When most people hear the term, "estate," they think of Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey; they think of large mansions with vast property. As a result, most people logically think that "Estate Planning" is reserved only for the wealthy. The truth is that the right kind of Estate Planning is appropriate for everyone. In fact, in certain situations, proper, comprehensive Estate Planning is much more important for lower income individuals.
In California, all estates worth over $100,000.00 are subject to probate. Probate is a time-consuming and expensive public process that most people want to avoid. Furthermore, until a person is appointed Executor by the Court, all of the decedent's bank accounts and other assets are frozen. It takes at least a month for someone to be appointed as Executor as well as approximately $355 in filing fees and approximately $500 in publication fees.
For wealthier families, this is a mere inconvenience at most as they would be able to front the costs of the filing and publication fees as well as the expenses of the estate such as mortgage, rent, and insurance, until an Executor is appointed and access is granted to the decedent's finances. For lower income families, this delay and inability to access the decedent's finances can be crippling.
Not only is Estate Planning a necessity for almost everybody, but proper Estate Planning is essential. Although there is a proliferation of legal "self-help" guides on the market, using such materials is fraught with peril. I have seen cases were self-drafted Wills did not meet the legal execution requires, left out key provisions such as waiving the requirement of a bond, or did not provide for circumstances such as a beneficiary's special needs or creditor problems. The California legislature even recognized these problems with "self-help" materials: "In this age of computers and easy internet access to self-help legal information and forms, one can almost predict the commission of drafting errors and improper interpretations of instructions for form wills or codicils. . . . These technicalities are a minefield for non-lawyers."
Such mistakes can delay the probate process even further, requiring the filing of additional research and other materials before the Court is comfortable in appointing an Executor.
There is an appropriate kind of Estate Planning for everybody with estates of any size. In each case, proper, attorney-drafted Estate Planning is essential in order to avoid leaving your loved ones with an unnecessary, expensive, and stressful mess.