Helping clients navigate one of the most important financial decisions they will make is just part of what I do as a Realtor. Whether buying a home or selling one, the process inherently involves sharing personal and private information. In many cases, my role goes beyond the real estate transaction itself, touching on estate planning elements that affect a purchase or sale.
All too often I work with clients who either don’t have an estate plan in place or it’s woefully outdated. I’ve seen firsthand the distress of a family struggle with the unexpected loss of a young father. Thankfully they had a robust estate plan in place, so the wife and children were well protected. Imagine the chaos and strain of not having a trust (or even a will in place) when the unexpected happens. While the loss of a loved one is never easy, having a current estate plan is one less burden to bear.
After nearly fifteen years of Realtor experience, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned:
1. If You Own Real Property, Have a Trust
The California State Bar recommends that everyone should have an estate plan. This is especially true for those with real property and other assets.
2. An Estate Plan Is About More Than Assets
A well-written estate plan covers more than your real estate and investment portfolio. Yes, it includes information about who will inherit your real property, bank accounts, etc.; it also contains directives about your medical and personal care in the event you’re unable to make those decisions yourself.
3. Plan Ahead
With a plan in place, your estate can avoid probate — a legal process when a trust is not present. This can be costly — both financially and emotionally — for your loved ones. Depending upon the circumstances, it can take months or even years to untangle an estate without a legal plan in place.
4. Share Your Plan
One of the last things you want is to frantically search for legal documents during a crisis. Knowing where an estate plan is physically located can ease the stress of a difficult situation. Talk to your family members about your plan, so they are more prepared if/when the time arrives.
5. Find a Trustworthy Estate Planning Expert
As with most important things in life, choosing a trustworthy adviser is key. If you don’t already have an estate planning expert, please let me know. I can recommend several attorneys in the Bay Area.
As your real estate adviser, I hope you take action today. Review your estate plan and make sure it accurately reflects your current situation. If you don’t have an estate plan, make an appointment with an expert. Give yourself (and your loved ones) the peace of mind you deserve.
Photo credit: US Army