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Los Angeles Probate & Estate Administration Law Blog

Is a private family foundation right for you?

Many people who are creating their estate plans believe that they've given their children every advantage in life to become successful, financially independent adults. Instead of leaving them a substantial amount of money or other assets when they die, they prefer to leave the bulk of their wealth to various worthwhile charities. They may even want to set up a scholarship fund to help students at their alma mater pay their educational expenses.

There are various types of charitable planning vehicles available for people who want to leave a legacy of philanthropic giving. These include donor-advised funds and charitable trusts -- specifically charitable remainder trusts (CRTs) and charitable lead trusts (CLTs). These allow people to manage their charitable giving while they're still alive and provide direction for it after they're gone. They carry some tax advantages as well.

Why revocable living trusts take precedence over wills

A comprehensive estate plan is often comprised of a number of documents. It's crucial that they don't contradict one another. This can cause confusion, delays and expense when it comes time for your executor(s) to settle your estate. Therefore, if you make changes to one document, your estate planning attorney can advise you if similar changes need to be made to other documents to ensure continued consistency.

Two documents that sometimes end up with conflicting information are revocable living trusts and wills. Many people have both because they serve different purposes. However, they need to be consistent.

Understanding intestacy laws in California

It is recommended that people plan their estate as early as possible because passing away without a will can lead to complex issues. When a person dies without an estate plan, this is known legally as dying intestate.

When a person in California dies intestate, their assets will be distributed according to California law. This means that assets will be distributed to surviving relatives in a certain order. If you have a loved one who passed away intestate, it is important that you gain a good understanding of how the law works in California.

Estate planning for the 'modern family'

If your family doesn't involve a spouse of the opposite sex and a couple of kids that you had together, you're not alone. Family dynamics have evolved considerably in recent decades. The term "modern family" has largely replaced "traditional family." A family can easily be comprised of an unmarried couple (of the opposite sex or the same sex), a single parent, grandparents raising their grandchildren, stepparents and stepchildren and other variations.

Regardless of what your family looks like, you want to make sure that your loved ones are provided for if something happens to you and that they inherit the assets you'd like them to have after you're gone. State probate laws -- even those in California -- still tend to recognize "traditional" family relationships when determining who inherits an estate if a decedent dies without a will ("intestate").

What is a CUTMA account?

Some important aspects of estate planning are done outside of "traditional" estate planning documents like wills and trusts. One of these involves something called the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA). Each state has its own UTMA. In California, it's called the California Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (CUTMA).

You can establish a CUTMA account at most financial institutions in the state. It allows you to gift some of your assets to a young family member. The money in the account legally belongs to the child, but a designated custodian is able to transfer assets to the account for the child. Although the custodian has access to the account, the assets in it must be used for the minor's benefit only. Income earned on the funds in the account is reported under the minor's Social Security number.

Giving up your inheritance: Assignments vs disclaimers

You've inherited part of a family member's estate. Maybe they designated you as a beneficiary in their will. Perhaps they died without a will ("intestate") and you are due a portion of the estate under California's probate laws. What if you don't want or need the inheritance? You'd prefer that someone else receive it -- or at least a portion of it? Maybe you have a sibling who has greater need for the money (or property) than you do.

You can make what's called an "assignment." You assign (transfer) all or part of your interest in the estate to someone else. This is not just an informal transfer. There are legal steps that need to be taken since the assignment contradicts what the decedent designated or what the law requires based on familial relationship.

Signs it’s time to move your loved one to a nursing home

Making the decision to move a loved one into a nursing care facility might be one of the most difficult choices you ever make. Generally, no one likes the idea of uprooting an elderly parent from the home they have lived in for decades and moving them to a strange and unfamiliar facility. Unfortunately, there often comes a time when an adult child can no longer effectively care for an ailing parent and the move to a nursing home becomes a necessity.

You might be wondering how you will know when it is time to choose a nursing home in the Los Angeles area so that your parent will be safe, comfortable and receive proper care. Here are a few signs to watch for in your aging parent that could be cues to make a decision sooner rather than later.

Why do many Californians have revocable living trusts?

Many people think that they have no need for a trust in their estate plan unless they have millions of dollars in assets to pass on to their heirs and other beneficiaries. In fact, you can set up a revocable living trust even if your assets total far less than that. There are many good reasons for doing so.

One big advantage of a living trust is that it doesn't have to go through probate. Here in California where estates of $150,000 or more often must be handled in probate court, placing your assets in a revocable living trust that you manage while you're alive can save your loved ones an expensive, complicated process after you're gone. By avoiding probate, which is a public process, you also protect your privacy and that of your heirs and beneficiaries.

How do community property laws impact inheritances?

People often think that California's community property laws are only relevant when couples divorce. However, they also apply to how property is disbursed and how debts are handled after someone's death.

Under our community property laws, everything that spouses earn or receive (with the exception of gifts and inheritances received by one partner) during the marriage is considered joint (and therefore community) property. That means each spouse owns half of it. Likewise, each spouse is also responsible for half of all debt accumulated during the marriage.

Duties assigned as part of an estate plan

People who create an estate plan will usually set an executor and powers of attorney designations. For the people who are named in these positions, understanding what they mean is important. There are specific duties that must be handled properly. Failing to do these correctly can be costly for the heirs since mistakes may come with increased expenses and time.

It is best to understand your duties before you need to do them so that you are prepared. This is important if the person is your loved one since you will need to handle these tasks while you are still in shock about what's going on.

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