Dear Harry : In January 2006, my mother died and I inherited her IRA. I went to a financial adviser who rolled it over to my already existing IRA. Everything seemed to be fine until I went to have my 2006 tax return prepared. The tax guy told me that it was an invalid rollover, and I had to get the money out of there and pay a tax on it for 2006. I tried to get my mother's old employer to issue a new check so I could give back the money I got last year, but the company honchos didn't want to get involved. There has to be some way I can straighten this out. I now have a four- month extension for filing my 1040. Tell me how to handle it.
What Harry says: Until 2007, an IRA inherited by someone other than a spouse could not be rolled over into an heir's own IRA. It had to be maintained in the deceased's name and appropriate distributions had to be made from it. That rule just changed to allow the rollover for years after 2006. However, under the old rules, there were exceptions allowed by IRS where financial institutions goofed and the request for a waiver was made within a year. I think you may still have a long shot. Ask your tax preparer to get a copy of Revenue Procedure 2003-16 and follow it through. If this fails, you have a valid legal action against that financial adviser. Please don't delay!
Dear Harry: My fiancee and I are trying to clean up our credit so we can apply for a mortgage within the next few months. Her credit score is unfortunately a low 508. Her debts are all in the hands of collection agencies. Most of them occurred before we met back in 1998. We were told that the info in the credit report must remain in the report for seven years. All of her debts fall into this category, and she never agreed to pay any of them to a debt collector. We have two questions. Don't they have to remove these items from her report? Is she still obligated to pay when we're so long past the seven years?
What Harry says: Those debts can no longer appear in her credit report, and she should get a copy of her credit reports to make sure they have been removed. Free copies can be obtained at annualcreditreport.com. Unless something has occurred to extend the Statute of Limitations, those debts are no longer legally enforceable. She does, however, have a moral obligation, doesn't she? Since you are not married, move very cautiously in getting all your ducks in a row before you buy. For example, what happens at break-up time?
Dear Harry: My aunt died a few years ago leaving no immediate family. Her estate (which I was told was almost $2 million) was left in a trust whose income was to be given to her sister for the sister's lifetime with the principal going to three nieces. Her sister is now terminally ill, and none of us knows anything about how much is in the trust or how we should go about getting the money. The trustee is a lawyer who told my sister that we'll get notified "in due course," whatever that means. In the years since my aunt died, the only communication we have had from this lawyer was a letter telling us about the will and the fact that we're beneficiaries. Is there some way we can get more information?
What Harry says: Most ofcoursely! Yours is not an isolated complaint. In the past, too many lawyers and banks who were trustees kept beneficiaries in the dark. In a long overdue move to correct this, the Legislature passed a Uniform Trust Act last year. It does a lot, but it does not address your particular issue. The law provides that trustees must provide notice and an annual financial report to any beneficiary who is at least 18 and to whom income or principal must be currently distributed and to any beneficiary who is at least 25 to whom income or principal may be distributed at the trustee's discretion. You'll get yours when your aunt dies.
These disclosures will protect the trustee from the possibility of lawsuits after five years, so there is an incentive to do the right thing. There are many trustees out there who have been making these disclosures as a matter of course. I know of one who notified all potential beneficiaries at the time of the trust's establishment and updates them annually.
Dear Harry: In 1996, my parents transferred the title to their Montgomery County house to me. Among the papers was a faxed document purported to be a title search that stated that there were no outstanding liens or judgments against the property. My parents continued to live there until they died in 2004. I sold the house in 2005. However, just prior to settlement, the buyer's title insurance company notified my broker that there was a lien for $25,000 in favor of Lincoln Bank. I called the company on the document I had, and I was told that it was a record search and that no insurance was involved.
I followed up on the succession of owners from Lincoln Bank to Washington Mutual. Then I hit a brick wall. I couldn't get anywhere with the bank. In the meantime, the new title insurance company allowed the settlement to go through, but with $37,500 held in escrow pending resolution of my problem. I have notified Washington Mutual of the ownership information, the date and the amount of the lien, the mortgage page number, the parcel number, and the address of the mortgagee . . . all to no avail. Last March, I finally got a notification from the bank that the issue would be resolved shortly. Since then, nothing. Harry, I think the mortgage was paid but I have nothing to prove it. Help!
What Harry says: My guess is that you're right about the mortgage. Otherwise, Washington Mutual would have been all over the case. Try once more to get to the person who sent that last letter. If that fails, it will pay to get a lawyer to get this situation straightened out.
Too many people avoid title insurance on such in-family transfers. Too many get hurt or annoyed when they need the insurance many years later.
Dear Harry: My parents are in their late 80s, and they still live in the home they bought in 1969. Needless to say, they have accumulated a substantial amount of "stuff," and among this "stuff" are some very valuable dinnerware, silver flatware, and pieces of crystal. We have been trying to get them to move to a retirement community or at least to an apartment with a lot less space to care for. This would also force them to get rid of a lot stuff. However, they're both enjoying very good health, and they see no need to cut back on anything. There has to be some way to get them to start thinking about the huge burden it will be on the children when they die.
What Harry says: It is very difficult to get parents who are so used to caring completely for themselves to consider the time when that will no longer be possible.
You might try to initiate the conversation with a comment like, "If you had to move to a new location because your street got condemned, what would you keep, what would you give away, what would you put in storage? If you think these are tough questions, just think of the tremendous job and responsibility that puts on us." You might also start with how fortunate they are compared with their parents and earlier generations. I must admit that it is touchy, and an approach that works for your friends' parents may not work for yours.
Try to keep the discussion as light as you can, and avoid the appearance of greediness at all costs. Good luck! *