Through the years, I have had many friends and clients come up to me and say that when they think about estate planning, they look at the word "estate" and think that to be placed in category of those who need to actually do estate planning, they must have sizable land holdings at the very least. Well, that's not exactly true.
But it probably doesn't help that Miriam-Webster's Dictionary broadly defines the word "estate" as "the degree, quality, nature, and extent of one's interest in land or other property ... "and "A landed property usually with a large house on it."
A person's estate is merely the possessions or property that one owns or owes. How much or how little estate planning is needed depends on how much stuff you own or owe. The reality is that people's estates differ. In general, people will have either more or less than others. Typically we all die with "stuff." Stuff that comprises one's estate could mean assets, liabilities, or both.
Even if you do not have an estate worth millions or even hundreds of thousands, you may still own certain assets such as a car, jewelry, family heirlooms, artwork, or other items of particular sentimental value to you.
One asset that is overlooked when thinking about estate planning is our children. Although children typically are not looked at as our "stuff," our children are precious assets that need protection. Should something happen to the parents of a disabled child or prior to the child(ren) reaching the age of majority (18-years in California), planning for who will care for the child(ren) and when and what will go to the child(ren) is of extreme importance.
In order to protect these assets and make sure they go to the individuals who you choose by way of the individuals you choose, estate planning is a necessity.
Real Estate Climate and Estate Planning
I recently conducted a seminar for a major real estate company in Santa Rosa. Post seminar, I opened the floor for questions. It was intriguing to find that most of the agents in the room do not actively work with their clients to make sure they are placing their real estate assets in a revocable trust or other estate planning vehicle.
The reality is that although the real estate market hit it's all time low a several years ago, today's market is seeing a slow but steady increase. In California, if a decedent passes away with an interest in their home of over $50,000, their estate may be subject to probate. Although homes are slowly increasing in value, the average homeowner has an interest well over $50,000.
I encouraged the realtors that I spoke with, to have a conversation with their clients to make sure that their real estate is protected from probate. The operative time to have this conversation would be prior to having the title company re-title the asset. If a trust is created, the client and/or realtor can inform the title company so they can make sure the home is properly titled in the client's trust.