A majority (70%) of homeowners have NO estate plan, except the state’s statutory default plan. Almost as bad, the majority of those who do have an estate plan have a Last Will and Testament. Both have to be probated. So, what’s the big deal?

Perhaps a true story will make the point best. A couple take care of the husband’s elderly mother until one day she passes away. In those last months, the couple care for her with love and great personal sacrifice, even great financial sacrifice.

The mother left a sizable estate, and her written will divided her substantial estate equally among the four adult children. Seems simple enough, right? Every once in a while, and far too often, there is an adult black sheep in the family who is so dysfunctional, he or she will hire attorneys to get more than his or her fair share. So determined is such a person, he or she will intentionally seek to hurt and destroy the other siblings to get what he wants, which is more than the money. Usually such a person is full of hate deep down, unexplainable hate that motivates them to behave incorrigibly toward their siblings.

Greed is alive and well in the world today, and it finds fertile soil in a probate process that is subject to a defective judicial process, fostered by attorneys with their own agendas and judges who wouldn’t know what Solomon’s wisdom was if it bit them in the nose. It is in this fertile soil that the black sheep finds a support system to do his or her evil.

This probate lasted five (5) years, and the siblings’ inheritance was eaten by attorney’s fees and costs, and interestingly enough, by the black sheep’s theft of much of the estate prior to their mother’s death. That’s too long a story to tell here.

There is no question that if the deceased mother had known what her adult child would do to her other children, and that that child would completely annul her Last Will and Testament, she would be rolling over in her grave. You can bet if she had know that her children’s inheritance would go to attorneys, she would have burned the money first, or more likely, she would have set up an indestructible estate plan.

There are intelligent ways to make sure this never happens to your estate, but you have to create an effective and intelligent plan while you are yet alive. Avoid probate at all costs! Attorneys are quite famous for stacking up massive attorney’s fees, and then they get paid first out of the estate funds. And while the average probate takes as much as 18 months, many take much longer.

Use techniques that avoid probate, such as the revocable living trust, the irrevocable life insurance trust, payable on death instruments, the right of survivorship (in appropriate cases), insurance benefits (life insurance payoffs are tax free), and there are many more.

Be sure that the title to your real estate is vested appropriately to accomplish your estate plan, and if you own a business, incorporate a business succession plan into your comprehensive plan. Create an indestructible estate plan, and do it today.

Not motivated to take action yet? Okay, let’s try another approach. Think of the one attorney you dislike the most. Imagine buying him or her a brand new Lexus or Corvette with your money, the money you intend to leave to your own children. Wait, it gets even better. Imagine buying a Cadillac for your attorney, a Cadillac for the opposing attorney representing the black sheep, and a Cadillac for the estate attorney (yes, the estate as an entity gets an attorney too). Motivated yet?

Chuck Marunde, J.D.
Retired Real Estate Attorney
Sequim & Port Angeles Real Estate, LLC

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