Q: In the next few weeks, my 79-year-old mother, who lives in Tennessee, is going to receive a check for approximately $25,000.This was left to her by a brother through his will.
She needs answers to the following questions:
1. How does she handle reporting this on her income taxes?
2. How does she determine if there is an inheritance tax to be paid?
3. Should this check be deposited in a new, separate bank account from her regular checking account?
4. Should she invest part of this in a short term CD or other investment to earn interest? The concern is having access to funds in case of emergency, etc.
5. My mom and dad (both are 79) have a joint checking account. Whenever one dies, will the surviving spouse still have access to the funds in the account? Or will the account be frozen and inaccessible until the will is probated?
Thanks for your help.
A: My condolences to your mother on the loss of her beloved brother. Here are the answers to your questions:
There shouldn’t be a need to report the $25,000 on her income taxes since it isn’t income. It’s an inheritance that hasn’t earned anything in the way of interest. Also, your mother shouldn’t have any inheritance tax to pay, although you may want to check your own state law on the issue (most states have an estate tax, not an inheritance tax). Her brother is allowed to pass down $1.5 million in 2005 tax-free. Anything above that would be paid by the estate before your mother gets her cash.
If your mom is worried about divorcing your dad — even at her advanced age — then she should put the check into a separate account. If she co-mingles the cash in a joint checking account, it becomes “marital property.” If divorce or separation aren’t issues, then it doesn’t matter. She should do what’s easiest for her.
If she wants access to the funds, then she should put the cash into a money market account or short-term CD. Go to www.bankrate.com to look for money market account options and bank CD rates.
Typically, in a joint checking account, when one person dies, the other person still has access to the joint account. Technically, you’re the surviving owner of the account and the cash inside is yours. The cash should be available to your mother at all times.
However, if your mother puts money into a separate account, and she dies, your father would not have access to that account, unless he is listed as a co-signer of the account.
For more details about setting up an estate that works, including wills, powers of attorney and possible trusts, talk to an estate lawyer.
Thanks for writing.