KayBAre you having trouble completing or updating your estate plan, although you are convinced you should?  Maybe you have a referral to an attorney recommended by a friend or other advisor, but you haven’t yet scheduled the first meeting?  Or you have attended the first meeting with your estate planning attorney, but you can’t quite seem to finish your action list for the next meeting?

Estate planning is not the top of anyone’s “to do” list.  As an estate planning attorney, part of my job is to help my clients complete their estate plans.  No one intends to delay the process, but many times the process stalls.

Here are some ideas that have helped my clients cross the finish line and enjoy the relief that a completed plan brings.  See if they work for you!


Continue Reading Overcoming Proscrastination – Tips for Starting and Completing Your Estate Plan

In my two previous posts, I discussed the value of comprehensive estate planning even if you have a small estate or you want everything to go to your spouse.  In this last installment, I will address the most common reason I hear from clients who say they don’t need an estate plan, which is, “I don’t need an estate plan because I have everything in beneficiary designation accounts.”

People often try to create a “do-it-yourself” estate plan by creating beneficiary designations on all of their assets.  This is typically done by titling assets with another person “with right of survivorship,” holding assets jointly, or creating “payable on death” (POD) or “transfer on death” (TOD) accounts.  I caution against using this approach for several reasons.

In California, you can have $150,000 in total assets (subject to a few exclusions) outside of a trust or without beneficiary designations without triggering a probate.  Additionally, the threshold amount for transferring real property without a probate in California is $50,000.  With TOD/POD accounts, if the designated beneficiary is deceased at your death and if no successor is named, the account goes back to your estate and counts toward the $150,000.  The same is true if you are the surviving owner of property that had been owned “with right of survivorship,” which often happens with real property.  If enough beneficiary designations fail or were never created, it is possible that a probate will be required.


Continue Reading You Need an Estate Plan (Even in Your 20s and 30s) (Part Three)

Last week, I blogged that a common refrain that we hear from people when we encourage them to consider estate planning is “But I don’t need an estate plan.”  This post addresses the second of three of the most common refrains that we hear.

I don’t need an estate plan because I want everything to go to my spouse.

Many married (or registered domestic partner) couples believe that they don’t need an estate plan because each spouse or partner wants everything to go to the other.  This is true for community property.  However, if either spouse owns any separate property, the separate property will be divided between the surviving spouse and other relatives.  Separate property generally includes anything owned prior to marriage and anything acquired during marriage by gift or inheritance, and titling a separate property asset jointly or commingling it with community property will not convert it to community property.  Many married couples will have at least some separate property, and if the surviving spouse and his or her in-laws do not get along, it could lead to disputes.  Additionally, if you have children, half to two-thirds of the separate property will go to your children, depending on the number of children.  If the children are minors, a court proceeding may be needed to distribute the assets to a guardian of the estate for the child or into a blocked account until the child turns 18 (even if the child has a surviving parent).   Even if a large sum of money is involved, there is no way to prevent the child from accessing the entire account at age 18.


Continue Reading You Need an Estate Plan (Even in Your 20s and 30s) (Part Two)

A common refrain that we hear from people when we encourage them to consider estate planning, especially people in their twenties and thirties, is “But I don’t need an estate plan.”  The reasons vary, and this post will address the first of three of the most common ones.

Reason # One:  I Don’t Need an Estate Plan Because I Don’t Have Very Much.

For young people just starting out, this is a common belief.  But, estate planning isn’t just a way to distribute your property after your death – it’s also planning for your incapacity and making arrangements for your minor children.  A “foundational” estate plan generally consists of three or four documents:  (1)   a durable power of attorney for finances (DPAF), (2) a durable power of attorney for health care/advance health care directive (DPAHC), (3) a will, and occasionally, (4) a trust.  Of those four, the first two of those documents are exclusively for use during your lifetime.  The DPAF names someone to handle your financial and personal affairs if you are ever unable to do so, and the DPAHC names someone to make medical decisions for you and sets forth your wishes for medical treatment.  Additionally, if you have a trust, the trust names a person to manage the assets in the trust both during your life (if you are ever unable to do so) and upon your death.


Continue Reading You Need an Estate Plan (Even in Your 20s and 30s) (Part One)