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California Estate Planning Blog

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.

Probate could put many obligations on business owners

All estates need someone to take charge in settling final affairs after a person dies. Typically, a person can name an executor to handle the steps associated with any necessary probate proceedings. However, individuals named to this position may worry that their lives may not allow them to properly handle the tasks or that acting as executor could put them at financial risk.

In particular, California business owners may have concerns about taking this role. They may worry that having to handle their deceased loved ones' debts may mean that their businesses will also take on those debts. However, that is not the case. The remaining estate funds are used to handle any outstanding balances, and executors usually only face personal obligation for paying estate debts if they did not follow proper procedure when addressing creditors.

Protecting assets may go beyond creating wills

Many California residents want to protect their assets for future generations and make sure that their end-of-life wishes are known. Fortunately, estate planning can offer several ways to reach these goals. While wills are important documents to include in such plans, there are other aspects of planning to also consider.

One action that could help protect assets is appointing a power of attorney agent. This person would have the ability to carry out important financial decisions on an incapacitated individual's behalf. Having a trusted person in charge could prevent unnecessary financial losses and prevent falling behind on bills. This agent could also move forward with financial transactions that may have been in the works already, such as real estate deals or similar endeavors.

Executors have a great deal of responsibility during probate

In a best case scenario, a loved one would ask another person to act as executor of his or her estate before simply appointing the person. Because California probate can take a considerable amount of time and effort, having someone willing to take on the role may prevent additional hardships. Still, even a willing executor will have a great deal of responsibility to handle.

Because of the importance of this role, it is important that executors do not take the position lightly. They have an obligation to make the best decisions for the estate and to act in the best interests of the estate's beneficiaries. This responsibility is known as the executor's fiduciary duty. If this duty is breached, serious consequences could result.

Individuals may want to incorporate charitable trusts into plans

Many California residents want to find ways to give back during their lives. They may make donations during the year or volunteer or carry out a number of other actions to help the community or otherwise contribute. For some, the desire to create a legacy or continue to help may be so great that they want to arrange to continue the giving even after they are gone. Fortunately, charitable trusts may be able to help accomplish that.

There are various ways to make charitable contributions, and some organizations may have details on how to donate. When it comes to using estate planning to make those contributions later, individuals may want to explore charitable lead trusts or charitable remainder trusts. The type of trust that may suit a particular situation could depend on financial factors and the type of contributions a person wants to make.

Financial considerations when you have elderly parents

For aging people, there comes a time when they start to lose their independence. This might be because they lack the physical ability to care for themselves and be mobile, or it might be due to a mental deterioration because of diseases such as dementia.

If you have a parent who is aging and is unable to do the things that he or she used to, you may be concerned about their future. In particular, you might wonder about their finances and whether you have the legal right to be able to help them.

Executors have a standard of care during estate administration

The idea of settling someone's final affairs can seem daunting. Indeed, the process of estate administration can have its complications, and an executor has a number of duties to address. This person also has to make sure that all steps taken to close the estate are correct because conflicts can easily result.

California executors may find it useful to understand that they have to follow a standard of care when settling an estate. This standard is known as their fiduciary duty. Individuals with this duty must act impartially when making decisions regarding the estate. Additionally, those decisions must work in the best interests of the remaining estate as well as its beneficiaries. If executors do not adhere to this standard of care, trouble could come about.

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