Ooops! Did you choose the wrong executor?

You finally got around to making your Will. You deserve a sigh of relief. But did you choose the right executor? Or have you burdened an unqualified or unwilling relative and put your Will at risk to be contested?

Generally speaking, the first person that comes to mind to be one’s executor is often an adult child or other family member, followed perhaps by a close friend. These individuals may be honored that you asked them, and will often accept this important duty. Some may even accept the duty despite not wanting the burden, just so they do not insult you.

Your choice of executor may be an emotional one, but also should be chosen based upon what is best for your estate, probate, and your needs. Choosing the executor of your estate is not a task to take lightly. An executor is the person responsible for managing the administration of a deceased individual’s estate. The time and effort involved will vary with the size of the estate. Even the executor of a small estate will have important duties that must be performed correctly, or the executor may be personally liable to the estate or the beneficiaries. One of the many jobs of the executor is to take an accurate inventory of the deceased individual’s assets. This includes making a list of all bank, brokerage and retirement accounts, insurance policies, real property, and any other assets the deceased owned. An inventory of personal effects, antiques or other valuables must be tabulated as well. A list of the estate’s inventory must ultimately be presented to the probate court for review.

This can be a very time-consuming task, and it may mean going through the deceased individual’s personal data or paperwork for information, interviewing heirs, or checking ownership documents at the local town hall. The information presented to the court is expected to be accurate and complete, so that the beneficiaries receive their inheritance on a timely basis. Of course, the executor must probate the deceased person’s Last Will, which may involve locating and notifying the person’s heirs. As if the demands of the probate process aren’t enough work, creditors must be paid, and final income tax returns must be filed. If the estate is large enough, a state and federal estate tax return may be required as well. Once this is complete, distributions to the estate’s beneficiaries must be calculated and dispersed. Of course, if the deceased person’s Last Will is contested, the executor must oversee this process as well. This may put an additional wedge between friends and/or family members. Further, it can add months and perhaps even years to the process, as well as some unwanted stress for the executor.

Tax laws and state and federal estate tax exclusion rates may be different than when the Will was written. If the surviving spouse plans to file for estate tax portability, an estate tax return may need to be filed even if no tax is owed.

Feel free to call me for an opinion on your choice of executor. If you prefer, I may also act as your executor if you do not have a qualified person in mind. This may remove the potential burden it can place on others and offer many efficiencies and time saving as well.

To learn more about the duties of an executor click here>

Regards,

Brian

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Bedsores Reference Guide: Lawsuit, Medical, and Treatment information

Have bedsores reached epidemic proportions yet? To many it seems so — especially in elders that are in hospitals and nursing homes — and they do not have to be incapacitated or totally immobile to be at risk.

Whether or not you or an elder in your family has unfortunately become a victim of a bedsore, pressure ulcer, or decubitus ulcer keep this handy reference guide available. Download it to you computer, cell phone or bookmark it. Because bedsores can happen extremely fast and catch you off guard. They can progress rapidly, even within hours if proper care and medical attention are not given.

Anyone with an elder family member entering a hospital, nursing home or even a skilled nursing facility for a short term stay should read and help prevent these potential life treating wounds from happening to a loved one. They can occur at even the best hospitals with the best doctors. You may not expect malpractice, but it happens. You may not expect neglect but it happens. It happens to tens of thousands of innocent patients.

Lawsuits can yield millions of dollars to the victim and their family.

Understaffing, inadequate training, changes in shifts, or simply a scenario where your loved one in a nursing home may need care but that care is given to others with a more acute immediate need. It’s at these times that the elder is at extreme risk.

You can read more about risk factors, treatment, and lawsuits to be compensated for pain, suffering or loss of life here. Reference Guide>

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Additional information on bedsores from Medical News Today>

More Facts About Your Legal Rights>

Benefits for Older New Yorkers

Many public programs are available to seniors in need.  The New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA) provides a guide to benefits and entitlements for older New Yorkers.

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Most of the agencies listed have automated answering systems needing touch tone responses from the caller. There may be a waiting time of up to several minutes, depending on the agency. The time may be longer to reach an operator, if using a rotary telephone.

ACCESSNYC can help improve your access to benefits. ACCESSNYC is a free electronic information and screening tool that allows people of all ages to identify and screen their eligibility for over 30 City, State and Federal human service benefit programs.

Seniors can visit http://www.nyc.gov and search for “Access NYC” to screen their eligibility for several of the programs listed in this booklet. These include SNAP, Medicaid, HEAP, and the Senior Citizen’s Rent Increase Exemption and Veterans’ Exemptions.

Based on information you enter into the system, ACCESS NYC will help fill out some of the applications to make the process easier. It will also provide information on agency office locations that are near you. The tool is available in seven languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Haitian Creole, and Arabic.

Download The NYC.gov Benefits Guide here: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dfta/downloads/pdf/publications/Benefits1017.pdf

For more information call 311 or visit: www.nyc.gov

 

Stay Safe Online This Holiday Season

This holiday season is ripe for a lot of spam, online scams, viruses, malware and ransomware.  All can be at the least annoying and at best extremely costly.

Here are some tips I use to stay safe when online:

•Do not click to open attached files in your email that come from unknown senders. Files with extensions .zip, .pdf, .exe should be a red flag. Also, even if sender appears to be known, i.e. Chase Bank, UPS, that doesn’t mean it is from Chase bank or UPS. A known sender means a friend you have emailed before. Note that even if it is a known sender, if you are not expecting anything be cautious. Look for errors in the message or language. If unsure, call or email that person or company separately—not as a reply email— and ask them if they sent you something.

•Think twice before clicking on links in emails. If your bank or credit card sends you an email with a link, don’t click it. Log in via your bank or credit cards website from your browser. The ‘from’ column of your email may be disguised and read like a familiar or bonafide email address but may actually be from elsewhere.

• Be cautious of any suspicious pop ups of applications showing up on your pc.

• Most email applications will allow you to mark spam as ‘spam’ or ‘junk’. This is a good practice If you get frequent spam from same sender. It should keep the spam from showing up again in your inbox.

For more detailed information about online safety see below.

Yes, you can click theses links from me 🙂

-Brian

https://staysafeonline.org/stay-safe-online

https://securingtomorrow.mcafee.com/consumer/consumer-threat-notices/10-tips-stay-safe-online/

 

What is Probate? 6 Steps Outlined:

When a loved one dies there are significant legal issues that come up for the executor or administrator.

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Probate is simply the process of the Court validating the Last Will and Testament of a deceased person, referred to as a “decedent” and having the executor appointed. Some of the duties of the executor are paying the decedent’s final bills and estate taxes and/or inheritance taxes (if any), and then distributing what’s left of the decedent’s assets to his or her heirs.

6 Basic steps of Probate outlined:

1. Filing the Will and petition at the probate court in order to be appointed executor or personal representative. In the absence of a Will, we will petition the court on behalf of heirs to be appointed “administrator” of the estate.

2. Marshaling, or collecting, the assets.

This means that you have to find out everything the deceased owned. You need to file a list, known as an “inventory,” with the probate court. It’s generally best to consolidate all the estate funds to the extent possible. Bills and bequests should be paid from a single checking account, either one you establish or even better, one that we set up as your attorney, so that we and you can keep track of all expenditures.

3. Taxes, taxes, taxes. If a state or federal estate tax return is needed it must be filed within nine months of the date of death. If you miss this deadline and the estate is taxable, severe penalties and interest may apply. If you do not have all the information available in time, we can file for an extension and pay your best estimate of the tax due.

4. Filing tax returns. A final income tax return for the decedent must be filed and, if the estate holds any assets and earns interest or dividends, an income tax return for the estate as well. If the estate does earn income during the administration process, it will have to obtain its own tax identification number in order to keep track of such earnings. Our probate attorneys are well versed in the latest probate tax issues.

5. Distributing property to the heirs and legatees. Generally, executors do not pay out all of the estate assets until the period runs out for creditors to make claims, which can be as long as a year after the date of death. But once the executor understands the estate and the likely claims, he or she can distribute most of the assets, retaining a reserve for unanticipated claims and the costs of closing out the estate.

6. Filing a final account. The executor must file an account with the probate court listing any income to the estate since the date of death and all expenses and estate distributions. Once the court approves this final account, the executor can distribute whatever is left in the closing reserve, and finish his or her work. We have the experience to make every step of the probate process less burdensome for our clients so they can arrive at the final accountings with a sense of ease.

Q&A:

Do I need to get the original Will?

Yes. A photocopy of the Will is not considered a legal document and ordinarily will not be honored. If you are the executor it’s likely you have it stored in a safe place such as a safe deposit box. Or perhaps it’s with the attorney that drafted the Will. Note that even though another attorney may have drafted the document or represented you or your family before, there is no obligation to continue use that attorney and we can certainly assist and save you time, money and anguish.

How long should it take to “settle” an estate?

It depends on the individual facts and circumstances involved in the particular estate. With no major disputes among the beneficiaries or the need to commence a lawsuit to collect a debt owed to the decedent or to pursue a wrongful death claim, an estate where no estate tax returns are required should be wound up in less than a year after the decedent has died. With our hands-on approach, clients aren’t lost in the shuffle of a large firm. We expedite to our clients satisfaction.

Removing the burden for an executor and family.

We are proud of our reputation in helping those in need especially around a time of grief. We have provided relief and comfort for countless families while expediting the process and clarifying the ‘legalease’ for our clients. Whether it’s a probate or non-probate estate each client gets the personal attention they need to make the process less of a burden. Feel free to call us for more information or email me personally at braphan@raphanlaw.com.

-Brian

10 Really Good Year-End Tax Tips

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By Maryalene LaPonsie, Contributor

With the end of the year looming, the window is quickly closing for taxpayers who want to minimize the taxes they will pay next spring.

What’s more, for those trying to make year-end adjustments to their income and deductions, a tax reform bill being discussed in the District of Columbia has created uncertainty. Although it’s tempting to take action based on expected changes to the law, some finance experts urge caution. “Until the law becomes formal, we have to be very careful,” says Kristin Bulat, senior vice president of strategic resources for insurance and consulting firm NFP.

Taxpayers shouldn’t make rash decisions based on a bill which may or may not become law. However, there are some smart money moves that can help hedge against potential changes.

 

Here are 10 tax tips to reduce the amount of federal income tax you’ll pay for 2017.

1. Make 401(k) and HSA contributions. People can make tax deductible contributions to traditional IRAs up to April 17 of next year. However, the door closes on Dec. 31 for 401(k) and health savings account contributions.

 

Taxpayers with a qualified high-deductible family health insurance plan can deduct up to $6,750 in contributions to a health savings account. Those age 55 or older are eligible for an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution.

Tax deductible contributions to a traditional 401(k) are capped at $18,000 for 2017. Workers age 50 and older can make an additional $6,000 in catch-up contributions.

 

[See: How to Pay Less Tax on Retirement Account Withdrawals.]

 

2. Avoid taxes on a RMD with a charitable donation. Seniors who have a traditional 401(k) or IRA account must take a required minimum distribution each year once they reach age 70 1/2. Those who don’t need this money for living expenses may want to consider having it sent directly to a charity as a qualified charitable distribution. “If you take it out as a qualified charitable distribution, it doesn’t increase your adjusted gross income,” says Mike Piershale, president of Piershale Financial Group in Crystal Lake, Illinois. “It can also hold down the amount of Social Security that is taxed.”

 

3. Hold off on mutual fund purchases. People should be wary of buying mutual funds at this time of year if they will be held in a taxable account. You could get hit with a tax bill for year-end dividends even if you just purchased shares. “It’s a big surprise,” says Emilio Escandon, managing principal of the Northeast region for accounting firm MBAF. To avoid paying those additional taxes, Escandon recommends consulting with a broker before making a purchase to find out when distributions are made.

4. Convert money from a traditional to a Roth IRA. Withdrawals from traditional IRAs are taxed in retirement, but distributions from Roth IRAs are tax-free. Money can be converted from a traditional to a Roth account prior to retirement, but taxes must be paid on the converted amount.

Tax experts say people should be careful that the amount they convert doesn’t bump them into the next tax bracket. The one exception might be those who expect to pay the alternative minimum tax for 2017. The top AMT tax bracket is 28 percent, but it is targeted for elimination in the D.C. tax reform bill. If that happens, people paying the AMT this year could find themselves in a higher tax bracket next year. As a result, some people may be better off converting a greater amount in 2017. “If you were considering [a Roth conversion] and you’re in the AMT, do it this year,” Escandon says.

 

5. Harvest your capital losses. If you own stocks that have lost money, you can sell them and deduct up to $3,000 on your federal taxes. Just be careful not to violate the wash sale rule, which would disallow the deduction. This rule states you cannot purchase the same or a substantially similar stock within 30 days before or after the sale.

 

6. Pick up capital gains if you’re in a low tax bracket. The end of the year is also a good time for some people to sell stocks that have appreciated significantly in value. “If you are in the 10 or 15 percent bracket, the long-term gains [tax rate] is zero,” Piershale says. “Sell them in the 15 percent [tax bracket] and buy the stock back the next day to reset the basis.” By resetting the basis, taxpayers can minimize the amount of tax they could pay on future gains.

 

7. Use your flexible spending account balance. Workers who have flexible spending accounts need to use up their balances soon. These accounts have “use it or lose it” provisions in which money reverts back to an employer if not spent. While some companies provide a grace period for purchases made in the new year, others end reimbursements at the close of the calendar year. “So it’s time to get a new pair of glasses or something like that,” Bulat says.

8. Bunch your itemized deductions. Taxpayers who itemize deductions for 2017 may not need to in 2018. “They’re talking about almost doubling the standard deduction next year,” Piershale says of the tax reform discussion. “Because of that, we’ve been talking [with clients] about maximizing itemized deductions this year.” People may want to prepay their January mortgage payment in December, make additional charitable donations or pull the trigger on big purchases before the end of the year. “Buy the car this year if you are deducting the sales tax,” Piershale says.

[Read: Year-End Retirement Planning Deadlines for 2017.]

 

9. Prepay your state income taxes. Another major change that is brewing in D.C. concerns state income taxes. “Both the House and the Senate bills eliminate the state income tax deduction,” Escandon says. Should that happen, taxpayers won’t be able to deduct any payments made in 2018, even if they are for the 2017 tax year. Therefore, Escandon recommends that anyone who thinks they will owe state income tax in April to send in that money this December.

 

10. Consider whether to defer your bonus. Some workers might want to consider asking their bosses to wait until after the new year to send bonus checks. “Tax rates may be dropping for some, thanks to tax reform,” Escandon says. If that happens, people may be better off delaying income until 2018 when it could be taxed at a lower rate.

There’s only a month to go until we ring in 2018. If you want to minimize your 2017 federal income taxes, the time to act is now.

Social Security Beneficiaries Will Receive a 2 Percent Increase in 2018

In 2018, Social Security recipients will get their largest cost of living increase in benefits since 2012, but the additional income will likely be largely eaten up by higher Medicare Part B premiums.

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Cost of living increases are tied to the consumer price index, and an upturn in inflation rates and gas prices means recipients get a small boost in 2018, amounting to $27 a month for the typical retiree. The 2 percent increase is higher than last year’s .3 percent rise and the lack of any increase at all in 2016. The cost of living change also affects the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax, which will grow from $127,200 to $128,700.

The increase in benefits will likely be consumed by higher Medicare premiums, however. Most elderly and disabled people have their Medicare Part B premiums deducted from their monthly Social Security checks. For these individuals, if Social Security benefits don’t rise, Medicare premiums can’t either. This “hold harmless” provision does not apply to about 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries: those enrolled in Medicare but who are not yet receiving Social Security, new Medicare beneficiaries, seniors earning more than $85,000 a year, and “dual eligibles” who get both Medicare and Medicaid benefits. In the past few years, Medicare beneficiaries not subject to the hold harmless provision have been paying higher Medicare premiums while Medicare premiums for those in the hold harmless group remained more or less the same. Now that seniors will be getting an increase in Social Security payments, Medicare will likely hike premiums for the seniors in the hold harmless group. And that increase may eat up the entire raise, at least for some beneficiaries.

For 2018, the monthly federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment standard will be $750 for an individual and $1,125 for a couple.

For more on the 2018 Social Security benefit levels, click here.

You were appointed Executor…Now what?

Being the executor of an estate is not a task to take lightly. An executor is the person responsible for managing the administration of a deceased individual’s estate. Although the time and effort involved will vary with the size of the estate, even if you are the executor of a small estate you will have important duties that must be performed correctly or you may be liable to the estate or the beneficiaries.

Last Will & Testament

The executor is either named in the will or if there is no will, appointed by the court. You do not have to accept the position of executor even if you are named in the will.

The average estate administration takes one year, though you won’t need to work full time on it. Following are some of the duties you may have to perform as executor:

  • Find documents. If there is a will, but you don’t already know where the will is or the will hasn’t already been brought to court, you may need to find it among the deceased’s belongings. If all you have is a copy of the will, you may need to get the original from the lawyer who drafted it. You will also need to get a copy of the death certificate.
  • Hire an attorney. You are not required to hire an attorney, but mistakes can cost you money. You may be personally liable if something goes wrong with the estate or the payment of taxes. An attorney can help you make sure all the proper steps are taken and deadlines met.
  • Apply for probate. If there is a will, the court will grant you letters testamentary. If there is no will, you will receive letters of administration. This will officially begin your work as the executor.
  • Notify interested parties. Notify the beneficiaries of the will, if there is a will, as well as any potential heirs (such as children, siblings, or parents who may or may not be named in a will). In addition, you will have to place an advertisement for potential creditors in a newspaper near where the deceased lived.
  • Manage the deceased’s property. You will need to prepare a list of the deceased’s assets and liabilities, and you may need to collect any property in the hands of other people. One of the executor’s jobs is to protect the property from loss, so you will need to assure the property is kept safe. You will also need to hire an appraiser to find out how much any property is worth. In addition, if the estate includes a business, you may have to make sure the business continues to run.
  • Pay valid claims by creditors. Once the creditors are determined, you will need to pay the deceased’s debts from the estate’s funds. The executor is not personally liable for deceased’s debts. The estate usually pays any reasonable funeral expenses first. Other debts include probate and administration fees and taxes as well as any valid claims filed by creditors.
  • File tax returns. You need to make sure the tax forms are filed within the time frame set under the law. Taxes will include estate taxes and income taxes.
  • Distribute the assets to the beneficiaries. Once the creditors’ claims are clear, the executor is responsible for making sure the beneficiaries get what they are entitled to under the will or under the law, if there is no will. You may be required to sell property in order to fulfill legacies in a will. In addition, you may have to set up any trusts required by the will.
  • Keep accurate records. It is very important to keep accurate records of everything you do. You will need to create a final accounting, which the beneficiaries must review before the distribution of the estate can be finalized. The accounting should include any distributions and expenses as well as any income earned by the estate since the deceased died.
  • File the final accounting with the court. Once the final accounting is approved by the beneficiaries and the court, the court will close the estate. File a final report with the court and close the estate.

All this can be a lot of work, but remember that the executor is entitled to compensation, subject to approval by the court. Keep in mind that the compensation is counted as income, so you will need to declare it on your income taxes.

Removing the burden for an executor and family>

We are proud of our reputation in helping those in need especially around a time of grief. We have provided relief and comfort for countless families while expediting the process and clarifying the ‘legalease’ for our clients. Whether it’s a probate or non-probate estate each client gets the personal attention they need to make the process less of a burden. Feel free to call us for more information or email me personally at braphan@raphanlaw.com.

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How to Find Out if You’re Affected by the Equifax Hack

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You may have never used Equifax yourself — or even heard of it — but the credit reporting agency could still have a treasure trove of your personal information.

Equifax said Thursday that 143 million people could be affected by a recent data breach in which cybercriminals stole information including names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and the numbers of some driver’s licenses.

Additionally, credit card numbers for about 209,000 people were exposed, as was “personal identifying information” on roughly 182,000 customers involved in credit report disputes.

Equifax is one of three nationwide credit-reporting companies that track and rate the financial history of U.S. consumers. It gets its data — without you even knowing — from credit card companies, banks, retailers, and lenders.

Equifax will not be contacting everyone who was affected, but will send direct mail notices to those whose credit card numbers or dispute records were accessed.

The company suggests you sign up for credit file monitoring and identity theft protection. It is providing free service for one year through TrustedID Premier — whether or not you’ve been affected by the breach. 

To enroll, go to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com and click on the Check Potential Impact tab. You must submit your last name and last six digits of your Social Security number there. At that point you’ll be given a date when you can return to the site and sign up for the service.

The site says once you’ve submitted your information you will receive a message indicating whether you’ve been affected. But it’s unclear when or how you will receive that message.

The company also recommends that you review account statements and credit reports yourself to check for incidents of fraud. You can request a copy of your credit report online at www.annualcreditreport.com. You are allowed a free copy once a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

If you see any unauthorized activity, immediately report it to your bank and/or credit card company. If you believe you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you should also contact law enforcement.

Another way to protect yourself is by immediately placing fraud alerts on your credit reports, according to credit expert John Ulzheimer, who previously worked at FICO and Equifax. This means that a lender must contact you to verify your identity before it issues credit in your name. You can place an alert on your report for free by contacting one of the credit agencies, which is required to notify the other two. It will last for 90 days and can be renewed.

Since cybercriminals may have accessed what Ulzheimer calls the “crown jewels of information” at Equifax, he also suggests putting a long term freeze on your credit.

A freeze takes your credit report out of circulation. If someone else goes to take out a loan in your name, the lender will not be able to pull your report and therefore cannot extend the credit. If you want to take out a loan yourself, you’ll have to contact the reporting agency to temporarily lift the freeze. Fees to freeze your account vary by state, but commonly range from $5 to $10. 

“It’s a pretty extreme measure, but when 143 million people have been exposed like this, I think you have to take it,” Ulzheimer said.

The Federal Trade Commission’s website, www.ftc.gov/idtheft, also offers information about how to protect yourself against fraud.

If you have more questions for Equifax, the company has set up a designated call center at 866-447-7559.

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Be Aware of the Kiddie Tax Before Leaving an IRA to Children

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Grandparents may be tempted to leave an IRA to a grandchild because children have a low tax rate, but the “kiddie tax” could make doing this less beneficial.

An IRA can be a great gift for a grandchild. A young person who inherits an IRA has to take minimum distributions, but because the distributions are based on the beneficiary’s life expectancy, grandchildren’s distributions will be small and allow the IRA to continue to grow. In addition, children are taxed at a lower rate than adults—usually 10 percent.

However, the lower tax rate does not apply to all unearned income. Enacted to prevent parents from lowering their tax burden by shifting investment (unearned) income to children, the so-called “kiddie tax” allows some of a child’s investment income to be taxed at the parent’s rate. For 2017, the first $1,050 of unearned income is tax-free, and the next $1,050 is taxed at the child’s rate. Any additional income is taxed at the parent’s rate, which could be as high as 35 percent. The kiddie tax applies to individuals under age 18, individuals who are age 18 and have earned income that is less than or equal to half their support for the year, and individuals who are age 19 to 23 and full-time students.

If a grandparent leaves an IRA to a grandchild, the grandchild must begin taking required minimum distributions within a year after the grandparent dies. These distributions are unearned income that will be taxed at the parent’s rate if the child receives more than $2,100 of income (in 2017). In addition to IRAs, the kiddie tax applies to other investments that supply income, such as cash, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and real estate.

If grandparents want to leave investments to their grandchildren, they are better off leaving investments that appreciate in value, but don’t supply income until the investment is sold. Grandparents can also leave grandchildren a Roth IRA because the distributions are tax-free.

For more information about leaving an IRA to grandchildren from Kiplinger, click here.

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