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Money in an Estate

A person’s estate is made up of all the property both tangible and intangible that is owned by a person while they are alive and when they pass away. This includes cash money and other types and kinds of money including bank accounts and retirement accounts. Trying to figure out whether certain types or kinds of money or other property are part of a person’s estate can sometimes be difficult. Our Idaho Estate Planning Attorneys are experienced and can help you determine what is included for you or for a family member’s estate.

The Lawyers at the Racine Law Office include partners Randy Budge and Lane Erickson both of whom have the highest ratings for their legal ability and ethics. The Racine Team also includes attorneys, Nathan Palmer and Dave Bagley. Below is a specific list of the types of money a person may have while they are alive, and an explanation of what happens to these different types of money when a person passes away.

Checking and Savings Accounts at a Bank

Your bank accounts, including any checking and savings accounts that you own are subject to the contract document that was signed when the account was opened with the bank. On this contract document there is a section that requires the applicant to list who the owners of the account are. Typically in that same area there is language that is called a right of survivorship. Essentially, what this means is that the survivor who is listed as an owner on the account is the sole owner of the account and of the money when the other account owners pass away. Under applicable Idaho law, any person who is named as an account owner, and who has put money into and taken money out of the account as a regular account owner, has a contractual right to the money as the survivor. This means that such a bank account is part of that person’s estate.

It is important to understand that simply naming a person as an account owner is not enough in Idaho to give them an ownership interest in the bank account. In some instances, a parent may name a child as an account owner to give them access to the account so they can write checks and pay bills for the parent as a way of making things easier for the parent. In this instance, the child may technically be an account owner, but if the child is only dealing with the parent’s money, through deposits and withdrawals, and none of their own money is put into or taken out of the account, then the child does not have a legal right of survivorship in the account. In this instance the Personal Representative has an obligation to take control of the bank account and distribute the money held in those accounts pursuant to the decedent’s Last Will and Testament or through the laws of Intestacy if no written Will exists.

Simply putting a child’s name on an account can also create other problems. If that child’s name is put on a parent’s account and that child has any creditors seeking to satisfy a debt or a judgment, it is possible that the creditor can garnish and take the monies in that account away from the parent. In this instance, the parent may have put their child’s name on their account so the child could help them, all while not knowing that the parent’s money might be taken away.

There is a better way. When a parent wants to give a child the ability to write checks, pay bills, and manage bank accounts for them, the parent should name that child in their Durable Power of Attorney. This gives the child the same ability to help the parent manage their money and pay bills without jeopardizing the account through the child’s creditors. Our Estate Planning Attorneys in Idaho understand the intricacies of helping a parent create a written plan that will help them during their life, such as with bank accounts while at the same time protecting those accounts. Creating an effective written plan to assist a parent while they are alive is a major part of the estate planning we can provide.

Cash in the Home or in a Wallet, Safe, or Safety Deposit Box

Bank accounts are only a part of the money a person can own or have possession of when they pass away. Actual cash is handled differently. Cash that is in the home such as in a wallet or in a home safe or even in a drawer, or cash that is held in a safety deposit box, is considered tangible personal property. Tangible personal property is a type of property owned by a person that is capable of being moved. Because of this, applicable Idaho Law states that these types of cash that are owned by the parent who dies is to be used first to pay the debts of the decedent and then is to be distributed based on the instructions set forth in that person’s Last Will and Testament. If there is no written Will then tangible personal property such as cash is distributed based on the laws of intestacy.

Retirement Accounts

Retirement accounts are an entirely different story. Typically retirement accounts such as IRAs or 401ks are not considered by the law to be a part of a person’s estate. For this reason, these types of money are not controlled by a person’s Last Will and Testament, or the laws of intestacy and are not included as a part of a distribution when a person who owns such an account passes away. The reasons for this are important to understand.

While it is true that retirement accounts are individually owned by the decedent, they are different because they are also administered and held by a third-party under the terms of a written contract. This written contract allows the decedent to designate who the beneficiaries of that account will be upon their death. In other words, a person has the ability to choose who to name in the contract that will actually receive the money held in a retirement account when they die. Based on what is written in the contract, when they owner of the retirement account does die, the administrator of the account, which is the entity that handles the account for the person, is required to follow the terms of the written contract and give the decedent’ money to the person whose name is written down in the contract. As a result, the money of the decedent does not become part of their estate.

Life Insurance

Our Idaho Estate Planning Lawyers also understand that life insurance monies are very similar to retirement accounts. These monies generally never become a part of an estate, because they are specifically designated to be given to another individual based on the terms of the written contract. The life insurance contract requires the life insurance company to make a distribution of the life insurance proceeds directly to the beneficiary who is named. As with retirement accounts, this is usually accomplished by providing a copy of the death certificate and by completing any additional paperwork the life insurance company requires. Once this is done, the life insurance company then makes a cash payment directly to the named beneficiary without going through the decedent’s estate.

Enlist an Idaho Estate Planning Attorney to Help You

Determining how to deal with all the different types of money that can be in an estate is often a difficult and time-consuming process. The Attorneys at the Racine Law Office are here to help you and your family when you need it the most. We are available to discuss your options and answer your questions at an initial consultation. Call us toll free at 877.232.6101 or 208.232.6101 for a consultation with the Racine Olson team of Estate Planning attorneys in Idaho. You can also email us directly at We will answer your questions and will help you solve your Idaho Estate Planning problems.

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