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Tillem & McNichol

Len Tillem and Rosie McNichol

Dear Len and Rosie,

When my mom passed away, most of her accounts were set up with my brother, sister and myself as beneficiaries.

There are only two accounts in her name alone, worth a total of $70,000.

The bank says that I need “Letters Testamentary” to cash in these accounts. Mom also owned a parcel in Riverside County worth less than $20,000.

What do I need to do to wrap things up?

Judi

Dear Judi,

If the total value of your mother’s assets titled solely in her name is worth more than $150,000, then you have no choice and must probate your mother’s estate in the courts, but you don’t have that problem of abundance.

Because your mother’s estate is worth less than $150,000, you won’t have to file for probate in the courts.

Collecting the bank account is easy.

You and your brother and sister need to sign an affidavit under California Probate Code section 13101. Your mother’s bank may have a form for this. If not, either see a lawyer or search for the form on the Internet.

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It is easily available. You have to wait at least 40 days after your mother’s death to sign the affidavit.

The only catch is that when you sign the form, you will be personally liable for your mother’s debts, but only to the extent of the money you collect.

Transferring your mother’s parcel of land is more complicated. Did you ever see “Glengarry Glen Ross,” the play and film about salesmen trying to make a buck selling useless swamp land in Florida?

The California equivalent to Glengarry Glen Ross lies mostly within Riverside County.

Many people like your mother bought parcels of land in empty subdivisions that are not likely to ever be developed.

The first step is to have the property appraised by a California Probate Referee for Riverside County. Probate referees are the official appraisers for the courts.

The appraisal must be reported on an Inventory and Appraisal form that has to be filed with the court where your mother resided along with other documents, such as your mother’s will, if she had made one, her certificate of death and an affidavit.

A certified copy of the court papers will then be recorded in Riverside County with the appropriate property tax forms. Have a lawyer do this.

If the property is worth more than $50,000, then the additional step of filing a court petition, hearing and court order will be necessary.

However, this is much less expensive than a full probate, and takes much less time than the nine to 15 months required to probate most estates. You should start this process now by meeting with a trusts and estates attorney.

Len and Rosie

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Len Tillem and Rosie McNichol are elder law attorneys. Contact them at 846 Broadway, Sonoma, CA 95476, by phone at 707-996-4505.

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