Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What to do with your ‘treasures’ your kids don’t want. Also in the news: How ‘shadow lenders’ can leave college students in the dark, why it’s harder than ever to find a balance transfer offer right now, and 5 destinations from Netflix hits to inspire your future travels.

What to Do With Your ‘Treasures’ the Kids Don’t Want
Don’t take it personally.

‘Shadow’ Lenders Can Leave College Students in the Dark
Know exactly what you’re borrowing.

Why It’s Harder Than Ever to Find a Balance Transfer Offer Right Now
The coronavirus strikes again.

5 Destinations From Netflix Hits to Inspire Your Future Travels
You’ll travel again someday.

What to do with your stuff the kids don’t want

Parents who are downsizing or simply decluttering may have to get creative at finding homes for all their unwanted possessions – particularly these days.

The generations that came after the baby boom are famously less interested than their predecessors in the trappings of domestic life, says Elizabeth Stewart, author of “No Thanks Mom: The Top Ten Objects Your Kids Do NOT Want (and What To Do With Them).”

Gen Xers and millennials often don’t want to polish silver or hand wash china, Stewart says. They’re also typically not interested in dark, heavy furniture, books, photo albums, vintage linens or someone else’s collections.

In my latest for the Associated Press, how to figure out what to do with it all.

Q&A: How the COVID-19 pandemic is delaying inheritances

Dear Liz: My mother passed away in March due to old age. She lived in California. I live out of state and couldn’t travel because of the pandemic. My siblings took care of her burial. Her will named me executor. I’d like to know how long I have to settle her estate and whether I will need an attorney. Her house was her major asset and was assessed at $400,000. There’s no mortgage. The house goes to an older brother and me, and two grandsons each get $10,000. I want to make sure the grandsons get their inheritances as soon as possible.

Answer: Your grandsons will have to wait awhile. California probate is slow at the best of times, with a typical case taking eight to 12 months or more. Pandemic-related court closures are adding many months to the process. Courts are slowly reopening but dealing with a significant backlog of filings.

Your mother’s will should be filed with the appropriate county within 30 days of her death and the county tax assessor should be notified within 150 days because she was a property owner, said Jennifer Sawday, an estate planning attorney in Long Beach. Though most counties allow electronic filing for probate matters, it’s typically not the most user-friendly process and you may want to consult a probate attorney. The initial consultation is usually free. Hiring an attorney to handle the whole process probably won’t be cheap: By law, probate attorneys can charge 4% of the first $100,000 of the estate, 3% of the next $100,000, 2% of the next $800,000, 1% of the next $9 million, and 0.5% of the next $15 million.

Your mom could have avoided probate entirely if she’d created a revocable living trust, or if she had taken other probate-avoidance measures. In California and many other states, real estate can be passed on with a “transfer on death” deed that avoids probate. She also could have set up bank accounts and designated your grandsons as beneficiaries to avoid probate.

It’s too late now, obviously. But whatever you do, don’t jump the gun by making distributions, Sawday warned.

“If there is a will, under no circumstances should he make the cash gifts to the grandsons until the court admits the will, appoints him as executor and probate actually commences,” Sawday said.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 reasons it’s smart to lease a car right now. Also in the news: How to free up cash in your budget, how to decide what to leave your kids, and all the ways to get Amazon Prime for free.

5 Reasons It’s Smart to Lease a Car Right Now
Keeping your financial options open.

Can’t make money right now? Free up cash in your budget
Time to check every dollar you spend.

Should you be ‘fair’ with the inheritance you leave to your kids?
Think carefully about the message you’re sending.

All the Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
How to score that sweet free shipping.

Q&A: Getting sister’s house without a will

Dear Liz: When I retired in 2018, I rolled over my 403(b) teachers retirement account into a traditional IRA and made my sister sole beneficiary. I sent her a copy of that beneficiary statement showing her name, her percentage (100%), and my account number. My sister later told me in a phone call that she wished to bequeath me her house should she predecease me. She explained she didn’t have a will but she made her feelings known to our older brother. Even if I were on speaking terms with our older brother, I would find this arrangement naive. Knowing my sister, she actually believes this method is the right way to proceed with her wishes. I’m asking you to be Dear Abby, perhaps, but what do I do?

Answer: You can explain to her that if she doesn’t have a will, the laws of her state will determine who gets her house regardless of what she intended. If your sister does not have a spouse or children, and your parents are dead, you and your brother would probably inherit the home as well as the rest of her estate. You would have to negotiate what to do with the house, which could be difficult if you two still aren’t speaking.

If you can’t get her to write a will, there may be another option. Many states allow “transfer on death” deeds, which are forms that allow people to name a beneficiary for their home. This would ensure that the house is left to you and that it avoids probate, the court process that otherwise follows death.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Should you leave your kids an equal inheritance? Also in the news: The Points Nerd on who we can trust about travel safety, a student loan expert takes her own advice, and how to apply for a credit card when you don’t have a credit score.

Should You Leave Your Kids an Equal Inheritance?
Consider family dynamics.

Ask a Points Nerd: Whom Can We Trust About Travel Safety?
Err on the side of caution.

A student loan expert takes her own advice
Making the system work.

How to Apply for a Credit Card When You Don’t Have a Credit Score
Build up your credit worthiness.

Q&A: Taxes when inheriting a home

Dear Liz: My sister recently passed, and I acquired her home, which I’m selling (it’s now in escrow). I was looking at state tax forms for real estate transactions, and there is nowhere to check for a person who was given a home through death. Does this mean it is taxable? I was told since it was an inheritance that it was not taxable.

Answer: Technically, you weren’t given a home. You inherited it, and you’re correct that inheritances are typically not taxable. (Only six states impose inheritance taxes, and your state, California, is not one of them.) When you inherited the home, the property received what’s known as a step-up in tax basis, so that the appreciation that occurred during your sister’s lifetime is not taxed. You would owe tax only on any appreciation that occurred since you owned the property. A tax pro can help you figure out what you might owe.

Q&A: Inheriting an IRA can get messy

Dear Liz: My brother passed away at age 47. My mother was named beneficiary of his retirement account. We opened an inherited IRA under her name. Sadly, my mother recently passed away, and my father is the beneficiary of the account. Does my father open a regular IRA or inherited IRA? How would the title on the account be listed with my mother and brother deceased? Are they both listed?

Answer: Inheriting an inherited IRA complicates an already complex set of rules.

The regulations are different depending on whether the person inheriting is a spouse. Spouses can treat the inherited account as their own. They can leave the money where it is, make new contributions or transfer the funds to another retirement account they own. They also have more flexibility in how to take required minimum distributions from the account.

Non-spouse beneficiaries, like your mother, don’t have the option of treating the IRA as their own. They must set up a new inherited IRA and start distributions. Until this year, non-spouse beneficiaries could take distributions over their lifetimes. Now non-spouse beneficiaries are required to drain their inherited IRAs within 10 years.

How the account is titled is important, because improper titling can cause it to lose tax deferral and accelerate the tax bill. Let’s say your brother’s name was Tom Johnson and he died in March 2019, leaving his IRA to your mother, Mabel Johnson. A correct title for the new inherited IRA would be “Tom Johnson (deceased March 2019) Inherited IRA for the benefit of Mabel Johnson.”

Your family’s situation creates a hybrid of the two situations. Your dad would have an inherited spousal IRA, but his mandatory withdrawals would be based on your mother’s required minimum distributions, said Mark Luscombe, principal analyst for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting.

Your dad should open a new inherited IRA, Luscombe says. Assuming his name is Bill Johnson, the title of the inherited IRA should be “Tom Johnson (deceased March 2019) Inherited IRA for the benefit of Bill Johnson, successor beneficiary of Mabel Johnson.”

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Hard-won tips from borrowers who got student loan forgiveness. Also in the news: Steering your upside-down car loan back to safety, FAFSA mistakes that can negatively affect your financial aid, and what to do first with an inheritance.

Hard-Won Tips From Borrowers Who Got Student Loan Forgiveness
It won’t be easy.

Is Your Car Loan Upside-Down? How to Steer Back to Safety
Getting back above water.

These FAFSA mistakes can negatively affect your financial aid
FAFSA applications open on October 1st.

What to Do First With an Inheritance
Making smart decisions during a difficult time.

Q&A: Keeping a bequest from doing harm

Dear Liz: I am leaving a good friend a bequest in my will. He receives government benefits, including disability, Supplemental Security Income and Medi-Cal (California’s version of Medicaid). I am beginning to be concerned that if he inherits the money, it could mess him up more than help him. Is there a way to leave someone like my friend a bequest without jeopardizing the various benefits they now receive?

Answer: You’ll want an attorney experienced in “special needs trusts” to help you put language into your estate plan that can help shelter this money and protect your friend’s benefits.

Your concern is well founded because a direct inheritance could cause him to lose income and health coverage. SSI and Medi-Cal are both “means tested” programs that require people to have less than $2,000 in assets. All too often, well-meaning friends and relatives leave direct bequests that have the unintended consequence of separating the recipients from vital services they need to survive.