Die In California and Save $10,000

Assembly Bill 139 does away with costly probate and "trusts" when parents' houses pass to their kids in California.EXPAND
Assembly Bill 139 does away with costly probate and "trusts" when parents' houses pass to their kids in California.

Not only does it suck to die, but in California there's a special shakedown involved.

If you're among the millions of Californians in the middle class, there's no way to transfer your house title to your kids when you're old without shelling out $2,000 to $10,000 to hire an attorney to create a "probate-avoidance" trust.

Nothing against attorneys, but as California state Assembly Mike Gatto notes, such trusts often are peddled by "bottom feeders who go to nursing homes" for business.

But, as Gatto also notes, hiring a bottom-feeder totally beats the alternative in California, which is "letting your house go to probate after you die, leaving your kids with a legal bill for $50,000 to get the title to a typical $500,000 home."

Massive, gigantic ouch.

Yesterday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Gatto's Assembly Bill 139, which does away with this end-of-life ripoff  — this, after the Democrats in Sacramento fought for years to keep the huge attorney trust charges and probate legal fees firmly in place.

The reasons why Californians have lost millions of dollars just to give their homes to their kids in old age says a lot about how Sacramento doesn't work at all well for the people.

Here's what's been going on: The Democrats killed past bills to allow for easier home-title transfers within families in 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2011. Why? Because these bills had been authored by Republicans. 

In the deeply partisan capital, where about 700 mostly unneeded new laws are signed by the governor each and every year, the minority Republicans are like the kiss of death on any law they try to author. The majority Democrats control the committees and Democrats decide what the laws will be. They author every important law.

It's been that way since the late 1950s, with a handful of unusual years when Republicans got control of a majority of the legislative seats. You don't want a major issue to be authored by a Republican in Sacramento if you want the law to actually land on the governor's desk.

Even with an influential Democrat like Gatto putting his name and effort behind AB 139, Gatto says, "It was a big, long fight for this bill all year. There's a lot of resistance in general in Sacramento, and this bill isn't sexy — and it's not like anyone gets a campaign contribution from somebody based on how they voted on this issue."

So back to that $2,000 to $10,000 everyone has been paying attorneys and courts just to give their houses to their kids while still alive.

"I would venture to say that almost everyone who's getting older, and has thought it through, opts for the costly trust arrangement," Gatto says. "They're choosing that over letting it go to probate, where the costs are just so much bigger."

No kidding — $50,000 almost buys a home in the South outright.

AB 139 creates a “revocable transfer on death deed” that's expected to save millions of families — millions — from paying probate or  attorney’s trust fees.

It's so intelligent and so pro-taxpayer that the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association jumped in after Gatto's team put the idea together, testifying in committee, “Other than Proposition 13, there is no greater bill that we support than AB 139 for this year.” According to Gatto's office, more than 25 other states already have similar laws. 

It's effective Jan. 1, 2016. The new law transforms the current nightmare to a "simple form." We'll be the judge of that, of course.


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