Sometimes probate can be a simple process. Sometimes it can be a royal nightmare... and sometimes it can be an expensive royal nightmare.
I'm not sure if it is a sign of the times or just a coincidence, but our office has had numerous estates where the probate has not been very easy. To give an example of some of the problems we have run into recently:
- An estate where even though there was a Will, the beneficiaries were not the next of kin. While there was nothing untowards going on as the next of kin were very remote, we had to spend a lot of time and money tracking them down because state law required us to give notice to all next of kin, regardless of whether they are a beneficiary in the Will or not.
- An estate where the decedent owned worthless land in another state. This was an estate that was otherwise taxable, so we needed to get a valuation for this property and figure out how to dispose of it because no one wanted the headache.
- Preparing a last minute amended estate tax return before the time to amend lapsed. A bad return was prepared by an accountant and when the client came to us to review it, we had to stop all other work to prepare a revised return in order to save our client over $100,000.
- An estate where the original Will could not be found, so we requested that the Court probate a copy of the Will.
- An estate where the Will is unclear and requires judicial interpretation on who the beneficiaries are.
- An estate where the client had many different types of assets and assets located in more than one country.
- An estate where the executor is unable to travel, so our office is handling all the affairs of the estate and assisting in finding other professionals to value and sell local assets at a fair value.
- An estate where the beneficiary has contacted us to obtain information from an executor who is refusing to disclose information.
- An estate where the decedent, rather than formally update his Will, wrote a side letter saying where he wanted some of his assets to go - begging the question of how to handle that letter.
In most of these situations, considerable time and expense could have been saved if the decedent had consulted with an estate planning attorney on a regular basis. While having a Will and trust can certainly make the estate administration process easier and less expensive, the benefit of hiring an experienced professional is not just that we can draft the routine paperwork. An attorney that focuses on tax and estate planning can also make sure that you title assets in such a way as to make things smoother and more cost efficient.