During my 50+ years as a private investigator, I have been involved in hundreds of family law matters involving wills and trusts. Most are contentious affairs with preparation and knowledge being very limited by the participants. There are a few number of competent attorneys that prepare these documents and even a smaller circle of attorneys that actually go into the court rooms of America and represent their clients in trust litigation. It’s not exactly a perfect setting. Many lose thousands of dollars in this complicated civil arena.
There is an easy fix: Being prepared.
In the past, I have pleaded with family, friends, associates and clients to obtain at least a simple will. Last year, I changed my mind. Forget about a will. Go directly to a revocable living trust (RLT).
It is important to understand the three main documents that you definitely should consider:
2.) Revocable living trust (RLT)
Having a will is better than having nothing at all. A will is a piece of paper which legally declares where your assets go upon your death. Here’s the downside: a will is for the benefit of a sitting judge at the courthouse, not any of your relatives or heirs.
On the other hand, a revocable living trust is revocable, and can be changed at anytime. It’s living (done while you are alive) and lists all assets and the designated persons who will receive them upon your death. There’s no probate needed and you can avoid court disputes.
A recent case here in Orange County California indicates why a will might cause more problems than one anticipates. My client is a female that lives with her father. The father has a will and when he passed the will stated my client would receive the home (worth $350,000), but had a mortgage in the same amount. My client had to hire an attorney for $1,500.00 to file the necessary paperwork in the probate court to get ownership of the home. Once a judge is convinced that my client is legitimately entitled to the home, then he will validate the will.
This process can take up to two years. There are also statutory probate fees on a house worth that much that could cost my client an additional $10,000 to $20,000.
If the father would have completed a revocable living trust naming my client as the beneficiary of the property, she could have assumed title within two weeks and NO fees.
Bottom line: Paying an attorney to produce a revocable living trust for approximately $2,000 while the father was alive would literally have saved thousands of dollars and countless months of waiting for the probate process to play out.
The durable power of attorney for health care and finances is a legal document in which the subject specifies what action should be taken for their health if they no longer can make such decisions because they are ill or incapacitated. It is also a legal document wherein you appoint someone you trust to be your health care guardian. These designations can be contained in the revocable living trust.
Many times in my life I have heard some attorneys pontificate that a will is all you need, or a revocable living trust is overkill unless you have thousands of dollars in assets. Others will say that a will is never a good idea, and that the revocable living trust is the only way to proceed. Neither assumption is true. If you have no assets or property to distribute then a will might suffice with a clear understanding of your wishes relative to any advance directive or power of attorney. Please investigate this subject matter and do what is best for you and your loved ones.
In any event – you should consult with an attorney. If you don’t know of any above-average attorneys, call our toll-free number below and we will make every effort to assist you in this matter. Please do not fill out a form on the internet or use an agency that sells documents that you can fill out. This course of action always reminds me of the saying, “You can pay me now or pay me later.” You are better off paying an attorney to prepare the documents, understand what they mean, and properly signing to insure your wishes are going to be complied with after your death.
You can call our toll-free number anytime if you have questions or wish any matter clarified.