What is Estate Planning?

Estate Planning is the process of planning for the transfer of your assets after your death. An estate plan also should protect your welfare during your lifetime if you become incapacitated, and determine guardianship of your minor children.

Estate planning is not just for the wealthy. Every adult needs a plan of some sort. Each person’s individual asset and family picture mean that estate planning is not a one size fits all problem. Too often do-it-yourself or cookie cutter solutions do not serve people properly, and family is left to bear the burden and pay the cost of bad planning or a lack of planning. Too often people mistakenly implement a “plan” that is not legally effective or not applicable to their situation.

My Process

My process for putting your plan in place can be broken down into a few simple steps:

  • You and your significant other (if applicable) complete an intake questionnaire.
  • We have an initial meeting to discuss your estate planning needs and review your questionnaire.
  • A second meeting follows several weeks later where all documents are signed and notarized.
  • After your trust is created, you will need to fund the trust by retitling your bank and investment accounts and configuring beneficiaries. My office will take care of recording the deed to your home.

I walk my clients through this process comfortably and in a down to earth manner. I often hear how relieved clients are to complete the process, as most have put it off knowing they should have done it sooner.

Estate Planning also involves periodic review of your plan. A trust review ensures that your estate plan still meets your needs. Over time it may be necessary to change successor trustees, beneficiaries, or even the structure of your trust based on legislative changes or familial changes. Periodic review of your plan is practical and affordable.

Why is Estate Planning important

If you die or become incapacitated without an estate plan, your family is going to incur significant financial costs. If a probate is required, attorneys are legally sanctioned to charge fees based on the value of the estate. For a modest home worth $500,000, this fee is $13,000. (this calculator is incredible but old). They can charge this fee regardless of whether there is any equity in the home or not.) Probate is also a slow process, and it is all conducted in a public forum making your private affairs public. A properly implemented plan avoids the need for probate.

We need to plan for incapacity as well as death. If you become incapacitated and cannot handle your personal affairs, your family will have to go to court to seek appointment of a conservator over your person and estate. This again is expensive in terms of court and legal fees. It again places in the public eye what should be entirely private. A properly implemented plan avoids the need for a conservatorship during your incapacity.

Estate planning can also help protect your assets in the even that you need Medi-Cal long term care benefits. The cost of a comprehensive estate plan is a fraction of what it costs your family if you don’t plan and not planning is a waste of your assets.

In addition to being cost effective, Estate Planning also allows you to keep your affairs orderly and private. You specify in advance who will have decision making authority and the duty to carry out the terms of your trust. Estates without planning have more disputes than those with proper planning. A good plan allows your affairs to be handled efficiently and privately, rather than in a public forum that is painfully slow.

While there has been some movement in Sacramento recently to improve the probate problem for average Californian’s, a trust, as part of a complete estate plan, remains the best option for the vast majority of Californians.

Who needs Estate Planning?

Estate Planning is not just for the rich. I would argue that everyone needs to do this planning at some level. Every Californian who owns real estate needs a trust, with very limited exception. Every parent with a child under the age of 18 needs a will. Every adult that could potentially become incapacitated (and that’s all of us!) needs a power of attorney and an advance healthcare directive. Without these documents, your loved ones will be forced to seek a court order to govern your affairs. This is costly, public, and time consuming. Even if you don’t need a trust, a consultation with an attorney can provide you important guidance on how to transfer your assets through beneficiary designations, transfer on death deeds, and other probate avoidance techniques. It has been said that everyone has an estate plan be default under the California Probate Code. Unfortunately, the default is costly, public, and inefficient. A few simple documents and professional legal counsel can avoid all this.

Client Profiles:

The Invincible Thirties – Husband and Wife are a young family starting out. Possibly homeowners. Have some life insurance. They realize that, however unlikely, if something were to happen to both of them, they need a plan to protect their young children. The need a will to nominate a guardian for their children A trust allows inheritance to be managed by a trustee for the benefit of children until they reach a certain age. Single parents are especially vulnerable at this stage. Unfortunately, most people in this age group neglect to take action on this, despite knowing deep down that they should.

Not Invincible Anymore – Eventually most people come to realize their own mortality. At this stage often people have acquired more assets. Children may be old enough now to serve as successor trustees. Planning focuses less on protecting the children, and more on protecting the surviving spouse and ensuring that assets are passed as simply and efficiently as possible to beneficiaries. For business owners, planning involves integrating the estate plan with a business succession plan. And for those with sizeable estates, tax planning becomes as critical issue.

Seasoned Veterans – These people may seek to review and update their trust over time. Or perhaps there is a change in family status does to death or divorce that requires plan changes. These clients know the importance and necessity of a good estate plan, and want to make sure they are fully protected.

How I can help

Knowing that I am helping clients avoid the costs, uncertainty, and unpleasantness that come with a lack of planning, makes me proud of my estate planning offering. I truly believe my services are a good value and benefit to my clients, and I am thankful for the trust and confidence my clients place in me for this very personal task. I do all estate planning on a fixed flat rate basis so there are never any surprises with the fees. My office serves clients from throughout East Contra Costa County, including Brentwood, Discovery Bay, and Antioch. I also am able to serve clients throughout California though technological means. And I routinely make house calls when the circumstances require it.