Estate Planning FAQ

I have a handwritten will, isn’t that enough to set forth my wishes after my death?

A will is a good start but is only part of a good estate plan. A will is one step in distributing your assets after death. What a will won’t do - - it won’t keep you out of court. In California, a will must go through the expensive and time consuming process of Probate.

What is “Probate”?

Probate is the legal term for the court process of proving the validity and authenticity of a will and governs the appointment of an administrator to carry out the will. Probate also governs the court process where there is no will in order to administer the estate and distribute assets upon death. The court monitors the Probate process and approves the asset distribution.

Why do I need to make sure my loved ones avoid “Probate” after my death?

Three main reasons:

1. Control: In the Probate process, the court is in control of the process. In fact, if there is no will, the court determines the distribution taking any control our of the hands of the heirs and outside of your wishes in most cases.

2. Expense: In California, the Probate process is expensive. There are filing fees, notices, document certifications and other miscellaneous fees to open, during the process, and to finally close the estate and distribute the assets. Attorneys are necessary part of the Probate process and their fees are set by statute. But, if the process is contested or have issues which complicate the general process, attorney and exector/administrator fees likely will be approved beyond those set by statue. The administrator or executor may receive the same fees as the attorneys. Generally, the attorneys’ fees are calculated based upon a percentage of the total value of the estate. For an example, an $800,000 estate (the approximate average cost of a home in Southern California) would amount to potentially $38,000 in attorney fee and administrator/executor alone. All the court fees and costs would increase this amount significantly.

3. Time: The Probate process can vary depending upon the circumstances. A general rule of thumb is anywhere from 9 to 18 months. The average is a little over a year. That means that your family may not have access to your assets for quite some time after your death.

How can I plan to avoid Probate now?

There are several measures that you can take to avoid Probate by designating accounts and beneficiaries and re-titling real estate. Each individual situation is different. But, avoiding Probate is not enough. Protecting your assets during your lifetime is crucial in order for you to stay in control and out of court and conflict.

Why do I need to take measures to protect my assets while I am alive?

Protecting your assets while your are alive will serve to preserve as much of your assets as possible for your loved ones. You can design your family legal legacy. We will can help you with a plan to help shield your assets from creditors, lawsuits, ex-husbands, or ex-wives to name a few.

I’ve heard of a Revocable Living Trust but why do I need one?

We can help you determine if a Revocable Living Trust is for you. The goal is to keep your loved ones out of court and out of conflict in the event of your incapcity or death and preserve your assets for your family’s legal life legacy. A Revocable Living Trust will keep your family out of the Probate process and allows you to set forth your wishes for your assets. You are in control, you are the designer, you determine your legacy.

What if I am no longer able to make decisions for myself regarding medical or financial issues?

Planning ahead is key. We can assist you in planning for you and your family’s future if you are no longer able to make medical and/or financial decisions for yourself. Without proper planning and instructions from you before your incapacity, the court will likely have to appoint a conservator to make decisions for you. This often leads to conflict between family members and may not carry out your desires and they may be carried out by someone that you don’t trust.

How can I protect my children if something happens to me?

Our Kiddo’s Care and Safety Plan will provide short-term guardian nominations and other documents to protect your children in case of an emergency. Our Guardian Nomination allows you to choose who will take custody of your most precious asset - your children in case you are unable to care for them.

I have a pet that is a member of our family. Who will take care of my pet if something happens to me?

Our Pet Protection Plus Plan allows you to plan ahead for the care and custody of your beloved fur babies. In California, Pet Trusts are part of any good plan. We assist you in designing your Pet Trust, plus we provide documents to protect your precious pet in the short-term in case of an emergency to keep your family (and pets) out of court and conflict.

I’ve heard of an Advance Healthcare Directive. Do I really need one?

The short answer is Yes! No matter your age, you can plan for unexpected circumstances in which you are no longer able to make decisions for yourself. An Advance Healthcare Directive allows you to designate who you trust to make your medical decisions and carry out your wishes for burial, organ donation, life support, advanced life saving measures, etc. We can assist you in designing the directive to suit your needs.

Why would I need a Power of Attorney?

If you are no longer able to make financial or major decisions for your well being, a Power of Attorney allows you to designate who you choose and trust to make those decisions on your behalf.

Why do I need an attorney when I can download fillable estate planning forms from the internet?

Estate planning is definitely not one size fits all or even one size fits most. You wouldn’t trust the internet to make a medical diagnosis. Why would you trust the internet to make a legal diagnosis about your estate planning needs? We help you make informed and trusted decisions about your family’s legal legacy. Our knowledgeable attorneys will design the plan based upon your choices and in consideration of the law to best suit your needs.