By Jennifer Cathcart, Senior Probate Paralegal
I can remember my mother always telling me that I should become an attorney and study law, but I was not really sure what I wanted to do when I “grew up”. While attending college at Florida Atlantic University to complete my bachelor's degree in graphic design, I met my husband, Mel, and decided to start a family. My career path changed, and I became a part-time massage therapist to be at home more for our sons, Colin and Tristen.
After our sons got older, I was able to return to school and decided to pursue nursing. I took all the necessary pre-requisite courses needed to get into the program and was placed on the waitlist for nursing school. As life would have it, just when you think you have a plan in place for yourself, life had other ideas. While waiting to get into nursing school, I finally took my mother's advice to explore law.
I decided to enroll in the ABA-approved paralegal program at College of the Canyons and see if mom was right.
Then what happened for me is what I can only describe as what is known as “synchronicity”.
syn·chro·nic·i·ty (noun) - the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.
While attending the paralegal program, I met my friend and mentor, Lori Young, who was a probate paralegal for Thompson | Von Tungeln (TVT). At the time, the firm was looking for an intern for the probate department and Lori asked if I was interested.
In October 2016, I joined TVT as an intern and by December, they decided to offer me a full-time job. I currently oversee the Probate Department at the firm, handling all related cases to probate matters. Additionally, I assist with Conservatorships, which appoints a responsible person to care for a special needs individual or a person that would require continuous care.
My Role in Helping Our Clients
Not having a background in estate planning prior to working for TVT, I have to say that the whole experience has been eye-opening on things that we simply aren't educated or taught. The probate process puts our clients and their families through an expensive, time-consuming, painful process, all while still grieving the loss of their loved ones.
It is often heartbreaking to see families go through this process. Many are forced to liquidate assets (like selling the family home) and review and sort mounds of the decedent's paperwork, while also going through photographs, personal property, and memories of their loved one.
My role is to help our clients through the probate process and answer any questions or concerns they may have, while also alleviating some of the stress and pressure they may feel throughout this time. For many of our clients going through probate, they just need someone that will listen and understand what they're going through.
How Can I REALLY Help Others?
While I realize that I am helping individuals that go through the probate and conservatorship process, I know the answer to really helping others is to continue to spread the awareness that both probate and conservatorships can be avoided with the proper planning in place.
The best way to deal with the Probate Court is to ensure that you and your loved ones never have to deal with the Probate Court.
I tell people at our Living Trust Seminars (half-jokingly, but in all seriousness), “I am the person you don't wanna see!”
Most people think a Will is enough to avoid Probate Court, but a Will only addresses how your estate will be distributed after you pass away. For a Conservatorship, an estate plan will address how to manage your affairs and health care while you're living. This is where it is important to get the correct legal advice from an estate planning specialist and getting a properly drafted (and maintained) Living Trust, that will not only avoid Probate Court, but can also help ensure proper distribution, management, and preservation of your estate.
Still Aren't Sure?
If I still have not convinced you of the importance of getting a Living Trust plan done with an experienced estate planning attorney, let me tell you about this one interesting probate case I worked on.
This was a situation where the decedent had his estate plan prepared by one of those online estate planning websites. One big step in ensuring that your Living Trust avoids Probate is properly retitling your assets into the name of the trust (also known as funding the trust). Well, this online estate planning company only titled 1/5 of the decedent's home into his Living Trust. Due to this error, along with the fact that the Living Trust was so poorly drafted, the decedent's estate went through not one, not two, but three separate probate matters in order to transfer the property to the decedent's beneficiary. What a nightmare!
Importance of Family and Properly Protecting Them
In my free time I spend as much time with my family as possible, which can be difficult with my eldest currently working as an EMT and training to be a firefighter, and my youngest playing football as a senior in high school. We love to travel together as a family, whether it is camping for a weekend with our teardrop trailer or visiting my in-laws in Ireland. We are also a dedicated football family, never missing a Friday night game to watch my son play or the NFL football season on Sundays. I even got to see Tom Brady and Tampa Bay play at SoFi Stadium when playing against the Rams last season!
As I consider my own family, I can say my experience of helping our clients and their families through the probate process, has made me reflect on the importance of family and properly making sure that things are in order. If something were to happen to me and my husband, I would hate to think of my sons having to go through the stressful process of probate, all while dealing with the loss of their parents.
We do so much to love and care for our loved ones - - and I would certainly add estate planning to the list of the musts for properly caring for your family!