My estate in California isn’t big enough to justify the expense, effort and time to have an estate plan prepared.
As an estate planning and tax attorney working with clients in Los Angeles County, Ventura County, Orange County, and Santa Barbara County, I hear this refrain a lot. The simplest way to decide whether you would benefit by having an estate plan prepared is to ask whether you have any property that would pass to your heirs through the court supervised process called probate. If you own such property in California, then you would benefit by having an estate plan prepared.
An easy rule of thumb to keep in mind is that your California real estate vested in your own name must go through probate after death unless a living trust is established beforehand and the property was held in the name of the trust. Another easy rule of thumb is that cash, investments and savings accounts held in your own name must also go through probate if the total value is over $100,000 unless the accounts were held in the name of a living trust.
Probate is usually a process worth avoiding when possible. It is slow, expensive, and a hassle. In comparison, a living trust which holds your property at the time of death allows your property to be distributed quickly to your proper heirs usually without any expense or trouble.
Your living trust comes into play at the time of death. But while you are alive and incapacitated or incompetent, there are other important parts of an estate plan that may come into play. Those other parts are a durable power of attorney for property management and a California advance health care directive. Both of those documents allow someone you trust to manage your personal affairs (pay your mortgage, your bills, etc.) and to make important health care decisions on your behalf if you can’t do that for yourself.
Call an estate planning and tax attorney now to discuss these and other benefits related to your estate plan.