Debt Collectors Make a Killing on the Debts of the Dead

By Arielle Pardes

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It was five days after Teresa Van Deusen’s sister died when the letter from American Express arrived, offering condolences. How they knew her sister had died was a mystery—Van Deusen never called to inform them, and they hadn’t made any changes on her account. But there it was, a letter expressing sympathies, and also reminding her of the $16,000 in credit card debt her sister owed.

When someone dies, his or her debt doesn’t disappear. His or her remaining assets get pooled together, and then a probate court doles out payments to cover any remaining debts: First the mortgage; then other secured debts, like car loans; and then, if there’s any money left, unsecured debt, like credit cards. If, say, you’re set to inherit the family house but your parents die with debt that their other assets couldn’t cover, a court can force you to sell the house in order to pay off the debts. Most Americans who have debt don’t die with a ton of money or assets leftover, and credit card companies clamber to get to the estate first, since when that money gets paid off to other agencies, the debt goes away.

Credit card companies have two options: Pursue the debt, or chalk it up as a loss to get a tax credit. For example, Van Deusen’s sister had about $5,000 outstanding on her credit card with Wells Fargo, but the bank chose not to chase it down. “They sent a letter that said, ‘We’re declaring this as a loss, and we’re sorry for your loss,’ and [sent us] a 1099-C”—a form Van Deusen would need to pay taxes on the canceled debt. But plenty of other collectors take other strategies.

“Collecting the debts of the dead—particularly the unsecured debt, like credit card debt—is a pretty good racket,” said Oliver Bateman, a former debt collector who wrote for us last year about his demoralizing experience in that job.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prevents collectors from making threats, calling too many times, harassing family members, or using deception in the pursuit of collecting debt. But collectors can contact family members of the deceased in order to reach the administrator of the estate. Some companies take it one step further, trying to squeeze money out of relatives or friends, even though they have no legal obligation to repay the debts of the person who’s died. (The only time a creditor can legally collect from a family member is if someone has co-signed on a loan or if he or she is the debtor’s spouse and live in a community property state.)

Michelle Dunn, a consultant for the debt collection industry who literally wrote the handbook on debt collection, says this kind of thing “happens every day.”

“Some bill collectors will talk to anybody in the family and try to get them to pay a bill. They’ll say it’s their ‘moral obligation,’ which is absolutely false,” Dunn said. “But people are not educated on what their rights are, and if they’ve just had a death in their family, they’re upset. So when a bill collector tells them something like this, they might be more likely to believe it [and agree to pay the debt].”

Bateman told me about a colleague who used a legal research database to track down addresses of next-of-kin, sent those relatives threatening letters about an owed amount, and then persuaded people there was a “moral obligation” to pay it. “A few times, we got payment in full from the kids or other relatives of these people. It was truly breathtaking,” Bateman said.

The Social Security Administration gives notice to financial institutions a few months after someone dies, but debt collectors usually find out much sooner by using databases to track recent deaths. Dunn, who was a bill collector herself before she became a consultant, told me she always read the newspaper obituaries to see if anyone she needed to call had died. “There used to be a newspaper—I’m sure it’s online now—where you could pay for a subscription and see, state by state, the people who have died that day,” she said.

As these online tools become easier to use, collection companies are increasingly more likely to pursue the debt of dead people, one way or another. There are plenty of horror stories: A woman in Hawaii sued Bank of America collectors, after she says they called upwards of 48 times a day just after she received her husband’s life insurance check. (There’s no obligation to use life insurance to pay off debts, unless the deceased person named his or her estate the beneficiary of his or her life insurance money, in which case it gets divided up with the other assets.) Another woman said she was harassed by collectors for five years about her dead sister’s debt, to the point where she moved and changed her phone number multiple times. The collection agency Rumson, Bolling & Associates was sued in 2011 after harassing debtors’ family members, co-workers, and neighbors, as well as threatening to “desecrate the bodies of deceased relatives” if they failed to pay off funeral bills. The company was eventually banned by the Federal Trade Commission from the debt collection business.

But the worst cases are sometimes people who think they’re doing the right thing by informing a bank, loan, or credit card company that the account holder has died, and then get manipulated into paying the debt.

“Someone will call and say, ‘I’ve been going through my uncle’s mail because he’s passed away and I see you’ve sent this letter that he owes some money, and I’m calling to tell you he’s dead,'” said Dunn. “Some bill collectors will then tell them to pay that bill, and they don’t know they don’t need to, so people pay it.”

Van Deusen, who was the administrator of her sister’s estate, estimates that she spent more than 50 hours on the phone with collectors from BBVA bank, and even more with other credit card companies, which she described as “endless, persistent gas lighting.” She was never asked to pay her sister’s debt out of her own pocket, but she says collection agents tried to get the estate to pay off debts that weren’t even real—including nearly $7,000 in fees that were issued post-mortem, and debts that had already been written off. “Death and taxes, sure,” she said, “but dead people shouldn’t be paying debt that the credit card companies have already written off.”

Van Deusen also battled numerous calls from a third-party collection agency that claimed they had purchased her sister’s American Express debt and demanded money from the estate. “I said, ‘Show me a contract.’ Any evidence this was her debt. In the year we were negotiating, they just never produced that.”

Many collection agencies, including the one where Bateman worked, pay employees based on how much debt they collect, which can motivate collectors to squeeze every last dollar out of a family—whether it comes from the dead person’s estate or otherwise. I asked Bateman if he ever felt compelled to bully a debtor, or a family member, in order to earn higher commission. “Sure, all the time,” he said. “Sometimes, I’d have an argument with a particularly sassy debtor who wasn’t going to pay me any money, just because it was fun to do.”

“It’s a recipe for someone to push the limits and break the law because he or she is desperate trying to get these people to pay,” said Dunn. “It’s setting them up to do something wrong.”

Complete Article HERE!

How Much Does A Cremation Cost? Depends Who You Call

direct cremation

How much do you think it costs to cremate a dead body? It’s a question you probably don’t think about until tragedy strikes and you’re planning the funeral of a loved one.

One of the last things anyone wants to do when they’ve lost a loved one is make a complicated financial decision. Families want to spend that time celebrating a life, not hunting for the best rate on the memorial service. If a funeral home quotes you a price for a cremation, you’ll probably just assume you’re being treated fairly and accept the price.

So it may come as a surprise that the price of basic services like cremation can vary wildly from home to home. Today the average cost of a standalone cremation — no additional services — is $2,057. And yet, in any given city, some funeral homes will charge you two to three times as much for a cremation. Same service, drastically different price.

Even more troubling, in the Internet age funeral parlors tend to make pricing hard to find. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission allows funeral homes to keep their rates hidden until someone actually writes or calls a funeral home representative — leaning on regulations last updated in 1994 — rather than pushing funeral homes to let the customer compare online. In a survey by the nonprofit Funeral Consumers Alliance, only 25 percent of funeral homes fully disclosed prices on their websites, while 16 percent failed to disclose prices after an email and a phone call.

Tough access to comparison shopping seems to affect pricing. At Parting, we’ve painstakingly built a database of how much funeral homes charge for services so that no one ever gets ripped off in their time of need. Let’s walk through the data.

If recent trends continue, cremations will account for over half of all funerals by 2018, up from about a quarter in 1998.

rate of cremation

People have been buried in coffins for centuries, so why the rise in cremations?

The Cremation Association took a look at this question. The group found a correlation between high cremation rates in states with a high proportion of people unaffiliated with organized religions, and the number of unaffiliated individuals is on the rise. The group also attributes the growing cremation rate to the simple fact that it’s cheaper than the coffin, which alone can cost thousands of dollars. And having the ashes portable in an urn (which typically cost in the hundreds of dollars) allows families more creative memorial ceremonies, like at a riverside or on a mountain top, where they don’t pay for a burial plot.

The cremation process itself is relatively straightforward. The body is placed in a large chamber and using mid-thousand-degree heat from oil, gas or propane, the body is incinerated. The process may have minor differences, depending the funeral home, but the end product is the same: ashes, in an urn or container.

Though families get essentially the same product regardless of where the body is cremated, there is surprising variation in cremation costs. Analyzing our data, we found that while there are many locations at which direct cremation, the most basic cremation service, costs less $1,000, there are are also a large number of funeral homes which offer the service for more than $4,000. There are even those that charge over $9,000 for the service.

price of cremation

Comparing direct cremation costs is not always apples to apples. For instance, some funeral homes have their own crematorium while others use a third party, which can mean an extra fee. Still, these fees don’t explain why direct cremation at some facilities costs five times more than others.

John Jung of California Mortuary in Los Angeles points out that cremations are an administratively intensive process. They have to get approval from a doctor and, depending on the state, the various layers of government.

But when we analyzed cremation costs by city, we also found large variations in price within the same location. The following charts shows the range in prices for the forty largest U.S. cities in order of the largest range in price.

cremation prices

The disparity in some cities is glaring. New York tops the list with the highest parlor charging over 18 times the lowest. In Washington DC, the most expensive direct cremation is nearly $7,000 dollars more than the least expensive.

How could there be such a wide range of prices?

Jung believes that any parlor on the very high end of pricing probably doesn’t see the service as essential to their business. They keep cremations on the price list in case someone really wants it and then they turn a hefty profit for the effort. But it’s not core to their revenue.

And the lower range cremation prices are likely to attract additional business. They are loss leaders. “If it’s under $1000, they’re probably losing money. You really don’t make much profit on the direct cremation alone,” Jung says. “They’re just trying to get you into the door.”

The average price for a standalone cremation nation-wide is $2,057 but our data shows a full memorial service costs, on average, $3,650. These bundled services add additional products like the cremation casket, which typically go for around a thousand dollars or just removing and transferring the remains (typically a few hundred), not to mention flowers, embalming services and time spent viewing the body.

Getting a family in the door allows a funeral director to sell these additional services. This can create an awkward situation: It’s hard to say no to an upsell for someone’s last goodbye. Good funeral homes try to keep that balance of selling their own services while respecting the family in a time of need.

“It’s really a service industry,” Jung says of funeral homes. “You have a job to do but at the same time you have to direct them in a gentle manner.”

Not every state is equally shocking in the divergence of cremation prices. California offers some hope that transparency would alleviate such glaring disparities. The state requires that if a funeral parlor has a website, it must post prices.

“California funeral law protects the family a lot,” says Jung, whose family has run their parlor in the Los Angeles area for 17 years. “It’s pretty strict.”

cremation price by state

Unfortunately the “death-care” industry, as Bloomberg noted in a 2013 cover story is big business and often ends up preying on grieving families. Publically traded funeral home companies like Service Corporation International (SCI), which run thousands of funeral homes across the country, are worth over $5 billion and — unlike locally-owned homes integrated with a community — answer to Wall Street traders, leading to pressure to upsell consumers.

Cremations are taking the place of casket burials and future generations will expect their prices online for a straightforward albeit serious service. More transparency will go a long way and having cremation costs online puts power into the consumer’s hands when they need it most.

No one wants to shop around for the best prices for a cremation when dealing with a tragic death, and unfortunately some funeral homes take advantage of this fact.

Complete Article HERE!

How To: Avoid Family Conflict When There’s No Estate Plan

6 ways a family can settle a loved one’s estate and still want to speak to each other afterwards

By

Estate Plan

In a perfect world, someone dies and leaves behind pages of clear directives on everything from where the finances go to who gets Great Grandma Annette’s rocking chair, and an official executor makes sure the process goes smoothly and everyone loves each other dearly forever more.

But what is there’s no will left behind? How much money do you think it would take to tear your family apart? In her case, documentary filmmaker Amanda Brown knows the answer:

$51,283.50.

In her film Black Heirlooms, Brown tells the story of her grandmother Edna Mae “Mee Mah” Royal, a mother of eight and matriarch of a large extended clan. When Mee Mah suffered a stroke that left her unable to communicate, the formerly close family became irreconcilably fragmented, with members suing each other for control. Years later, the family remains split into two camps, with nothing but silence between them.

Your family would never have such a tragic breakdown, right? Don’t be so sure. AsBrown says, “Money is a catalyst for a number of things,” In her case, it compounded older issues that led to larger and more complicated disagreements.

As a financial therapist, the story of the Brown/Royal family breaks my heart. But it‘s far from unique. Beyond the usual disagreements about a loved one’s wishes or fairness, there’s a natural inclination to project interpersonal aspects of the relationship (emotional closeness, caretaking responsibilities, who was a “good” child vs. a “bad” one) onto the distribution plan. Couple that with emotions amplified by grief, and it’s clear the real challenge is getting the family through probate unscathed and intact.

With that in mind, here are six ways to help your family settle a loved one’s estate and remain sane:

1. Forget the word “right.” Be careful about being so certain you know what your loved one wanted. Even if he or she communicated something specific to you, it’s totally possible different wishes were shared with another family member at another time. In fact, it happens pretty frequently. Unless you have something in writing, be open to all points of view.

2. The word “fair” doesn’t exist. As an experiment, I did a quick social media poll on people’s idea of what a “fair” inheritance plan looks like. Some said everything divided up equally, others argued for a need-based system (those with more obligations/lower income receiving larger portions than more financially well-off family members), and some wanted everything  to go to charity. See? The concept of “fair” varies widely from person to person. And it’s impossible to win an argument when someone has a different definition than you.

3. Be clear about your own objectives. If it seems like the process is becoming tense or adversarial, suggest everyone take a beat to think about what exact outcome they’re pursuing. Sure, it may start with a certain division of assets, but it likely won’t end there as feelings get bruised and old factions or grudges come into play. Think long-term: how do you want this process to impact your family? What do you want the outcome to be, even after the assets are dispersed? And will it be worth the consequences?

4. Avoid the family narrative trap. As in the case with Brown’s family, any one argument has the potential to trigger a narrative that may go back decades. “Of course Little Sister thinks she should get X,” the thinking goes. “Mom always bailed her out so she didn’t have to struggle like the rest of us.” This can especially true when a family is dispersed and ideas about people are outdated. When you find yourself seeing present-day actions as a confirmation of something that is “always true” about someone, take a step back, breathe, and remind yourself to stay collaborative.

5. Go for consensus, not a win. Sometimes even when inheritance questions are decided in your favor, it can create significant damage to relationships in the family. During the process, make sure all stakeholders feel included and heard. Explore various options before settling on a course of action, even if it seems like there’s a clear majority in favor of a particular approach. If everyone feels like their points were respected and they had a chance to contribute to the process, it can go a long way in soothing damaged feelings and disappointed hopes afterward.

6. Get help. Please. Settling an estate without clear instructions from the deceased is a complicated, emotional minefield. I hope those last three words encourage you to work with one of the many professional mediators trained to help families work through the process. It’s certainly cheaper than the cost of litigation.

Obviously, the best option is to avoid this situation before it happens. A number of resources can help guide your family through some forward thinking, such as figuring out how to bring up the topicbasic planning and legal documents that should be put in place, and dealing with the emotional aftermath of inheritance. This is a process nobody should have to go through, or end up in, alone.

Complete Article HERE!

How to Talk to Your Grown Kids About Your Mortality

Do these three things and your children will thank you

By Elizabeth Fishel and Jeffrey Arnett

difficult conversations
During a car ride, Peter brought up to his two twentysomethings what his end-of-life wishes would be: No heroic measures, because he wouldn’t want to suffer and wouldn’t want his family to endure it. One of the boys took this in stride, but the other became very upset, asking: “Why are you talking about this? It’s horrible that you’re so calm about death.”

Death comes to us all, but in the 21st century, it comes later than ever for most people. Because of medical advances, life expectancy has stretched to record highs, and in the United States and other countries most people can expect to live into their 70s or 80s. Perhaps for this reason, we generally prefer to ignore death and avoid talking about it, even when we’re in our 60s or older. And our young-adult children, certain of their own immortality, may also prefer to think of their parents as living forever. Bringing up our mortality may provide a rude awakening to grown children of any age.

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But we ignore it at our peril, or rather, at the peril of those we love. They may not want to hear us talk about the inevitable visit from the Grim Reaper, but if we neglect the responsibility to prepare for our death — and to prepare them for it — we do them a disservice and leave them with a stressful mess when the time comes. That’s a legacy few of us would wish.

So, here are three crucial issues to make sure you address and discuss:

1. Make a Will

You need to have a will, and once you do you need to make sure your loved ones know about it. Because we tend to prefer to think of death as many years away no matter what age we are, many of us fail to fulfill the basic responsibility of making a will. Various surveys indicate that about 50 percent of American adults have not had one drafted. The percent who have made a will rises with age, but even among 55- to 64-year-olds, 40 percent have no will.

Here’s the problem with that: If you die without a will, the state takes over your estate and makes the decisions about who gets what. Who would want that?

So, no excuses: If you haven’t prepared a will yet, do it as soon as you’re done reading this post! There are many inexpensive online options or you can hire anestate planning attorney if your estate is complex or you’d like the assurance that all the legal steps have been taken correctly.

2. Make Funeral Plans

Figure out plans for your funeral and burial or cremation and make sure family members know what ,and where, the plans are. We’re not crazy about talking about this aspect of death, either, but again, wouldn’t you rather decide on this now, rather than leaving it to your grieving family members to handle hastily after your death? You may find consolation, too, in the thought that the post-death commemoration will be done as you would have wished, even though it is a party you will not be able to attend.

3. Make Your End-of-Life Plan

You also should come up with your end-of-life plan and make sure your loved ones know about it. Medical interventions are extremely effective at keeping us alive at the end of life, even after any prospect of restoring us to consciousness, much less good health, has passed. People vary in how they view this issue, from those who want all possible steps to be taken to those who would prefer not to prolong the inevitable.

Ask your doctor how to make an “advance directive” that will contain your instructions or look up the instructions online from a reputable source like AARP or state government websites (each state has its own laws concerning end-of-life care).

Don’t assume your loved ones will know what to do; they probably won’t, and you don’t want them to have to make those decisions amid the stress and sadness of losing you.

Difficult as these conversations and plans may be, for your children’s sake and for your own peace of mind, discuss them now, while you are lucid and healthy. Your children may not thank you today, but they will appreciate the guidance when the time comes. That’s one last gift of love you can give them after you’re gone.

Complete Article HERE!

Rural Aging: Shaken by her husband’s death, Jane Faller vows to stay on their remote land

By Erica Curless

Jane Faller is embraced by her longtime friend
Jane Faller is embraced by her longtime friend Deb Anthes after she changed Faller’s arm bandage on Oct. 1 in Republic, Wash. Injured in a fall, Faller’s arm required daily care from Deb, who would visit her as Jane’s husband, Bob Faller, lay in hospice care.

Bob Faller died after a day of fighting and struggling. Naked and fierce, gripped by death’s delirium, he rolled on the floor tearing paper into tiny shreds. He tried to flush his pants down the toilet.

Jane, his wife of 58 years, was alone in their rural Republic house, terrified. Helpless.

When a new day dawned, she called a hospice nurse, who told Jane to increase her husband’s morphine dose to every two hours. Bob eventually settled, slept, and slowly let his body shut down.

Longtime friend Steve Anthes was with Jane as Bob, 79, took his final breath. It was Oct. 19, nearly 18 months after Bob was diagnosed with throat cancer, 18 months of dying slowly in the forests far away from hospitals, tubes and machines. It was the ending he chose.

Now a new struggle begins for Jane. Can this 77-year-old woman live alone in the winter in remote Ferry County with little money and medical bills arriving daily?

A nondescript box containing the ashes of Bob Faller sits atop a hutch he built by hand in his earlier years. “There’s pieces of furniture he built all over the country,” Jane said.
A nondescript box containing the ashes of Bob Faller sits atop a hutch he built by hand in his earlier years. “There’s pieces of furniture he built all over the country,” Jane said.

Relief brings feelings of guilt

“It’s quiet now,” Jane said shortly after her husband’s death. Her voice was strong but soft over the phone, the relief evident.

Yet within an hour, her house filled with people and the chaos of dying’s aftermath. The coroner, friends bearing containers of food, phone calls, decisions.

By 9 p.m., Jane sat in near-darkness on her couch, alone. Murphy the dog slept on the floor near her feet. Bob’s hospital bed was around the corner, empty.

“I feel guilty at feeling so relieved,” she said. “I’m really going to sleep tonight.”

Three months later, Bob’s ashes are in a gray plastic box on a beautiful wooden shelf that he crafted with his own hands years ago. Jane carefully removed the lid, exposing a plastic bag of ash. She put her nose near the bag and took a big sniff. She shrugged. At first she talked to him a lot, lit candles. Not so much now.

Jane’s unsure what she will do with the ashes, other than eventually spread them somewhere in nature. It doesn’t matter right now as snow falls outside the window and each day presents more pressing problems and challenges.

Two weeks ago the weather warmed and snow slid from the roof, burying the deck so she couldn’t open the door. She called for help.

A few weeks before that, the ancient hot water heater leaked at least 25 gallons onto the floor and into the crawl space under the house. She called the local hardware store for the name of a plumber, who inspected the damage and asked for a $400 check to buy a new heater and supplies. The man was gone several hours, long into the evening; Jane panicked. At one point she held her cramping stomach, wrought with stress. But he eventually returned and by 9:30 p.m. had the tank installed and working. She paid another $125 in labor costs and then had to buy a new faucet for the sink. Her hand shook as she wrote the check.

After visiting her daughter in Issaquah, Washington, for Thanksgiving, she returned home and turned on the kitchen light. It crashed from the ceiling.

Jane Faller dons a coat in her mudroom containing canned goods on Wednesday. Everywhere she looks, she sees reminders of her late husband. Jane and Bob canned the goods last summer and they remain stored on a shelf he built for them next to a collection of his favorite hats.
Jane Faller dons a coat in her mudroom containing canned goods on Wednesday. Everywhere she looks, she sees reminders of her late husband. Jane and Bob canned the goods last summer and they remain stored on a shelf he built for them next to a collection of his favorite hats.

Cumulative stress taking its toll

Jane knew living alone would be challenging, but she wasn’t prepared for the reality of it.

A year of stresses have snowballed: Bob’s illness and mental highs and lows. The nasty fall while walking her dog that turned into a three-hour ambulance ride and a weeklong stay in a Spokane hospital. The missed time with her dying husband because of her hospitalization. The nearby forests that erupted in wildfires this summer, the same week Bob started hospice care, forcing them to prepare to evacuate.

Now there’s snow and ice and long, dreary days. After spending months with her arm immobilized in a brace and then in physical therapy, Jane’s arm and hand still hurt. The scars are purple and angry. Her fingers ache.

Jane is timid about walking, although she used to hike miles a day in all weather. She hasn’t resumed her yoga practice. Her legs and feet are achy.

“She’s keeping a good face on it,” said Cherie Gorton of Rural Resources, who checks on Jane at least weekly and recently sat with Jane as she opened piles of medical bills. “I think it’s to the point where she probably needs to get out more. Accept invitations. But I know that is really hard to do.”

Gorton called Jane’s daughter in Issaquah, Cat Kelley, to see if she could help her mother make sense of the mounting medical bills from the hospital stay and ambulance ride. Jane has Medicare, but that only covers a percentage of the bills. She has a few too many dollars in her savings account to qualify for Medicaid. Jane and Bob took out a reverse mortgage that covers their mortgage payment, and she receives Social Security. Her son in North Carolina recently created a GoFundMe account to ask people for donations.

The financial woes weigh heavy on Jane. She doesn’t like owing people. Her kids want her to wait for all the bills to arrive so she knows how much she owes. Then they will figure out a plan.

“It makes me really upset,” Jane said, after a recent trip to the mailbox, which most always contains a bill. “It’s horrible.”

On Oct. 20, the day following Bob’s death, daughter Cat Kelley holds Jane’s healing arm as the two go for a walk on the Fallers’ Republic, Wash., property.
On Oct. 20, the day following Bob’s death, daughter Cat Kelley holds Jane’s healing arm as the two go for a walk on the Fallers’ Republic, Wash., property.

Once estranged, the kids have visited their mom

Jane and Bob chose an adventurous, nomadic life at the cost of not having more than a few thousand dollars in savings. They never thought about getting old, getting sick or having medical expenses.

Yet Jane doesn’t regret their independent lifestyle and her husband’s dreamy, back-to-the-land mentality.

Kelley, Jane’s daughter, said her mom recently told her that’s she’s trying to remember only the good things about her life with Bob.

“That will be stuck in my mind forever,” Kelley said. “I like it.”

The Fallers’ romance with nature, however, hasn’t been embraced by their four living children.

“That’s how she wants to live,” Kelley said recently. “She has something in her that thrives on that.”

All the children have rebelled against their parents’ hippie lifestyle. In subtle ways, they have all alluded to the fact that having Bob as their father wasn’t easy. He was gruff, demanding.

Today all the Faller children are financially conservative, have stable, traditional jobs and live in large houses in the suburbs. They drive nice cars and buy material things.

Kelley, an attorney who no longer practices, proudly has three bathrooms in a big house. It has a generator so she is never without electricity. She said she will never again live like a squatter, as she believes the family did when they homesteaded in Canada and lived in a shack without running water or a toilet and where her mom cooked over an open fire.

The result was something of an estrangement between the children and Bob, and by association, Jane.

Since Bob’s death, three of the children have reconnected, however, jointly visiting their mom in November to help her prepare for winter and sort through Bob’s possessions. Kelley said it’s relieved a lot of family tension.

Before Bob died, one of his grandsons, Bobby, came for a rare visit, to say goodbye and make peace. Afterward, Bob would talk about the visit until his voice gave out. He reiterated the importance of family, even when people don’t agree and view the world differently. Afterward, Bob felt energized, somehow released from his burdens. Perhaps it was that connection he needed, proof that the Faller tenacity lives on.

With that same tenacity, Jane is reaching deep into her adventurous soul and said she intends to stay put on her beloved land. She looks through seed catalogs by the wood stove. Friends are plenty, checking on her, plowing the driveway, helping in any way she needs. This is home.

“I’m staying as long as I can,” she said with her girlish giggle. “We’ll see what happens.”

Jane Faller eats dinner by herself as snow settles outside her home in Republic, Wash., on Tuesday. Her children worry about her making it through the winter, but her friends Steve and Deb Anthes regularly check in on her, and a neighbor plows her driveway. Still, the solitude can be unrelenting. “It’s an empty home,” she said.
Jane Faller eats dinner by herself as snow settles outside her home in Republic, Wash., on Tuesday. Her children worry about her making it through the winter, but her friends Steve and Deb Anthes regularly check in on her, and a neighbor plows her driveway. Still, the solitude can be unrelenting. “It’s an empty home,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!

What Does The Executor of An Estate Do

by Maria Angel

Executor

If you’re researching estate planning or creating a will, you’ll find the term “executor of an estate” pop up a lot. That’s no fluke. The executor of an estate plays a key role in making sure your final wishes are looked after, dealing with everything from funeral planning and shutting off credit cards to contacting financial institutions and selling off real estate. The executor of an estate has a lot on their plate. Let’s talk about the short-term and long term tasks an executor has to cover.

The First Priorities of the Executor of An Estate

We know. The first thing that usually comes to mind when thinking about what an executor of an estate does is read the will and give beneficiaries what they’re owed. Well definitely get to that part. But the very first priorities of an executor rarely have anything to do with money. Instead they deal with pressing issues like:

  • Guardianship of children: One of the most challenging tasks as an executor of an estate is finding a guardian for children if their parents are both dead. You can certainly turn to the will to see if it’s named a guardian, or you’ll have to look into childcare or contact child protective services.Executor2
  • Securing the death certificate: Working with a funeral director or whoever else is handling the deceased’s remains, the executor of an estate will make sure that certified copies of the death certificate are available. This is an important task since it will allow the executor of an estate to handle future responsibilities like closing out bank accounts or transferring ownership of assets.
  • Carrying through on funeral arrangementsGenerally within a week of a death you’ll want to hold a funeral, and it’s up to the executor of an estate to go through all of the details with a funeral director like opting for a burial or a cremation, choosing what type of ceremony to have, and coordinating the event with family and loved ones.
  • Informing credit card companies of the passing: It can be incredibly easy to take advantage of a deceased’s credit cards right after they pass. As a result, one of the first things an executor  will do is contact the credit card companies and let them know that the cardholder has died. This lets the companies safely shut off the account to prevent any future transactions.
  • Store valuables in a safe place: Just as credit cards are susceptible to thieves, so are valuables like jewelry or cars. The executor of an estate will want to make sure that these items are in a secure place before they can be sold or given to family and loved ones.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for the executor. As you can see, a lot of these early responsibilities are extremely time sensitive and make sure that no one is being taken advantage of.

The Second Priorities of the Executor of An Estate

Once these primary responsibilities are tackled the executor of an estate must then move on to additional tasks that will help fully disperse the deceased’s assets. In truth, these are usually the sorts of things people think about when talking about estate execution. These responsibilities include:

  • Look for the will: As obvious as this sounds, an estate executor will need to first find the deceased’s will, assuming Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 7.43.19 PMthere is one. Ideally the deceased will have written up a will and shared it with their executor, if not more people.
  • Beginning the probate process: Whenever there is an estate disbursement, it must go through probate. This is the legal process that names the estate executor, ensures that creditors are paid off and beneficiaries get the proceeds from the estate. The executor of the estate enters the estate into probate to get the process going. If there’s a will, it gives the executor of an estate a solid roadmap to use while the estate goes through probate.
  • Tackle real estate holdings: All mortgages will have to be paid off first, since part of the probate process requires creditors getting what they’re owed. Once any home-related debt is paid off, the executor of an estate will either make sure real estate deeds are transferred over to beneficiaries or sell the real estate and pass the proceeds on.
  • Liquidate the home: To properly get the home ready for sale, it will need to be cleared out. When liquidating a home or other real estate holdings, the executor of an estate can hold an estate sale, work with consignment stores, or donate the items to charity.
  • Close financial accounts: The deceased no doubt had checking and savings accounts, if not CDs or investment accounts. Armed with those death certificates we mentioned earlier, the executor of an estate will close the accounts and collect the cash as part of the larger estate to help pay off creditors and share the proceeds with beneficiaries.
  • Transfer retirement and life insurance accounts: When retirement and life insurance accounts are setup, they generally ask for beneficiaries. This is great because it generally means they are exempt from probate and possibly estate taxes. The proceeds, however, do need to make it to the beneficiaries. The executor of an estate can help with this by contacting these companies and ensuring that the funds are paid out.

If you haven’t figure it out yet, being the executor of an estate is not for the faint of heart. It requires juggling a lot of tasks in a timely manner.

What Does a Good Executor of An Estate Look Like

With all of the tasks an executor of an estate has to juggle, there are certain personality traits you’ll want to look for before naming your executor:

  • Strong communicator: This skill is especially handy right after someone has died. It can take a lot of work and finesse to coordinate all of the family and loved ones through the funeral and memorial services.
  • Good multi-tasker: From managing real estate and financial accounts to finding guardians for children, the executor of an estate will have a lot on their plate. You’ll want to pick someone that isn’t phased by juggling all the big and little things that will come their way.
  • Solid conflict resolver: As the person tasked with carrying out a will’s final wishes, the executor of an estate can come across a lot of family strife. It’s best to pick an executor that can take this in stride and keep moving forward.

Nope, this isn’t the easiest bunch of characteristics to find in one person. But, with all the tasks this person needs to tackle, you can see why it would be ideal to bundle these traits together.

Complete Article HERE!

This Is What Happens to Your Debts After You Die

By Aubrey Cohen

Your debts become the responsibility of your estate.

Coffin on stage

When you die, any debts you leave behind could eat up assets that you had hoped to leave to heirs. In some cases, family members could even be on the hook for your debt. Many people buy life insurance not only to leave something behind for their loved ones but also to help deal with any debt and final expenses.

Will your debts die with you?

After you die, your debts become the responsibility of your estate — which is everything you owned at the time of your death. The process of paying your bills and distributing what’s left is called probate.

Your executor (the person responsible for dealing with your will and estate after your death) will use your assets to pay off your debts. This could mean writing checks from a bank account or selling off property to get the money. If there isn’t enough to cover your debts, creditors generally are out of luck.

But specific kinds of debts have their own wrinkles.

Mortgages and home-equity loans

If a property has a mortgage, the lender has some protection, at least up to the value of the property.

But federal law bars lenders from forcing a joint owner to pay off the mortgage immediately after the death of another co-owner. This also applies to any relative who inherits the home and lives in it. Practically, this means the family member or co-owner can simply take over the mortgage payments.

An outstanding home-equity loan against the property is different. A lender can force someone who inherits a home to repay the loan immediately, which could require selling the house. That said, lenders might work with new owners to allow them to simply take over the payments on the home-equity loan as well.

Auto loans

In the case of an auto that is not fully paid off, the lender has the right to repossess the car. But typically whoever inherits the vehicle can simply continue making payments, and the lender is unlikely to take action.

Credit cards

Once the estate runs out of assets, credit card companies are out of luck, because this debt is not secured by assets the way mortgages and car loans are. Any joint account holder would be responsible for the bill, but people who are simply authorized users of a card would not.

In community property states, listed below, spouses are responsible for any debts incurred during the marriage, including credit card debt.

Student loans

Lenders have no recourse if the estate does not have assets to repay other unsecured obligations, such as student loans.

If your relatives are not responsible for your debts, collection agencies may still legally call to discuss debts and to try to find someone authorized to pay them, according to the Federal Trade Commission. But collectors cannot mislead family members into thinking they’re responsible for the debts.

Caveats

There are circumstances in which spouses or other people would be personally responsible for your debts. These include if they:

  • Co-signed for a loan.
  • Are joint account holders.
  • Are spouses in community property states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. Spouses are not responsible for debts that predate the marriage, although half of any community property from a marriage could be put toward such obligations.

About 30 states have “filial responsibility” laws that could make adult children responsible for debts related to caring for parents or parents responsible for debts related to care of their children. These laws once were rarely enforced, but there have been recent cases in which creditors have used the statutes to pursue family members.

What’s protected?

Creditors typically cannot go after your retirement accounts or life insurance proceeds. Those will go to the named beneficiaries and are not part of the probate process. But if the life insurance beneficiaries you named are no longer living, your death benefit may go into your estate and can be subject to creditors. That’s one reason why it’s important to make sure your policy names the proper beneficiaries.

Life insurance can help with debt payments

To decide whether you need life insurance to cover debts after your death, consider these questions:

  • Do you have family members who would be responsible for your debts?
  • Do you have debts that would eat up assets you want to pass on to family members?
  • Do you want to pass on money that couldn’t be diverted to pay your debts, even if you owe those debts?

Life insurance can help in any of these scenarios. Term life insurance policies, which provide a death benefit for a set number of years, are suitable for most people’s life insurance needs. NerdWallet’s life insurance tool is a good place to compare prices. If you want to consider a permanent policy, such as whole life insurance, consult a financial advisor.

Complete Article HERE!