James A. Jones, Attorney At Law
Plan Today, Peace of Mind Tomorrow

The importance of keeping an estate plan updated

Some people in Washington may think their estate is in good shape because they created a will years ago, but it is important to keep estate plans updated. This is illustrated in the case of film director John Singleton, who died suddenly in April of a stroke at the age of 51. The only estate planning document he left behind was a will from 1993.

At that time, Singleton had only one daughter. When he died, he had five children. In addition, there are two minor children that are alleged to be his. Singleton's family was in conflict while he was still alive, disagreeing about who should be conservator and whether he might recover. His mother filed the will in probate court, but one of his daughters challenged her efforts to become executor. She has since dropped the challenge, but there are likely to be more ahead as well as significant taxes since Singleton did not have a trust. His mother listed his total assets as having a worth of $3.8 million.

With a trust, the details of Singleton's estate would have remained private, but probate is a public process. Under California law, his four children not included in the will are supposed to inherit equally since they were born after its creation.

Wills usually must go through probate. Some people who are appointed executor may be concerned about probate and the process of estate administration, but they are permitted to hire professionals if necessary to assist them. An executor's tasks include locating assets, contacting heirs and paying taxes and creditors. An attorney may be able to help a person with this as well as any issues that might come up. For example, although most wills pass through probate without problems, there could be challenges in some families.

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