5. What If I Only Have a Will?

This is part 5 in my series, Estate Planning – What You Need to Know.

5 – What If You Have Only a Will?

So maybe you’ve done some planning. You’ve executed a will. Is that enough? Maybe not.

The will states who gets your assets, and if you have young children, it names the guardians to raise your children. That’s good and it’s certainly better than no plan. However, the downside to a will is your family or friends may have to take your estate through probate, and they probably won’t be happy about it.

Probate is a court procedure where an attorney will file your will in the court’s public records, notify any existing and potential creditors and heirs to make a claim against your property, and when the time for making a claim has expired, seek the court’s permission to distribute your remaining assets. The process takes about nine months to a year for a small estate and much longer for a large estate.

Probate Attorney Fees

The attorney and the executor are each entitled to statutory probate fees. In California, the fees are significant. California Probate Code establishes the fees for the attorney and the executor as follows:

Estate Value

Attorney Fees

Executor Fees

Total

$100,000

$4,000

$4,000

$8,000

$200,000

$7,000

$7,000

$14,000

$300,000

$9,000

$9,000

$18,000

$500,000

$13,000

$13,000

$26,000

$750,000

$18,000

$18,000

$36,000

$1,000,000

$23,000

$23,000

$46,000

$2,000,000

$33,000

$33,000

$66,000

These are the statutory fees. Family members can negotiate with the attorney for a different amount, but this is the standard used in most cases.

Public Record

In addition to the delay and costs, probate also makes a public record of your will and the probate proceedings. Anyone can look up your public record and see what you owned, what you owed, the name, age and address of your children and who gets your assets.

Did you ever notice that when certain celebrities die, within days, the media reports what the celebrity owned and who will inherit the assets? Over the last few years, we learned about the estate of Jacqueline Onassis, James Brown, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. You’re probably not a celebrity, but do you want your very personal information made a public record?

Next is Part 6, Revocable Living Trust.

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