by TC Lane, USTA Chief Operating Officer
Get your affairs in order now to avoid headaches later
As they say, life comes at you fast. And it can change in an instant. Everything you may have built or a certain person that you hold dear can be taken from you in the blink of an eye. Or, just as easily, you can be taken from them. For absolutely no reason at all, it just happens, but how you and your loved ones handle such a situation is something that we all can plan for in advance.
Almost every week, our office speaks with members or their grieving family members who unfortunately are dealing with the passing of a loved one, navigating through the mess of ownership and state licenses, and guiding them through “what they need to do now” in order to keep their horses racing—all while going through such a sad time for their families. It’s simply heartbreaking.
What I hadn’t experienced yet, in my many years at the USTA, is what it would feel like on the other end of the line—as the one dealing with the same issue. The table had turned. On Aug. 7, I lost my father unexpectedly. The fog that set in during that time was indescribable if you haven’t experienced a loss like this before. I went from being in total control of everything around me to being at a complete loss and dazed beyond measure with very little ability to regain control. It would have been so nice to simply go on autopilot and have a usable document or script to work from rather than having to piece the puzzle together tile by tile.
While we did have copies of the will, as well as a few of the other estate-planning documents for real estate and the like, I didn’t have much more, such as life insurance policy information, automobile titles, and so forth. I can’t tell you how many times over the next few weeks that I went from utter sadness to being simply furious at both my dad and myself for not having more discussions about this type of thing. Throughout the many years, we spent countless hours upon hours discussing trivial and lighthearted things. But stuff like death and taxes we would often set aside for a later day. It’s probably the same for you with your loved ones, as death isn’t something that brings much happiness or laughter to the table.
I have learned that estate planning is an activity that many families don’t talk about or often use, despite its many benefits. According to a 2022 Caring.com survey, roughly two-thirds of all Americans don’t have a will. I am confident that if you poll our 20,000 members, that percentage is, at minimum, the same. That shouldn’t happen.
Let’s be honest. We all know the age of many participants within our industry is on the “wiser side” of the spectrum, so the need to plan for such is much greater for our members. Regardless of your age, estate planning is probably the last thing on your mind because in the racing business, we often don’t look too far past a condition sheet or the stakes schedule for the current season. That said, it’s never too early to start getting your affairs in order.
Estate planning, at its core, is simple. It means taking charge of what happens to anything you own and looking out for the people you care about. Preparing means that you will need to know your state’s probate laws. Start your discussions early. Anyone with assets and/or children should consider estate planning to avoid confusion in the event of sudden death.
In such an event, the USTA does have a process for you to follow. When an owner dies, their horse(s) will either transfer through probate (via a will or intestate succession) or outside of probate (via a trust or equivalent). Just as with any ownership transfer, the registration certificate must be returned (unless they are held electronically at the USTA).
The USTA requires the following when the horse is part of a probated estate:
- a copy of the death certificate,
- a copy of the letter of authority or equivalent probate court entry that names and appoints the executor or administrator of the probated estate, and
- an affidavit from the executor or administrator indicating one of the following:
- the horse was sold to the new owner pursuant to the administrator’s authority,
- the horse was transferred to the new owner by the administrator pursuant to the terms of the will attached to the affidavit,
- the horse was transferred to the new owner by the administrator pursuant to the terms of the applicable statute identifying the next of kin in the absence of a will, a copy of which statute is attached to the affidavit, and
- an affidavit from the lawyer for the estate that, based upon the facts as set forth in the administrator’s affidavit, the new owner has obtained lawful title to the horse under the applicable laws of that state.
The USTA requires the following when the horse is transferred upon death (TUD) or transferred on death (TOD) of the owner outside of a probated estate:
- a copy of the death certificate,
- a copy of the trust instrument (or equivalent non-probate transfer instrument) pursuant to which the horse is to be transferred, and
- an affidavit from the trustee of the trust indicating one of the following:
- the horse was sold to the new owner pursuant to the trustee’s authority as stated in the trust instrument,
- the horse was transferred to the new owner by the trustee pursuant to the terms of the trust instrument, and
- an affidavit from the lawyer for the estate that, based upon the facts as set forth in the trustee’s affidavit, the new owner has obtained lawful title to the horse under the applicable laws of that state.
This time of year, as many of us fill up our barns with next year’s hopefuls, please don’t forget about this important matter. Your loved ones will appreciate your planning and your foresight.
As a family, my wife and I have updated our plan, and we feel much better for doing so. Meet with your legal professional and do the same. Communicate with your loved ones about what “will need to happen.” Please, have a plan! Those that you leave behind will appreciate it, I promise you. In any event, we at the USTA stand ready to assist you at any step of the mile, as always.
The views contained in this column are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the USTA. To comment on this column, email us at email@example.com.