Most families lead far-flung and busy lives, meaning the only time they see one another face-to-face is around the dinner table during a handful of major holidays. The estate planning process is an opportunity to bring everyone together outside of those scheduled occasions—even if a child or grandchild has to attend via video chat.
You come into the world a blank slate, and as you grow, you gain wisdom. You've planned your estate to leave physical assets to beneficiaries, so now think about leaving them something that’s just as important but less tangible: the hard-won wisdom you’ve accumulated over your life.
Estate planning [creating your Family Legacy Protection Plan] offers many ways to leave your wealth to your children, but it’s just as important to know what not to do. Here are some things that are all-too-common, but textbook examples of what not to do or try…
If you feel you have a good rapport with your family or don't have many assets, you might be tempted simply to tell your children or loved ones how to handle your estate when you’re gone. However, even if your family members wanted to follow your directions, it may not be entirely up to them. Without a written document, any assets you own individually must go through probate, and “oral wills” have no weight in court. It would most likely be up to a judge and the intestate laws written by the legislature, not you or your desired heirs, to decide who gets what. This is one strategy to not even try.
In lieu of setting up a trust, some people name their children as joint tenants on their properties. The appeal is that children should be able to assume full ownership when parents pass on, while keeping the property out of probate. However, this does not mean that the property is safe; it doesn't insulate the property from taxes or creditors, including your children’s creditors, if they run into financial difficulty. Their debt could even result in a forced sale of your property.
There’s another issue. Choosing this approach exposes you to otherwise avoidable capital gains taxes. Here’s why. When you sell certain assets, the government taxes you. But you can deduct your cost basis—a measure of how much you’ve invested in it—from the selling price. For example, if you and your spouse bought vacant land for $200,000 and later sell it for $315,000, you’d only need to pay capital gains taxes on $115,000 (the increase in value).
However, your heirs can get a break on these taxes. For instance, let’s say you die, and the fair market value of the land at that time was $300,000. Since you used a trust rather than joint tenancy, your spouse’s cost basis is now $300,000 (the basis for the heirs gets “stepped-up” to its value at your death). So, if she then sells the property for $315,000, she only pays capital gains on $15,000, which is the gain that happened after your death! However, with joint tenancy, she does not receive the full step-up in basis, meaning she’ll pay more capital gains taxes.
Giving Away the Inheritance Early:
Some parents choose to give children their inheritance early–either outright or incrementally over time. But this strategy comes with several pitfalls. First, if you want to avoid hefty gift taxes, you are limited to giving each child $14,000 per year. You can give more, but you start to use up your gift tax exemption and must file a gift tax return. Second, a smaller yearly amount might seem more like current expense money than the beginnings of your legacy, so they might spend it rather than invest. Third, if situations change that would have caused you to re-evaluate your allocations, it's too late. You don’t want to be dependent on them giving the cash back if you need it for your own needs.
Shortcuts and ideas like these may look appealing on the surface, but they can do more harm than good. Consult with an estate planner to find better strategies to prepare for your and your families' future.
If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
A pet trust is an excellent way to make sure your beloved pet will receive proper care after you pass on. The problem, of course, is that you won’t be there to see that your wishes are carried out. It’s critical to set up a pet trust correctly to ensure there are no loopholes or unforeseen situations that could make your plans go awry. Here are 5 tragic mistakes people often make when leaving their assets to their pets.
1. Appropriating more than the pet could ever need:
The gossip stories about such-and-such celebrity who left his or her entire fortune to a pet are the exception rather than the rule. Leaving millions of dollars, houses, and cars to your pet is not only unreasonable, but it’s more likely to be contested in court by family members who might feel neglected. To avoid this pitfall, leave a reasonable sum of money that will give your pet the same quality of life that she enjoys now.
2. Providing vague or unenforceable instructions:
Too many pets don’t receive the care their owners intended because they weren’t specific enough in their instructions or because they did not use a trust to make the instructions legally binding. Luckily, a pet trust can clarify your instructions and make them legally valid.
If you leave money to a caretaker without a pet trust in place, hoping it will be used for the pet’s care for example, nothing stops the caretaker from living very well on the pet’s money. But when you use a pet trust to designate how much the caretaker receives and how much goes for the pet’s care, you’ve provided a legal structure to protect your furry family member. You can be as specific about your wishes as you’d like, from how much is to be spent on food, veterinary care, and grooming. You can even include detailed care instructions, such as how often the dog should be walked.
3. Failing to keep information updated:
Bill sets up a pet trust for his dog Sadie, but what happens if Sadie passes away? If Bill gets a new dog and names her Gypsy, but he doesn’t update this information before he dies, Gypsy could easily wind up in a shelter or euthanized because she’s not mentioned in the trust. This is a common yet tragic mistake that can be easily avoided by performing regular reviews with your estate planning attorney to ensure that your estate plan works for your entire family.
4. Not having a contingency plan:
You might have a trusted friend or loved one designated as a caretaker in your pet trust, but what happens if that person is unable or unwilling to take that role when the time comes? If you haven’t named a contingent caretaker, your pet might not receive the care you intended. Always have a “Plan B” in place, and spell it out in the trust.
5. Not engaging a professional to help:
Too many people make the mistake of trying to set up a pet trust themselves, assuming that a form downloaded from a do-it-yourself legal website will automatically work in their circumstances. Only an experienced estate planning attorney should help you set it up to help ensure that everything works exactly the way you want.
When attempting to leave assets to your pet, the good news is that with professional help, all these mistakes are preventable. Talk with us today about your options for setting up a new pet trust or adding a pet trust to your current estate plan. If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
If you want to leave a robust financial legacy for your family, a financial plan alone is like trying to guide a boat with just one oar. It’s only part of the big picture for your overall monetary health. A well-informed financial plan is worth your time for several reasons, but let’s look at how financial and estate planning can work in tandem to create the best possible future for you and your family in the years to come.
What’s included in a financial plan:
Financial planners take stock of an individual’s fiscal landscape and come up with approaches to maximize his or her overall financial well-being. Take Emily for instance, an energetic project manager in her late-twenties. She’s found a successful career track after graduating with her bachelor’s and now has the steady income necessary to start daydreaming about buying a house with bay windows like the one she passes on her morning commute.
But before she can take such a big leap, Emily tracks down a skilled financial planner who will take an honest look at her foreseeable cash flow and her spending and saving habits. People from all walks of life use thehelp of financial planners to make sure they’re in good shape for making big purchases, saving for their children’s education, and ensuring a comfortable retirement. This also includes developing an investment portfolio, which the financial planner monitors and manages.
But financial planning only goes so far. To have a comprehensive approach, Emily also must also consider her estate and the wills and trusts she should put in place so her assets go where she wants them to in the long run. That’s where a trusts and estates attorney comes in.
What’s included in an estate plan:
Estate planning attorneys are lawyers who give sound advice about what will happen to a person’s assets if he or she becomes mentally incapacitated or when he or she dies. While this may not sound like the sunniest of topics, knowing that what you pass on to your family will be legally protected lets you focus on enjoying the best things in life without worrying about your loved ones’ futures. Estate planning includes defining how you want your loved ones to benefit from the financial legacy you leave behind, implementing tactics to protect your assets from creditors down the road, providing a framework so your loved ones can make medical decisions on your behalf when you can’t, developing strategies to help you reduce estate taxes, and more.
And at the end of the day, your attorney is a teacher. He or she should be equipped to clearly explain your legal options. Even though estate planning can be highly technical, your professional bond with your attorney can and should feel like a friendly partnership since it involves taking an honest look at many personal wishes and priorities. There is no one-size-fits-all estate plan, so choose an attorney whom you trust and enjoy working with and who is responsive to questions and needs.
Remember Emily? While financial planning helped, her get from point A to point B with some pretty big money milestones, she now knows she needs an estates and trusts attorney to make sure her wishes are carried out and her money stays in the right hands—her family’s.
How these two efforts work together:
There are several ways these two components of your financial wellness work in harmony. Asking your financial planner and estate planning attorney to collaborate is common practice, so don’t be concerned that what you’re asking is outside their regular scope of work. Knowing who else advises you will help both parties get the information they need do their jobs at peak effectiveness. For example, your estate planning attorney may prepare a living trust for you, but your financial planner may help you transfer certain assets into that trust.
What are you waiting for?
If you already have a financial planner and are thinking about working with a trusts and estates attorney, you’re in an excellent position. We can often collaborate with your advisor to begin working on your estate plan. This might save you time and money, as we’ll get up to speed with the help of your financial planner.
The right time to plan your estate is right now. The sooner you put yourself and your family able to rest easy knowing a solid plan is in place, the better. And now that you know your financial plan is a wonderful start—but not a complete solution—you’re ready to take the first step on the path to total financial security.
If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
Not long ago, pet trusts were thought of as little more than eccentric things that famous people did for their pets when they had too much money. These days, pet trusts are considered mainstream. For example: in May 2016, Minnesota became the 50th (and final) state to recognize pet trusts. But not every pet trust is enacted exactly per the owner’s wishes. Let’s look at 3 famous pet trust cases and consider the lessons we can take away from them so your furry family member can be protected through your plan.
Leona Helmsley and Trouble:
Achieving notoriety in the 1980s as the “Queen of Mean,” famed hotelier and convicted tax evader Leona Helmsley passed away in 2007. True to form, her will left two of her grandchildren bereft and awarded her Maltese dog Trouble a trust fund valued at $12 million. The probate judge didn’t think much of Helmsley’s logic, however, knocking Trouble’s portion down to a paltry $2 million, awarding $6 million to the two ignored grandchildren and giving the remainder of the trust to charity. Furthermore, when Trouble died, she was supposed to be buried in the family mausoleum, but instead she was cremated when the cemetery refused to accept a dog.
Lessons learned: Leaving an extravagant sum to a pet may not be honored in a lawsuit and can cause family conflict. It’s best to leave a reasonable amount to provide for the care and lifestyle your pet is used to, for the rest of his or her life. If you are looking to disinherit one or more family members, make sure to specifically talk with your attorney so you can have a game plan to make the disinheritance as legally solid as possible.
Michael Jackson and Bubbles:
Most Michael Jackson fans will remember his pet chimpanzee Bubbles, who was the King of Pop’s constant companion. Jackson reportedly left Bubbles $2 million. After the singer’s death, Bubbles’ whereabouts became a point of speculation amid allegations that Jackson had abused the pet while he was alive. The good news is that Bubbles is alive and well, living out his years in a shelter in Florida. The bad news is that if he was left $2 million, he never received it; and he is being supported by public donations.
Lessons learned: Always be clear about your intentions and work with your attorney to put them in writing so your furry family member is cared for and doesn’t wind up in a shelter.
Karla Liebenstein and Gunther III (and IV):
Liebenstein, a German countess, left her entire fortune to her German Shepherd, Gunther III, valued at approximately $65 million. Tragically, Gunther III passed away a week later. However, the dog’s inheritance passed on to his son, Gunther IV; the fortune also increased in value over time to more than $373 million, making Gunther IV the richest pet in the world.
Lesson learned: It’s possible for pet trust benefits to be passed generationally, so make sure your estate plan reflects your actual wishes and intentions.
If your estate plan has not already made arrangements for your beloved pet, we’re here to help. If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
As we build wealth, we naturally desire to pass that financial stability to our offspring. With the grandkids, especially, we often share a special bond that makes us want to provide well for their future. However, that bond can become a weakness if proper precautions aren’t set in place. If you’re planning to include the grandchildren in your will, here are five potential dangers to watch for, and ways you can avoid them.
1. Including no age stipulation:
We have no idea how old the grandchildren will be when we pass on. If they are under 18, or if they are financially immature when you die, they could receive a large inheritance before they know how to handle it, and it could be easily wasted.
Avoiding this pitfall: Create a long-term trust for your grandchildren that provides continued management of assets regardless of their age when you pass away.
2. Too much, too soon:
Even if your grandkids are legally old enough to receive an inheritance when you pass on, if they haven’t learned enough about handling large sums of money properly, the inheritance could still be quickly squandered.
Avoiding this pitfall: Outright or lump-sum distributions are usually not advisable. Luckily, there are many options available, from staggered distributions to leaving their inheritance in a lifetime, “beneficiary-controlled” trust. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you decide the best way to leave your assets.
3. Not communicating how you’d like them to use the inheritance:
You might trust your grandchildren implicitly to handle their inheritance, but if you have specific intentions for what you want that inheritance to do for them (e.g., put them through college, buy them a house, help them start a business, or something else entirely), you can’t expect it to happen if you don’t communicate it to them in your will or trust.
Avoiding this pitfall: Stipulate specific things or activities that the money should be used for in your estate plan. Clarify your intentions and wishes.
4. Being ambiguous in your language:
Money can make people act in unusual ways. If there is any ambiguity in your will or trust as to how much you’re leaving each grandchild, and in what capacity, the door could be opened for greedy relatives to contest your plan.
Avoiding this pitfall: Be crystal clear in every detail concerning your grandchildren’s inheritance. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you clarify any ambiguous points in your will or trust.
5. Touching your retirement:
Many misguided grandparents make the mistake of forfeiting some or all of their retirement money to the kids or grandkids, especially when a family member is going through some sort of financial crisis. Trying to get the money back when you need might be difficult to impossible.
Avoiding this pitfall: Resist the temptation to jeopardize your future by trying to “fix it” for your grandchildren. If you want to help them now, consider giving them part of their inheritance in advance, or setting up a trust for them. But, always make sure any lifetime giving you make doesn’t leave you high and dry.
If you’re planning to put your grandchildren in your will or trust, we’re here to help with every detail you need to consider. If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
A resume is really just a snapshot of your experience, skill set, and education. It provides prospective employers insight into who you are and how you will perform. Imagine not updating that resume for 5, 10, or even 15 years.
Would it accurately reflect who you are? Would it do what you want it to do? Likely not.
Estate plans are similar in that they need to be updated on a regular basis to reflect changes in your life so they can do what you want them to do.
Outdated estate plans—like outdated resumes—simply don’t work.
Take a Moment to Reflect:
Think back for a moment. Consider all of the changes in your life. What’s changed since you signed your will, trust, and other estate planning documents? If something has changed that affects you, your trusted helpers, or your beneficiaries, your estate plan probably needs to reflect that change.
Here are examples of changes that are significant enough to warrant an estate plan review and, likely, updates:
4. Divorce or separation
8. Health challenges
9. Financial status changes—whether good or bad
10. Tax law changes
11. Move to a new state
12. Family circumstances changes—whether good or bad
13. Business circumstances changes—whether good or bad
If you’re like most people, if updating your estate plan is on the calendar, you’ll make it happen. Just as you update your resume on a regular basis and just like you meet with the doctor, dentist, CPA, or financial advisor on a regular basis, you need to meet with your estate planning attorney on a regular basis as well.
Our office can help to ensure that your estate plan reflects your current needs and those of the people you love. Updating is the best way to make sure your estate plan will actually do what you want it to do.
Michael Jackson, the “King of Pop,” had always been a controversial superstar. Over the years, he became the father of three children, Prince Michael Jackson II, Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson, and Michael Joseph Jackson, Jr.
While Jackson created a trust to care for his children and other family and friends, he never actually fundedit. The result? Embarrassing and seemingly endless probate court battles between family members, the executors, and the IRS.
4 Essential Purposes of a Trust:
A trust is a fiduciary arrangement which allows a third party (known as a trustee) to hold assets on behalf of beneficiaries. There are four primary benefits of trusts:
Avoiding probate. Funded trusts are not subject to probate. However, unfunded or underfundedtrusts, just like wills, generally must go through probate.
Maintaining privacy. Probate is a matter of public record. However, since trusts aren’t subject to probate, privacy is maintained.
Mitigating the chance of litigation. Since trusts are not subject to the probate process, they are not a matter of public record. Therefore, fewer people know estate plan details – mitigating the chance of litigation.
Providing asset protection. Assets passed to loved ones in trust can be drafted to provide legal protection so assets cannot be easily seized by predators and creditors.
While these are arguably the most essential purposes, trusts can also affect what you pay in estate taxes as well.
Sadly, Jackson could not take advantage of any of these benefits. Although he created a “pour-over” will, which was intended to put his assets into a trust after his death, the “pour-over” will, like any other will, still had to be probated.
The probate, along with naming his attorney and a music executive as his executors (instead of family members), fueled a fire that could have been avoided with more mindful planning. Given the size of Jackson’s estate, it’s no surprise that everyone wanted a piece of the pie.
Don’t Burden Your Family!
Losing a loved one is difficult enough without having to endure legal battles afterward. In Jackson’s situation, a proper estate plan could have reduced litigation and legal fees, and helped provide privacy for his survivors. His situation, although it deals with hundreds of millions of dollars, applies to anyone who has assets worth protecting. In other words, it likely applies to everyone!
There are many types of trusts and estate planning tools available to ensure that you don’t burden your family after your death. We’ll show you how to best provide for and protect your loved ones by creating the type of estate plan which is tailored to fit your needs.
Sonny Bono, the singer, songwriter, restauranteur, and former Congressman, died in a tragic ski accident in 1998 at the age of 62. His net worth was just under $2 million at the time of his death, yet Bono did not have a Will. Apparently, he meant to have one drawn up, but simply never got around to it.
Sadly, his fourth wife and surviving spouse, former Representative Mary Bono, spent years battling to be the executor of his estate. She also faced lawsuits filed by anyone and everyone who wanted a piece of the pie – some of whom you wouldn’t believe...
Cher & Secret Love Child Want Piece of Sonny’s Estate:
Having died intestate (without a Will), Sonny Bono’s estate was seemingly up for grabs. His surviving spouse had to specifically fend off two people whose demands on the estate made headlines:
1.Cher. Yes, THE Cher, Sonny’s second wife, sued for a share of his estate seeking $1.6 million in unpaid alimony. When the couple divorced in 1974, Sonny was allegedly ordered to pay Cher $25,000 per month for six months, $1,500 per month child support, and $41,000 in attorneys’ fees.
a. Apparently, he never did. While it’s odd that someone with their own net worth of over $300 million would even bother taking the time, it’s nonetheless true. Whether she collected is anyone’s guess, but not likely.
2. Secret Love Child. As if Cher’s lawsuit wasn’t odd enough, a secret love child made his own claim on Sonny’s estate. Then 35-year-old Sean Machu came forward claiming to be Bono’s illegitimate son.
b. Although Bono admitted to having an affair with Machu’s mother in his autobiography, The Beat Goes On, and Machu's birth certificate lists Salvatore Bono (aka Sonny) as the father, Machu later withdrew the lawsuit when a DNA test was required.
Bono’s estate was eventually divided between his surviving spouse and his two children, Chastity (now Chaz) Bono and Christy Bono Fasce (a child from his first marriage).
Don’t Leave Your Wealth Up For Grabs – Take Action Now:
As Sonny Bono’s case shows, not having a Will, trust, or other estate planning documents in place gives others the sense that your wealth is up for grabs. Most of us don’t relish the idea of creating a plan for what will happen when we die. However, it’s a necessity in order to avoid having your spouse and children go through court battles and heartache.
It’s imperative that you take action now. We have the tools you need to put your estate plan into place so that procrastination is not an issue. If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
After a loved one or family member passes away, it is not only difficult from an emotional standpoint, but can become an administrative nightmare. You need to gather many important documents, which are necessary to settle his or her estate. While the documents required will vary depending on what your loved one owned and owed, below is a list of common documents you will need to find:
Account statements – These may include bank statements and investment account statements (including brokerage accounts, IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, annuities, pensions, and health savings accounts). The closer to the date of death that the statement is dated, the better.
Life insurance policies – If you are not sure if your loved one owned any life insurance, check their bank account ledger for checks written to a life insurance company. Because some people choose to pay life insurance premiums on an annual basis, rather than a monthly basis, you might need to look back some time in the check register. If your loved one was employed at the time of death or worked for a large corporation, a local or state government, or the federal government prior to retiring, check with their employer or former employer to determine if your loved one had any employer-provided or government-provided life insurance benefits. If your loved one served in the U.S. military, check with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to find out if your loved one had any military-based life insurance benefits.
Beneficiary designations – These may include beneficiary designations for life insurance, retirement accounts (IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, annuities), payable on death accounts, transfer on death accounts, and health savings accounts.
Deeds for real estate – If you are unable to locate the original deed, many states now allow you to view and print deeds online. Note that you will not need the original deed to sell the property.
Automobile and boat titles – If you are unable to locate the original title, a duplicate original can be ordered from the department of motor vehicles. Alternatively, some states will allow the transfer of a vehicle title without the original for an additional fee.
Stock and bond certificates – This may include corporate certificates, local and state bonds, and U.S. savings bonds. If you are unable to locate an original certificate, a lost certificate affidavit can be filed by the deceased person’s legal representative.
Business documents – If your loved one owned a small business, then you will need to locate all of their business-related documents, including bank and investment statements, corporate records, income tax returns, business licenses, deeds for real estate, loan documents, contracts, utility bills, and employee records.
Bills – This will include utilities (electric, gas, water, sewer, garbage), cell phones, credit cards, personal loans, property taxes, insurance (real estate, automobile, boat), storage units, medical bills, and the funeral bill. Check their checkbook for bills that were paid during the past year.
Estate planning documents – This may include a Last Will and Testament, any Codicil(s) to the will, a Revocable Living Trust, and any Amendment(s) to the trust.
Other legal documents – This may include a Prenuptial Agreement and any Amendment(s), a Postnuptial Agreement and any Amendment(s), leases (real estate, automobile), and loan documents (personal loans, mortgages, lines of credit).
Tax returns – This should include gift tax returns and the past three years of state and federal income tax returns.
Death certificates – It is a good idea to order at least ten (10) original death certificates so that you do not have to keep ordering more.
As you can see, a significant amount of paperwork is involved. For even a small estate, you should set up a filing system for the deceased loved one’s affairs. This can help ensure that nothing gets missed and that administration costs can be minimized.
One of the first things you should do as a newly appointed executor of a deceased person’s probate estate or successor trustee of a deceased trustmaker’s trust is ask the post office to forward the deceased person’s mail to your address. Unfortunately, along with important pieces of mail – statements, bills, and refunds – many not-so-important pieces – catalogs, solicitations, and plain old junk mail – will end up in your mailbox.
On the other hand, you may have purchased a home from a deceased person’s estate or trust and have received some of their mail at your new address.
What can you do to stop the post office from delivering mail addressed to a deceased person? Follow these four steps:
If you are the executor of an estate that has been through probate court and the estate is officially closed, hand-deliver or send a copy of the probate order closing the estate and dismissing you as the executor to the deceased person's local post office, and request that all mail service is stopped immediately. If you don’t take this step and find that some mail continues to trickle through two or more years after the death, this is because the U.S. post office only honors forwarding orders for one year. The only way to completely stop delivery is to request that all mail service be discontinued.
To stop mail received as the result of commercial marketing lists (in other words, junk mail), log on to the Deceased Do Not Contact Registration page (https://www.ims-dm.com/cgi/ddnc.php) of the DMAchoice.org website and enter the deceased person’s information. According to the website, “DMAchoice™ is an online tool developed by the Direct Marketing Association to help you manage your mail. This site is part of a larger program designed to respond to consumers' concerns over the amount of mail they receive, and it is the evolution of the DMA's Mail Preference Service created in 1971.” After registering the deceased person on the website, the organization claims that the amount of mail received as the result of commercial marketing lists should decrease within three months.
For magazines and other subscriptions and mail that are technically not "junk" mail (for example, solicitations from charities to which the deceased person made donations while they were living), contact the organization directly to inform them of the death. Note that most publishers will issue a refund for any unused subscription.
If you shared the mailing address with the deceased person or if you are the new owner of the deceased person’s home, write “Deceased, Return to Sender” on any mail addressed to the deceased person and leave it in your mailbox for pick up.
Remember it is a federal offense to open and read someone else’s mail; so if you’re not a legal representative of the deceased person, don’t open their mail!