You probably read recently that Len Goodman, the long-time judge on “Dancing With the Stars,” died. Len was a sage in the world of dance and was known for his wry and witty humor. It’s too early to tell if he left his loved ones holding the bag or if he had his affairs in order. It never ceases to amaze me the number of people with the time and resources to plan well for the eventuality of their death and fail to have a plan in place.
We all know that we are definitely going to leave this world. We all know that having a plan in place is essential. It’s perplexing that so many people fail to have an estate plan in place or whose plan is outdated and won’t work for their family now.
Earlier this year, Stephen Laurel Boss, also known as “tWitch,” died. TWitch wasn’t familiar to me, but he was to millions of others who knew him as an American DJ, hip-hop dancer, choreographer, television producer, and actor whose personality lit up the stage on So You Think You Can Dance. He was also a producer and frequent guest host on The Ellen Degeneres Show and co-hosted the TV show Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings alongside his wife and fellow dancer, Allison Holkers.
tWitch and Allison shared a seemingly happy life together in Los Angeles, California, where they were raising their three children, ages 3, 7, and 14. Sadly, on December 13, 2022, tWitch died by suicide at the age of 40. His death came as a complete shock to loved ones who reported the star seemed happy in the weeks leading up to his death.
Boss died without a Will or Trust in place, meaning his wife, Allison Holker, has the task of petitioning the California court system to release Boss’ share of their assets to her. Allison, his widow, will need to wait months before she can formally take possession of the property her husband owned with her, as well as property held in his name alone, including his share of his production company, royalties, and his personal investment account.
Do you know how many people have plenty of notice of their death and fail to protect their families? Celebs and regular people like you and I just fail to do what it takes and leave their loved ones to handle details that they are ill-equipped to handle.
Unnecessary Court Involvement in a Time of Grief
Now, mind you, this happened in California. However, the process that one has to go through in most states is strikingly similar. In order to have access to her late husband’s assets, Allison, his widow, will have to make a public filing in the Probate Court by filing a petition, which asks the court to transfer ownership of a deceased spouse’s property to her as the surviving spouse. Hopefully, there will not be any difficulty in proving that they were legally married at the time of his death.
While the probate court has become more efficient in recent years, the court’s involvement nonetheless delays a spouse’s ability to access the assets of a loved one that has passed – a hurdle no one wants to deal with in the wake of a devastating loss. In addition, the court probate process is entirely public, meaning that the specific assets that loved ones are trying to access are made part of the public record. When your financial affairs become part of the public record, they become available for anyone to discover.
This isn’t just a problem for the wealthy. Even if you own a modest estate at your death, your family will need to go through the probate court process to transfer ownership of your assets if you don’t have an estate plan in place.
How to Prevent This From Happening to Your Loved Ones
When someone dies without an estate plan in place, the probate court’s involvement can be a lengthy and public affair. At a minimum, in Colorado, you can expect the probate process to last at least six months and oftentimes as long as eighteen months or more. How long it will take depends on many variables that we cannot necessarily predict before death. The sad part is that court involvement can be completely avoided IF the couple had created a revocable living trust to hold their family’s assets. If they had, the widow would have had immediate access to all of the couple’s assets upon death, eliminating the need to petition a court or wait for its approval before accessing the funds that rightly belong to her.
A Trust would have also kept the family’s finances private. With a Trust, only the person in charge of managing the Trust assets (the Trustee) and the Trust’s direct beneficiaries need to know how the assets in a Trust are used. There is also no court-imposed timeline on the Trustee for taking care of your final matters (with the exception of some tax elections), so your family can move at the pace that’s right for them when the time comes to put your final affairs in order.
The privacy that a trust provides also helps to eliminate potential family conflict because only the parties directly involved in the Trust will know what the Trust says. If issues between family members arise over the contents of the Trust, the Trust will lay out all of your wishes in detail so that all family members are on the same page and understand your wishes for the ones you’ve left behind.
Guidance for You and the Ones You Love
When you create a revocable living Trust at our firm, we ensure your loved ones have someone to turn to for guidance and support during times of uncertainty. No one expects the sudden loss of a loved one, but when it happens, your world is shaken. Even the simplest tasks can feel overwhelming, let alone the work involved in wrapping up a loved one’s affairs.
That’s why we welcome you to meet with us to discuss your wishes for when you die or if you become incapacitated. If you’re ready to start the estate planning process, contact us today for a complimentary 15-minute discovery call.