By Shel Segal
Everyone talks about getting a will or living trust to make sure their wishes are followed following their passing, but most never get it done. And Jose Luis Correa is seeing firsthand how much trouble that can cause.
Correa, a senior advertising consultant with Beacon Media Inc., said he recently suffered the loss of a family member. But what compounded the anguish is the family not knowing how to carry out the loved one’s wishes.
“He didn’t have any type of an estate plan, a will or trust,” Correa said of his fiancée’s brother. “Once he passed away no one knew what to do, even to the point if he wanted to be buried or cremated. No one knew anything. Nothing was in place. It was just chaos.”
Correa added that while the relative wasn’t wealthy, he did own a house in Pasadena, as well as had a pension. He also has five adult children who are trying to come together and come to a consensus as the case makes its way through the California court system.
“Now, it’s starting to go to probate,” he said. “I think the oldest child is taking the lead, but I don’t know what is going to happen. In a perfect world, everyone would just divide it equally, but I don’t know what is going to happen here. I don’t know how probate works. I don’t think they know.”
So, what could possibly go wrong in this scenario? Plenty, said Samuel B. Ledwitz, a longtime estate planning attorney with a specialty in estate law.
“The first question I would ask is do those five children get along,” said Ledwitz, who is the founding partner of Bezaire, Ledwitz & Associates. “That’s going to dictate a lot of things right there. Some of the kids might be averse to one another and go get their own lawyer. That could definitely drive up the price and drag out the process.”
Ledwitz said while not all hope is lost in this scenario, a lot of things need to happen for the process to go smoothly.
“It may go all right, but it’s how do we get there,” he said. “It’s called intestate succession or dying without plans being made. Based on California law, we would assume it goes five ways to the five kids. If there is a wife, she would be entitled to some, of course. The big question to answer is do they want to keep the house? Do all five of them want to keep the house? If three want to keep it and two don’t how do you buy the other two out? In California, any of those parties can force a sale. You can also have property tax issues if the house gets reassessed. So, you can see this going in a lot of different directions at once.”
And even if everyone gets on the same page, the probate process can take more than two years to complete, Ledwitz said, meaning it’s a road no one wants to go down. So, what’s the solution?
“If he had a living trust, he would have said who’s in charge and stipulated the terms of who gets what from his estate,” he said. “Unfortunately, about 70 percent of our population does absolutely nothing because they have tomorrow to do it. By doing something, the fees would be a lot less and you would avoid probate, saving all that energy and time.
“The most important thing is don’t let your plans or wishes just be up in the air,” he said. “I know that people don’t like to talk about that. We in the Latino community especially don’t like to talk about it. But my seeing this happen tells me you need to do the right thing and look into estate planning, look into getting a will or trust drawn up. It will save your family so much trouble and grief in the long run.”
If you would like to discuss any aspect of a proper Estate Plan, please phone The Law Firm of Bezaire, Ledwitz & Associates at (626) 398-0100 or log onto www.SmartEstatePlans.com.