The Lawyer Blogs shown below are topical articles written by attorney David L. Crockett on all of the areas of the law that he deals with. Many of these articles are based upon actual and typical situations encountered by Mr. Crockett's clients. New blogs are posted when Mr. Crockett encounters new situations that merit detailed explanations to his clients. There is practical advice and explanations that span the subjects of the probate, trust, real estate and tax laws and court procedures that frequently arise. Because Mr. Crockett is actively advising clients on (i) wills, trusts, taxes and estate planning; (ii) administration of trusts and probate estates; and (iii) litigation about estates and trusts, many of these articles cover and crossover between all three areas of practice. The articles contain information that a person forming a trust, or a trustee or an heir/beneficiary needs to be aware of. The Blogs are organized into topics listed on the left of this page. You can view the posts listed in each topic here.

SORT OUT WHAT NEEDS TO BE FILED.  A routine part of trust administration or probate administration is for the Probate Executor or the Successor Trustee of a living trust to sort out the income tax situation.  First, you have to determine if the individual income tax return filings of the deceased are up to date.  Individual tax returns, form 1040 federal and form 540 state are due each April 15 for the previous year.  Thus, 2016 returns were due on April 15, 2017 and so on.  It is the responsibility of the Executor or Successor Trustee to make sure the proper returns are filed.

INDIVIDUAL RETURNS FOR THE YEAR OF DEATH.   Individual income tax returns are due for the year in which a person dies, even if they do not live until the end of the year.  Thus, if a person dies on October 10, 2016 for example, the normal individual returns for 2016 would have been due April 15, 2017.  The due date can be extended 6 months by filing extension request forms by April 15.  The returns filed should check the box “final return” and state the date of death of the deceased.  If you forget to check the box of it being a final return, then the IRS will keep sending you letters in later years asking for returns to be filed.

FIDUCIARY RETURNS FOR THE YEAR OF DEATH.   In addition to the individual tax returns, fiduciary income tax returns, forms 1041 federal and 541 for the state are due if the estate or trust has income received after the death of the person involved.  (If the income is below the filing limit for that year the fiduciary returns may not be due but there may be reasons to file them anyway so the trust has a complete filing history.)  Thus, in the above example of a person who died on October 10, 2016, there would need to be fiduciary tax returns filed to report the income received from October 10 until December 31, 2016.  Those returns would be due April 15, 2017 but can be extended 5 months until September 15 if extension application forms are filed by April 15.  This situation typically occurs where the trust or estate has income earning assets such as bank accounts or stock market accounts or rental properties.

Typical situation.  An elderly mom with two adult children, Sally & John, passes away with a house full of nice personal belongings (furniture, antiques, crystal and jewelry).  Sister Sally lives with mom or in the same town and brother John lives 500 miles away. When mom passes, Sally notifies John but it takes him a couple of days to get into town for the funeral.  Meanwhile, Sally picks through the personal belongings and takes for herself what she wants and doesn’t tell John about it.

What actually should be done but rarely happens.  A Upon a death, the law requires that the deceased person’s personal property as well as money and real property be inventoried and accounted for.  Whether it is a probate situation or a living trust situation (i.e. no probate because of there being a trust in place), somebody needs to pay immediate attention to the personal property within a day or two.  It is a sad fact of life that I and nearly all other estate attorneys have observed that personal property often disappears without any trace unless steps are taken to preserve it.  In the ideal situation, the entire house including the personal property is photographed immediately and then detailed lists are made, room by room, of what is there.  Then, a personal property appraiser is hired to make a detailed listing of everything and appraise the values.  Few people realize it, but there are professional appraisers.  One resource is the American Society of Appraisers which can be found at http://www.appraisers.org/Disciplines/Personal-Property

What can be done to recover missing personal property?  The short answer to this is that very little if anything can be done.  This is the classic case of once the horse is out of the barn the remedies are few an ineffective. Theoretically, as in the example above, brother John can file a probate court petition against sister Sally but it is up to John and John’s attorneys to prove that Sally took the items in question.  Unless there are photographs or written evidence created very close to the mom’s passing, John can’t produce evidence to prove (a) what the missing items were and/or (b) that mom still owned them at her death or (c) that Sally took the missing items.  If John files against Sally she will typically deny any knowledge of anything.  If it were money missing, then bank records can be subpoenaed to prove what money was taken and whose account it went into.  Not so with personal property, unless the items are of significant value or are put up for sale in something observable such as Craig’s list.  Because mom’s personal property is not typically on people’s minds in mom’s last days, not a lot of care or record keeping is done to keep track of what there is.

Image of adult son walking with his elderly father

Planning Can Still Be Done Where There is Lack of Mental Capacity

TYPICAL BASIC ESTATE PLAN GOALS THWARTED

People generally do a living trust and will to avoid probate proceedings and to have more flexibility about who will inherit their estate and when it will be inherited.  However, on occasion people wait too long to do their estate planning and get sick or incapacitated and then it is too late. This is where consideration of “Lack of Mental Capacity” enter the discussion.The alternative to not having an estate plan is that the person’s money and property has to go through expensive and lengthy probate proceedings and the person has no choice about how to divide up his or her estate. The mandatory attorneys fees in probate on a $1,500,000 estate are $28,000.  If probate can be avoided the fees to administer an estate are typically 1/3rd or less of what probate attorneys fees would be.  The law allows a person to divide up his or her  estate in any percentage that he or she feels like and there is no requirement that once estate be left to family members or relatives. However, without an estate plan, the surviving spouse and children and perhaps other relatives will be the ultimate recipients of the estate and the maker of the will or trust will have nothing to say about it.

Who Will Take Care of My Children and Their Inheritance if the Worst Happens?

Types of Guardianships For Children

Image of adult man and young boyGuardianships For Children – A guardianship is a legal status whereby an adult is given authority to take care of the person of a minor child and/or the estate of the minor child. A “guardianship of the estate” is where the Guardian has control and custody of assets, property and accounts belonging to a minor child. A “guardianship of the person” is where the Guardian is responsible for the care, protection, or custody and medical issues of a minor child. Guardianships typically arise in the unfortunate circumstance in which both parents have passed away. Guardianships may also arise where parents are unable or unwilling to care for their children.

Let’s Subtract the Money Johnny Got From His Share of the Estate

TYPICAL SITUATION

A father dies without a will leaving an estate of $100,000.  Under the laws of intestate succession which apply because there is no will, his 4 children are to receive equal shares of the estate which would be $25,000 each. However, during the 10 years leading up to his death, the father had transferred $20,000 cash in total to his son Johnny thus creating a pre-death transfer.   There was no documentation stating whether the $20,000 was a gift or a loan or an advancement against Johnny share of the father’s estate.

WHAT IS IN THE ESTATE AND HOW THE PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE FIND AND MANAGE IT?

PROBATE ESTATE ADMINISTRATION

Probate Asset Inventory & Collecting – If a person passes away leaving money or property there may need to be a probate court administration of the estate. If there is a living trust and all of the deceased person’s assets have been placed into the living trust prior to death, there is no need for a probate court administration and the procedures discussed in this article would not be applicable to a living trust situation. The point of a probate court administration is to get somebody appointed as the administrator or executor of the estate (also known as the personal representative) who has authority of the court to handle to inventory and handle the money and property and accounts of the deceased person. Upon appointment by the court, the administrator will obtain a form signed by the court entitled letters of administration. The personal representative will then take the letters of administration over to all banking and securities institutions and have the accounts transferred out of the name of the deceased and into the name of the personal representative.

CAN A DECEASED PERSON’S ESTATE ESCAPE PAYING DEBTS & TAXES?

PROBATE ESTATE ADMINISTRATION

Can we avoid paying debts?If a person passes away leaving money or property there may need to be a probate court administration of the estate. If there is a living trust and all of the deceased person’s assets have been placed into the living trust prior to death, there is no need for a probate court administration and the procedures discussed in this article would not be applicable to a living trust situation. The point of a probate court administration is to get somebody appointed as the administrator or executor of the estate (also known as the personal representative) who has authority of the court to handle the money and property and accounts of the deceased person. The personal representative is also responsible for paying the debts and taxes before the estate is distributed out to the heirs.

What normally occurs in a bonafide real estate sale

INTRODUCTION – Real Estate Sales Legal Overview

Real Estate Sales Legal Overview – While there are many different factors in any real estate sale, there are certain common procedures and steps involved in most transactions. This is a birds-eye view of a typical sale but is by no means a comprehensive checklist of everything involved. It is up to the brokers and or attorneys involved to make sure everything is taken care of properly. Most real estate sales in California involve the use of California Association of Realtors (CAR) standard forms which are widely recognized.  Over the last 100 years, there have been thousands of court cases involving real estate disputes and contracts and as a result the law and the forms are pretty well defined and established. A licensed California real estate broker or real estate attorney has access to those forms and should be familiar with them.

How can I tell if the deed is a valid legal transfer of ownership

WHAT IS A DEED?

A deed is the legal name for the document which transfers ownership of real estate. California state law has specific requirements for a deed to be valid. In a typical home sale or transfer, the deed will be prepared by the escrow company or by the attorney handling the transfer. Further, in a typical sale, there is title insurance paid for by the seller and the title insurance company always reviews the deed to make sure that it is legally correct and proper.

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