Dear Len & Rosie,
Mom is 78. She has some money, a little over $100,000, in a certificate of deposit and her checking accounts. She has put me on as a signer on all of her accounts. She lives in a trailer park. She owns her trailer, worth about $175,000, but pays rent on the pad. She wants to put me on the trailer so I could sell it if she got sick or worse. Can she do that? Would it accomplish her goal?
Your mother is trying to do her estate planning on the cheap. This isn’t such a bad idea, because she hasn’t got a lot of money, but it’s important for both of you that she does it right.
If your mother gave you signature authority on her bank accounts, you will have access to her money, but only until her death. If, upon her death, her accounts are worth less than $166,250, you can collect them 40 days or more after her death using a form provided by the bank or a declaration under California Probate Code section 13101. If the accounts happen to be worth more than $166,250, then her estate will be subject to probate in the courts. This would be expensive and time-consuming.
The neat trick is that the value of your mother’s mobile home doesn’t count against the $166,250 limit, as long as it is registered with the California Department of Housing. It can be transferred using Form HCD RT475.2, which is available online. This also must be signed no sooner than 40 days after your mother’s death.
Or, she could have the title of her home transferred to the two of you as Joint Tenants. This would allow you to sell her home, if that’s what you’re going to do, as soon as her death certificate is issued. Most of the time, the title insurance company handling the escrow will prepare the documents for you.
If you need to sell her home prior to her death, you will need a Durable General Power of Attorney (DPOA). She needs one, and she also needs an Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD). If she should ever become incapacitated, there are all sorts of legal, financial, and medical decisions you may have to make on her behalf. Without a DPOA and AHCD, it could become necessary for your mother to be placed into a conservatorship, just to allow you to conduct business on her behalf.
If, however, you are not the only child and your mother wants to leave everything only to you, then forget everything we said about your mother doing it herself. If your mother is planning on disinheriting her other children, she needs to see a lawyer, without you being there, to create a will to backup her putting everything into joint tenancy with you. If you were to get sued by vengeful siblings after your mother’s death, you’ll have a much better chance of winning if you’re not the only voice trying to convince the judge that your mother wanted it all to go to you. The lawyer and his or her staff will be neutral witnesses who can testify as to your mother’s wishes.
Len & Rosie