In April 2012 my father died unexpectedly without having updated his Living Trust as to who he wanted to receive his property upon his death. Before any of his personal property could be given to his family, I needed a court order telling me I had the right to do so. The only way to get a court order was to admit my dad’s estate to probate, a formal court proceeding, resulting in hiring attorneys to help me with the process.
What was thought of as a simple estate (a mortgage, credit cards, a boat, and other personal property) quickly became a very complex proceeding in the California Superior Court, requiring strict legal procedures to value his assets, pay creditors, and maintain a detailed accounting of income and expenses before the judge closed the probate and allow me to transfer my father’s property to his family. During the probate, I continued to work my full time job, as well as spending countless hours gathering all the necessary details about my father’s estate to assist the probate lawyers, tax lawyers, and CPAs in order to complete the probate proceeding. While this whole legal process was tied up in court, my father’s property was locked up in a storage unit. Two years later and paying thousands of dollars in legal fees, the probate case finally closed and I was able to distribute my father’s remaining estate to his heirs.
I realized that if my dad had updated his Living Trust prior to his death, then his heirs could have received their inheritance in as little as a few weeks after his passing and the money we paid to attorneys would not have been necessary. Talking about my dad’s trust was not a typical conversation I would have with my dad. Maybe is was just too personal to ask him if his estate was in order. Maybe I felt it was none of my business to make sure his trust was current. Maybe, I didn’t want to bring up a morbid subject “What happens to your estate when you die?” Maybe, I should have asked anyway because we are never prepared for what lies ahead when we realize we need to probate a loved one’s estate. Some people obtain a life insurance policy to help their loved ones after they die. But, what can you do today to make sure your family receives your property tomorrow in the event of your death? There are measures we can each take to avoid probate but if we don’t plan ahead, there can be very costly consequences.
My father’s passing and probating his estate gave me a new purpose in life. I didn’t want anyone else to go through what I had to do to distribute my father’s estate. It is for this reason that I decided to make it my mission to help others be prepared for when the time comes.
So, if you have had that conversation with your parents or if you are thinking of preparing your own family for when the time comes, I hope you will allow me to help you avoid probate.