to my grandmother about the medical power and other types of P.O.A. and she says she has spoken to her doctor and that as named executor of her will, I will have P.O.A. I don't know if that's correct. The thing is, my grandmother insists the lawyer has assured her there is no way my father has a chance of overturning the will. I don't know if I trust that. Today was her 89th birthday. We went out to lunch and then I installed her bamboo shades in the bathroom she just re-papered. I had to pick out the wallpaper for her kitchen and bathroom. She doesn't know how to pick out anything current, unfortunately, and admits she needed help. I bought her a set of two framed botanical prints that really tie in the living room with the visible new wallpaper in her kitchen.

Would it be appropriate for me to speak with my grandmother's lawyer directly about the will? I don't know how to approach it without sounding greedy. I am being represented by the same lawyer in my suit against my father.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2008 at 11:19PM
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Check into the hows and whys of POAs - I always thought a legal document, separate but in conjunction with a will was required "granting" this power and spelling out broad sweeping or limited powers. And some POAs terminate with the death of the grantor. A POA isn't an automatic right.

It wouldn't be appropriate for your grandmother's lawyer to discuss her will with you - unless you AND your grandmother AND her lawyer met to discuss it. Or unless your grandmother contacts the lawyer herself giving her permission for you and the lawyer to meet independent of her. Many lawyers will make house calls, bringing appropriate end of life documents, papers for POAs, etc. for review and signature. Maybe an inhome setting as opposed to a lawyer's office would be a way to approach and take care of some of these things for you.

Some aspects and ways of educating yourself about eventual or probable scenarios are easy and unobtrusive; but there are other ways that can smack of golddigging... something you definitely want to avoid.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2008 at 11:22AM
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"I spoke to my grandmother about the medical power and other types of P.O.A. and she says she has spoken to her doctor and that as named executor of her will, I will have P.O.A. I don't know if that's correct."

If this is the case then YOU need to have a copy of this as well as the doctor or lawyer.

"Would it be appropriate for me to speak with my grandmother's lawyer directly about the will? I don't know how to approach it without sounding greedy. I am being represented by the same lawyer in my suit against my father."

If grandma wants you to see the will she will show it to you herself. Asking the lawyer to do this (without her being present) could easily be construed as going behind her back.

Since she is 89 years old, I'd be more concerned about having a copy of her living will as well as medical power of attorney in the event that she becomes incapacitated.

rileysmom17 made an excellent point earlier: "it is CRITICALLY IMPORTANT that a written document exists which gives you medical power of attorney and clearly expresses her desires vis a vis terminal illness intervention (I'm an MD, I've seen the dark side). "

You don't want to have to count on her doctor/lawyer providing you with this information if she isn't in a position to.

Grandma might be uncomfortable talking about this now, but it will make all the difference in the world should YOU have to make the decision to intubate, etc. when you know she would not have wanted this.

Same thing happened to my DH. His mother had a stroke. Her doctors said she was very unlikely to recover and would be completely dependent on others for care. She wouldn't have been able to feed herself. She had always said she didn't want to live like this and made sure her living will said as much. In spite of having this document, her doctors were STILL planning to resuscitate her anyway. Go figure.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2008 at 11:47AM
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modern life interiors

Why is jockewing going into minute details of hs grandmothers personal affairs on a public forum?
The detailing is obsessive.
It is one thing to get information in a general area.
The person posting is starting to sound a little bossy over his grandmother and wants things to go his way.
His grandmother has to be comfortable and secure in her decision making not be railroaded by a grandson.
He has no business discussing her will with her attorney without her being present.

Folks I believe there is more to this story.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2008 at 9:23PM
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Sorry, there isn't "more to the story". My grandmother is NOT the type to be bossed around by anybody. I never asked her anything about what she was leaving me. She told me all of this herself and speaks about it often. I am just extremely concerned about my father coming in after the fact and trying to ruin everything. Ever since my mom died and he re-married, he has turned into an unrecognizable person that has nothing to do with any of us. His wife has ruined his life in almost every conceivable way, and I'm sure if she's still with him when my grandmother dies, she will put him up to trying to get his hands on that so SHE can spend it. My grandmother cannot STAND this woman, and would spin in her grave it she got a cent of her money.

Of course I want the money that is being left TO ME, it is the opportunity for financial health for a lifetime if used properly. I am the only person that takes any interest in my grandmother, and I care very much for her, she is almost like a best friend to me. Grandma made all these decisions YEARS ago on totally her own accord, no one is railroading her. I can just forsee a lot of bs when this all goes down if not handled properly, and I'm trying to avoid it. And YES, I do want what is being left to me, and my grandmother thinks I deserve it, certainly no one else in my family does.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 8:47AM
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I don't think jockewing's posts are obsessive at all. He is trying to understand a complicated legal and financial situation, and isn't sure about the right people to ask the right questions of. In these kinds of situations, knowing what the "right questions" are can make a very big difference in the end result.

When there is money involved, family relationships can go bad very, very quickly - so being forewarned is truly being forearmed.

I think your grandmother may be confused about legal terminology. An executor of a will does not generally have healthcare POA extended to them as a right. I would strongly suggest you ask your grandmother for a copy of the will, then find a second attorney and ask some detailed questions. It will cost you, but it is a small amount relative to the advantage of having truly specific information to your situation.

Good luck to you going forward.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 11:23AM
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This sounds like the plot for the revival of "Dallas."

    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 12:22PM
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There is a certain cloak of anonymity on the internet, and yes, sometimes detail can be agonizing. But it has to be taken as it's written as we have no body language, facial expressions, known mindsets etc. to add to the mix of impressions.

A new direction in this could be - what is the rationale of the grandmother (or anyone for that matter) in telling a benefiaciary exactly what can be expected to be inherited; dollar amounts, primarily? I want the money that is being left TO ME the amount of which may or may not end up being what is anticipated. Continuing to live and any other number of factors can reduce an estate - from the high cost of food, health care, gas and car maintenance, home maintenance, downturn in investments, anything unexpected. There are always expenses that need to be satisfied, even after death. Lawyers and fees for settling an estate are going to eat into it too. Even Edward Jones might have high transaction fees for cashing out investments to pool into an estate account.

Could dangling an inheritance also be looked at as a way to keep the grandson close? Cynical perhaps, but it happens. Look at Prince Charles waiting for QEII to relinquish the throne. :-) Sorry, not a good example, except for the fact that he's an heir who pretty well knows what to expect but who will most likely be dangling for a lot of years yet.

Many of us have been through this type of thing with parents or elderly relatives, and many of us have been heirs (which is easy to be), as well as trustees and executors (somewhat less easy). Whether the deceased had everything in perfect order or whether they left a mess - it's work, effort and time spent by the trustee or executor. You want to do things right, to the letter of the law so there's not even a hint of impropriety. Many don't regard being named trustee or executor as having been done a favor.

And you need bonafide documentation - just saying it's so doesn't carry any weight. I trust the responses here have given you things to consider and you understand that you are ultimately going to be the one doing the due diligence.

One caveat though - don't count your chickens...

    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 12:47PM
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The thing is, my grandmother had only two children, my father and his brother, who died in a car accident years before I was born. I have one brother only, I had another brother who passed away last year. Our family is very small, and as my father and brother have almost no relationship with my grandmother, basically she is leaving everything to me. It's as plain as that. I just want to be sure my dad doesn't ruin this like he's ruined everything else the past couple of years. We are having to sue him now to get our LEGAL FORCED PORTION of my dead mother's estate that he refuses to pay. That is the type of person I'm dealing with. I found my own brother dead in my house when I came home from work and my father didn't even attempt to console me or ask me if I was OK.

I really wouldn't be worried about anything except my dad, being a closer blood relative, could try to claim a portion of the estate, but the lawyer assures my grandmother he's been disinherited. My grandmother was the one who told me about all of this, I NEVER asked her anything. She told me how much she had, I did not know or ask her. She has specifically told me she wants me to handle her funeral and burial, that she wants me to do what I want with her house, she even tells me to buy whatever I want with the money she is leaving me and to be happy. There is no sort of coercion going on on my part. And to speak to the poster who talked about the grandmother "dangling" the will as a way to keep me close--Yes I think there may be a certain amount of this going on, although probably not consciously. With such a small family and the way my dad has abandoned her, my grandma wants to make sure somebody will be there for her. Of course I would be there for her regardless of money, but I also think she wants me to be happy.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 10:33PM
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modern life interiors


At the moment, is your grandmother assisting you financialy?

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 12:04AM
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I pay all of my own bills-housenote, car, insurance, etc. If there is an unusual large expense such as recently when my car broke down and it was over a thousand to get it fixed, she did help with that. She has helped all of the grandchildren in such situations and my father when he was younger. I guess I will get flamed for taking help from a relative. Sometimes it amazes me how so many people of these boards can be so judgemental like their lives are perfect and they never rely on anyone other than themselves for help. My grandmother is an extremely generous woman and has said that she is glad to be in a position to help her grandchildren.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 1:00AM
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OK ok ok...as someone who has dealt with a lot of family tensions (other families) over the years...it seems to me that 1) jockewing's grandma loves him, 2) she is really unhappy with his dad, 3) she hates her second daughter in law, 4) she is dubious about her other grandson's money management skills, and 5) she has been a prudent person herself financially and, assuming no major financial drains before her death, will have a generous estate and she wants to control its dispersal. Jockewing and grandma's #1 concern is his dad messing things around. Grandma's attorney, if he is competent, should be well aware of this concern and have taken state-appropriate action to specifically prevent it. If grandma is satisfied that her attorney has done a good job, and if jockewing has the same attorney and generally thinks he's competent, the matter should rest. The only further step is for J and GM to sit down with the attorney and go through the will for reassurance and understanding. So, J, do that or try to relax on the point. Try not to let your current legal situation regarding the other estate spin you too tight regarding your GM.

Power of attorney and "medical" power of attorney are not necessarily the same legal thing, but more specifically physicians do not believe that a regular POA gives anyone the same rights as a medical POA, even if it does. Remember this is all about doctor management. A simple note in GM's medical chart stating that J has medical power of attorney will go a long long way should a crisis arise. If GM just wants to avoid or evade any more specific do or don'ts, stop with the note in the chart. Then J uses his heart and his head to make a reasoned decision. The ONLY caveat here is that since he is the principle heir, without a somewhat more detailed medical POA the family can sling s&*(t at him for "letting GM die to cash in".

For all the conspiracy theorists out there, go outside and watch for the black helicopters. If jockewing hadn't started posting I wonder if the whole medical aspect would have occurred to him. Whatever else his supposed hidden agendas, maybe his post and subsequent learning will head off a common agonizing situation of protracted semi-vegetation for his vibrant, independent GM (the 'composting stage' of pre-death in our crazy country). The woman is facing her own mortality, let's not forget.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 11:07AM
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You are fortunate to have a grandmother who loves you and she is fortunate to have YOU!

But do talk to her about your concerns. Keep it simple, though - I think the most important is to clear up that issue of the healthcare POA linked/not linked to being executor of her will.

Be aware that if she doesn't put you on her checking account as either Joint or POD (Payable on Death), as executor you are liable for all bills on the estate during the time it is in probate. Usually the first 2-6 weeks before you get the official death certificate are the most expensive (you'll want to pay for the funeral, and that usually means cash up-front). You keep the receipts and the estate repays you. Once you are confirmed by court as the executor, THEN the estate can begin to pay the bills out of its own cash.

I mention this because when my oldest sister died and I became the executor, the whole family was in a tight money squeeze at the time. I had to borrow $5K from my mother on a temporary loan - again, keeping records of the transaction so everything was aboveboard. People don't realize how expensive it can be to be named an executor and suddenly have to come up with thousands of $$ when one least expects it.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 11:15AM
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Keep in mind that every family is different and dynamics can change or be amplified after the death of a loved one.

Estate law varies from state-to-state. I've included a link regarding Louisiana Estate Administration. I suggest you google Louisiana Estate Law to learn more.

I am the executor of a relative's estate. I won't go into details, but it is still a huge mess and it's been almost 3 years.

Here are a few things to keep in mind.....

The conventional wisdom is that if there's a will, there won't be any problems. That is not true. In your case, your father could contest the will. Sure, the lawyers could say he won't be able to get anything, but the estate would still have to defend itself in the legal proceedings and court if it goes that far.

Any expenses outside of "normal" probate expenses are not covered under the probate fees of an estate (in most states, the amount of money the probate lawyer and executor gets paid for their services are determined by statute). These fees will have to come out of the estate. And they can add up very quickly - just because your father won't get anything the estate still has to file motions and respond to what your father and his attorney file. Depending on your father, he could just drag things out to deplete the value of the estate.

So depending on your father (and any other relatives or interested parties) they can contest the will and let me tell you that unfortunately I have found from experience that the costs associated with someone who doesn't have standing can get quite high.

Just because there is a will, doesn't mean things will go smoothly. And, just because an attorney drafted the will does not mean there won't be problems.

An individual can take a will they drew up to an attorney and have the attorney use that as the will (with or without changes) because "that is what they want done." The individual thinks that the will makes sense and that's that. Again, depending on the will, the circumstances of the estate, etc. the intentions of the individual will not be realized and there will be problems with the estate. Case law evolves and what was the "norm" years ago when a will was drafted may now have unintended consequences.

In my family, a family member drafted a will and took it to a lawyer. It was a huge mess. In hindsight, the lawyer should have made suggestions regarding the wording of the will (for all we know he did and the advice was ignored). When wills are drafted, they sometimes are done without taking into consideration changes in family dynamics - the death and remarriage of family members, etc. The will was drafted at one point in time and it can be difficult to make contingencies for every possible situation in the future.

From your post, it sounds as though your grandmother doesn't 100% understand how her wishes will be carried out by her will. In my experience with my own grandparents, I found that they had varying levels of understanding of how their will would dictate the handling of their estates, and in reality some of that did not come to fruition.

It is your grandmother's estate and she can do what she wants. I don't know how your family dynamic is when it comes to discussing money, wills, etc. You could suggest to her that you both go to her attorney so you can make sure that her intentions are carried out properly. In my family, you didn't air your dirty laundry in public, and that included discussing these issues with an attorney. If your grandmother is more "old school" and this is the case, her attorney could be under the impression that everything is fine and there is not going to be a problem when in fact there could be major issues.

I suggest you check if her attorney specializes in estates. Sure, any attorney can draw up a will, but you want one who knows this area of the law. If her attorney does not, then I would suggest to her she ask this attorney for the name of an attorney who specializes in estates or find one who does.

If her attorney is not an estate attorney and he was your grandfather's attorney, friend, etc. she may not be willing to find another attorney (loyalty is great, but there is a place for it). I would use the analogy that you wouldn't use a cardiologist to deliver a baby to justify finding an attorney with this area of expertise.

Since she has discussed the issue of the will with you, there's a chance she will be open to taking you with her to the attorney. IMHO I would think the lawyer would have given a copy of the will to your grandmother to give to you if you are the executor (in my case, I was named executor after another family member on two wills and I was given copies for my files - I guess different attorneys do it differently).

This is about protecting your grandmother's wishes and making sure that she will be able to have the means to carry out her intentions if she gets into a situation where she will no longer be capable of making decisions.

I hope your grandmother is doing well and her wishes are carried out as she intends. Good luck.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 12:13PM
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"I found my own brother dead in my house when I came home from work and my father didn't even attempt to console me or ask me if I was OK."

I'm sorry for your loss.

Were your brother and father close? Was your brother ill? Was the cause of death determined? Just curious because your fathers' reaction to your brother's death seems a little peculiar, but then again he might have been in shock....

Does your father know your grandmother has disinherited him? If he doesn't know, how do you think he might react if he found out? Are you and your other brother on good terms? Is this brother on good terms with your father/stepmother?

You said you have a very small family. Who would stand to inherit if anything happened to you?

Sometimes money (or the anticipation of it) makes people do strange things.

I hate to sound suspicious, but if I had relatives like this, I'd probably be watching my back (and grandma's) when they are around.

One more thought. Findlaw.com has a forum (Estate and/or Trust planning) where you can ask questions. You might want to read the previous posts first. Lots of food for thought about disgruntled relatives and money. Sometimes you can get a lawyer to answer, or, other posters will.

*Note: If you want to ask a question then you have to sign up. If you want to remain anonymous then you might want to use a free email address from google, etc. as others will be able to see your regular email address when posting a reply to you.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 2:30PM
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"I found my own brother dead in my house when I came home from work and my father didn't even attempt to console me or ask me if I was OK."

I'm sorry for your loss.

Were your brother and father close? Was your brother ill? Was the cause of death determined? Just curious because your fathers' reaction to your brother's death seems a little peculiar, but then again he might have been in shock....

Does your father know your grandmother has disinherited him? If he doesn't know, how do you think he might react if he found out? Are you and your other brother on good terms? Is this brother on good terms with your father/stepmother?

You said you have a very small family. Who would stand to inherit if anything happened to you?

Sometimes money (or the anticipation of it) makes people do strange things.

I hate to sound suspicious, but if I had relatives like this, I'd probably be watching my back (and grandma's) when they are around.

One more thought. Findlaw.com has a forum (Estate and/or Trust planning) where you can ask questions. You might want to read the previous posts first. Lots of food for thought about disgruntled relatives and money. Sometimes you can get a lawyer to answer, or, other posters will.

*Note: If you want to ask a question then you have to sign up. If you want to remain anonymous then you might want to use a free email address from google, etc. as others will be able to see your regular email address when posting a reply to you.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 3:09PM
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You hit just about everything RIGHT on the head. I guess I need to tell GM that we need to go see the lawyer together to find out if he has set all this up correctly or not. I'm sure she would be willing to do so. She is not stupid, but she isn't as legally savvy as I am, either. I would be much more able to understand what the lawyer is telling us. I also need to tell her about the medical POA and the payable on death stuff. By the way, she just pre-paid for her whole funeral last week and told me she did so in order that I would NOT have to ask my father for assistance with anything at the time of her death so he can make some sort of claim against the estate. The lawyer is VERY AWARE of the fact that she does not want my father to get anything, and has assured he that he wont. I just wish I had more assurances about this.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 6:05PM
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Well, if it's any consolation, I don't think anyone can be fully prepared for the death of a loved one, no matter how well things are set up! But you are doing the best you can, and all you can do is....well, what you plan on doing.

If the lawyer has done his job, there will be a specific mention in the will, to the effect of, "anyone not mentioned in this will is specifically disinherited" or "...is entitled to the sum of $1 only" (the modern equivalent of the old English law - you could disinherit a direct heir only if you left them something minimal, like a shilling, or 1/20 of an English pound). Our trust has very specific language inserted for this because I did not want my sister inheriting anything. I don't really think she would contest it, but better safe than sorry, as the saying goes.

Sounds like you are starting to "get your list together" and are aware of future problems so you won't get blindsided if they happen. Don't worry about it too much; the actions of others can't be controlled even with an attorney's help! Good luck to you.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2008 at 11:51AM
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One piece of advice in this interesting thread stated that your grandmother should put your name on the deed to the house.
It is my experience that that is a mistake. You may not receive the stepped up basis when you sell the house if your name is on the title. If you inherit the house, you do receive the stepped up basis and you won't have capital gains tax on the proceeds of the house.

I was recently the sole heir of my mother and there were some very large problems with her estate. Had we consulted a knowledgeable estate attorney prior to her death, we could have really saved innumerable headaches.
This is a large estate and depending upon the state, there may be a huge probate bill.
If your grandmother sets up a trust, it could save a lot of hours of legal work probating the estate.

Good luck

    Bookmark   August 17, 2008 at 11:40PM
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