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Planning For Death—The Final Gift To The People You Love

Planning for one’s own passing away is not something anyone wants to think about, but doing so can serve as a final gift to loved ones and lift a burden from their shoulders. A recent article in The New York Times addresses some of the issues involved in what is known as “Death Planning.” It goes well beyond your wishes regarding your funeral, your gravesite, the disposition of your remains, and related areas of your final “send off.” Death planning also involves decisions that need to made by loved ones while you are still alive.

Jane's Grave.

(Photo credit: Sunchild57 Photography)

For starters, the issue of medical disability must be addressed. If you become incapacitated, who will make decisions for you? Not just financial decisions, but medical decisions. Advance directives, such as powers of attorney, are essential in this regard.

But what about an end-of-life situation? A living will allows you to tell your loved ones what steps you would like taken to keep you alive if you fall into a coma or are faced with the prospect of extraordinary measures needed to keep you alive. For example, if your heart stops, do you want to be resuscitated? Or, would you want a feeding tube?

The Times article points out that your instructions must be as specific as possible and not stored with other estate planning documents (if they are, loved ones might not find them until after you have passed away).  Rather, you need to let loved ones, friends, your attorney, and other trusted advisors know where your living will is located. Better yet, you should discuss its contents in advance with all interested parties.

To learn more about Death Planning, we invite you to click here.

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Have You Been Named As Trustee? Think Twice Before Deciding To Serve

Maybe you’ve been named as trustee of an estate and are wondering if you should take on this responsibility. The first factor to consider is whether you have time to do so. Administering a trust typically involves all of the following duties, and sometimes many more:

Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

  • Locating and protecting trust assets
  • Collecting life insurance policies, annuities, and retirement accounts that name the trust as the primary beneficiary
  • Coordinating settlement of the estate with the personal representative if a probate administration is necessary
  • Obtaining the values of all trust assets at the time of the trustmaker’s death. These assets include real estate and business interests
  • Ascertaining and paying off all of the trustmaker’s debts from funds remaining in the estate
  • Assessing income and estate tax liabilities
  • Preparing and filing all required income and estate tax returns
  • Paying the ongoing expenses of administering the trust until it can be terminated and distributed to beneficiaries
  • Raising the cash necessary to pay off debts, the ongoing expenses of administering the trust, and estate and income taxes
  • Investing and managing trust assets until they can be distributed to your beneficiaries
  • Distributing all assets left in the trust after all of the aforementioned debts, taxes and expenses have been paid

Satisfying all of these duties is both time consuming and, in many instances, extremely complicated. Another factor to consider is that a trustee can be held personally responsible for failing to carry out the mandates of the trust to the letter. Even if a mistake was inadvertent, penalties can be severe.

Clearly, the decision to serve as trustee should not be taken lightly. We can help you understand the responsibilities and risks involved, and guide you through the process every step of the way. If you have been named as trustee, we are here to assist you. Contact us for a consultation.

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Game Over—What Happened To Two Storied Sports Franchises After Their Owners Passed Away

Estate planning is important for virtually every individual and family. It is perhaps even more important for families of means, such as those wealthy enough to own professional sports teams. Here are examples of what took place after the passing of two such owners.

Joseph Robbie
A highly successful businessman and attorney, Joseph Robbie owned the Miami Dolphins, one of the most successful teams in the history of the National Football League. In 1972, the team won every single game during the regular season as well as the Super Bowl—the only team to have accomplished this extraordinary feat in the modern era. When he passed away in 1990, Robbie’s estate was valued at approximately $100 million. Unfortunately, some 50 percent of his estate value was lost to pay federal estate taxes. This fact, as well as infighting between members of the family, led to the team being sold at a fraction of its value. With proper planning, this could have been avoided.

George Steinbrenner

English: George Steinbrenner's life, work clip...

George Steinbrenner 1930-2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

George Steinbrenner, longtime owner of the New York Yankees, passed away in 2010. According to Forbes, the team is worth approximately $1.6 billion. But when Steinbrenner died, the Yankees were 95 percent leveraged as a result of debt accrued from the construction of the team’s new stadium. This could have proven disastrous for the family’s fortune, let alone that of the team and its fans. However, Steinbrenner had the “good fortune” to pass away in a year where federal estate taxes had been eliminated. By dying in 2010, Steinbrenner saved his heirs an estimated $600 million. If you follow sports, you’ve no doubt heard the expression “better to be lucky than good.” Given the number of championships won by the Yankees, it would appear that in this case at least, Mr. Steinbrenner was both.

Click on the links below to learn about these owners and their teams.

A Tale of Two Families

How Steinbrenner Saved His Heirs a $600 Million Tax Bill

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Frequently Asked Questions About Probate In California

Most people have heard the term probate, but many are not sure exactly what it is or what the process involves. Here are some of the most common questions clients have asked me about probate over the years.

What is probate?
Probate is the court-managed process whereby a decedent’s assets are retitled and distributed after he or she passes away.

How long does probate take?
It depends on a number of factors, including the size of the estate, creditor claims, disputes among heirs, and other factors. A “typical” probate in California takes between 6 months and one year to complete.

How much does it cost to probate an estate?
Fees for attorneys are set forth in the California Probate Code, and are based on a percentage of the estate’s gross value. Here are the current rates:

  • 4% of the first $100,000
  • 3% of the next $100,000
  • 2% of the next $800,000
  • 1% of the next $9 million
  • 0.5% of the next $15 million

It is important to note that attorneys in California do not have to charge in this manner. Probate work can be billed hourly or on a flat fee basis, which may well be considerably less than the statutory rates. In additions, attorneys can charge extra fees for what are known as “extraordinary services.” These can include handling the sale of real property or preparing tax returns.

If the decedent had a Will, does the estate have to go through probate?
A Will in and of itself does not mean that the estate avoids probate. Estate planning attorneys often use a Revocable Living Trust in conjunction with a Will to help clients avoid probate.

What if the decedent did not have a Will?
If a person passes away without a valid Will, his or her assets will be distributed according to what is called California’s Laws of Intestate Succession. In the vast majority of cases, probate is involved in this distribution process.

If you have questions about probate, or are faced with the prospect of probating the estate of a loved one, call us at your earliest convenience for a consultation.

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Leaving A Lasting Message To Your Loved Ones

One of our goals as an estate planning and elder law firm is to help you leave a lasting legacy to your family and society as a whole. We can use a variety of tools that allow you to pass on your values, goals, and hopes for the future.

I recently came across an interesting article online about how technology is enabling people to leave videos and other information about themselves after they pass away directly onto their headstones or other memorials. The decedent can tell his or her personal history, make values and wishes known, and speak directly to loved ones and future generations.

The technology that makes this possible is known as Quick Response (QR) codes. These 1.5 inch squares, which resemble a bar code in appearance, allow people to use their cell phones to access a website—in this case, a site paying tribute to the decedent.

Funeral For A Friend & Co-Worker

(Photo credit: Tobyotter)

The idea grew out of the popularity of memorial videos, also known as end-of-life or legacy videos. Typically, the videos would be played during funerals and/or wakes. QR codes enable the decedent’s personal video and other information to be accessed at the cemetery.

According to the article, most cemeteries have welcomed the idea and the technology. So, too, have many families.

To learn more about this high-tech way to leave a lasting message to your loved ones, click here.

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Why You Need Advance Directives

Advance directives give a person of your choosing the authority to make decisions on your behalf about the type of care you want in the event of incapacity or an end of life situation. Your directives may contain instructions about the types of medical treatments you would or would not want to be taken to keep you alive if you are in a coma or vegetative state.

Day 12.04 will you wake up another day?

(Photo credit: Frerieke)

In effect, advance directives allow you to decide, while you are alive and well, the type of care you want and the person you want to make the decisions for you. They allow you to better ensure that your wishes will be followed, and spare your loved ones from making such important decisions on your behalf without knowing what you would have wanted.

Nobody wants to think about advance directives, but the consequences of not creating them far outweigh the difficulty of creating them in advance. We invite you to contact us for experienced counsel about the directives available and the ideal person or persons to serve as your agent.

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What Is The Difference Between A Will And A Living Will?

Over the years, many clients have asked about the difference between a will and a living will. In essence, a will allows you to express your wishes about how your assets, and other matters, are handled after you pass away. A living will, on the other hand, allows you to express your wishes about how you will be cared for while you are still alive.

Last Will And Testament

Last Will And Testament (Photo credit: Ken_Mayer)

For example, a properly designed and implemented will can:

  • Allow you to determine who gets your assets after you pass away, rather than the state of California making this decision for you
  • Name the person or institution you want to manage your estate after death
  • Allow real estate and other assets to be sold upon your death without a court proceeding
  • Make gifts to charity upon your death
  • Determine who will bear the burden of estate and other taxes
  • Name a guardian for minor children

Meanwhile, a living will allows you to designate what type of care you do or do not want in in the event of incapacity or an end-of-life situation. If there are specific life-prolonging treatments you want to avoid, your living will can include specific instructions regarding them. Treatments like blood transfusions, dialysis, the use of a feeding tube or respirator, and more can be prevented if you so choose.

It is important to note that a living will informs your loved ones about the types of treatments you do or do not want to prolong your life, sparing them from having to make these difficult decisions on their own.

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Where’s Dad’s Plan? The Rise Of Document Storage And End-Of-Life Planning Sites

The loss of a loved one is emotionally devastating in and of itself. When you factor in all of the legal and logistical steps that a family must take during this difficult time, the situation can seem overwhelming.

English: Laptop

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To help families cope with the logistical aspects of losing a loved one, a number of companies are now offering end-of-life planning and document storage websites. A recent article in the New York Times discusses several of these sites at length. Let’s take a brief look at two of them.

This easy to use site is also quite comprehensive. It can serve as a repository for practically anything: legal documents and financial accounts; where your life insurance policy and Social Security card can be found; how to go about closing out you cable TV account; and much, much more.

Principled Heart
This site takes a more minimalist approach. It encourages users to keep only the information that is most needed, such as passwords for financial and other accounts, or where to find these passwords. There is also a section for “last instructions,” detailing who should be notified about the death, what should be done with pets, and more.

Now, you might ask yourself, what about security? Most services offer what is known as bank-level security and encryption. If you are planning to use an end-of-life planning and document storage site, be sure to ask plenty of questions about the precautions taken to ensure your information is protected.

So, is the era of keeping everything your family needs to know in a nice binder or simple envelope? Not necessarily, as long as it is stored safely and your family knows where to find it.

To learn more about end-of-life planning sites, visit:

Navigating the Logistics of Death Ahead of Time


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Does Your Estate Have To Go Through California Probate?

Probate in California has earned a reputation as expensive, time-consuming, and frustrating. Perhaps you have heard “horror” stories about it from friends and relatives. Many people wonder if all of their assets have to go though probate and whether there are ways to avoid the process entirely.

In California, some assets do not have to go through probate. These include:

  • Funds in retirement account, such as an IRA or 401(k)
  • Payable-on-death bank accounts
  • Life insurance proceeds
  • Securities held in a transfer-on-death account
  • Vehicles held by a transfer-on-death registration
  • Property owned in joint tenancy or community property with right of survivorship
  • Property transferred into a living trust

The last point in the list above is worth noting. With a properly designed and implemented revocable living trust, assets in the trust do not have to go through the expensive, time-consuming, and “open to the public” probate process. Other advantages of a revocable living trust include:

  • It can be changed over time, to adjust for changes in your family and financial situation
  • It can help reduce the possibility of challenges to a will, making it more likely that beneficiaries receive what the Trustor intended
  • Separation of assets, which can be beneficial for married couples
  • Ongoing financial management. As the Trustor’s wealth accumulates, so too will assets transferred to the trust

For more information about California probate, and whether a revocable living trust is right for you, contact us for a consultation.

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How Much Are Those Family Heirlooms Actually Worth?

When a person passes away, he or she leaves much more behind than a will, trust, insurance policy, and other assets with fixed values. What about all those family heirlooms—jewelry, paintings, Dad’s autographed baseball that he’s had since he was a kid? Many children point to certain items and say, “can I have that when you pass away?” Similarly, parents say, “I’d like you to have this when I’m gone.” Sometimes there are family stories that go along with the items, giving them sentimental value. But what about their value in dollars, how do you know for sure?

Autographed baseball.

Autographed baseball. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A recent article in Forbes discussed the popularity of the television show Antiques Roadshow and how it has spawned free or low-cost appraisal events across the country. These events are hosted by auction houses, non-profit organizations and even banks, and some of the items brought in are indeed quite valuable. However, as the article points out, these appraisals are what people in the appraisal industry call “verbal approximations of value.” If you want to know what a certain item is worth for purposes such as insurance or dividing assets among heirs, a formal, written appraisal is required. Obtaining this can be quite expensive.

Another factor to consider in valuation is “provenance,” which is industry slang for documentation. When there are documents supporting the story surrounding an item’s past, the item is generally more valuable.

Most of the items brought to free appraisal events are of little dollar value. The Forbes article estimates that this is the case 99% of the time. Of course, that doesn’t make the item worthless. You can’t put a price tag on sentimental value. If you like the item, or it reminds you of your lost loved one, the item is priceless.

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