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How well do you understand probate?

How well do you understand probate?

September 17, 2022

I'm not an attorney so this is, by no means, a legal dissertation about probate.  Instead, my goal, is to educate you about some things you can handle now that will save your executor, and/or whoever's going to wrap up your business upon your death, an awful lot of time.

I was recently visiting with a client who lost her husband several months ago.  She has an appointment with a probate court in October.  If everything goes as expected, she's hoping to walk away with an attestation that will put her in charge of her husband's affairs.  Without the attestation, she has not been able to make any changes nor cancel services of any accounts in her husband's name.  Now, you might think I'm talking about investment accounts but that's not the case.  I'm talking about the water company, the electric company, the cell phone company, Ring (her doorbell camera company), etc., etc.

If you're ever listed as a trustee or executor, you might need to cancel a service upon a loved one's passing but won't be able to do so until the probate process is complete.  This means that the estate is going to be paying for services that aren't needed.  You won't be able to sell a vehicle registered to the deceased either.  Worse yet, is the time and hassle involved in calling companies only to find out that they won't speak to you.

How to prevent the problem?  Call every company you do business with to have a spouse, child, or executor's name listed as a point of contact or authorized person.  Companies follow various procedures so you won't be able to use the same steps for everyone.  Ask a lot of questions about how much authority you're giving the person.  You don't want to name them as an owner on the account.  You simply want to give the company permission to speak to them if you're out of town, incapacitated, or in the event of your death.  Some companies use an easy to complete form - other simply make a note on the account.

While you're making calls, prepare a list of company names, account numbers, and phone numbers to leave your executor.  We have some handy forms to help you organize the info.

I know, I know.  We're all very busy.  When will you get to a chore such as this?  If you have to eat an elephant, eat it one bite at a time.  Consider choosing a month of the year and calling one company every day.  Give yourself a deadline.

Remember, most of the chores a financial advisor will assign you, such as this one, are never urgent until it's too late.  Consider talking to someone who's had to act as executor or trustee to wrap up an estate.  They will be the biggest advocate for taking proactive steps.  You'll never understand the hassle, and the amount of time saved, until you have to go through it yourself.  

Consider your own situation but also keep in mind anyone in your life whose estate you'd be involved in.  It might even be a neighbor who'd call on you to handle a water leak if they were in the hospital.  

Let us know how it goes so we can pass info and hints along and call the office if you'd like an organizer.

Get to work!  Good luck!