Whether you use a will or a living trust, an estate plan is a blueprint which tells others where your house, bank accounts, and other property will go when you die. Without an estate plan, your property goes to those people the State of California thinks should get the property. These may not be the people you want to get your property, however. An estate plan may also function to reduce or eliminate estate taxes and may be used to provide for loved ones with special needs.
Every estate plan starts out with a living trust or a will. A living trust is simply a way to own property so that it does not go through probate upon your death. Probate is the court supervised procedure by which your property is transferred from your estate to your beneficiaries. Probate is an expensive and time consuming process and, in most cases, should be avoided. With a trust you are, during your lifetime, the trustee of your trust. The trustee is the manager of the trust, exercising control over the property; you are also the beneficiary of the trust. After you die, a successor trustee takes over management of the trust property, through a trust administration to carry out your wishes, i.e. keep the property in trust for your children or distribute the property. A will, on the other hand, does not avoid probate; it simply tells the probate court what you want done with your property upon your death.
Other vital components of a complete estate plan are an Advance HealthCare Directive and a Financial Power of Attorney. An Advance HealthCare Directive allows you to appoint someone to make health care decisions for you if you cannot do so yourself. It also allows you to specify what kind of medical treatment you desire. A Financial Power of Attorney allows you to name a person to make financial decisions for you if you are unable to make those decisions yourself; it can also be made effective immediately upon signing.
If you have children who are disabled and receive some form of government assistance, we can create a Special Needs Trust that will allow you to give your children money or other property without disqualifying them from SSI, Medi-Cal, and other needs-based government programs. If you have pets that you wish to plan for, a pet trust can be set up so your pets can be taken care of after your death.
Finally, if you have a large estate, we can work with you to create life insurance, personal residence, family limited liability companies or partnerships and other trusts to reduce or eliminate estate taxes upon your death.