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

How do you relinquish the role of executor?

When a family member, friend, or colleague names you as the executor of his or her estate, he or she is tasking you with an enormous responsibility. What if you fear, however, that you may not be able to adequately fulfill the role? Properly seeing an estate pass through its administration and/or the probate process may require a significant amount of time and energy on your part. If you fill that you simply aren’t capable of handling such duties at the moment, you do have a way to decline the responsibility.

The preferred method of turning down the request to be an executor may be to do it before your official court appointment. You simply need to notify the heirs and beneficiaries of the estate to allow them adequate time to find a replacement. You then file a renunciation form with the probate court in the county the decedent lived in prior to death.

Living wills vs. other estate planning documents

When most in San Fernando Valley hear the word “will,” they likely think of a last will and testament that states how or to whom one wants his or her assets distributed following his or her death. Yet few likely know that there are many different types of wills, some of which have little to do with death. One of these is a living will. As the name implies, this estate planning document addresses issues while one is still alive. However, unlike a living trust, a living will does not deal with the management of one’s assets, but rather his or her health.

The California Natural Death Act defines a living will as a declaration of if and how one wishes to received life-sustaining care in the event the he or she falls into a permanent unconscious condition. The fact that the creator of a living will has already laid out his or wishes regarding end-of-life care differentiates it from durable power of attorney. With power of attorney, medical decision-making privileges are usually handed off to another.

Canceling a revocable living trust

Many of the Woodland Hills clients that we here at The Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo help to set up their estate planning tools see their situations change over time. These changes will often prompt them to consider changing the provisions of a living trust. If you find yourself in such a situation, then you may be questioning whether or not it is even possible to cancel a trust once you’ve signed the trust article. Suffice it to say that it is referred to as a revocable living trust for a reason.

The website for the State Bar of California is very clear in stating that you, as the creator of a revocable living trust, have the right to amend or cancel it at any time. The only stipulation is that you must be in a competent state to do so.

How can you determine the fair market value of estate assets?

If you have been asked to serve as the executor of an estate in Woodland Hills, a potentially daunting task lies before you: determining the fair market value of the estate’s inventory. Many go into an estate distribution vastly overestimating the value its assets. In reality, most estates in the U.S. are much more modest that most believe. According to information shared by CNN Money, the average value of an inheritance in America is $177,000. Yet when you are dealing with beneficiaries who may be expecting much more, convincing them that your valuations are sound can be difficult. Thus, it is imperative that you do your due diligence in getting an accurate estimate of your estate’s assets.

For assets such as investment accounts and real estate, determining their current value may be relatively easy given the many market tools that your have at your disposal. Valuing personal items, however, can be much more difficult. These can include:

  •          Artwork
  •          Jewelry
  •          Tools
  •          Coins
  •          Antiques

The difference between durable and springing power of attorney

For many of the Woodland Hills clients with whom we work here at The Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo, the decision of whom to give power of attorney and what form to grant unto them is a difficult one. Specifically, you may question what the differences are between the various forms of power of attorney in California. As whomever you hand over power of attorney to will have great influence over your finances, health, and general well-being, it is important that you understand how and when that authority is granted.

When referring to the philosophy of power of attorney, the California Probate Code recognizes two distinct forms of this authority: durable and springing. Durable power of attorney goes into effect either moment that you sign the POA form, or at the time you become incapacitated. If given prior to your incapacitation, then that event does not affect your attorney-in-fact’s authority.

Special Needs Trusts in California

For Woodland Hills residents who begin seriously contemplating estate planning at a later age, the care of their children may not be at the forefront of their minds, given that the children are likely adults. Yet what about adult children with special needs? According to the website, as of 2006, there were more than 716,000 developmentally disabled adults in America whose primary caregivers were over the age of 60. Aging parents in such a situation no doubt want to include provisions in estate dispersion tools that see to the needs of these children. However, they need to know how to do it correctly.

The first thought that an aging parent with a special needs adult child may have is to simply bequeath assets to him or her in a will or a trust to provide for his or her continued care. However, this could actually end up doing more harm than good. The website for DB101 is California shows that the asset limit for an individual to qualify for benefits such as Supplemental Security Income and Medi-Cal is $2000. Leaving an adult child with disabilities assets that exceed that could cause him to her to lose those benefits.

Understanding estate taxes

Many of the San Fernando Valley residents that come to see us here at The Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo all share the same concern: estate taxes. If you are current going through a transition of assets following a loved one’s death, this is definitely a topic worth researching. However, a lot of misinformation exists about who actually owes estate taxes, and how much they actually do owe. This often leads to concerns that can cause a good deal of undue stress.

First and foremost, you should understand exactly who estate tax is owed to. As of 2005, the State of California does not require you to file an estate tax return. That leaves only the federal estate tax for you to potentially have to deal with.

Reviewing executor compensation in California

The task of being the executor of an estate in Woodland Hills can be a daunting one. According to the American Bar Association, the duties of an executor include handling unpaid debts and expenses, overseeing the proper administration of trusts and gift disbursements, as well as paying taxes. Once that is done, there still is the matter of officially closing the estate with the court. While any expenses incurred from performing one duties as executor are paid from the estate’s assets, fulfilling the role of executor can also require a great deal of one’s time and energy. Fortunately, the law does allow an executor to be compensated for his or her services.

The executor compensation structure is detailed in section 10800 of the California Probate Code. It states that the amount an executor is entitled to depends upon the total value of the estate that he or she is overseeing. When valuating an estate, the court takes account the following items:

  •          The appraisal value of all of the properties included in the estate’s inventory.
  •          Any receipts of assets to the estate.
  •          The funds gained or lost depending upon the sale price of estate properties compared to their appraised value.

The details behind DNR orders in California

When most in Woodland Hills contemplate the topic of estate planning, they no doubt immediately associate it with maintaining the power to enforce decisions after one dies. Yet what about maintaining that same control before one’s death? Another vital component of estate planning is preparing for this exact scenario.

In most cases, it’s recommended that one assign a spouse or family member to be his or her health proxy. This empowers the assigned individual to make decisions regarding one’s health care. However, one can still maintain some degree of control of his or her care by also agreeing to advanced directives. These are predetermined instructions given by an individual regarding what course of treatment he or she consents to if he or she is not capable of doing so when it’s actually needed. These wishes should be recorded as part of a person’s medical record. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the most common forms of advanced directive among the population of those receiving long-term care is a Do Not Resuscitate order.

Woman claims both her husband’s and mother-in-law’s estates

Woodland Hills residents likely often hear estate planning experts talk about the importance of setting up a will sooner rather than later. The reason behind this urgency may be to ensure that people avoid putting it off until it is too late. When one dies intestate, he or she opens up the possibility of his or her estate being managed and dispersed against his or her wishes.

A family in North Carolina is currently learning firsthand the importance of having legal documentation outlining the administration of an estate. In their case, not just one, but two family members died without wills. This left the door open for the former wife of their deceased brother to step in and assume the role of administrator for not just his estate, but that of their recently deceased mother’s, as well.