Frequently Asked Questions

Fresno Estate Planning

When considering estate planning in Fresno or anywhere else in California, we know you'll have questions. California estate planning is our area of expertise, and we're here to help! Below is a list of some of the most common estate planning questions people often have. Please contact us with any questions not answered on this page, and we'll be happy to talk with you.

Do I really need a Trust?

YES. If you have a house or other assets worth over $100,000 (regardless of what you owe on them) you need to make a Trust so that your family will not have to file probate, pay appraisal fees, and then wait up to a year. A Trust is a legal document that passes your assets immediately upon your death, without probate, and without the probate costs, which can be thousands of dollars for even a small estate. Make a trust and avoid these costs.

Should I have a Will or a Living Trust?

A Will is necessary to legally pass your assets, even if you have a trust. If you have minor children you also need a will, since the court must appoint a guardian if both parents are deceased. Also, you must name a trustee to administer the property of the child. The guardian and the trustee can be the same person or two different people.

However, you may want to have your property in a Revocable Living Trust. Since a traditional Will puts your estate into court at your death, you must pay probate expenses if your property passes through a will. Probate can be expensive, since there are filing fees, attorney fees, and accounts costs, which typically come to between 5-10% of the gross value of the estate. It can also be time-consuming, usually taking between 1-2 years to settle.

A Revocable Living Trust (also known as a Living Trust) does not require probate, so there are no probate fees, and the estate is settled without court oversight. In this trust, you name yourself as trustee of all of your property so you still maintain control. You also designate alternate trustees to whom the trust property passes when you are deceased. Assets acquired later can easily be added to the Trust.

Many people already have a Will, but not a Trust. This is a common situation and can be easily accommodated.

How does a Will protect my minor children if I were to pass away?

In the rare occurrence that something would happen to both parents, the court system is in charge of your children. A will is the only way you can communicate to the court system after your death, so that document is used to state your instructions for a personal guardian for your minor children. The guardian does not have to be a relative, just someone you would want raising your child if you were unable to do so. In 99.9% of cases, the courts will follow your instructions; it would have to be a very exemplary case for them not to follow your wishes (drug addition, guardian is in jail, etc).

If you do not have a will with a personal guardian specified, the courts are left to make their own decision. This may not be the decision you would want, and a legal battle can ensue--another thing you would not want your children involved in. It is also likely that your children would be in foster care until the court made a decision, which would be just one more traumatic thing for them to go through.

A Trust is the document where you name a financial guardian for your estate you have left to the child. Many times this guardian is the same as their personal guardian, but it doesn't necessarily have to be. You choose someone you trust to oversee the finances of your child, money for their education, medical care and living expenses, and through a sub-trust in your trust you can choose at what age they receive the rest of their inheritance. If you do not have a trust, the child may receive all of the inheritance, less the expensive probate costs, all at one time, with no way to monitor their spending or administration of the inheritance.

Should I put my adult children on my house and checking account?

NO. Once your children are added to your house and your accounts, those things are now theirs in the eyes of creditors or anyone with a lawsuit. Don't let your house or your money go for a fender-bender your children had, or be part of a divorce. Protect them by protecting yourself.

Can I leave money to a charity in a Trust?

YES. You can leave your assets to whoever or whatever organization you want, as long as it is legal. There is no law that you have to leave things to your relatives. A Trust is able to do this faster and quicker, with more of the money going to the charity, not to the court or an attorney.

Will a Trust keep my money safe from creditors?

NO. If you owe money, such as a mortgage on your house, a Trust does not eliminate the debt. Also, you cannot hide assets in a Trust to keep them from bankruptcy.

Will a Trust keep my money safe from Estate Taxes?

At this time, the Federal Estate Taxes are only for estates totaling over $5,000,000. If you have more than this, your heirs will have to pay taxes, but most of us don't end up with an estate that size, so no need to worry at this time about the Tax. A tax professional can help you with this.

I'm not sick. Do I really need a Health Care Directive?

YES. An Advance Health Care Directive appoints the person you want to make your medical decisions. This is very important to have in place if a sudden accident or illness were to incapacitate you.

The Health Care Directive applies not just to end of life decisions, but for any situation where you are unable to speak for yourself, even if it is temporary. This avoids the horrible cases we see in the news, as well as helping the doctors when you simply have a minor surgery.

Do I have to put all my Bank Accounts into the Trust?

NO. You do not have to list your account numbers, or your balance, or even your bank. Most bank accounts pass outside of a Trust to the person you designate at the bank as your beneficiary. A beneficiary is someone who can receive the money if you die, but cannot get into the account while you are alive. We'll help you set this up if you don't have it already.

What do I need in order for you to prepare my Trust?

Most of the information you need is in your address book, (names and addresses of your beneficiaries, doctors, etc.) You also need the legal description of any property you own. This can usually be found on the deed in your mortgage, or we can obtain it rom the records office.

You do NOT need lists of bank accounts, stocks and the like, because there are many new Federal and California laws that let you pass these assets outside of a will or trust. We will give you all the information you need for these and for your vehicles.

Is creating a will and living trust expensive?

We charge a very reasonable flat rate of $500. We can charge this low rate because we are not part of a large firm and do most of our work from home. The initial interview usually takes about an hour. We practice solely in this area of law and therefore are very familiar with the laws and requirements.

For our low flat rate, we produce the following documents specific to state laws:

  • A Revocable Living Trust - This can be a single trust or a joint trust for a married couple.
  • A Will for Each - A "pour over will" accompanies the trust to pour over any property that is acquired later. It is also used to name a guardian for minor children. Each person needs his or her own will.
  • An Advance Directive for Healthcare for Each - An Advance Directive is a document that states your healthcare wishes and names an agent to speak for you in medical situations where you cannot speak for yourself.
  • A Power of Attorney for Finances for Each - This document lets you name a conservator for your finances in case you become incapacitated.

We are Notaries and notarize all your documents. The notary fees are usually minimal. We also prepare the Deeds of Trust to transfer your real property into the trust. You will need to pay a filing fee to the County Recorder, usually under $30 for each property.

Have a question we didn't answer here? Contact us!