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By: Scott Grossman on January 8th, 2018

What If I Don’t Know If There is a Will or a Trust?

How do I find out if I don’t know if there is a will or a trust?

I have people who come to me who will tell me that their parents have died, parents were very closed off about their finances. So they have genuinely no idea when their parents died, what estate planning they did (if they did any estate planning at all). While it can be difficult if you don’t know if there is a will or a trust, nothing is a lost cause. So the way we figure out what to do is oftentimes by working backward.

We want to check to see what is that mom or dad had owned before they died.

Now, again, the same folks who tell me, “Mom or dad have been tight-lipped” probably don’t know much (if they know anything at all about their finances) because mom or dad didn’t want to say anything. That’s okay. Mom or dad had to have lived somewhere. So if they lived in their own home, check the title to their property. Because the title is going to tell us what they have done. If the title to the house, and the deed to the house is in the name of mom or dad as an individual, there is probably no estate plan in place. They probably have to go through probate.

If on the other hand, you see on the deed a reference to the trust. Mom or dad is a trustee, or maybe the name of the trust (probably both); well, then you know that maybe there is a trust.

The likelihood is that you won’t need to go through probate. Once you figure that out, then we know whether you have to do a trust administration, or you will need to do probate. Some folks don’t own real estate of course, but everybody is going to have to have a bank account. Even if they are living off social security. The bank isn’t going to give you a lot of information, but one thing you can find out is: Are you designated to be a beneficiary? Sometimes you will get lucky and you will have a person at the bank who will at least give you an indication that there is a trust and they need to speak to a trustee. If of course, the account is in the name of the trust.

Sometimes the bank will tell you straight out, well, gee, it’s in your mom or your dad’s name, it looks like you will need to do probate.

Now, if you have to go the route of probate, then of course you are going to want to know whether there is a will or not because that makes a difference in what happens during probate and how all the property gets distributed at the end. The only way to know that is by going through mom or dad’s personal possessions in order to find out. So that probably means going into their home, going through their closets, their cabinets (wherever they stored their things) simply looking for the document so you could find out what it is they had if they had anything at all.

If you need to do probate or have questions about completing probate, do not hesitate to contact our office today or via phone at 888-443-6590.