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What Happens To My Trust After I Pass Away?

Many people who create a Revocable Living Trust fail to understand what happens to the trust after they are gone (for more information about types of trusts, see Let’s Talk Trusts). One of the most common misconceptions is what happens to a Revocable Living Trust after the trustmaker or “trustor,” or the person who created and funded the trust, dies. A lot of successor trustees believe, that as long as the trust is fully funded, all that they need to do is collect an inheritance check, pay some taxes, and that is it. However, it really does not take a lot of common sense to figure out that there needs to be more than that, since you are closing and cleaning up the financial affairs of a person’s entire life.  (For more on trustee’s duties, See Duties of A Trustee).

Even though probate is not required for a correctly and fully funded trust, the successor trustee of the trust will still have quite a few responsibilities and duties to accomplish before the trust’s beneficiaries can receive their inheritance. Usually, there are taxes to be filed and paid, bills to be paid,  paying ongoing expenses of maintaining the real estate of the trust, and selling or auctioning off any property that cannot be liquidated any other way. However much work this seems, this is much better than having a court process where a judge is looking over every bill to be paid, every expense, and holding things up due to court dates needing to be scheduled. Usually the only professionals needed in this process is a good accountant, and sometimes an attorney. Cleaning up and closing a trust is still much faster and cheaper than probate.

If you are interested in getting a trust, or finding out more about how one can help you and your heirs, please call our office today.

Why Does My Will Need To Be Probated?

A lot of clients seem to be under the misconception that, if your will is valid, self-explanatory, and clear as to your intent, then it does not need to be probated. However, your Last Will and Testament is not effective until it goes through probate. It does not matter if it is clear and unambiguous! The deceased persons’ assets and liabilities cannot legally pass to the beneficiaries named in the will until after the Probate Court enters an Order that shows that the assets pass to the beneficiaries.

For example,many people that own a home in their name and may leave it to their children in a will. During the life of the owner, in order to be able to sell the home, they would need to sign a deed over to the new buyer in the closing process. After they pass away, a buyer will not accept a signed deed from the deceased children since there has been no legal determination or court order granting them the legal right to sign over the deed, since it is still in the deceased person’s name. It will not work to simply provide the buyer  with a copy of the will, since it does not solve ownership problem and they cannot be assured that the will is valid until the probate court has reviewed it. Therefore, only until an Oklahoma Probate Court has reviewed and decreed the will to be a valid Last Will and Testament of the deceased, and that the will legally passes the home onto the children, the children have no legal authority to sign a deed, sell the house, or have any ownership to the house. As a result, there is no will that is effective until it has been probated and through the probate process.

Many people are flustered and upset that their estate has to go through probate when they have a valid will, but they can solve this problem by establishing and funding a Revocable Living Trust. Let Skillern Law Firm help you in this process by calling the law office today.

A Common Error to Avoid Probate

One common scenario that estate planning attorneys encounter is clients who believe that deeding their home to their children solves the problem of avoiding probate. Most retired individual’s main asset is their home, which many have paid their mortgage off.

Such a situation is common for many of our clients, and the attorneys at Skillern Law Firm almost always advise against it. There are several practical and legal reasons to keep your home in your name, some of which are discussed in this article  in the Huffington Post. The two main points that this article relates are property taxes and your child’s liabilities.

There are several more important reasons to avoid transferring your property rights to your child to avoid probate. These include:

  • The relationship with your child could go south, or change once you transfer all your property rights to him/her. It’s amazing how a relationship can change once money or any inheritance is involve. Once the house is in their name, they have all the legal right to the home, and there is no obligation for them to let you live in it or transfer it back to you if you ever change your mind.
  • If you have more than one child, this can put complications on some of your relationships with the other children, and it can create rifts between siblings. Putting your house in the name of one child can create relationship complications, but putting the house into all of your children’s names’ can create paperwork headaches, errors, and inheritance complications.
  • There are other ways to avoid probate. One of the easiest ways to avoid probate is to create a Revocable Living Trust.  You can read more about trusts on a previous post here.  Essentially, a Revocable Living Trust are flexible, customizable depending on your situation, and usually cheaper than what probate will cost your heirs.

Do not make a common estate planning mistake that could possibly cost you to lose your home and cause problems within your family. Contact Skillern Law to discuss how they can assist you to protect your family and heirs, as well as your assets, from probate, liabilities, and common misconceptions about avoiding probate.

Simple Ways to Avoid Probate

Most people know that Revocable Living Trusts are a great way to avoid probate. And if you don’t, please read a previous blog about probate and how a trust can help here. On today’s blog post, Skillern Law Firm is going to discuss other ways to avoid probate if you already have a trust, or simple solutions if you have a small estate.

First of all, we’ll say it one more time for emphasis – Get A Revocable Living Trust. I know that you’ve already been told this by our attorneys, and possibly other attorneys, but it is a very simple way to avoid probate (and probate is generally much more expensive than a trust!). If you do not have a trust, and you own anything when you die, your estate will be probated, and your estate will have to hire a probate attorney. This includes if you die with a will or not. A will is a good idea if you absolutely cannot afford a trust, since it helps move the probate process move faster. However, if you want your family to avoid probate altogether, you need to set up a living trust.

After you get a trust, you will need to fund it. The offices of Skillern Law Firm help you fund your trust, so that you are not wasting your money.  A trust is only good if it is funded, otherwise a trust is just a pile of documents without any meaning. However, if you do not follow our instructions, or you get a trust done from an attorney who does not fund his/her client’s trust, then you will need to find your trust. Funding includes transferring all your real and personal property into the trust’s estate, or “corpus.” Essentially, it is making sure your bank accounts, financial accounts, home and land, and any other property is transferred into the trust. You can opt to transfer your property into the trust on your own, but our clients often rely on the services of our attorneys to be confident that all probate-able property is properly titled in the name of your trust.

Next, you will need to make sure that all your retirement accounts, life insurance, annuities, and any other assets have beneficiaries named. This can help you whether you have a trust or not. One thing to make sure, if you do not have a trust, is that you do not have your estate as your beneficiary. If you place your estate as your beneficiary, without a trust, that property will need to be probated, and if you just named  a person, the money would have passed outside of probate. Another thing to make sure that you have multiple contingent beneficiaries in case one of your beneficiaries dies before you do, and you forget to change it or are incapable of changing it. If you have your estate, no beneficiary, or a deceased beneficiary on any of these accounts, then your heirs will have to go through probate court (and all that’s involved with that) to gain access to these assets. One more small note is to make sure none of your beneficiaries are under the age of eighteen. Otherwise, the bank or institution will hold that account until they reach this age, or you will have to get a conservatorship over the minor to gain access to those funds before they reach 18.

Another thing you can do is to make sure nothing is payable to your “Estate,” as referenced above. Many families have to go through probate because the nursing home refused to write a refund check (after death of a resident) to anyone other than the “Estate of Resident.” Like said above, this would require this refund check get probated through the courts to get received by the heirs. To avoid probate, make sure the nursing or assisted living facility will make any refund check payable to a surviving heir or your trust account, if you have one.

One really important step that clients often forget is that they need to put the later acquired property into their trust. If you purchase a home or other asset later in life, you have to put it in the name of your trust. Or if you open a new bank account, open the account in the name of your trust . It’s steps like these that will make your estate get probated, even if you have a trust.

Some of these steps above can be done if you have a trust or not. For example, putting beneficiaries on accounts can be done by someone who does not have a trust, and can make their probate process move much quicker. Getting a will is also a good idea if you cannot afford a trust, since it will also speed up the probate process. Contact the offices of Skillern Law Firm to discuss your estate planning needs today.

The Problems with Handwritten Wills

Oklahoma allows the probate courts to admit holographic (or handwritten) wills. There are certain considerations that are very important to consider if you think a holographic will is right for you. Today on Tulsa Estate Planning BlogSkillern Law Firm, PLLC will help you figure out if its right for you.

First, there are important, strict formalities that Oklahoma requires for a holographic will to be valid. First, the will must be dated. Second, it must be signed by the testator. Third, it must be completely in the handwriting of the testator/testatrix. And lastly, it must be clear that the document is the intended last will and testament of the testator/testatrix.

These four requirements are very strict. Without all four, and with a variation on all four, Oklahoma courts have refused to admit certain holographic wills.

One such error is the belief that getting a holographic will notorized or witnessed is a great thing. This is not true. If you remember from above, the document must be entirely written by the testator/testatrix. A notory or a witness’s tesatament are not the same handwriting. There have been some Oklahoma courts that have held that in the event it is notarized or witnesses, that does not defeat the will since it is not required to be witnessed or notarized. If you do choose a holographic will, do not chance this, and avoid a notary or witness.

Many people insist they should save the money and create a holographic will. I remember in law school, someone asked the teacher in our estate planning course whether there were really any benefits to a formal, attorney-made will. Of course there is, she said, otherwise there would be no estate planning attorneys!

There are some very common problems with holographic wills. Here are some common mistakes:

  • Proving the authenticity of the will. Getting a handwriting expert, proving it was the intent, and making sure the entire document was written by the testator/testatrix is expensive, time-consuming, and doesn’t always result in probating of the holographic will. A formal, notarized, witnessed will is much easier to prove the authenticity, and many times, that is not even an issue with formal wills.
  • Testator/testatrix omits important features of a formally prepared will that can have a severe impact of your estate. For instance, not having a residuary clause, spend-thrift clause, or many other important clauses that attorneys know are necessary.
  • Vague/Confusing/Unmanageable instructions. Attorneys are good at using legal language that the probate court will be familiar with, and understand what the testator/testatrix desired. Many individuals are not. Furthermore, most holographic wills are vague and confusing, with different instructions concerning the same property, and avoiding discussing other property. For instance, leaving everything to “mother” does not exactly tell the court who you meant. Using vague terms, without using full names, and also using vague descriptions of property is a common mistake.
  • Failure to distribute the entire estate. A problem arises when the holographic will distributes less than all of the testator’s estate. If, for instance, the will gives away his house, car, and bank accounts, but neglects to mention furniture and other personal property, there is a partial intestacy as to the assets not covered by the will. These assets will then pass to surviving legal heirs as determined by the state intestacy statutes, the result of which may not be what the testator intended.
  • Many, many, more!

Just remember, all of these problems above (and the ones not listed) involve the probate trying to figure out what the testator/testatrix intended with their holographic will. This will eventually include probate attorneys charging hourly rates on your estate and beneficiaries. The cost of holographic wills may be free when they are made, but when they are probated, the cost is often much higher to the estate than a traditional, attorney-made will due to the probate costs.

Formal, Attorney-made wills is the best idea to make sure your estate is distributed as you desire, without the added probate costs of holographic wills. Let Skillern Law Firm, PLLC help you distribute your assets effectively, clearly, and easily through a will today. Please contact us to set up a free appointment today.

What is Probate and Why Should I Avoid It?

When Skillern Law Firm P.L.L.C. discusses the benefits of a will or a trust, inevitably probate comes up. We advise clients to avoid probate, since it is costly and a complicated process that can easily be avoided by a trust. Still, many clients ask us: “What is probate”? Our answer is: it depends. Basically, probate is simply a court proceeding(s) in which a court administers and concludes the legal and financial matters of the deceased. Essentially, probate court is when a court distributes, decides, and delivers the deceased person’s goods to his heirs and beneficiaries.

The Probate Court is a neutral forum where beneficiaries, heirs, and creditors are able to settle disputes or other issues related to the deceased person’s estate. Probate is simple another legal court where things get settled. It is similar to a civil lawsuit or bankruptcy court in that it is the way the United States legal system has found to deal with a legal problem. In the case of probate court, it is a way to distributing estates.

One reason most of our clients try to avoid probate is the cost. Normally, the cost of probate ranges from two to ten percent of the total estate. There are many factors that go into how much probate costs, including the size and nature of the estate, how many beneficiaries or heirs the deceased had, how many creditors, etc. When there are more assets and debts, the probate process tends to cost more since it is longer to distribute. If you really think about it, it makes sense. The more creditors there are, the more time and expense it takes to sort out which creditor or beneficiary has priority and how they should be paid. Sometimes, estates simply cannot pay all of their debts and become insolvent.

Time is also an issue when it comes to probate. The probate process can take anywhere from six months to a year to distribute the estate. Complex estates can take even longer. Did you know that New York probated Marilyn Monroe’s estate from 1962 until 2001? That is 39 years! While that is an extreme, time is still an issue for most estates. In Oklahoma, there are certain deadlines that must be met. Beneficiaries and creditors are required to be notified of their rights and they have a certain amount of time in which they can respond. Sometimes, fighting between siblings, grandchildren, or other beneficiaries can cause the estate to be open for years.

Another reason many couples and families chose to get a trust done to avoid probate is that the proceedings in probate are public. Anyone can watch and read what happens to the estate. Trust distribution is private, and only a small memorandum of trust needs to be recorded with minimal information. Most people find that the privacy of a trust instead of probate is a big selling factor.

That, essentially, is what probate is and why most people tend to avoid it. A trust is a legal instrument that can avoid probate, and a qualified estate planning attorney, including those at Skillern Law Firm, can help you get one in place. A will does not avoid probate, but it can help make the process go quicker by letting the court know what your intention with your estate is. Please contact the office today for a free consultation.

Payable On Death (POD) – Good or Great Idea?

Avoiding probate is one of the most common concerns clients have when they come to Skillern Law Firm, PLLC. One of the easiest ways any individual or family can avoid probate on their bank accounts is putting a Payable on Death (POD) designation on the account.  A POD designation allows the account to pass from the deceased account owner to the POD beneficiary without having to go through probate in Oklahoma.

Let’s back up. Payable on death, or “POD” as it is known in the estate planning world, is used by most attorneys in this area of law. Bank accounts generally allow the owner to designate a POD beneficiary on the account.  It’s usually a pretty easy process of filling out the bank’s form, sending it in with the POD designation on the form clearly noted, and voila!

A POD beneficiary can be a individual, trust or a nonprofit organization.  What a POD designation does is it makes the bank contractually obligated  to pay the account proceeds to the POD beneficiary after the account owner has passed. However, before the bank turns the money over, the bank is required to pay any party holding a security interest and must generally receive approval from the Oklahoma Tax Commission.  If the POD beneficiary is living, the bank will pay the proceeds directly that designated beneficiary. If, however, the POD beneficiary is not living, and there is no secondary or contingent beneficiary named, then the bank will have to pay the monies in the account to the estate of the deceased beneficiary, as opposed to the estate of the account owner. The bank owner may establish a primary beneficiary and other contingent beneficiaries. However, if more than one primary beneficiary is named, then no contingent beneficiaries can be named.  If more than one primary POD beneficiary is named, then the beneficiaries will split the assets in the account equally.

Other than bank accounts, Oklahoma has slightly different rules for loans, savings accounts and credit union accounts, so make sure what type of institution and/or account you own before utilizing a POD, and call the institutions to make sure you are following their rules and forms.   If you are interested in learning more about a how to set up a POD designation, probate avoidance or properly funding your trust, please set up an appointment with Skillern Law at your convenience.

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