Estate planning is a process by which you can protect your spouse and children from stress, unpleasantness and expense in the event of your incapacity or death, ensure that your cherished assets are distributed in accordance with your wishes and values, and provide for your children through selection of loving guardians who would raise them just as you would.
Many families find that the process of estate planning has immediate benefits such as peace of mind and brings clarity and consensus among family members as to what would happen in the event that you can no longer make decisions or provide for your family.
There are many myths and mysteries about estate planning that prevent people from properly preparing for their incapacity or death.
Myth #1. Only "rich people" need estate plans.
Many people wrongfully believe that they don't have "enough" assets to merit putting an estate plan into place. However, without even a simple will, California's laws will determine who will receive your assets after death. Most of us know that California is a community property state, but are unaware that if you die without an estate plan, half of your separate property must be put into a separate court-supervised trust for each of your minor children, thereby restricting your spouse's ability to use the money. In addition, 100% of trust assets will be distributed when your child is 18, regardless of maturity level or financial savvy. Moreoever, without an estate plan in place, it is quite possible that after your death your estate will need to go through a process of court administration (known as probate). At the end of probate, the assets that would otherwise have passed on to your loved ones will be reduced by attorneys fees and court fees, the amount of which is fixed by California law. Finally, the probate process usually entails delays averaging 16 months, during which time your loved ones will not have full access to your assets, adding frustration to the emotions they are already coping with. Everything you have worked for to provide for your family can be jeopardized by failing to set up even a simple estate plan.
Myth #2. If you are incapacitated or pass away, your minor children will be raised by the person you believe is best fit, even if you don't provide for this in writing.
If your child's other parent does not survive you, is not capable of raising your children or is not a parent entitled to physical custody (as after some divorces), the State of California will choose your child's guardian. If your family or friends disagree about who should raise your children, the court will have to step in, resulting in high legal costs and possible family rifts that often never heal. Your children may even be placed in foster care until the dispute is resolved in favor of a court-appointed guardian. Establishing a simple estate plan will allow you to determine who will care for your children after death, where they will live, how much money may be spent on them on an annual basis, and when they will received their inheritance.
Myth #3. Estate planning is expensive.
The best way to evaluate the costs of estate planning is to consider the alternatives. If you are incapacitated and do not have a power of attorney, advance health care directive, or nomination of conservator in place, a court order may very well be needed to appoint whomever the court believes is the right person to make critical decisions on your behalf, such as who will take care of you, who will control your assets, what type of medical treatment you may undergo and ultimately your end of life care decisions. In addition, your assets will be utilized to pay for attorney's fees, court costs, conservatorship costs and any litigation that may ensue if your loved ones don't agree on how you should be cared for. If you pass away without having even a simple estate plan in place, court fees and costs, attorneys fees for probate and any probate-related litigation, plus federal and state estate taxes of up to 55% of the current value of your assets (after subtracting debt) may take a huge bite out of the assets that your spouse and loved ones are left to live on. Compared to these unknown costs, and the frustration that accompanies dealing with legal issues during a time of crisis or loss, cost-effective estate planning provides peace of mind for you and your loved ones and ensures that your wishes will be carried out as you intended. This is a priceless gift to your family.
Myth #4. Estate planning is time consuming and complicated.
Estate planning is a simple process that allows you to make some of the most important decisions of your life while you are healthy and emotionally ready to think about providing for your loved ones after your incapacity or death.
In the estate planning process, you will be guided through a series of questions during 1-2 comfortable meetings. The estate planning process is about you, and as the client, you have control of the process. You decide which issues you wish to discuss and when you are prepared to make decisions. Consider what you would prefer for your spouse if you were incapacitated or in the event of your death. Consider who you would wish to lovingly care for your children if the other parent is not alive or is incapable of caring for them. Your choices will ultimately ensure that your family does not have to grapple with the frustration and cost of probate, tax issues, and possible family rifts over inheritances while also grieving the loss of a loved one. It is so much easier on the survivors emotionally and financially if they can consult with a trusted and liked attorney to administer your well-drafted plan.
As our client, you will receive exceptional, personalized service with Susan L. Alexander, Esq., so that all questions and unique concerns are answered and help is provided.
• A Revocable Living Trust Agreement, which eliminates probate and the need for conservatorship proceedings in regard to all assets transferred into the trust. This trust directs the disposition of your assets to your chosen beneficiaries.
• For married couples who want to minimize estate tax or provide asset protection to each other, our carefully drafted Credit Shelter Trusts can do more than just meet the minimum legal requirements to reduce tax; we can build a fortress that ensures your children and spouse will be protected from lawsuits and unintentional disinheritance (this can happen in remarriages).
• A Common Trust and/or Separate Trusts to ensure that your assets are protected for your children. These trusts may include asset protection from lawsuits or children’s divorces. For clients who seek to maximize protection, we can craft trust solutions that preserve assets for generations.
• Will(s) that ensure that all property is transferred to the chosen beneficiaries, even if an asset is not transferred to your revocable living trust during lifetime.
• Comprehensive Nomination of Guardians for minor children that is effective during your lifetime (in case you become incapacitated) and not just upon your death. “Anti-nomination” of guardians to protect your children from relatives who would be poor or dangerous guardians.
• Comprehensive Durable Powers of Attorney that allow your spouse or another trusted person to sign documents and handle financial matters for you. This document is particularly helpful if mental disability prevents you from managing your own affairs.
• Advance Health Care Directive(s), which give directions to physicians and family members regarding continuation of life support systems and other medical treatment preferences.
• Thoughtful incapacity planning to ensure that you are protected in the event you become unable to manage your affairs for any period of time (incapacity is a major risk for everyone, regardless of age).
• A deed transferring your home into your revocable living trust (the trust won't won’t work if it doesn’t have your assets inside of it), preliminary change of ownership form to avoid tax reassessment of your property, and letters to your homeowners and title insurance companies to ensure that your trust is covered under your policies.
• Unlimited phone and in-person support and instructions that provide all necessary information for transferring accounts at your bank, stockbroker, insurance agent or other institutions where assets are located.
• A Transfer of Assets template letter that enables you to get assets transferred into your trust by simply filling the institution’s forms with your trust’s information and delivering the form to the appropriate institutions.
• Community property agreements that can classify all property as community, to ensure complete avoidance of capital gains tax upon the death of one spouse.
• Letters to all of the people you named as guardians, trustees, or other key positions explaining to them the honor, responsibility and definition of their role in your plan, if requested. The letters also share where to find the relevant documents when they're needed.
• Your three-ring Family Protection Plan Binder contains copies of all of your planning documents as well as informational documents regarding where assets are located, wishes for memorial services, and any other information which you consider to be pertinent. Your Binder is information central should your family face a crisis.
Client for Life - Our Promise to You
Our firm embraces a unique and innovative concept of Attorney-Client relationships in the form of the Client Care Maintenance Program. Once you have executed your estate plan, you will receive legal and personal updates to your documents and unlimited access to "your law office" regarding your estate plan, at no additional fee, for 1 year after execution of your documents.
In addition, if at any time you experience a major life event or feel the need to talk to an Attorney about a major and unexpected issue in your life, you can call us and schedule a "Peace of Mind" meeting at no charge. For life.
Please contact us at 831-644-0300 to request a complimentary 30 minute consultation, or send us an email by . Weekend and evening appointments are available for established clients.