Trusts, caretakers figure into affairs after death

Trusts, caretakers figure into affairs after death

January 22nd, 2011 by Ellen Phillips in Business

As we continue with last week's estate planning errors, per Bottom Line Personal, be careful to check with your attorney to see whether a trust makes sense for you.

-- Put tangible personal property into revocable living trusts. Obviously, revocable living trusts avoid probate (probate draws out the process of distributing your property). To avoid these delays, make sure your property titles are transferred to the trust. These include vehicles, jewelry, art, and so forth. Along this same line, make certain all your real estate is titled correctly.

-- Arrange for someone to take care of your vacant house. After your death, your dwelling is vulnerable to break-ins and other problems. Aside from the possibility of thieves who come a'visitin, vandals could break windows, pipes might freeze and burst, drips could become overflows and floods, etc. Whether an heir or a friend, ask someone to look after the property until it's sold. Of course, you'll want to include this person's name in your will as caretaker so he or she has access (and it wouldn't hurt to offer a gratuity, either). If no one is available for this task, ask your executor to hire someone and, again, specify this in your will.

-- Don't disinherit stepchildren. Unless a "child" has been legally adopted, he isn't considered to be a descendant, even if his parent and stepparent married when the kid was 6 months old and he's now 67. If you want your stepchildren to be guaranteed a share in your estate, name them one by one; don't just write "my children" or "my descendants."

-- Keep all stapled paperwork stapled. Don't think for a minute that removing a staple from your will is meaningless. Let's say one of those steps you don't wish to have a share contests the will. If you've removed a staple, this person could argue that the extra holes mean the document was tampered with, thereby making it invalid.

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. E-mail her at