FAQ

Here, you’ll find answers to some of our most frequently asked questions (FAQ). If you can’t find an answer to your question, please contact us.

What is a conservatorship?

Conservatorship is the court‑supervised administration of your estate during any period in which you are incapacitated and therefore unable to take care of your financial affairs and yourself. The probate court authorizes the conservator to handle the day‑to‑day management of your estate and your person. The court, however, closely monitors what is done with the assets and the individual subject to the conservatorship by requiring regular reports and accounting from the conservator.

What is a living trust?

A living trust is a legal document that allows you to transfer ownership of your property from your individual name to your name as trustee (of your own trust), so that all of your assets are ‘owned’ by the trust. Unlike other kinds of trusts you, as the creator and trustee of the trust, have absolute, 100% control of the property in the trust during your lifetime for as long as you have capacity. Nothing changes except the name on the title to your property. The trust can be both revocable and amendable during your lifetime. In order for a living trust to work properly, you need to monitor your assets to assure that they are titled correctly.

Upon incapacity, your ‘backup trustee’, who is named by you in the trust instrument, automatically steps in and administers your estate without court involvement.

Upon death, your ‘backup trustee’ automatically steps in and distributes your estate according to your instructions. No probate is necessary because you owned nothing in your own name; your trust ‘owned’ all of your assets.

Do I have to pay inheritance taxes?

The estate of the person who died pays all inheritance taxes. The person or people responsible for administering the estate, usually the executor or the trustee with the assistance of an accountant, calculates whether estate tax is due, prepares the appropriate returns, and then pays the taxes out of the estate’s assets.

What is the federal estate tax?

As of 2018, the Federal law allows an individual to pass along a little over 11 million dollars without incurring tax if done properly. This may change, but we will not know until Congress acts on the matter. Estate plans, if properly drafted, can take into account future changes in the estate tax in order to minimize or eliminate estate tax based on the law in effect at the date of death.

How do I protect my minor children?

A properly drafted estate plan can provide for your children’s financial, educational, and social needs. This is a complex issue and should be discussed in detail with your attorney.

Can I inherit someone else’s debts?

This is a common misconception, but you cannot inherit debts. If you are a beneficiary of someone else’s estate, the debts will need to be satisfied prior to your inheritance. There should be no situation in which you simply acquire the debts of another (unless you have made an agreement to do so).

What is the procedure for creating an estate plan?

We recommend contacting an attorney who is licensed to practice in the state where you reside or where you hold significant assets. However, you can also use pre-printed forms or software.

However, you should take extreme care if you prepare your own estate plan. We find that estate plans prepared without professional assistance often lead to unclear directions and disagreements, which may include legal disputes.

Also, beware of any “Estate Planning Seminar,” in which a low, flat fee is offered for the preparation of a trust. These are often “cookie-cutter” trusts and can be associated with people who are trying to sell annuities or life insurance. Be wary of anyone who tries to combine the sale of an estate plan with any other financial matter.

A properly prepared estate plan can save you and your family many thousands of dollars, so if you can afford professional legal advice, we do not recommend the cheaper or more questionable alternatives.

How does your office prepare an estate plan?

First, we send you a relatively simple questionnaire to fill out and bring with you to the initial interview. At that interview, we will review all the essential information with you and carefully examine your options and decisions. After our meeting, we will compose and send you a draft of your plan. You can call us with your questions, corrections, and/or approval. We’ll make any necessary changes and then schedule a final meeting to sign the documents. During the course of putting together your estate plan, we also prepare deeds and advise you on how to implement your estate plan.

How much does an estate plan cost?

The cost of putting together an estate plan depends on your particular needs, conditions, and desires. The many aspects and important legal and financial consequences of professional estate planning demand that we carefully attend to every detail and tailor each estate plan accordingly. However, we always strive to deliver precisely the services you need without embellishment, and we believe you will find our rates and fees to be very reasonable for the level of expertise we provide. In most cases, at the initial interview we will quote you a flat-fee rate for your plan and offer to charge you by the hour, if you prefer.

How often should my estate plan be reviewed?

Any time there are changes to your circumstances, such as new beneficiaries, a change in your marital or health status, or significant changes in your net worth, you should review your estate plan.

In addition to your own changing circumstances, revisions in relevant tax laws might trigger a review. Even if there have been no major personal or external changes, it is still a good idea for you to review your plan at least every two or three years to make sure it meets your current needs.

What is the Annual Gift Tax Exclusion?

Federal law permits each individual to make gifts of up to $15,000 per year per donee (gift recipient). This means two parents may give each of their children $30,000 per year without facing gift tax consequences. If gifts in a year exceed the annual exclusion amount, the person making the gift, must file a gift tax return to report the amount of gifts in excess of the $15,000. If the individual has not used their Federal inheritance tax credit, that can be applied to avoid paying gift taxes. If you do have an estate that may be subject to estate taxation, over $12,000,000 per individual or $24,0000 per married couple, the annual gift tax exclusion can be used to transfer assets which have unrealized gains associated with them. If your estate may face taxation, you should seek the advice of counsel.

Please give us a call at (415) 986-5910 or contact us to schedule an appointment.