ESTATE PLANNING: TAKE THE UNCERTAINTY OUT OF WHAT IS CERTAIN

It’s a topic that can be difficult for many families to discuss, but it’s as natural as life itself. You work hard for decades to build a life that you and your family can be proud of, and you should protect your life’s rewards with an estate plan. An estate plan provides for the distribution of your assets upon your death. It can also provide for the management of your assets, personal needs and health care directives during your lifetime.

At Sullivan, Workman & Dee, LLP, our legal team works closely with clients to prepare Trusts, Wills, Durable Powers of Attorney for Finances, and Advance Health Care Directives that are tailored to each client’s needs and goals. We realize how important, personal and unique each estate plan is, and we strive to make the process as easy as possible, leaving nothing to chance.

What is Estate Planning?

Estate planning is the use of legal techniques to:

  • Maximize the amount of wealth that can be passed on to your designated beneficiaries either upon death or during your lifetime.
  • Minimize or eliminate estate taxes and the costs associated with probate.
  • Designate who will make health care and financial decisions for you in the event you are unable to make decisions for yourself.

How do I know if Estate Planning is Right for Me?

If you own a home, have a bank account, insurance policy or retirement plan, you have an estate. Estate is a term used to describe what a person owns at the time of death.

What Happens if I Don’t Have an Estate Plan?

Without an estate plan, your assets will be distributed in accordance with the laws of the State of California. Having an estate plan is critical because it ensures that the assets you own will be distributed to those you designate and the distribution will be accomplished with the least amount of costs, fees and taxes paid out of your estate.

An estate plan will also typically include powers of attorney for finances and health care.  These documents allow you to appoint someone to make financial and health care decisions for you in the event you are unable to make decisions for yourself.

Without documents stating who and how you would like to handle your assets and your personal health care decisions, your loved ones may need to go to court to get a judge to appoint an individual to make the financial and/or personal and health decisions for you, which is called a conservatorship.

What is Probate?

Probate refers to the court supervised process where the decedent’s assets are transferred to the living beneficiaries or heirs. Since a deceased person cannot sign deeds, transfer bank accounts or stock, the court appoints a personal representative (called an Executor or Administrator) to transfer the assets. The court supervises the representative’s activities to make sure the transfers are properly executed. This court supervision has the disadvantage of costing money, taking a great deal of time and making your personal matters public.

What is a Living Trust (Family Trust) and How is it Different than a Will?

A will is a document that names the beneficiaries of your estate, as well as the Executor who will administer your estate after death. For most estates, the Executor of a will must be appointed by the court in a formal probate proceeding where the court supervises the Executor’s actions.

A living trust does what a will does, and more – it avoids probate if it is done right. A living trust names the beneficiaries of your estate and a Trustee to administer your estate, and it identifies all the assets that are part of the trust. Often also referred to as a family trust, revocable trust or inter-vivos trust, a living trust is a way of holding title to assets so that your Trustee can manage your trust assets during your lifetime if you need assistance, and your assets pass to the named beneficiaries of the trust without a probate. A living trust can be revoked or amended before death. A living trust, unlike a will, is a private document.

Since a trust is only effective as to those assets that have been transferred to the trust, every living trust should be accompanied by a pour over will. The pour over will directs that any assets that have not been transferred to the trust as of the date of death be “poured over” into the trust and distributed in accordance with the instructions in the trust.

Our highly experienced attorneys at Sullivan, Workman & Dee will seamlessly execute your estate planning needs and work with you to determine the best legal documents for your unique situation. Whether you need a will, revocable trust or other estate planning documents, we’ll help guide you every step of the way.