Thursday, April 7, 2011

Probate, Will, and Insurance and the Law Seminar Review

We had 32 attendees at the April 2nd CVGS Seminar, including five non-members, at the Bonita Library for the presentations on Probates, Wills, Insurance Papers, and the Law” by Del Stevens (husband of CVGS member Ann Stevens) and Michael Murphy (President Gary Brock's neighbor).

Del Stevens explained the history of insurance – it started the merchants in China insuring their wares in 2500 BC. Life insurance started in England in the early 1800s, and it was prevalent in the USA by the 1830s – New York Life, Metropolitan, Prudential were mentioned. Basically, the insurance agent assesses risk and defines the premium required to insure the life, property, etc. for a term. Insurance in the 21st century is confidential between the insurance company and the parties – the companies hold the applications and other paperwork and have no responsibility to provide it. If you find it in a set of family papers of an ancestor, the papers can be highly informative and are judged to be highly reliable, and would provide a good biographical snapshot at the time of the application. Property title information is a different story – they are public records and can be accessed at County Recorder offices.

Michael Murphy defined many of the terms found in probate records, including will, codicil, administration, etc. He also described the different parts of a 21st century will and what it needs to cover – name of the testator, state and county of residence, alternate names, and declaration that it is their will. The will needs to declare marital or partnership status, declare the children of the testator, declare an executor, and be signed in the presence of two or more witnesses. A formal will can be changed by a codicil, which revises or adds to the terms of the will.

After the death of the testator, the executor files a petition for probate of the will in the Probate Court, and the substantiating witnesses may need to testify in order to prove the will as valid. There is no probate if there is no property. In California, an estate with property values below $100,000 goes through an abbreviated administrative process rather than the more complex probate process. The executor must take an inventory and make an appraisal of the real and personal property, and provide lists for “separate property” (owned solely by the testator) and “community property” (jointly held with another person such as a spouse). If real estate must be sold to disperse the property to the heirs, then a notice must be published. An Executor's Deed would be in the probate records that shows the parcel number and a description of the property. The Executor files a petition for court approval of the final property distribution according to the will of the testator, the actions of the executor and the laws of the state. After court approval, the property is distributed to the heirs.

Both presenters provided visuals of some of the papers that make up insurance and probate papers based on their own family histories.

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