Marissa Sirota Law
Estate Planning, Trust Administration And Probate In Davis, Woodland And The Surrounding Area
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Davis Estate Planning and Probate Blog

Don't face probate alone -- we can help

The time after the loss of a loved one can be emotionally fraught. As difficult as it is to deal with a family member's death, many people must go through the grieving process while also handling the deceased's estate. If you are like most people in California, this may be the first and only time you deal with the probate process, which can be extremely difficult.

Probate is the legal process in which a court approves the transfer of a deceased person's property to beneficiaries and heirs. Estates whose owners took the time to carefully prepare their estate -- including wills and other important documents -- tend to pass through probate rather quickly and without a hitch. However, a significant number of people fail to adequately estate plan, which can cause serious problems for executors.

Use estate planning to protect loved ones

Many people in California excuse their lack of a will by claiming that they do not care what happens to their possessions after they die. Although there may be some level of truth to this, most people certainly care about their loved ones and the effects of handling an estate. Here are just some of the problems that can arise when estate planning is overlooked.

In the absence of a will that dictates how an estate should be divvied up, the laws of intestacy take over. This process doles out inheritances based on relationships and how closely related a person is to the deceased. For those who do not have many surviving family members, this could mean that their estate passes to an unknown and distant relative. Those who are estranged from certain family members -- such as parents or siblings -- might have a sizeable chunk of their estate go to someone for whom they no longer care.

Are living trusts useful during asset distribution?

Most estate plans usually include many different documents. A last will and testament, health care directives and various trusts all come together to create the most comprehensive plan possible, providing guidance for both end-of-life care and how an estate should be handled after a person's death. Living trusts can be incredibly useful for most people in California, especially during asset distribution.

Living trusts are useful both during a person's life as well as after his or her death. Certain property can be protected from heavy taxation by transferring it into a living trust, while still allowing an individual to actively manage his or her property. After death, the property can be more easily transferred to heirs by bypassing the probate process.

Hugh Hefner's estate planning simplified matters for his heirs

Celebrity deaths tend to bring out mixed emotions in people. Some mourn the death of a beloved role model or icon, while others acknowledge a celebrity's passing without much emotion. However tragic the death of a high-profile individual might be, the celebrity's estate plan -- whether good or bad -- usually serves as an example of the importance of proper estate planning. The late Hugh Hefner is no exception.

Fights over inheritance are not as uncommon as some in California might think, especially when there is a significant amount of money involved, or a parent remarried later in life and earmarked some of his or her estate for the surviving spouse. However, experts believe that fighting over inheritances in the Hefner estate will be unlikely. Hefner left half of his estate to be divided among his four children. The other half of his estate is to be spent on charities.

A quick primer on adding trusts to your estate plan

Estate plans come in many shapes. They have to take your unique situation and needs into account. Each estate plan has to reflect your wishes and should make things as easy as possible for the people who are included in the plan.

At a minimum, you will need a will. You might also need to have trusts set up to make the transfer of assets easier. There are a host of different types of trusts, and each of these has a different purpose. Before you jump into the estate planning process, you should understand a few points about trusts.

Don't forget about Spot: Protect your animals in your estate plan

Pet owners in California understand that their four-legged friends are more than just animals -- they are family. For how much love most people shower on their beloved pets, many fail to adequately prepare for their future care. A comprehensive estate plan can provide necessary instructions and finances for a pet after his or her owner has passed away.

Pet trusts are one of the most common ways that individuals incorporate their pets into their estate plans. Like other trusts, a trustee who will oversee how the funds are distributed and invested must be named. This is usually not the same person who will actually be taking ownership of the pet.

Have you updated your health care directives?

Ask most people what an estate plan is for and you will get the same approximate answer -- it is for dividing an estate after death. However, this is just one part of estate planning, and only putting in the bare minimum with a will leaves people in California vulnerable, particularly as they near the end of their lives. Although it can be uncomfortable to discuss end-of-life wishes, health care directives can provide guidance during emotionally strenuous times.

A living will is essential, especially for those who have strong feelings regarding certain medical interventions. This document is used to outline what kind of care a person would like to receive in their later years, and can even include preferences for residential or in-home treatment. It also makes sense to include useful information, such as primary and alternate physicians, insurance information, medical records and preferred hospitals.

Estate planning in the digital age

Wills are valuable documents whether the testator intends to pass on a home, important family heirlooms or personal items of great value. While the role that a will plays in passing on physical assets is quite clear, many people in California are less certain about how their digital assets fit in. Because of licensing and terms of service, estate planning must be carefully utilized for digital property.

Much of what people own now exists in a purely electronic form. From music to digital books and electronic copies of movies, assets now exist in the cloud just as much as they do in the real world. However, many of these digital assets are not fully owned by users, and are instead licensed for their personal use. This prevents most people from transferring a digital book from their electronic reader upon their death. In many instances a digital asset will simply disappear even if otherwise outlined in a will.

Should I be scared of probate?

Handling a loved one's death can be an extremely trying experience for any family. However, some individuals in California put more stress on themselves than is strictly necessary by worrying over a common process -- probate. While avoiding probate is a common goal of many estate plans, the process can be incredibly useful.

Fear around probate likely extends from not understanding what the process is. At its most basic, probate is the legal process in which, upon a person's death, their property is transferred. Not all property is subject to probate. Life insurance policies or bank accounts designated as payable on death are not required to pass through the process, which is passed on either by ownership or designation. Gifts, revocable trusts and joint ownership with survivorship rights also skirt probate.

Challenging a will is only possible in specific cases

When a person takes the time to create an estate plan, he or she will usually assume that people will accept the will and other portions of the plan. There are some cases in which wills can be challenged and these reasons are very specific.

Laws make it difficult to impossible for people who don't have an interest in the will to make a claim that would prevent the rightful heirs from being able to get what they are due. Whether you are thinking of challenging a will or you are the person who has to deal with the will contest, here are some points to remember.


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