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Avoid Probate When the Executor Is Far Away

My old friend Steve called recently for some advice after his mother died in New York. Her estate included a modest house and little else. She had a will. Whereas a living trust is not usually recommended in such a simple situation, this proved to be an exception: a trust would have been a good idea.

Even though probate in New York is not a problem in itself, the executor has to be physically present, at least briefly, to oversee it. That becomes difficult when the decedent’s two sons—her only survivors—now live in California. Had a living trust been created to own the house, however, Steve, as the backup trustee, would have been able to list the property with a realtor and negotiate its sale by phone and fax. A single brief trip to New York to attend the sale closing would then have sufficed. As things stand now, though, neither Steve nor his brother has authority to deal with their mother’s house until one of them appears in probate court 3,000 miles away to be appointed executor.

From “AARP Crash Course in Estate Planning: The Essential Guide to Wills, Trusts and Your Personal Legacy,” by Michael T. Palermo, JD, CFP, 2005, pp. 55-56.

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