What Should be in Place for a Very Simple Estate?

 In Probate, Wills

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Question:

My mother is 90 years old and in good health but never planned for leaving this earth. She is a single woman and I am her daughter. She owes $23,000 on her home and lives off of Social Security. I would like to know what I need to do or have in place for when she passes so I can make decisions on matters that need to be taken care of, like her house. She really doesn’t have any other bills besides that.

Response:

You ask about what should be in place when your mother passes away, but being able to act for your mother during her life might be more important. It would be a good idea for your mother to name you as her agent under a durable power of attorney so that you can step in and pay her bills in the event she became incapacitated. If she were to name you on a health care proxy, you would also be able to make health care decisions for her.

As things stand now, the house will pass to you at your mother’s death through what are called the laws of “intestacy,” in effect, the state’s will for anyone who doesn’t have one. Upon her death, you would be able to petition the probate court to be appointed the administrator of her estate. However, this involves some trouble and expense which could be avoided if your mother put the house into a form of ownership that passed to you without going through probate. There are three options: joint ownership, a life estate, or a revocable trust. Each has its advantages and risks, but all of them would give you title to the house upon your mother’s death.

From what you describe, my bet is that joint ownership with rights of survivorship would make the most sense. It would simply involve creating a new deed for the house, which any real estate attorney could prepare and record.

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