Salt Lake City 84104 Salt Lake Co. UT estate planning vehicles

Levels of Estate Planning

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Why Plan Your Estate?

The knowledge that we will eventually die is one of the things that seem to distinguish humans from other living beings. At the same time, no one likes to dwell on the prospect of his or her own death. But if you postpone planning for your passing until it is too late, you run the risk that your intended beneficiaries - those you love the most - may not receive what you would want them to receive either because of extra administration costs, unnecessary taxes or squabbling among your heirs.

This is why estate planning is so important, no matter how small your estate may be. It allows you, to ensure that your assets and other possessions will go to the people you want, in the way you want, and when you want. It permits you to save as much as possible on taxes, court costs and attorneys' fees; and it affords the comfort that your loved ones can mourn your loss without being simultaneously burdened with unnecessary red tape and financial confusion.

All estate plans should include, at minimum, two important estate-planning instruments: a durable power of attorney and a will. The first is for managing your property during your life, in case you are ever unable to do so yourself. The second is for the management and distribution of your property after death. In addition, more and more, Americans also are using revocable (or "living") trusts to avoid probate and to manage their estates both during their lives and after they're gone.

Your Will

Your will is a legally binding statement directing who will receive your property at your death. It also appoints a legal representative to carry out your wishes. However, the will covers only probate property. Many types of property or forms of ownership pass outside of probate. Jointly owned property, property in trust, life insurance proceeds and property with a named beneficiary, such as IRAs, insurance policies or 401(k) plans, can all pass outside of probate.

Why should you have a will?

Here are some reasons.

First, with a will you can direct where and to whom your assets (what you own) will go after your death. If you died instate (without a will), your estate would be distributed according to state law. Such distribution may or may not accord with your wishes.

Many people try to avoid probate and the need for a will by holding all of their assets jointly with their children. This can work, but often people spend unnecessary effort trying to make sure all the joint accounts remain equally distributed among their children. These efforts can
be defeated by a long-term illness of the parent or the death of a child. A will can be a much simpler means of affecting one's wishes about how assets should be distributed.

The second reason to have a will is to make the administration of your estate run smoothly. Often the probate process can be completed more quickly and at less expense to your estate if there is a will. With a clear expression of your wishes, there are unlikely to be any costly, time-consuming disputes over who gets what.

Third, only with a will can you choose the person to administer your estate and distribute it according to your instructions. In Illinois this person is called your "personal representative". If you do not have a will naming him or her, the court will make the choice for you. Usually the court appoints the first person to ask for the post, which is most closely related to you at the time of death.

Fourth, for larger estates, a well planned will can help reduce estate taxes.

Fifth, and most important, through a will you can appoint who will take your place, as guardian of your minor children should both you and their other parent both pass away.

Filling out the worksheet that our office provides will help you make decisions about what to put in your will. Bring it and any additional notes to our office and our estate planning professionals will be able to efficiently prepare a will that meets your needs and desires.

Estate Administration- Probate Procedure

Probate is the process by which a deceased person's property, known as the "estate", is passed to his or her heirs and legatees (people named in the will), the entire process, supervised by the probate court, usually takes about one year. However, substantial distributions from the estate can be made in the interim.

The emotional trauma brought on by the death of a close family member is often accompanied by bewilderment about the financial and legal steps the survivors must take. The spouse who passed away may have handled all of the couple's finances. Or perhaps a child must begin taking care of probating an estate about which he or she knows little about. And this task may come on top of commitments to family and work that can't be set aside. Finally, the estate itself may be in disarray or scattered amount many accounts, which is not unusual with a generation that saw banks collapse during the Depression.

Here we set out the steps the surviving family members should take. These responsibilities ultimately fall on whoever was appointed executor or personal representative in the deceased
family member's will. Matters can be a bit more complicated in the absence of a will, because it may not be clear who has the responsibility of carrying out these steps.

First, secure the tangible property. This means anything you can touch, such as silverware, dishes, furniture, or artwork. You will need to determine accurate values of each piece of property, which may require appraisals, and then distribute the property as the deceased directed. If property is passed around to family members before you have the opportunity to
take an inventory; this will become a difficult, if not impossible, task. Of course, this does not apply to gifts the deceased may have made during life, which will not be part of his or her estate.

Second, take your time. You do not need to take any other steps immediately. When bills do need to be paid, they can wait a month or two without adverse repercussions. It's more important that you and your family have time to grieve. Financial matters can wait. When you're ready but not a day sooner, meet with one of our attorneys to review the steps necessary to administer the deceased's estate. Bring as much information as possible about finances, taxes and debts. Don't worry about putting the papers in order first; our attorney will have experience in organizing and understanding confusing financial statements.

In general rules of estate administration include the following steps:

1. Filing the will and petition at the probate court in order to be appointed executor or personal representative. In the absence of a will, heirs must petition the court to be appointed "administrator" of the estate.

2. Marshalling, or collecting the assets. This means that you have to find out everything the deceased owned. You need to file a list, known as an "inventory", with the probate court. It's generally best to consolidate all of the estate funds to the extent possible. Bills and bequests should be paid from a single checking account, either one you establish or one set by our firm on your behalf, so that you can keep track of all expenditures.

3. Paying bills and taxes. If an estate tax return is needed--generally if the estate exceeds $5,200,000 in value as of 2016 -- the estate must be filed within nine months of the date of death. If you miss this deadline and the estate is taxable, severe penalties and interest may apply. If you do not have all of the information available in time, you can file for an extension and pay your best estimate of the tax due.

4. Filing tax returns. You must also file a final income tax return for the decedent and, if the estate holds any assets and earns interest or dividends, an income tax return for the estate. If the estate does earn income during the administration process, it will have to obtain its own tax identification number "TIN" in order to keep track of such earnings and file an estate income tax

notion in addition to the decedent's final income tax return.

5. Distributing property to the heirs and legatees. Generally, executors do not pay out all of the estate assets until the period runs out for creditors to make claims, which in Illinois is 6 months from the date the estate, notice of death in the newspaper. But once the executor understands the estate and the likely claims, he or she can distribute most of the assets, retaining a reserve for unanticipated claims and costs of closing out the estate.

6. Filing a final account. The executor must file an account with the probate court listing any income to the estate since the date of death and all expenses and estate distributions. Once the court approves this final account, the executor can distribute whatever is left in the closing reserve, and finish his or her work

Avoiding probate through joint ownership or trusts can eliminate some of these steps. But whoever is left in charge still has to pay all debts, file tax returns, and distribute the property to the rightful heirs. You can make it easier for your heirs by keeping good records of your assets and liabilities. This will shorten the process and reduce the legal bill.

Guardianship and Conservatorship

Every adult is assumed to be capable of making his or her own decisions unless a court determines otherwise. If an adult becomes incapable of making responsible decisions due to a mental disability, the court will appoint a substitute decision maker, called a "guardian". Guardianship is a legal relationship between a competent adult (the "guardian") and a person who because of incapacity is no longer able to take care of his or her own affairs (the "ward"). The guardian is authorized to make legal, financial, and health care decisions for the ward. Depending on the terms of the guardianship, the guardian may or may not have to seek court approval for various decisions, but generally the guardian acts without being required to incur the expense of court approval.

Some incapacitated individuals can make responsible decisions in some areas of their lives but not others. In such cases, the court may give the guardian decision-making power over only those areas in which the incapacitated person is unable to make responsible decisions (a so-called "limited guardianship"). In other words, the guardian may exercise only those rights that have been removed from the ward and delegated to the guardian. Guardianships are consuming and expensive. Prefer planning with Power of Attorneys for health care and financial matters will significantly reduce cost and time in the event you became incapacitated. (See Page for detailed discussion of Power of Attorney).


Generally a person is judged to be in need of guardianship when he or she shows a lack of capacity to make responsible decisions. A person cannot be declared incompetent simply because he or she makes irresponsible or foolish decisions, but only if the person is shown to lack the capacity to make sound decisions. For example, a person may not be declared incompetent simply because he or she spends money in ways that seem odd to someone else. Also, a developmental disability or mental illness is not, by itself, enough to declare a person incompetent.


Anyone interested in the proposed ward's well being can request a guardianship. An attorney is usually retained to file a petition for a hearing in the probate court in the proposed ward's county of residence. The proposed ward is entitled to legal representation at the hearing, and the court will appoint an attorney if the allegedly incapacitated person cannot afford lawyer.

At the hearing, the court with the help of the Guardian ad Litem attempts to determine if the proposed ward is incapacitated and, if so, to what extent the individual requires assistance. If the court determines that the proposed ward is indeed incapacitated, the court then decides if the person seeking the role of guardian will be responsible.


A guardian can be any competent adult-the ward's spouse, another family member, a friend, a neighbor, or a professional guardian (an unrelated person who has received
special training). A competent individual may nominate a proposed guardian through a durable power of attorney in case she ever needs a guardian.

The guardian need not be a person at all--it can be a non-profit agency or a public or private corporation. If a person is found to be incapacitated and a suitable guardian cannot be found, courts in many states can appoint a public guardian, a publicly financed agency that serves this purpose. In naming someone to serve as a guardian, courts give first consideration to those who play a significant role in the ward's life - people who are both aware of and sensitive to the ward's needs and preferences. If two individuals wish to share guardianship duties, courts can name co-guardians.

Reporting Requirements

Court often give guardians broad authority to manage the ward's affairs. In addition to lacking the power to decide how money is spent or managed, where to live and what medical care he or she should receive, wards also may not have the right to vote, marry or divorce, or carry a driver's license. Guardians are expected to act in the best interests of the ward, but give the guardian's often-broad authority; there is the potential for abuse. For this reason, courts hold guardians accountable for their actions to ensure that they don't take advantage of or neglect the ward.

The guardian of the property inventories the ward's property, invests the ward's funds so that they can be used for the ward's support, and files regular, detailed reports with the court. A guardian of the property also must obtain court approval for certain financial transactions. Guardians must file an annual account of how they have handled the ward's finances. Guardians must offer proof that they made adequate residential arrangements for the ward, that they provided sufficient health care and treatment services, and that they made available educational and training programs, as needed. Guardians who cannot prove that they have adequately cared for the ward may be removed and replaced by another guardian.

For more information, please see Part II of this article

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Salt Lake City 84103 Salt Lake Co. UT estate planning taxes

Estate Planning - Consider Your Options Before it is Too Late

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Appropriate estate planning can only be possible with proper appreciation of the major aspects involved in personal finance management process. Efficient estate planning attorney makes it a point realizing these aspects perfectly while making the plan.

Appropriate estate planning involves understanding various aspects of personal finance management well. Multiple aspects of such financial management are involved in the estate planning process. An efficient attorney therefore will always look at these aspects before preparing the estate management. People who are looking for inheritance, insurance and property transfer managements with efficiency will find understanding these aspects extremely useful for the purpose of preparing an all comprehensive estate planning.

Setting goals is extremely essential for preparing the perfect plan. Without the goals clearly determined it may not be possible to prepare plan that would meet all the requirements of the client. Retirement plans are examples of such goal setting. One could plan buying a house for residence after retirement at 25% of the gross income while keeping the residual portion of the income away for future investments, maintenance of the family, and other pursuits. People who are concerned with setting up multiple goals at one time may obtain the assistance of professional expert trust planning attorney that would balance the financial planning with goals set by the client for benefit optimization.

Goals that the client set up for achievement could either be long or short term. In any case setting such financial goals help direct planning. Processes like these involve adequate assessment of the financial and all other aspects of the estate and resources of the estate owner. Experienced and professional estate planning attorney would take care to prepare simplified versions of all the financial statements and legal documents so that there is no room for any confusion in the minds of the clients involved. Ordinarily balance sheets and income statements would be a couple of financial documents that helps the proper assessment of the estate to be planned.

Despite best goal setting and near perfect assessments by the estate lawyer proficient in these deals, best results could only accrue with perfect execution of the plans. One has to be careful about it.

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Salt Lake City 84102 Salt Lake Co. UT estate planning s corporation shareholders

Estate Planning - It's Just As Much Life As It Is Death Planning

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I have been doing estate planning for over two decades. Yet, last week a questioned posed by a young couple seemed to resonate in my mind like never before. "What is the number one benefit of doing a trust?" My mind quickly raced to the 1980's movie "City Slickers" when the old crusty cowboy said to Billy Crystal, the city slicker, that he must find "just one thing" that is important to him in life and use that as a motivation to have a happy and successful life. This line made me realize that the "just one thing" in estate planning, like the movie, is different for each person. The true answer is the quintessential cliché, "it depends". The purpose of this article will list some of the most important factors that people should consider. In the end, whatever your "just one thing" is should motivate you to take action and provide "Peace of Mind" for your loved ones.

Avoiding Probate - This seems to be the relevant factor cited most frequently, although I disagree that it is the most important reason to plan. Probate in Arizona is not the costly, burdensome procedure that it is in some states like California or New York. Yes, it does cost some money, but in most cases the cost is only a few thousand dollars. The severity of probate depends largely on the make-up of the assets. The more "complicated assets" you have (ie Oil Leases, closely held family businesses, Partnerships, fractional interests in Real Estate, etc.) and the more states in which you own real estate, then you drive up the "Probate Meter" very quickly. If you own real property in more than one state, you will have to have a probate proceeding in each state, which means you will probably need an attorney in each state. But, if your assets are "simple", (a house, a car, some CDs) and primarily located in Arizona, then the "Probate Meter" is very low.

Saving Taxes - People have heard this phrase over and over again in newspaper ads inviting people to public seminars put on by a "national expert" that nobody has ever really heard of. But, how does a Trust really help to save taxes? Under today's tax laws, a common Revocable Trust does not save taxes for most people. First, a Trust doesn't save any income taxes. The Trust is ignored for income tax purposes and all of the income generated by the Trust is taxed to the individual Grantors of the Trust as usual. Also, for a single person, a Trust does not save any estate taxes. But, for a married couple, a Trust can save estate taxes. Most married couples have a Revocable Trust, that splits into an "A" and a "B" trust at the death of the first spouse. The primary reason for this split is that it guarantees that the couple will get two exemptions to apply against the estate tax. One exemption for the "B" trust when the first spouse dies, and then a second exemption against the "A" trust when the surviving spouse passes. Without an A/B trust, it is possible that the exemption of the first spouse could be wasted. But, since the federal estate tax exemption is now set at $5 million, most couples only need one exemption anyway. So, in the end, for probably 95% of married couples, having a trust will not save any estate taxes. Now, this is true as to the Revocable living trust. Don't confuse this with the 4 or 5 other "specialty trusts" that have the specific purpose of saving estate taxes. Examples of a "specialty trust" would be an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (designed to keep life insurance out of the estate tax system) and a Qualified Personal Residence Trust (designed to keep the primary and vacation residences out of the estate tax system).
Restrictions and Incentives for Spouse - A well drafted Trust should contain provisions as to what happens to the assets of the first spouse to die, if the surviving spouse remarries. Most clients want to adequately provide for their spouse, but they don't want to provide for their spouse's new husband or wife. Also, to what extent can the surviving spouse change the estate plan, after the death of the first spouse, to disinherit the children. My experience is that most spouses tend to remarry, and most of the time, that new spouse will also have children. Now, we end up with a "blended family". Over time, the surviving spouse feels love and loyalty to the new spouse, and perhaps the new stepchildren. We probably all agree that the surviving spouse should be able to do what they wish with respect to their community property half interest in the asses. The more difficult question is whether the surviving spouse can also control the ultimate disposition of the deceased spouse's community property half of the trust and make provisions for the new spouse or the new stepchildren out of the deceased spouses's half of the trust.

Restrictions and Incentives for Children - The key question here relates to the timing in which a child should gain unrestricted access, an outright distribution, to the assets after the death of both parents. We would all agree that if a child is a minor, then the assets should be controlled and restricted by an independent trustee for a period of time. What we may disagree on, is the appropriate age in which all restrictions and the independent trustee should be removed. Some clients say age 25, some say 30, and I have had many that say 50 or 60. My experience is that the older my clients are, the higher they will set the ages for their children to gain control. For example, if the kids are minors, then most couples will set the restriction to be lifted at age 30. However, if the couple is much older, and the kids are already over age 30, then these couples may set the restrictions to age 40 or 45. We may also want to build certain "incentives" into the estate plan. A common incentive is "if you earn a buck, then the trust will pay you another buck". So, you create an incentive for a child to go out and earn a living. Over the years, I have seen the destruction that is brought to a "trust fund baby". Money and inheritances can ruin a child and ruin a life. That is why many wealthy people will leave large portions of their wealth to charities, instead of their children (and yes, there are income tax advantages and estate tax advantages of doing this, but the primary reason would be to encourage the child to have a productive life). You may also want to provide incentives depending on if a child graduates from college or achieves some other educational benchmark. I do see the risk of using the trust as a "carrot" that is dangled in front of a child to be manipulative. But, some well thought out incentives can really go a long way to help a son or a daughter cope with the vicissitudes of life and be blessing to them, and not a curse.

Asset Protection - For example, having an A/B Trust as described above, can make sure that the assets of a deceased spouse are not subject to the creditor claims of the surviving spouse. As a firm, we are recommending A/B trusts for this reason more than the reason discussed above where an A/B trust can provide two estate tax exemptions. In variably, the surviving spouse ends up in a nursing home that chews up the net worth very quickly. So, having half of the estate in a "B" trust, protected from the creditors (ie nursing home costs) of the surviving spouse makes a lot of sense.

Also, a good estate planning attorney can structure the inheritance for the children, to remain in trust for their lifetime. This will protect the inheritance from the potential creditors of the child such as divorce, bankruptcy, lawsuits, etc. My estate plan is structured that upon the deaths of my wife and I, our estate will be divided out into separate trusts to provide one trust for each of our children. We have an independent trustee and some incentives in each trust. At age 35, the child has the right to become his or her own trustee. So, in essence, the child can now take from the trust whatever the child wants for his "health, education, support and maintenance". The child is also free, as the trustee, to invest the trust assets into a beach house, a cabin, or any investment that he or she chooses. Meanwhile, if that child divorces, his or her spouse cannot touch that trust. Also, if that child files bankruptcy, then the creditors cannot reach the assets in this trust. I call this a "wrapper of protection" that we can place around the assets which gives the trust "bullet proof" creditor protection to our children. It is also important to remember that a child cannot create his own trust to provide this kind of protection. The law in most states is such that a trust provides creditor protection only in cases where it was created by one person for the benefit of another person. In other words, the grantor or creator of the trust, cannot also be a beneficiary of the trust and achieve creditor protection. So, as long as the trust is created by a parent, for the benefit of a child or grandchild, it can have the creditor protection described above.

Providing a Plan for Incompetency - As all of us age, we can see that our minds and our memories start to diminish. Most of the estate litigation that comes into our firm relates one way or another to the incapacity of one or both of the parents. When this happens we see many children turn against each other and a fight ensues as to what is in the best interests of mom and dad. Unfortunately, the children seldom agree as to what is best. So, a legal battle is waged to determine who has the control of the assets and who has the ability to make medical and financial decisions. Yes, some of these problems should be addressed in a Power of Attorney. But, Powers of Attorney were meant to deal with short term situations, not permanent solutions. It is much better to have a plan, drafted inside of the Trust, as to who will become in charge ("successor trustee") when mom and dad are no longer capable. Also, to what extent will the Successor Trustee have a duty to give an accounting to all of the kids and keep them informed? Under what circumstances can mom and dad be moved out of state? What is the plan when the assets run out? Will mom and dad live in a nursing home? Keep in mind that someone over 75 is much more likely to become disabled and incompetent in the next 5 years then they are to die in the next 5 years. Then, couple this with the fact that the children are more likely to fight over issues as to what happens to mom and dad, then they are to fight over the inheritance if mom and dad die. Clients are much more likely to avoid all of these fights if there is a well drafted estate plan in place.

Privacy - Many clients like the fact that an estate administered under a Trust is more likely to be kept private then an estate administered by the Probate Court. So, some of our clients will create a Trust for that simple fact. We have all seen the ads on TV where someone is talking about the real estate strategy of buying property from an estate. How do these professionals find the property and know what is in probate and what isn't? The answer is simple, in many probate proceedings, an inventory is filed with the Court and this inventory is a public record. So, all that needs to happen is that you have a person sitting in an office, searching the probate records to find real estate. Then, it is also easy to find the names and addresses of the heirs. Now, if most of the heirs are out of state, and there is local real estate, then the magic is in the fact that these heirs are now "motivated sellers" and you can make a low ball offer. The bottom line is that the financial affairs of the decedent are now public records that can be easily searched from any computer. The creation of a Trust provides privacy and avoids this issue of privacy altogether.

In conclusion, there are many benefits to estate planning. It is also true that there are many risks and problems that are created by not having an estate plan in place. The reason and benefit that is important to you will depend on your situation. In fact, I have listed the reasons that are least important to me first, and the reasons that are most important to me last. That is me, but is based upon many years of experience. You must decide what is important to you. But, in the end at least focus on the issues and plan for the inevitable. Early in my career I developed a "line" that I used in my public seminars. When the client said, "oh, I really don't think estate planning will benefit me at all." My response was "okay, put my business card on your refrigerator". I said this tongue in cheek knowing that the few dollars the client should have spent on the creation of an estate plan would multiply into huge legal fees when the children would begin to fight trying to unravel the many problems caused by lack of planning, or poor planning. There is a reason that our estate litigation department is the fasting growing practice area of our firm. Hopefully, your family will not fall into this trap. Whatever your reason, or "just one thing" may be, use that as your motivation to create a quality estate plan. This will ensure invaluable peace of mind for you and also for your loved ones.

When you need your estate done right, please give us a call.

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Salt Lake City 84101 Salt Lake Co. UT 9 estate planning pitfalls to avoid

Estate Planning Overview, 101

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If you're reading this article, it's probably not for entertainment value. And if you're reading for entertainment, then you're either a masochist or you're actually interested in what I have to say. It could be both, I guess. Whatever the reason, estate planning is an important topic, regardless of your station in life.

So what does it mean to have an estate plan? The better question is: why does it matter? This is not easy stuff. It deals with death and dying and the future. Of course, nobody wants to think about this stuff. But unfortunately, it's the pink elephant in the room. And it's not all that bad, actually.

Generally, an estate plan is a set of instructions that spell out how your property should be managed and distributed during your life and after death. The attorney (yours truly) is basically a conduit that channels your wishes onto paper in a way that make sense and have the most effect. Okay, maybe it's not that simple, but this should give you some idea. The estate plan should be a reflection of your life and vision. And don't confuse the word "estate" with a gated 8000 square foot villa with your initials on the entry gate. Your estate is all that you own in real estate and other assets.

At one point or another, most of us who own property think about what will happen to our property when we die. We think about stuff like, "Who will get my 1984 Honda Civic?" That's a legitimate concern. Nobody is going to want it, but the concern is no less legitimate. But what if you become disabled? And what happens when you get old and feeble minded? There may come a time where we will live out our lives without sufficient mental and/or physical capacity to manage our own affairs. Look, we all know or knew someone who started to "lose it." We can all remember thinking this or saying something like, "hey, is it me, or is Uncle Joe beginning to lose it?"

Enter the estate plan. The estate plan deals with the management of your property and financial affairs. There are two main types of estate plans: one is built around a Will and the other around a Revocable Living Trust. Each has it pros and cons. But as long as you have your wits about you, you can always make changes to the plan along the way. That being said, it's important to have an estate plan in place now because you don't know when you might become the "Uncle Joe."


A Will is the most common document used to specify how an estate should be handled after death. The person or entity designated to receive your property under the Will is called a Beneficiary. The person whose property is to be disposed by the Will is the Testator or Testatrix.

Like a Trust, the Will can set out different instructions, such as who gets certain property or who will be the guardian of Testator's minor child in the event that no parent is alive. It can be used to disinherit someone. It can set conditions on inheritance, such as the requirement that the Beneficiary first reach the age or 25 or graduate from college.

And then there's the dreaded P word - PROBATE. There's no getting around it. When a person dies and leaves property in a Will, probate is the legal proceeding that is used to wind up his or her legal and financial affairs. It's best described as a court-supervised process by where assets are gathered, valued, and distributed according to the Testator's last wishes as stated in the Will.

Probate proceedings are held in Superior Court for the county in which the Testator lived. The Executor (the person who administers the estate) is responsible for protecting a deceased person's property until all debts and taxes have been paid, and seeing that what's left is transferred to those who are entitled to it. Their job includes making an inventory of the estate's assets, locating creditors, paying bills, filing tax returns, and managing the estate assets. Finally, when this is all done, a petition is filed with the court requesting a distribution to the Beneficiaries. The whole process can take many months and sometimes years to complete.

As you can imagine, probate can also be very expensive. The Probate Code sets the maximum amount that attorneys and personal representatives (i.e. executors, administrators, etc.) can charge. As of 2016, the fees are four percent of the first $100,000 of the estate, three percent of the next $100,000, two percent of the next $800,000, one percent of the next $9,000,000, and one-half percent of the next $15,000,000. On top of that, a probate referee is appointed to appraise all of the non-cash items. This person usually takes one percent of the total assets appraised. All of this can add up very quickly. Although it's safe to say that most of us will probably not die with an estate valued at $15 million, the probate process can easily reduce the size of the estate by tens of thousands of dollars.

And of course there's the privacy issue, or lack thereof. When a Will is admitted to probate it becomes a matter of public record, including the details of what your assets are and who's in line to get them. Some may have legitimate reasons for following the probate matter, like a beneficiary's creditor who's looking to collect. Other unscrupulous types may want to know who to bamboozle.


A Living Trust is established with a document, usually a Declaration of Trust or a Trust Agreement. It's basically a relationship whereby property (real or personal, tangible or intangible) is held by one party for the benefit of another. A Living Trust conventionally arises when property is transferred to a separate Trustee to hold for the Beneficiary. However, that's not always necessary.

The person creating the Living Trust is called the Settlor or Trustor (these are synonymous). The Settlor appoints a Trustee to manage the Trust assets. The Trusee holds legal title to property for the benefit of another, also known as the Beneficiary. Although the Beneficiary does not own legal title to the property, he or she is said to own beneficial title. So you can imagine that the Trustee cannot do anything with the property that does not benefit the Beneficiary, like sell some off and pocket the money. It may be easier to think about a Trust like a Corporation. The Trustee is the CEO and the Beneficiaries are the shareholders. And it's not uncommon for Trustee to also be a Beneficiary, although it's advisable that a Co-Trustee be named as well.

A Living Trust should usually be accompanied by a Last Will and Testament, also known as a "pour-over will." The Will should say that property that is outside of the Trust is to be distributed to the Trustee of the Trust when the Testator dies. As long as the property outside of the Trust is valued at less than $100,000, probate can be avoided. The benefit is that property not previously placed in the Trust will get "poured" into it. Even if the property exceeds $100,000 and has to go through probate, it will eventually be distributed according to the instructions of the deceased instead of being distributed according to California law. It may also be a good idea to name the same person to be both the Executor of the Will and the Trustee of the Trust, since he or she will dealing with the same property.


So what's the point of all of this mumbo jumbo? Well, just that it's easy to overlook the necessity of a proper estate plan. A Living Trust helps to protect you, your assets, and those people and/or entities who you want to leave your assets to when you're gone.

A good reason to create a Living Trust is to keep your estate plan private. Unlike a Will and probate, the Living Trust is a private contract between you (the Settlor) and the Trustee. It does not need to be filed with the county. The only way it can become public is if a dispute arises and someone files a lawsuit, which is possible.

Another major benefit of a Living Trust is that it has the ability to protect you in the event that you become disabled. The Trust can specify how your incapacity should be determined, how you should be taken care of if you're deemed disabled, and who will be able to manage your property if you can't. A Living Trust is written so that your Trustee can automatically jump into the driver's seat if you become ill or incapacitated. This will keep you and your property outside of court-supervised guardianship or conservatorship. The more you can keep the court out of your life and affairs, the better.

A Living Trust also allows you to dispense with your property in the manner that you choose. For example, many families have a child who has or had some problems in life. This may range from physical challenges to addiction to partying in Las Vegas with prostitutes every weekend. A Living Trust can provide for financial support to others without giving them direct control of the trust property.

Finally, a Living Trust makes it possible to avoid having to go through probate. How? It's simple - the property is titled in the name of the Trust when you die. Your Trust does not check out just because you do. Only those assets that are titled in your name at the time of death go through probate.

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