How do Geckos help me understand how to make my Probate or Trust Administration go smoothly?
Geckos are amazing and resilient creatures. They can climb up vertical surfaces. Some geckos can fly. If you cut off a gecko’s tail, they’ll grow it back. And they’re the inspiration for today’s High Five.
Well, not really. But these five tips for making an estate or trust administration go smoothly create the acronym ‘GECKO’. So, keeping the amazing lizard in mind, read on for some helpful advice on how to ease the process of estate or trust administration.
Give Authority to the Right People
Choose the right people to fill the fiduciary roles of executor, trustee, and general power of attorney.
I don’t want to belabor the point, but I have a simple example of the effect of choosing the wrong people. Consider this situation:
“Mom” appoints all three of her children (Son and both Daughters, none of whom gets along with the others) as general power of attorney and executor. Son and both Daughters will act jointly in both roles, meaning they must all sign paperwork on Mom’s behalf.
In 2005, Mom changes her POA to Son and removes both Daughters from that role. She leaves both Daughters as co-executors with Son. Son removes Mom’s property from her house and/or her nursing home room and sells it to pay for Mom’s nursing home bill using his authority as POA. Son is not require to and chooses not to tell either Daughter.
Four years later, Mom dies, and both Daughters want to know what happened to Mom’s things. They think Son took the property for himself and refuse to sign papers to move the probate forward until Son returns the property.
This situation is rife with problems, many of which are relationship issues among Mom’s children. But, if Mom had set her fiduciary choices up differently, the estate administration would not have been bogged down because of executors who do not trust each other.
Explain Your Motivations and Intentions Ahead of Time
One problem that probate and trust lawyers run into often is the shock the family of a deceased person experiences when the will does not say what they expected it to say. Whether because an child is disinherited or a spouse has their share of the estate restricted so they cannot access it, you could be risking resentment, hurt feelings, or even fractured family relationships if you don’t communicate your intentions and motivations before you pass away.
Sometimes, those conversations are difficult, but, most of the time, your loved ones will react much more reasonably when you explain why you prepared your will the way you did.
Our Painless Planning Process includes what we call a Family Care Meeting, which allows you to invite your loved ones to our office for a family meeting. We explain your will or trust provisions and answer legal questions and moderate your conversation with your children to help get everyone on the same page.
With everyone on the same page, the risk of a will/trust contest is drastically reduced, keeping the estate administration running smoothly.
Communicate Your Wishes Clearly in Writing
Equally as important as communicating your intentions with your children is making your intent clear in your estate plan documents. When you create a will or trust, you are writing down all of your intentions about how your property will pass when you die. A judge who is monitoring a probate proceeding or handling a will or trust contest can only approve an outcome that is consistent with the intent of the person who signed the will or trust.
It seems obvious, then, that your will or trust should clearly state your intent. Different words, like “heir,” “issue,” or “per stirpes” have different legal meanings, so you must be careful how you use them in your documents. Be specific with your descriptions of property. Be careful about how you refer to your children. Typographical errors can have a significant effect.
But if you’re careful, clear, and precise, your documents will leave little room for interpretation and will make it easy for your executor to follow your wishes.
Keep Your Estate Plan Up-to-Date
Life can turn upside down in an instant. Even when life changes are planned – marriage, divorce, relocations – those changes can impact your estate planning significantly. Small changes in your life – like a new grandchild, a new son or daughter in-law, or a divorced child – can affect how your estate should be distributed. And major changes like diagnosis of debilitating disease or a catastrophic car accident could require an entirely different planning approach.
What’s the worst thing that could happen if you don’t keep your plan up to date? How about your child or grandchild losing their Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or Veteran’s Benefits? How about the money you leave for your family being used to pay a medical debt instead of providing a safety net? Would you want the family farm to end up in the hands of an in-law, stepchild, or even someone completely unrelated to you?
This tip could be an entire series of blog posts. Suffice it to say: revisiting your estate plan regularly will ensure that your wishes are followed even if life circumstances change for you, your spouse, or anyone who might receive funds from your estate.
Organize Your Important Papers Now
One of the best gifts you can leave for your family to find after your death is a completely organized binder of papers which document your final arrangements. My own family’s experience with this is a great example of the peace of mind this seemingly simple act can give.
If there was one thing that was true of my grandmother, it was that she had definite opinions. About everything. She was also a planner. Combined, these two traits led her to plan out every detail of her funeral – from the scripture and poetry readings to the music choices to the art (an original work of hers!) on the front of the program. At the family visitation, her kids said over and over, “She had this all planned; we didn’t have to do anything!”
The reason this was such a major thing is it allowed my mom and her siblings to focus on grieving and fellowship at the visitation and the funeral service. They weren’t worried about arranging the logistics of or choosing the right songs for the service. They could focus on remembering her life.
Extend that level of preparation to your legal papers as well, and you improve your executor’s or trustee’s ability to do their job. Your fiduciary will have to identify your final creditors/bills, identify your assets, and contact the people or organizations you are giving to in your will or trust. By collecting contact information, asset documentation, and outstanding debts in advance, you can make the probate or trust administration go much more smoothly.
Do Your Family a Favor
We’ve given you five helpful tips to make your probate or trust administration go more smoothly:
- Give authority to the right people;
- Explain your motivations and intentions before you can no longer communicate;
- Communicate your wishes clearly in writing;
- Keep your estate plan up to date; and
- Organize your important papers now.
Like the GECKO, an expert estate planning lawyer will help you remember these five practical tips. But they’ll also be able to help you include legal provisions that further streamline the probate or trust administration in your unique circumstances. Contact our office at (712) 737-3885 for help setting up and communicating your estate plan with our Painless Planning Process, including a Family Care MeetingTM and a handy Estate Planning Portfolio.