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elder estate planningEstate planning is important. It needs to be very particular and are to be executed with highly precise verbiage.

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After all, later on when push comes to shove and if beneficiaries start fighting, the individuals who created the trust to begin with are dead. All we have left are these documents that are supposed to convey exactly what their intent was.

Here’s a good example:

Luz Olden wanted to leave her four children the bulk of her estate, including equal ownership in her primary residence. She didn’t have much but what she did have, she wanted to make sure it went to whom she desired. Because of a poorly self executed will, her daughter from a previous marriage challenged her will, disputing that her mother really intended to leave her the primary residence.

The children battled in court for several years before it was settled, but not before they each spent thousands of dollars in the process. More importantly, it tore the whole family apart.

Well how do you start? If you are leaving behind less than one hundred thousand gross estate, you probably need a simple will. If you are leaving behind more than one hundred thousand gross estate and you have a simple will, your estate will be automatically probated.

Probate is the legal process of validating and administering the will. When a person dies, the heirs and potential beneficiaries usually come forward to claim their rights under the deceased’s will. The will is filed with the county clerk, submitted to probate court and then validated by the probate court.

Probate is time consuming, often taking years to administer. Just like any other case filed with the courts, probate files are public records. It is also costly. Attorney fees alone are statutory provided for plus extraordinary fees charged at an hourly rate.

Luckily, there are other options. If you are leaving behind more than one hundred thousand gross estate you probably want to consult with a qualified estate planning attorney regarding setting up a trust or two or three, depending on the amount and type of assets you’ve accumulated in your lifetime.

Living trusts are a popular vehicle in which you are able to shelter your assets from probate and still be able to utilize the assets held in trust for your own benefit while you are alive. Certain trusts can legitimately be utilized as asset protection vehicles, minimizing the estate tax consequences due at your death.

You transfer your assets into a living trust. Pick a successor trustee- the person you appoint to handle the trust after your death. After your death, the successor trustee simply transfers ownership to the beneficiaries you named in the trust. All this occurs outside the probate process in a private setting.

If you are concerned about the hows and whys of your estate, and the future security of your loved ones, you owe it to yourself to consider an estate plan.

About the Author: Marivel M. Zialcita is currently an attorney at Russakow, Ryan and Johnson with offices in Pasadena, Irvine and Ontario. She can be contacted at their Ontario office at (909) 466-1661. 3633 Inland Empire Blvd, Suite 777, Ontario, CA 91764. Fax (909) 466-1662.


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