Our Estate Planning and Elder Law FAQs

How do I set up a trust? Does a will have to be notarized to be enforceable? Is my mother eligible for Medi-Cal? Who should I name as a guardian to my children in my will? In our FAQs, we offer answers to the most commonly-asked questions about wills, trusts, probate, and other estate planning topics.

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  • Does a trustee need an attorney for assistance with the trust administration process?

    Trustees have important legal responsibilities. When you were asked to be a trustee, you may have been honored and eager to help. While those things may still be true, now you have an important job to do and certain legal responsibilities that must be fulfilled.

    What’s Expected of You

    As a trustee, it will be your responsibility to:

    • Identify all trust assets.
    • Treat all of the beneficiaries equally—unless the trust states that you can do otherwise.
    • Make trust distributions according to the terms of the trust.
    • Make sure that you do not use the trust assets for your own benefit or combine trust assets with your own.
    • Invest trust assets in a reasonable way that will allow them to grow with little risk.
    • Keep accurate trust records.
    • Report to the beneficiaries as required.
    • File all applicable tax returns.

    Other responsibilities may also be described in the trust document.

    You Don’t Have to Do This Alone

    Being a trustee can take a lot of time and a lot of effort. It can also put you at risk of being sued if you make a mistake. Accordingly, you may want to protect yourself by working with professionals who can make sure that you are doing everything correctly. For example, an accountant can help with tax returns, a financial planner can help you with investments, and a lawyer can make sure that you are complying with all applicable laws so that you, the trust grantor, and beneficiaries are all protected.

    While not every trust beneficiary needs a lawyer, many will benefit from the experience of a skilled attorney. If you are a trustee, then we encourage you to contact us today for an initial consultation about your rights. If we believe that you can handle your trustee duties independently, then we will tell you that. Likewise, if we believe that we can help you comply with applicable laws and administer the trust fairly, then we will also tell you that.

    In some situations, the trust itself may pay for the professional services needed by the trustee. Therefore, you have nothing to lose by scheduling a free consultation with us. Please contact us via this website or by phone today to learn more.

  • Isn’t Asset Protection Only For Those With A Very High Net-Worth?

    Even people with fewer assets than you might imagine could benefit from asset protection planning. Asset planning protection is not something that should only be considered by millionaires. Instead, anyone who owns assets that would be painful to lose should consider taking action now to protect those assets in case a problem arises in the future.

    A client with a net worth of $5 million won’t be nearly as affected by a $1 million lawsuit judgment compared to a client with a $1 million net worth. Right? The client with a $5 million net worth can pay the judgment and their life won’t drastically change whereas the other client would be bankrupt. It’s about peace of mind. Clients with a net estate of $1 million and up should consider asset protection.

    Why an Asset Protection Plan Is Important for You

    Without an asset protection plan in place, you are vulnerable to the unpredictability of lawsuits, bankruptcy, and other legal problems that could result in the potential loss of many of your assets. Something as simple and unpredictable as a car crash could mean that you lose everything that you’ve worked for or inherited.

    Accordingly, it is important to consider an asset protection plan if:

    • You own property.
    • You own a business.
    • You are a professional who may be sued, such as a doctor, lawyer, accountant, or real estate investor.
    • You have a lot of assets that could be vulnerable in a lawsuit.
    • You are close to retirement and want to make sure that your retirement funds are secure.

    The risk of losing your real estate, your business, or your other assets is just too great a chance to take when there are options available to protect these assets from loss.

    Get Help With Your Asset Protection Plan Today

    If you think you may need an asset protection plan, then it is important to consult with an experienced estate planning lawyer at your earliest convenience. There are many different legal strategies that could help you, depending on your unique situation. If you use the wrong strategy or if you fail to implement the strategy correctly, then your assets could remain at risk.

    An estate planning lawyer can help protect you from risk and can help you protect your assets for your use and enjoyment and for your heirs and beneficiaries. To learn more, please schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation with the Estate Planning Law Center at your earliest convenience. You never know when a lawsuit or other unplanned event could put your assets in jeopardy.

  • Won’t I lose control of my money with asset protection?

    With proper legal asset protection planning, you do not lose control of your money.

  • Can asset protection be implemented after being sued?

    The BEST asset protection is set up BEFORE any threat or serving of a lawsuit. However, every circumstance is very individual and in some cases, even after the fact, some planning can be done. You should contact an experienced attorney if you find yourself in such a circumstance.

  • Aren’t Domestic Asset Protection Trusts (onshore planning) as strong as offshore planning?

    No. While onshore planning provides substantial asset protection – it’s not bulletproof. The courts can and have set them aside. Offshore planning is essentially bulletproof – it is outside the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.

  • Exactly what is “estate planning?”

    Estate planning is not just about what happens to your assets after you pass away. Effective estate planning looks at all of the issues, from death and disability to planning how to pay for long-term care. The objectives of an estate plan are:

    • I want to control my property while I’m alive and well.
    • I want to plan for my loved ones and myself if I become disabled.
    • When I die, I want to give what I want to whom I want, when I want, the way that I want.
    • I’d like to do all of that knowing what it’s going to cost me.

    That is what we can do for you. This is what we do for every family we serve.

  • What is included in a typical estate plan?

    Actually, there is no typical estate plan. Every family presents unique issues to deal with. That said, we offer what we call the Foundational Estate Plan. This includes:

    • Revocable Living Trust
    • Pourover Will
    • Durable Power of Attorney
    • Advance Health Care Directive and HIPAA Release
    • Property Agreement
    • Trust Certification

    See estate planning for further information about each document.

  • Are there any other documents I might need in addition to what is provided in the Foundational Estate Plan?

    Yes. What if your beneficiary does not manage money well or can be taken advantage of easily? Or if your beneficiary is a physician or other line of work that is vulnerable to lawsuits? We offer the Personal Asset Trust as a solution. It provides permanent asset protection for your loved one’s inheritance making those assets safe from the reach of creditors, judgements, and divorcing spouses. Someone you trust can be the trustee (manager) of your loved one’s trust if they don’t manage money well. See personal asset for further information.

    What if a large part of your wealth is held in retirement accounts, such as an IRA? Upon your death it will “roll-over” to your designated beneficiaries. Your beneficiary can also enjoy tax-deferred, interest compounding throughout their lifetime unless they cash it out. That will result in the loss of perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars and taxes will be due. We offer the IRA Inheritance Trust as a solution. That is, to prevent a cash-out by a beneficiary. This trust was approved by the IRS to hold retirement accounts. No other trust can own retirement accounts without giving up the tax deferred benefit. It also offers asset protection and the ability to name a trustee to manage it for a spendthrift beneficiary. See ira inheritance trust for further information.

    What if a beneficiary has a disability and is dependent on government benefits such as SSI and Medi-Cal? If they were to receive an inheritance, it would render them ineligible. The solution is our Special Needs Trust. See special needs trust for further information.

  • Do the benefits of estate planning warrant the cost?

    Estate planning is not free, but it is affordable, and the benefits far outweigh the costs when you consider what could happen if you do not have an estate plan in place.

    The Benefits of Estate Planning

    An estate planning attorney can help you create an estate plan that:

    • Minimizes the estate taxes that will be paid after your death. An attorney can structure your estate plan to minimize any taxes that your estate might have to pay.
    • Ensures that your money goes where you want it to go. Whether there is a charity or specific beneficiaries that you want to leave your assets to, an estate planning lawyer can create an estate plan to ensure that your money goes where you want it to go.
    • Safeguards your children. In addition to protecting your children financially, an estate plan will allow you to name a guardian for your minor children so that you decide who will raise them if you can’t do it.
    • Minimizes fighting among your children or other heirs. Your estate plan creates certainty and can eliminate any dispute over who gets what or what should be done with your assets.
    • Protects your family right after your death. Your estate plan can include funeral plans and funds for your funeral, so that your family does not have to make these decisions in their first few days of grieving.

    There may also be other benefits to a well-designed estate planning.

    The Costs of Failing to Create an Estate Plan Can Be High

    If you fail to create and implement an estate plan, then the potential costs include probate expenses, guardianship or conservatorship proceedings, taxes, and other financial implications which can easily exceed the cost of creating an estate plan.

    How Much Will Your Estate Plan Cost?

    Every estate plan is unique. Your specific cost will depend on the attorney that you hire and the complexity of your estate. However, there should be no surprises. The Estate Planning Law Center charges a flat fee—not an hourly rate—so that you know your total cost up front.

    To learn more about the benefits and costs of estate planning, please schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced lawyer to discuss your estate planning goals and the potential fees. Then, you can decide for yourself if the benefits of estate planning outweigh the expenses.

  • How do I select the right attorney for estate planning?

    There is a lot to consider when you are ready to hire an estate planning lawyer. The attorney you once hired for your car accident case or to set up your business, may not be the right one to protect your family now.

    Things to Think About When Hiring an Estate Planning Lawyer

    As you make this important decision, it is important to consider:

    • Attorney reviews. You can find reviews of estate planning lawyers on many online rating websites. You can, for example, search an attorney’s name on Yelp or look at testimonials on attorney websites to get opinions from people who have already worked with the lawyer you are considering.
    • Attorney experience. Be selective in choosing the attorney who drafts your estate plan. Look for an attorney with the sole specialty of estate planning. Estate planning is a unique area of law, and you want someone who has the experience and education to achieve the results that you desire.
    • Cost. The cost of estate planning will vary substantially from attorney to attorney. It is very important that the quote be complete and include consultations, ancillary documents, and help in getting assets transferred into applicable trusts, for example. Documents are worthless if they don’t fit your needs.
    • Your feeling when you meet with the lawyer. Paying for an estate plan without personally meeting with the attorney is like having surgery without the doctor in the room. You want to know that you can trust the person that you hire to do such an important job for you. A free, initial consultation is your opportunity to ask questions and get answers. Your initial impressions and gut feelings matter.

    You are hiring an attorney to do an important job, and you have the right to be selective. We want you to make the decision that is right for you and your family. Accordingly, we encourage you to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with us so that we can sit down and get to know each other before you decide which estate planning lawyer to hire. Please contact us through this website or by phone to schedule your appointment today.