Frequently Asked Questions

This page is to explain the legal words used throughout this website.

Advanced Health Care Directives

An Advanced Health Care Directive are legal words for a document that will provide clear instructions for a client’s family if there is a health or medical emergency which leaves the client incapacitated. A client can select an individual to make important medical decisions if the client cannot communicate with physicians.

Estate Planning

Estate planning are the legal words for the process that  involves the development of strategies for protecting your assets, distributing them according to your wishes when you are deceased, to provide for your family or loved ones. A carefully developed estate plan can help you to accomplish many estate planning goals, such as:

  • Provide for an orderly transfer of your property
  • Minimize the taxes on your estate and maximize the inheritance for your beneficiaries.
  • Provide for the special needs of family members.
  • Ensure the continued operation of a family business.
  • Appoint a guardian for minor children.
  • Plan for the necessary taxes and administrative expenses.
  • Bypass probate administration for your estate.

 

The most critical component of an effective estate plan is a properly prepared will.   You want to ensure your assets transfer in accordance with your wishes. Additionally, you must consider the probate process and the possible tax liabilities of your estate. This process can involve in-depth financial projections and estate tax calculations.  Estate planning may involve naming guardians for your children, creating trusts, special titling of assets, and other elements.

Do you need an estate plan?

Almost everyone needs some sort of estate planning.  Estate Plan are legal words for the documents such as Wills or Trusts that explain what happens if you die. If you have kids, you should have at the minimum a will so that you decide who will take care of your children in the absence of one or both parents due to death.  If you own a home, you need a trust so you avoid the probate court.

Estate Tax Planning

Estate Tax Planning are legal words for specialized Trusts that are designed to avoid estate taxes, income taxes and even the taxes on your IRA that your children will need to pay when they inherit that asset.

Certain types of Revocable Living Trusts provide the benefit of reducing federal estate taxes.
Writing a will protects your family and ensures that your wishes will be carried out. Anyone of legal age with any property should have a will. If you die without a will, or what is known as intestate, your estate will be distributed as determined by state law and administered by someone appointed by a court. In addition, the court will decide who will care for your minor children. Dying intestate also can increase the tax burden for your heirs and cause dissension within your family.

As you build wealth you will want to minimize taxes and administration expenses in the settlement of your estate. Provide for special desires, such as charitable contributions.

Litigation

Litigation is a legal word for lawsuit. A lawsuit is a civil action brought in a court of law in which a plaintiff, a party who claims to have incurred loss as a result of a defendant’s actions, demands a legal or equitable remedy. The defendant is required to respond to the plaintiff’s complaint. If the plaintiff is successful, judgment is in the plaintiff’s favor, and a variety of court orders may be issued to enforce a right, award damages, or impose a temporary or permanent injunction to prevent an act or compel an act. A declaratory judgment may be issued to prevent future legal disputes.  A lawsuit may involve dispute resolution of private law issues between individuals, business entities or non-profit organizations. A lawsuit may also enable the state to be treated as if it were a private party in a civil case, as plaintiff, or defendant regarding an injury, or may provide the state with a civil cause of action to enforce certain laws.  The conduct of a lawsuit is called litigation. The plaintiffs and defendants are called litigants and the attorneys representing them are called litigators.

Postnuptial Agreements

A contract executed after a couple gets married. The agreement will discuss in detail how a couple’s assets in the event of a separation or divorce will be divided. Postnuptial agreement are legal words for an agreement entered into after marriage where a couple decides how their assets are to be divided, often this is not just for divorce or separation but also for estate planning to decide how property passes when spouses each have children from prior marriages.

Probate

What is probate?

Probate is a legal word for the legal process whereby a court oversees the distribution of assets left by a deceased person to the appropriate beneficiaries. Assets are anything a person owns with value, such as real and personal property and cash, for instance. If you have a will, the process includes proving that the will is valid and ensuring that assets are distributed according to its provisions. Otherwise, the probate court will oversee the distribution of your assets according to state law. The probate process is a matter of public record and can be costly and time consuming. There are many estate planning strategies that enable you to avoid or bypass the probate process. These strategies typically involve providing for the transfer of your assets through joint ownership, trusts, or gifts while you are alive, instead of through a will.

  • Clear title to land, stocks and bonds, or large bank or savings and loan accounts that were held in the name of the deceased person only, and put the title to these assets in the names of the rightful beneficiaries.
  • Collect debts owed to the deceased person.
  • Settle a dispute between people who claim they are entitled to assets of the deceased person.
  • Resolve any disputes about the validity of the deceased person’s will.

 

Developing a proper estate plan requires setting concrete goals.   Ask yourself, “Who do you want to provide for when you die?”  Your attorney will help you determine how this should be accomplished.  Identifying your estate planning goals becomes the framework for undertaking other activities, such as:

  • Taking inventory of your assets and deciding on the appropriate form of ownership.
  • Preparing your will and other legal documents.
  • Reviewing your insurance coverage.
  • Estimating tax liabilities and the net estate available for distribution.
  • Identify and evaluate alternative strategies to meet your goals.

 

Probate is a process where the court distributes your assets after your death and will appoint legal guardians for your children if you have not already done so.  Your family will have to “go to probate” court if you do not do correct estate planning while you are alive.  This means that a judge will make all of the decisions about your estate and who your children go to, what they inherit — after your death — if you do NOT properly plan while you are alive!   Probate is long, public and expensive.  Probate costs in California generally run between 4% and 5% of the estate. So, a $500,000 estate will cost between $20,000 to $25,000! HOWEVER, with proper planning, you can avoid probate.

Powers of Attorney

Power of Attorney are legal words for a document whereby you give the power to another person (your agent) to sign legal documents on your behalf. A Durable Power of Attorney for Asset Administration is essential if you suffer an illness or medical emergency. Often people are suddenly left incapable of handling financial or business decisions; however, an agent can be designated who will have the authority to continue to make financial decisions until the  person recovers.

Real Estate Terms

Transfer Documents/Grant Deed

Grant Deed are legal words describing a document transferring title to property. In order to effectively transfer land, properties, building and houses into the client’s Revocable Living Trust, transfer documents and grant deeds must be executed. In addition to property, a client should also transfer stock in any corporation, membership units in any limited liability companies, partnership interests, or any other business interests.

Retirement Plans

Retirement Plans are legal words for funds set aside for retirement. This could include an IRA, 401K, 403B or other account set up specifically to provide income for when you stop working.  Retirement plans are complicated and there are tax consequences when these funds are passed at death.  Prudent people consult with an attorney who will prepare a legal plan that will minimize these consequences.

Revocable Living Trust

Revocable Trust is a legal document that is specially created so that the living trust holds property so that when you die, your estate won’t go through probate. A Revocable Living Trust works like a wagon, everything that is in the wagon goes with the wagon even if the person who owns the wagon is not pulling it. A Trustee is the person who is pulling the wagon. The benefit of having a Revocable Living Trust is that it will not go through probate, therefore, eliminating the delay and cost of probate. Going through probate takes at least a year and cost anywhere from 6% to 8% of the total gross estate. A Revocable Living Trust will allow a client to control his or her estate by passing it along to a selected individual referred to as a “successor trustee”. Typically the first Trustee is the person who creates the Trust, and the successor is the person they select.

Wills – Why do all families with children need a will?

Will is a legal word for a document that tells people what happens when you die. More than half of American adults don’t have a will.  If you have children under the age of 18 or still in college, you need a will to appoint guardians of your children. It is extremely important to have correct documentation spelling things out!  If you do not, the court will decide who will raise your children. The court’s choice may not be your choice for raising your kids. The last thing you want your children and family to have to deal with after the loss of both parents would be a messy court battle over who will take care of your children. The will should name a guardian for anyone under 18. You’ll also want to name a trusted person as executor of your estate. If you have young children, ask an attorney about creating a minor’s trust — assets you leave them will be held in the trust until they reach your state’s “age of majority” (18 in most states).

Living Wills

Living Will are legal words for a document that tells people what you want when you are alive. A living will is a legal document which clearly states what you would like to have happen in the event that you are put on artificial life support and unable to communicate.

Pourover Wills

Pour Over Will are legal words for a  will that “pours over” the assets that are not in your trust into your trust. This Will is part of your  Revocable Living Trust. Ultimately, the pourover will, will “pour over” into the trust any miscellaneous assets that have no beneficiary or were not properly placed into the trust.

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