HELPING YOU PLAN YOUR ESTATE
Please contact us so that we may
guide you through this complex
area of law and life.
Wills, Trusts, Probate, Trust Administration, Powers of Attorney (Health and Financial) and all areas of estate planning. See Services for other specialized services.
ACHIEVING CLIENTS’ GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
With Friendly and Compassionte Service
We concentrate on assisting our clients in defining their objectives and then accomplishing those objectives. Our goal is to enable clients to direct their assets to the people they want to receive them, with the least possible erosion or attrition due to taxes, probate administration expenses, and other costs. Clients benefit by achieving their goals and the gratification of having accomplished something worthwhile.
WILLS and PROBATE
A will, unless the decedent's assets are not substantial, must be probated. Probate is a procedure in which a Court reviews a decedent's will, assets, etc., and determines that the assets are distributed to the intended beneficiaries after payment of expenses and taxes. Probate is (1) a matter of public record (2) a lengthy proceeding, and (3) expensive.
SUMMARY ADMINISTRATION FOR SMALL ESTATES
Small estates with a gross value that does not exceed $150,000 may be transferred by an affidavit or, in the case of certain real property, by a simple Court Order procedure rather than a probate proceeding. The $150,000 limit does not count certain property such as property located outside of California, held in joint tenancy or a living trust, insurance, vehicles and motor homes, trailers and vessels and community property which would be subject to a spousal property petition. Thus, summary administration may apply to an estate with more than $150,000 of gross assets. A summary administration may be used when a decedent does not have a will. State law mandates who will receive the property if there is no will.
REVOCABLE (LIVING) TRUST
An individual or husband and wife may avoid probate for the surviving spouse and other beneficiaries by establishing a revocable trust, often-called a living trust. A trust instrument is very similar to a will, but assets that are transferred to the trust, prior to death, avoid probate. An asset is transferred to the trust by changing title to the asset to the names of the trustees of the trust. For example, a husband and wife may transfer their community property residence to their living trust by changing title to the property to themselves as Trustees of the Doe Family Revocable Trust. Assets not properly transferred to a living trust may have to be probated. Thus, funding a trust is very important to attain one's goals. Additionally, a short will -- called a pour-over will -- must be signed. A pour-over will transfers to the living trust any assets not already transferred.
On the death of a spouse, the surviving spouse or other trustee steps in and administers the decedent's portion of the trust. The assets, much like in the case of a will, are distributed to the intended beneficiaries, but without probate administration. Expenses of transferring the property and estate and inheritance taxes are paid the same as when a will is used. When a properly funded trust is used, the payment of expenses and the transfer of property can generally be done in a shorter time period than if you have to go through the Probate Court. Attorney fees may be 25% to 75% less than if a probate administration is required, depending on the complexity of the decedent's estate.
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Importantly, the administration or the transfer of the decedent's assets is accomplished in privacy without having to file documents with the Court that can be viewed by the public. Therefore, the unscrupulous are not put on notice of wealth received and neighbors will not be able to pry into the personal and financial affairs of a decedent.
The cost of a properly prepared living trust will be more than the cost of a will. The principal reason is that the additional steps of drafting documents to fund and actually funding a trust must be taken. In large estates this may be time consuming and, thus, costly. The fees vary from locality to locality and lawyer to lawyer. An attorney experienced in estate planning should be employed. The general practitioner does not have the experience needed in many cases.
POWERS OF ATTORNEY
Other documents that should be considered as part of estate planning include a durable power of attorney for health care and a durable power of attorney for asset management. A durable power of attorney for health care gives an agent the authority to make health care decisions. For example, John Doe may give his wife the authority to make health care decisions. Alternatively, if his wife is elderly or ill, he may give his children or a good friend the authority to make health care decisions. The most important decision may be whether to terminate life support. For example, Mr. Doe may decide that if two doctors diagnose that he will be in an irreversible coma, his agent has the authority to terminate life support systems which artificially prolong life.
A durable power of attorney for asset management, similar to the health care durable power, gives an individual the authority to make financial or property decisions. For example, Mr. Doe may give his child a durable power of attorney to manage assets should Mr. Doe be out of town, ill, etc.
Anatomical gifts may be made by an individual. This permits a decedent to give his or her body or various organs for medical purposes. This should be planned in advance with close relatives. The DMV has a form which may be attached to an individual's driver's license.
Estate planning includes the consideration of various issues such as who will be the executor of one's estate or trustee of one's trust, who will make important health care decisions, etc. Deciding whether to subject assets to probate administration or avoid probate administration by using a trust may be one of the most important estate planning decisions for many individuals. It may not be right for everyone, but at the very least, if you do not do a trust, everyone should have a Will.
The planning process includes meeting personally with Lynn in order for her to learn your specific needs, desires and objectives and then she can determine which type of plan will most appropriately accomplish your objectives in a cost-effective manner with the least possible taxes and expense.