September 1, 2015

Understanding the responsibilities of an executor

By Jim Miller

Dear Savvy Senior,

An old family friend recently asked me to be the executor of his will when he dies. I feel flattered that he asked, but I’m not sure what exactly the job entails.

Concerned Friend

Dear Concerned,

Serving as the executor of your friend’s estate may seem like an honor, but it can also be a huge chore. Here’s what you should know.

Rules and responsibilities

As the executor of your friend’s will, you’re essentially responsible for winding up his affairs after he dies. While this may sound simple enough, you need to be aware that the job can be tedious, time consuming and difficult depending on the complexity of his financial and family situation. Some of the duties required include:

Filing court papers to start the probate process (this is generally required by law to determine the will’s validity).

Taking an inventory of everything in his estate.

Using his estate’s funds to pay bills, including taxes, funeral costs, etc.

Handling details like terminating his credit cards, and notifying banks and government agencies like Social Security and the post office of his death.

Preparing and filing his final income tax returns.

Distributing assets to the beneficiaries named in his will.

Be aware that each state has specific laws and timetables on an executor’s responsibilities. Your state or local bar association may have an online law library that details the rules and requirements. The American Bar Association website also offers guidance on how to settle an estate. Go to americanbar.org and type in “guidelines for individual executors and trustees” to find it.

Get organized

If you agree to take on the responsibility as executor of your friend’s estate, your first step is to make sure he has an updated will, and find out where all his important documents and financial information are located. Being able to quickly put your hands on deeds, brokerage statements and insurance policies after he dies will save you a lot of time and hassle.

If he has a complex estate, you may want to hire an attorney or tax accountant to guide you through the process, with the estate picking up the cost. If you need help locating a pro, the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils (naepc.org) and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (naela.org) are great resources that provide directories on their websites to help you find someone.

Avoid conflicts

Find out if there are any conflicts between the beneficiaries of your friend’s estate. If there are some potential problems, you can make your job as executor much easier if everyone knows in advance who’s getting what, and why. So ask your friend to tell his beneficiaries what they can expect. This includes the personal items too, because wills often leave it up to the executor to dole out heirlooms. If there’s no distribution plan for personal property, suggest he make one and put it in writing.

Executor fees

As the executor, you’re entitled to a fee paid by the estate. In most states, executors are entitled to take a percentage of the estate’s value, which usually ranges anywhere from 1 to 5 percent depending on the size of the estate. But, if you’re a beneficiary, it may make sense for you to forgo the fee. That’s because fees are taxable, but Uncle Sam in most states doesn’t tax inheritances.

For more information on the duties of an executor, get a copy of the book “The Executor’s Guide: Settling A Loved One’s Estate or Trust” for $32 at nolo.com or call 800-728-3555.

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

Fitzgerald named ‘Early Childhood Superhero’

Kathleen Fitzgerald

Kathleen Fitzgerald

Observer staff report

Let’s Grow Kids recently announced that Williston resident Kathleen Fitzgerald is among the inaugural group of five Vermonters to be recognized as Early Childhood Superheroes for “going above and beyond to help young children reach their full potential,” according to a press release from the organization.

The selection of Early Childhood Superheroes followed a statewide call for nominations of unsung heroes among educators, child care professionals, parents, grandparents, volunteers, business people, policymakers, civic leaders and clergy. From the nominations, Let’s Grow Kids staff selected five Vermonters from various regions of the state who have demonstrated a commitment to the success of Vermont’s youngest children.

An autism interventionist through Children’s Integrated Services-Early Intervention at Vermont Family Network in Williston, Fitzgerald works with children from birth to age three with autism spectrum disorders. She helps support children to become lifelong, engaged learners. She also works with caregivers and childcare centers to help professionals understand autism so that they can help children achieve their full potential.

The other inaugural Early Childhood Superheroes include Dr. Jody Brakeley of Middlebury, Matthew LeFluer of Alburgh, Samantha Maskell and Monica Stowell.

To nominate an Early Childhood Superhero, visit www.letsgrowkids.org/nominate-superhero

Williston student spreads love of books

Observer photo by Stephanie Choate Jocelyn Kaplan, 10, unloads a box of books to bring to the Williston Community Food Shelf on Monday. She has been collecting books to donate for an initiative she started called ‘Nourish the Love of Reading.’

Observer photo by Stephanie Choate
Jocelyn Kaplan, 10, unloads a box of books to bring to the Williston Community Food Shelf on Monday. She has been collecting books to donate for an initiative she started called ‘Nourish the Love of Reading.’

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

Ten-year-old Jocelyn Kaplan is a bookworm.

“It’s fun to discover cool adventures inside books,” she said. “I love reading. It’s kind of weird to imagine a life without books.”

So when she realized that not all of her peers have the same access to books at home, she decided to take action.

A background question on a standardized test last year got her thinking.

“There was a question about how many books you have at home, and one of the options was 3-5 books,” she said. “I was depressed to learn some people only have 3-5 books in their house.”

So, she decided to start collecting books and delivering them to the Williston Community Food Shelf for customers to take.

She titled the initiative “Nourish the Love of Reading.”

“You can get books at the library, but it’s different than having your own books to keep,” she said.

Since the winter, she has collected approximately 350 books, and hopes to double that amount. Jocelyn pulled books from her own library to donate and asked her classmates to bring in books. The class also selected books from the classroom library to donate. She also gleaned books left over from friends’ yard sales.

Now, she hopes to get more people involved. Jocelyn placed a box at the entrance of Williston Central School for book donations, and residents can also drop books at the Kaplan home. To bring books, email [email protected]

“I think it’s important that everyone have books,” she said. “You can make someone’s day when they have something new, and it’s so simple.”

Water quality efforts at Lake Iroquois get boost

In a related project, Vermont Fish and Wildlife crews are replacing the boat ramp at Lake Iroquois this week. On Monday, teams will start a pilot project at the access to mitigate erosion.

In a related project, Vermont Fish and Wildlife crews are replacing the boat ramp at Lake Iroquois this week. On Monday, teams will start a pilot project at the access to mitigate erosion.

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

Lake Iroquois is the site of a pilot project the state hopes can help public and private landowners combat erosion and improve water quality with minimal cost and disruption.

On Monday, Vermont Fish and Wildlife, Vermont Department of Conservation and Lake Iroquois Association staff and volunteers will head to the public boat access point at the lake for the one-day project staff hopes will mitigate erosion.

“We’re working together to come up with a method that hopefully will be workable at other sites. Not just Fish and Wildlife access areas, but camps,” said Mike Wichrowski, land facilities administrator for the Fish and Wildlife Department. “We hope this can be another tool for the state and lakefront property owners to use for improving water quality and fish and wildlife habitat and improving and protecting our waterfront.”

Similar to some lakefront homes, the access point is right on the edge of the water, and is a stretch of primarily grass and sod. The department stopped mowing the area five years ago, but Wichrowski said stabilizing shrubs haven’t moved in quickly enough.

“I’ve been here about eight years and I’ve seen the shoreline to the south of the ramp erode at least 10 to 12 feet, if not more,” he said. “We’re losing more than a foot of shoreline every year it seems like, mostly due to a lack of vegetation around the shoreline.”

On Monday, workers will grade and remove four or five feet of sod, then put “coir fiber” logs along the waterline. The logs are made of coconut fiber tightly wound into 12-inch-diameter logs. Natural round stones will go in the water next to the logs, preventing waves and ice from eroding the soil.

A biodegradable erosion mat will be put down over the exposed soil, and vegetation will be planted in holes cut into the mat.

The method avoids using large rocks and riprap, which is less appealing to look at and less effective, Wichrowski said.

“It’s a much more natural look and ideally in a few years you don’t see anything except for a vegetated shore line. That’s really the goal of the project,” Wichrowski said. “We’ve not done this sort of work in the past… It’s relatively inexpensive and aesthetically pleasing.”

Wichrowski estimated that the project materials and equipment cost approximately $1,500—plus the sweat equity of a crew of staff and volunteers.

Dan Sharpe, president of the conservation group Lake Iroquois Association, said he hopes the project can help change the attitude of a perfect camp having a golf-course-like lawn sloping to the waters edge.

“One of the big issues that we’re learning…for people who have camps on the lake is that building buffers of vegetation and native plants around the shore is a good thing for water quality.”

He hopes the project can serve as an example.

“For us, it’s a demonstration to camp owners and other property owners on the lake to learn how to build these buffers,” Sharpe said. “The hope is maybe over time we learn to be better stewards of the lake.”

Williston, CVU pleased with new exam scores

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

As students return to the classroom for the start of a new school year, administrators are delving into the first results from the state’s new standardized tests.

All Vermont students in grades 3-8 and 11 took the Smarter Balanced Assessment exams—a computer-delivered test intended to be interactive and tailored to each student—for the first time in the spring. Williston students took a pilot exam in 2013.

The state released exam results Monday.

The tests are adaptive, meaning each student begins with a question that is in the middle of student ability level for that grade. If the student answers correctly, the next question is harder. If they answer incorrectly, the following question is easier.

Williston students surpassed state scores in reading, but were more in line with their peers across Vermont in math proficiency. Champlain Valley Union High juniors were well above state levels.

Jeff Evans, director of learning and innovation for Chittenden South Supervisory Union, said he was pleased with the results overall.

“We were told repeatedly that this was a more rigorous assessment and to anticipate a significant drop in scores from earlier standardized assessments,” Evans said. “When you look at projections nationally, we scored significantly higher than projections and also scored pretty high compared to other schools in the state. From those angles, we’re pretty happy. Right now it’s pretty early in terms of how to use the data and what to glean from it.”

Vermont is one of 31 states involved in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a group of states working to establish a new assessment system based on Common Core academic standards. The new assessments replaced the New England Common Assessment Program, known as NECAPs, in the 2014-2015 school year.

According to the state, scores were higher than projected, but students continue to struggle with math proficiency.

“The scores were better than we had expected,” Michael Hock, director of educational assessment at the Agency of Education, said.

Hock said that the SBAC had conducted a projection of Vermont’s possible scores based on past scores with the NECAP and other tests, but Vermont students had surpassed the projected scores.

In sixth and 11th grade, 37 percent of students statewide scored “proficient” or higher. Fifty-two percent of third graders met the standard. In English Language Arts, between 51 and 58 percent of students received scores that were proficient or higher.

As this was the first time that the SBAC was given to Vermont students, AOE Secretary Rebecca Holcombe said in a press release the results should not be compared to those from the NECAP or other standardized tests.

“As with any change, there will be a period of adjustment, as teachers and students get used to the new standards and tests,” the press release states. “Parents may notice that fewer students scored as proficient on the Smarter Balanced test than did on the NECAP tests.  This does not mean our students now know less, nor does it mean that our schools—both public and independent—are doing worse.  It simply means the test is a more challenging test, and the Smarter Balanced Consortium deliberately set a proficiency threshold that it knew most students would not meet.”

WILLISTON RESULTS

More Williston students scored proficient or higher than students statewide, but in many cases—though not all—trailed behind students in Charlotte, Shelburne and Hinesburg. Williston is the largest of the districts in the Chittenden South Supervisory Union.

“It was really great to see how well the (supervisory union) did, as compared to the state,” Williston School District Principal Greg Marino said. “Williston didn’t do as well on math and (English Language Arts) as some of the other K-8 districts, and we want to dig deeper into that.”

Marino said he plans to analyze results more thoroughly in the coming weeks and months.

“The questions are linked to Common Core standards. What standards are students strongest in, and what questions linked to which standards were the most challenging for Williston students?” Marino said. “We will dig in and look at the programmatic implications of that. What can we do to make sure students are more solid on those standards?”

CVU RESULTS

CVU easily surpassed state levels, but some achievement gaps remain.

“Given CVU’s performance on other standardized tests I’ve seen and knowing what I know about the school, I’m not surprised to see how well our students performed,” CVU Principal Adam Bunting said. “Clearly there’s work to be done, as there always is. First and foremost, I want to take a moment to celebrate the hard work of our students and the faculty.

Evans said that as the former CVU principal, he was especially pleased to see that 81 percent of students scored proficient or higher on the reading portion of the exam, but that 50 percent scored proficient with distinction.

“That’s half our kids reading at a really high level,” he said.

On the math portion, 60 percent of students reached the proficient level.

Bunting said the next step is to sit down and analyze the data—not just administrators, but educators and faculty members and, when possible, students.

“We like to approach that with the idea of it being a team, not just administration,” he said.

The test results can be used to inform the education system as a whole, but can also focus on individuals and classes to figure out how to help students, Bunting said.

He noted that, like any test, the exams are a one-time assessment, and results should be taken with a grain of salt.

“The intent is to offer a mirror for how we’re progressing on our national and state standards, but it also helps provide a mirror on our own locally assessed standards,” he said.

Evans said supervisory union staff will also look for trends.

“These are standards-based assessments, so we’ll work on finding the trends within the standards to see which standards we’re particularly strong at and which ones need some focus,” he said. “It can help us develop moving forward as a system, and we take that same approach to the individual—how to prescribe learning paths for students to make sure they all are successful.”

—Sarah Olsen of Vermont Digger contributed to this report.