It's time to introduce a new duo for "Ask the Experts." They are: Carlena Tapella, estate planning attorney with Webb & Tapella Law Corp. in Sacramento, and Kimberly Foss, certified financial planner and founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville.
We'd also like to thank our experts of the last six months: investment adviser Tony Bell, estate planning attorney Kay Brooks and certified financial planner Walt Romatowski.
In her debut this week, Tapella answers readers' questions on how to select a trust executor and whether a modest family home and vehicle require probate after a parent's death.
I would like to remove my present executor and set up a new one, but prefer not to have another individual person. What are sources to find an institutional (rather than a personal) executor? How do I do this?
I suggest starting with the attorney who prepared your estate planning documents. He or she is most familiar with your estate and can make an appropriate recommendation.
You could also check with your bank or financial institution to see if it has a trust department that can serve as your executor. Be aware that most trust departments require that an estate have a minimum value in assets, perhaps $1 million, before it will accept an executor appointment.
You might also consider a licensed professional fiduciary as executor, if your goal is to select someone who is experienced in estate management and not a family member or close friend.
A licensed professional fiduciary is required to complete certain education requirements and undergo a criminal background check through the state Department of Justice. You can find names of licensed fiduciaries from the state's Professional Fiduciaries Bureau at www.fiduciary.ca.gov.
If the only change to your will is naming a new executor, you can accomplish this with a codicil. You can create a handwritten codicil yourself, but there are certain requirements for it to be effective. Because it's a sufficiently important legal document, I recommend the assistance of an attorney.
A father died, leaving a small estate consisting of a house valued at $80,000 and a pickup valued at $4,000. His will designates his son and daughter split everything equally. Is probate required? Is it complex enough to re- quire lawyers or can a citizen file the required papers?
I assume that the house and pickup truck are titled only in the father's name. Because the house is valued at less than $150,000, a formal probate proceeding is not required.
However, a court proceeding cannot be avoided entirely. The son and daughter will need to go through a less-formal process, known as a "summary" probate proceeding, to gain clear legal title to the house and vehicle.
With the house, the first step is to obtain a home appraisal from the probate referee appointed by the Superior Court in the deceased's county of residence. The appraisal is required to confirm that the home's value is under the $150,000 limit for a summary probate proceeding.
A "Petition to Determine Succession to Real Property" is then filed, asking the court to confirm that the son and daughter are their father's successors in his will and that the house passes to them as beneficiaries.
While this is not an exceptionally complex process, there are procedural requirements that must be met before the court can grant the petition. An attorney experienced in probate can handle this task for a reasonable fee.
If you prefer to do it yourself, you can obtain the necessary forms from the probate department clerk or online at www.courts.ca.gov/forms. htm. You might also consider visiting your local law library for help in using the legal research tools.
As to the pickup truck, an affidavit must be submitted to the state Department of Motor Vehicles attesting that the father's estate is less than $150,000 and doesn't require probate. The "Affidavit for Transfer Without Probate" form can be obtained from your local DMV office or online at www.dmv.ca.gov.