How do so many people end up in Probate despite their best intentions? It’s simple . . .They put the important things off until it’s too late. If people knew how much trouble they were causing themselves by procrastinating, they would certainly jump at the opportunity to protect their assets. Probate is a governmentally run process, ruled by state statutes. Probate is handled in public, the fees are set by the court, and the process will cause excessive delays in distributing assets. There are no “Modern Families” in the state laws. Marilyn Monroe’s estate took 20 years to get through Probate . . . and she didn’t have any children.

How can you protect yourself from a similar fate? Put your desires in writing and execute a Living Trust if you own real estate in California. Here are some other things you can watch out for to avoid the “Ticking Time-Bomb” of costly errors:

  1. Check the beneficiary designations on your life insurance policies and 401(k) plans. After a divorce, change these designations so your assets don’t end up in the wrong hands. If a parent or family member dies, another designation should be added.
  2. Don’t name children under the age of 18 on these policies and investments. Because children are under-aged, a guardian will need to be appointed for them before any further action can be taken on their behalf.
  3. Be careful to name a qualified executor or successor trustee. If your eldest child is not responsible, do not fall into the trap of following the family lines to name a representative. Who has a cool head in times of trouble? This person should be your choice.
  4. Execute a Power of Attorney so someone you trust can act in your interest if you are unable to do so. Even a temporary situation can cause difficulties if no one has been granted the legal authority to act.
  5. Have your parents sign a Power of Attorney before they are subject to elder scams and elder rip-offs, or worse, elder abuse by hired help. Many adults fall for the “scam of the day” without the watchful eye of a strong advocate. Don’t wait until your parents are too confused and frail to sign documents.  Make sure you discuss these matters with them while they can make their needs and preferences known. You need the appropriate legal rights in place to protect them from abuse.
  6. Make sure all of your assets are “delivered” to the Trust or are subject to your Will. Most Probates are caused by the properties people forget to include, or even forget they owned (“Oh, that bond I bought in my twenties!”).
  7. Don’t lose your original documents. The courts often do not accept copies of important documents. If you lose the originally executed Will, it will be as if you did not have one!

If you have any questions about these or other issues, email us at, or call (310) 374-5479 to hire an advocate who will put your mind at ease.

  • Contact Grace St. Clair