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10 things I learned from probate

February 17th, 2008 at 04:27 am

I first started my blog to journal my experiences with inheritance and probate (defined here as the process by which the will is discharged) after my dadís death in July 2005. It seems as good a time as any to use this as a nice little summary of the whole shebang and of my blog in general, especially in 2005 and 2006. Enjoy the walk down memory lane!

1. Someone died because of it. Sounds like a smart-ass thing to say, but itís true. Someone who youíd much prefer to be alive has died, youíre grieving, and now you have to make decisions and sort out many relationships that now will never change. Yeah, like that will be easy! Be thankful for thing 3.

2. Have an updated will. Sister found the will in a file cabinet in the attic after a few hours of searching. We were grateful that dad had one. However, it was 40 years old! Sister and I were mentioned at the end, basically saying at the end of a long list: if everyone else dies, they get it. Well everybody else did die because a lot happens in 40 years. We also knew that we didnít do always what dad would have wanted, but for that we needed an updated will. The Ouija board just didnít cut it.

Oh yes, keep the will and other paper assets organized, together, and in a safe place. Sister and I sorted important papers from dreck for a week, sister even longer, and we moved them from a one padlock- secured farmhouse to sisterís house. The lawyer winced a bit when he heard that because you arenít supposed to move anything, but letís face it, all it would have taken is a meth addict with a match so we did what we had to do.

3. It takes a long time. Sister and I finally got through it in June 2007, after one extension, for a total of 23 months or nearly two years. In a sense, we were grateful, both because of thing 1, thing 7, thing 9 and because we had plenty of complicated decisions to make. If you spent your inheritance ahead of time through your credit card, beware.

4. You will say to yourself: WTF? Often. Toothless old guys telling us that dad was sitting on fabulous riches Ė ďthat land is zoned commercialĒ, supposed adults driving farm equipment away for ďsafekeepingĒ, property lines 10 feet from where they were supposed to be, finding grandpaís tax returns from 1970 to his death in 1999, sister having a completely different childhood in the same house than I did, finding out that the estate had insurance for vandalism.

5. The executorís job is that of a switchboard - to collect assets, taxes and debts, then to discharge all in the most efficient way possible. Really donít have any good story about this point. Just that if the executor is a family member and is part of the emotional mix that no good can come of it. It was the one advantage of the 40 year old will Ė all of the family members picked to be executors were unable to do it.

6. Debts first, then assets. One of the first things that the executor did was put in a call for creditors on the estate in the local newspaper. The deadline depends on the state; in ours (Wisconsin) the deceasedís creditors have 90 days to come out of the woodwork. 91 days, tough. Creditors are paid from the estateís assets, whatís left is what you inherit. Your children or your inheritors donít inherit debt, with one exception: co-signers. If you need another reason why co-signing a loan is awful, here it is.

7. Probate might be resolving more than one estate or relationship. We also resolved momís insurance assets, gave items to dadís sisters, found residual savings bonds that grandpa gave to us, paid off Nut (a hired hand of dadís from the 1980s) some back wages that he claimed he had, and I got closer to my sister. Frankly, Iím glad there was only the two of us.

8. Both emotion and analysis have their place. Sister was close to the action, and far more emotional. I was 3000 miles away and had to be dispassionate and analytical. Or was that really the case? When it came to all the assets, I would have sold them to the highest bidder because I attached negative emotions to them, while sister saw the usefulness in picking and choosing the buyer and keeping at least the old homestead. We could keep the homestead, pay for it, and improve it, so why not? In the end, I was glad that her analysis and emotion ruled the day.

9. Stuff is harder to deal with than money. Old farm equipment, furniture, dishes, vinyl records, books, clippings from the newspaper, farm cats, and clothing from the 60s: all went for pennies on the dollar. And while real estate is where the value of the estate was, it was the hardest of all to deal with. Are you sure that you want to collect that much stuff? Who are you storing it for? When you think about it, we are all renters, marking our place on this earth. Enjoy what is yours now and enjoy it completely: you canít take it with you.

10. Itís now your asset. Thatís what I think the whole point of probate is. Because it takes forever, it gives you time to chase away the emotion and the ghosts, and gives you the ability to get comfortable with whatever you are inheriting. At the end, you want it to end.

5 Responses to “10 things I learned from probate”

  1. luxlivingfrugalis Says:
    1203252026

    Baselle - thank you for this - very well done.

    We are still in the midst here w/my in-laws estate. The house has yet to sell (FIL passed in Nov 05 - house in HORRIFIC neighborhood). It took FOREVER for five kids to go through a mountain of STUFF, most of which was just fodder for the trash heap. God love him but FIL was packrat King!!

    I'd just add if you are the child who is not the executor STEP UP and ask what can I do to help? Do you need money? My efforts? A lawn mowed? Help checking to see if the empty place is clean and unvandalized? The four other sibs here have offered nothing in the way of help and Hubster is too much of a softy to ask for it and I'm trying to stay out of it, but gee People, some help would be nice - even an offer of it - that would be terrific.

    Hubster and I are loaning the estate money every month now to keep things insured and utilities on so maybe don't be surprised or ugly acting when there is no money left after the sale of the home, FIL's only major asset.

  2. scfr Says:
    1203262368

    This was very interesting - Thank you.
    It's very impressive that you and your sister got along so well, and in fact became closer. I've seen and heard about so many siblings being torn apart during the process, and it is heartbreaking.

  3. monkeymama Says:
    1203262518

    good post!

    I think #9 is really important. You get the depression era generation and a lot of them have alzheimers. It just adds up to a mess when it comes to go through the home at the end. I know a lot of people dealing with that right now while their folks are still alive. What a nightmare though. The alzhemiers and their past both lend to some major packratting, plus they don't want to throw anything out because they keep finding cash in the weirdest places. So the kids are going through everything with a fine tooth comb. But it sure takes an emotional toll.

  4. Joan.of.the.Arch Says:
    1203274524

    Thank you.

  5. baselle Says:
    1203324143

    luxliving - can't say I helped all that much except for giving sister a couple of bits of critical fiduciary advice and kept pealing her off the ceiling (she had/has issues with the bank that served as executor). Dad was lucky that he had good friends who kept an eye on him, mowed the lawn. They helped sister out and we paid them to continue - and they got semi first pick of stuff.

    scfr - honestly, if you had asked either of us 5 years ago if we would inherit anything we would have laughed. We expected that either mom or dad would live a fairly long time and spend everything. That helped - neither sister or I spent the inheritance beforehand. It would have been a very different situation also if both of us aggresively wanted stuff and were willing to battle each other to get it. Sister got the stuff gene - I got the blank white wall and clean open spaces gene.

    monkeymama - not depression era or alzheimers. But mom suffered from depression, and dad had health, energy and organizational problems. But I can relate to the cash and savings bonds found in the strangest places. I'm sure that's why most people love buying the boxes of books at the estate sales - the chance for treasure.

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