This story, or a variation, is more common than you may think. The deceased "Bill" was in his early 60s when he died. After a divorce years earlier, Bill had moved back to the house where he grew up to care for his aging parents. First, his mother died, and then his father. Neither of Bill's parents had estate plans, and nothing was done when either parent died to settle their affairs. Bill never moved out of the house, and life went on, until Bill died unexpectedly three years ago.
Like his parents, Bill also never got around to making a Will. Bill never had children. His only heir was a cousin, Greg. As Greg was gathering information for the probate of Bill's estate, Greg discovered the house was still in the name of Bill's deceased parents. Greg would first have to start a probate for Bill's father. Once Greg was appointed as Administrator of the father's estate, he could file a Spousal Property Petition for the estate of Bill's mother to get the house out of the mother's name. With that done, Greg could finish the probate of Bill's father's estate.
Before Greg could distribute the house and close Bill's father's probate, Greg had to start the probate for Bill's estate to receive the transfer of the house. The house then became part of the probate of Bill's estate. The whole process took over 2-1/2 years from the date of Bill's death to the date when Greg received the house out of the probate of Bill's estate. And, he house went from the estate of Bill's mother to the probate of Bill's father's estate before it ended up in the probate of Bill's estate – three estates in total.
How could this have been avoided? Bill's parents should have made a Trust. The house would have transferred from the parents to Bill without any Court involvement. And, Bill should have had his own Trust to avoid the probate of his estate. The cost of estate planning for Bill's parents and Bill would have been a fraction of the expense of the three estates, and Greg could have received the house within months of Bill's death, instead of years.
Planning Ahead Column
By Lisa Alexander, Esq.
Jakle, Alexander & Patton, LLP
Direct Line: 310-656-4310