There are many legal strategies involved in estate planning, including wills, revocable living trusts, irrevocable trusts, durable powers of attorney, and health care documents. New clients often say that they do not have an estate plan. Most people are surprised to learn that they actually do have a plan. In the absence of legal planning otherwise, their estate will be distributed after death according to California's laws of intestacy. Of course, this may not be the plan they would have chosen. A properly drafted estate plan will replace the terms of the State’s estate plan with your own.
Your last will and testament is just one part of a comprehensive estate plan. If a person dies without a Will they are said to have died "intestate" and state laws will determine how and to whom the person's assets will be distributed. Some things you should know about wills:
Trusts come in many "flavors," they can be simple or complex, and serve a variety of legal, personal, investment or tax planning purposes. At the most basic level, a trust is a legal entity with at least three parties involved: the trust-maker, the trustee (trust manager), and the trust beneficiary. Oftentimes, all three parties are represented by one person or a married couple. In the case of a revocable living trust, for example, a person may create a trust (the trust-maker) and name themselves the current trustees (trust managers) who manage the trust assets for their own benefit (trust beneficiary).
Depending on the situation, there may be many advantages to establishing a trust, including avoiding probate court. In most cases, assets owned in a revocable living trust will pass to the trust beneficiaries (or heirs) immediately upon the death of the trust-maker(s) with no probate required. Certain trusts also may result in tax advantages both for the trust-maker and the beneficiary. Or they may be used to protect property from creditors, or simply to provide for someone else to manage and invest property for the trust-maker(s) and the named beneficiaries. If well drafted, another advantage of trusts is their continuing effectiveness even if the trust-maker dies or becomes incapacitated.
A power of attorney is a legal document giving another person (the attorney-in-fact) the legal right (powers) to do certain things for you. What those powers are depends on the terms of the document. A power of attorney may be very broad or very limited and specific. All powers of attorney terminate upon the death of the maker, and may terminate when the maker (principal) becomes incapacitated (unable to make or communicate decisions). When the intent is to designate a back-up decision-maker in the event of incapacity, then a durable power of attorney should be used. Durable Powers of Attorney should be frequently updated because banks and other financial institutions may hesitate to honor a power of attorney that is more than a year old.
An advance directive is a document that specifies the type of medical and personal care you would want should you lose the ability to make and communicate your own decisions. Anyone over the age of 18 may execute an advance directive, and this document is legally binding in California. Your advance directive can specify who will make and communicate decisions for you, and it can set out the circumstances under which you would not like your life to be prolonged if, for example, you were in a coma with no reasonable chance of recovery.
A document that goes hand-in-hand with your advance directive is an authorization to your medical providers to allow specified individuals to access your medical information. Without this authorization, your doctor may refuse to communicate with your hand-picked decision maker.
What to Expect: Estate Planning
Step 1 Introduction:
Whether you reach out to us by phone or email, our dedicated Client Services Director is happy to speak with you and answer any questions you have about our firm, our areas of practice, and the services we offer our clients. If you are looking to schedule a meeting to get started on your Foundational Estate Plan, we provide you with all the information you need to get a sense of our process and our dedication to our clients, and to prepare for the upcoming initial consultation.
Step 2 Initial Consultation:
Prior to the Initial Consultation, we provide you with our firm's Client Personal Information Form to assist you in gathering your family and financial information, focus your thoughts, and prepare yourself to make important decisions regarding your estate plan.
We block out about an hour and a half to two hours for you to sit down with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys. At this meeting, first and foremost, you talk and we listen. What is important to you? What are your priorities? From there, we make our recommendations based on what you've told us.
Step 3 Telephone Review:
Our follow up Phone Review gives us a chance to confirm your information, and discuss any remaining documentation we need. Our firm works collaboratively with clients' accountants and financial professionals to ensure that your planning is cohesive with your financial goals, and that your professional "team" is on board.
We also recognize that Estate Planning means asking hard questions. This call gives you a chance to think over the choices you make and confirm that they are the right decisions for you—or to change and modify your plan to best suit your needs.
Step 4 Presentation & Signing Meeting:
At this point, based on your decisions, your needs, and your priorities, we will have drafted up your estate planning documents. Now it is time for us to present and explain them to you, confirm your decisions—or make changes as appropriate—and have them signed and notarized. At this meeting, you will usually sign the deeds retitling your home, and any other real estate, in the name of your trust. Once this meeting has taken place, you also begin retitling your other assets as well. Congratulations! Your Foundational Estate Plan is now in effect. (Don't worry, you will still be able to make changes to your trust after the signing meeting.)
Step 5 Confirmation:
After the Presentation and Signing Meeting, we take some time to double check your documents, scan them into our digital database, and organize them into a binder for easy access.
At Confirmation, we meet to review the asset retitling process (also known as asset alignment or funding), sign Beneficiary Designation Forms (if applicable), discuss any supplemental planning you might have in mind, and deliver to you your Foundational Estate Plan, containing the Estate Planning Binder, Original Documents, and Superseded Documents (if applicable.)
Once you have your estate plan in hand, you have 6 months to make any changes or revisions as needed at no charge.
Step 6 Trust Reviews, Seminars, & Updates:
As part of our commitment to our clients, we offer complimentary trust reviews to ensure that your estate plan remains up-to-date. Clients should have their plans reviewed every 2-3 years, and our firm may recommend changes as circumstances or changes in the law necessitate—if you do make changes, additional fees would apply depending on the scope of the changes. We also offer a quarterly newsletter, as well as complimentary informational mailings and seminars three to four times a year in order to keep our clients informed about hot topic estate planning issues and changes in the law.
Presentation & Signing:
Reviews, Seminars, & Updates:
If you have a question, a comment, or simply want to have a conversation and explore how we can help, we'd love to hear from you.
The Sydney Law Firm, P.C.
5950 Canoga Ave., Suite 240
Woodland Hills, CA 91367
Phone: (818) 594-0500
300 E. Esplanade Dr., Suite 900
Oxnard, CA 93035
Phone: (818) 594-0500
Offices in Oxnard & Santa Monica by appointment only