Q: My husband passed away recently, and we had a will. At his death, all of his possessions went to me and when I die, all of my possessions will be left equally to my two children. But I have two questions.
First, can I sell my home even though his name is still on the title to the home? If I do sell, do I need a death certificate to prove that he is dead?
Also, upon my death, will my children have to pay taxes on their inheritance? I’ve been told by an acquaintance that the estate has to be over a certain amount before taxes kick in and I should set up a trust for my children’s protection.
Is this right?
A: First, please accept my condolences on the loss of your beloved husband. At a time like this, it’s easy to be confused by the myriad of decisions you have to now make alone.
As the sole owner of the property, you can sell it whenever you want. You should plan to make lots of copies of the death certificate, as you will need it to do things like sell your property or close accounts that have your husband’s name on them.
As for paying estate taxes, your acquaintance is right. In 2004 and 2005, your estate must exceed $1.5 million before federal estate taxes kick in. (Be aware that each state may have an estate tax that could kick in at a different level, or be high enough to be painful.) The estate includes your house, insurance proceeds, any other real property you own, your retirement and bank accounts, and any other assets you have.
If your estate exceeds this amount, you might want to consult with an estate attorney and an accountant, who can help you think about different options that might reduce future taxes you might owe.
Nov. 24, 2003.