Frequently Asked Questions
"I don’t have a lot, do I need estate planning?"
Yes. Although Wills and Trusts are important parts of estate planning, there is much more. For example, if you are injured in an accident or you suffer a stroke or heart attack and you are unable to express your desires regarding medical treatements or procedures, who will be authorized to speak for you? More importantly, what kind of decisions do you want them to make? Who will have the authority to manage your property, finances, pets, etc. until you recover? These decisions are part of your estate planning.
"Does my spouse automatically inherit my property when I die?"
Not necessarily. For example, in California, if you own property in joint tenancy with someone other than your spouse or you have bank accounts with joint account holders other than your spouse, then your spouse might not receive that property at your death.
Even though many husbands and wives own their property as joint tenants with a right of survivorship, when one of them dies, it is still necessary that the survivor take action to have that property transferred to them.
"How can I make sure my children get my property when I die?"
California law provides that if you die without a Will or Trust, your surviving spouse and children are entitled to a distribution of the property in your estate after the payment of your debts. Such a distribution will be paid to your children on their 18th birthday, and many parents might want that distribution to be held for the education and welfare of their children until they are older. That's where estate planning comes in. You can set up a trust that could hold and manage your property for the benefit of your children until they reach a certain age beyond 18, and when they reach that age, the property will then be distributed to them.
If your spouse inherits all of your property and later remarries, it is possible that the new spouse could take your property and your children be left with nothing.
If you have children with special needs, you can set up a Special Needs Trust which holds and manages your property for your child's benefit without jeopardizing an entitlement for public benefits.
All of these concerns must be taken into account as part of your estate planning.
"Does my estate have to be probated by the Court?"
First of all, what is probate? Probate is the Court-supervised process used to transfer your assets to your heirs and beneficiaries. It also allows for valid creditors and expenses to be paid. If you die with a Will, the Probate Court will appoint your Executor to administer your estate. If you die "intestate" (that is, without a Will), the Court will appoint an "Administrator" of your estate.
Although there are some situations in which probate is advantageous, especially when there are family problems, your estate can be administered without the costs and time involved in probate through estate planning.
"How much will estate planning cost me?"
Your first office conference with me is free, and during that conference, I will make recommendations regarding an estate plan for you. The costs of the documents involved in your estate plan will vary depending upon complexity, but the following guidelines will apply in most situations: