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Davis Estate Planning and Probate Blog

Creating a legacy through estate planning

Discussing end of life matters can be uncomfortable for everyone involved. However, failing to deal with and address that discomfort can lead to a serious problem -- no legacy to leave behind. Tackling this difficult topic and delving into estate planning can ensure that a person's final wishes are respected, and one's legacy preserved.

Leaving behind the right legacy is important, especially for those in California who are charitable-minded. These individuals can use wills and trusts to carry on charitable giving and donations even after their death. This important aspect of estate planning is often overlooked, and many people who make regular charitable donations forget to include it in their estate or wrongly assume that their loved ones will carry on the tradition.

Trustees can still care for your pet after you are gone

Pets hold special places in the hearts of their owners, with many becoming more and more like family members over the years. For older pet owners, their pets might be their primary companions. In California, many owners want their pets to continue thriving even in the event of their own passing. By including their beloved pets in their estate plan, owners can give trustees the ability and means to continue providing necessary pet care.

Trusts are common features of estate plans, but their use for pets is perhaps not as well-known. Like with other trusts, a pet trust will contain property -- usually in the form of money -- which will be managed by a trustee. The trustee will then use the money for the pet's needs, although he or she may not necessarily be the person designated to provide physical care for the dog,

Wills need regular updates to be effective

The start of a new year means different things to many people. For some in California it is a time to forge ahead with different goals, while others find it a time of peace and reflection. No matter how you ring in the start of another year, it is usually a good idea for people to carefully consider the contents of their estate plans and whether any updates to their wills are required. Failing to regularly update estate plans can cause considerable amounts of grief for loved ones.

When reviewing a will for possible areas of attention, many overlook beneficiary designations. A will might dictate that Person A should receive life insurance benefits in the event of the policy owner's death, but if the policy's designated beneficiary lists Person B, this trumps the will. This is the same for retirement plans and insurance policies that pay out to a beneficiary upon a person's death. Estate planners should be vigorous when updating their plans, and change any listed beneficiaries on their accounts as necessary.

Avoiding probate impossible? Make sure you understand the process

Probate is often unfairly portrayed as an unnecessary and archaic procedure. Many people in California make avoiding probate one of their priorities during estate planning, even if they do not fully understand the benefits and downsides of the process. While it is not always an ideal outcome, probate can be useful when approached correctly.

One of the primary purposes of probate is to prove the validity of a person's will. If a family member is worried that the presented will is an older, no-longer relevant copy or otherwise invalid, probate is the time to contest it. However, this can be a lengthy process that involves considerable time and financial resources, so family members should be certain of their decision to contest the will before doing so.

Estate planners continue to make these common mistakes

You aren't alone if you have no desire to create an estate plan or review the legal documents that you currently have in place. However, if you want to do the responsible thing, you need to put the appropriate amount of time and resources into this project.

Estate planners continue to make the same mistakes, time after time, often without knowing that they are going down a dangerous path.

Special needs trusts have their place in estate planning

California parents of special needs children often overcome significant barriers to ensure that their kids are well provided and cared for. However, many parents are faced with an uncomfortable question -- what happens to my children after I am gone? A special needs trust as part of a comprehensive estate plan can give parents peace of mind.

Trusts are a common estate planning tool, in which someone -- the trustee -- manages property for the benefit of another -- the beneficiary. The property within the trust can range from money to real estate and more. While some trusts have time limits, many are designed and funded to last until the beneficiary's death. Special needs trusts are an excellent choice for parents concerned about their child's future care.

Estate planning is essential for both life and death

Most people think that they have a basic understanding of what will happen to their belongings after death, but few people truly understand how important planning for end-of-life matters can be. Estate planning takes what a person might think they know, and transforms it into something that is actually applicable in real life. By utilizing a few key documents, California residents can create clear instructions for their loved ones, pass on assets and give others the ability to make important decisions on their behalf.

A will is perhaps the most well-known estate planning document. In it, a person may outline which assets should be distributed to which heirs, and specify an executor to do so. Executors are also responsible for paying off any last expenses or taxes with money from the estate. Living wills -- although similar sounding -- are for use before death. This document provides guidance regarding life-saving interventions and other end-of-life medical care.

Does social media information belong in wills?

Most people keep their passwords stored in the safest spot they can think of -- their own minds. However, what happens to the often dozens of online accounts after that person passes away? Suddenly Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and email accounts are inaccessible, leaving families confused and overwhelmed with how to handle a loved one's internet footprint. However, digital assets consume much more than just social media. Many California residents now deal with banking and other important financial commitments exclusively online, making it important to include relevant information in wills.

Long gone are the days of finding a loved one's bank records, upcoming bills and business transactions in convenient paper format in their home. Individuals acting as legally recognized fiduciaries must now attempt to find these important records and other relevant assets online rather than in a physical folder in someone's dresser drawer. With the ease of storage in the cloud and other online accounts, this process might not be so difficult if it were not for federal laws that do not allow unauthorized access to internet accounts and computers.

Estate planning for life and death with trusts

Estate planning is often viewed as something that is only useful after death. Trusts in particular are considered good for avoiding probate, but the potential of these powerful estate tools is often underrated. People in California can use trusts to ensure that their assets are protected both in life and afterwards.

Avoiding the time-consuming and fee-heavy probate process is a common use for trusts. Inheritances can be protected from creditors and public scrutiny when safely sheltered and passed on via trusts, and with clearly designated beneficiaries, fighting between heirs is usually avoided. However, professionals who might be vulnerable to litigation -- such as doctors -- can also benefit from placing important assets in trusts, which will provide valuable protection.

Worried about estate tax? Wills might not be enough

A last will and testament is probably the most well-known estate planning document. People in California use this powerful tool to pass on inheritances, name guardians for minor children and outline their final wishes. However, there is one thing that many people fail to account for in their wills -- the estate tax.

Commonly referred to as the death tax, if not properly planned for, it could eat up a good chunk of inheritances intended for surviving loved ones. The estate tax is complicated, making it difficult for the average person to properly plan for it. To find out if any estate tax is owed, all of the assets within a deceased person's estate must first be valued to find the gross estate value. This is more than just the cash in accounts at the time of death, but also any property, insurance policies or investments.

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Davis, CA 95616

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