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Los Angeles Probate & Estate Administration Law Blog

Why downsizing is an important part of estate planning

As we progress through adulthood, our lives tend to get bigger -- more kids, then grandkids, a larger house and more possessions. Then we reach a point where we no longer need that big house and all that stuff. The kids are grown, maybe our spouse is gone (through divorce or death). That's when downsizing becomes an attractive option.

Many people reach this "downsizing" phase of their life about the same time they're doing their estate planning. Your downsizing can actually be an important component of your estate planning. By getting rid of things you no longer need or want, you're saving your loved ones from having to do it after you're gone. Moreover, this is a chance to give things away while you're still around to know they're appreciated.

What you should know if you're the beneficiary of a trust

Often when people use trusts to leave money to family in their estate plans, they don't designate specific dollar amounts. They will designate that whatever assets are in the trust at the time of their death be divided -- sometimes equally and sometimes not. If you're the beneficiary of a trust, finding out how much you'll receive may take some research -- and patience.

It's also important to determine when you're entitled to your share of the trust assets. Often a trust will read something like "distributions shall be made upon the settlor's death." That means that once the estate debts, expenses and taxes are paid, the remaining assets will be distributed.

Should you add a living will to your estate plan?

As you age, you're more likely to think about your future health and well-being. For example, you may have questions about what will happen to your assets in the event of incapacity and who will make important decisions on your behalf.

You're not required to add a living will to your estate plan, but it can give you peace of mind in regard to the type of treatment you receive in the event of a serious illness or injury.

Important estate planning precautions to protect your assets

By having a thorough, professionally-developed estate plan, you can ensure that your affairs will be looked after responsibly if you become physically and/or mentally incapacitated and unable to do so. You also can plan for your assets to be disbursed as you've designated after you're gone.

However, it's essential to make sure that you protect those assets and your intentions when you develop your estate plan and designate your executor, trustees and powers of attorney. While it may seem inconceivable that a family member or other trusted person would betray you, there are no guarantees. Money can make people do things that no one -- even they -- would have believed they were capable of.

The importance of receipts in estate administration

Serving as the executor of someone's estate is a difficult job. Many people find that they have to take a leave from work in order to handle everything involved. Depending on the size of the estate and the level of preparation undergone by the testator, you could have several weeks or even months of bookkeeping, asset location and distribution ahead of you.

With so much to do, you might be looking for ways to decrease the amount of time that tasks require. Choosing not to write everything down could seem like a reasonable way to speed up things.

Protecting your estate plan from California disasters

Here in Los Angeles, most of us know somewhere in the back of our minds that our homes could be wiped out in practically the blink of an eye by an earthquake or wildfire. That's happened to many of our friends, family, colleagues and neighbors over the course of the past decades -- most recently in the fires that swept through parts of the state in November. That's why it's essential to store necessary documents -- including our estate plan -- in a safe place so that they'll survive a disaster, even if we don't.

One of the best ways to do that is to have them saved online in the cloud. This way you can access them even if your own computers have been destroyed or you can't get to them.

What should you consider when choosing a guardian for your kids?

One of the life events that motivates many people to give some thought to estate planning -- at least one element of it -- is having a child. Many parents want to plan for the worst- case scenario that they both die (perhaps in a car or plane crash) and leave their children orphans.

While that's a situation no one wants to contemplate, you don't want your family members having to spend time in court seeking guardianship of your kids or -- worse -- battling over who is best able to care for them. In fact, you may prefer that someone besides a family member becomes your child's legal guardian. By naming one or more guardians for your children, you are taking a vital step to ease the transition for your kids at a traumatic time in their lives.

How to protect your children in a second marriage

Are you headed for a second marriage? Are you already married for a second time? Do you have children from your first marriage? These are all important questions you will need to answer when putting together your estate plan or modifying your current plan. If you answered yes to these questions, there could be some considerations you missed that will help protect your children.

If you've remarried, you likely have joint accounts with your new spouse to pay the mortgage and the utility bills. However, if you are entangled with a former spouse, having these joint accounts could be an issue. It might be better for you and your current spouse to keep your money in separate accounts, especially since you could be on the hook for old debt.

5 things to know if you are an estate executor

It is common for an individual to choose a relative or close and trusted friend to serve as executor of the estate when the time comes. For example, your parents or another loved one may have asked you to be the executor of their estate when they pass. While you probably felt honored at being entrusted with such an important task, it is important to remember that an executor's duties can be extremely complex and time-consuming.

Before you accept the role of executor, you should take the time to consider the full scope of the tasks you will have to perform. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself before you accept the position of estate executor.

Guardianship versus conservatorship: What's the difference?

One of the key focus areas for estate planning for parents of young children is simply picking who is going to take care of them. It goes far beyond simply passing assets on to the kids, as would be done once they are adults. They need help and guidance moving forward. They need people who can stand in for their parents.

You may have heard two different terms related to this process: guardianship and conservatorship. There is often a lot of confusion about exactly what these mean, so let's take a moment to clear it up.

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