Some clients are reluctant to begin the estate planning process because it forces them to acknowledge their own mortality. Other clients find it difficult to complete the process and make planning decisions that will become irrevocable at death. Planning may be especially difficult for a client who must decide how to provide for minor beneficiaries, for beneficiaries with special needs, or for beneficiaries whose current problems (e.g., substance abuse, creditor problems, or marital obligations) may change over time. Each client has his or her own personal and family situation, assets and liabilities, and estate planning objectives that require creative analysis and customized planning. Our commitment to you is to efficiently create and implement a plan that meets your specific objectives and to fit those objectives into a system of divergent and complex laws. Let us help you.
What is Estate Planning?
Estate planning is a process. It involves people — your family, other individuals and, in many cases, charitable organizations of your choice. It also involves your assets (your property) and the various forms of ownership and title that those assets may take. And, it addresses your future needs in case you ever become unable to care for yourself.
Who Needs Estate Planning?
You do — whether your estate is large or small. Either way, you should designate someone to manage your assets and make health care and personal care decisions for you if you ever become unable to do so for yourself. For many, such “life planning” is the most important aspect of an estate plan.
If you fail to plan ahead, a judge will appoint someone to handle your assets and personal care. And your assets will be distributed to your heirs according to a set of rules known as intestate succession. Contrary to popular myth, everything does not automatically go to the state if you die without a will. Your relatives, no matter how remote, and, in some cases, the relatives of your spouse, have priority in inheritance ahead of the state. Still, they may not be your choice of heirs; an estate plan gives you much greater control over who will inherit your assets after your death.
What is included in my estate?
All of your assets. This could include assets held in your name alone or jointly with others, assets such as bank accounts, real estate, stocks and bonds, and furniture, cars and jewelry. Your assets may also include life insurance proceeds, retirement accounts and payments that are due to you (such as a tax refund, outstanding loan or inheritance).
Should I beware of “promoters” of financial and estate planning services?
Yes. There are many who call themselves “trust specialists,” “certified planners” or other titles that suggest the person has received advanced training in estate planning. California has experienced numerous promotions by unqualified individuals and entities that only have one real goal — to gain access to your finances in order to sell insurance-based products such as annuities and other commission-based products. To better protect yourself, consult a lawyer who is knowledgeable in estate planning and is not trying to sell a product that may be unnecessary. Be wary of organizations or offices that are staffed by non-lawyer personnel and that promote one-size-fits-all living trusts or living trust kits. An estate plan created by someone who is not a qualified lawyer can have enormous and costly consequences for your estate. Find out if any complaints have been filed against the company by calling local and state consumer protection offices or the Better Business Bureau.
The Law Office of Lauren N. Peebles has earned an A+ rating with the BBB and we would be honored to earn your trust as well. Contact us today for a consultation.