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Los Angeles Probate & Estate Administration Law Blog

The importance of updating your estate plan after divorce

It's essential to review your estate plan whenever a significant life event happens to you or someone in your family. You'll want to determine if any modifications are necessary to make sure that your plan reflects your current wishes.

Divorce is a life event that can require a number of modifications. You likely don't want your ex having power of attorney or other fiduciary authority over your estate. Chances are, you don't want them to be one of the primary beneficiaries of your assets, either.

4 important steps for estate accounting

When a loved one passes away and leaves you in charge of their estate, you need to start with a general accounting process that focuses specifically on all of the little details. Every penny matters. You need to know where it went, how it got used and why it got used that way. Leave nothing out.

The key is to match up the estate plan with the actual estate. If it says that a bank account contains $100,000 to get split between the heirs, you need to confirm that it actually has $100,000. Never assume that the plan is accurate. Always double-check. Things change and many disputes happen because it's unclear where the money went. Keeping track helps you determine how to move forward and follow the plan as well as possible.

Why you need an estate plan if you have no heirs

Many baby boomers who are hitting their senior years are divorced, widowed or have remained single their whole lives. A number of them never had children. If you have no heirs, is there any reason to have an estate plan?

There is if you want a say in what happens to your assets after you die. If you don't have any immediate family, it's also important to determine who will oversee your financial obligations and your medical care if you become incapacitated and can't do so yourself. This involves giving one or more people powers of attorney for these matters.

Dying intestate sets specific succession plans for assets

People often hear about the need to create a will, but some people don't pay attention to what happens when a person dies and there isn't one in place. When there isn't an estate plan in place, the person is said to have died intestate.

California laws govern who is going to get what when their loved one dies without a will. The Probate Code's intestate succession section outlines all matters related to their assets. There are many different aspects of this code that can apply to various circumstances, so you should find out how they apply specifically to your case before you make any decisions.

Don't forget to update your estate plan before you remarry

If you're planning to give marriage a second (or maybe third) try in the new year, you likely have more assets and people to protect that you did when you married the first time. A prenuptial agreement can help you and your partner protect the assets you bring into the marriage and ensure that the financial well-being of any children you have from previous relationships is protected.

If you don't already have an estate plan, this is the time to get one. If you do have one, you'll likely need and want to make some revisions and additions to it.

Do you know the first signs of dementia?

You know that dementia is a risk for your parents, but how do you know when it's actually starting to set in? It's not as if they suddenly deteriorate mentally in a clear and obvious fashion. It can take a long time, people have good and bad days, and you need to understand what early warning signs to watch out for.

Remember, every case is different. While memory issues are perhaps the most common, people also struggle with language issues, communication problems, trouble reasoning and an inability to focus. Be on the lookout for changes in all of these key areas.

Seniors need to update their estate plans when moving

California seniors move into assisted living communities for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they just want to be free of responsibilities like home maintenance, cooking and cleaning. Many newly widowed people feel isolated and want the socialization that these communities provide. Some people need a little help with activities of daily life (ADL) like bathing and dressing as they get older.

Whatever brings you to this move, don't forget that it will likely require an update to your will and other estate planning documents — particularly if you're selling your home. If you're purchasing a home in a senior community, make sure that the new home is included in your estate plan.

Do family members have to be told they received no inheritance?

Many of us have at least one family member we love but who has been lost to us due to alcohol and/or drug abuse or perhaps a series of bad life choices. When people are creating an estate plan, there are ways to set up a trust for someone like that so that they don't get money they'll only use to harm themselves.

Discretionary trusts can be established so that if a person turns their life around (for example, completes a recovery program and stays sober for a specified period), they can have access to the funds. Of course, that can place a significant burden on the trustee who has to determine if and when the beneficiary should receive the inheritance.

6 questions to ask when choosing a nursing home for a loved one

As challenging as it may be, there could come a time in your life when you need to choose a nursing home for a loved one. Moving through the process can be complex and time-consuming, but there are steps you can take to ensure yourself of making the right decision at the right time.

Here are six questions to ask and answer when choosing a nursing home:

  • Is it the right location? This will impact your life in many ways, such as your ability to conveniently visit your loved one. It's not the only thing to consider when making a final decision, but it should sit at the top of your list.
  • Which nursing homes have the best reputation? You should never choose a nursing home with a less than stellar reputation, as this is a risk you don't need to take. There are plenty of facilities out there with many years experience providing top of the line care.
  • What are the staffing ratios? This gives you a clear idea of the type of attention your loved one can expect to receive. Taking this one step further, get a clear idea of the type of people on staff, ranging from registered nurses to certified nursing assistants.
  • What is the staff turnover? This gives you a good idea of whether the people who work at the nursing home enjoy the atmosphere. Low turnover typically means that workers are happy with their day-to-day job and responsibilities.
  • What types of services do you offer? Don't assume that all nursing homes are the same in regard to the services they offer. For example, your loved one may require special attention for their dementia.
  • What steps do you take in the event of a medical emergency? This is a specific question to ask every nursing home you're considering. You want to know that there is a plan in place should your loved one require urgent attention.

Dementia is a solid reason to take a will dispute to court

When a loved one begins to age, one of the risks is that they could develop dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Dementia isn't a specific disease, but it is a condition that can negatively impact a patient's life.

If your loved one had dementia while planning their estate, there is good reason to be concerned. This condition, along with Alzheimer's and others, makes it harder for people to make good decisions based on the facts. They may be forgetful or make sudden decisions unaware of their impact. If they had dementia or Alzheimer's disease while making decisions about their estate plan or will, they may have made mistakes or changes that you can fight in court.

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