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 court proceedings and there are other, more-efficient ways to pass on savings to family. But William was a person who knew his own mind, and he felt sure that a simple will would be good enough for him. But, a Will is your “admission ticket” to Probate Court and all of the financial and emotional stresses and messes that go along with it. From paying unnecessary legal fees and court costs for the lengthy probate court process, paying the tax man estate or “death” tax, exposing inheritance assets to financial creditors and predators to having the family home taken by the nursing home or Medicaid. A Will does very little to protect your assets from these threats. What do you want for your family? How would you like to be remembered? What is your legacy? In addition to losing a lot of your assets to the state, the tax man and the $15,000.00 per month nursing home a Will centered estate plan can often leave your family members fighting and never talking again.
A will without court approval is nothing more than the paper it’s written on. Wills, by themselves, are not enough to prevent 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. Even simple probate matters usually end up costing between five and seven percent of the total estate value. William’s daughter had to pay around $30,000.00 in court costs, attorneys’ fees, and accounting expenses. She then had a minor traffic accident. Even though nobody was 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.
If only William had heeded his daughter’s advice, these difficulties could have been avoided or greatly minimized. We teach our clients at our FREE educational estate planning and elder law workshops the best ways to protect what you have for the people you love the most!
Our unique Three Step Estate Planning Process has helped give hundreds of our clients and their families peace of mind because they know their assets are properly protected and their loved ones are well cared for.
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Patrick Kelleher is an elder law attorney and owner of Patrick J. Kelleher & Associates, P.C. and the founder of Elder Law Care Center wherehe has been teaching free educational estate planning and elder law workshops for over ten years.
This blog is intended to be educational and for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for hiring a qualified estate planning or elder law attorney.