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

How much does probate cost in California?

While many people avoid probate if possible in California— often through the use of robust estate planning and trusts— you might be in a position where it is either preferable to go through probate or unavoidable to enter probate considering the final configuration of the estate. Many people in your position have the same first question: How much will probate cost? While this price varies depending on the complexity of your estate holdings, there are some legal guidelines that might give you an idea of how much you should expect to pay for the resolution of the estate.

The California Probate Code lists a graded tier system for estate administrator fees during probate court. Your probate attorney, meaning the individual representing the personal representative, is entitled to a large percentage of the first $100,000 and an increasingly small percentage of several tiers over this amount. The court determines the fee for any larger amount: The exact numbers would be based on your final estate value. 

Estate planning for children with special needs

As a California parent of a special needs child, you face unique estate planning needs that differ broadly from those faced by parents whose children who not have disabilities. At the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo, we have a comprehensive understanding of the important estate planning considerations special needs parents face, and we have helped many clients plan for their futures, and those of their children.

Per SpecialNeedsAlliance.org, it is especially important that parents of children with brain injuries, autism, Down syndrome and other disabilities create estate plans early on to ensure that plans are in place, should either parent or child become incapacitated. Part of this involves making your own estate plan, which may include information about who is to make decisions on you and your child’s behalf, should the need arise.

Utilizing estate tax portability

One of your goals throughout your life has no doubt been to take advantage of the work that you do in Woodland Hills to save up assets to benefit your future generations. Several of those that we here at The Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo have had the privilege of working with shared to same goal, only to come to us concerned that their estates would be greatly depleted by taxes. It is a legitimate concern, but one that you may not even need to worry about. 

The federal government has established an estate tax threshold. If the taxable value of your estate is under this amount, it is not subject to the federal estate tax. According to Forbes Magazine, the value of the threshold in 2017 was $5.49 million per individual. Yet even if the value of your estate is above that amount, you can utilize your one-time marital deduction to leave all of your assets to your spouse. In such a case, none of the assets would be taxed. 

Could a trust help you qualify for Medi-Cal?

When you reach your older years and time of retirement, you may find yourself among the many individuals who need long-term care. Numerous issues could result in the need for this care, such as mental deterioration, serious illness or injuries. Unfortunately, incapacitating events are not uncommon for individuals over the age of 65, and the costs of receiving care can often prove difficult to address.

Though you may have taken some steps to put away savings in the event of needed care, you may not have enough to cover what is necessary for a nursing home stay or other long-term services. Because of this possibility, you may wish to consider creating a long-term care plan along with your estate plan. You may even be able to utilize trusts in order to potentially qualify for Medi-Cal.

Making a timeline for probate priorities

At the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo, we are acutely aware that individuals seeking our services in California probate law are, more often than not, experiencing intense emotional distress following a personal loss. As you might expect, the typical mindset of a bereaved individual is not conducive to absorbing fine points of legal procedure or processing complicated financial arrangements. This is why we make it our priority to help clients organize their thoughts if and when they find themselves involved in either formal probate or summary proceedings.

While prioritizing legal matters may not seem like the most important action following a loss, you might be surprised at the burden it tends to lift. We find that the general lack of knowledge about the typical duration of probate court investigations is the main issues adding unnecessary stress to the process of settling an estate.

How do you resign the role of trustee?

Serving as the trustee of a trust created by a client, associate or someone close to you in Woodland Hills can be an arduous task. Initially, you may have no problem taking it on out of your sense of loyalty to the trust's settlor. Yet eventually you may get to the point where the thought of resigning the position enters into your mind. Accepting the role of trustee by no means indentures to the settlor or to his or her estate, so yes, resigning is an option. The question is how do you do it? 

The answer can be found in Section 15640 of the California Probate Code. In certain cases, the settlor may stipulate in the trust instrument both how you can resign as the trustee, as well as how a replacement trustee is to be chosen. This may be something to bring up to him or her to include in the trust instrument if you have the chance to communicate with him or her when initially creating the trust. 

Understanding trustee indemnification

Being the beneficiary of a trust set up by someone in Woodland Hills may seem like a frustrating proposition. After all, even when you are entitled to a distribution from the trust's assets, such payments often seem to be at the discretion of the trustee. Many have asked us here at The Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo exactly how much control does a trustee have over distributions. Say, for example, that you are due a distribution from the trust, yet the trustee contacts you stating that their is an issue in the trust's management affecting your interests, and that the only way you will get what is coming to you is by absolving him or her of liability for it. Can he or she do that? 

Section 16004.5.(b).(1) of the California Probate Code shows that trustees are allowed certain actions to protect themselves from becoming embroiled in liability issues over the trusts that they manage. These include: 

  • Maintaining a reserve (drawn from trust assets) to settle any reasonably anticipated expenses associated with the trust's management (e.g., the costs of administration, taxes, legal fees) 
  • Withholding any portions of a designated distribution that is being disputed 
  • Seeking approval from the court and/or you or other beneficiaries to provide an accounting of trust activities

How California law permits executors to be challenged

Naming an executor to carry out a will is one of the most important decisions a resident in California can make. An executor’s task is to guard the property of a deceased person until all outstanding taxes and debts are taken care of, after which the remaining assets are given to the recipients listed in the will. However, some people may find problems with an executor after he or she has been appointed. According to California law, there is recourse if an executor exhibits certain problems.

California probate code 8402 as listed on the Findlaw site spells out basic qualifications for an estate executor. First, an executor must be aged eighteen or older. An underage person cannot personally represent an estate. The executor must also not be subject to the conservatorship of the estate. Incapacity is another factor. The individual should be capable of carrying out the duties of an executor. Physical or mental inability can bar someone from acting as an executor.

Your needs may not qualify for Medicare coverage

If you were unable to attend the recent seminar on protecting your assets when you need nursing home care, you may have missed out on vital information that could bring you some peace of mind as you get older. Many people reach a certain point in their lives when they can't avoid the fact that their bodies — and maybe their minds — aren't so reliable anymore. It's no shame to admit needing help.

You likely watched your parents and perhaps even your grandparents aging. They may have been fortunate to have good health throughout their senior years or to have family members available to provide for their needs. You may hope to have that same good fortune, but with nearly 70 percent of people needing skilled care after age 65, the odds are against you.

What happens if I die without a will?

If you live in California and have yet to make a will, you probably will be shocked to learn that the State of California has made one for you. The California Probate Code makes extensive provisions for the way in which your property and assets will be distributed if you die before making a will; i.e., if you die intestate. In other words, the State of California will decide who gets what share of your property.

As you likely already know, California is a community property state. This means that if you are married or in a domestic partnership, half of all the assets you and your spouse or partner have acquired during your relationship belong to you and half to your spouse or partner. Only the property you acquired before your marriage or domestic partnership belongs to you personally, as well as any property you have received as a gift during your relationship.