Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Distributions to Beneficiaries - Show Me the Money!

When someone is the beneficiary of a Trust or Estate, one of the first questions the Trustee of the Trust or the Personal Representative of the Estate is asked is “When will I receive my money?” Human nature being what it is, most people want their share of the Trust or Estate “yesterday” or as soon as possible. Oftentimes the beneficiary making the inquiry is related to the Trustee or Personal Representative, and this places the Trustee or Personal Representative in a difficult position. What factors should the Trustee or Personal Representative consider before making any distributions?

A major factor to consider is possible creditor claims. A Trustee or Personal Representative does not want to distribute the Trust or Estate monies to third party beneficiaries only to discover later that the decedent or the Trust is legally indebted to a creditor. In such a situation, the creditor oftentimes will pursue the Trustee or Personal Representative for the amount of claim, and the Trustee or Personal Representative is left trying to seek reimbursement from the beneficiaries. Unfortunately, once the monies are distributed, the monies are usually “gone” from a practical point of view and it is very difficult to recover the reimbursement from the beneficiaries. The law recognizes this quandary, and furnishes the solution for the Trustee or Personal Representative by way of a notice to creditors and a limited time period for filing claims procedure. For example, under Nevada law a Trustee or Personal Representative can publish a Notice To Creditors once each week for three (3) consecutive weeks and mail a Notice to known or readily ascertainable creditors. Notice must also be given to the Department of Health and Human Services if the decedent received public assistance during his or her lifetime. A creditor having a claim due or to become due then has ninety (90) days from the first publication date and ninety (90) days from the mailing date as to those creditors to whom notice must be mailed in which to file a written claim (some creditors have the later of ninety (90) days from the first publication date and thirty (30) days from the mailing date). If the creditor fails to file a written claim within the applicable time period, generally speaking the creditor is forever barred from enforcing the claim even though it was a legally owed debt on the date of the death of the decedent. Accordingly, once notice is given and the applicable time period for filing claims has passed, the Trustee or Personal Representative can be reasonably assured that there are no unknown claims lurking.

Two exceptions to the rule are mortgages-deeds of trust and income taxes. Mortgages-deeds of trust are recorded with the County Recorder and a matter of public record, so the holder of the mortgage-deed of trust need not file a written claim in order to perfect its lien against the real estate. Normally the Trustee or Personal Representative is aware of the mortgage-deed of trust as a result of a review of the financial affairs of the decedent which discloses monthly payments to the holder of the mortgage-deed of trust. Also a search by a title company of the public records regarding any real estate owned by the decedent will disclose any mortgages-deeds of trusts of record.

Income tax reports of the decedent or the trust or the estate can be audited by the IRS (or by a state if state income tax involved), possibly resulting in additional tax, penalties and interest owed. This potential problem is solved by holding back a sufficient amount of money from the distributions to pay any such additional tax, penalties and interest.

There are a number of other significant factors to be considered before making beneficiary distributions such as potential legal challenges to the validity of the Will or Trust of the decedent, priority of payments, terms of the Trust or Will, et cetera. Accordingly, a Trustee and Personal Representative should always consult a knowledgeable estate and trust attorney before making distributions. At Jeffrey Burr Law Office, our trust administration and probate attorneys have assisted numerous individual and corporate Trustees and Personal Representatives in performing their duties, including being the bearer of bad news to the beneficiaries as to why a distribution cannot be made immediately.


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