Why. Two reasons why most people should probably have an estate plan (instead of just a Will) are:
- Probate, and
- Potential Incapacity.
Who & Where. California residents face the following two realities:
- The probate process in California is time-consuming, expensive, public, and generally unavoidable unless a valid, trust-centered estate plan is in place (or the total value of the decedent’s estate is less than $150,000 and doesn’t include real estate); and
- Statistically, people are living longer, but with an increasing risk they’ll experience some period of incapacity before they die. And if a person becomes incapacitated without a written plan already in place, another kind of probate proceeding (called a conservatorship) may be needed. The takeaway: it’s just as important to plan for yourself as it is to plan for your beneficiaries.
What. Unlike a Will, which doesn’t have any legal effect until death, a trust-based estate plan can also operate during the client’s lifetime. Key plan documents provide a set of instructions to pre-selected people for managing things in the event of incapacity, and another set of instructions for how and to whom assets are to be distributed after death. All of the documents in a well-designed estate plan work together in a coordinated manner to avoid probate proceedings of any kind.
While probate avoidance and incapacity planning are reasons enough to have an estate plan, many other goals can be achieved through thoughtful estate planning. Everyone has his or her own unique estate planning goals. For some people, it’ll be providing for a surviving spouse or other family members. Others may be focused on establishing a charitable legacy of some kind. Maybe the goal is to protect a particular beneficiary’s inheritance by providing him or her with a certain level of asset protection, or maybe it’s making sure that a beneficiary with special needs is properly cared for in a manner that won’t disqualify him or her from receiving public assistance benefits.
How. Simply put, a single document just isn’t going to get the job done. But a set of estate planning documents that have been intentionally designed to work together to achieve all of the client’s goals can. Probate avoidance can generally be achieved through the use of a trust and making appropriate provisions for transferring all of the client’s non-trust assets. Meaningful incapacity planning is usually best achieved by addressing it appropriately in almost every document in the plan (with the exception of the client’s Will, which has no bearing on incapacity because it only operates after death).
The legal and tax landscape associated with estate planning has changed significantly over the course of the past decade alone, and is certainly not immune to future change. Each client’s unique personal circumstances either can or will change over time. For these reasons, flexibility and forward thinking are also critical features of an effective estate plan. In this constantly changing world, is it really worth taking a chance that a cookie-cutter, cut-and-paste, do-it-yourself form will get the job done right? Of course not.
Our goal is to provide every estate planning client with a coordinated set of documents that will operate as intended to avoid probate, provide for potential incapacity, provide for disposition of the his or her estate at death, achieve other unique estate planning goals, and yet still be flexible enough to adequately respond to changes in the law and/or unique circumstances. And we’ve designed our estate planning process to achieve this goal.
When. There’s no time like the present when it comes to getting started on finally crossing this incredibly important item off your “to do” list. Give us a call today. We’re here to help you make that happen.