Probate, Estate Planning and Trust Law
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San Fernando Valley Probate & Estate Administration Law Blog

Exotic car collection being returned to Paul Walker’s estate

Many in Woodland Hills may assume that the estate administration process is a brief, fleeting matter that those to whom it may concern will only have to deal with for a short time. While that may be the case in certain situations, other cases may continue on for years as disputes and other matters are dealt with. The size of an estate may certainly play a factor in how long it takes to be properly executed and closed. Larger estates with a high volume of assets may take longer to disperse. Questions involving liability in the death of the testator of such an estate may serve to further delay its administration.

Such appears to be the case with the estate of the late actor Paul Walker. The actor was killed in late 2013 when the Porsche he was riding in was involved in a crash. A judge recently ruled that the automaker could be held liable for the accident. Around the same time, Walker’s daughter was awarded over $10 million from the estate of the man who was driving the car that her father was killed in. Now, negotiations have begun to return the late actor’s collection of exotic cars. A worker at the warehouse were the vehicles had been stored reportedly took them in an attempt to extort Walker’s family. Walker’s estate, in turn, filed a lawsuit against him. It is now being reported that a settlement has been reached that will allow the estate to re-take possession of the cars.

Terminating a trust

Many in Woodland Hills may understand that a trust is a tool used in estate planning, yet not fully comprehend its nature or its purpose. Some could simply view it as an account managing assets that extends in perpetuity. It is true that there are types of trusts that are irrevocable by even their settlors (those who set up the trust). According to the American Bar Association, these are valued because of the unique asset protection and tax advantages that they provide. Revocable trusts (or living trusts as they are more commonly known) tend to be more popular even though they are subject to estate taxes. This is likely due to the added control they offer.

As the name suggests, a settlor or other party may revoke or modify a living trust under certain conditions. According to the California Probate Code, this can be done by following the expressed method of revocation as outlined in the trust instrument. If this article names this method as the only way the trust can be altered, no other means provided by the law can supersede it. If, however, no such specifications are given, the trust can then be changed or cancelled through a written notice signed by either the settlor or any other person granted revocation authority. Such persons may include:

  •          Co-settlors
  •          Spouses
  •          Attorneys (such authority must be designated by the trust instrument)

What is the Uniform Prudent Investor Act?

When appointed as a trustee in Woodland Hills, one of the duties assigned to you by the trust article may be to invest trust assets in an attempt to grow them. When doing so, you are held to a standard designated in the California Probate Code as the Uniform Prudent Investor Act. Understanding the exact investment responsibilities inherent with your role may be vital if you hope to avoid being accused of malfeasance by the trust’s beneficiaries.

As the name implies, the Uniform Prudent Investment Act requires that you manage the trust’s investments as any prudent investor would. That includes following an overall investment strategy with goals that are in-line with the objectives of the trust. Those objectives include the stated need for liquidity, preservation or appreciation of the trusts’ assets, as well as its ability to generate income.

Martin Luther King’s Bible, Nobel Prize at center of dispute

When many in Woodland Hills hear stories about estate disputes, they may immediately assume that the discord is simply related to money. While it may seem that most estate administration issues arise from monetary causes, one should remember that cash may not be the only thing of value included in an estate. Some items may hold a high sentimental value to certain estate beneficiaries. It’s often when such an item’s actual value approaches its monetary one that a great many issues arise.

Given his central role in the Civil Rights movement, one may assume any item owned by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be considered valuable. That perceived value may skyrocket were one to know that the items being referred to included Dr. King’s actual Nobel Peace Prize and his traveling bible. It is the future use of these very items that sits at the center of a lawsuit involving his children.

Understanding the Probate Homestead Exemption

Most in Woodland Hills would likely list their homes as being among their most valuable possessions. That’s likely due to the fact that one’s home is much more than just a simple investment building equity. Rather, it offers peace-of-mind in knowing that one always has a place that he or she as well as his or her family can rely on to provide comfort and protection. Yet for all of the intrinsic and financial value that a home may have, it is surprising how little so many do to protect it in the event of their deaths.

The common line of thinking is that when one dies, the ownership of his or her home will automatically pass to his or her surviving family members. However, that is not always the case. Imagine if one had named a former spouse as being entitled to inherit the home in his or her will, yet forgot to update it after he or she remarried. Or, worse yet, what if one were to die intestate? Such a scenario is not hard to envision, given that information shared by Forbes shows that 62 percent of Americans aged 45-54 have not prepared wills. Could one’s surviving spouse and children really lose his or her home to a former beneficiary or creditors?

Understanding your estate planning options

Estate planning can be important no matter what your age and asset level. Most people begin to plan their estate when they are older and have more assets to consider, but younger people with less in the way of financial solvency can also benefit from planning for their estate. They can make changes as they age and their life takes different turns, but early planning can be a big benefit in a number of ways. Planning an estate isn't always just about finances, as there are other factors to consider. 

What information is a trustee obligated to give you?

Lack of communication between the interested parties to a will or trust may be one of the most common causes of discord in estate planning. Here at The Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo, we often see an inherent level of mistrust between the beneficiaries of a will or trust and the trustee or executor. In the case of a trust, this may be due to you, as a beneficiary, feeling as though the trustee is only giving you the information that he or she feels that you need.

The California Probate Code states that upon your reasonable request, a trustee must provide you with both the complete terms of the trust as well as any information related to its administration that is relevant to your particular interest. The only exception to this is during the period of time in which a revocable trust may be revoked. Once the trust becomes irrevocable due to either the decree or death of the settlor, you can freely request any information regarding it.

Understanding the process of appointing an estate administrator

Woodland Hills residents are strongly recommended to engage in estate planning early in their adult lives so as to avoid issues with the management of their affairs once they are gone. Nevertheless, we here at The Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo can attest to the fact that many die without having named a personal representative or even creating any estate planning articles. If you have had a loved one pass away without such resources in place, then you and other interested parties may justly be wondering how his or her estate is to be handled.

According to the California Probate Code, the court will appoint an administrator to manage your loved one’s estate if he or she dies intestate. The order of priority when making such an appointment is as follows:

  •          The surviving spouse or domestic partner
  •          Any children, grandchildren, or other surviving issue
  •          Parents
  •          Siblings
  •          Surviving issue of siblings
  •          Grandparents

Understanding the difference between heirs and beneficiaries

For many in Woodland Hills, the details regarding who is entitled to estate assets may be difficult to understand due to the unique vernacular of the law. An example of this is the confusion that exists between the titles “heir” and “beneficiary.” Many may use the words interchangeably, when in reality they have very different meanings.

If one has named his spouse, children or any other party or entity as being entitled to receive his or her assets through a will, trust, or other form of legal arrangement, he or she is naming them as beneficiaries. The common assumption is that one primarily leaves his or her beneficiaries cash gifts. However, information shared by the IRS show the most common estate portfolio assets to be stocks, small business interests, and real estate.  

New estate protection bill inspired by the late artist Prince

Woodland Hills residents have likely heard for years how important it is from them to not put off their estate planning. The risk one assumes by not having any certified documentation outlining his or her final wishes is that a veritable ‘open season’ may ensue among those who claim to be interested parties to his or estate. In some cases, those interests may go beyond the tangible assets included in an estate. If it also contains properties, original works, or even name recognition that could be of value, then those associated with the estate may also want to try an exploit them, as well. Without the proper estate planning documents, there may be little that can be done to stop them from doing so.

Currently, 17 states have laws on their books prohibiting people from profiting off of an apparent association with a decedent without permission. Minnesota may soon join their ranks. Legislation was just recently introduced to the state’s House of Representatives that would give added control of a person’s likeness, name, voice, and image to his or her estate for 50 years following his or her death. The bill is has been formerly named ‘The Prince Act’ after the later rocker who passed away late last month. His case alone may serve to demonstrate the need for such legislation. The musician apparently left no will, and since his death as many as 700 different people have come forward claiming a right to his estate.