Estate planning is important for a many reasons. By properly engaging in the planning process, you will have appropriate, well-thought out and enforceable legal documents that will direct the carrying out of all of your estate planning goals. Another essential element of proper planning is retaining a reliable team of estate planning professionals, who can aid you in achieving your objectives and in avoiding potentially disastrous mistakes.
News reports from July 2016 told a heartbreaking story regarding a pair of Southern California grandparents and their home of more than a half-century. When Helen and Hank Kawecki moved into their home in Thousand Oaks, California, things were a lot different. The Kaweckis were a young couple in their early 30s. Thousand Oaks, which now boasts nearly 130,000 residents, then had less than 3,000. And the president was named Eisenhower. The couple had hopes of spending the rest of their lives growing old in this house. And for 56 years they did. In 2016, they found themselves on the brink of losing their home as a result of malfeasance by a family member they thought they could trust. While the couple's neighbors have launched an online crowdfunding page to try to help the couple, the Kaweckis' terrible tale serves as an important estate planning lesson for all of us.
The Kaweckis' problems began when they struck a deal with their grandson. The grandson agreed to support his grandparents financially for the rest of their lives. In exchange, the couple agreed to sign over to the grandson the deed to their home. Instead of supporting the grandparents, the grandson took out three loans totaling more than $500,000. After the grandson spent the money and then defaulted on the debt, he sought to sell the house, eventually handing it over to a private lender. The lender sought to take possession of the house. The Kaweckis confronted their grandson, who promptly disappeared. The lender asked a court to evict the couple, and a July date of eviction was set. A judge in late July gave the couple a 60-day reprieve from eviction, but that extension will likely be used just to give the seniors time to find a new place to live. That's because all of the paperwork surrounding the house was probably legal. The Kaweckis voluntarily deeded their house to the grandson, and he validly deeded it to the lender.
No one deserves to be the victims of financial elder abuse, but there are things you can do to protect yourself. The first thing is to get an estate plan in place. This plan will allow you to get your planning goals and decisions put down in writing in in clear, enforceable legal documents. This plan will account, not only for the distribution of your assets after you die, but also the management of your assets while you are alive.
An integral part of this process is securing, and consistently working with, an estate planning team you can trust. Your estate planning attorney can be an essential help through the process of planning. This includes the decision-making process leading up to the execution of your documents, the process of putting your plan into effect and the element of keeping your plan working through proper plan maintenance. An experienced estate planning attorney could have counseled the Kaweckis on all of their options regarding the transfer of their home, which options would be best-suited for their objectives and why, in almost all situations, simply deeding away the home in which you live to someone else without retaining any type of legal right of possession (like a life estate) is a bad idea.
Having a reliable estate planning team on your side can benefit you in many areas of your life, more than you might even think. Working with the right professionals to get the right plan can give you the peace-of-mind that comes with having your plan in place, along with the benefit of having an invaluable resource always at your side.