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Robert Mansour: Make sure you have a trust

It’s The Law

Posted: May 28, 2009 4:13 p.m.
Updated: May 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Recently, several people have asked me to review existing estate plans. Usually, they say something like, “I need you to review my trust to make sure it’s still good.”  

When I review their plans, I find they don’t even have a trust. They think they have a trust, but they do not. It is remarkable to me how many people out there have just simple wills, all the while believing they have living trusts. So I will explain a bit more about both.

First, while a simple will is a good idea, it amounts to nothing more than a wish list of where you want things to go after you die.  

That’s pretty much it. With a will, the courts are still generally involved with the transfer of your assets. Also, if you only have a will, probate proceedings will likely be necessary. Assets will be distributed according to your will, assuming no one contests and your will is valid.  This process is generally known as probate, and can take 12 months or more to accomplish. In the meantime, the family may have difficulty accessing the assets and often find themselves reaching into their own pockets to meet estate expenses.  

Administering a will can be a very costly affair for your family. Imagine the need to sell off assets so your family can pay the court and attorney fees.

Also, if all you have is a will that goes through the court process, your family loses all privacy, as probates are public proceedings. In case of incapacity or disability, your will is of no use, since it only goes into effect when you die.

You need to make sure you have other legal documents in place in the event of incapacity. If you don’t, you may find yourself involved in what’s called a conservatorship, which is basically a process in which someone is named your guardian. In some cases, they also manage your money. Conservatorships are expensive, and in some cases embarrassing, as you are deemed by the court to be incompetent to handle your own affairs.

Even if you have your affairs in order and you have a living trust in place, ask your parents if they have taken a close look at their documents. Do you really want to inherit their headaches?  

Don’t get me wrong — having a will is better than nothing. But it would be a shame if your goals aren’t accomplished because you, or someone you know, didn’t take five minutes to take a close look at these important documents.

Some clients ask me if a will is enough. I explain that for some smaller estates (usually less than $100,000), a simple will could be enough. In some cases, depending on how you hold title to your assets, a will is of no consequence whatsoever. The California State Bar offers a free entry-level will that may be appropriate for some people. You can check it out at www.calbar.org.  

Robert Mansour is an attorney in Valencia.  He can be reached at (661) 661-414-7100.
His column represents his own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal. “It’s The Law” appears Fridays and rotates between members of the Santa Clarita Valley Bar Association. www.SCVbar.org. Nothing contained herein shall be or is intended to be construed as providing legal advice.

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