by Bill Griffith Bill Griffith No Comments

Finding Unclaimed Money and Property

Finding unclaimed money and property can be daunting and very time consuming. Save yourself time and potential losses in value by knowing when escheatment occurs.

According to the state treasurer, one in ten Pennsylvanians has unclaimed property that can be applied for. While more and more residents are becoming aware of the process of searching for unclaimed property, the process of finding unclaimed money and property can be daunting and very time consuming.

Unclaimed Property Search

Since we regularly help people with claims paperwork, we know what the process entails.  The claims process begins with a search, requesting a claim form, and furnishing documents such as death certificates, affidavits, proof of address, POA documents, and other evidentiary documents requested by the Bureau of Unclaimed Property.

The department then reviews claims documents, which can take months or even years to complete.

Property Escheated to the State

Though it is possible to re-claim property that has been escheated (property deemed lost, abandoned or unclaimed and then turned over) to the state, it is important to try to understand when escheatment occurs to avoid having to go through this process in the first place.  This saves you not only time, but also from potential losses in value that might occur as a result of escheatment.

Holders of property, such as financial institutions, are required to send due diligence notifications to the owners of any property before escheating it.

Holders of property subject to escheatment are bound by the state’s rules regarding dormancy periods and must turn over any “abandoned” property to the state after a specified period.  In Pennsylvania, the dormancy period is most often 3 years, but can vary based on the type of property (e.g. 2 years for wages or commissions, 7 years for money orders).

For example, suppose you have stock certificates in a safe.  If you move to another house and forget to notify your stock transfer agent, it is possible that your stock transfer agent might lose contact with you.  If the stocks (which are generally sold immediately, often at a loss) are turned over to the state after the dormancy period, you would have to go through the process of filing a claim for the value of the stocks when they were sold. This is a waste of time and could cost you any gains that you may have earned had the stocks not been escheated.

Abandoned Property

The same scenario can play out if a financial institution such as a bank has not contacted you for several years.  If they never receive updated contact information and mail is being returned to them, an account may be deemed lost, or a safe-deposit box considered abandoned, at which point the contents would be escheated to the state. This scenario is particularly concerning with priceless tangible property kept in a safe deposit box, which the state will liquidate after three years, rendering it impossible to recover.

Keep Your Estate Planning Up to Date

It is important as a part of your estate planning process to keep a list of all financial institutions with whom you do business, including banks, brokers, transfer agents and insurance companies. Review this list and update it regularly (at least once per year) and include it with your other important estate planning documents such as a living trust or a will so that your family members will know where to locate it when it is needed.

When compiling this list, take the time to reach out to the institutions that you don’t deal with regularly to make sure that they have your current address and telephone number. It is wise to note the last time that you’ve reached out to each institution, so that you can remember to touch base every year or so.

Protect Your Assets From Being Escheated

Remember that while your financial institutions are required to perform due diligence efforts to contact you before escheatment occurs, they are still required by law to report abandoned property. 

Keeping your accounts active by updating your contact information, making a transaction, logging in to online banking services, or even calling customer service, will help you protect your assets and prevent future headaches and loss that can occur when assets are turned over to the state.

Finding unclaimed money and property can be daunting and very time consuming. Save yourself time now and potential losses in the future by knowing when escheatment occurs and how to prevent your property from being deemed lost, abandoned or unclaimed and then turned over to the state.

by Bill Griffith Bill Griffith No Comments

Damage to Headstones and Monuments

What do you do if a headstone or monument that you own is damaged or vandalized at a local cemetery in Washington or Allegheny County?

Very few people think about it but what can you do and who pays for the damage?

One of the many considerations involved with planning for a burial is the selection of a headstone or grave marker, often made of bronze or granite, which can range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand.

We are often asked about the longevity of different types of grave markers, how the cemetery will take care of them, and what would happen if it was damaged or vandalized.

Some cemeteries may tell people that markers purchased through third parties will not be covered if they are damaged, but what the average consumer doesn’t know is that headstones, grave markers and monuments are usually covered by an individual’s homeowner’s insurance policy.

Damage to Headstones Caused by Vandalism

Every once in a while, there will be story in the news about vandalism at a local cemetery. When a bronze marker is involved, people might be more concerned about theft, as even bronze vases could be stolen and sold as scrap or be melted back down.

The good news is that many homeowners’ policies explicitly state “Cemetery Property” as a covered item in the Personal Property section of their policy, and if not, these memorials may still be considered “contents” of one’s home.

Even though they are not physically in the home, it is typical in standard policies for there to be coverage of up to $5,000 for damage to grave markers, including loss caused by various perils including vandalism.

Damage to Headstones Caused by Machinery

A cemetery might tell you that the grave marker would be covered by them if damaged as a result of machinery used to cut grass, open and close graves, etc., but that you would be without recourse if a marker is vandalized or stolen.

In reality, it is worth knowing whether or not your physical property in cemeteries is covered by your homeowner’s policy regardless, because in the event that a grave marker is damaged, the cemetery may ask that you prove that the damage was caused by their equipment, which is often impossible to do. The easiest way to determine your coverage would be to read through your homeowner’s policy, or to call your insurance agent.

If you are able to estimate the value of a marker that has been damaged, the insurance company would treat it at it would treat any other lost property claim and pay for the cost of repair or replacement minus your deductible.

It is important to note that while these standard types of policies generally cover the headstone or grave marker of spouses or children, they may not explicitly state coverage of markers on the graves of other family members such as siblings or parents. But if you as the policy owner paid for or otherwise own the marker, it should be covered. Again, your best course of action is to consult your policy documents or contact your insurance agent for clarification.

by Bill Griffith Bill Griffith No Comments

Reviewing Your Estate Plan

Reviewing your estate plan periodically will ensure that your Revocable Living Trust and other estate planning documents are properly aligned with your most important goals.

Are you confident that your estate plan is designed properly? Do you know how your estate will pass to your beneficiaries?

If not, you can gain a better understanding of how your estate plan is designed and the level of stress that your loved ones may incur if something where to happen to you.

Determine the level of stress on your loved ones

One of the main goals of estate planning, for many people, is to minimize the burden of estate settlement.  One way of minimizing the burden of estate settlement is by avoiding probate.  One way of avoiding probate is with a living trust.

How Does a Living Trust Avoid Probate?

After a living trust is created for our clients, we help them transfer the title of their assets to their trust.  Although the title of their assets has been transferred to their trust, they still control the living trust during their lifetime.  As the Trustee, they still manage their assets for their own benefit during their lifetime.  They can still use their assets just as they did before they set up their trust.

Since their trust owns the assets, and not them personally, their estate does not have to go through the probate process when they die.

Funding a Living Trust

Transferring the title of assets to a living trust is really a simple process.  It is called funding the trust.  To minimize the burden of estate settlement by avoiding the probate process, the Revocable Living Trust must be funded properly.

By reviewing your estate plan periodically, you can be sure that your living trust is properly funded upfront to avoid the unintentional expense of probate.

Changes in Personal Circumstances

Another reason for reviewing your estate plan is to account for changing laws and changes in personal circumstances.

Do Your Powers of Attorney Documents Need Updated?

Every so often, the state will change the laws for the Durable Power of Attorney.  In addition to changing laws, some financial institutions may not accept a POA that was drafted many years ago.

The cost for updating powers of attorney and other ancillary estate planning documents is minimal.

It is highly recommended that people review their estate plan at least once each year to make sure that their estate plan remains current and to ensure that any new assets were properly titled in the name of the trust.

An even better and easier way to keep on top or your estate plan is by using our interactive estate planning program. You’ll be able to keep your information up to date and allow other authorized users, such as your child, to view your Pre-Paid Funeral Expenses, your legal and other documents right online.

To login for the first time to begin an estate plan, simply click My Estate Plan at the top of the screen. We’ll send you a separate email with a link to complete an interactive questionnaire.

by Bill Griffith Bill Griffith No Comments

Correcting an Excess IRA Contribution

The deadline for correcting an excess IRA contribution for the 2018 tax year is coming up. If the excess amount is not removed according to a special formula, a penalty tax of 6% will accrue on excess amounts that remain in the owner’s IRA.  

An excess IRA contribution occurs when an IRA owner contributes more than the statutory limit to their IRA in a given year.  For the year 2018, the IRA contribution limit was the lesser of $5,500 or 100% of earned income.  An additional catch up contribution of $1,000 is available for individual’s age 50 or older.

An excess contribution can occur when an IRA owner simply contributes too much to their IRA in one tax year, such as by contributing more than the lesser of $5,500 or 100% of earned income. 

For example:  Say that in 2018, Mr. Smith, age 62 and single with earned income of $5,000 and rental income of $34,500, contributed $6,500 to his traditional IRA.  Mr. Smith has made an excess contribution of $1,500 to his IRA ($6,500 minus the $5,000 limit). The contribution limit is the lesser of $6,500 or 100% of earned income.  In this case, the rental income of $34,500 is not earned income.

Correcting an Excess IRA Contribution After Due Date

Individuals who contribute too much to their IRA have until their tax-filing deadline, including extensions, to correct any excess contribution.  Individuals who file their tax returns by April 15th and file for an extension have six months to remove the excess amount, which for calendar year taxpayers is October 15, 2019. 

If the excess amount is not removed according to a special formula, which determines the amount of the excess contribution plus interest or other income earned on the excess contribution, a penalty tax of 6% will accrue on excess amounts that remain in the owner’s IRA.