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Torrance Elder Law Blog

Does a will take care of all my assets?

You are finally going to take that important step of making a will—congratulations! Like many Californians, you are making a responsible decision for your family and heirs. While you are gathering your thoughts and financial documents, there are a few additional items to consider before you begin planning.

The State Bar of California points out that you are likely to have one or more assets that are independent of your will. These items range from community property that you own with a spouse or partner to a living trust, life insurance and more.

Avoiding mistakes may help executors with probate

When your loved one first approached you about acting as executor of his or her estate, you may not have fully understood what that meant. The person may then have told you that it would involve handling his or her final affairs after death, and because you likely knew that this position held importance to your loved you, you agreed to take on the role. After all, you probably would not have to worry about this duty for some time.

Now that your loved one has passed, you must step into your shoes as executor. Feelings of confusion and stress may greet you as you begin the process, and that is not uncommon. Your duties play an important part in the probate process, and these proceedings can take a considerable amount of time. In hopes of making the process go more smoothly, you may want to make sure you do not make major mistakes.

Addressing the sensitive subject of inheritance

For many Californians, the last aspect of a family member's death that comes to mind is the money left behind. First, surviving family must discuss funeral costs and plans, help other family members cope and even decide the next step for a surviving elderly spouse or minor children. However, financial steps during this time are generally a necessity, and some surviving family find themselves in a situation they had never imagined before: a dispute over inheritance. 

Money disputes are no new occurrence; unfortunately, they are capable of dividing relatives and even destroying relationships. When it comes to estate planning, Forbes magazine takes a look at why, exactly, so many siblings dispute over inheritances. With the roughly $30 trillion projected to be inherited over the next three decades, the nation's children and grandchildren are bound to fight over amounts at some point down the road. The reason? Some experts suggest that younger generations are not currently saving for retirement as much as their parents had in the past. Others simply feel entitled to their parents' inheritance and expect the money to cover their own retirement plans. Forbes takes into account the speculation from psychologists, as well, noting that today's money-fueled society can easily facilitate disputes. As older generations age, Forbes also notes that discussing plans openly with children is one way to avoid misunderstandings in the future.

Establishing guardianship for the sake of a minor family member

Many situations could necessitate the establishment of guardianship of a minor child. In most cases, a minor has one or two parents to ensure his or her care and make many important decisions regarding education, health care and more. However, in the event that a child does not have a parent present in his or her life or lacks a person to make legal decisions, it may be necessary to explore the benefits of establishing a guardianship.

Depending on the nature of the individual situation, the family of the minor can seek guardianship, or the court may appoint a guardian. The guardian would be able to make legal decisions for that child. If you wish to act as the guardian for a minor member of your California family, you must be willing to act in the best interests of that child.

Multiple parties fight over control of Charles Manson's estate

Many people in Los Angeles may feel as though they do not need to dedicate their time and effort into planning their estates because they have little to pass on to beneficiaries. The fact that small estates are often able to avoid probate seems to support this assumption. However, one's estate goes beyond his or her liquid assets. His or her name, likeness, works or intellectual properties can bring in future revenue. The control over the use of such properties is exercised by one's estate, which requires that one have an executor and named beneficiaries who can benefit from their use. 

If there were anyone that most would assume would not need to worry about estate matters, it would be Charles Manson. The infamous cult leader spent over 40 years in prison before dying last year, and the law prevents inmates from profiting from their criminal exploits. However, authorization over future documentaries and books would rest with Manson's estate, the control over which three parties are arguing in Los Angeles Superior Court. One the parties involved was pen-pals with Manson for years. He has a will in which Manson disinherits his biological heirs and names him as his beneficiary. Another man claiming to be a son Manson fathered during an orgy has a will supposedly given by Manson to a memorabilia collector in which he is named as the beneficiary. Yet another man (who court documents show as being Manson's actual grandson) is staking his claim to the estate as Manson's next of kin. 

Do all estates need to be probated?

On top of the grief that comes with losing a loved one in Los Angeles, you may also be confronted with the need to settle the affairs of his or her estate. You have probably been told that having an estate go through probate is a long, drawn-out process that can take a heavy financial toll on its assets. Yet before you begin to stress about having to go through all this, you should first understand that not all estates need to be probated. 

The primary purpose of the probate process is to ensure that an estate is managed correctly. Yet for those estates that do not have significant assets or properties, the supervision of the probate court may not be needed. Indeed, California's Probate Code offers a way for those party to small estates to skip the probate process altogether. 

Regular revision of a will keeps it relevant

If you have created a will, you are to be commended. After all, such a small number of people take the time to make any kind of plan that many families face the confusion of probate without knowing what their loved ones wanted for their estates.

While many state statutes guide the courts is the distribution of assets, each family situation is unique. If you have special people in your life who are not immediate relatives — or if you have immediate relatives who are not among the people you want to benefit from your estate — a will is a crucial document. Nonetheless, life changes quickly, and the plans you had in mind when you executed your will may be very different from what you want now.

What should I do if I suspect theft from an estate?

When an estate trustee in California appears to be untrustworthy, state laws give you some options to protect trust assets while you work to prove your case. According to the American Bar Association, California courts recognize that, if assets are not frozen at the beginning of litigation, there may not be much left by the time a case has been made against the trustee. 

Courts have broad power over trusts, which stems from their responsibility to maintain fair access to trust beneficiaries. This power includes the ability to not only remove trustees but also to set aside their decisions and appoint a temporary trustee.

When is it appropriate to set up a conservatorship?

Estate planning is a beneficial step for every family, regardless of income level or assets. For some California families, drafting a basic will is enough, while others will need more advanced measures to fully protect their interests. In order to understand the best way to custom-tailor your estate plan, you would be wise to fully consider both your current situation and your long-term needs.

If you are caring for an individual with special needs or it is possible that you may have to do so in the future, you may find it beneficial to learn more about conservatorships and the protections they can provide. A conservatorship is necessary in situations in which a person is managing the financial affairs of someone who does not have the capacity to do so.

My mom chose me as executor of her estate. Can I charge a fee?

Yes, you may likely be able to charge a fee in California for the executor work you perform on your mother’s estate. California does have legal requirements and limitations, however, so it is not an unfettered right to charge whatever you see fit.

As reported by MarketWatch, the California Probate Code, provides for a staggered fee structure.

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