Smart Money

DEAR BRUCE: My parents left me and my two siblings money from their estate. We received the bulk of the estate almost two years ago. Now, the executrix, a niece, is withholding $20,000. In three years, there have been no claims against the estate. I called the attorneys involved, and they are the ones who informed me of that.

Nothing about this was stated in the will. Can the executrix do this legally? As it stands now, we won't get the money until 2019. I think this length of a waiting period is excessive. The total estate was about $300,000. -- Diana

DEAR DIANA: I can understand the thinking of the executrix. She wanted to be certain nobody would come back and say that a debt hadn't been satisfied. But after three years and no claims against the estate, I see no reason for withholding that final $20,000. She did what she was supposed to by being very conservative, and you can't hate her for that.

I would go to her and say, "Look, the time has come to have the rest of the monies distributed and finally close out the estate forever." That is not an unreasonable request from the heir's point of view.

DEAR BRUCE: I am 68 and my eldest brother is 82. He had a will made many years ago, naming me as the executor of the will, which evenly divides his assets among the remaining siblings.

My brother has never been married, has no children, no creditors and no significant other. He has subsequently made my sister co-owner on all of his assets. My other brothers and sisters and I all trust my sister to fairly divide his assets when he dies. If this sister is alive and divides all of his assets fairly upon his death, is there any need to actually execute his will? -- R.H.

DEAR R.H.: If the sister agrees to divide his assets among the people in his will, I see no problem with that. This might be the easiest way to go since they would be her assets. The only problem with that is there may be some gift tax. There is no way to avoid that if you wait until he passes away to find out.

If I were you, I would see an attorney and suggest that the sister provide written authorization to the executor or directions that she would follow to have these monies distributed. Why he made her co-owner is another matter. The co-ownership just complicates the matter.

(Send questions to bruce@brucewilliams.com. Questions of general interest will be answered in future columns. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.)

(The Bruce Williams Radio Show can now be heard 24/7 via iTunes and at www.taeradio.com. It is also available at www.brucewilliams.com.)

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