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Hilary1
03-13-2014, 06:49 AM
In my story, a man receives a letter notifying him his grandpa has passed away and left him an old farm house.

I'm not sure this is how wills work though?

Would you receive a letter telling you what you have been left in his will, or what would happen?

Also, what kind of wording would be in the letter? I cannot really find any reliable resources about this - so if you could recommend some I'd be very grateful.

RightHoJeeves
03-13-2014, 08:03 AM
I would think a lawyer would contact you by phone, although I can't be entirely sure.

Medievalist
03-13-2014, 08:13 AM
There's a perfect forum for questions like this; Story Research

I'm going to move this there. Hang on!

Telergic
03-13-2014, 08:47 AM
http://lmgtfy.com/?q=how+a+will+is+probated

There are some questions that may not answer, however, so perhaps the snarkiness of lmgtfy is out of place :) Still, it's always fun to use it.

According to that page, the probate court will notify the heirs, but I imagine in most cases the executor or the executor's lawyer will also do so beforehand because they will want the distribution to go as smoothly as possible.

Night_Writer
03-13-2014, 08:59 AM
The first person your MC would hear from is the executor of the will. This is typically a family member who has been appointed by the person who died. The executor's job is to execute the will. That is, they make sure that all the wishes of the dead person, as written in the will, are carried out. If someone leaves his pet parrot to his nephew, then the executor has to contact the nephew. And they make arrangements for picking up Polly. If money is involved, the executor will generally wire the cash to your bank account.

If you inherit an old farmhouse, you'll likely get an email from the executor (who is likely to be one of your own family members) telling you about it. And giving instructions about what you need to do, where it's located, etc. And also about inheritance taxes. And property taxes and all that. Yeah, lawyers come into the picture a lot too, because of all the fees and charges and taxes.

ETA: Just saw that I missed Telergic's post. I'll have to check out the article.

MookyMcD
03-13-2014, 09:29 AM
Functionally, that's all correct. One minor caution (that would stick out like a sore thumb in a story or novel) is that the term 'executor' is a bit a antiquated and isn't used in most jurisdictions (or under the Uniform Probate Code). Most states call it a "Personal Representative" and some call that person an "Administrator," but only a handful call the person an Executor anymore. So you need to know your jurisdiction (it's the one where the person died). Hopefully that's also where the land is located, because if the person died in Kansas and the land is located in Utah, you're going to have a couple of lawyers involved.

ETA -- this also assumes the person had a will and didn't die intestate. That creates another set of issues, with the court much more directly involved.

Night_Writer
03-13-2014, 09:44 AM
The OP says that the man was left a farmhouse, which sounds like the dead person did not die intestate. Also the term executor is what's used in my own area, so that's what I used.

Legal details change from state to state, and country to country, though. Like, if you inherit a farmhouse in Nebraska, and the place has rats, you may have to pay taxes on the rats. If you inherit a farmhouse in New Jersey, rats are a non-taxable item.

:banana:

jclarkdawe
03-13-2014, 05:12 PM
Usually when the will is probated (filed with the court), people start talking about it if the will is interesting. A lot of times unsuspecting heirs are contacted informally at this point, maybe by the executor, maybe by someone else.

At a certain point afterwards, the executor (or the executor's attorney) will send formal notice to all of the heirs, including asking whether the heir will accept or reject the legacy. Every attorney (who usually writes the letter for the executor) has a slightly different style, and that style can depend on the circumstances.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Cathy C
03-13-2014, 05:19 PM
It is still possible that a formal Will reading will be held. That all depends on the wishes of the deceased. While most attorneys give the Will back to the person who signed it to keep in a safe place (because frankly, the attorney doesn't want to be responsible for keeping the original document for years or decades), sometimes the person signing a Will knows that there will be in-fighting if the details of the Will are known, and want to keep them secret until the last possible second.

In that case, the attorney would, like in all good TV movies, call the parties to his office and read the terms of the Will. We had one in my office just last week. It's rare, but still happens.

Still, the most common event is still the Executor advising the attorney the person died, bringing in the Will and starting the probate. The heirs are contacted by letter normally, because that's then evidence we tried to reach them. Many states require that the heirs execute a paper saying that they were contacted and waive service of a copy of the Will, and later a statement saying they received their bequest.

MaryMumsy
03-13-2014, 09:05 PM
When my Dad's uncle died in 1970 the will was read at my Grandpa's house after the cemetery formalities. That was interesting, and I'm sure due to the kind of issues Cathy mentioned. After everything was read, the older sister of the deceased (who wasn't named) huffily said: well, Carl should have left it up to the family to decide. My Grandpa, who was the executor, told her: well, he obviously knew what you would do, and that wasn't what he wanted.

That was the last any one in our part of the family ever heard from Aunt Louise. Although she did stay in touch with her other brother and his children, who were all as avaricious as she.

MM

jallenecs
03-14-2014, 04:30 AM
Functionally, that's all correct. One minor caution (that would stick out like a sore thumb in a story or novel) is that the term 'executor' is a bit a antiquated and isn't used in most jurisdictions (or under the Uniform Probate Code). Most states call it a "Personal Representative" and some call that person an "Administrator," but only a handful call the person an Executor anymore. So you need to know your jurisdiction (it's the one where the person died). Hopefully that's also where the land is located, because if the person died in Kansas and the land is located in Utah, you're going to have a couple of lawyers involved.

ETA -- this also assumes the person had a will and didn't die intestate. That creates another set of issues, with the court much more directly involved.

Around here, the word "executor" is still used. My sister and I are co-executrices on my mother's will, and is says the word executrix (female) and executrices multiple times in the document.

Bolero
03-14-2014, 08:03 PM
Executor in the UK is still used.

You can appoint a friend or a solicitor as an executor. You can also appoint joint executors. Belts and braces is to appoint several with a solicitor as a back-up.

jaksen
03-15-2014, 07:11 PM
We still use the term 'executor' in MA, or at least in my part of the state. My sister has been one; my mother; my aunt, etc. And they all used that term.

However, to avoid some taxes, it is also becoming more common for property to be given away before the passing of a person. For example, a woman signs her property over to her children for a dollar. She can live in the house until her death, or until she moves into an assisted living facility, or nursing home. You can find evidence of this on real estate sites where maps are shown which reveal the last sale price of a property or home. The ones marked "$1" are most likely homes or property given to children or others while the owner is still alive. (This is called a living trust, but laws regulating this, etc., would vary from state to state. And I am only citing general info. here, nothing legal.)

I know families which have done this several times. So it is also possible you could have grampa 'give' the property to the grandson years ago. At his death the property automatically goes to the grandson.

Of course this would eliminate the 'surprise factor,' of wow, Gramps left me his farm!

MaryMumsy
03-15-2014, 08:23 PM
IANAL, but I am a CPA.

The signing over of a property to someone else for $1 is not a living trust. A living trust is a legal document and is a lot more complicated than that. Also, gifting the property to someone or selling it to them for $1 is very bad tax planning.

Mom and Dad bought the house in 1954 for $5000. Over the years they put $3000 into improvements. The house is now worth $150,000. If Mom sells it, she has no tax to pay under current tax law. If she gifts it to her child/children, and they sell it after she dies, they have $142000 of profit to pay tax on.

We in my profession see this more often than you might think. People do something because they think it will make things easier after they are gone. But it doesn't. Sometimes they don't want to pay for the advice of an attorney or CPA, and just do it themselves. It ends up costing a lot more in the long run.

It's like the old saying of 'penny wise and pound foolish'.

MM

King Neptune
03-15-2014, 09:22 PM
Transferring ownership of major assets keeps those out of calculations for medicare in case the person needs nursing home care for some years. Medicare would take ownership of the property to pay for an unpaid debt.

Bolero
03-15-2014, 09:50 PM
UK - gets complicated on gifting. So can give away 3,000 pa total (not per person) capital gains tax free.
More than that you are looking at a sliding scale over 7 years (if die less than 7 years from giving gift.)

There is also "stuff" about it not being a proper gift - as in house lived in by grandfather being signed over to grand kids, but grandfather still lives there. (Not up on the ins and outs but another thing to be cautious about.)

MaryMumsy
03-15-2014, 11:27 PM
Transferring ownership of major assets keeps those out of calculations for medicare in case the person needs nursing home care for some years. Medicare would take ownership of the property to pay for an unpaid debt.

There are ways around that, best explored with the assistance of an estate planning attorney.

MM

King Neptune
03-15-2014, 11:55 PM
There are ways around that, best explored with the assistance of an estate planning attorney.

MM

Yes, there are.

Saanen
03-16-2014, 12:27 AM
There are so many ways a will is executed that you can probably just be vague on the details for your story without having anyone raise an eyebrow, unless the will is important to the story (in which case you should probably talk to an attorney in the area where your story takes place). When my grandmother died, my mother was executrix and had to deal with selling the house and dividing the money among her siblings. She also had to take care of a few small legacies my grandmother had listed in her will (mostly small checks to various far-flung relatives) and so forth. When my mother died, she had not made an official will. I acted as executrix since I was closest and had been her caretaker anyway. It was a simple process in my case since she and I co-owned the house and she had put me on her banking account long before, so I didn't even need to talk to an attorney except to make sure that I didn't need to go through probate. Probate, incidentally, is the six months or so during which the executor can't liquidate remaining assets to divide up among family members, because there might be debts outstanding that the executor doesn't know about. Before probate ends a notice has to appear in the newspaper regarding the person's death--you can look in any paper and find these.

In other words, your character probably won't inherit the farmhouse until six months or more after his grandpa dies. This may vary from state to state, I don't know. This may actually give you a nice little kick to your story--you could have your character be certain Grandpa didn't remember him in the will because it's been six months and he hasn't heard anything, and then suddenly he's got a farmhouse.

jaksen
03-16-2014, 05:24 PM
IANAL, but I am a CPA.

The signing over of a property to someone else for $1 is not a living trust. A living trust is a legal document and is a lot more complicated than that. Also, gifting the property to someone or selling it to them for $1 is very bad tax planning.

Mom and Dad bought the house in 1954 for $5000. Over the years they put $3000 into improvements. The house is now worth $150,000. If Mom sells it, she has no tax to pay under current tax law. If she gifts it to her child/children, and they sell it after she dies, they have $142000 of profit to pay tax on.

We in my profession see this more often than you might think. People do something because they think it will make things easier after they are gone. But it doesn't. Sometimes they don't want to pay for the advice of an attorney or CPA, and just do it themselves. It ends up costing a lot more in the long run.

It's like the old saying of 'penny wise and pound foolish'.

MM

Yes, I know it's a complicated issue, just saying this is one more way of giving property to a child or relative. In the cases I am aware of, it didn't cost the family more in the long run and was all done legally with the help of an attorney. But I didn't intend to make it sound 'so simple' as I did.

I was just mentioning another way for property to go from parent to child or grandparent to child.

Ken
03-16-2014, 05:45 PM
Trivial fact. Wills were all the rage in fiction in the 1700s and thereabouts. Many novels had them in them, towards the end I believe. Source: intro to a novel from the 1700's.

Bolero
03-16-2014, 07:04 PM
I wonder if it was the start of industrialisation meaning there were more goods and wealth to go around, so more people had an interest in wills......

ULTRAGOTHA
03-16-2014, 09:11 PM
Transferring ownership of major assets keeps those out of calculations for medicare in case the person needs nursing home care for some years. Medicare would take ownership of the property to pay for an unpaid debt.

Medicare Part A doesn't pay for that kind of nursing home care. You may be thinking of Medicaid, which is a tax payer funded program for low income people that pays for quite a bit of Nursing Home care.

Transferring ownership of major assets to avoid those assets reimbursing tax payers for Medicaid-funded care is a tricky business and best done with a lot of advice from an estate or financial planner.

Also best done years before Medicaid starts paying for Nursing Home care.

ULTRAGOTHA
03-16-2014, 09:14 PM
I wonder if it was the start of industrialisation meaning there were more goods and wealth to go around, so more people had an interest in wills......

Nope. Wills and passing down estates to surviving family members has been an important part of the law for millennia. Law codes from Anglo-Saxon England survive from the 6th century and quite a bit of the codes spell out who gets what when someone dies.

Other parts of the world have even older surviving laws that cover that.

King Neptune
03-16-2014, 10:40 PM
Medicare Part A doesn't pay for that kind of nursing home care. You may be thinking of Medicaid, which is a tax payer funded program for low income people that pays for quite a bit of Nursing Home care.

Transferring ownership of major assets to avoid those assets reimbursing tax payers for Medicaid-funded care is a tricky business and best done with a lot of advice from an estate or financial planner.

Also best done years before Medicaid starts paying for Nursing Home care.

You may be right. I've never figured out the difference between the two programs. And it has to be done well before whichever program that is starts covering nursing home expenses.

ULTRAGOTHA
03-16-2014, 10:59 PM
Medicare is the social program that you pay taxes into while you're working and then become eligible for when you're in your 60s. It's administered nationally by Medicare. It's care you're eligible for if you've paid into the system.

Medicaid is needs-based health coverage for low income people. It's administered by the states and territories and funded by both them and the Federal government. It's aid you're eligible if you have low enough income.

Medicare Part A only covers Nursing Home care after a 3-day stay in the hospital and only up to ... I think 20 days a year. It's meant to be short term care following a heart attack, for example.

Medicaid covers Long Term Care for those with low incomes.

And yes, there are strict rules about divesting assets to protect one's estate while also using Medicaid to cover Long Term Care expenses.

(I do this stuff for a living. The mis-information is legion.)

Cathy C
03-16-2014, 11:19 PM
The law office I work in has to constantly advise people about the danger of transferring assets when the seller is going into a nursing home, and the number of people who did the internet deed thing (think LegalZoom) often have a harsh surprise after the parent passes and they discover that the deed they signed is illegal and penalties are going to rack on top of the bill for the nursing care. Sometimes, they lose the very thing they hoped to protect--the family home, because they have to sell it to pay the bill.

But there are exceptions too, when it's a small estate and the home is the only asset. Using an attorney is best to wade through the process.

The reason I'm continuing the derail of the original question is this is all TERRIFIC book fodder! Having an MC feeling secure when someone died because the home was saved before the parent died, only to realize that the government could take it all away is a terrific, and gut-wrenching subplot while the main action is going on. :evil

frimble3
03-17-2014, 03:19 AM
In other words, your character probably won't inherit the farmhouse until six months or more after his grandpa dies. This may vary from state to state, I don't know. This may actually give you a nice little kick to your story--you could have your character be certain Grandpa didn't remember him in the will because it's been six months and he hasn't heard anything, and then suddenly he's got a farmhouse.
And I'd bet there are a lot of families where the executor wouldn't tell people that they are eventually going to inherit, because they know they'll be fielding six months of "Can I have it now? How 'bout now? Tomorrow maybe? Huh, huh?"

jaksen
03-17-2014, 05:34 PM
This kind of story can be twisted in so many ways, too. When I was a child one of my grandparents 'inherited' a house from a brother. Unbeknownst to my grandfather, there was 'another brother' with claims to the house. (He sort of 'popped up' out of the woodwork.) Many months later it turned out the house had to be sold and the assets shared between my grandfather and this other brother.

And when an elderly aunt on my father's side died - the relatives came popping out of the woodwork, again. All making claims on this woman's tiny little house, even though she left a valid will leaving it to one relative. What a mess that created.

I was a child during both these events, but remember the adults getting all worked up about what was right, what was wrong, and eventually, what they had to accept. In both cases, things were done legally, etc., but wow, what a mess both situations created. It is now more than fifty years after the fact and there are still cousins who won't talk to other cousins.