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Estate Planning in California: What You Need to Know

What does an estate planning attorney do?

Estate planning doesn't begin and end with a last will and testament. An attorney specializing in this field will also draft living trusts, develop a plan to mitigate or avoid estate taxes, and work to ensure that your life's savings and assets are safe from your beneficiaries' creditors after your death.

He can prepare power of attorney and health care directives, arranging for someone to take care of your affairs in the event you should ever become mentally incapacitated. He can help you avoid guardianship or conservatorship issues if you need someone else to look after your affairs.

How much does it cost for an estate lawyer?

A probate or estate attorney's rates depend on a variety of factors, including:

  • Size of the estate
  • Complexity of the estate
  • Any ceilings placed by the state on how much attorneys can be paid
  • Number of beneficiaries and disputes among beneficiaries: Contested wills and multiple beneficiaries add to the complexity of an estate, and hence your attorney fees. 

Do I need a lawyer for estate planning?

The more questions you answer with a “yes,” the more likely it is that you can wrap up the estate without a professional at your side.

  • Can the deceased person's assets be transferred outside of probate?
  • Does the estate qualify for your state's simple “small estate” procedures?
  • Are family members getting along?
  • If probate is necessary, is your state's probate process relatively simple?
  • Does the estate contain only common assets, like a house, bank or brokerage accounts, vehicles, and household goods?
  • Is there enough money in the estate to pay debts?
  • Is the estate too small to owe either state or federal estate tax?
  • What documents are needed for estate planning?

6 Estate Planning Must-Haves

Here is a list of items every estate plan should include:

  • Will/trust
  • Durable power of attorney
  • Beneficiary designations
  • Letter of intent
  • Healthcare power of attorney
  • Guardianship designations

In addition to these 6 documents and designations, a well-laid estate plan also should consider the purchase of insurance products such as long-term care insurance to cover old age, a lifetime annuity to generate some level of income until death, and life insurance to pass money to beneficiaries without the need for probate. 

What is better a will or a trust?

There are many positive reasons to establish a trust but do not overlook the fact that it will involve more upfront effort and expense. To determine if you should make the extra effort and invest in the expense of a trust, answer these questions:

  • Is informal probate an available option?
  • Will you actively manage your estate plan?

So what is best for you? In many respects, a living trust and a will accomplish similar objectives. A trust, however, allows you to realize other objectives that a will cannot. But those advantages don't come without a price. Whether or not a living trust is better for you than a will depends on whether the additional advantages are worth the cost. When choosing, remember that one size does not fit all. What is right for one person may not be right for everyone. Your estate plan should be prepared in a way that best meets the needs of you and your family. 

Will and Estate Planning Checklist 

  1. Cover Estate Planning Basics
  2. Plan Your Asset Ownership
  3. Determine Beneficiary Designations
  4. Cover Your Debts With Insurance
  5. Get A Last Will and Testament
  6. Consider A Living Trust
  7. Consider A Financial Power of Attorney
  8. Consider A Health Care Power of Attorney
  9. Get A Living Will
  10. Leave Information for Executor and Statement of Desires 

Get The Reliable Help You Need, Fast

Attorney Arthur McDonough knows that you may be going through a difficult time and he will make himself available to help you obtain the reliable, professional, affordable assistance you need. Call today for a free initial consultation with Arthur.