Bullet Journaling for Estate Planning

I do my bullet journals in a slightly different format from the ones I see online.  I start on page one with the index in alphabetical order: page 1 is A, page 2, B etc.  Then on page 27 I start my first entry by subject.

For estate planning, my categories (index entries in general) would be:

  • inventory
  • contacts
  • estate planning attorney
  • accountant
  • information for executor
  • information for death certificate (mother’s maiden name, etc.)
  • funeral arrangements
  • heirlooms/art/valuables etc – instructions, location etc.
  • probate locations (mineral rights, etc.)
  • location of keys, passwords, alarm codes, etc.
  • To do (secure residents, pet care, clean out perishables, open bank box, settle payable on death accounts, notify Social Security, return rented medical equipment, cancel subscriptions, cancel drivers’ licenses and passports, contact credit bureaus, etc.)
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Avoid probate!

I find it extremely ironic that this estate battle I’m helping my nephew with, could have been all avoided if his father and stepmother had put their property into a trust… oh wait, they did!  So what happened?

The stepmother (now deceased so perhaps we’ll never know) forgot about the estate planning that had been done a mere 6 years previously.  She told everyone at the funeral her husband died without a will, and when she tried to sell their community property house, for some reason the stepson’s existence was made evident, and since (I assume) she was in a hurry to sell the house, the title company’s advice was to try to get him to quitclaim the house to her.  I don’t know if they told her to hire an attorney or to file probate (she asked my nephew, “what’s probate?” when he told her the house had to go through probate).

So  now her daughter is contesting her half-brother’s appointment as administrator of the intestate estate, and complaining about how much it costs (we’re going to mediation next week).  I can see her sitting there wondering if there’s a way to avoid all this!

If her mother had remembered the will and probated it, I’m sure she could have still changed hers (they had reciprocal wills that left all after second spouses’ death to a trust shared equally by their two kids) but maybe not.  Maybe the only way to nullify that irrevocable trust leaving my nephew half of her property was to go this route?  Becasue as soon as my ex brother-in-law was dead, she up and changed her will leaving everything to her daughter.  So much, in fact, that the daughter is having difficulty filing an inventory (my ex-brother in law had extensive mineral rights spanning several states)

The deceased at least had the forethought to make his stepdaughter his executrix – perhaps the attorney could see that they were not in good enough health to name each other as most people do.  Perhaps the reason they set up this plan was due to a change in health, because they did put some property in the trust and then immediately moved to another state, where they did not put their new home into the trust.

Life’s a bitch, and then you die, and then come the estate battles.

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Bizarre estate battles

I stumbled upon the following estate battle simply because this house happens to be on my street.  In 1927, Anne Barber was born and in 1946 she married George Eugene Humphries and had two daughters.   I cannot find information on whether or when they were divorced or he died, but then she married John Heald and had another daughter in 1963.  She and her husband purchased the home down the street. In early December 2003 her two younger daughter initiated (unsuccessfully) guardianship proceedings for her mother Anne.  Later that same month, her oldest daughter applied for Appointment of Permenant Guardianship of Person and Estate Only and moved to contest the previous application. In 2004 Anne adopted an adult male. (I can find nothing on this guy – pretty sure it’s not his real name).  In 2006 Anne purchased a townhouse in our city for over $300,000. In 2008, she deeded the townhouse to a trust. She also deeded her house on my street to a trust.

In 2009 she was involved in a lawsuit which I will look up at the courthouse when I have a chance (this whole episode is going into my book about family secrets, myths and stories).

In mid-January 2010 she drafted a will, making no provisions in her will or trust for the benefit of her adult adopted son.  Her oldest daughter was named executrix, then the second born.

In May of 2010 the trust sold the townhouse.

In early November 2010 she re-wrote her will, appointing her adopted son as her executor.  In all caps, and bold font, she states “under no circumstances shall any of my daughters, their spouses, or any of their descendants, ever serve as executor of my estate”.  She then appoints her adopted son as trustee of all trusts and makes the same statement regarding her daughters inability to serve as trustees.

In January 2011 her second oldest daughter drafted a git deed to her mother as trustee all of her interest in the house on my street.

In 2011 she ws involved in another lawsuit when another young man with whom she had a “longstanding relationship” “took advantage of his relationship with Petitioner by, among other things, forging her signature on a loan guaranty for the purchase of a car”.

In August of 2012 as trustee, she deeded the house back to herself.

In 2012 she took out a reverse mortgage on the house down the streeet.

In June of 2013 Anne died.  In June her oldest daughter filed probate (first will).  In August her adoptive son filed the second will for probate.  He prevailed! The house is now under foreclosure.  It’s a nightmare.

Solution?  Maybe the only solution is to not get so attached to material things!


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Blended marriages and estate planning

My nephew’s estranged father died in 2014 with a 2009 will leaving all to his second wife.  She had drafted a reciprocal will, and the second to die left all to a trust to be divided evenly between their two respective children.

Only the widow changed her will after her husband died, disinheriting her stepson.

Solution – if you want your children to inherit anything and there’s even the most remote possibility that your spouse could disinherit them if you die first,  don’t leave everything to your spouse.  Name your child in your legacy vehicle and GIVE THEM A COPY.

Again, communicate!  I’m sure my dead ex-brother-in-law completely trusted his second wife, but she wasn’t trustworthy.


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Divorce and estate planning

An update on my nephew’s estate battles:

To recap – my nephew’s father, with whom he had no relationship, died and the widow told everyone who would listen he didn’t have a will.  Turns out, they did have reciprocal wills, drafted a mere 6 years previously, as well as a living trust, and her daughter from a previous marriage was trustee.  My nephew was a beneficiary (correct term?) of 1/2 of the trust property.

After his dad died, the wife continued depositing his oil and gas royalty checks into their joint account.  My nephew initiated administration proceedings, as the wife clearly wasn’t going to (she actually asked him, “what is probate?” when she tried to get him to sign the house over to her).

Judgment was rendered in accordance with Texas law, giving my nephew 2/3 separate property (his father’s inherited mineral rights), 1/2 community property (the one house) and the widow 1/3 life estate in separate property and life estate in 1/2 community property.

The widow abandoned the house (there is close to $1,000,000 in medical bills – he had no medical insurance).  The medical providers have yet (3 years next month) to file a lien on the house, but it is abandoned and the county has filed a tax suit (but has not served the estate).

Meanwhile, the widow had bought another house in the same city as her daughter.  During discovery, my nephew’s attorney noticed income from property in Arkansas on a joint tax return.  When prompted, the widow’s attorney advised that that was rental property that was mistakenly included on the tax return, as that property was actually in a trust.  When asked about the trust, voila,  they produced the 2009 will.  Now, the widow has passed away*, and the daughter has filed a Bill of Review asking the court to set aside the Judgment as the will names her as executor.

The daughter is now selling her mother’s current house (which also had back taxes on it), and has purchased acreage in a future Hill Country homesite development.

The widow jotted down a hand-written will a month after her husband died, leaving all to her daughter.  I assume the trust is now empty, since they sold the house.   But of course the daughter probated the handwritten will, not the 2009 will, even though  now she is trying to get her stepfather’s 2009 will probated.  I guess you can have your cake and eat it too…


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Putting the house into a trust

I’m not an attorney, let me say that right up front.  But a lot of people think that putting their house into a trust is a way to avoid probate, and it may be, but one must be careful.  A neighbor of mine did just that after her husband passed away, but failed to include the proper wording required to maintain their property tax exemptions, and their property taxes went through the roof for two reasons: one, because the property changed ownership, the house was re-assessed and the value went way up (they’ve lived there for decades), and they lost their exemptions (over 65 and resident!)  Another neighbor gave (loaned? not sure) his son money to buy a house for he and his S.O. to live in.  So they’re not getting the exemptions, either.  Someone, not sure if it’s the son or the resident of the house, is paying 5-figure taxes unnecessarily, year after year.  How can that possibly be finanacially savvy?

A lot of states now allow “Payable on Death” deeds, which serves the same purpose.  You avoid probate on the property, the property never changes ownership, and it’s a very simple fix.

Again, not an attorney, just staing the facts.


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Notices to creditors etc

I don’t know what the rules are regarding posting legal notices of someone’s death in the newspaper so that any potential heirs and creditors can get involved, but it should be that you have to post notices in every place the decedent lived for the past 10 years or so.  My nephew’s stepmother died earlier this year and he was not notified of her death, even though he owns property with her estate that he inherited from his father, who died 2 years prior. His stepmother had moved to her current abode about  a year ago, but lived in the county where the couple had a house for some 5 years, and in Arkansas before that, in Shreveport before that, and possibly in Florida at some point and there’s some connection to Dallas.  It’s all very odd.

So the new developments in my nephew’s case are that his stepsister filed for probate in the county where her mother lived at death, and I missed it.  I was searching in the county where she died.  (I do not have a law degree, and that is why).  The stepdaughter claimed she is the only legatee even though my nephew inherited his father’s share of the community property.

The mother apparently had drafted a short handwritten will shortly after her husband died, not revoking any previous wills and not naming an executor.

Five years prior to that, the couple had drafted reciprocal wills and a family living trust, naming both their children, including my nephew as beneficiaries.

This case just keeps getting weirder and weirder.


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