One day William’s daughter read in an article that a will was not the best way to leave property to heirs. Wills often involve long and expensive probate court proceedings and there are other, more-efficient ways to pass on savings to a family such as trusts. But William was a person who knew his own mind and felt he was not a complicated case and did not have enough assets to require a trust or even talking to an estate planning lawyer. He felt sure that a simple will would be good enough for him.
However, in a bit of unfortunate irony, what William did not know and failed to do ended up turning what could have been a simple process for his daughter into something much more complicated.
A will without court approval is nothing more than the paper it’s written on. Wills, by themselves, are not enough to prevent a property from staying “stuck” in a decedent’s name. The only way a will could be effective, to give William’s daughter the inheritance he wanted her to have, was for his daughter to go to court after he passed. Courts make sure that wills are valid, debts are paid, and – despite whatever the will may say – whether other family members might also have a legal right to a portion of the estate. Worse, because probate court files are public record, anybody off the street could have open access to all documents filed there, including wills.
So, when William’s daughter filed in probate court after he died, she soon found herself besieged by get-rich-quick con artists. William’s estranged second wife’s children showed up to demand a piece of his estate. When a small loan William owed on his house was discovered, a property broker flagged the house for foreclosure and the daughter’s lawyer had to move fast to keep the house off the auction block.
It took over three years to resolve these complications. Moreover, William’s daughter had to pay around $30,000.00 in court costs, attorneys’ fees, accounting expenses, and other administrative costs. Such an expense is not uncommon, as even simple probate matters usually end up costing between five and seven percent of the total estate value.
What was worse She then had a minor traffic accident. Even though nobody was seriously hurt, the other driver sued her, and she eventually spent a significant chunk of the rest of her inheritance on attorneys’ fees and court charges in defending the lawsuit.
If only William had heeded his daughter’s advice, these difficulties could have been avoided or minimized.
When it comes to wills, especially in California, there are many better alternatives that would have kept William’s financial affairs more-efficiently managed and private as well as protecting more of his daughter’s inheritance from lawsuits, creditors, and predators. Our Orange County law firm is here to be your guide and advise you as to the best strategies that will actually meet your needs, goals, and desires to protect your loved ones. Please contact us or schedule an appointment. It will be a pleasure to meet with you.
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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an Orange County estate planning attorney and elder law attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He’s all about family and passionate about estate planning, elder law, and veterans. He founded Snyder Law to help people be prepared and have the peace of mind they are protecting their families and aging parents for when life happens.