Estate Planning Basics
Simply put, estate planning is making a plan in advance and naming whom you want to receive your property and assets after you die. It is not just for “retired” or “wealthy” people, although people do tend to think about it more as they get older. Unfortunately, we can’t successfully predict how long we will live, and illness and accidents happen to people of all ages. Good estate planning often means more to families with modest assets, because they can afford to lose the least.
An estate plan begins with a will or living trust. A last will and testament provides your instructions, but it does not avoid probate. Any assets titled in your name or directed by your will must go through your state’s probate process before they can be distributed to your heirs. It can also take anywhere from nine months to two years or longer. With rare exception, probate files are open to the public and excluded heirs are encouraged to come forward and seek a share of your estate. In short, the court system, not your family, controls the process.
Not everything you own will go through probate. Jointly-owned property and assets that let you name a beneficiary (for example, life insurance, IRAs, 401(k)s, annuities, etc.) are not controlled by your will and usually will transfer to the new owner or beneficiary without probate. But there are many problems with joint ownership, and avoidance of probate is not guaranteed. For example, if a valid beneficiary is not named, the assets will have to go through probate and will be distributed along with the rest of your estate. If you name a minor as a beneficiary, the court will probably insist on a guardianship until the child legally becomes an adult.
For these reasons a revocable living trust is preferred by many families and professionals. It can avoid probate at death, prevent court control of assets at incapacity, bring all of your assets (even those with beneficiary designations) together into one plan, provide maximum privacy, is valid in every state, and can be changed by you at any time. It can also reflect your love and values to your family and future generations.
Unlike a will, a trust doesn’t have to die with you. Assets can stay in your trust, managed by the trustee you selected, until your beneficiaries reach the age you want them to inherit. Your trust can continue longer to provide for a loved one with special needs, or to protect the assets from beneficiaries’ creditors, spouses, and irresponsible spending.
A living trust is more expensive initially than a will, but considering it can avoid court interference at incapacity and death, many people consider it to be a bargain.
Estate Planning Packages
We provide estate planning packages and individual documents. Most of our pricing is based on a flat fee for estate planning services. The amount of the flat fee ultimately depends on the complexity of your estate.
i. Complete Estate Planning Package: Includes a Revocable Living Trust, Separate Schedule “A” – Initial Trust Assets, Pour-over Will(s), Trust Certification, Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Affairs, Advance Health Care Directive with a place to write out burial or cremation wishes, Assignment of Tangible Personal Property with a place to write out gifts of personal property, Nomination of Guardian for Minors (if any), Community Property Declaration (where appropriate), Preparation and recording of a deed to transfer one property to your trust, County preliminary change of ownership report for recorded deed, All required witnessing and Notary fees.
ii. Will Package: Includes a Last Will and Testament, Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Affairs, and an Advance Health Care Directive.
Please set up an initial consultation to discuss your estate planning needs and pricing.