CA Estate Planning Blog

Friday, November 13, 2015

New Transfer on Death Deed Available in California

What is a revocable transfer on death deed?

Traditionally, if you wished to leave property to someone at the time of your death you had a few options. You could provide for the bequest in your will, put the property in trust for the intended beneficiary, or enter into joint ownership with the person you hope to transfer the property to.  Now, there is a new option in the state of California: the revocable transfer on death (TOD) deed.

If you have provided for a beneficiary to inherit property through your will, he or she will be subject to the lengthy and costly probate process. While trusts are also widely used to transfer property to beneficiaries, they too can be expensive to set up and maintain. The revocable transfer on death deed is supposed to be the easy and cost-effective way to transfer property at the time of a person’s death. 

The revocable transfer on death deed can be used in a number of real property scenarios. The deed can be used to transfer a residential property of up to four families, condominiums and farmland of not larger than 40 acres with a single-family dwelling. The deed must be executed before a notary public and recorded within 60 days of signing in order to be effective. 

The deed can be revoked by the transferor (the person transferring the property) at any time before his or her death. A revocable transfer on death deed can be revoked by the recording of a new deed, either presently transferring the property or transferring it at death, or by the filing of a revocation form. If the transferee dies before the transferor, the deed is considered void. 

If you wish to leave property to someone, but want to avoid drafting a will or creating a trust, a revocable transfer on death deed might be the best option for you. Consult with a skilled estate planning attorney to make sure the TOD is executed properly. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Estate Planning Tips

I need to update my estate plan but I’m having trouble - what can I do to make things easier?

Putting an estate plan in place, or updating an already existing one, can be emotionally draining. Many new clients consult with attorneys only after having procrastinated for years. But do not stress; Read more . . .

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Personal Asset Trust

What is a personal asset trust and what are its benefits?

When you establish a personal asset trust (PAT), instead of receiving your inheritance directly, your beneficiaries receive it in a special trust which emanates from your Living Trust. The Personal Asset Trust is under the control of each beneficiary. The benefit here is that each beneficiary has the same rights of ownership, but without the exposure to liability that ownership usually involves.

The Benefits of a Personal Asset Trust

The beneficiary can be an individual initial trustee, in control of his or her own Personal Asset Trust, controlling the investment of his or her inheritance, its distribution, and even who may receive it after his or her death. Trustees, if they wish, may establish limits on this inheritance, limiting its distributions, for example, to only their lineal descendants.
Read more . . .

Monday, October 5, 2015

Avoiding Possible Snags in Estate Planning

How can you circumvent pitfalls and avoid future conflicts when you're planning your estate?

One of the most difficult steps in estate planning is not a logistical one, but an emotional one:  the acceptance of mortality. Although we all know that death is inevitable, most of us have a tendency to avoid confronting its reality. This makes it difficult to plan for contingencies in a world that will no longer include us. Below are some specific areas that commonly cause trouble among loved ones left behind.
Read more . . .

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Legal Battle Over Robin Williams' Bicycle Collection and Other Valuables

Is  settling an estate as easy as riding a bicycle?

If only settling an estate were as easy as riding a bicycle. In fact, unless skilled attorneys have worked carefully and diligently to tighten any loopholes, there may be complications in the process. Even with a will in place, there may be questions and conflicts among heirs regarding who is entitled to what. This is especially true, of course, when there are large amounts of money at stake.

Since the tragic death of Robin Williams by suicide in August of 2014, presumed to be the result of his ongoing problems with anxiety, depression, and a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease, there has continued to be a legal dispute between his widow and his children over the possessions he left behind. His estate, worth millions of dollars, includes valuable artwork, books, jewelry and other items, notably a large bicycle collection.

Susan Schneider Williams, the comedian's widow, has retained an attorney who recently requested that a San Francisco judge assist in the resolution of the issue. Both sides are attempting to resolve the dispute through mediation, but the lawyer for the Williams' children, Zachary , Zelda and Cody, is arguing against an intervention by the court.

Robin Williams had designated trustees to make decisions regarding estate distribution after his death, but agreement still has not been reached. His widow's argument is that the amount she is receiving from the Reserve Fund her husband left her is not enough to keep her in the home she shared with her deceased husband, something she feels sure he intended. According to her, valuables were removed from her home during the immediate aftermath of his death. This charge is vehemently denied by Robin Williams' children who allege that, in her greed, their father's widow, married to him for less than 3 years, has done major renovations to her house and is trying to deprive them of cherished objects he wanted them to have and remember him by.

As graphically illustrated by this painful case, protecting assets after one's death can be a great deal more complicated than one expects. If you have any questions or concerns about estate planning or asset protection, please contact OC Wills & Trust Attorneys  and speak to one of our knowledgeable lawyers. We serve clients in  Irvine, California and throughout Orange County and can be reached at 949.347.5256.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Protecting Assets from Being Designated as "Abandoned" Property

Are You Doing Enough to Protect Your Estate from Being Turned Over to the State?

It has become apparent that states are becoming more aggressive in claiming mutual fund investments  as "abandoned" property. While it is clearly in their financial interest to do so, it is not in yours. It is important to get sound legal advice in order to protect your assets and your heirs.

There are a number of ways to safeguard your investments and to prevent your financial accounts from being designated as "abandoned." These include:

  • Notifying any financial institutions you deal with of any changes to your profile, such as change of name, address, or ownership due to marriage, death or divorce
  • Always notifying the U.S. Postal Service of any change of address
  • Cashing all dividend or insurance benefit checks, even seemingly insignificant ones
  • Making sure to initiate some transactions annually so accounts remain active
  • Making telephone or Internet contact with each financial institution at least once every 3 years
  • Making a current list of all assets and financial accounts available to a family member or adviser
  • Making a periodic free search of relevant unclaimed-property websites

It is important to remember that automated deposits or withdrawal from an account are not regarded as "contact."

The Investment Company Institute, a mutual fund industry trade group, is being proactive in alerting individual shareholders to the dangers inherent in the laws governing unclaimed property, and plans to disseminate this information through social media as well.

Laws concerning the point at which property can be deemed unclaimed or abandoned vary state to state. What they have in common is that they require evidence that there has been no client contact or activity for a certain period of time, generally three years. In some states, an account may be considered "abandoned" even if mail has been delivered to a valid address during the intervening time as long as it has been substantiated that there has been no client contact.

The laws surrounding estate planning and protection of assets can be complicated. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact OC Wills & Trust Attorneys  and speak to one of our knowledgeable lawyers. We serve clients in  Irvine, California and throughout Orange County and can be reached at 949.347.5256.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ways a Living Trust Can Help Preserve Assets

What is a living trust and how can it be useful in financial planning?

A living trust is a legal written document which partially substitutes for a will. By employing a living trust, your assets, including your bank accounts, home, and other investments, are put into a trust designed to be beneficial to you during your lifetime and to be transferred to your beneficiaries after your death.

In most cases, the trust is established so that you serve as your own trustee, maintaining full control over your assets during your lifetime. It is also possible, and most often desirable, to designate a successor trustee (person or financial institution) to manage the trust's assets if you become incapacitated. It is important to note that you can alter or dissolve  a revocable living trust at any time as long as you remain competent to do so. Also, in cases where a named trustee takes the position over, he or she is held to high standards and cannot make personal use of the trust's assets.

Reasons for Establishing a Living Trust

There are several important reasons for creating a living trust, including that:

  • It can ensure your assets will be managed as you desire, even if you become incapacitated
  • It will make certain that your appointed trustee will take care of taxes, debts, and distribution of assets at the time of your death, much as an executor would
  • Arrangements after your death can be made without court supervision or approval
  • A living trust prevents probate in the case of a fatal accident or other sudden death
  • If anyone contests your decisions after your death, a trust will hold up much better than a will

Even with all these advantages, there are a number of situations in which establishing a living trust is not necessary nor desirable. Young married couples without children who are one another's sole beneficiaries do not necessarily need a living trust. The possibility that both spouses should die simultaneously, however, should be considered. Also, if you believe that court supervision over your estate will be helpful, or even essential, a living trust is not for you. In general, if your assets are not significant (e.g. under $150, 000), you probably do not require a living trust.

As a rule of thumb, the greater the value of your estate, the more beneficial a living trust becomes. While drafting a will costs less initially, having a living trust in place cuts future court costs for probate, saving your estate money in the long run.

As you proceed with your estate planning, it is essential to have an experienced and highly competent attorney in your corner. If you have any questions about how to set up a living trust or concerns about other matters of estate planning, please contact Brian Chew, Attorney at Law at OC Wills & Trust Attorneys at 949.347.5256.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Estate Planning to Protect Your Assets

How should members of the "sandwich generation" protect themselves and their loved ones?

Members of the sandwich generation, those responsible for aging parents and children (even adult children) simultaneously, may experience a great deal of stress, financially as well as emotionally. In such cases, a skilled estate planning attorney  can be a godsend.

The sandwich generation has grown rapidly during the last several decades. Research has shown that over 30 percent of baby boomers and over 40 percent of generation Xers are supporting both a young or adult child and an aging parent. How did this happen?

There are several reasons for the rocketing increase in members of the sandwich generation. Among them are increased longevity and its concomitant increased medical costs. Caring for aging parents with medical ailments at the same time as coping with the expense of one's own encroaching health issues can be daunting.

Another contributing factor is the increasing costs of higher education. While young children have always been dependent on their parents for financial support, the situation has worsened as college education has become more and more expensive. Students and parents now incur debt during the youngsters' college years and frequently students try to save money by living in their parents' homes long after they graduate. During recent years of recession, when unemployment was abnormally high, even for educated workers, this situation was exacerbated.

For people experiencing the crunch of being sandwiched between needy parents and dependent children, professionals should be consulted. It is of paramount importance that individuals sandwiched between the generations take care of themselves, remembering that, unless they put on their own oxygen masks first, they will be unable to care for either their children or their parents.  Recommendations to protect one's own assets may include:

  • Not withdrawing savings from retirement accounts, even when tempted
  • Chipping in with siblings to purchase long-term care for parents while they are reasonably young
  • Investing in long-term healthcare insurance while your age makes it more affordable
  • Not investing beyond a sensible risk-tolerance level in hopes of saving the family
  • If possible, avoid taking out a home equity line of credit
  • Applying for government assistance, such as Medicaid, when necessary, to fund parental care
  • Considering the possibility that you may be making an adult child permanently dependent by supporting him or her

When you find yourself uncomfortably sandwiched between your parents and your children, why not consult with Brian Chew, a knowledgeable and experienced  asset protection attorney, at OC  Wills & Trusts. Proudly serving clients throughout Orange County, California, he can be reached at 949.347.5256.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Estate Planning for Property Owners

What do property owners have to consider when engaging in estate planning?

Estate planning, desirable for almost everyone, is absolutely necessary for homeowners who co-own property.  They must be prepared for the eventuality of the death of a spouse, family member, friend or colleague with whom they share ownership.
Read more . . .

Friday, July 24, 2015

Estate Planning for Same-Sex Couples in the Wake of Obergefell v. Hodges

How does this landmark United States Supreme Court decision effect estate planning strategies?

While the State of California has recognized same-sex marriage for a number of years, a recent landmark United States Supreme Court decision has legalized this practice across the country.  Even though this type of marriage was already legal in California it is important to understand the effect it will have on estate planning strategies for these couples.

Most importantly, the ambiguity is gone.  It is no longer up in the air whether the plan of a same sex couple will be honored or not.  Often times, it was unclear whether a plan created in California would hold up in a state that did not recognize same-sex marriage.  That is no longer the case.  These couples now have the ability to create estate plans that must be honored no matter where they end up being administered.  With this recognition come a number of benefits.

In states that previously did not recognize same-sex marriages, a surviving same-sex spouse will now be included in intestacy laws.  This means that if his or her spouse dies without a will the surviving spouse will be entitled to inherit as a matter of law.  With this also comes the principle that a spouse cannot be disinherited.  Same-sex spouses will also be legally entitled to make financial and medical decisions for their partner in certain situations even if this power is not directly given to them in a Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy.  

Same-sex couples will also be able to benefit from the estate tax exemption as heterosexual couples would.  Individuals are not required to pay a Federal estate tax unless their estate is worth more than $5.43 million.  For couples, the amount of the exemption climbs to over $10 million.  There is now no question that same-sex couples will benefit from the exemption.  The exemption is also portable meaning that the surviving spouse can use the remainder of the exemption left by a deceased spouse.  Same-sex spouses are now also able to pass assets to one another tax-free, as they will qualify for the marital deduction.

If you are married to a person of the same sex and are interested in creating an estate plan the experienced Orange County and Irvine, California lawyers at OC Wills and Trust Attorneys can help.  Contact us today at (949)347-5256 to schedule a consultation

Monday, July 6, 2015

Cloud-Based Estate Planning

How can cloud-based technology assist in your estate planning?

Technology never ceases to amaze.  New cloud technology can even aid in your estate planning needs.
Products are now available that allow you to upload final messages to be read after your death. In these final messages you can reveal your feelings, secrets, last wishes or any other instructions or information you wish to pass on to your friends and family. It is also possible to set the terms of the encrypted data so that it is automatically emailed to the designated recipients upon your death or after a specified time period.

In addition to leaving a final message that might comfort or soothe your loved ones upon your passing, or help them carry out your last wishes, digital cloud storage is also a great way to store documents for your trustees or beneficiaries. A digital locker can safeguard your private financial information such as account numbers, keys, overseas account pin numbers and other essential login information so that your heirs and trustees can access them upon your death. You can also include any social media account information, business website passcodes and digital media, including property rights that you have to published e-books, recordings, photographs and other valuable intellectual property, in this digital locker.  In addition, you can use this tool to pass on sentimental archives, videos or photographs that you may not want to distribute until death, while keeping them from trustees who may not have a need for that particular data. 

Cloud-based estate planning tools can also be used to provide confidential health care information. They can be utilized to pass along needed documents including health care proxies, living wills, and other papers that your agents will need. You can also keep your own health care information and documents secure and only allow it to be released by someone with an encryption key or upon the happening of a certain event, such as your disability. 

The lawyers at OC Wills & Trust attorneys are always looking beyond the traditional estate planning methods to uncover different ways to provide you with services that take advantage of new technology as it develops. We believe that, in certain cases, cloud-based technology might be an appropriate tool. Contact our Orange County estate planning attorneys today at (949)347-5256.

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