Pay Now or Pay Later

money check and penMuch of what I often see seems so fanciful as to be imaginary, but unfortunately it is not. This last week I received a call from a family seeking to probate an estate. The family member had died intestate meaning that he died without a will. In intestacy state law governs the distribution of the probate estate. In this case the decedent had left a letter indicating how he wanted some of his property disposed of, but, under current law, it will be a tough fight to have a court accept the letter as a holographic will. The bad news is that the relative wanted his sister to receive the bulk of his estate; however, he has a son to whom the law will now look. The decedent and his son were estranged and the son now will potentially receive the proceeds of his father’s estate even though the two had not spoken in years.

Sure, I can attempt to have the letter admitted as a will, but I cannot guarantee success. Moreover, the estate is relatively modest, so it possible that any proceeds would be consumed by legal fees. The bottom line is that what the family member wanted is not what will likely happen. The decedent had toyed with making a will but had never done so. I imagine if he were still here and could see the consequences he would rue the effects of his failure.

I understand that not everyone needs extensive estate planning, but there are some things that everyone should have. Everyone should at least have a power of attorney designating some trusted person to act as their agent. Everyone should think about end of life decisions and document their wishes. I could go on but I think I have made my point.

Talk to an attorney. Pay the consult fee and make an informed decision. Case in point: Daughter brought her father in to ask some questions about a quit-claim deed they had filed. Turns out that the real issue is that they were trying to prepare for the day when Dad would need Medicaid. I had to tell them they had created a gift problem – ouch.

The problem I see is that too many people rely on what they read on the Internet without realizing the source may be outdated or wrong. I saw the same thing when I taught literature at West Point; the cadets could not believe that the Internet might be wrong, but all too often it was and is.

There is a cost to ignorance. I have seen two examples this week alone, and today is Tuesday. The saying that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure is all too true. Pay now or pay more later but understand that somewhere down the road a price will be paid for ignorance. We can prevent that; call to see if we can help you.

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