Estate planning is life planning and embraces many areas of choices to ensure that your assets are fairly and smoothly distributed, allowing you to step in and help aging parents, planning for guardianship for your young children and, where necessary, assisting you, your spouse or partner through probate or trust administration.
Most people should have several basic estate planning documents in place: a will, a durable power of attorney for finances, and a medical directive. California is a prosperous state with sky-high real estate values in many communities, so for most homeowners, it is an especially good idea to think about planning to avoid probate after your death.
California has an unusual system of compensating probate lawyers. Unlike most states, California law makes it standard procedure for probate lawyers to charge, as their fee, a percentage of the gross value of the assets that go through probate. (These assets are collectively known as the “probate estate.”) The state’s probate code (Cal. Probate Code §§ 10810, 10811) sets out the percentages:
4% of the first $100,000 of the gross value of the probate estate
3% of the next $100,000
2% of the next $800,000
1% of the next $9 million
.5% of the next $15 million
Lawyers aren’t required to charge a percentage fee, but many of them do. In my office, we strongly urge our clients to plan their estate in such a fashion in order to avoid probate and save your heirs considerable legal costs and expenses. The typical vehicle for achieving that goal is trust planning.
Trust & Probate Administration
We can assist you with the legal process that occurs when a loved one passes away. There are specific legal procedures that you must go through to transfer assets from your loved one to their heirs. If they had a will, there is a court process called probate. Typically, probate is expensive and is a process to be avoided, if possible. If the decedent had a living trust, there is a private process of administration that needs to take place, that is often much more cost-effective than probate, with certain rules and requirements. If you have found yourself in the position of having to step up to the role of executor or trustee, you will need the guidance of an attorney.
Estate Planning for Veterans
There are certain cash benefits that are available to survivors of deceased active duty members and deceased veterans. Some of these programs are for low-income families only, and others are based on the veteran’s service-connected disabilities (if any). These cash benefits for survivors include dependents indemnity compensation (DIC), accrued disability compensation benefits, and death pension.
Stephen Healy is specially licensed by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (Lic. No. 28156) and understands that special needs that veterans and their families often face in making claims to the VA. Some of these benefits include:
Burial and Memorial Benefits for Family Members of Veterans: Veterans who completed their term of service are eligible for burial in veterans’ cemeteries, and veterans with disabilities are often eligible for a burial allowance.
Veterans Benefits for Same-Sex Spouses Post-DOMA: The Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA gives veterans’ same-sex spouses access to many veterans’ benefits.
100,000 Death Gratuity for Certain Veterans: Families of a soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, or Coast Guardsman who died resulting from his or her service are eligible for a $100,000 death payment.
Estate Planning for Non-Traditional Families
If you are a member of the GLBT community and are in a relationship, we suggest and recommend that you take steps to protect each other with an estate plan. If you fail to properly plan, the result can be devastating to your partner and family. Having no estate plan or relying upon a will, joint tenancy, or tenancy in common as an estate plan is tantamount to giving up control of your estate and management of your well-being in times of incapacitation. Through a living trust, will and supporting documents, you can effectively plan for your partner and children, without the intrusion of government or well-meaning family members.
Caring for Disabled Children & Adults
Special needs and disability planning occurs when you have a disabled child or relative. You want to provide for them, but also allow them to maintain their eligibility for SSI, Medi-Cal and any government services. Often, if an adult disabled child inherits from their parents outright, it will disqualify them from these needed services. Also, the same result may occur if the disabled child is the beneficiary of a life insurance policy or retirement plan, or if the child owns an account jointly with another.
Parents need to plan for these situations through their own estate plans. A special needs trust can be established as an independent trust or created within a parent or grandparent’s trust.
Helping Elderly Parents
As an adult child of parents who are beginning to lose their memory or ability to care for themselves, you need to know the ways in which you can step in and help. You need to know how and when to take the role of a successor trustee or be added as a trustee to an already existing trust in order to help your parents with their everyday affairs. I can provide you with guidance that allows your parents to maintain their dignity.
Trust & Probate Litigation
Probating a will or administering a trust can have some pitfalls for individual beneficiaries or trustees. You might need representation during these conflicts. It doesn’t mean there has to be a protracted legal battle. I find out a client’s individual need and represent their interest in a conflict or contest. My goal is not only to reach the conclusion my client is searching for, but to do so in an equitable fashion.