Automatic restraining orders in California divorce: Don’t get yourself in trouble!

Getting a divorce in California?  Don’t get yourself into big trouble by violating restraining orders you don’t even know about!  In California, once the Petition is served, you’re restrained from doing these things and can be hurt if you fail to comply:


What happens to your will when you’re getting a divorce in California?

Getting a divorce?  Have a will?  Ever wonder what happens to your will in the divorce?  Here’s your answer!

An attorney versus online estate planning: Legal Zoom can and WILL hurt you

I see Legal Zoom is being sued for not preparing an estate plan that did what it said it would.  Banks and financial institutions would not accept the Legal Zoom documents to fund the individual’s trust.  As I always tell my clients, your estate plan is not worth the paper it’s printed on unless and until you fund your trust.  And the Legal Zoom documents?  Were seen to be unacceptable to the banks and financial institutions.  In addition, the information given by Legal Zoom on estate planning is supposedly designed to give users a “general understanding of the law” but “is not guaranteed to be correct, complete or up to date.

Really?  Legal Zoom can’t even guarantee that the “general understanding” is correct?  Do you really want to trust everything you’ve worked for – your assets, your estate, and your family, to a company that can’t even get basic law correct?

Further, Legal Zoom tells you, on their website, that 80% of people who fill in blank forms do so incorrectly.  Legal Zoom is, in effect, saying to their users they they are very likely to do the forms wrong, but they should do so anyway.  Why would you do this?  I have seen it time and again, when I send out my intake forms to my estate planning consultations.  Nearly everyone marks something that ultimately is incorrect after we’ve had some time to talk about it.

Finally, a lawyer in Minnesota went through the process of getting a will using Legal Zoom.  You can see his video here.  What is enlightening is that the will was packaged well, and was better than the lawyer expected.  But the reality is that there were MANY provisions, standard, important provisions, that were left out of the will.  A will is a pretty basic document for an attorney to complete, and Legal Zoom couldn’t even get it right.  I won’t go into the detail  of the missing provisions, but suffice to say there were a number of critical paragraphs missing.

Haven’t you worked too hard to leave your estate plan to chance?  Why is it a better option to save $1,500 on an online estate plan, just to cost your family – your closest loved ones – tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in untangling your messed up estate plan?!  I know times are tough, and we’re all looking to save dollars where we can.  But this is about your entire life.  Do not work your entire life to screw it up in the end.

I am working on an automated estate planning process that will allow my clients to save up to 50% on their estate plans by inputting their information in an online format.  Their answers, and indeed their entire estate plan, will be personally examined, reviewed, and assembled personally by me, but because of the online aspect, it will be at a significantly lower cost.  This option helps to combine the needs of my clients who know they need an estate plan but want a lower cost, but aren’t willing to risk everything just to save a few dollars.

What happens when you die with an estate plan?

Yesterday we looked at what happens when you die without an estate plan, and the terrible position you put your family in at an already difficult time.  Now, let’s look at the flip side.  What happens when you die WITH an estate plan.  I think you’ll be surprised at the stark difference between the two.  Think of it this way: what would you like YOUR loved ones to do for YOU?

What happens when you die without an estate plan?

Often, we think that we don’t care or it doesn’t/won’t matter what happens to our estate once we’re gone because, well, we’ll be gone.  But this is an attitude that can cost your estate tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars as well as cost your family a lot more grief than they already will be experiencing.  Don’t do this to your family: make a comprehensive estate plan so your family doesn’t go through what I describe below:

Estate planning for smaller estates

Many of my clients do not realize that their property and their family are at risk if they do not create an estate plan.  Many think that they do not have a large enough estate to need an estate plan at all.  The reality is that anyone with $100,000 or more in property – gross, which does not take any debt (mortgage, for example) into account – should have a comprehensive estate plan.  Probate fees alone can cost up to 10% of your total estate, but there are other fees as well.  If your family needs to go to court to obtain a conservatorship for you because you don’ t have a power of attorney, then that can cost thousands of dollars.  If you do not name a guardian for your children, your children could be the subject of a lengthy and expensive custody battle among your family members.  In fact, much of your estate can be taken with the cost and length of the probate process.  Don’t do this to your family: protect them.  This video gives you more information on the importance of comprehensive estate planning for estates with $500,000 or less.

What is a revocable living trust?

Here is a video on what a revocable living trust is, and why you would want one.  As the centerpiece of my comprehensive estate plans, the living trust allows your estate to pass to your heirs without the hassle and expense of probate.  In California, an estate worth $100,000 or more gross (the total value of your estate not taking any debt into account) is going to probate.  Probate is the court process of assessing your property, paying your debts, and distributing the reminder of your estate to your heirs.  The problem with the probate process is that it can take years to complete (all the while your property is tied up in court), can cost 8-10% of your gross estate (just think – if you just have a house worth $400,000, the total probate fees could cost up to $40,000!), and is a public process.  I’ll be posting another video on probate and why we want to avoid it.  A living trust avoids probate – your estate passes without any courts or lawyers or judges.  This is critical to protect your loved ones and your estate once you’ve passed on.

Do you need a will?

Here is a video I did answering the very common question of “Do I need a will?”  Many individuals and couples do not think that they need a will because they’re estate is too simple, or they “don’t have much.”  This is a common misconception that can lead to lengthy, expensive, and extremely unpleasant family court battles in the future.  Do you have a will?  Why or why not?

What is probate? Why do you want to avoid it? Estate planning basics

Below is a recent video I did about some of the basics of estate planning in California.  Many of my clients have a vague idea of what probate is and that they should avoid it somehow, but they generally don’t know more than that.  If you ever wanted to know the answers to these questions, click play below.

Proper Estate Planning is more than your living trust

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 critical documents as well, and should not be overlooked in your planning.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.