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

Siblings battle over change to deceased father’s estate plan

Among the primary reasons as to why Woodland Hills residents are encouraged to begin the process of estate planning early on in their lives is to avoid the potential for future disputes arising amongst their beneficiaries. However, having one’s wishes stipulated in estate planning documents may not provide an iron-clad guarantee that disagreements will not occur. One may be surprised to see how bitter estate disputes can become, and how quickly the beneficiaries involved can expand their alleged grievances to target other parties.

An example of this is currently playing out in a case that originally involved a dispute between the children of a former Illinois real estate developer. Several of the siblings brought action against a few of the others, alleging that they had convinced their mother to undo the estate plan of their father to leave large portions of his assets primarily to one of his sons. Under the amended plan, the assets were distributed equally.

Estate dispute delays cremation of San Francisco woman’s body

The topic of estate planning may often be avoided by Woodland Hills residents due to the fact that it forces them to truly consider the subject of their own deaths. Plus, some may think that they do not possess enough personal assets to make creating estate planning documents even worth it. Yet in many cases, people may have more wealth than they themselves or others perceive. While the state does have measures to address the assets of one who dies intestate, a lack of any records stipulating how a decedent would like his or her assets handled and by whom can leave the door open for disputes amongst potential heirs to arise.

That appears to be exactly what is happening in the case of the estate of a renowned community leader in San Francisco. The woman died in mid-September, yet after her funeral, her sister had her body removed from the crematorium where it was being held in order to conduct an autopsy. Her reasons were to support a potential medical malpractice claim she considered filing against one of the woman’s caregivers. The woman’s other surviving sister had opposed this action. Both sisters have filed petitions with the court staking claims to the woman’s assets. Meanwhile, her body remains housed at a local mortuary where workers are unable to do anything with it, as the sister who had objected to the autopsy refuses to give permission to proceed with her cremation.

Naming an executor

It may come as a surprise to many in Woodland Hills how great of an emphasis experts place on beginning one’s estate planning at an early age. That is likely due to the fact that, according to recent information shared by the American Bar Association, 55 percent of Americans die without ever having drafted a will. One of the main benefits that creating a will offers may be the freedom it gives one in naming his or her own executor or personal representative. Perhaps no decision in regards to creating a will is as important, as that person will be one to act as proxy for the testator.

Most estate planning experts may recommend that one clearly states in his or her will who their executor will be. However, should a testator omit such information, the California Probate Code does allow for a certain degree of interpretation to be applied as to his or her intent. If the terms of a will seem to imply that testator wants a certain individual to oversee the dispersal of his or her estate (yet stops short of actually naming that individual as executor), the court may choose to consider said individual to be the executor.

Estate planning to avoid paying taxes

When we ask many of the Woodland Hills clients who come to us here at The Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo what the primary purpose of estate planning is, a common response may be to avoid losing any of estate’s value. For most, that means simply avoiding probate. Yet if that is your only objective, you should know that there are other methods through which external parties may cut into the value of your estate. One of the more common ways that this happens is through the estate tax. However, there are ways for you to avoid this tax, as well.

The Internal Revenue Service allows for a one-time estate and gift tax exemption. Per Forbes Magazine, that amount for 2017 will be $5.49 million for individuals and $10.98 million for married couples. If you and/or your spouse leave less than those amounts to your beneficiaries, they will avoid having those assets taxed.

Finding the funds to pay for senior care

Today's seniors are living longer, more active lives, often well into their 80s and even 90s. But the problem is that, for many, their savings haven't kept pace with their longevity. Senior citizens dread becoming a burden to their family members and also being shut away in a nursing home full of strangers.

It doesn't necessarily have to be an either/or situation. Estate planning attorneys are adept at finding the best solutions for each individual's unique circumstances, which can include tapping or liquidating resources like life insurance policies or the former family home.

Finding the funds to pay for senior care

Today's seniors are living longer, more active lives, often well into their 80s and even 90s. But the problem is that, for many, their savings haven't kept pace with their longevity. Senior citizens dread becoming a burden to their family members and also being shut away in a nursing home full of strangers.

It doesn't necessarily have to be an either/or situation. Estate planning attorneys are adept at finding the best solutions for each individual's unique circumstances, which can include tapping or liquidating resources like life insurance policies or the former family home.

What are the duties of a probate referee?

The assets and property that comprise your loved one’s estate could have varying levels of worth to you and other interested parties. Thus, obtaining a reliable valuation of an estate in Woodland Hills may be difficult if that task were to be left to you and other beneficiaries. In most cases, however, it is not. The court may often assign a designated probate referee to come up with an unbiased figure.

Probate referees tend to focus on an estate’s non-monetary assets and property, such as:

  •          Residential and commercial properties
  •          Stocks and bonds
  •          Art, automobiles and other valuable collectibles
  •          Furniture and other household items

Understanding interest limitations contingent upon future events

Without the assistance of us here at the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo to help you understand revocable trusts, you likely know little about the actual trust you are party to in Woodland Hills other than your interest in its assets. Yet did you know that the settlor can create conditional clauses based upon future events that could impact your interest? If such a clause is in effect, then you would most definitely want to know.

Fortunately, the California Probate Code has listed the requirements regarding how you are to be informed should your stake in a trust be affected by future events. They are as follows:

  •          If any future actions or occurrences would limit your interest in the trust, you must be given notice immediately after these events have occurred.
  •          If your interest is unaffected by any future events involving you, but that interest (or a share therein) may be limited based upon the happening of a future event to your spouse, children or any others kindred to you, you would be the one to be notified.
  •          If your interest would be limited based upon any future happenings to you, and then that same interest (or a share therein) would be further limited based upon future events affecting your spouse, children or kindred, notice would be given to those parties to whom the happenings would first affect.

Detailing split-interest trusts

Those in Woodland Hills who have assets they would like to be managed for the benefit of others may find a trust to be an effective tool at doing so. The same may be said for people who wish to use their personal assets to benefit a favorite charity. Those who would like their trust’s property to do both may be able to do so through a split-interest trust. The Internal Revenue Service defines a split-interest trust as one for which a portion was allowed a charitable deduction, while the remainder may be subject to the same tax requirements as a private foundation.

In simpler terms, with a split-interest trust, one can pass a portion of his or her wealth to a beneficiary while also contributing to a charitable organization. Such trusts are set up using one of two different payment methods. The first is a charitable lead trust, which pays income to a charity for certain period of time, and then sees the remainder interest pass to its beneficiaries. A charitable remainder trust, on the other hand, follows the exact opposite payment method.

Lawsuit aims to stop McDonald’s from using late artist’s works

For those in Woodland Hills who have been asked to serve as the executor or personal representative of a family member or friend’s estate, their responsibilities may go beyond simply ensuring that the estate is processed and dispersed correctly. If the assets include items of artistic value or intellectual property, they may also need to ensure that the any copyright protections covering those items are respected (as such property may add an estate’s overall value). If those rights appear to be infringed in any way, then it may be left up to the one charged with administering the estate to pursue the proper legal recourse.

The administrator of the estate for a popular late American artist has seemingly been forced into seeking such action against the fast-food giant McDonald’s. The woman (who was also the late artist’s girlfriend) has filed a lawsuit claiming that McDonalds’s had begun to display his artwork in several of its restaurants without first seeking the approval of his estate. She claims to have asked the company to stop this alleged infringement back in June, yet to no avail. Such use is being viewed as particularly unsettling by the woman given that the artist was known during his life for avoiding associating commercialism with his work.