The past year was a sad one for my husband and me since several friends and family members passed away unexpectedly. Losing a loved one is difficult enough, however, when one has died intestate (without leaving a will), it makes everything more challenging for the heirs. It is easy to put estate planning on the backburner, “I will get to it someday.”
Wayne, my husband, and I started revising our trust in March 2021. In the middle of updating our trust, we decided to remodel our home in Lake Tahoe. A simple kitchen remodel expanded to taking the entire house down to the studs. It took almost two years to complete. We kept getting notices from our estate attorney to complete our trust, however, we replied that we had to put the project on hold. In November, 2022, a family member passed away unexpectedly and he did not leave a will or trust. That was our wake-up call to finish ours. In December, we called our attorney’s office, to schedule an appointment. Due to his travel schedule, our travel schedule and the holidays, the first we could meet with him was February 2023. Now, we are in the midst of updating our trust, and our goal is to have it completed before Wayne leaves for his sailing adventure the end of March. He plans to sail to the South Pacific and expects to be gone for 90 days.
Estate planning has two general objectives: to ensure that the assets are transferred according to the owner's wishes and to minimize state and federal taxes.
I have another friend whom I’m helping sell his family home. After reviewing the tax records, initially, I thought the property belonged to my friend. After further inspection, the record showed Et Al at the end of his name. We learned that his four sisters were on the title as well. Dealing with five siblings on a title is challenging enough, however, the catch was that two of the sisters had passed away. One of the sisters died intestate which led the process to probate. The probate attorney said it would go much quicker if the assessor deemed the property value to be $250K or less. The appraiser did put of a value of $250,000, so we were able to claim real property of small value. If over $250,000, then it must go through the traditional process of probate. After nine months, we finally got the title cleared. We had to add heirs of the two sisters who had passed away so now we were dealing with six heirs. It was time consuming, costly, and caused some grievances within the family. Ideally, the family would have dealt with this before they passed away. It would have been less stressful for all involved. One family member is currently not speaking to the rest of the family.
The best gift you can give your family and loved ones, is to take the time to plan for your estate now and not tomorrow. Carefully select executors and trustees. Most people spend a lot of time on their plans, then select the executors and trustees as an afterthought. Too often, the client automatically chooses the estate planning lawyer as executor and the bank recommended by the lawyer as trustee. That may or may not be the best choice for you. Unfortunately, a good estate plan can be ruined if unsuitable people implement it. Give a lot of thought to who should execute your plan. If you would like an estate planner referral, I have several recommendations.