How Probate Can Sting More Than a Sunburn

Posted by on May 23, 2018 in estate planning, Probate |

            Most of us have probably had a sunburn. Those of us with easily-sunburned skin know the stinging pain that comes along with it. Though our beach day might have been fun, the aftermath was not quite so nice. However, sunburns aren’t the only thing that can cause a major sting. Think of probate court as the judicial equivalent of a sunburn: annoying, uncomfortable, and definitely not what you want to be dealing with. Here’s a brief overview of what probate is, how you get there, and how you can avoid it.

What’s Probate?

            Probate court is a court that deals with the division of your assets and repayment of your debts after you die. It handles validation of a will, identifying and taking an inventory of the deceased person’s property, and dividing said property up according to state law (after debt repayment, of course). State by state, the process of probate court varies, but here are some elements of the process that you need to know, and they don’t vary a whole lot across-the-board.

First, you should know about the executor. This person can be named in your will. Or, a judge can appoint him or her if you die intestate or fail to name the person. The executor has a lot to handle. He or she validates your will, presents a judge with an inventory of property and debts, and gives a list of who should inherit the property and assets that you’ll have left after the debts are wiped out.

The executor notifies your creditors and family members of your death so that people can make requests. The executor has to decide what to do if you come up short. If you’ve granted cash gifts that you don’t have when you die, the executor might decide to sell some of your property in order to make ends meet. This is just one example of the way in which the executor will work with the court to settle up your property. This process usually takes a year or two, but it can take even more, depending on your circumstance and the court’s schedule. Overall, probate is a long, arduous ordeal.

How Do I Wind Up There?

            If you die intestate (which means being deceased without a will), you’ll end up in probate. People might be under the impression that you can avoid probate if you have a last will and testament, but that actually isn’t true. The executor still has to go to court and validate the will. A will must be authenticated. Otherwise, it isn’t going to hold up in court. Lawyers will assist in the validation process, as it varies based on state law.

            Having an estate plan that doesn’t address important documents recommended if you want to avoid probate is a way that you wind up there. Especially when it comes to the appointment of your executor, your family will not like the process at all. If the judge appoints someone you didn’t intend to manage your affairs, things will go likely downhill rapidly.  

Yikes! How Can I Avoid That?

            Avoiding probate court involves some legal footwork, such as establishing a living trust. This legal tool is a three-party fiduciary relationship that is effective immediately. You, the donor, give nominal title to the trustee, who then confers the title to your beneficiary when you designate them to do so (i.e. after you die, usually). Joint tenancy arrangements are also not subject to probate, depending on state law. Your estate planning attorney will help you work out ways to keep your family out of probate.

 

            When it comes to this judicial sunburn, you want to take all the necessary precautions. Consider a living trust (as well as smart estate planning overall) your equivalent of SPF 50 sunscreen. Good estate planning and consulting with an estate planner will save your family time, energy, and stress. A sunburn might last just a week or so, but the sting of probate lasts way, way longer.

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Estate Wars

Posted by on May 1, 2018 in estate planning, Probate, Wills |

May the Fourth be with you! May 4th has quickly become a tradition for die-hard Star Wars fans across the globe, who come together to celebrate what they love most about the popular movies. However, Star Wars’ themes aren’t just relative to space alone. When it comes to your family, you’re going to want to prevent some battles of your own—albeit not the intergalactic kind.

Estate planning ensures that your assets and debts are assigned in a way that is best for your family. This will keep family harmony, and no one will have to go through probate court. Through estate planning, you will keep the peace in your family by avoiding probate court (which, for symbolic purposes, you can think of as the Death Star of the legal world). Probate court leads to nothing but trouble, and to avoid estate wars within your family, there are some things you must do.

Why is Probate Court So Bad?

Okay, so probate court might not be totally as serious as a planet-destroying star, but it definitely is not where you want your family to be. People who die intestate (meaning they die without a will) or people who die with a last will and testament have to go through probate court. During probate, your estate—assets and debts—are divvied out by a judge.

A family member is appointed to be the executor of your estate. Debts are paid off first; that is goal number one of probate court. Then, whatever’s left is divided among the eligible recipients. The process is long and drawn out, and there is not a great likelihood that you will see your assets go where you want them to. The debts also may be assigned in ways that greatly disadvantage those selected to pay them off. All in all, probate court is not the answer for your family.

How to Avoid It

A common misconception is that having a last will and testament will automatically get you out of probate court and tie up your affairs nicely. That’s not true, however. A last will still has to go through probate court, and it will still take a long time.

The alternative to that is a living trust. With a living trust, there are three parties: you, the trustee, and the beneficiary. You, as the donor, confer nominal ownership of assets to the trustee, who, at a date you give them, hands over your assets to your chosen beneficiary. This gets you out of probate court and puts your estate immediately into the hands of the people you want to get it. There is no middleman, and your beneficiary will be grateful to you for that.

Probate court serves its purpose, but it is not a place that families want to go. Between the time consuming court trips, the costs, and the overall drudgery of this legal process, planning your estate in order to avoid these problems is a far better alternative than risking “estate wars.”

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Trick-Or-Treat: Which One Will You Leave For Your Family?

Posted by on Oct 19, 2017 in estate planning, Family Law, Probate |

Some of the best Halloween memories come from trick-or-treating with your friends and family. When you go up to someone’s door and say, “Trick or treat!” you know that they will almost always give you candy, never a “trick” (unless you count getting raisins as a trick). When it comes to your family, you never want to leave them tricks either, but, unfortunately, that’s just what will happen if you die without an estate plan.

Probate court is the ultimate “trick,” and making your family go through that is not a fun surprise whatsoever. In this article, we’ll talk about what probate court is and how to avoid it, ensuring that your family will not get a nasty surprise after you die.

The “Tricks” in Probate Court

Estate planning has many benefits. It gives direction on where your assets should go when you pass on, and it allows you to take advantage of tax deductions and benefits so that you don’t saddle your family with the twin evils that are creditors and taxes.

Probate court is what happens when you die without an estate plan. The court manages the distribution of your assets and debts, often selling the former to pay the latter. Your family does not get anything and, if they do, they’re likely to not get it in the way in which you would prefer. Your creditors receive whatever it takes to pay off the debts. The point of probate court is to wrap an estate up by paying off debts, and it does so through an arduous, costly, and time-consuming process.

There is always the chance that the government will get your things as well, meaning that the state now owns your property and will likely sell it. These scary alternatives are what happens when you don’t have an estate plan.

Ramifications on Your Family

You may be wondering why you should care. You’ll be dead and won’t have to worry about any of this stuff; why not let the court just do it?

That’s where you’re wrong.

Your family and loved ones will be dragged into the probate process and saddled with court costs. Whoever is deemed administrator will be in charge of the process, which can take a long time. If you want to make sure that you don’t leave your family with a nightmare, create an estate plan that will give clear directions on how to manage your property, assets, and healthcare when you are incapacitated or dead. Save the tricks for Halloween, not your family.

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The Terrifying Truth About Probate

Posted by on Oct 19, 2017 in Probate |

           

With this upcoming Halloween season, particularly with the release of the movie It, there is a lot to be spooked by. While probate court might not be as scary as killer clowns, it certainly is something you’ll want to avoid at all costs.

So, What IS Probate?

Probate is a legal process and not a fun one, either. Probate is often referred to as “probate court” because the process is supervised by a court. Probate is what happens when a person dies without an estate plan. The court decides how to distribute your assets and debts, leaving you with no control.

You may think, “What do I care? I’ll be dead,” but remember that your family is going to be the most heavily burdened by probate. Avoiding probate court is a must.

What Does a Probate Court Do?

Probate court handles many other functions besides simple property distribution. Probate courts determine the executor of the estate, will authentication (if there is one), identification of beneficiaries, heirs, and/or decedents, payment of debts, and other important processes that you could avoid dragging your family into court for if you take the proper steps.

The probate lawyers do most of the work, but the executor supervises. The administrator (AKA executor) obtains necessary documents, hires the attorney, manages the process, cancels credit cards, pays off debts, and more. It is not an enviable job.

While some states do allow an avoidance of probate if your estate is below a certain net worth (in California, for example, the bar is $100,000), you will probably still have to go through a process, albeit a simplified version, that would be better avoided altogether.

The Terrifying Truth

The terrifying truth is that probate court is NOT something you want your family and loved ones to endure, even if you aren’t going to be around to care. Avoiding probate court involves creating an estate plan. Estate planning will help you get organized and plan for your future in the event of your demise. A well-prepared estate plan will protect your family from the court fees and time-suck that is probate court.

Estate planning attorneys are here to help. We aid you in managing the process, drafting the necessary documents, and counseling you on the best course of action depending on your situation and what your goals are.

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Estate Planning Is A Women’s Issue

Posted by on Sep 25, 2017 in estate planning, Probate, Wills |

            As Beyoncé told us, girls run the world! And Business Women’s Day is one of several holidays reminding us of that fact. Women have come a long way in the workforce. In 1950, one in three women were part of the labor force. By 2016, that statistic was three out of five, and, today in 2017, even more gains have been made in women’s leadership. While we still have some ways to go to make sure that the workforce is equal, particularly for women of color, there have been a lot of improvements. We don’t want to squander what our foremothers gave us, and estate planning is a women’s issue because it allows us to protect our hard-won assets.

Estate Planning and Women

To understand why estate planning is a women’s issue, it’s important to realize how little of an “estate” women were historically “allowed” to have. Even just up until forty years ago, women were still not given the abilities men had to control their own money. It wasn’t until 1969 that a U.S. court definitively ruled that labor jobs couldn’t not only be given to men, and firing women from factory work simply because of their gender was illegal.

Estate planning allows you to direct where your assets will go and how your healthcare decisions, financial choices, and other important directives are to be made in the event of incapacitation or death.

Here are some of the ways in which estate planning benefits women:

  • Agency and Control

Things happen, and you want to be able to keep your property and assets where you want them, without being forced into a decision that would cause a loss of property. Estate planning gives you agency over your healthcare choices and financial decisions. There is no better way to be secure that what you’ve worked hard for won’t be for nothing.

  • Peace of Mind

In the event of incapacity or death, the documents contained in an estate plan will give you a trusted person to make decisions for you. Your living will also contains directives that will tell the hospital and other personnel how to manage your care.

  • Longevity

If you want, you can ensure that your money and property are invested or put into a trust fund that will keep them around for a long time to benefit your daughters and granddaughters.

Estate planning is a women’s issue, and, this September, make sure that you retain control over your assets and finances by creating an estate plan.

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The Benefits of Preserving Your Digital Legacy

Posted by on Jun 8, 2017 in estate planning, Probate |

code, coding, computer

The Benefits of Preserving Your Digital Legacy

Take a moment to consider the wide array of online profiles and accounts that are floating around cyber space; bearing your name, personal information, communications, blogs, stored files, and so on. What happens to our online identities when we are gone? Who will receive access to your email, blog, and social media accounts? In South Florida, social media & digital assets are all encompassing in our daily lives. Whether it is for work, school, home, or purely social purposes, our digital assets are incredibly valuable, & should be considered with the rest of our assets when planning our estates. By incorporating your digital assets into your estate plan; you can achieve the following benefits:

▪ Control over how your accounts are closed & preserved.

▪ Control over choosing someone you trust to be an online executor, & follow your wishes regarding the disposal or care of your digital assets.

▪ Privacy – preventing the wrong person from accessing your private information.

▪ Ensuring that your fiduciaries discover all the vital account information when the need arises

▪ Prevention of identity theft – if no one has knowledge or access to your accounts, there is a higher probability that identity theft will go unnoticed.

▪ Easy discovery of electronic bills and similar accounts, to avoid late fees & cancellations that will create losses for the estate.

▪ Preserving your story – allowing family members to access your blog, photos, and other digital assets that keep your memory and story alive.

While many may advise you to simply incorporate your digital asset wishes into your will, doing so can be problematic when it comes to privacy. When a will is admitted to probate, its contents become public record. Thus, any private digital asset information you place in your will, such as usernames and passwords, are exposed to the public. As an alternative, said information can be placed in a separate document that is referenced in the will; or better yet, placed into a trust. This way, your social media identity remains private, and you can receive all of the same benefits mentioned above.

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