Estate planning guide for new parents in California

Your bundle of joy has arrived, and now you’re trying to figure out the new schedule and when you’ll ever get any sleep again.  Also, in the back of your mind, you know that you should probably “do something” about your will or figure out what will happen should you pass away.  Now there’s another life to worry about!  But time passes, you don’t know what to do or how to do it, or who to ask, so it gets placed on the back burner.  Suddenly Junior is 14 and you’re dealing with the death of your parents.  What are the things you wish you had known when Junior was a baby?

  1. The time to do your estate planning is NOW.  Should both parents be in an accident and hospitalized for a period of time (or, obviously, if you die), Junior could end up in the court system and/or in foster care.  If you do not choose who will care for your child if you cannot, then the court will decide.
  2. Having the court decide who will be the guardian for your child is NOT what you want.  When the court decides, the court does not have the time or ability to distinguish between your crazy Aunt Rose, who you have not seen in years, who lives in a small town in Arkansas (not that there’s anything wrong with Arkansas) and can’t seem to keep a steady job, and your sister and brother-in-law who are close to the entire family and would be the perfect guardians.  If YOU don’t decide who is going to raise your child, a stranger will.
  3. Not being able to decide on who your guardian will be it not a good excuse for delaying your estate plan.  A good estate planner will help you decide.  In addition, while you may not have decided definitively, you have probably narrowed the field among the options.  Remember, the court won’t know who you have ruled out.  I can help you to know what to think about, what to consider in making the decision, how to make the decision, and how and when to change it.

Don’t wait.  Once you have a child, it’s time to put your affairs in order.  You love your family and you love your child: it’s them, not you, who will suffer if you neglect these very important tasks.

What to expect during the estate planning process in California

The estate planning process is often put off because of the feeling that it is a long, difficult process.  There are a lot of decisions to be made, a lot of time to be spent on making the decisions, and lots of long, boring meetings with the attorney.

Not so!  Well, perhaps this is the case with other attorneys, but I have found that my clients appreciate the ease of the process as well as the flexibility…and I do try to make it enjoyable & interesting.

The reality of it is – unfortunately – putting estate planning off until too late can mean a long, difficult, expensive probate process where your family, those you love the most in this world, suffer.

Making Decisions

This can be, and often is, the most difficult part of the estate planning process.  In fact, it often prevents the clients from proceeding.  What most potential clients don’t realize is that I can help you to make the decisions.  One of the advantages to creating a living trust as opposed to just a will is the ease with which changes are made.  I encourage my clients to make the best decision for right now, and then change it if circumstances change.  Plus, actually making a decision is critical.  Most couples may not have it nailed down who they want to be their children’s guardian, for example, but they have narrowed the field.  By not picking someone, if something should happen to them, then the position is open to anyone in the world who wants to petition, including those who the couple has excluded (and perhaps for good reason!).  It not only makes the issue of who will raise your children a crap shoot, but also could subject your child to a nasty custody battle.

The Process

I meet with my clients for an initial, no fee consultation to discuss their situation and potential estate planning needs.  We go over what they have, what they want, and the various options available to them.  Generally at that point most of the decisions are made, but sometimes a few remain to be decided.  Once all the decisions are made, we set a time for the estate plan closing.  This is a meeting where we sign all of the paperwork, and this takes about 90 minutes.  Other than the trust funding, which is straightforward, that is the extent of the process.  Usually just two meetings, the process is not nearly as daunting as it may seem.

So, what are you waiting for?

Why and when you need an estate planning/elder law attorney in California

Top reasons why you may need an estate planning or elder law attorney:

  1. To keep more of your assets and money for your family than for the government or attorneys
  2. To have peace of mind that your family and all you have worked for is protected
  3. To avoid the state’s plan for the passing of your estate (probate) because it is complex, difficult, expensive, and time-consuming, and you want to make sure you don’t put your family through it
  4. To acknowledge that your needs will change as you age, and it takes critical planning to ensure that you and your family are cared for as you grow older
  5. Because the government (through Medicare/MediCal/Medicaid) will not be sufficient for your long-term care, and you know that an attorney can help you to evaluate your options to make sure you are protected

Top reasons when you may need an estate planning or elder law attorney:

  1. Your estate becomes worth $150,000 or more (not including debt) or you’ve just had a child.
  2. Your loved one has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s
  3. You are worried that you do not have a plan in place for your estate and family after you’re gone – everyone needs a plan, regardless of age, estate size, or family composition
  4. You are concerned about your or your loved one’s ability to cope with rising costs, continue to pay bills, or provide for ongoing medical care
  5. Your child has just turned 18 and as an adult, needs his or her own Powers of Attorney to ensure that the correct person can act for them in an emergency.

Do you have any of these concerns? If so, call us at 925.307.6543 or schedule an appointment online using the link to the right. We look forward to meeting you!

Not married? Why you need estate planning, too

If you’re not married, you may think that you don’t need an estate plan. Not true! Generally, you need to get yourself an estate plan once you buy a house or have a child – or both! When you own real estate, your estate will (particularly in California) go above the $150,000 exemption for probate. This means that, once you own property in California, your estate will go through probate. Probate is what you want to avoid like it’s a disease: it will take 18-24 months to settle your estate and also take about 10% of your gross estate in fees – and that fee is not taking any indebtedness into consideration. And that’s just to start.

Once you buy a house, therefore, you need an estate plan. In addition, once you have a child, you need to have an estate plan because you will need to decide who is going to take care of your child should you be unable to. This can only be done in your will. In addition, if you don’t have handy who is responsible for your child if you become injured or incapacitated, then the police could TAKE your children if something happens to you. Just think: you’re out to a nice dinner, the babysitter’s with little Suzy, and you get into an accident on the way home. The police won’t be leaving little Suzy with the 17 year-old babysitter, and if you don’t have clearly posted who is to be responsible for Suzy, then the police could TAKE your child. You don’t want that to happen.

Both of these circumstances – buying a house and having a child – necessitate an estate plan, regardless of whether you are married or not. In fact, it becomes more important to have an estate plan when you’re single because you don’t have the potential benefit of joint tenancy.

What are you waiting for?

What happens if you can’t take care of your children: important estate planning for parents

Say you’ve gone out to dinner with your friends or your spouse or your new beau. The kids are at home with the babysitter, someone you trust but who’s just a teenager. On your way home, you take your eyes off the road for a split second and you get into a car accident. When you’re taken to the hospital, unconscious, the police are going to go to your house to check on your children. When there’s nothing in writing saying who should take your children in the event you are incapacitated (I recommend posting this on the refrigerator), then the police can take your children – because you can be assured that they will not leave your children with a young babysitter. The Nomination of Guardian can prevent this.

Your Nomination of Guardian states who you want to care for your children if you are not able to. It can be temporary, such as after an accident, or permanent, such as if you pass away. It is critical to have so that you do not have a gap of time in which your children are taken to the police station and sent out to foster homes until the situation resolves itself.

In the case of a divorce or other child custody case, it takes on a new significance because now there are two households involved. BOTH parents should have a custody and visitation agreement readily accessible to them and their child caregivers, and the agreement should be as specific as possible – even if the couple is agreeing and cooperating with each other – to break the “tie” in the event of a dispute. If the agreement/order says, “visitation as the parents agree,” then the police will not enforce that vague order. With a nomination of guardian, if the couple has already chosen one, both parties have to (1) understand that the other parent will be the guardian if something happens to them (unless there are issues of substance abuse, domestic violence, or some other issue that limits custody/parenting time for one parent), and (2) that the person the couple picked when they were a couple might not continue to be appropriate. Because the couple is now separated, there is a significantly lesser chance that they will die together, but that doesn’t mean a nomination of guardian is less important. Each parent needs to decide who THEY think will be the most appropriate person, and create a document memorializing that.

Don’t wait.

Long-Term Care Insurance: California divorce and estate planning

There are a lot of misconceptions and misinformation about long-term care insurance, and I don’t profess to know all of the ins and outs of it. But I DO know that it’s critical to have for just about everyone. By the time you’ve hit your forties, you need to look into it and get a policy before it becomes too late.

Now, what does this have to do with divorce? When you’re married, you have a built-in buddy. Someone who may be able to take care of you once you start having trouble taking care of yourself. You have to figure that either you or your spouse is going to lose it before the other, and the one left standing will be the caregiver.

Well, I don’t think that’s necessarily fair, and I am a strong believer in long-term care insurance for everyone, but this post is about divorce, so I’ll skip that.

It’s even more critical to have long-term care insurance when you are divorced because you don’t have an automatic back up to care for you if you fall ill. Long-term care covers in-home help and fills in the gap of health insurance or Medicare. In-home help can cost $25-30 per hour, and this really adds up if you need around the clock care. If you care about staying in your home and staying independent as long as you can, you should check into long-term care. And if you don’t care about these things now, believe me, you will. But perhaps by the time you realize how much you care about these things, it might be too late to get the insurance you need.

Don’t wait. Look into it now. It’s not very expensive and could mean a world of difference to you.

Estate planning 101: Why creating your living trust isn’t enough

The centerpiece of any good estate plan is your living trust.  This is the document that allows your estate to pass without going through probate, paying 8-10% of your gross estate in fees and expenses, and forcing your family through 2-3 (or 5-6) years of court appearances, lawyers and judges making decisions about your property.  Proper estate planning can also help you to minimize or eliminate estate tax.  Having no estate plan or having just a will won’t do this.

But proper estate planning includes other consideration and critical documents as well, and should not be overlooked in your planning.

  1. FUNDING your trust. All of your assets – yes, all of them – should be titled in the name of your trust. Hopefully, your estate planning attorney transferred your real property (house) into the trust, but generally, you are responsible for transferring the rest of your assets, such as bank accounts, stocks, and life insurance. At our firm, we even help you with this because it’s so important.
  2. Pour-Over will.  You still need a will, even if you have a living trust, because anything that is not in your trust will need to go into probate.  There are a couple important things to know about your pour-over will.  First, it includes your nomination of guardian, so this in itself is a reason why it’s so important.  Second, while you will be funding your trust with all of your property (and thus will not likely need a will), things can happen where you are not able to put your property in your trust, such as when you are the subject of a wrongful death suit or if you don’t have possession yet of the property before you pass away.  Third and finally, the will is called a “pour-over” because pours over anything probated into your living trust.
  3. Powers of attorney.  You need powers of attorney, one for your property/assets and one for health care. Powers of attorney go into effect when you are still alive but you are incapacitated due to illness or accident.  These determine who will be making medical and care decisions on your behalf (and paying your bills) when you are unable.  These are key because, if you wait until you are already incapacitated to get one, then your family must go through the court process of getting a conservatorship, which is lengthy and expensive.
  4. Assignment/Distribution of Personal Property.  These documents first put all of your personal property (your furniture, cars, pets and other personal belongings) into your trust, and then list how they will be distributed upon your death.  These are important because often the biggest arguments after you are gone are about the smallest things, like the jewelry and china.  Don’t leave your family fighting because you didn’t leave instruction.
  5. Certificate of Trust.  This is the four-page summary of your trust that you will use to transfer your property into your trust.  Instead of having to take the whole binder, or even the whole 30-page trust document into the bank – and share the detail of the contents – you use the four-page summary that maintains your privacy and makes it much easier to copy and share with your account holders.

In addition to these documents, I consider it part of my job to help you ensure that ALL of your affairs are in order.  This includes your pre-need funeral arrangements, ensuring you have enough life insurance, that you have long-term care insurance, and are doing what you need to do now to have the retirement that you want.  These additional services are not provided by me and I don’t get anything for referring someone to you.  But I have spent lots of time getting to know the best professionals in each of their respective businesses, because I want to refer you to only the best to be able to take care of all of your needs.

If your estate planning professional is not providing all of these services – and more (follow up, ongoing communications, updates on law, etc.) – then perhaps you should reconsider who you are talking to, or at least ask some questions.  Your family is worth it.