Under Pressure: Time Problems in Probate

By Rick Harmon, the California Probate Specialist

Problems involving people and money won’t get resolved by ignoring them. They don’t go away on their own, either. Settling an estate in probate is no exception. Lots of unexpected issues can impact probate in a negative way. Several involve a critical time factor where if you don’t take care of something by a certain deadline, bad things will happen.

Let’s look at some of these “time problems” that could be on the horizon in a probate case. Knowing about them now could help you avoid these problems later or at least be better prepared to deal with them.

Looming foreclosure
If foreclosure is imminent, that means several deadlines have already passed. In California, being in probate does not stop foreclosure. A Notice of Default is sent to the mortgage borrower(s). This is followed by a Notice of Trustee Sale, which is prepared by the mortgage lender, recorded with the county and published. A sale date is then set. In probate cases, one of the first things you’ll want to find out is the current state of the mortgage. Are payments up-to-date? If not, how far behind? While there’s still time, at CloseProbate.com we may be able to help.

Pending lawsuit that impacts the estate
If the decedent was on the defending side of a lawsuit at the time of death, chances are the suit is not going away. The circumstances of every case are unique, but settlements are often the fastest way to resolve the matter so probate can move forward and you can get on with your life. For estates that are cash poor, borrowing against real estate may be the solution for settling a lawsuit and making it go away. This is where our services come into play.

Aggressive creditors
Creditors with a legitimate, timely and properly filed claim against an estate are creditors who are determined to get paid. They are not going away. Reject the claim, and you could be looking at a lawsuit, adding to your own time and expense in closing the probate case. To avoid these time traps, you’ll want to know all creditors to the estate, including accounts and amounts. It’s the personal representative’s responsibility to determine the validity of credit claims. Once that’s established, paying off some or all creditors means fewer people involved in the probate. That’s going to make your situation easier to manage. When cash is needed to pay off aggressive creditors who will not wait, we may be able to help.

Reverse Mortgages coming due
In California, the death of a property owner triggers a reverse mortgage due date. That means it’s due in full. If the estate is unable to pay the debt, some reverse mortgage lenders may begin the foreclosure process almost immediately, so time is of the essence. The estate representative may not have much time to sell or refinance the property to satisfy the reverse mortgage. Meanwhile, interest is still accruing on the loan, which erodes equity available to the heirs. Banks are notoriously fickle about financing when it comes to estates in probate and they are usually unwilling to write a new mortgage to satisfy the ballooning reverse mortgage hovering over the estate. If a reverse mortgage catches you unprepared, contacting CloseProbate.com could resolve the time-sensitive problem of the reverse mortgage lender pounding on the door.

Learn more and get answers about probate in California at CloseProbate.com.

Recovering Deeds and Other Documents Lost in California’s Wildfires

By Rick Harmon, the California Probate Specialist
Five wildfires that burned across the Golden State last year caused horrific loss of life, while insurance claims for damaged and destroyed property are expected to top $1 billion. The real estate losses are still being tallied as people put their lives back together.

The Mendocino Complex Fire broke out in Northern California last July and grew into the largest fire in state history with 459,123 acres burned, reports the Insurance Information Institute. That same month the Carr Fire, which also ignited in Northern California, became the 6th most destructive fire in state history. Government officials reported seven fatalities and 1,604 destroyed buildings.

Insured residential, commercial and auto losses from those two wildfires alone topped $845 million, according to the California Department of Insurance. These wildfires damaged or destroyed 8,900 homes.

Then, the Camp Fire broke out in Butte County, Northern California in November and soon became the deadliest and most destructive fire on record. At least 88 people are known to have been killed. About 153,000 acres were burned, according to Cal Fire statistics. Across that massive swath of land, the fire burned almost 14,000 private residences.

To the south, the Hill and Woolsey Fires ignited on the same day in November. The Woolsey Fire destroyed 1,600 structures and killed three people. The Hill Fire burned about 4,500 acres and destroyed four structures.

As I write this, insured losses from the Camp and Woolsey Fires have not been announced, but are likely to rank among the costliest wildfires on record.

After these disasters, I’ll be you saw a lot of news articles offering Monday-morning quarterback advice: Store important documents in a different location. Buy and use a fireproof safe.

These suggestions are good, but not of much value after a wildfire destroys your house and everything in it. Heirlooms, photographs, these things can never be recovered. But many vital documents can be replaced at little or no cost, which makes life just a little easier in times of tragedy.

The deed to your home is chief among these important documents. Property deeds are official government records available to anyone.
A document that is recorded with the county recorder, once it’s recorded it’s lodged there for the public. So if the actual document is destroyed, it doesn’t really matter. If you’ve lost your deed it’s still on file with the county recorder.

Visit the registrar-recorder in your local county clerk’s office, and you’ll be able to get a copy of the deed. You’ll need to go to the physical office in the county where your property is located. While it may be possible to do limited searches online, depending on where you live in California, getting an official printed copy of your deed will require a trip to the recorder’s office. They may charge a small fee for producing copies of official documents and records.

Similarly, Social Security cards, passports, as well as birth and marriage certificates can all be replaced by contacting the relevant federal or state offices. The one document that requires particular safekeeping is your last will and testament. In California a will is never recorded with any government entity so it’s wise to make multiple copies and store them in separate, secure locations.

At life’s end, we don’t want to send our heirs on a search mission for basic paperwork to resolve our estate.

Would you like to learn more? Visit CloseProbate.com.

Taking the Misery Out of Probate: A New Blog

By Rick Harmon, the California Probate Specialist

Does the world really need a probate blog? I don’t claim to know how to change the world, but if we’re talking about California, a lifetime of specialized real estate experience tells me, yes, there are people who can benefit from the knowledge I’ve built up over decades of steering estates through the probate process.

This blog covers the problems people have before, during and after the life of a property owner. And after the owner passes, the next generation’s struggles to find solutions.

Dealing with probate comes at a difficult time. A family member has died. There is grief. There are so many details to think about. Funeral preparations. Final farewells. Those priorities come first.

But then, at some point, the estate heirs must settle what I call “all the stuff.” You can’t measure a lifetime by accumulated possessions, but your heirs still have to deal with those possessions. Typically, real estate will be among the most valuable of a decedent’s assets. Settling this aspect of an estate doesn’t need to be complex, although the laws of California and your particular family situation can make it a challenge.

This is where I want to help. My goal for this new blog is to provide weekly information on the probate process. I’ll share some of the most tangled probate cases I’ve worked on and unraveled over the years. We’ll explore a variety of complex probate situations, some of which defy imagination. Some of these situations are practically impossible to imagine until you’re actually facing them. And then it can be overwhelming. So every week we’ll break them down, one at a time, in plain language.

I believe the time has come to remove the fear and mystery that too often surrounds the probate process. My mission is to end financial suffering for California executors, administrators & trustees. We’ll cover a lot of ground in this blog, from learning how to select a qualified probate fiduciary mortgage lender to understanding how probate works. You’ll discover the importance of a trust and how to borrow against it, how to sell property in probate, deal with a foreclosure in probate, manage back taxes and death taxes – and I’ll highlight resources for solving these complex problems. I’ll also dive into some related and even tangential real estate topics when I have breaking news too important not to share.

I believe that gaining knowledge before it’s needed makes us better prepared to handle a situation than trying to learn what to do – or even what options we have – under pressure and emotional stress. I want to help you make the best possible decisions for your family and their property. Wherever we go, I will strive always to steer you in the right direction. That’s my promise.

My Story, or: why should you listen to Rick talk about California probate?

I have more than 35 years of experience protecting clients’ assets in California probate.
When a relative dies often we’re not sure what to do. When I was a 21-year-old college student, I came home one afternoon to a police car sitting in front of my parents’ home. When you’re 21, that’s never a good sign. Well, a cop told me my Dad had died while driving. A fatal heart attack. We were not poor, we were not rich, but I had to do a lot of things that were pretty difficult. I was already working full-time and in college. There was also the question of being able to stay in college. It was pretty challenging. I didn’t have any kind of guidance, any place to turn. There was a lot to learn. When Mom died many years later, she had done some estate planning. It was not sudden. There was a gradual decline. We were prepared for it and had taken care of business.