March 19

Stories from the Cemetery

(True!) Stories from the Cemetery
Alice died in 1971. Her surviving spouse, Joe, was an Army veteran which allowed burial of Alice in a National Cemetery. Lucky for Joe, he fell in love and married again in 1973. His second wife, Mary, had been a widow for many years. Mary and Joe each had adult children from their first marriages.
Shortly after their marriage, Mary mentioned to Joe’s daughter that she and Joe had decided they would each be buried with their first spouse. Mary thought this would make it easier for all of the kids. Apparently, Mary never mentioned this to her own children.
Joe died in 1986. Mary buried Joe with Alice in the National Cemetery. The face of the headstone contained both Alice and Joe’s names and dates of their lives. Mary survived Joe for nearly thirteen years but suffered from dementia during the last years of her life. This made it impossible to have a meaningful conversation with her to determine her preferred final resting place.
At Mary’s funeral, Joe’s children were taken by surprise to discover that, without their knowledge, Mary was going to be buried with Alice and Joe. Rather than a duplex, the grave was now a triplex! The National Cemetery was not required to notify the children of Alice and Joe that another person had joined their parents.
A new headstone was installed. The front has Joe’s name and dates of birth and death. The back of the headstone has a heading “Wives” and lists the names and respective dates for Alice and Mary. It is unlikely the two ladies ever met in life but their remains now repose together for eternity.
The moral of this story: Talk to your family now and let them know your wishes regarding disposition of your remains.

February 19

I Have a Will, Why Do I Need a Trust?

I Have a Will, Why Do I Need a Trust?
You have a last will and testament. Your will directs that, at your passing, your spouse will inherit everything you own. It further directs that if your spouse dies before you, your children will inherit everything. Why do you need a Trust?
The most apparent reasons are time and money. The first reason why you need a trust is that a will does not avoid court; a will gives instructions to the court. A California probate estate administration is a lengthy process. It is very unusual to complete the process in less than a year. Your beneficiaries must wait for a court order before distributions may be made to them. In addition, attorney and executor fees are set by statute in California. An estate valued at $1,000,000, would incur attorney and executor fees totaling at least $46,000. If you are house-rich and cash-poor, how will your beneficiaries meet these obligations? If you have a trust, the attorney’s fees and trustee’s fees may be substantially lower and distributions may be made to your beneficiaries more quickly and without court supervision.
The second reason you want a trust is that the last will and testament only comes into play after your death. If you become incapacitated, a trust allows the Trustee that you have chosen to quickly and easily step in and manage your trust assets for your benefit. This may help you avoid a costly and very public conservatorship proceeding. A conservatorship is put into place when a person can no longer manage their own affairs and no mechanism is currently in place, i.e. a trust and/or durable power of attorney, to allow someone else to step in and help you. Conservatorships are heavily supervised by the court and thus the attorney’s fees may be quite high. It is expensive to establish the conservatorship and annual reporting requirements incur additional fees every year until your death.
Both a will and a trust will direct distribution of your assets after your death. However, a well-drafted trust will also enable someone to manage your assets during your lifetime if you become incapacitated. Finally, a trust may save substantial time and money in the administration of your estate after you are gone.
Call an estate planning attorney today and make your life and death easier.

January 15

Aretha Should Have Had a Plan

On Thursday, August 16, 2018 the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin died in her Detroit home. She was seventy-six years old. Aretha battled pancreatic cancer nearly eight years before succumbing. She owned an estate worth an estimated eighty million dollars. And yet, Aretha didn’t have a will or trust.

What is more surprising is that Aretha is just one of many famous musicians to die without planning. Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Kurt Cobain, Tupac Shakur, Sonny Bono, Barry White, Amy Winehouse, Nate Dogg, Prince and Michael Jackson all died without planning. As a result, all their estates faced complications they otherwise would not have.

For example, if Aretha passed in California, Aretha’s estate would take a hit of at least eight hundred thousand dollars; four hundred thousand dollars in attorney fees – and another four hundred thousand dollars to an executor approved by the court. (And that doesn’t include the taxes her heirs will no doubt pay on her multiple properties).

However, Aretha could have protected her estate with an estate plan. The plan would have cost her a lot less! More importantly perhaps, it would have allowed Aretha (not the state) to determine how and to whom her estate is distributed. It would also protect her children from possible family squabbles – freeing them to properly grieve.

Of course, the average person doesn’t have an estate as large as Aretha’s. Yet, with proper planning the average person can protect whatever estate they have for a fraction of the costs their estate will pay in taxes and legal fees if they opt out of planning. The real benefit of planning for any person is making the process easy and efficient for his or her loved ones.

For more information about wills, trust or other estate planning documents, please contact a qualified estate planning attorney.

December 13

Who Gets What?

Who Gets What?
Who inherits when someone dies without a will in California? Many people are under the impression that the State is first in line to receive our assets but actually state law sets forth a long list of people who will inherit before the State gets their sticky hands in our pie.
For most people, their primary asset is their home. When someone dies without a will, there are different rules that govern the distribution of real property versus other types of property such as cash or brokerage accounts. For illustrative purposes, we will restrict our discussion to distribution of real property.
We will assume your spouse died less than 15 years before you, neither of you had any children, both your parents and your spouse’s parents are deceased, neither you nor your spouse had any siblings, all of the uncles and aunts on both sides are deceased as are the first cousins on both sides – voila! – you and your spouse’s first cousins once removed would inherit your real property. Do you even know the names of your first cousins once removed, let alone your spouse’s? Do you want someone you don’t know to inherit your most valuable asset?
This scenario may be avoided by making your wishes known in a will or a trust. If you don’t have any family or friends that you would like to name as your beneficiaries, you may choose to name a charitable institution to receive your assets. Most of us have a cause that is near and dear to our hearts, whether it is children, animals, libraries, churches, hospitals, the arts, nature, or any of a number of other possibilities. Your bequest may continue to make a positive impact in people’s lives long after you are gone.
Call an estate planning attorney today and make your wishes known!

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