What is part of the estate to pay bills after parent is deceased and what can’t debtors touch?

Q: My mother passed and my sister is the executor. There was an IRA that was split between us. I gave my half to my sister to pay debts and taxes. The total in debts that I know of are close to what was in the IRA after taxes were paid. There later was revealed a pension that was left to only me. If the total debts exceed what was in the IRA does the pension that was left to me then become part of the estate to pay these debts or would tangible items then need to be sold off by the estate to pay these additional debts? (Greentree)

A:  I do hope you have an attorney to guide you through this. Generally, assets such as IRA’s, pension plans, insurance policies, and annuities with living beneficiaries are not considered to be part of the estate. They are often termed “non-estate” or “non-probate” assets. Only assets held in the name of the decedent only, comprise estate or probate assets. A creditor to whom money is owed can file a claim against estate assets once an estate is opened. However, such creditor generally cannot reach these non-probate assets. I would need to know what other estates and debts exist to advise if it is warranted to even open an estate. If an estate is opened and insufficient estate assets exist to pay estate expenses and debts, the estate is considered to be insolvent and creditors would be paid so many cents on the dollar. In that case, the estate may need to be closed by the filing of a First and Final Account. Bear in mind, you and your sister will need to pay inheritance tax regardless if an estate is opened or not. You really need to sit down with an attorney and have him or her look at all assets, debts and expenses before an informed opinion can be given.

If you feel like this issue relates to you, or a problem that you are experiencing, please contact me so that we can discuss your situation.