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Sacramento Estate Planning Law Blog

How often should an estate plan be reviewed?

In this California estate planning blog, we've written many posts about the importance of having an estate plan and of not postponing the estate planning process. But the process isn't necessarily over when the will or trust has been drafted, signed and witnessed. Every estate plan should be reviewed periodically to make sure it is up to date, and still reflects the testator's wishes.

There is no set rule as to how often an estate plan should be reviewed. Some financial advisors suggest a thorough review at least every five years. Those with large estates may want to do an annual review. More importantly, an estate plan should be reviewed whenever there has been a major change in the law or the testator's life.

Guiding clients through the estate planning process

We all want what is best for our family; however, in order to accomplish such a task, we need to think about the future and the what-ifs. For some California residents, this process is not always easy, but the reality is that estate planning can accomplish essential and major decisions that individuals of all ages and families of all sizes need to make.

At Michael A Sawamura Attorney at Law, our legal team is dedicated to aiding and guiding our Sacramento clients through the estate planning process. For some, this is an emotional and often difficult process, but with a strong and positive bond, we draft durable documents that accomplish the many goals of our clients.

Should children always receive equal shares in an estate plan?

It's probably safe to say that the majority of people who prepare estate plans in California leave their children equal shares of their estate. But, is this always the best way to do it? Are there times when it is actually fairer to leave unequal shares to the kids, and perhaps even leave nothing to a child?

There are situations in which one can leave a larger share to one child without causing resentment among the other children. One example is when a child has special medical needs or is mentally or physically handicapped. In that scenario, many parents choose to leave a larger share to that child, usually in trust so that a trustee can manage the expenditures.

Alternatives to guardianship for an incapacitated loved one

As the baby boom generation ages, many people in California are dealing with the issue of elderly relatives who can no longer make decisions on their own behalf. When a loved one becomes incapacitated due to dementia, illness or injury, it is sometimes necessary for the court to appoint a guardian for that person.

A guardian is a person designated by the court to make decisions on behalf of another person, usually called the ward. Among other decisions, a guardian can give or withhold consent for medical treatment; manage the ward's financial affairs; and arrange for the purchase of necessities including vehicles, groceries and other items.

Transferring assets is key to a California trust

The revocable trust is a popular estate planning vehicle in California. With a revocable trust an individual can avoid probate, protect the person's privacy, and provide for management of assets both during the person's lifetime and after death. To establish a trust, the first major step is to prepare and sign a trust document which sets out how the assets in the trust are to be managed, and under what circumstances income and principal are to be distributed to the beneficiaries.

But, drafting and signing the trust document is not the end of the process. A trust does not become effective until assets are actually transferred into the trust, and most of the advantages of a trust stem from the fact that it is the trust -- not the person who created it -- who owns the assets.

New California law eases the bite of Medi-Cal recovery

Many people in California depend on Medi-Cal for their health care coverage. When a Medi-Cal recipient dies, the state has the legal right to recover from the recipient's estate the medical expenses made on their behalf. The state cannot seek reimbursement, however, if the Medi-Cal recipient left a surviving spouse or a minor, disabled or blind child.

Recently, Governor Brown signed into law a significant reduction of Medi-Cal's right to seek reimbursement from estates. Under the new law, which is part of the state budget legislation, the state's Medi-Cal recovery right is limited to the minimum required by federal law. Thus, under the new law the state may only make a claim against the estates of recipients who received Medi-Cal benefits while in a nursing home or while over the age of 55.

Can a trust shield an inheritance from creditors in California?

In California, the revocable trust is a popular estate planning vehicle, in part because it provides for management of trust assets by a trustee during the settlor's life and after their death. A trust will typically provide that income generated by the trust assets will be paid to the beneficiaries at designated intervals. The trust may specify circumstances under which the trustee can pay trust principal to the beneficiaries, and may provide for lump sum payments of principal at designated times. A revocable trust may also give the trustee discretion about when to make payments to the beneficiaries.

Many revocable trusts contain a "spendthrift" provision which prohibits the voluntary or involuntary transfer of the beneficiary's interest in the trust income or principal. This language generally protects the trust's assets from seizure or attachment by creditors, until such time as a payment is actually made to the beneficiary, and then only to the extent of the actual payment.

What are the different types of estate planning trusts?

This California estate planning blog has discussed trusts in the past. Generally, a trust is a legal device that protects a property right for a person while that property is held by another individual. Though trusts can serve a wide range of intents and purposes, they are generally grouped into one of two categories -- revocable or irrevocable.

A revocable trust is one that can be modified during the lifetime of the individual who creates it. Modification can mean making slight changes to the trust instrument or making major overhauls, even to the point of revoking the entire trust. Despite their potential to be changed, revocable trusts are very helpful for individuals who wish to keep their property out of probate when they pass away.

Don't postpone estate planning until it's too late

Many people in California know they should prepare an estate plan, but they put it off. There are a lot of reasons people postpone estate planning. Some think it will be a lot of work, some believe they are too busy and some avoid it because they don't like to think about the fact that someday they will not be around anymore.

All of these reasons are very human and very understandable. But, estate planning is too important to put off indefinitely. If you want to be the one who decides how your assets are distributed after you're gone, if you want to make sure your family is provided for, if you want to leave a legacy to a charity or cause that is important to you -- you need to prepare an estate plan. If you want to have some say in what medical treatments you will receive at the end of your life, if you want your family to avoid probate and unnecessary taxation -- you need to do some estate planning.

Ernie Banks' widow disputes new will signed months before death

Baseball fans of a certain age will remember Ernie Banks, the former Chicago Cub shortstop and first baseman whom many consider one of the best players of all time. Banks was the first African-American to play for the Cubs and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977. He died in 2015 shortly after his 84th birthday. Unfortunately, his estate remains mired in litigation.

Banks' widow, who now lives in California, is challenging a will Banks signed three months before his death. At the time of Banks' death the couple was estranged; the new will left his entire estate to his caretaker and nothing to his family.

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