How to Inventory and Assign Value to Estate Personal Property

There is an old saying that goes: What is the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time!

Personal property is the elephant of an estate. It is the responsibility that can take up most of your time, and it provides the estate with the least amount of money for the effort involved. But, dealing with the personal property cannot be avoided. The property must be inventoried, valued, distributed, or sold. Let us start our analysis by looking at what property we have (inventory); then we will determine what it is worth (valuation). In a future post, we will determine what to do with it (distribution/sale).

When you go to the courthouse, the clerk will provide you with the form you will need to fill out for the inventory. The form will ask you to provide general categories and a value for each category you have listed. For example, you would list: furniture, $1500; office equipment, $300, etc.. You will not have to list the items separately, such as sofa, $100; chair, $5; typewriter, $25. I suggest that you do keep a list of the individual items, though. Although you will not have to go into a lot of detail for the court, you will likely want a more detailed inventory for yourself. You will want this for two reasons: to track the sale of estate property, and to protect yourself against claims of heirs and/or creditors.

You do not have to get real fancy with with the inventory; pencil and paper will do. If you are so inclined, there are home inventory record books available at office supply stores, or you can purchase software online. There are also companies that specialize in taking home inventories.

You will need a helper. One person sorts and counts while the other writes. Start inside the house, and work your way from the top of the house to the bottom. Go room to room with a consistent pattern so that you do not miss anything: always clockwise or counter-clockwise around the room. Write down what is on the walls as well, not just what is on the floor. For small goods, write down identifiable groups of items such as 200 hardcover books, 100 paperback books, 42 nick-knacks, etc.. On your list, put a star next to any item that you think may be valuable. If the nick-knacks are porcelain and the books are first editions, they are valuable items. When you are finished, follow the same procedure for the outbuildings: the garage, shed, workshop, or whatever. If there is a rented self-storage unit, vacation home, recreational vehicle or boat, they will need to be inventoried as well.

When you file the inventory at the courthouse, you will need to state a value for the personal property. For run-of-the-mill household items, a good resource for determining the value is the software program It’s Deductible that comes bundled with the income tax program Turbo Tax. It’s Deductible can also be purchased separately. The software lists the thrift shop value for most household items, and it is easy to use.

For the items that you have identified as being valuable, It’s Deductible will not work. There are several ways to determine the value of single items or collections. A good place to start is eBay ( http://www.ebay.com ). To use eBay to help set your values, you will need to be a registered user. Registering for eBay is free; just follow the instructions when you get to the website. Once registered, type in the item you are researching, and eBay will search for the item. When the search results come up, scroll down and look on the left side of the page to where it says Search Options, click on completed listings, then scroll down further and click on Show Items. The search results displayed will be for completed auctions, not for auctions in progress. The prices listed in green are items that actually sold; the prices in red are for items that did not sell. If you find your item listed, and the price is green, you have a good value. Compare the details of the item you found on eBay with the details of the item you have. Use the closest match as your value.

If you are unable to find your item listed on eBay, it is time to go to the library or bookstore. There you will find an assortment of price guides for every sort of antique or collectible. You will also find blue books for automobiles and equipment.

If you have lots of items and no time to research, then it is time to call in an expert. In your local phone book you will find jewelers, antique dealers, auctioneers, appraisers, and other professionals who will tell you what the property is worth. What they will offer you is an opinion of value, not an appraisal. An appraisal is based on actual sales data, not an opinion. I will cover appraisals below; for now, just be aware that there is a difference. For probate valuation purposes, the value placed must be the fair market value at the time of the decedents death. This is the value you should ask your expert to provide.

In my home state of Virginia, individual items or collections that are valued over $500 must have an appraisal. Personal property appraisers are not licensed like real estate appraisers, but the content of their reports is regulated. For a personal property appraisal to be valid and accepted for tax purposes, it must be performed by a qualified expert and follow the federal guidelines of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice. Most real estate appraisers do not appraise personal property. You can find a personal property appraiser online by checking the websites of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America, the National Association of Auctioneers, or the American Society of Appraisers.

Estate Executors will find that the inventory and valuation of estate personal property is their most time-consuming task, but there are resources available to help.

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Land Trusts in California

In California, general trust law is found in the Probate Code §§15000-19403. There is no specific land trust statute in California, unlike Illinois land trust law, (765 ILCS 405/410/415/420), Massachusetts business trust (MBT) law (M.G.L.c.182, §2), and Virginia land trust law (Va. Code Sec. 55-17.1).

So, land trusts created in California for California property are based on general trust law in the aforesaid California Probate Code. But an out-of-state land trust may be formed that would hold title through the trustee of a California property, to take advantage of more beneficial statute and case law of another state. Indeed, the Virginia Supreme Court in Air Power, Inc v. Thompson, 244 Va. 534, 422 S.E. 2nd 786 (1992), has confirmed that Va. Code Sec. 55-17.1 gives the trustee of a land trust both legal and equitable power of the real property, which protects the privacy of the beneficiaries.

Indeed, since California does not have a specific land trust statute, there is no legislative history nor developed case law on it in this state, only California general trust law and case law. But a general trust law may have some advantages over a specific land trust statute with more requirements. Indeed, Illinois land trust statute (75 ILCS 435) requires that holders of power of direction owe fiduciary duties to holders of beneficial interests. California general trust law does not have a similar requirement.

In any event, the avoidance of probate over a real property in a land trust trumps all difficulties in its creation.

I. California General Trust Law:

A. Creation Of Trust:

California Probate § 15000 states that “(t)his division (Division 9 of the Probate Code) shall be known and may be cited as the Trust Law.” And § 15001(a) states that “(e)xcept as otherwise provided by statute: This division applies to all trusts regardless of whether that were created before, on, or after July 1, 1987.”

Among other methods of creating trust, a trust may be created by: “(b) (a) transfer of property by the owner during the owner’s lifetime to another person as trustee,” under § 15200(b) of the California Probate Code. And “a trust is created only if there is trust property,” under § 15202 thereof.

“A trust may be created for any purpose that is not illegal or against public policy,” under § 15203 thereof. A land trust is not for an illegal purpose, nor is it against public policy in California, although it is not widely used in this state.

And “a trust, other than a charitable trust, is created only if there is a beneficiary,” under § 15205 thereof.

B. Trust Of Real Property And Personal Property:

So as not to violate the Statute of Frauds, which requires a written instrument to be enforceable, §15206 states that “a trust is relation to real property is not valid unless evidenced by one of the following methods: (b) By a written instrument conveying the trust properly signed by the settlor, or by the settlor’s agent if authorized in writing to do so.”

And under § 15207 (a) thereof, “(t)he existence and terms of an oral trust of personal property may be established only by clear and convincing evidence.” Under § 1528 thereof, “consideration is not required to create a trust….”

Lastly, “a trust created pursuant to this chapter (1, part 2, Division 9 of the Probate Code) which relates to real property may be recorded in the office of the county recorder in the county where all or a portion of the real property is located,” under § 15210 thereof.

II. Mechanics Of A Land Trust:

A. Advantages And Benefits:

(1.) Privacy:

One of the much-heralded advantages of a land trust is that a grant deed-in-trust of a trust property in the name of a different trustee (private or institutional) may be recorded with the County Recorder, but the land trust agreement that states the names of the truster/settlor/investor and the beneficiaries is not recorded.

Thus, the creator/grantor of the land trust: the trustor/settlor who invests in real property can keep his/her/its name, as well as the names of the beneficiaries out of the County Recorder’s and County Assessor’s books, and to a certain extent hide the investment from public view.

But a judgment creditor of a trustor/settlor or of a beneficiary can subject the latter to answer written interrogatories on his/her/its assets, or to debtor’s examination under oath in court to determine assets, and not merely rely on County Recorder and Assessor asset searches.

The land trust agreement may also use a name for the land trust different from the name of the trustor/settlor who created it. This is another asset protection benefit. And if the beneficiary thereof is also the same trustor/settlor, the latter may designate his/her living trust or wholly-owned limited liability company as the beneficiary to hopefully avoid gift tax issues.

(2.) Avoidance Of Probate:

Moreover, just like successor trustees may be designated in the land trust agreement, successor beneficiaries may also be selected to avoid disruptions in distribution of trust assets at termination of the trust, outside of probate proceedings.

A land trust may be created as revocable (terms of the agreement may be changed) or irrevocable (cannot be changed), but the latter requires the filing of separate tax returns and is taxed at a higher rate than the trustor/settlor’s individual tax rate, unless considered a simple trust in which all incomes created are taxed to beneficiaries. For federal income tax implications, if the grantor/trustor is also the beneficiary, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) classifies it as a grantor trust that has tax consequences that flow directly to the trustor’s Form 1040 and state return.

(B.)Disadvantages And Pitfalls:

(1.) Separtate Agreement For Each Property:

In order to preserve the privacy of the investment or transaction and the asset protection benefits of the land trust, only one real estate property can be listed as held in it. Thus, a different land trust agreement is created for each property. This could be cumbersome, although the same trustor/settlor, trustee, and beneficiary can be named in each agreement.

(a) Simpler Alternatives:

Simpler alternatives are to purchase investment or rental properties through a limited partnership (LP) or a limited liability company (LLC), or transfer such properties to a more flexible living trust that does not require the filing of separate tax returns, or transfer the ownership interests of an LLC (not title of the property) to a living trust.

An LLC may also create a land trust by conveying title of a property to the trustee, and designate itself (LLC) as the beneficiary for privacy of ownership. Sometimes less is more; for indeed, creditors can see through and have recourse against avoidance of execution of judgment on properties through asset protection schemes. And transfers of ownerships of properties may result in tax assessments.

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Why Do People Travel?

Can you imagine what is life without traveling? Is it possible? Whatever your reason is, traveling is a part of people’s life. We all travel. The reason behind that is up to you.

There are different reasons why people travels:.

1.) Most People Travel because they want to see their families and friends who live far away. Invitations from families and friends are seldom so you will decide to travel just to see them.

2.) People Travel because they want to see their soul mates. Some people believe that there is only one person for them and if they haven’t had much luck searching in their area, they figured it out that even though there are millions of people around the world, they can still find it in other place.

3.) People travel to seek for work because they want to experience how to work from another place. We must admit that earning money is hard and some people decide to work abroad because they are looking for greener pasture. Other place pays bigger rates than their own place. We may also say that their expertise is not favorable in their own place. Unfortunately, they have to leave their families for awhile for a job opportunities abroad.

4.) People travel because they want to learn others cultures. They want to see the difference between their culture and other cultures. They want to learn others culture because for them traveling is fun while learning. One particular thing about the culture is the food. They want to know how food is prepared and how it is done. Obviously, we all love to eat.

5.) People travel because they are writers. They want to give the readers relevant article to their readers especially when they are making story in that particular place.

6.) People travel because they want to see all beautiful scenery of different countries. Others would want to take pictures because it serves as souvenirs.

7.) When opportunity arise, it is hard to decide whether to leave your family and open a business far away your place. Some businessmen would rather put up business in other place because they want gain and it is more profitable than staying in their place. Business is nothing without profit.

Traveling is not only for rich people. Whether you are poor or in the middle class, you can travel as long as it fits your budget. Some travel for their goals, some travel for fun and relaxation and some travel for experience.

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