Probate—This Time with a Happy Ending!

Probate—This Time with a Happy Ending!

Probate, as we tell our clients, is easy to avoid by creating a Living Trust, making sure that it’s properly funded with your assets and updated with significant investments and life events. When you die without a Trust, your estate falls into court-appointed Probate, and it’s always a costly, lengthy process, often emotional at a very difficult time.

We recently had two women, both in their 80s, come into our Walnut Creek office seeking help probating the estate of their brother, who died without a Living Trust. He did, however, leave a handwritten Will that was dutifully witnessed by his neighbor. Since he had no children, he named his two sisters as executors and beneficiaries.

A handwritten will, witnessed by a neighbor, is not enough to avoid Probate

The brother mistakenly believed that he didn’t need a Living Trust—that a Will would suffice—because in 1985 he added his sisters to his Deed as Joint Tenants in Common, which made them concurrent, or simultaneous, co-owners of real property, with the right of survivorship. The sisters were shocked—and delighted–to learn that their brother had more than $400,000 in various investments. (Here’s part of the problem—he may have made them Joint Tenants in Common on a piece of real estate, thereby avoiding probate on that property–but that was one investment, and that was 30 years ago. He had clearly made other investments—none of which lived in a Trust and therefore was subject to the court process of probate.)

We assured the sisters that this was well within the scope of our services, and we would help them prepare the legal documents. They would be considered by the court as “Pro Per”, or self-represented, filing documents without an attorney. They were comfortable with this, and believed that the judge and the court would be supportive. We confirmed that, from our experience, this would be the case.

Letters of Testamentary: Authority to manage their brother’s estate

The sisters went to the hearing in Southern California, and the judge named them as executors. The sisters now have Letters of Testamentary, which give them the authority to manage their deceased brother’s estate. These are critical documents, as certified copies of these letters are often required by banks and other financial institutions, the federal government, stock transfer agents or other courts before transfer of money or assets to the executors can take place.

Few Probate stories have a happy ending, so this one is an exception

We were delighted to be able to help our clients prepare the legal documents so they could manage their brother’s estate, and ultimately inherit the money he had thoughtfully left them!

Avoid probate and create a Living Trust! We encourage you to come in to one of our California Document Preparers offices to get started. We’re here to help you.