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Frequently Asked Questions

Estate Planning in Orange County

Estate planning can be useful for individuals seeking to have their assets prepared in the circumstance of death or if they are unable to take care of themselves. It may help to ensure your loved ones are protected and their financial futures are secured. The process of planning an estate and preparing legal documents may be complex, depending on your wishes and intentions. A few questions can arise along the way.

  • What is an estate plan?

    An excellent estate plan provides security for your loved ones and gives you the certainty that your property will be passed on to those whom you desire to receive it. Generally, an excellent estate plan will be comprised of a will/will substitute, trust, powers of attorney, and medical directives.

    Estate planning addresses how your assets are managed and who will manage them if you are unable to manage them yourself. It can also determine the circumstances under which to distribute your assets, as well as how and to whom they are distributed. Estate planning can also help in managing how your health care decisions are made and who makes them in situations where you cannot manage to do so yourself.

  • Who needs an estate plan?

    Whether large or small, your estate assets are important to you, and you will want to ensure they are handled correctly if you are unable to. Small estates can be handled with focused care, and in the case of large estates, planning can reduce costs and ensure debts are carried out without mishandling. Without estate planning, a judge will appoint someone to handle your estate who may or may not be prepared to handle it correctly.

  • What is a trust?
    A trust is a legal document that acts much like a will by documenting how you want your affairs handled after you pass away. Trusts are placed in the control of a person or other entity, known as a "trustee," who is in charge of handling the property according to the wishes of the deceased. Please note, there are various types of trusts, each of which has its own requirements and benefits.
  • What powers does a trustee have?
    A trustee will have the duties designated in the trust, as well as the statutory duties that are required by law. There are several statutory duties applicable to trustees to ensure that they are carrying out the trust in the manner the trustor wished.
  • What is a power of attorney?
    A power of attorney is a legal document that gives another person the legal power to act on your behalf when you are unable to do so.
  • What is probate?
    Probate is the process of determining the rights and obligations of a person's legal matters and finances after they die, including debt resolution and the clearing of titles. This must all be accomplished before a single relative or heir can receive any part of the decedent's property.
  • How long is the probate process?
    The length of the probate process depends upon the complexity of the estate. One must take into account the required periods of time, such as a four-month creditor's claims period, as well as the availability of court dates, and any other problems that may arise along the way.
  • What is an executor/administrator?

    An executor is a person appointed to administrate and supervise your estate, including the payment of your debts, expenses, and taxes. The executor is also in charge of distributing your estate according to the instructions of a will, or in the absence of a will, by state guidelines. An executor is also referred to as a personal representative or administrator.

  • What is a will?

    A will is a legal document that names executors, guardians, and individuals who receive your assets. Though some assets are exempt, the majority of assets may be subject to the conditions you lay out in a will. Exemptions such as co-owned assets would pass directly to surviving co-owners and beneficiaries regardless of will instructions.

  • What happens if you die without a will?
    When a person passes without a will or will substitute, their entire estate must pass through the probate process. The lack of will requires a decedent's estate to be distributed according to the intestacy statutes rather than being distributed according to their wishes.
  • Are there other ways to leave property besides a will?

    Certain kinds of assets can be transferred directly to named beneficiaries by other means. These can be handled by living trusts and other alternative legal documents and procedures.

    Some of the assets eligible for transfer include:

    • Life insurance benefits
    • Pay on death assets
    • Retirement plans, including IRA and 401(k)
    • Trustee bank accounts
    • Transfer on death securities accounts
  • What if I am unable to take care of myself?
    Estate planning can account for situations where individuals are no longer able to take care of themselves and make decisions without assistance. For these circumstances, documents like power of attorney allow you to give another person the right and authority to act on your behalf. You may limit authority to special circumstances or expand as generally as you like.

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