Our next-door neighbor was an older single man with no family, and my wife and I always tried to look out for him and help with things. He died recently, and in his will, he left us his home, his car and the money he had in his bank account. The will was handwritten, and it said the house was worth around $350,000, with $150,000 left on the mortgage. The car is worth about $10,000. Officials at our county office building said the money in the bank account wouldn’t have to go into probate since I was listed as the beneficiary, and I was given a check for that amount. We’ve just never handled anything like this before, and my wife and I were hoping you would help us navigate things.
There are a couple hundred thousand dollars in equity involved here. The fact that the will is handwritten doesn’t necessarily invalidate it, but it does increase the possibility of encountering some bumps down the road.
I’m not a lawyer, so the first thing I’d do is talk to a couple of probate attorneys in your county. Find out what they’d charge to handle things. I wouldn’t spend thousands of dollars to get this done, but I would pay $500, maybe $1,000, to let someone who knows what they’re doing handle things. If your county affairs people are right and everything’s easy and straightforward, it’s not a lot of legal work for an attorney.
On top of that, if the attorney you work with knows folks at the courthouse and is familiar with how things work there, then it’s kind of like traffic court, you know? It’s almost automatic. I mean, we’re only talking about three assets here—a bank account that’s already been handed off, a car and a house that’s mortgaged. For me, it’d be worth a little money to have someone on my side who knows the path through the woods.
I’m sorry to hear your friend and neighbor passed on, Steven. But I hope I’ve been able to help.
* Dave Ramsey is an eight-time national bestselling author, personal finance expert and host of “The Ramsey Show,” heard by more than 18 million listeners each week. He has appeared on “Good Morning America,” “CBS This Morning,” “Today,” Fox News, CNN, Fox Business and many more. Since 1992, Dave has helped people take control of their money, build wealth and enhance their lives. He also serves as CEO for Ramsey Solutions.