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2024-07-09 07:00 by Karl Denninger
in Musings , 232 references
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We all know that people have, through history, tried to hide things for various reasons.  Some of those attempts have been lawful and some not-so-much, but abuse of a law intended to protect people's creative efforts is a tactic that appears to have not been foreseen.

Chancery Court Judge I’Ashea Myles found that The Covenant School children and parents hold the copyright to any writings or other works created by shooter Audrey Hale, a former student who was killed by police. As part of the effort to keep the records closed, Hale’s parents transferred ownership of Hale’s property to the victims’ families, who then argued in court that they should be allowed to determine who has access to them.

Without a will and no offspring Hale's parents would be the "inheritors" of the decedent's estate.  In apparent collusion with the victim's families with the intent to keep said writing from the public they transferred the rights to said estate's writings to those families.

Now here's the problem -- there's no financial interest in these works.  Copyright exists for that reason; the owner has explicit control of exploitation for other than fair use, which is a defense to infringement (in other words fair use isn't a right per-se, its a defense against being sued for money.)

Does a copyright holder (such as myself with regard to source code I write on a not-for-hire basis, as an example) need a monetary reason to refuse to give it out or let others have it?  No.  My reason for refusal is not material to whether I can refuse; I can simply want it to die with me, for example, and that's perfectly fine.

But here we have competing interests, one of which is the very compelling public interest raised by the state of mind and how it occurred in the person who is deceased and, in the process of becoming deceased, committed a heinous series of criminal acts that, if they had not died, would have been punishable.

There is an application of this in "true crime" media known as the "merger doctrine" in that news is not copyrightable because facts cannot be copyrighted.  The same applies to, for example, a baseball game score.  The score is a fact and thus cannot be copyrighted.  The play-by-play, however, can be as it is largely creative expression.

This has likely guided decisions such as the above but there's a problem there, which I suspect requires further judicial review: The fact that someone committed a heinous act (and due to events at the time is now dead) is, when they have documented the reasons for it, arguably subject to the merger doctrine.  Or is it?  That link from UC argues that it cuts the other way because of the implication of a person's right to privacy which is not explicitly in the Constitution at all but is supported by much case law.  The challenge here is whether that properly survives one's death when there is a public policy aspect to the event surrounding same.

This is complicated by the fact that Tennessee explicitly recognizes a right to publicity (that is, the control of same) in its statutes.  Does that survive such an event in the context of a heinous criminal event perpetrated by the alleged "protected party", and if it did during that person's life is it subject to transfer as part of the decedent's estate or is it extinguished at the moment of death?

It appears the court has found the former is the case as the law exists today -- but should it be the case?

Note that courts have found that a right to publicity is separate from privacy, and thus can be differentially treated.  Some states, for example, prohibit a prisoner from profiting from retelling their criminal acts by publishing a memoir as an example.  Should the legislature clarify that in fact it is not mere exploitation for profit that is forbidden in such a circumstance rather the protection itself is void at the moment a heinous act moves from contemplation to criminal liability, which occurs at the moment an act in furtherance of it takes place?

I'd argue the answer is "Yes" in circumstances such as this, in that there is a very valid public interest in analysis of such events, their precursors and thus possible policy changes to deter possible future manifestations of the same thing.  As we have repeatedly seen over the decades allowing restrictions on access to these fact-based materials (by definition what I write down is a fact as I saw it when I wrote it) prevents independent analysis and impeachment of narratives that some people would prefer to advance which may or may not be truthful.

I believe this requires examination and, where necessary, a change in the law such that this kind of collusive transfer is presumptively void as contrary to public interest and public policy, both of which argue strongly for the right of all to analyze and propose conclusions as to what led a person to commit mass-violence.

Sometimes there is no good answer and all we have is speculation but even so those who wish to look at the source information left behind by the deceased or jailed, once judgment has been passed in either case, have the winning argument.

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2024-06-16 07:05 by Karl Denninger
in Musings , 395 references
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This isn't specific to one place, but one in particular I will not name brought it out in striking relief.

There is a lot of what those of us in the professional world call "deferred maintenance" going on and its visible.

Its not supposed to be visible.

Let me give you an example:

You have an amusement ride.  It has certain safety features (say, a walkway for evacuation if the ride stops unexpectedly because something breaks in the wrong place.)  That walkway has to bear all the people on the ride, obviously, to get them safely back to the ground.  Ok, so that's inspected and all looks ok there but the cosmetics around that are neglected and look like crap even though the walkway itself was clearly recently sandblasted and painted.

How many people notice this?  Probably not a lot.  But I do, and I've seen it in a bunch of places over the last year or two -- and its getting much worse.  Graffiti is one of these, of course; the graffiti doesn't actually damage the structure on which it is applied, but it sure does look like Hell.  Refusing to police that, clean it and lock up the people who you catch doing it (along with forcing them to clean it up at their own expense) is not a safety issue but it is in fact deferred maintenance!

The general state of repair, if you will, is going in the toilet in this nation -- at quite-rapid speed.  That's sad and is entirely-avoidable, but it appears nobody thinks its worth the effort to do anything about it.  I disagree in the general sense with that belief and this has always bothered me, just like someone not bothering to clean the top of their refer off by wiping it down every now and then does.  That won't make the refer break or use more power, but if they don't wipe that down did they bother to remove the grate at the bottom and vacuum the dust off the coils?

Look carefully around you in your daily travels and I bet you see this too.  Maybe you don't have much of a memory when it comes to the last time you saw a place and thing, but I'm the opposite.  I notice these sort of changes immediately even when I've not been somewhere for a few years, and when the split is between the functional and cosmetic its easy, even if you don't have a prior memory of it.

This is not a good trend.

Oh, and Happy Father's Day.

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2024-01-07 09:15 by Karl Denninger
in Musings , 370 references
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... and it does not matter what the topic is.

I've written on this before but I believe it bears repeating: You can choose the basis of evaluation for virtually anything but if the outcome matters to you then there is only one acceptable decision, and that is engineering-based.

Engineering takes the current circumstances as the "baseline" and refuses to accept any path which cannot be proved to make it better, and further expects that if you represent it will be better and it isn't you lose all the money you made and if harm comes to others you go to prison.

No exceptions are allowed.

If the bridge has a sign on it that says "10 ton weight limit" provided your vehicle does not mass more than ten tons it must be safe to drive across said bridge no matter how many other vehicles are on the bridge.  The sign didn't say "one vehicle only", it said "10 ton weight limit."  The engineer who specified that has certified that provided the materials were not fraudulently sourced and that the bridge was assembled according to his stamped plans it is safe for you to drive over it with a vehicle that masses no more than ten tons.

Period.

We must apply this to all matters of public policy, particularly when we consider same to be more than a suggestion.  The NEC works this way; you can run 20 amps on 12 gauge non-metallic wire (e.g. type NM, usually called "Romex") in a house.  If the breaker is not larger than 20 amps the wire will not overheat and catch your house on fire provided it is actually the specified 12 gauge and made out of copper.  Every wire downstream from that breaker which connects between things must be 12 gauge for this reason; the breaker protects the wire and the engineering standard says that this combination will produce a safe -- that is, the wire will not overheat and catch your house on fire -- outcome.  (Yes, this is a bit simplified and the tables have "but for" limitations, but its generally the case.)

Note that while this table was developed using engineering any runt with a pair of lineman's pliers and some wire staples can run cable without being able to do the calculations to independently determine this.  A table is sufficient for an electrician wiring your house; he does not have to understand the math, only the rules which are clearly on the table.

Now it may be the case that in certain circumstances you may not find the performance acceptable but provided you follow that "engineering" rule in a typical residence per the table it is safe.

The standard against one judges in this paradigm is always the status quo; that is, a bridge must not fall down because while you may find it inconvenient (or even unacceptable) to not be able to cross the river without it (absent either a boat or swimming) you won't fall from height and possibly be crushed by the debris without the bridge existing, and obviously a person now under the bridge and subject to having tons of concrete and steel fall on him can't have that happen if its not there.  That is, the status quo is that you are safe from being crushed from above or dropped from height and thus that status quo must not be violated by building the bridge.  If you cannot assure that and, if it that standard is violated someone will be punished for it appropriately, including being asset-stripped, thrown in prison or even executed then you must not build the bridge.  Period.

We must apply this to the status quo when it comes to energy, medicine, appliances and everything else -- and insist that our governments do so without exception.  Further, for those who make said policy or act on it if they violate this stricture they must be held personally accountable for all of the damage that occurs without exception -- no "waivers" or "immunity" may ever be permitted in that regard.

Want a real goal for 2024 in terms of enforcing a change in our so-called "social contract"?

Now you have one.

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2023-01-29 07:00 by Karl Denninger
in Musings , 762 references
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My previous piece on this general topic was on the difference between people who take a science view of things and an engineering view of them.  I explained how an engineering view, when faced with an unexpected failure of some sort, immediately stops whatever they're doing, reverts it if something was recently changed.

A "science" view holds that statistical power is enough.

The problem is that each human is not a statistical problem; you are an engineering example.  That is, there is only one of you just like for any individual road over water there is one bridge.  One bridge failure is not tolerable because there may be cars on the bridge when it fails and the people in the cars will die.

The key to an engineering view is that engineering looks at the world as deterministic and thus statistical failures are not permitted.  That is, it looks at the world like physics does even given our imperfect understanding, and thus seeks to place outcomes well beyond confidence intervals.

Physics says that kinetic energy is always 1/2 mV^2.  Never anything else.  2H2 + O2 -> 2H2O + energy, always.  You never get gold, you always get water.  Gravity (on earth) accelerates all objects at 32 ft/sec^2, always.  It does not matter if the object masses one gram or one ton; that is the acceleration.

Here's the functional difference, and what you must understand: Everything in the universe is in fact deterministic.

But wait, you say -- medicine never seems to be.  Nor does weather.  Nor, for that matter, is so-called "climate science"; remember we were told by scientists the polar icecaps would be gone 10 years ago?  Well, they're not.  The weatherman can't even tell you with certainty whether it will rain tomorrow at 2:00 PM and he's wrong more-often than right.  The NOAA forecasters can't give you where the hurricane will hit in five days and how strong it will be either, or if a tornado will form.

Every one of these outcomes is in fact deterministic -- that is, it has exactly one outcome, just like hydrogen and oxygen always produce water and energy when combined at or above the activation level of heat.

Note that it was, for quite some time, believed that a rock and a feather were acted upon differently by gravity and this, it was believed, was part of why birds could fly.  It wasn't until we figured out how to construct a vacuum pump and remove the air from a chamber we proved otherwise.  That which looked not to be deterministic (gravity) in fact is; it didn't look that way because we did not understand enough of the full system in which it applied.

So why is it that when you are told you have cancer the doctor cannot tell you whether or not he can cure it?  At best he can give you some set of odds.  Ever notice that a medical study that claims a "p < 0.001", that is, almost-certainly the result is allegedly real, still does not claim that everyone is cured or helped?  It doesn't have to in order to get that "p" value -- it just has to have an outcome that is wildly improbable to be due to chance.

It is active fraud to use such to claim you should or must do a given thing.  To suggest a course of action is fine, but to cajole, coerce or mandate it is not.

Why?  Because you're always a trial of one.

So why is it that we can't actually tell you where the hurricane is going to hit a week out, whether the tornado will come (and where if it does), whether the medicine will cure you or whether you need your umbrella in two hours?

Simple: We do not actually understand the thing we are analyzing; at best we have only a partial understanding.  When it comes to biochemistry that understanding beyond the basics (e.g. metabolism of foods into ATP and thus your survival) is in fact quite poor in both depth and breadth.  This is also true for essentially all large-area physical systems on Earth and indeed through the universe.

An example from the planet we live on: Despite the claims that CO2 emissions are driving the warming of the earth nobody, to my knowledge, has been able to accurately provide the carbonate buffering reaction between the atmosphere and the oceans.  This is in fact critical to being able to accurately model anything related to same because there is far more carbon dioxide in the ocean in the form of carbonate than that which is in the atmosphere as a gas.  Without being able to describe this buffering reaction accurately (and several scientific groups have realized, after much experimentation that they have no accurate idea at all how to do so) you can't possibly determine how this will all balance out -- or, even more-importantly, which is the driver and which is the driven element -- or whether both in fact are in different places and times!

We lack the understanding required to be able to accurately describe it and, despite decades of trying, we are nowhere near being able to do so.

Yet in fact the outcome -- that is, the buffering reaction -- is deterministic and, if we understood what we were analyzing we could tell you 100% of the time what was going to happen.  The reason we can't is that we're ignorant of significant parts of what's being treated or predicted.

That's all it is folks.

There are myriad buffering reactions in every living thing.  We do not understand how most of them work accurately enough to describe them with a formula, function or model yet all are utterly essential to survival.  I can list a dozen off the top of my head and every single one of them is essential to the continuation of that organism's life.

The claims of anyone in these fields are not facts -- they're guesses.  Perhaps educated guesses but they are guesses and you must never confuse them with facts.

Policy, especially binding policy, is never legitimately made from a guess.  That is no different than religion; I may believe in God, but that belief is a guess.  I cannot prove it and you cannot disprove it; we both lack the ability to reach a deterministic outcome.  There is one but neither of us know what it is and by the time we know its too late to change our minds.

A climate "scientist" might tell you that we must reduce CO2 because he claims that humans emitting CO2 will cause the earth to get warmer and the sea level to rise, both of which are claimed to be bad and must be avoided.  I'll leave the "warmer" thing out for a minute and focus on the sea level aspect.  Said "scientist" in fact has made two claims, not one: First, that the sea level will rise (the bad outcome) and second that CO2 emissions by man are the cause -- that is, if we stop doing that the sea level will not rise.

This claim has multiple problems not the least of which is that he can't design an experiment to validate his hypothesis because said scientist doesn't have a spare earth laying around that is identical to this one upon which to run his experiment nor does he have the hundred years or more to prove he's right.  Therefore all he's got is back-fit mathematics which do not meet the scientific method that, I remind you, requires a hypothesis, formulation of an experiment in which only the desired variables are changed, recording and analysis of results and then publication of all of it so the results can be replicated by any interested party.

A back-fit model is never scientific; it is not, by definition, a test of a hypothesis.

Remember, the alleged "scientist" has not only claimed an outcome will occur he claims he knows why.  He has no evidence for either of these claims other than a historical back test which, anyone who's worked around any system that has a lot of unknowns (e.g. the stock market, for example) will tell you almost never validates on a forward basis.  These sorts of models don't even have the record of a coin toss; they nearly always fail to be predictive.  There are plenty of people who have blown up their trading accounts believing they have found the exception to this rule and nobody that I've ever heard of who has even a decent record of being right with what they've discovered in that regard in any system that exhibits evidence of non-deterministic, as we see it, behavior.  If such could be done the person who did it would wind up with all the money, obviously.

Let's ask what happens if he's wrong about the reason the sea level will rise?  Let's first presume that he's right in part and the sea level does rise.  He can't prove that his claim of cause is correct, however, as he cannot show determinism; he doesn't have enough facts to produce a deterministic result.  If he turns out to be wrong we take all the costs, societal, economic and otherwise, to reduce CO2 emissions and yet the people will still get screwed because the sea level rises anyway!

That is the alleged "solution" makes it worse than if you did nothing; the people still get hosed by the sea level rise but you first confiscated a large amount of their money by raising the cost of power, transportation, heating, cooling and agriculture so your "solution" screws them twice!

The engineering view of this problem, assuming the fear is that sea level will rise and destroy property and people is deemed both reasonable and worth defending against, is to build walls and otherwise insulate people and property from the sea level rise, or move the people and things out of the way so they don't get flooded out.  That, provided you do so beyond a reasonable confidence interval of said rise and are far enough on the safe side of it, will always work.  That is the engineering solution; it is deterministic in that provided you build the wall to the correct height with the specified materials of a given strength and/or move the stuff the bad result will not occur.

Why the sea rises from the engineering perspective is irrelevant.

When the pandemic hit in the first couple of months it was clear that young, healthy people were at statistically no risk (materially less than the flu) yet older, more-morbid people were at serious risk I put forward an engineering-style solution, albeit an imperfect one as we had wildly insufficient knowledge to get a decent confidence interval, which was ignored.  That is, the sanitarium model which was used for tuberculosis.  That absolutely would have worked far better than what we did because it did not rely on anything that we did not know was correct; there was no element of guesswork in the solution.  The only people allowed in and out of facilities housing said high-risk people would be those who had seroconverted and thus were known unable to acquire or transmit the infection.  We had no choice but to accept the "who's living there and has tested negative now is ok" but that risk only had to be accepted once for a given facility at the very outset when few people were infected at-large.  This meant putting up housing (e.g. rented RVs) at said facilities on site for workers who hadn't seroconverted and paying them whatever was required to work and stay there with food and other essentials brought in and sanitized.  If they rotated out for any reason they could not come back in until and unless they had seroconverted.  As the young, healthy people in the general population got the virus, shook it off and did seroconvert they could be hired to work safely and not have to stay on-site.  Within a couple months with no attempt to contain spread among the low-risk side of the population there would have been tens of millions of available seroconverted workers and those who found the premise of on-site lodging onerous could have been replaced.  There were no unknowns that could result in ineffectiveness; while we might have had some failures here and there due to human mistake (people are not perfect) beyond that it would have with near-certainty prevented the infection from getting into those facilities and very few high-risk people would have died.  Instead we did the exact opposite in several states and shoved infected people into those buildings, attempting to rely on masks and testing to prevent transmission. The masks and testing regimes repeatedly failed as they were based on statistical reductions which we had every reason to believe was irrelevant (once you cross the threshold of enough virus to become infected how much more gets into you doesn't materially matter with a virus since viruses replicate exponentially) and many died because the fools implemented a scientific method focused on probability and statistical reduction in emitted particles rather than an engineering approach that relied on deterministic process designed to be well beyond reasonable confidence intervals.

Engineering is always deterministic because it has to be as a discipline; if its not people die and the engineers who did not employ deterministic methods are held responsible for the failure.  Scientific methods only are deterministic and thus interchangeable on a functional basis when all the variables are known and correct.  The practitioners of scientific methods are almost-never held responsible when they're wrong; when was the last time a hurricane forecaster was charged with manslaughter when he incorrectly predicted where the storm was going or failed to predict the intensification of the Cat 2 storm to a Cat 3 or 4?  The engineering answer is always superior since it does not rely on that which is not known to be correct -- or even known at allIf I do not know, for example, what the physical load a bridge pier that is driven to 80' can take without displacement under a specific set of conditions then I have to measure that before I can accept 80' as a suitable depth.

The scientific answer often kills people when all the inputs and variables are either not known or incorrect because it is a guess and guesses are frequently wrong.  The more unknown variables the worse the guess will be.

Facts are absolutes.  Physics is a set of facts.  Chemistry is a subset of physics, when you get down to it; it describes the physical interaction of atoms and molecules, which are comprised of protons, neutrons and electrons (and then subatomic particles beyond that.)

If and when we ever manage to understand biological systems sufficiently we will reach the point of determinism in medicine.  We will not say "you have a chance of beating this condition"; we will know what the outcome will be and whether the condition can be resolved or not -- and if so what you must consume or do to resolve it.

The same is true for "climate"; what is currently proclaimed may be a scientific process but it is not engineering and must never be used to drive policy because we simply do not understand what we're studying well enough to make accurate predictions nor establish causation.  The predictions that have been made have almost-all been proved wrong and as such they don't even qualify as educated guesses.  To make policy decisions on that basis is to make the wrong decision in virtually every instance, that is to screw people in some form or fashion who then have the bad thing happen anyway.

Some day we will reach an engineering level of understanding when it comes to medicine, climate, and many other things -- just as we have with chemistry and, at least at the atomic level, physics.

That day is not today, whether we are talking about climate, weather or all manner of biological things around us - including medicine.

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2019-04-02 07:00 by Karl Denninger
in Musings , 1461 references
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Grrrr....

Hindman:   Americans know they need to plan for their later years and get their affairs in order, especially as retirement approaches. But while people recognize that need, too many aren’t following through and taking action.

When someone passes without a will, it means they have died “intestate” – meaning the intestacy laws of the state where they reside will determine how the property is distributed upon your death. But without clear direction on how you would like critical items like financial assets, property, personal possessions and items of emotional value distributed among loved ones, confusion and disarray are a common end result. Not only does the lack of a will create turmoil and headaches – both financial and emotional – for family members; it heightens the risk that your end-of-life preferences won’t be carried out in accordance with your wishes. On the other hand, a well-prepared legacy can give you the simple and satisfying peace of mind of knowing that you’ve done what you can to organize your life, shape your legacy and leave your family with a roadmap of your preferences. It can be one of the greatest final gifts we leave to those we love.

Yes, you should have your affairs in order.

But I really dislike self-interested jackasses peddling crap -- and this falls into that category.

First, there are plenty of people who need no Will at all.  If you have little or nothing in terms of assets, or intend to die broke and have no minor children then a Will is not only a waste of time it is functionally worthless.  In fact in that situation whoever you name as Executor (Personal Representative in some states) would be five-alarm stupid to accept the job and file the Will with the courts because there's nothing to get but once you file there are both costs and responsibilities.  In other words if you know you will either die broke or in the hole and have no minor children then save the money.

You should still have a durable power of attorney and advance directive; those are to some extent state-specific depending on where you live, in an attempt to have what you want to happen actually happen when it comes to you being flat on your back and unable to make decisions.  Make damn sure said advance directive is on file with all the hospitals and other places you might be taken if you collapse without warning; until said place has it and knows they have it they'll do whatever the hell they want and maybe, but not necessarily, whatever someone who identifies as one of your next-of-kin wants.  If this isn't what you want it's bad news and the cost of that, if any, will wind up billed to your estate which your estate will be obligated to pay.  So if you do only one thing make it that advance directive and put it on file at all the local hospitals.

Warning: Some people will tell you to put someone else on your accounts.  If you are offered this, to be a "second signer" or "co-owner" do not accept unless you are that person's spouse, in which case it is (of course) perfectly ok.  The reason to refuse is that if they do something stupid you are fully responsible legally and financially, and this can ruin you instantly.  Consider someone who has brokerage account and is short at the margin limit of a company that gets taken out and the stock doubles.  They will come after your house!  Don't do it.

power of attorney gives you the ability to take care of business while the other person is alive without that risk and is the correct instrument; there are several forms of that from very limited ones for a specific asset or account and specific directives all the way to a general durable power of attorney that is extremely broad and essentially gives the person who holds it the same rights as the principal.  Just be aware it turns into a pumpkin instantly upon the principal's death and if you are holding one it is a civil and in some cases criminal offense to self-deal or otherwise screw the principal who gave it to you.

If you have or expect to have assets, or in the instance where you have minor children then a Will is appropriate.  Just understand its limitations and do it the right way to minimize them.

Specifically, get anything worthwhile out of the Will and thus out of probate.  This will make your heirs happier as it's faster, cheaper and has a near-perfect capability to have happen exactly what you wish so long as that's legal.

The first thing to consider is that for anything that doesn't trigger gift tax issues (e.g. things worth under $14,000 in total to a single person, but perhaps of immense sentimental value) give it to the people who you want to have it while you're still alive -- but before you're on your deathbed.  This is very unlikely to be challenged and if it is the person challenging it will be forced to spend money on a legal case with no monetary reward.

When you die with or without a Will but with some assets subject to probate then "someone" has to file with the probate court.  If you do not have a Will then whatever is subject to probate is distributed based on state law; there's a table they go down (e.g. "spouse first, then any direct descendant children, then ..... and on and on until the category fills.)  A Will overrides this to any extent you wish and nominates one or more people (in a chain, if the first refuses or is dead, etc) to be the Personal Representative (or "Executor" in some states; same thing, different names depending on the state.)

However, as soon as that Will is filed with someone named as Personal Representative (assuming the designation of either as valid is not contested, and it can be if someone wants to), or Probate is open "intestate" (with no Will) the fees start.  Filing and publication fees are typically in the many hundred dollar range right up front.  Unless that person both lives locally and can and will keep their act together sufficiently to deal with the court on a routine basis then there will also be legal fees involved.  Most people will either want or need at least legal consultation in doing this job; if you have a law office do it "end to end" for you (which is also an option) the cost is going to double or more.  The cost of this process in dollar terms is almost-always well north of a thousand dollars simply in court fees alone by the time it's all said and done; with lawyers involved it only takes one that's a bit of a snake to run the bill through the roof since all time is billed hourly.  Choose wisely and ask lots of questions!

Further, and much worse in many cases than the money hit is the fact that once Probate is opened there are statutory time windows that amount to a virtual standstill in terms of anything being paid out or distributed and similar.  The reason for this is that all states have a "Bar Date" for claims; 3 or 4 months is common and the clock does not start running until Probate is filed and published.  A company or person with a financial claim on the estate has that long to file their claim; if the Personal Representative pays out anything beyond funeral and ordinary maintenance costs (e.g. utility bills on a house, etc) and there are insufficient funds to cover claims he or she can be held personally responsible for those debts!  Therefore the usual (and good) advice is distribute nothing until the bar date passes so you know exactly how much is left.  If the Personal Representative is comfortable enough with the decedent's debt profile (usually only true if you were running that person's money for a couple of years prior to their death) then some distribution can be made sooner, especially of things that have little financial but lots of sentimental value (various bits and pieces of personal property, etc.)  One thing to be very conscious of is anything on a lease; this most-often comes up with cars but it can be anything (e.g. an apartment!)  Death does not void a lease in nearly all cases and the firm or person the decedent took it from can and usually will try to collect the entire remaining balance of payments.  That can be a literal crap-ton of money and is quite capable of turning a modest estate into a smoking hole with negative value.

Next up is that most states assess an inventory fee on estates -- which amounts to a tax.  That's usually assessed on the net value of assets on the day of death. Some assess straight-up taxes as well.  There is also a potential federal estate tax issue but that doesn't hit most people as the limit is quite high ($11.4 million at present); if you're in that bracket then you're a 5-alarm idiot if you don't already have professional legal advice to deal with it in advance with some sort of bypass trust.  There are ways to defray that tax and in some cases completely avoid it but that has to be done well in advance, so if you're that wealthy head thee to a good estate planning attorney pronto.

Note that if you do not file probate on an estate then there is still a statute of limitations on debts -- typically two years, but in some states it can be materially longer.  In other words if there are debts then it's to advantage to bar any who don't pay attention by filing Probate -- but only if there are assets to pay the debts with and, when that's done, something will be left!  Otherwise the correct action is to walk away and let the creditors pound sand; that you're named in a Will does not mean you're obligated until and unless you accept the appointment.  Figure out if it's worth it (there will be something left, in your best estimation, and whatever you'll receive is enough to be worth your trouble) before you file!

IMHO, assuming no minor children, your goal while alive should be to make it not worth it to Probate the Estate even if there are assets and by doing so deny both the lawyers and the courts their fees.

Many times this can be done.

First, financial accounts of various sorts can for zero cost have what is known as "POD" put on them.  That's payable on death and it's exactly what the name implies.  You designate who gets what percentage and it's a simple form you fill out at the bank or brokerage.  If you die your heirs need only present a death certificate, which they can usually obtain within a week or your passing, and the money is theirs -- period.  A cashier's check is cut and that's the end of it.  Likewise life insurance policies should always name specific beneficiaries and not your Estate.  If you have modest debts -- such as a credit card for ordinary monthly expenses -- and someone you trust to pay it when you die then POD them an account specifically for that purpose with just enough in it for that to happen.  They pay the debts after you pass with that money and that's the end of it.

Second, if you have Real Estate and it's owned and has a positive equity then the superior means of dealing with it is usually a Revocable Living Trust.  It costs money to set one up if you use a lawyer (typically a couple of thousand) and it's state specific as is a Will but only at initiation.  Once established it remains valid even if you move to a new state.  The only thing to be careful of is the potential for state tax considerations in states that have a death or income tax.  If you live in such a state and intend to move to a state where such is not the case move first, then set it up in the new state.  If you already have a trust in a hostile tax environment state then revoke it, transfer the assets out once you move and set up a new trust in the "friendly" state, transferring them into the new one.  A trust, once set up, must be funded by having the assets transferred into it.  In other words for a house you re-title the house into the Trust.  There are people who claim that a trust "hides" ownership -- this is not really true unless you name someone else as Trustee to manage it, which is very dangerous and for most people should be done, because title has to vest in a person; thus it's something like "Karl Denninger as Trustee for blah-blah Trust of date-set-up."  But, since the Trust document itself is private who's named as a beneficiary is not disclosed and the Trust is not filed with a court after you die.  In the trust documents you name a successor trustee who is the person (or chain of persons) who obtains control of the trust after you die.  You can designate pretty much anything that's legal which you want done in a Trust.  Revocable living trusts can be modified at-will including assets being moved into and out of them during your life, you can change beneficiaries, etc.  Note that a revocable living trust does not provide any sort of tax protection since you maintain control over the assets until your death, at which point it becomes irrevocable and cannot be changed.

Trusts can also have financial accounts re-titled into them and that's frequently done if, for example, you have minor children and a fair bit of money -- or adult children you don't want to have get all the cash at once.  Thus the term "Trust Fund Babies"; if there's plenty of money you may be perfectly ok with having a law firm named as the successor trustee to carry it out when you get hit by a bus since you don't care about the fees and costs.  For most people designating the chain of heirs is sufficient, but once you get into high net worth situations you may make a different choice.

Note that in most cases you do not want to title vehicles into a trust; the reason is that in many states it is difficult to obtain insurance on them.  They're one of the few things you should basically never put in a revocable trust, unless it's something like a classic car collection.

Along with the Trust you usually want what is called a "pour over" Will, which simply states that anything not in the trust and otherwise undisposed goes into the Trust on your death.  Note that the Will still has to be probated; if it's a "small estate" this is cheap and fast but the entire point of using the Trust and POD in the first place is to avoid the cost and hassle of formal probate -- if you don't re-title things properly you spent the time and trouble (never mind money if a lawyer was involved) to set the trust up fro nothing since the pour-over Will still have to be probated!

The key difference with a Trust is that just like a POD on a financial account it doesn't go through probate; the court never gets their hands on it and thus there are no delays or fees assessed by same.  This means the heirs get possession and control literally as soon as you diewhich makes things a lot simpler.  In addition nobody has access to your list of who gets what other than the trustee; unlike a Will which is filed with the court and becomes public a Trust does not.

Consider that if you have all your assets covered by a Will -- a house, a bank account, maybe a brokerage account -- and you die, until someone files that Will and is named Personal Representative how does the power bill get paid at the house?  Your bank account is locked on the day of your death and a power of attorney to access that account becomes worthless.  Someone is going to have to fork up their money to take care of that until the Will can be put into probate and Estate accounts set up and financial accounts transferred or liquidated, all of which costs time and money.  In addition there's a very clean argument that nobody has the right of possession (e.g. to live there!) in said house at the moment of your death until Probate is established and on the day the Probate Court appoints the Personal Representative that person immediately has a fiduciary duty to preserve the value of same for the benefit of all the heirs.  This can easily conflict with reality; let's say you have someone living in the house who is a partial heir but is a drug user and might trash the place or interfere with the sale required since no heir has the means or desire to buy out the others; the PR can, if the house isn't to pass solely to said person, have a legal duty to forcibly evict them no matter who it is and no matter what else is in the Will as their duty is to protect the Estate assets for the benefit of all the heirs (not just the person living there) and that duty is not to the dead person it's to the court!

If the bank account is POD'd to your heirs in some percentage distribution and the house is in a Trust that specifies that "X" has a right of possession then you immediately (within a couple of days) have the funds to pay the power bill and whoever is so-designated has the rights set forth in the Trust document no matter whether it's to the benefit of the asset -- or the rest of the estate -- or not.  In other words your desires before your death are continued exactly after your death and as long as whatever you put in that document is legal it's enforceable.  Even better is that whatever people have the right to possession of the property need do nothing to enjoy it, and the title remains undisturbed since the Trust still owns it.

Now the successor trustee, once you die in the case of a Revocable Living Trust, still has to dispose of the property as the Trust directs.  But re-titling the house out of the Trust into someone's hands (if it's a 100% gift) or selling it and splitting the proceeds is no different than any other Real Estate transaction, as opposed to filing a Will, having the PR appointed, getting letters of authority and similar, along with all the delays and costs involved.

Finally none of this changes tax and debt obligations; you cannot evade either.  If you try creditors (or the IRS) can (and if its worth it for them will) sue to claw back whatever you try to distribute outside of the process.  If you have $10 large in a bank account and owe $25 large on a credit card, thinking you can POD the bank account to your daughter as a way to screw the credit card company out of the $25,000 that's likely to fail and get her sued a few months after you pass, quite possibly after she's already spent the money!  Don't do that.

Finally there are "small estate" rules for people who die with little in the way of assets but the limits vary from state to state and in some states are laughably low, to the point that someone with nothing more than a modest car exceeds them.

As you can see this can be a lot more complex than it first appears, even if you aren't particularly wealthy.  The only place it doesn't matter at all is if you either are or intend to die broke (or even better, deeply in the hole) -- in that case then fuck 'em and do nothing with regard to finances (e.g. POD, will or trust), on purpose, but make damn sure nobody else has joint responsibility for anything so the people who you owe can't come after someone else when you die.

In short get competent advice -- there are plenty of people out there who are outright snakes and whoever is managing things for you when you pass is going to get to meet a bunch of them.

I just recently wound up my later mother's estate; I'm not a lawyer nor did I set up her affairs originally, but I did hold powers of attorney for both financial matters and health care and was her Personal Representative, and have seen the flat-out ugly bullcrap that everyone in the world tries to pull.  I got dozens of spammy and in some cases scammy letters from various entities and people, along with more than a few phone calls.  It's a five alarm pain in the ass and a good thing that I'm pretty-much a pissed-off alligator when someone steps on my tail and am more than willing to chase-and-bite -- hard.  Most people would have been buttfucked by some of the crap that was pulled -- as it stands everyone who was legitimately owed money (not many) got paid and there was something left, with none of the schemers and scammers getting anything.  That's the way it should be but it was overly complex -- when my time comes it won't be.

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