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California Estate Planning Blog

Finding assets an essential part of estate administration

Handling a deceased loved one's final affairs means that an executor will need to put in a lot of time and work. Though some steps of estate administration may seem straightforward, like having to find the decedent's assets, the actions are often not as easy as they seem. For example, some California residents may not know every account their loved ones had or where they kept their assets.

This scenario could be even more difficult if a loved one was particularly secretive. While staying tight-lipped may have helped protect assets while the person was alive, it may have made the situation more difficult for the executor. That does not mean that the representative is out of luck. For instance, an executor can work to find open accounts from which the decedent may have gained income, such as interest from a savings account, by reviewing the past years' tax returns.

Executors have the responsibility of completing probate

After the passing of a loved one, many actions need to take place to ensure that his or her final affairs have been properly settled. Even though an individual may have left behind instructions regarding the closing of a California estate, someone else must make sure that those instructions are followed throughout probate. That someone is the executor of the will.

The person who created the will has the ability to appoint an executor if he or she wishes to do so. If not, the court will appoint a representative. Still, the executor has a number of duties to address during probate proceedings, including paying any remaining debts and distributing assets. However, the duties do not end there, and the will may not give instructions for each task. For instance, the executor will need to close financial accounts, cancel credit cards and subscriptions, and complete numerous other tasks.

Wills, other planning documents can have numerous benefits

Starting an estate plan is a wise move for all California adults. They may already know that these plans have their uses, but they may not fully understand just how beneficial they can be. From their wills to their health care-related documents, individuals can reap many benefits for themselves and their families.

When it comes to using a will, a person can indicate who they want to receive certain property, and as a result, they have the assurance that their remaining assets will transfer to the correct beneficiaries. Additionally, a will can be used to protect immediate family members in many ways. The document can indicate that a surviving spouse should receive certain funds in order to keep the family financially afloat, and it can also appoint a guardian for any minor children who may need care.

Digital assets are as important as physical assets in wills

Like most people, numerous California residents like living part of their lives online. They may take trips or spend time with family and want to post photos or anecdotes from the occasions on social media. They may also want to handle part of their professional and financial lives online by having access to bank accounts and other online portals. What they may not realize is that they are creating digital assets that likely need addressing in their wills.

While keeping online account password protected is a smart part of internet safety, it can cause problems if surviving loved ones do not know those passwords. If instructions for accessing online accounts are not left in estate planning documents, loved ones could remain locked out of important accounts or otherwise unable to obtain sentimental digital assets. Aside from providing passwords and access information, individuals may also need to dictate how the ownership of those assets should pass on after death.

If you haven't created a living will, now is the time to do so

Most people put off creating a last will or comprehensive estate plan for as long as they think they can. However, that delay leaves their family vulnerable to the whims of probate court in the future if something happens to them. It also makes them decide what medical actions you would want taken on your behalf in certain situations.

The impact of failing to proactively plan for death or incapacitation could affect you as well, not just your family. Thorough estate plans include not just instructions about divvying up your possessions in the event of your death but also documents that comprise a living well. Your living will explains what your wishes are in the event that you don't die but can no longer provide for yourself.

Trustees manage the assets kept in trusts

When California residents want to use their estate plans to protect their assets, they have multiple options they could use to do so. In particular, they could utilize trusts to remove assets from the estate and into the ownership of the trusts. Of course, someone also needs to be appointed to manage the assets.

When a person creates a trust, he or she is known as the trustmaker or the grantor. Commonly, the person who creates a revocable trust will also be the trustee, or the person who manages the property kept by the trust. However, the trustee does not have to be the trustmaker, and it is wise for the trustmaker to name successor trustees to take over in the event that the original trustee becomes incapacitated or passes away.

The first steps of opening a probate case

Most California estates will go through a legal process in order to close them unless the deceased parties planned ahead to avoid this step. This legal process is known as probate, and it involves many actions in order to ensure that the decedent's final affairs have been properly addressed. Commonly, a person will have appointed an executor in his or her will to handle these actions.

Of course, most people who are appointed as executors do not have extensive legal knowledge on how to go through probate. Before getting overwhelmed, individuals in this position may first want to focus on getting the process started. One of the first steps in closing an estate is to inventory the person's assets and find all important documents, especially any relating to estate planning. The will may be needed to determine who was appointed as executor if the deceased did not discuss the appointment beforehand.

Start the new year thinking about wills, other planning tools

At some point in their lives, most California residents come to the decision that they want to get their affairs in order. As the new year quickly approaches, numerous individuals may believe that now is the time to get started on their wills and other aspects of estate planning. This idea could be a great way to start the year off right.

Estate planning has numerous benefits, and those benefits do not just apply after a person's demise. For instance, individuals can use planning tools to indicate the type of medical care they want to receive and who should make medical decisions in the event that they cannot act for themselves. These plans can also indicate who should handle money matters in the event of incapacitation.

Copies and storage may help keep wills and other documents safe

Important information always needs to be kept safe, especially if it is personal information. When individuals create their wills and other estate planning documents, they need to ensure that the information in those documents remains safe. Any number of scenarios could arise in which information could be lost if not kept protected.

California residents may want to carefully consider where they keep their estate planning documents. In fact, it may be wise to request copies of all documents from the outset. These copies can ensure that a duplicate set of documents exist and can act as a backup in case the original set is lost or damaged. Documents to keep copies of include wills, powers of attorney, trusts, health care proxies and insurance policies.

Creating a trust can protect your heirs from inheritance mistakes

If you have spent a lifetime accumulating assets, you undoubtedly have strong feelings about how you would like them distributed upon your death. Estate planning, including drafting a will, is an important first step to ensuring your legacy when you die. However, a will may not be sufficient to protect your assets and your family members.

Although people mistakenly assume that trusts are only necessary for individuals with large estates, any family can benefit from including a trust in an estate plan. Spendthrift trusts are particularly beneficial when family members or heirs have a history of poor financial management or addiction.

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