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Creating a will and estate plan takes time, but it’s one of the best things you can do to make things easier for your heirs, and legal assistance from an Orange County estate planning attorney is what you’ll need to secure your instructions.

However, estate planning isn’t a one-and-done activity for most people. Over the years, people buy and sell property, gain and lose family members, and deal with other major life changes. 

It’s possible for real property to slip through the cracks and get left out of the relevant trust documents, even when the deceased intended to include it in a trust. But what happens then? 

An estate planning lawyer in Orange County can help you file a Heggstad petition to transfer the relevant property into the trust without facing probate. Here’s how the petition works.

What Is a Heggstad Petition?

After a person dies, their estate must be distributed according to both the local law and the legal documents they have signed to plan their estate. 

It can be difficult to juggle several estate planning documents and keep them all updated. The creator of a trust may not transfer all of their property to the trust—sometimes omitting property or not remembering to transfer title to property back to the trust after a refinance.

When this happens, that property is normally destined to go to probate, where a judge will determine its fate.

A Heggstad Petition allows the beneficiaries to skip this costly, inconvenient process. Instead, it allows beneficiaries to transfer the property directly into the trust without going through a long court process. This petition is a useful option for beneficiaries who would otherwise need to deal with the delays and expenses associated with probate. 

To make use of the Heggstad petition, you must be able to prove that the decedent intended to include property in the trust. There are several reasons you may file this petition:

What Is the History of the Heggstad Petition?

The petition was named after a California Court case from 1993, which set the precedent for it.

In the case of Halvard L. Heggstad, he listed an asset on his schedule of assets but didn’t officially transfer it to his trust. When his family realized the error, they went to court and argued that the schedule of assets indicated that he meant to include it in his trust.

The court ruled in favor of the family because they were able to prove that Heggstad meant to include the property in the trust. Since then, it has become part of the California Probate Code. Now, other families can add potential assets to trusts even after the trustor has died.

When Should You File a Heggstad Petition? 

A Heggstad petition is generally more affordable than probate, and it also has the benefit of saving time. A trusted living trust attorney in Orange County can help you with this process—from start to finish.

Heggstad petitions are normally filed by a beneficiary or family member of the trust creator. If the trust is valid, and you think that the creator of the trust left out a property unintentionally, you should file a petition. 

Crucially, the Heggstad petition requires you to show that the decedent meant to include key property in the trust but accidentally left it out. Whether this was due to failing health, clerical errors, or another reason, you should be able to make a case for the intent if you plan to file a petition. 

There are several ways to show that the decedent intended to include a property in the trust. As in the original case, listing a property on a schedule of assets often counts as proof.

There are plenty of other ways to provide proof, and your Orange County trust administration attorney can help you find the best options for your case.

What Documents are Needed for a Heggstad Petition?

In order to file this petition, you’ll need to show some relevant documents to your attorney. There isn’t a strict list of requirements, but you should include as much relevant information as you can. These documents will help your attorney make a better case for your petition. 

First, you’ll need to provide some basic information about the beneficiaries and the decedent. If you move forward with filing the petition, you are required to notify all beneficiaries 30 days ahead of time.

You should have a copy of the trust, so the attorney can refer to the specific language it contains and interpret it. This affects the petition and how your attorney decides to move forward. The deed to the property or a description of it is also necessary.

Providing proof of intent is essential. The schedule of assets is an important document here because it can demonstrate the decedent’s plans to include property in the trust. If there are any other legal documents that show intent to include property, these are equally relevant. 

When Should Estate Plans Be Updated?

The best way to deal with an issue is by preventing it. If you have a will and trust as part of your estate plan, consider reviewing and updating them. A probate attorney in Orange County can help you adjust your estate plan for your ever-changing life. 

It’s best to review and update your estate plan as often as you can, to account for any marriages, divorces, or births in the family. Any major changes to property ownership or financial situation may also warrant an update to those documents.

An estate planning lawyer in Orange County would suggest that reviewing your documents every few years will help you identify any updates you need to make. Careful revision of documents will also prevent mistakes and inconsistencies between documents, so your loved ones can avoid court and legal expenses.

Estate planning is a complex endeavor, and it goes more smoothly with the help of an attorney who specializes in estate and probate law. 

To learn more about how we can help your family file a petition or resolve other estate issues, contact us at Parker Law Offices today.

If you have been named the executor or successor trustee of an estate, it's essential to contact an Orange County estate planning attorney who can discuss your obligations and the responsibilities involved in this role. Many feel overwhelmed as they are grieving the loss of their loved one yet also faced with the responsibility of handling the administration of the estate. 

The Steps to Distributing an Estate

Executors, also known as personal representatives in some cases, are faced with an extensive list of to-dos. Let's take a look at the steps to take when it's time to distribute someone's estate.

#1 Locate the Will

Ideally, this detail has been taken care of before the decedent's passing, and you have access to all the critical documents. If not, call their estate planning attorney in Orange County

If they do not have an attorney, consider where they may have kept important documents. For example, if they had a safe deposit box, you would be allowed access to search for the will. If you cannot locate the will, the deceased is said to have died intestate and the state will determine asset distribution.  

#2 File the Will

Once located, the executor needs to file the original with the probate courts, even if probate is not expected to occur. If the deceased had a revocable trust, the assets and property placed into the trust would not need to go through probate. 

Probate can be a long, drawn-out, and financially depleting ordeal. If beneficiaries end up arguing about the distribution of the estate, you can expect rising fees and decreasing assets. Sadly, inheritance disputes bring out the worst in family members. 

#3 Notify Businesses

The executor needs to notify several companies, including utility and credit card companies, the post office, banks, and the Social Security Administration if the deceased was receiving benefits. 

Executors also need to notify creditors. Depending on state laws, they can do this through the mail or publish a notice in the local paper or both. Creditors then must file any claims within a certain period. 

#4 Appraise Inventory and Assets

After the will has been located, the executor needs to perform a thorough inventory of the assets in the estate. Assets of value, such as jewelry or antiques, will need to be appraised. It's not uncommon for family members to enter the home and remove valuable or sentimental items, making the process of inventory vital to fair distribution. 

If items are removed and the person who took them refuses to return them, the court can demand their return. In addition, if an executor feels that some assets in the home are not secure, they have the legal ability to change the locks. 

#5 Open a Bank Account

The executor is required to obtain a Federal Tax ID number and open up an estate bank account. The accounts of the deceased are then transferred into this account. 

#6 Pay Creditors

Before distributing assets, creditors, bills, fees associated with administering the estate, and funeral costs need to be paid. The Executor also needs to file the final tax return, determine if any state or federal estate tax is due, and pay any taxes. Once paid, a release from the tax agency is required by the probate court.

If there is not enough money to cover these expenses, an executor may need to sell stocks or other assets. Before doing so, contact an estate planning lawyer in Orange County.  

Because of the extensive time factor and to give creditors time to come forward and request payment, the distribution of assets can occur many months after the decedent has passed on. 

#7 Determine if Probate Is Required

To determine if probate is necessary, an executor will need to figure out the value of the assets, if a trust is in effect and the type of trust. Because of the numerous rules and regulations regarding probate, it's essential to contact an Orange County estate planning lawyer to help you through this process. If any mistakes are made in the handling of the estate, an executor can be held liable. 

#8 Work With the Successor Trustee

In many cases, the successor trustee and the executor are the same person. However, if the deceased left a living trust and named a different person as successor trustee, the executor will need to work closely with this person who is in charge of trust assets.

Any assets that have been placed into the trust do not have to go through probate and can be distributed to the beneficiaries much sooner than property going through probate.

#9 Preserve the Assets

The executor is entrusted with the immense responsibility of preserving and managing the assets before they are distributed to the beneficiaries. This means that bills need to be paid, and investments and assets need to be secured. 

Part of this process may be ensuring the home mortgage and utilities are paid as well as the insurance premiums of all valuables. Finally, the executor must also collect any money owed to the estate and deposit it in the estate's bank account. 

#10 Distribute the Assets

Once bills and taxes are paid and the probate, if applicable, has closed, an executor can distribute the assets. If the beneficiaries are not satisfied with the distribution or suspect foul play by the executor, they can request an informal accounting by the executor or petition the court for mandatory accounting. 

Should this occur, it's important to consult with an Orange County estate planning attorney as soon as possible.

Enlist the Help of a Trusted Estate Lawyer 

As you can see, the person named executor holds tremendous responsibility. If you are in the process of developing an estate plan, be sure to choose this person wisely. Anything that is not in writing, such as personal and household items, will need to be distributed by the executor at their discretion. 

For this reason, the person must be impartial and fair. The right person in this position can make the difference between a smooth transition and a family dispute that dwindles away the assets intended for loved ones. At Parker Law Offices, we ensure that our clients have the documents in place that protect your family and your assets and help executors accomplish their duties. For a complimentary consultation, contact us at Parker Law Offices today.   

Though we all lead different lives, one thing is for certain: we all die at some point. Despite this certainty, talking about death has become a taboo topic in society, especially when it involves finances. 

It also goes without saying that as responsible children, we want to carry out the wishes of our parents. This is going to be difficult to do once they pass, especially if they have never communicated their desires when they were still alive. It can be particularly painful if no wishes have been documented in a will or a trust.

This can cause family rifts and irreparable relationship damage. Relatives who have never been part of the decedent’s life often come forward (or “out of the woodwork”) to claim assets when a loved one passes away. You can avoid these problems in the future by communicating with your parents about their estate plans today.

A living trust is a surefire way to ensure that your parents’ wishes are fulfilled after they pass. If the decedent’s wealth is less than $166,250 a simple will might help avoid probate, but a living trust can allow you to skip the probate court entirely—which is a huge bonus in itself for lots of families. 

But in a society that considers death a taboo, how do you exactly bring up the subject of getting a living trust without seeming greedy?

  1. Be Careful of Your Language 

One of the most common causes of disputes within families is miscommunication. Your reason for bringing up the living trust with your parents is because you want to avoid misunderstandings later on and making sure that their wishes are carried out. Carelessly using words they may misinterpret is an easy way to sabotage what you’re setting out to do.

Instead of immediately talking about the living trust, convey first where you’re coming from. Tell them that you’ve seen siblings become permanently estranged due to differing interpretations of a parent’s will. You can also talk to your parents about how some people wound up incurring a fortune in estate taxes and probate costs because a parent only left behind a will. Then, you can mention how a living trust may help prevent those. 

  1. Involve Your Siblings at the Right Time

Your parents’ estate plans usually involve your siblings. It’s vital that you involve your siblings in the conversation. Just be careful not to gang up on your parents, as this may be taken negatively.

Involving your siblings in a conversation about your parents’ estate and the value of a living trust will provide your parents and siblings the confidence that you’re not just looking out for yourself. This is a key factor when it comes to avoiding miscommunication.

Most of the time, we talk to people about sensitive topics when we’re ready. But establishing a living trust for your parents isn’t about you, it’s about them and what they wish to happen with the assets and properties they worked hard to accumulate for decades.

If you don’t want to be misinterpreted, make sure that you talk to your parents when they are ready to talk about this sensitive topic. Instead of just springing the topic on them while you’re having a casual conversation, set up a meeting where they know what you will talk about. 

You and your siblings should tell your parents that you’re unclear about their wishes in terms of their estate and you wouldn’t want to misinterpret their wishes and mishandle their assets. Convey how you want to support their wishes and that you wish to give them space to convey such sentiments when they are ready. 

When they’re ready, bring up the topic of living trusts and how it can help your parents make sure their wishes are carried out.

  1. Focus On Your Parents’ Wants 

One of the advantages of a living trust is determining a trust grantor’s wishes while they are still alive. Bringing up the conversation with your parents means that you want to help them carry out what they want. 

Therefore, it’s crucial in this conversation that you focus solely on what they want and less about what anyone else’s desires. If you or any of your siblings are experiencing financial difficulties, acknowledge this and perhaps have the conversation at another time.

If a parent is aware of your financial difficulties, they can easily misinterpret the conversation as you wanting money due to the timing. This is the last thing you want to happen.

When talking to your parents about getting a living trust, be careful not to question their wishes. Though we’re curious and sometimes their wishes don’t make sense to us, you should avoid asking “why?” 

This probing question conveys mistrust of their judgement and can make them lose faith in you. Even if you don’t mean anything by it, tempering your curiosity could make the difference between them thinking you’re there to help and them thinking you’re there to get their money.

  1. Allow Yourself To Be Vulnerable

Any conversation involving finances, estate planning, or succession can be a difficult one. When parents have their children try to talk to them about it, they may feel like their ability to manage their finances is being questioned, or that their children are thinking about their death.

Such discussions are often emotional. If your parents talk to you about this, they will be making themselves vulnerable to you. Because of the parent-child relationship or perhaps because of their pride, parents may find it difficult to open up. 

A good way to approach parents and help them feel more at ease to talk to you about such a topic is by allowing yourself to be vulnerable first. Convey to them your reasons for bringing up the topic. Sincerely convey your worries to your parents. Chances are they can empathize with you and wouldn’t want any of your worries to come true either.

  1. Remember That Details Aren’t Everything

When talking to your parents about the possibility of getting a living trust, don’t get caught up in the details. Though details are important, they shouldn’t be brought up in every situation especially when your parents are reluctant. 

The topic of a living trust can be emotionally triggering for your parents; pushing for details may come across as insensitive or greedy even though you’re only concerned about making sure they get what they want.

If your parents are only willing to talk about the general concept of what they want to happen with their estate, leave it at that and don’t probe further. If they’re interested in a living trust but are uncomfortable talking to you about them, arrange a consultation with an estate planning lawyer in Orange County

Because of attorney-client privilege, they may be more comfortable talking to an Orange County estate planning attorney who can help arrange the living trust in confidence.

Enlist the Help of a Trusted Attorney

Another tactic you can use to talk to your parents about getting a living trust is by showing them this article. Let them read it and have a conversation about the benefits a living trust can give them. You can also enlist the help of an Orange County estate planning attorney to more thoroughly explain how a living trust can help them carry out their wishes.

There are plenty of advantages to using a living trust as a significant piece of your overall estate plan. In fact, any Orange County estate planning attorney who doesn’t at least mention this option is behind the times. Call Parker Law Offices now at (949) 385-3130 for your free consultation with an experienced lawyer who will make your estate planning experience easy to understand, and be able to help you make the decisions that will financially help your loved ones in the future in the best way possible.

If you choose to go it alone, the worst thing that could happen is if your trust fails. When this happens, your trust may be ineffective, unable to help you, your family, or your beneficiaries.

Before you can understand the points of failure in a living trust, it’s worth exploring how living trusts work.

Living Trust: Defined

A living trust isn’t too far off from a standard will, but it has many different advantages. Ultimately, trust, along with a will, can help you avoid significant costs and time lost during the probate court process.

Unlike various other trusts, living trusts allow you to manage them yourself so long as you are alive and able.

Trusts can be full of property, bank accounts, real estate, and more. While you are managing your trust, you can add assets, transfer ownership of assets, add or remove beneficiaries, change the trustee to manage your trust, restate or cancel it altogether.

Some of the most significant benefits of using a living trust are the following:

Ultimately, a living trust gives you more control of how your assets are managed, which should result in reduced expenses and saving money. Make sure you consult an Orange County estate planning lawyer to completely understand how a living trust fits into your estate plan.

The Biggest Point of Failure

While your estate planning attorney in Orange County may have various issues to discuss and overcome with you, there is really only one major point of failure that matters.

Essentially, the biggest way your living trust can fail is if It’s not properly funded.

What is Funding?

Funding a trust is just another way of saying you’re adding assets into the trust. This task typically involves retitling your assets into the name of the trust. 

Instead of you owning your house, for example, the trust technically owns the house while you live in it. You may also have to retitle or set up life insurance policies, bank accounts, or other elements of your estate to fit into your trust.

This is when the help of an experienced estate planning attorney in Orange County CA, really comes into play.

Once your living trust is funded with your assets, your trustee is able to manage those assets if you become incapacitated. This is important as the trustee can use your assets to help pay for medical expenses you incur while you are incapacitated.

A power of attorney (also referred to as “POA”) may provide similar powers to a person of your choosing; it also allows for a person of your choosing to manage funds in the trust. For example, a beneficiary who is a child may need funds to pay for tuition in school, student housing costs, etc. Power of Attorney, in the event of your becoming incapacitated, can allow for the child to be looked after from an appropriate financial perspective and taken care of through your instructions, enabled by powers included in and allowed by your trust.

Keep Gas In The Tank

A living trust isn’t much different than your car needing fuel. For your car, you stop by the gas station and fill up the tank. With a living trust, you properly fund it. If there is no gas, you’re stuck on the side of the road. In the same way, if your trust isn’t properly funded, it won’t be much help to you, your family, or your beneficiaries.

An insufficiently funded living trust could result in time spent dealing with the probate court. The end result is that it may end up taking much time, and costing your family much more both financially and emotionally to receive assets of yours according to the decisions rendered by a probate court judge.

The other part of your car’s fuel system that is often overlooked until it’s needed is the fuel gauge. This indicator lets you know how much gas is in the tank. Keeping your trust updated and accurate is very similar to keeping your eye on the fuel gauge.

A Word of Caution

While it might seem like a good idea to run out and start throwing property and titles into your living trust without advice from an attorney, that may not be the best option. The last thing you want to do is lose money on your assets because of fees or taxes. That could mean negating the benefit of the trust altogether.

One more thing to consider, is that advice should only come from an attorney. There are examples of many paralegals and even notary publics who offer estate planning to clients. These individuals are not certified by the state bar to practice law, and do not have malpractice insurance to protect their clients against problems resulting from errors in trusts and wills that they offer. The problems from incorrectly written trusts and wills can result in partial or even complete losses, which can be catastrophic for loved ones in need of your financial assistance in the future. 

Before you transfer things into the name of your trust, work with your attorney to see how the transfer takes place, and if there are any fees or issues you should consider.

Here are some of the most common areas that could prove problematic when you’re transferring assets into your trust. Mistakes here could result in the failure of your trust as well.

Real estate. Some homeowner associations (known as “HOAs”) require that you get their permission before transferring your home’s title. They may even charge fees. Some states may require a tax or treat your home as if you sold it when you transfer the title.

Personal Property. It’s often worth transferring the title of personal property into your trust. Things like cars, boats, motorcycles, etc., are great candidates. Transferring ownership might well result in fees.

Untitled Property. Property that doesn’t have an official title can still be transferred into the trust. Your estate planning lawyer in Orange County can help you understand this process. It is crucial that your property is described in enough depth so that no one can question it.

Retirement Accounts. Transferring your 401(k), IRA or qualified annuities often requires a process of withdrawing any funds in the account, opening a new account, and then putting the money back. The problem is that emptying a retirement account can come with considerable fees, not to mention having to count that money as income on your tax return.

Start Your Estate Plan Today

Regardless of how big or small your estate is, thinking about your future is a best practice of wealth management. A living trust offers benefits that you may not find anywhere else, but it does take work.

Before making any significant decisions, make sure to meet with an estate planning attorney in Orange County, CA. It’s time you protected your life’s work.

For the best estate planning team around, schedule your free initial consultation with us at Parker Law Offices. Contact us at (949) 385-3130.

A successor trustee plays a critical role in the estate planning process by carrying out the wishes of the deceased. As the one named in the trust, they assume control of the estate after the trustee dies or becomes incapacitated, and are entrusted to manage the assets, pay outstanding debts, and transfer the assets to the designated beneficiaries. 

If you have assumed the role of successor trustee, it's important to contact an Orange County estate planning attorney to determine what your next steps should be. 

Let's examine the responsibilities of a successor trustee and when you need the services of a trust attorney. 

The Duties of a Successor Trustee

If you have been named the successor trustee for someone's trust, you may be wondering just what your duties are and whether you are up to the task. Both of those questions are important considerations, as the responsibilities associated with this role are many. 

When the grantor (the person or couple who set up the trust) becomes incapacitated or dies, you, as the successor trustee, take over as the manager of the trust. This means that you are responsible for the assets, which may include investing them in a way that maximizes growth while minimizing risks. 

In that case, you'll need to evaluate the assets held within the trust, as well as the income and expenses. Some additional responsibilities may possibly include ensuring final tax returns are filed, collecting death benefits, and distributing the assets to the beneficiaries. 

As soon as your duties begin, it is important to immediately consider consulting with an Orange County estate planning attorney

For further clarification, the following represent typical scenarios often benefit from an attorney's assistance:  

An Asset Was Left Out of the Trust

A trust is a document similar in most respects to a contract designed to hold valuables and provide instructions for their distribution. The valuables are assets of the estate. However, if the owner acquired assets after creating the trust and failed to add them to the trust, a probate judge may be required to determine rightful distribution. In this case, the 

The best way to stay out of court and reduce expenses and taxes is by ensuring the trust is fully funded and that all beneficiary designations have been updated. After assuming the role of successor trustee, should you discover that some assets have not been funded to the trust,  you will need an estate planning attorney in Orange County to sort out the details. 

The Trust Contains A/B Trust Planning

It's difficult enough to manage a simple revocable trust. Add the A/B trust into the mix makes acquiring the services of an estate planning lawyer in Orange County a necessity. 

In order to help married couples, and avoid additional estate taxes, estate planning attorneys often set up A/B trusts where upon the death of the first spouse, the trust splits and part of it becomes irrevocable. 

For blended families with children from different marriages, an A/B trust can protect the beneficiaries and the distribution of assets to them after the death of one of the spouses. It is quite likely that if you are a successor trustee dealing with an A/B trust, you will need the counsel of an estate planning lawyer Orange County CA.

A Beneficiary's Inheritance Is Held in the Trust

Whether due to specific instructions or the beneficiary being too young to receive their inheritance, dealing with assets held in a trust can raise complications. A trust may mandate certain distributions, such as income, over the life of a trust or lifetime of a person. 

It is a successor trustee's responsibility to implement the terms of the trust and manage the assets carefully.  Understanding your role as successor trustee, and reviewing the key provisions with an estate attorney is vital.

The Estate Owes Taxes

If a successor trustee distributes assets to the beneficiaries before paying taxes, they may be held financially responsible should the trust not have the funds or assets to pay the taxes in full. If you, as a successor trustee are uncertain if taxes need to be paid, consult with an Orange County estate planning lawyer to make sure the appropriate tax returns are filed and paid.

The Grantor Owned a Business

As a successor trustee, you are responsible for all the assets placed in the trust. When a business interest is held in a trust, the successor trustee is then responsible for continuing to operate the business, shutting it down, or possibly selling it. Diversifying the trust's investments is one of the trustee's duties, which means that many opt to sell.

For families wishing to keep their company, some trusts establish an investment advisor who oversees all business interests and has authority to conduct an ongoing business. This person then becomes responsible for the retention or sale of business assets according to the trust, and the trustee must follow their instructions. 

Another possible scenario is that the trust named a business person as co-trustee, one who manages the business interests along with the primary trustee. 

If an advisor or co-trustee has not been named, the trustee may delegate responsibility for the business to a carefully chosen third-party. The bottom line: if a business is held in a trust and you are the successor trustee, it's time to contact an estate planning lawyer in Orange County.  

The Trust Is Named as the Beneficiary of an IRA

There are some reasons to name a trust as an IRA beneficiary, such as when the intended beneficiary is a minor and unable to legally own the IRA, or a second marriage or blended family creates the need to protect the interests of the children of the grantor. 

In this instance, the required minimum distribution can benefit the spouse and then pass over to the grantor's children upon their passing.

Even if an individual is named as the beneficiary of an IRA, an attorney's services include counseling the successor trustee on the handling of the retirement assets and the possible tax ramifications.

Family Trouble

Unfortunately, the internet is awash with stories about families fighting over an inheritance. Money and emotionally-tied family heirlooms seem to bring out the worst in people with tension and distrust replacing thoughtful consideration. 

So, what happens when the family members don't agree with how the successor trustee is handling the estate and distributing the assets? In these instances, a trustee's best option is to obtain the services of an Orange County estate planning attorney.

Manage Your Successor Duties With Ease

Because of the many legal ramifications, some grantors opt to name a trust lawyer to handle the many tasks of a successor trustee. Having a disinterested third party managing the estate assets can result in less family tension and worry.

Whether to name a trust attorney as a successor trustee, or retain the services of a trust lawyer when you find yourself in the role, we at Parker Law Offices are here to support you. Call us for a free consultation today.

Between smartphones and computers, the rise of the internet, and digital platforms such as social media and email, much of our lives are now spent in the cloud and online where we create and store massive amounts of data. 

We protect this data with usernames, PINs, and passwords. Unfortunately, if hacked, our personal information, along with bank accounts and credit card numbers, may fall into the wrong hands. 

Since we’re still in the beginning stages of the digital age, it's easy to forget all the information we store online and what will happen to it when we pass away. If you are thinking about setting up your estate plan or making changes to a plan you already have, you should consider what will happen to your digital assets and determine who should have access by speaking with your Orange County estate planning lawyer.  

Let's take a look at what digital estate planning is and how to secure your digital information by including it in your plan.

Defining Digital Estate Planning

Digital estate planning involves organizing your digital assets and making plans for their disposition after death. The first step is listing your digital assets (you have more than you think). From there, you’ll want to review the terms of service with your providers including the instructions and possible restrictions for transferring these assets. An estate planning lawyer in Orange County can be a big help in this manner. 

Securing Your Digital Information

Start by creating a list of your digital assets. Once you start, you'll realize just how much of your information is computer generated. In addition to listing the assets, be sure to note how your loved ones can access the information. A few important devices and platforms include knowing any passwords and otherwise how to access the following: 

Let's take a closer look at some of these important digital assets.

Photos

When faced with the task of ensuring a will or trust is in order and all assets have been included and given to those you love, it's easy to leave out the assets that can't be seen or touched. Given that almost all of our photos are digitally produced and stored these days, these highly sentimental snapshots in time are one of the important digital assets that are easy to overlook. 

Consider all of the digital platforms photos may be stored on. Do you have a Shutterfly, Dropbox, or Google account? How about social media sites like Facebook? 

Perhaps even more vexing is when a loved one would like to see any pictures from another who has passed away. This happens countless times today. With an iPhone or iPad, you only have a limited number of attempts to enter the password. Once those password attempts are exhausted, the device is locked and more than likely Apple will not unlock it for anyone--even the owner of the device. In that case, it would need to be reset to factory settings in order to operate at all, and all data including pictures would be lost.

Without the information on how to access devices such as cell phones, these valuable family memories could be lost forever. 

Pictures are the only items that can be lost forever. Email email accounts which with the right password in hand can be accessed, might also be lost permanently.

Online Accounts

In addition to items with sentimental value, those with monetary value can also be lost and forgotten. Sometimes this is due to your beneficiary's inability to access them, while other times it's simply that no family member, accountant, executor, successor trustee, or lawyer knows about them. With today's regulations protecting personal identity, data privacy laws, and limited access to digital accounts, it's difficult and often impossible to access the information once the owner has passed away.

Preventing Identity Theft

Millions of people experience identity theft and fraud every year. Common targets include mortgages, student loans, car loans, and credit cards. In fact, thieves can also gain access to online accounts and seize control of them. 

Failure to close or transfer accounts can result in lost revenue from the estate (creditors may file claims from new outstanding charges) as well as lost time and increased trouble for your family should identity theft or fraud occur. 

Some third-party companies can help alert you of a breach, but this is often time-consuming and difficult to clear. Digital thieves know this and use it to their advantage to get away with as much data as possible.

Storing Your Information

Be sure to keep a list of your online assets and digital accounts--but keep the access information private and available to your loved ones in the event of your passing. A will becomes a public record when filed, so be sure to consult with your estate planning attorney in Orange County regarding your digital assets and how best to include them in your estate yet keep them safe. 

Keep in mind that not all attorneys have current estate planning documents. In these cases, their documents may not include digital information protection for your loved ones. With this in mind, choose wisely when you select your lawyer to prepare your estate planning documents.

One solution is ensure that your lawyer provides you with power of attorney to the digital assets in your estate planning documents.  In this manner, the person you give power of attorney to will have a far better chance of having access to your digital property. It is important to let your agent for your power of attorney, executor or successor trustee know of the location of your documents. You should also give them the name and phone number of your Orange County estate planning attorney who may also have a copy of the documents needed for access.

Determining Your Beneficiaries

Once you have a list of items, it's time to determine what you want to do with your digital assets. You may want to have some digital property erased, but you will more than likely want to transfer some of the information to your beneficiaries. 

Include your wishes in your will or trust and let your executor or successor trustee know how you'd like to handle this asset and where your information is stored.

Discuss Your Digital Assets With Your Estate Planning Attorney

The digital age has created vast amounts of data and paperless options for those opting to perform everyday financial tasks and communication online. It's easy to forget about this unseen data when making end of life plans, but incorporating planning for these digital assets results in much less stress for your family. 

Including these assets in your trust ensures the most likely scenario where appropriate people receive the assets, whether financial or sentimental. Taking time to address your digital assets may also assist your loved ones in decreasing taxes and minimize other financial issues. 

An estate planning attorney Orange County CA who understands digital assets can help you integrate these assets into your trust and create a complete estate plan.  

At Parker Law Offices, we've worked with countless individuals, families, and businesses, ensuring that their last wishes are carried through and protected. We are able to uncover assets, including those that can be easily forgotten, including digital holdings often when the proper digital asset language is in your estate planning documents. Procrastination can lead to many complications for your family and friends. Taking care of your affairs now may provide you with peace of mind. Call us, your trusted Orange County estate planning attorney, today to set up a free consultation.

Setting up a revocable living trust with your Orange County estate planning attorney is an excellent way to avoid probate and reduce the financial strain on friends and family.  

The process involves naming one or more people, or sometimes a corporate trustee, to act on the settlor's (also known as the grantor or creator) behalf upon incapacitation or death. The person bearing this responsibility is called the successor trustee.  

What Is a Successor Trustee?

The successor trustee, as the name implies, "succeeds" the trustee, usually the person who creates the trust, following their incapacity or death. In essence, they assume responsibility for managing the trust and its assets when the creator can no longer manage the trust themself. 

What Are the Duties of a Successor Trustee?

The duties of a successor trustee vary, depending on many factors, and are usually detailed in the trust document. Some of these duties include instructions for what to do  if the creator has become mentally or physcially incapacitated or has passed away, and what to do if they have minor children. Let's take a look at what these different scenarios mean. 

What Does a Successor Trustee Need To Know After Agreeing To the Role?

After agreeing to the role of a successor trustee, you should become familiar with the trust and the conditions stated within it. Find out where the trust is kept, along with any insurance documents. Go over the beneficiaries with the grantor to ensure they contain the appropriate designations. It's also a good idea to have an estate planning attorney in Orange County review the trust and corresponding documents on an annual basis, or when there has been a change in the family or assets. 

In addition, determine if you are the sole successor trustee or if you will be acting with someone else.  

What Are the Successor's Responsibilities if the Grantor Is Incapacitated? 

If prepared correctly, the trust should contain instructions for how to determine whether the grantor is no longer capable of handling their financial affairs. Usually, one or more doctors are required to certify that, due to physical or mental disabilities, the grantor is incapacitated and can no longer handle their financial affairs. This document may be requested by banks and other institutions. 

Once legally determined, a successor trustee's role is as follows: 

What Are the Successor's Responsibilities if the Grantor Dies?

The successor trustee's responsibilities include distributing assets and property held in the trust and transferring titles according to the trust agreement. The role changes dramatically if minor children are involved, or if the trust is going to exist for a number of years after the death of the creator. 

If there are children or individuals that will not receive their inheritance until after they reach a certain age or fulfill a specific agreement, the trustee must protect the inheritance, and assets, until the time they can be distributed to the beneficiaries.  

The responsibilities assumed once the grantor passes away are as follows: 

If money is needed to pay off tax liabilities or debts, the trustee may need to sell some existing assets. Be sure to consult with the estate planning attorney in Orange County before placing any assets up for sale. 

Handling Your Role as a Successor Trustee

As is evident from this list, the responsibilities of a trustee are numerous and can last for years. If you feel overwhelmed as a trustee, you can hand over the duties to a successor trustee, if one has been named. If there is no successor trustee, contact the estate planning attorney Orange County CA to determine alternative solutions. 

At  Parker Law Offices, we understand the importance of a well prepared estate plan and are dedicated to preparing the appropriate documents required to keep a family's assets out of probate and up to date with current laws. 

We are committed to making this already trying time a little easier. Call us today for a complimentary consultation.

Estate planning can be a complicated and overwhelming endeavor. It often involves complex issues with extended families and blended families, and often brings about conflicts of interest as family members discuss what assets go where and who should be the designated successor trustee. 

Avoiding Problems During Estate Planning

As a top Orange County estate planning attorney, we at Parker Law Offices have served clients from all walks of life and understand the conflicts that can arise when determining these important considerations. 

Estate planning difficulties usually arise out of differences of opinion. Fortunately, those differences can usually be settled through thoughtful planning. Let's take a look at the most common conflicts of interest and how to overcome them. 

Beneficiaries

A survey conducted by TD Wealth found that the leading threat to estate planning is family conflict. 

Respondents cited designating beneficiaries as the number one cause of conflict, followed by the contention that arises from blended families and lack of communication among family members. 

Determining which family members receive what assets can lead the closest of families into heated debates. While money plays a major role, you would be surprised at how often the debate isn't really about money, but love.  For example, Mom's wedding ring symbolizes the connectedness and security of a family, and both siblings want it.

In order to keep your children from heading to the courts to fight, it's important to have all assets, including family heirlooms or objects with emotional attachments, listed in the trust. The instructions in the trust ensure that all parties understand what your wishes are.

What happens, however, when you and your spouse disagree about who should receive what?

Your Orange County estate planning lawyer can advise you and your family on what is customary in certain situations. Discuss your options and concerns with your attorney who has prepared countless estate plans and witnessed so many that have led to peaceful resolutions and have avoided embittered battles because of properly prepared estate plans having been put into place. 

Blended Families

Approximately 40% of married couples in the U.S. with children are defined as step-couples. This term of the 20th century refers to families in which at least one of the partners has a child from a previous relationship. 

Unfortunately, this family composition is the third leading threat to estate planning. One party wants their birth son designated as the successor trustee, while the other wants his or her birth daughter designated. 

Children from previous relationships, and the complex bonds from those family connections, can make this conversation particularly difficult to settle.

If one of the parties does not approve of the trustee the other party is set on, an alternative trustee needs to be discussed. The role of trustee is an important fiduciary position and should be designated for only the person who is most trustworthy.

One of the many benefits of a trust is it protects the estate from going through probate, potentially saving your family a tremendous amount of time and money. This also means that the court will most likely not be involved and will not be overseeing the actions of the trustee--or making decisions on behalf of those who may inherit from the estate. 

If the successor trustee finds it tempting to take more than his or her rightful share of the estate as determined by the trust, family members can end up in court at a substantial cost in terms of both money, time, and emotions to all involved.

Communication

Communication about estate planning topics can be difficult even in the best of situations. Having a conversation involving money, assets, and death can throw many families into heated controversy. 

For some families, bringing an unrelated third party to the table can reduce emotional turmoil and ease conflict. Similar to coming together with your financial advisor or a trusted family friend who does not have any stake in the outcome, meeting with your estate planning attorney can help provide a neutral, unbiased perspective. 

Successor Trustees

Couples will need to decide who they will designate as the successor trustee. This is the person responsible for managing and protecting the assets as well as distributing them to the beneficiaries. 

The role of successor trustee should be entrusted to the most dependable and trustworthy family member. Unfortunately, couples do not always agree on who will best represent them and take care of the many responsibilities in an appropriate manner. 

To complicate matters, some families opt to have more than one person take on this role, or fail to designate a back-up trustee should the first successor become ill or find the many responsibilities overwhelming.

Discuss this important decision over with your estate planning lawyer Orange County CA. You will be able to confidently cover essential topics including provisions that allow, or do not allow, your beneficiaries to replace the trustee with someone of their choosing.

Guardianship

Choosing a guardian for your minor children will enable someone to care for them should something happen to both parents, might result in tremendous family tensions. There is, after all, much at stake. 

If left undecided, or not legally documented, the decision rests with the court. If no family member steps forward that the judge deems a presentable parent, the children could be placed in Child Protective Services. 

Some considerations include choosing a person that currently has a loving relationship with the child. For some families, this individual may be a close family member or distant relative; for others, they may be a friend. 

Don't let "lack of blood relations" steer you away from the clear choice. Be sure to designate an alternative guardian in case the person you named is unavailable.

If you and your spouse disagree, it's time to seek guidance and counseling. This is far too important a decision to set aside until you can come up with a suitable agreement. 

Your estate planning lawyer in Orange County can help you work through these difficult decisions and ensure your estate plan lists the appropriate preferences and instructions, as well as clarifying financial support for guardian and children.

Joint Representation Versus Individual Representation

Joint representation makes sense for many couples. For those that agree on the most important decisions, have an open and honest relationship, and solid communication skills, working together with one lawyer saves time and presents a cost-effective strategy. 

For those couples that may have disagreements, individual representation may be the answer. This approach maintains the attorney-client privilege and allows each party to share concerns as well as information that they may want to remain confidential. By consulting with an estate planning attorney in Orange County, you're able to discuss your concerns and put an estate plan in place that will be a comfort to your surviving family members.

As the season of gift-giving rolls around, families and friends are considering what those they love could truly benefit from. While another winter sweater maybe a cherished tradition, there is one gift that will help your family well into the future — an estate plan prepared by an Orange County estate planning attorney.

This one gift provides increased financial security while reducing conflict and potential complications.

Let's take a look at how giving your family the gift of an estate plan leads to these many benefits.

How Does an Estate Plan Reduce Family Conflict?

There are four main documents found within most comprehensive estate plans created by an estate planning lawyer in Orange County such as wills and trusts, guardianship designations, and power of attorney.

Your will provides a set of instructions for your family that includes how you would like your estate distributed.

It also names the executor or the person you've encharged with overseeing the settling of your estate. Without this document, these important decisions are left to each state and the courts where families battle for "their fair share."

Another important document found within an estate plan is the declaration of guardianship. If you have minor children, this document declares who their guardian will be should both their parents pass on. Without this, children can end up in Child Protective Services while the courts determine who will raise your children. 

Unfortunately, history is rich with families fighting over inheritances and guardianship rights. These disputes can lead to lengthy and expensive legal battles as well as broken family ties that are never mended. 

When American actor Marlon Brando died in 2004, his estate was mired with numerous lawsuits because of his decision to change his estate executors just two weeks short before he passed. The said lawsuits were probably the result of his personal relationships and an unclear number of children.

In addition, a claim by his former caregiver that Brando broke a verbal contract between them and in the end, his executors agreed to paid Angela Borlaza $125,000 to settle the lawsuit.

How Does an Estate Plan Improve Your Family's Financial Future?

While a will reduces conflict among family members, it does not keep your estate out of probate, a lengthy legal process that occurs when the deceased does not have a trust.

During probate, courts determine the validity of a will, if one exists, review assets, and determine who receives them. This process can take anywhere from a few months to several years, depending on the complexity of the estate.

The result is that your family may be left without the ability to pay bills, including funeral fees and outstanding medical bills while waiting for probate to settle. The financial strain only intensifies as they watch your estate eaten up by attorney's fees. 

Choose a Reliable Estate Planning Attorney in Orange County

The best way to provide for your family is to ensure your assets pass to your heirs without going through probate.

A comprehensive estate plan developed by an estate planning attorney in Orange County CA includes trust and incorporates tax reduction strategies, enabling your family to keep as much money as possible.  

Life is unpredictable. If you'd like help planning your estate, contact our team at Parker Law Offices today.

Just because states and businesses are opening their doors doesn’t mean the Coronavirus has gone away. While things may start to return to normal, the impact of COVID-19 is going to remain. One of the biggest trends that come from a worldwide pandemic is the number of calls to Orange County estate planning attorneys. People are starting to consider their own morality and what happens next. 

And while it’s never fun to think about your own death, there is no better time than the present to consider setting up a meeting with your Orange County estate planning lawyer. Whether you’re starting from scratch or just making a few updates, now is the perfect time to get the ball rolling. 

What is an Estate Plan?

Your estate typically consists of your home, car, checking and saving accounts, investments, life insurance, antiques, furniture, real estate, and other personal possessions. That means it’s not just the rich and famous who should consider an estate plan. 

An estate plan is made up of legal documents that help plan for your end-of-life care and how your assets are distributed after you die. A good estate plan makes it more likely that your wishes are carried out. Not having an estate plan means your family and friends may have to hire an Orange County probate lawyer to help settle your affairs in probate court. Ultimately, a judge will decide how your assets are distributed. 

A good estate plan will typically include the following:

People often assume they don’t own enough to justify creating an estate plan. Younger people tend to think they don’t need to worry about meeting with an Orange County living trust lawyer until they are older. Some people simply don’t want to think about their own deaths and avoid the topic altogether. 

But as we’ve seen over the past weeks, there are no guarantees in life. COVID-19 seemingly came out of nowhere and spread like wildfire. While no one should live as if death is waiting around the corner, they should have a proper plan to help with any unforeseen events. 

7 Reasons to Create or Update Your Estate Plan

While there are endless reasons why you need an estate plan and why you should work with an estate planning attorney in Orange County, here are the top seven things to take into consideration:

1. The Future is Coming

Global events like the coronavirus pandemic serve as eye-openers. Seemingly healthy people found themselves incapacitated on ventilators, while others simply do not survive. General concern about the future is certainly a compelling reason to consider an estate plan. While you might not be able to control every element of the future, you can influence how prepared you are for the unexpected. 

2. The SECURE ACT

It may seem like eons ago, but the SECURE Act was just passed on December 20, 2019, and might impact your current estate plan. This act makes it easier for small business owners to create less expensive retirement plans and allows 401(k) plans to offer annuities. 

The SECURE Act also pushes back when retirement plan participants need to take the required minimum distributions from 70.5 to 72 while allowing indefinite contributions to traditional IRAs. Even if the exact impacts of the SECURE Act aren’t clear, there are enough changes to justify meeting with your estate planning lawyer in Orange County. 

3. No One Likes Taxes

Depending on the value of your estate, your loved ones may lose a portion of their inheritance due to estate taxes. These taxes are typically a higher rate than you’d expect and come with complex rules and applications. An Orange County living trust lawyer can help you create trusts and provide other options to help avoid taxes on your assets. 

 4. Stay Current

Even if you have an estate plan in place - is it up-to-date? An estate plan made in the past may not be relevant today. You may have different opinions on who should inherit what. You may also find that you’re not as close to people you named as the power of attorneys or executors. Your estate also changes over time, so your estate plan should reflect those changes.  

5. Keeping Track of Your Health

Pandemics like COVID-19 force people to consider their own health and health care. With numerous people going on ventilators or other medical equipment, it might be time to decide what kind of care you expect, want, and don’t want. You can include this information in a living will or appoint someone to be your healthcare power of attorney. A living trust attorney in Orange County can help you understand all of your options. 

6. Spring Cleaning

Some people have an estate plan, but it’s confusing or contradicts itself. It’s easy for wills or other relevant documents to get misplaced. Sometimes people forget to update their life insurance beneficiaries after a divorce. Any number of things can happen over the years that can hurt the estate plan’s purpose. It’s worth taking some time to get everything organized, review your plan, and make the necessary updates and changes. 

7. You Have the Free Time

With social distancing and shelter-in-place orders still in place, it’s likely that you have a little extra time. Without having many options once you leave the house, it’s worth focusing on something you might otherwise put off. There is no better time than the present to make plans for your future. 

Meet with an Orange County Estate Planning Attorney Today

Without a proper estate plan, your family will be left in a lurch when it comes to what happens to your estate when you die. A probate judge might make decisions based on strict local laws that contradict what you actually want. To ensure that you can continue on with peace of mind, and your family will be well taken care of after your death, set up a free consultation with an estate planning lawyer in Orange County. Creating or updating your estate plan has never been easier!

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