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Estate Planning in San Francisco

Understanding How a San Francisco Estate Planning Lawyer Can Help You

For elders, having a clear estate plan in place setting out what will happen to your estate when you die is one of the most important things you can do. Having a solid estate plan not only ensures that your assets will be distributed according to your wishes, but it can also prevent legal headaches and familial infighting down the road.

Common Estate Planning Tools

San Francisco estate planning lawyers have many tools at their disposal to create an estate plan that works for you, and they often use several of these tools in combination to ensure complete protection of your assets. Some of the most common include:

Wills

Wills are the most common and well-known type of estate planning tool. They are legal documents that specify exactly how the testator’s (the person making the will) property will be distributed upon his or her death. Creating a will need not be complicated — so long as the document complies with California requirements for a will, it will be considered valid — although its validity may be challenged on various grounds.The law also gives testators wide latitude in determining how his or her property will be distributed, making wills a comprehensive and versatile estate planning tool. Consulting with a San Francisco estate planning lawyer at Evans Law Firm, Inc. will help your will’s validity remain intact.

Trusts

A trust is an agreement that allows the settlor (the person making the trust) to transfer property to a second person (the trustee) who holds the property for the benefit of the settlor and others (the eventual beneficiaries). A trust agreement governs this relationship by identifying what the trust assets are, how the trustee is to manage the assets, and under what conditions the beneficiaries are to receive the assets of the trust. Trusts can be used for a variety of estate-planning purposes, such as:

  • Financially supporting the beneficiaries
  • Distributing the settlor’s assets upon his or her death
  • Caring for beneficiaries with special needs
  • Avoiding probate fees and estate and gift taxes
  • Protecting the settlor’s estate in the event that he or she becomes incapacitated
  • Charitable giving

For more information about the various types of trusts available and what you can do with them, please contact an attorney at our San Francisco planning law firm.

Durable Power of Attorney

A durable power of attorney document is a legal arrangement that gives one person (the attorney-in-fact) the power to make decisions on behalf of another person (the principal) even if  that that person becomes mentally incapacitated. These types of documents can encompass legal, financial, and medical decisions. Once a durable power of attorney agreement is executed, any actions the attorney-in-fact takes on behalf of the principal will have the same legal effect as if they had been undertaken by the principal.

Advance Health Care Directives

An advance health care directive is a legal document that allows you to leave instructions regarding your medical care in the event that you become incapacitated. It is similar to a power of attorney document in that it gives you the opportunity to appoint an agent to make healthcare decisions on your behalf, but it also allows you to make specific medical decisions in advance, such as:

  • End-of-life decisions
  • Whether you wish to be relieved from pain
  • Whether you wish to donate organs
  • Any other wishes

Payable on Death (POD) Accounts

A pay on death (POD) account is an arrangement with a financial institution wherein the funds in the account are automatically paid to the account holder’s beneficiary upon the beneficiary’s death. When the account holder dies, the beneficiary becomes the owner of the account, skipping the probate process.

How Probate Works in California

Probate is the legal process by which a decedent’s estate is distributed to his or her heirs and beneficiaries. Property can be distributed by some estate planning tools, such as trusts and POD accounts, without the requirement of any probate court proceeding. Likewise, assets that pass automatically upon death, such as life insurance proceeds and interests in real property owned in joint tenancy, can also avoid probate. For other tools, however, such as wills and certain types of trusts, probate is required.

Probate courts handle many estate-planning issues, including:

  • Determining whether a will is valid
  • Identifying the decedent’s heirs and beneficiaries
  • Identifying and valuing the decedent’s estate
  • Transferring the decedent’s estate to heirs and beneficiaries
  • Fulfilling the decedent’s outstanding financial liabilities

In these cases, the estate’s administrator a person named in the will or appointed by the court) collects the assets, pays the decedent’s debts, and distributes the estate to the decedent’s beneficiaries under the supervision of the probate court.

What Happens if You Die Without an Estate Plan in California?

If you die without an estate plan — i.e., with no will or trust — you are said to die “intestate.” When you die intestate, the state will distribute your assets according to predetermined rules of intestate succession. These rules vary from state to state, but they generally assume that the decedent would want his or her estate to be distributed to the people with whom he or she had the closest familial relationships, such as spouses and children.

In California, an intestate decedent’s estate is distributed as follows, according to the kinds of relationships he or she had during life:

  • Spouse but not children, parents, siblings, nieces or nephews: spouse inherits everything
  • Children but no spouse: children inherit everything
  • Parents but no children, spouse, or siblings: parents inherit everything
  • Siblings but no children, spouse, or parents: siblings inherit everything
  • Spouse and one child or grandchild: spouse inherits all community property, spouse and children each inherit 1/2 of separate property
  • Spouse and two or more children: spouse inherits all community property and 1/3 of separate property, children inherit 2/3 of separate property
  • Spouse and parents but no children: spouse inherits all community property, spouse and parents each inherit 1/2 of separate property

If the decedent dies without living kin or heirs of any kind, the decedent’s property escheats to the state. Thus, in order to make sure your estate is distributed in a way you are happy with, it is critical that you consult with a San Francisco estate planning attorney.

Contact a San Francisco Estate Planning Lawyer to Learn More

For more information about creating an estate plan that’s right for you, please contact a San Francisco estate planning lawyer at Evans Law Firm by filling out our online form or calling us at 415-441-8669.

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