The Lawyer and Avoiding the Estate Account

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My husband and I were frugal throughout our careers, and always contributed to any plan that offered an employer contribution. He was a community college instructor, I worked with nonprofit organizations. We anticipated both of us living to the age of 80 (and beyond), so we saved our money anticipating 20 to 30 more years with income only from his teacher retirement, Social Security, and our savings. We have accumulated an amount that I assumed would throw me into an Estate Account requirement (for those who don’t know, if the deceased spouse has accrued more than $30,000 in separate assets, the surviving spouse generally must establish an Estate Account).

I applied to the IRS for a Tax ID number for said account. However, thanks to the guidance of my lawyer, that number will not be needed. Fortunately, we had set up all our financial assets (investment account and checking/savings accounts) as joint with right of survivorship, so all of the assets passed to me, avoiding the Estate.  The joint accounts also did not count toward the $30,000 “year’s allowance” for widows in my conservative Southern state.

In our state, the house also passes to the surviving spouse, not counting toward the “allowance” (providing husband and wife purchased the house as a couple). What I have left are three cars, my husband’s last paycheck (written after his death) and a few other small odds and ends.  I will have to take a trip to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, with a Death Certificate, to transfer title of two of our cars to my name – still not meeting the $30,000 threshold (the cars are quite ancient with very low market values).

This is a MUCH less arduous process than I initially anticipated – thinking I would have to set up an Estate checking account, leave it open for a year to satisfy claims against the Estate, and make a public declaration.

I also have a great lawyer: a young woman who is generous and efficient with her time, even returning part of the initial fees she collected as “not utilized”.

There is yet another benefit of our relationship.  The second week after my husband died I had the substantive meeting with her (please note that I called her at 9:00 AM the morning after he died for specific guidance on anything that needed to be done immediately, which she provided, graciously.  It was Sunday morning). My late-twenty-something niece was visiting, so she accompanied me to the meeting with the lawyer.  My niece is in one of the longer-term arrangements common to young people.  She and her boyfriend co-habit an apartment, but there is absolutely no legal commitment/relationship between the two. When we left the meeting with our lawyer, her first comment was “now I see why people get married.” An astute observation.

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