Estate Planning - Wills and Trusts

My law firm's mission is to help protect family assets accumulated through years of hard work and to facilitate the smooth passage of such assets to identified beneficiaries through thoughtful estate planning.

Estate planning is more than just protecting assets. It encompasses decisions about who should make the financial decisions on your behalf if you are mentally incapable to do so. It also encompasses your decisions about health care and end of life choices to minimize your family's emotional burden at one of the most difficult times in their lives. The best time to make decisions about what to do when the unexpected or inevitable happens is NOW.

NOW is the time!
You have to plan NOW because you have no control or say over when you will leave your loved ones. You have to plan NOW, while you are in good health and have the right frame of mind to decide how you want your estate distributed. NOW is a good time, it is not a good time to do estate planning while dealing with illnesses, impending death and there is NO TIME TO PLAN if you pass away unexpectedly.

Life is a blessing and death is part of life. The best gift we can leave our loved ones is a thoughtful estate plan that helps them to continue with their life with minimum disruption and minimum hassle with the government.

Without a will or a trust, your estate may be probated and the government may distribute your estate based on intestate law. In other words, the Probate Court may divide your estate based on familial relationship.

Minimum Action Required
Even if you have no meaningful assets, at the very minimum you should have a testamentary will, an advanced health care directive and a general power of attorney. This would offer tremendous relief to your loved ones at a time when they are overwhelmed by the loss of their beloved.

Advanced Health Care Directive
The advanced health care directive will ease the burden on your loved ones on the difficult end of life decisions because you would specify what the medical staff should do in different medical situations. By designating your agent(s) also as a conservator(s), you may be able to avoid the unpleasant conservatorship process.

Durable Power of Attorney
The durable power of attorney would authorize your designated agent or "attorney-in- fact" to make decisions on your behalf when one or two licensed physicians certify that you are unable to conduct your own affairs due to incapacity.

Effect of not having either a will or a trust
Without an estate plan, whether it is as simple as having a will or trust, the probate court may appoint a "representative" to go to your house, take inventory of all your assets, publish your death in the local papers so people who may have claims against your estate and creditors can file their claim. Appraisers may be appointed to appraise some of your property, if applicable. The probate process will take between 6 months to a couple of years.

Effect of Having a Will
If you have a will, it will still have to be probated if your estate is over $100,000. The Executor of your will will have to file your will with the probate court either by himself/ herself or with the help of a probate attorney.

The disadvantage of having a will is (1) it may have to be probated which means size of your estate and names of your beneficiaries becomes a matter of public record, therefore your creditors can file claims against your estate, omitted heirs may contest your will, anyone interested in you can find out what you own and who are your heirs and creditors of your heirs will be on stand-by to make their claims against your heirs when your heirs receive their distributions, (2) probate costs can be costly depending on the size of your estate and (3) beneficiaries will not be able to receive their share of the estate until after the probate which is somewhere between 6 months to a couple of years. The advantage of having a will is that there is a cut-off date for heirs and creditors to claim against your estate.

Effect of Having a Trust
It is sensible to have a trust if you at least own a real estate and have build some equity in it. A trust requires you to transfer your assets to the trust. You can be the trustee and beneficiary of your trust.

The advantage of a trust is that the probate court need not be involved when you pass away. It can remain completely private. Your Executor can immediately distribute your estate to your beneficiaries per your trust terms after satisfying certain statutory requirements. There is minimum delay and potentially no cost if a trusted family member is appointed as Executor. Reasonable fees may be charged by a professional Executor for e.g. if you appoint your Accountant who may charge his hourly rate. There are different types of trusts. These include revocable living trust, charitable trust, irrevocable life insurance trust, GRAT etc. The type of trust that is appropriate for you depends on your goals and objective.

Family Care Program
My law firm has a family care program designed to ensure that families update the assets in their estate periodically.

It is useful to remember that the estate plan you have made will be implemented only upon your death, which hopefully will be several years from when it was created. In that period, many changes may occur in your family life and in the composition of your assets. Additionally, you will obviously not be around to supervise the distribution of your estate.

As part of our family care program, we encourage you to introduce your family members, especially the successor trustees and executors of your estate to us. We'd like to get to know all members of your family so we can develop a close working relationship with them as well. At some point, it would be appropriate to meet with them to explain the execution part of the estate planning.

Family care means also that you have a trusted advisor who will assist and guide you and your family through various legal issues or concerns that may arise from time to time. International Trust Some clients have specific circumstances that make creating an international trust the most appropriate estate plan for them. For more details, please go to International Law section.

Serving Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks, Greater Conejo Valley and Ventura County