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Protect Your Loved Ones With Effective California Estate Planning

My mother was 33 years old when she died in a plane crash. Her sudden and untimely death was one of the most emotional, overwhelming and challenging experiences of my life. I learned a difficult lesson that day: life isn’t promised to any of us.

This unique relationship with the brevity of life allows me to connect on a more personal level with my clients at The Law Offices of Diane Anderson. People work their whole lives to amass an estate filled with money and things, yet they can’t predict when they’ll die. Many would live their lives much differently if they knew the date, time and cause of their deaths. However, they don’t know this; that’s why preparing for the inevitable is so important. Everyone, no matter how young or old they are, should at least have a will. Then, if you pass unexpectedly, you can ensure your loved ones will receive the care and support they need – whether that is through establishing a guardianship, ensuring your beneficiaries get the appropriate assets, or figuring out how your debts will factor into your estate plan.

Why Is Having An Estate Plan So Important?

The ultimate goal of a good estate plan is to protect all your assets and ensure they get distributed the way you want them to.

What Goals Should Your Estate Plan Accomplish?

The main goal is to ensure you can support the people or charities you want after you die. To make an effective estate plan, you may need to ask a few questions, such as: “Do I want to leave a legacy?” and “What will my legacy be?”

Once you’ve answered those questions, you have to decide if you want your estate distributed or if you want to establish an ongoing trust. Some people set up a trust so the beneficiary gets the money on a specific date, or until the children are in college. There are many ways to set up a trust. Ultimately, the goal of your estate plan is whatever you want it to be and to make sure you can distribute your assets to the beneficiaries you choose.

When Should You Create An Estate Plan?

Typically, the best time to start is when you accumulate any assets – even if you’re young. The great thing about a living trust is that it can be amended throughout your life right up until you die. That way, it grows with you. As you gain new assets, you can put them in your trust.

I say the earlier you create an estate plan, the better. Many older clients come in to discuss their needs after a friend, relative or spouse dies because they suddenly realize they need to get their affairs in order.

It’s never too late, and it’s never too early as long as you have assets of some kind. If you’re a high school or even a college student, you may not have much, but if you have anything of value and want it to go somewhere, go ahead and write it down.

The state of California recognizes “holographic” or handwritten wills. The will must be in your handwriting; you have to state that it is your intention for this to be a will, and the writing must be dated and signed by you. That’s it. You cannot type it, and it cannot be computer generated because it gives the impression that you might be under undue influence. Contrary to what many people think, you don’t need witnesses on a holographic will because that can look like undue influence. You need to write it out by hand, stating that this is your last will and testament, and make sure that it is dated and signed by you.

What Is Involved In The Estate Planning Process?

There are four primary legal documents involved in estate planning:

  • The trust
  • The will
  • The advance health care directive
  • The financial power of attorney

With a trust, I will first ask a client who they want to be the successor trustee. This would usually be the same person as the executor of the will, the agent of the advance health care directive, and a power of attorney. When you are making an estate plan, the client and the attorney are the necessary parties. For a trust to survive, you must have a trustee and a beneficiary. The trustee is whoever they want to take over after they’re gone, and the beneficiary is whoever they want to give everything to. If something happens to the trustee, the beneficiaries can usually vote for a new trustee.

How Often Do You Need To Review Or Update Your Estate Plan?

Some attorneys say you should review it yearly, but I think that’s too much. I tell my clients they should have their trust plan reviewed or updated whenever a significant life event happens. For example, if something happens in your relationship with the trustee that you’ve named and you don’t want them to be the trustee anymore; if you decide that one of your children should not receive anything; or if you decide you don’t want a particular person to get something you were previously going to give them. You would need an amendment to your estate plan in all those situations.

What Do You Need To Create An Effective Estate Plan?

The key ingredient is ensuring you put your assets in the trust. Many people will go to an attorney and set up the paperwork for a trust, but if they neglect to put their assets in the trust, it isn’t really alive – it’s just a useless piece of paper. Sometimes attorneys leave that up to the client, and nobody realizes the trust is unfunded until the person dies. I’ve handled a probate case for a woman who thought she had a trust set up, but she did it online rather than through an attorney and didn’t do it correctly – she didn’t sign parts of it. Now, the estate must go through probate.

What Is A Will?

A will is a document that distributes whatever assets you have when you die.

Do You Need A Will As Part Of Your Estate Plan?

When a will is filed in court, it becomes public knowledge, meaning that your assets and intentions also become public knowledge. To avoid this situation, you can use a pour-over will to give all your assets to your living trust. If you use a pour-over will, you’ve complied with the law but haven’t publicized any of your assets or intentions.

Do You Still Need To Plan For Your Death?

It’s not that you’re planning for your death because no one can plan for that. What you are really doing is planning to distribute whatever assets you have when you pass. Sadly, even if you think you don’t have anything, your heirs could fight over the silliest little things. As long as you have at least a will, it solves all those disputes because your wishes are in writing.

Is A Will On Its Own Enough?

A will can allow you to direct the distribution of your assets. However, it can become expensive if it has to go through probate. Sometimes the whole point of an estate plan is to avoid probate because it can be costly. Every attorney in California makes the same amount when a will goes to probate – it’s a statutory fee of 4% for the first $100,000, 3% for the next $100,000, 2% for the next $100,000, and so on up to $1 million. You’re looking at between $9,000 and $13,000 in attorney’s fees on a primary estate of between $300,000 and $500,000. With a trust, you could avoid all that.

You don’t have to go to probate if you have an estate worth less than $184,500. Your heirs would need a small estate affidavit, would need to prove that they are the heirs and would have to wait 40 days for distribution, but they don’t have to go to court.

Choose A Knowledgeable Jackson, California, Estate Planning Attorney

Whether you have a will or a trust or nothing at all, at my firm, The Law Offices of Diane Anderson, I can help you navigate probate, trust creation, and trust termination. This may include assets, debt, tax debt, guardianships and more.

Education is necessary to move through estate planning, will and trust processes. By arming yourself with knowledge, you can obtain the best outcome possible.

Call me now at 209-717-6150 to protect your family, or complete my online contact form.