Estate Planning Services
Properly Protecting Your Assets for Yourself and Your Loved Ones
You can’t take it with you. But the good news is, you can designate where it goes. Having an estate plan allows you to arrange beforehand what will happen to your assets after you are gone. Having an effective, well-executed plan will assure that what you want to take place in the event of your demise.
What is an Estate Plan?
You’re probably familiar with the term “estate planning”. Most of us are. But do you really know what all is entailed with an estate plan?
Here’s one story that I came across that illustrates a mistake made by many good-intentioned people:
My father spent his entire adult life planning for his demise. He was a hard-working, blue-collar guy who scrimped and saved hoping to leave his three children all he could.
I remember once when my parents came into a little extra money. My mother wanted to put it down on a new car. “No. We need to put it back for the kids,” he told her.
You would think that, as consumed as he was with the thought of leaving a sum for his children, he would have had his affairs in order when he passed away. Such was not the case though. In fact, far from it.
My father thought he had everything in place so that his estate would be distributed according to his wishes but there were some very important legalities he had left out. Ironically, in his attempt to save money, he had made some costly errors.
To save money, he had drawn up all his own papers and mistakes had been made. Another problem was that when he and my mother divorced, his will was not adequately updated. It was unfortunate for all and turned into one huge mess with siblings suing siblings and many other calamities.
Dad’s lack of effectively planning the execution of his estate was a disaster in some incidences and near disaster in other areas.
Having witnessed the turmoil of my father’s estate, my mother determined to have all of her “i’s dotted and t’s crossed” when it came to getting her affairs in order. Sadly, many of the fine details were not provided for as she did not have adequate professional counsel. Her estate was yet another mess for the siblings to hash out which was the absolute last thing my mother would have wanted.
An estate plan is the product of a detailed arrangement for management and distribution of a person’s wealth and assets that will take place during their life and at and after their death. The goal of the plan is to carry out the deceased’s wishes while minimizing expenses. The careful consideration of all details, great and small, are attended to in an estate plan so that you can leave your loved ones a legacy rather than an atrocity.
Why Do I Need an Estate Plan?
“Why do I need an estate plan?” you may be wondering. Everyone needs an estate plan. The issue is the complexity of the estate plan.
What sorts of documents and planning you need depends on:
· The size of your estate.
· If you have children.
· If you wish to leave some of your wealth to charity.
· If you have a business.
· Special circumstances such as disabled family members or a split family.
· The stage of life you are in. (If you have children living at home, your plan will be different than if they are grown.)
· If privacy is something you desire.
· If you want to specify if you receive life support, donate your organs, or designate someone to make medical decisions for you.
You don’t have to be a millionaire, or anything close to it, to benefit from an estate plan. Of course, if you have little or nothing, you obviously do not need anything complex. You could just get by with a will, power of attorney, and advance health care directive.
Last Will and Testament
You’ve most likely heard the reading on television or in a movie, “I, John Doe, being of sound mind and body, do hereby bequeath the following…” But do you really know what a will is and the full implications of having or not having one?
What is a Will?
A will is a formal statement of your final wishes regarding the distribution of your property and assets in the form of a legal document. It may also include your wishes for the care of your minor children. There are a variety of types of wills. It’s important to make sure your will is in writing and signed by yourself and your witnesses and that it meets all legal requirements.
A Will Can:
· Leave instructions as to what should happen to assets such as money and other personal property.
· Designate an executor.
· Establish guardians for children.
· Instruct how debts will be paid.
· Determine how taxes will be paid.
· Make provisions for pets.
Why do I Need a Will?
It’s important to have a will so that you are the one who gets to decide how your assets are distributed. Otherwise, the decisions will most likely be made by a judge and almost assuredly will not be the same decisions you would have made. If you want the distribution of your assets to be at your sole discretion, you need to have a will because otherwise, it’s anyone’s guess how it will all play out.
Having a Will:
· Decreases the likelihood of tension and discord among the surviving family.
· Ensures you control what happens.
· Allows you to make known your wishes for the care of your minor children.
· Is helpful for including (or excluding) children from a former marriage.
· Takes guesswork out of the equation.
If you would like to learn more about wills, here is a very informative video you can watch.
A common misconception is that only the wealthy can benefit from a living trust. This is far from true.
What is a Living Trust?
A living trust is often part of an estate plan. Also known as an “inter vivos” or “revocable trust”, it is a means through which you can, by way of a written legal document, place your assets into a designated trust so you can use them for your benefit while you are living, then transfer them to your beneficiaries when you die. The trust is carried out by a “successor trustee” which you choose beforehand and can change at any time.
Why Do I Need a Living Trust?
A living trust is set up to problem solve. It helps avoid the time consuming hassles of probate, and preserves privacy as well. There are many other ways in which a living trust can benefit you both in your lifetime and in the event of your death.
Here are a few things you may not know about living trusts:
· Your assets usually get to your heirs in a timely manner.
· It saves extra legal fees from incurring due to probate.
· You are able to enjoy your assets while you are alive.
· Unlike in a will, you can make specific requests and stipulations such as having your children reach a certain age before receiving any money.
· You do not need to be rich to benefit from one.
While a living trust is more expensive that just having a standard will, many times it saves money and misery later on.
Advance Health Care Directive
What is an Advanced Health Care Directive?
For those who are not familiar with an advanced care directive, it can be a little confusing.
An advanced health care directive is a legal document which is drawn up stating your desired course of action should you become ill, incapacitated or unable to make sound decisions for any other reason. You can give instructions for such things as the medical treatment you wish or do not wish to receive.
You can designate someone to oversee your directions and make decisions for you, based upon your desires. You can determine if you want to be given life support should the question arise. The comfort level you wish to be kept at is another decision you can make in your advanced health care directive.
Advance Health Care Directive vs. Living Will
In California, there is no living will, instead we use Advance Health Care Directives which does more or less the same thing.
Why Do I Need an Advance Health Care Directive?
Not only does an advance health care directive assure that you get to make the hard decisions that are often faced in times of serious health problems, it also saves your loved ones from having the make those decisions.
An advance health care directive allows you to decide the following:
· Resuscitation. If your heart stops beating and is restarted, that is called resuscitation. CPR is considered resuscitation or it can be delivered by an electric shock via a medical device.
· Mechanical ventilation. In the event that you can’t breathe on your own, a machine will do so for you. Not only can you decide if you would want to be on a ventilator but if so, for how long.
· Comfort care. In your last days, do you wish to be kept free of pain?
· Organ and tissue donation. You can pre-decide if you want any of your organs or tissues to be donated.
Power of Attorney
What is a Power of Attorney?
A power of attorney, is a written legal directive that allows you to designate a person who you trust to make decisions for you if you are no able to do so yourself. A Power of Attorney expires at the death of the principal (you).
Why Do I Need a Power of Attorney?
The Power of Attorney allows another person to perform legal acts such as signing documents or make financial, legal, or medical decisions for you. If you don’t have a Power of Attorney, your family may have to go to court in order to be able act on your behalf.
General and Specific Power of Attorney:
General: this allows someone to perform any legal act for you that you could do yourself.
Specific: Only grants the power to do a specific action like selling your home for you.
Durable Power of Attorney:
A Durable Power of Attorney is important because it stays in effect even if you become incapacitated.
What is Probate?
Probate is the legal process under California law that is used to transfer assets after you die. Going through the probate process can be time consuming and expensive. Depending on what type of assets you have and the value when you die your family may or may not have to go through probate.
If the amount of assets is under $150,000, you can go through a simpler version of probate that is known as summary probate.
For assets totaling over $150,000 your family will need to go to probate court and file a petition.
One of the reasons that probate can be expensive is due to statutory attorney’s fees that are a percentage of the value of the estate. If the estate is simple, you can probably do it yourself. California’s Court website has the forms available for free.
Make sure you or your family member can qualify for Medicaid while also planning to keep your hard earned assets.
Other Trusts/Asset Protection
There are many other trusts and asset protection methods available that I can help you with. Please contact me to discuss.
55% Of American Adults Do Not Have Any Sort of Estate Plan
According to a survey, most do not understand the necessity for estate planning and are under the assumption that they don’t have enough assets to warrant one or that everything will be divided out fairly, the way it should be.
Establishing an estate plan, will and other written, legal directives allow you to rest in peace now and later on in death as well. We’ve all got to go sometime. By making your provisions now, when your time does come, you can rest assured you are leaving your affairs in good order and that your loved ones are taken care of.