Law News and Tips
Small Package; Big Problems
SMALL PACKAGE; BIG PROBLEMS
Fred L. Vilbig © 2018
I recently got a call from another attorney saying she had a “difficult” probate case and wondered if we would mind taking it over from her. Since the beneficiary was the Catholic Cathedral Basilica, I agreed without really getting all the details. My paralegal warns me (maybe it’s abuse) not to do things like that. This may read a little like Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine.
It turns out it was actually two estates. The first to die was the tenant (the “Tenant”) of a house owned by the second to die (the “Landlord”). Neither the Tenant nor the Landlord had any close family. The Tenant’s will provides that everything goes to the Landlord.The house was in the City, so the Tenant’s estate will have to be probated in the Probate Court there. The City Probate Court is really swamped, so this can present a problem. From what we’ve been able to determine so far, the Tenant’s estate has less than $40,000 worth of assets in it, so we should be able to do what is called a small estate administration, an easier process. The problem is that the house is a mess, so we’ll have to hire someone to clean it out. Are you confused yet?
The Landlord lived in the County. Since he owned the house, this will probably be a full estate. In order to probate an estate, we need a personal representative. In this case, the Landlord had a will that named a personal representative (the “PR”), but the PR is elderly with health issues. However, after talking about what’s involved, he did agree to serve. That was a relief since it can get really complicated when there isn’t a named PR willing to serve.
In addition to the house, the Landlord’s estate appears to include some life insurance proceeds. It turns out that the Tenant had a life insurance policy that was payable to the Landlord. Since the Landlord survived the Tenant, the uncollected life insurance proceeds are payable to the Landlord’s probate estate. Are you confused now?
The problem is we don’t know how much the life insurance policy was worth. We won’t know until we have a PR appointed. Life insurance companies (in fact any financial institution) won’t talk to anyone in an estate situation until a PR is appointed. I understand why; it’s just kind of a bother.
In the end, we were able to simplify all of this, and there will be a nice sum of money (but not a fortune) going to maintain one of the gems of our region. The Cathedral Basilica is the largest single collection of mosaics outside of Ravenna, Italy – the second largest in the world! And they’re beautiful! So I feel justified in taking on a couple of involved, albeit small, probate estates. But I’m sure I’ll hear different from my paralegal. Oh well.
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