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About California estate planning and probate practice:
Probate - Probate is the process by which you prove that a person is deceased and who should be entitled to that person's property. The deceased is commonly referred to as the "Decedent." Property from a decedent is distributed either according to the decedent's will (usually by letters testamentary, or a muniment of title) or by intestacy if there is no will (by letters of administration). Sometimes, a probate court procedure is required in order to clear title to property only.
Intestacy Laws - If someone dies without a will, that person is intestate. Documentation or court proceedings may be required to prove who owns the deceased's property. There are several mechanisms available to demonstrate the transfer of the deceased's property, depending on the circumstances, debts and the size of the deceased's estate. For complex estates, or in a wrongful death / survivor action matter, a motion to appoint an administrator or personal representative of an estate may be necessary.
Estate Planning - We draft wills, guardianship declarations for minor children, trusts, revocable living trusts, probate avoidance materials, medical power of attorney, durable powers of attorney for residents of California. We also have a package service that includes the drafting of a will (either with or without a trust), a durable power of attorney, guardianship declaration, medical power of attorney and living will for one low price. Please see the individual descriptions of available documents listed below.
Drafting Wills - A will is a set of instructions that list how you want your property disposed in the event of your death. Our services include wills for married couples, unmarried couples, life partners and single people. You can choose to dispose of your property by outright gifts, or by trusts (see below). People often ask us if they can draft their own wills (either by using free legal forms, self help books, or on-line will creation software.) Given the relatively low price that attorneys charge for wills, it may not be worth the risk to draft wills without an attorney. Put simply, you are dealing with all of your possessions in one document. This might not be the best time to save a few dollars, considering that you are risking all of your worldly possessions. If there is an ambiguity, you will not be there to explain it. If there is an error in the execution of the will, you will not be able to correct it. There is a risk that a simple error could cause your estate to be distributed in a manner that you would not have wanted.
Trusts - A "trust" is an instrument by which you transfer property (called the "res") to a person or corporation ("trustee") for the benefit of another person ("beneficiary"). Trusts come in several types. The most common trust is one made incident to a will. In this scenario, a person plans for property to pass from his or her estate to a trustee, for the benefit of a minor child. Upon that person's death, the trustee collects the property designated in the will, and distributes the funds to the child, per the trust terms. A common example is to provide periodic payments from the trust for the child's health, education, maintenance and support until the child reaches the age of 21. At that time, the trustee either distributes the rest of the trust outright, or continues to make periodic payments per a predefined schedule. There can be tax implications regarding trusts.
Living trusts - Other trusts include trusts made during a person's lifetime, known as "inter vivos" trusts. These trusts are either revocable (you can change at any time during your life, but they cannot be changed after your death or incapacity) or irrevocable (they are unchangeable immediately). These trusts may require that you transfer assets to the trust during your lifetime. Often included with these trusts is a "pour-over" will, which transfers at your death any property that you did not transfer to the trust during your life. Other trusts include trusts to be funded with life insurance policies. These trusts are sometimes referred to as "probate avoidance" trusts, though this is not technically accurate. These types of trusts are common for disability planning, and planning in which there is a chance of subsequent probate litigation.
Physician's Directives - Also known as "Living Wills", "Do not resuscitate" (DNR) orders, and "Advance directives", these instruments notify health care providers in advance what sorts of artificial life support you would like, if any, if you are ever diagnosed as being in an persistent vegetative state.
Power of Attorney - A power of attorney document allows another to sign your name to documents and contracts for you. You can restrict the powers to specific items (called a limited power of attorney) or have the person sign just about anything on your behalf (called a general power of attorney.) Limited powers of attorney are handy if you need someone to sign your name to a specific contract. For example, if you need for someone to sign your name to a specific real estate closing contract while you are unavailable, you would sign a limited power of attorney, granting that person the power to sign your name to a specific contract.
Medical Power of Attorney - A medical power of attorney document designates a person to medical decisions on your behalf, if you are ever in a situation where you need medical help, but are unable to communicate your wishes. There are also advance notifications about what types of medical service you would or would not want.
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