Can I Make Sure My Assets Are Not Distributed Through the Probate Process?

Courtroom, Judge, male judge in black mirror backgroundThe probate process involves the court distributing a person’s assets upon death. It usually occurs in situations where a person does not have a will. However, just because a person has a will does not mean that their assets will definitely not be distributed through the probate process.

What to Do to Prevent Your Assets From Being Distributed Through the Probate Process

Here are a couple of tips to help you avoid having your assets distributed through the probate process:

  • Joint Ownership – Set up any real estate or other property you own so that you share ownership with the person, persons or entity that you want to be the beneficiary of the property or real estate after you die. Property or real estate that is jointly owned with a survivorship right will not be subject to the probate process.
  • Living Trust – There are both revocable and irrevocable living trusts. Revocable living trusts allow the creator of the trust to revoke it while he or she is still alive. Irrevocable trusts cannot be revoked once they are created. The way a living trust works is that you create the trust and you become the trustee of the trust, which means you fully control any assets, such as property, that you transfer to the trust while you are alive. After your death, a person who you chose to takeover as your successor trustee will distribute the property and other assets you transferred to the trust while you were alive to your chosen beneficiaries. This protects your assets from being distributed through probate.

Next month, we will examine how the transfer-on-death designation, creating a will and setting up a pay-on-death account can also enable you to avoid probate.

At Lowthorp Richards, our experienced probate attorneys have been successfully guiding people through the probate process, as well as other complex estate administration matters, for decades. We are dedicated to providing individuals and families in Ventura County, the Central Coast and throughout California with the highest caliber legal services possible. To learn more about estate administration or to set up a consultation, call Lowthorp Richards today.

When Is a No Contest Clause Ineffective in Probate Court?

The California Court of Appeal just handed down an opinion very strictly limiting the application of a no contest clause contained within trust to later trust amendments.

Peggy was battling cancer for 5 years, during which time her friends, Tracy and David, became the exclusive suppliers of medical cannabis upon which Peggy depended for treatment.  Anticipating her demise, Peggy placed Tracy in custody of all of her estate planning documents.  Soon after, Peggy complained that Tracy read the documents and confronted her about the disposition of her estate.  Shortly after, Peggy executed a trust amendment created in secret, and without advice or assistance of her longtime estate planning attorney, leaving all of her money to Tracy – to the exclusion of Peggy’s brother and godchildren, natural objects of her bounty, and beneficiaries under the estate plan in existence when placed in Tracy’s custody.  After Peggy’s demise, Tracy produced the trust amendment, and the beneficiaries went straight to court. Continue reading

Prince’s Estate Planning Issues

The legendary rivalry between superstars Prince and Michael Jackson apparently extends beyond the grave in terms of whose estate is more difficult to navigate.  While Michael Jackson had a valid will when he died, controversy surrounded the appointment of an executor, and there remains an ongoing battle between the Jackson family and government agencies regarding the actual value of the estate.  Meanwhile, Prince, notoriously shrewd in business and control of his art and image, didn’t even leave a will.  Having died unmarried with no children (despite the numerous claims of a variety of pretenders to his throne), his statutory heirs comprise of siblings and half-siblings, and up to half of his estate will be paid to state and federal tax agencies.  Of course, the federal government and state of Minnesota are claiming the Purple One’s holdings are worth much more than the heirs claim, meaning his tax bill will be greater as well.  Moreover, the famous vault of unreleased material might double the value of his estate.  Had Prince done some basic estate planning, he could have selected specific beneficiaries and avoid probate altogether.   Continue reading

What is Estate Planning?

Planning for distribution of an estate following death is commonly considered a legal process that is only necessary for wealthy individuals, but the truth is that everyone has a need for some form of estate planning. Every young person with children needs an established will and directive regarding disbursement of personal property and dependent children guardianship in the event of an untimely tragedy. Even possessions as simple as furniture or vehicles are considerations when evaluating what would happen in the event of death or incapacity. Incapacity is another issue that many do not consider either, which can be especially important for young single parents. Everyone needs some form of an estate plan, regardless of the total value of their personal holdings, because passing away intestate can produce results that no one may want. The answer is developing a comprehensive legal directive, usually done most effectively with the counsel of an experienced estate planning attorney such as Lowthorp Richards.
Continue reading

Top Five Estate Planning Items You Shouldn’t Ignore

1. Estate Tax and Gift Tax Exclusion Amounts for 2016

The estate and gift tax exemption amount is presently $5.4 million for 2016 and the annual exclusion for gifts is $14,000.00.

What does this mean? It means that an individual can leave up to $5.4 million to heirs and not pay estate tax. Married couples then can leave up to $10.8 million. You can also make tax-free gifts during your lifetime (but you need to keep track of them) up to $14,000 per year per person with a lifetime total gift exemption of $5.4 million. Continue reading