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Torrance Elder Law Blog

How can I give to charity after my death?

If you are a charitable person who likes to give to the unfortunate or to causes you believe in, then the chances are pretty good you would like one of your final acts on this earth to be giving to charity. You do have the ability to include a donation in your estate plan in California. However, you want to plan any charitable giving carefully to avoid any issues for your heirs or in the execution of the donation.

Fidelity explains that you have the right to give to a charity in your estate plan or will. However, you should keep in mind that your estate must also pay off debts you had at death. You need to make sure that you deduct your debts from your assets so you know how much money you have left to give. You do not want to leave too much to a charity so your estate is left in the red.

What is inheritance theft?

When you create an estate plan in California, you set things up for when you die. The plan outlines your wishes and creates a legally binding guideline for your executor to follow when dispersing assets. However, there are a few ways that an estate plan could end up doing harm or causing issues. This is especially true when inheritance theft occurs.

The Hartford explains inheritance theft is any situation where someone takes from an estate. This could happen in a seemingly legal manner. For example, if someone encourages or leads you to leave them your assets instead of leaving them to your rightful heirs, this could be theft. This person is conning you just to get your estate. It could also happen through other means of deception, such as the creation of false documents.

As executor, you are entitled to compensation for closing estate

When a loved one passes away, it is most likely that his or her estate will need to go through the probate process. As someone who had a close relationship to the decedent, the person may have named you as executor of the estate. By holding this position, you will have the obligation of executing the instructions your family member left behind in his or her will and other estate planning documents.

Probate and closing an estate can take months or even years to complete. Because of the many tasks involved, you may consider acting as executor a job, and thinking of it in this manner is wise. You have to make sure that you complete the process correctly, do not breach your fiduciary duty and follow your loved one's wishes. Of course, having a job also means that you get paid.

Debt after death

People who live in California and must manage the estate of a loved one or who are making their own estate plans should have a good understanding of what exactly happens to a person's debt after they die. After a person dies, most people tend to put energy focusing on the distribution of assets to heirs. However, while most debts do not get passed down to one's children or other surviving heirs, they must be addressed.

As explained by WalletHub, all debts associated with a person's estate must be settled before the transfer of any assets. There are some exceptions like the payment of life insurance benefits. Since assets can and must be used to pay debts, this may reduce the overall value of the estate and therefore reduce how much any heirs may receive.

What if transfers of property fail?

The main purpose estate planning experts have in recommending that you create a will early on in your life is to ensure that whatever assets and properties constitute your estate are dispersed in the manner that you want them to. You, then, will no doubt put a good deal of time and effort into deciding which of your beneficiaries will receive what. Yet even the best-laid plans cannot always guarantee that things work out as you anticipate, and certain intended transfers of property stipulated in your estate planning documents will fail. What happens then? 

A question that may need to be answered first is why would a transfer of property fail? There are actually a number of reasons why this may happen. The party you intended to receive property may have themselves passed away, or they may be in a position where they cannot manage the ownership of it. There also may be situations where they simply refuse the gift. 

What are beneficiary designations?

If you have a life insurance policy or retirement account, you’ll need to include them in the estate planning process. This requires filling in the beneficiary designations, which allow you to name heirs to receive the proceeds of these accounts. The Balance explains a few key points regarding beneficiary designations so you can rest assured your final wishes are met.

Beneficiary designations take precedence over wills and trusts and can also help you avoid probate. Even if you include language about these assets in other estate planning documents you must fill out the accompanying form on respective accounts. Additionally, you should revisit all estate planning documents on a regular basis to ensure they still meet your needs. If a will and beneficiary designations differ, the court will use the information listed on the latter form.

Defining nonprobate transfers

Like most in Los Angeles, you likely assume that the disposition of a loved one's assets following their death has to be done through the probate process. Many come to us here at The Law Office of Matthew C. Yu with the same assumption, only to learn that nonprobate transfers are indeed allowed (under certain circumstances). The key to understanding if such a transfer of assets is permissible in an estate case that you are party to is understanding what those unique circumstances are. 

Section 5000 of the California Probate Code designates the instruments commonly authorizing nonprobate transfers to include: 

  • Insurance policies, employee benefit plans and employment contracts
  • Individual retirement plans, compensation plans and pension plans
  • Bonds, mortgages and promissory notes 
  • Account agreements and deposit agreements
  • Conveyances and deeds of gift
  • Marital property agreements and custodial agreements 

Probate court rules in favor of slain woman's husband

Assertions of one having killed their loved one in order to inherit their estate may seem to many in Los Angeles to be an overused cliche. However, enough incidents of this actually happening have occurred to compel legislators to create laws that automatically disinherit would-be heirs who are implicated in the deaths of those they are set to benefit from. The question then becomes how broadly can the term "implicated in" be applied? 

The family of a slain Georgia woman is trying to invoke just such a statute in trying to revoke her former husband's request to probate her will. The woman was killed when the man's new girlfriend kidnapped her at gunpoint and then shot her before turning her weapon on herself. The man has denied any involvement in the plot, and he has never faced any criminal scrutiny related to it. 

Interpreting the language of wills

Despite the encouragement coming from estate planning experts both in Los Angeles and throughout the rest of the U.S., many still refuse to address the important issues of estate planning. Indeed, according to information collected by Gallup, only 44 percent of American adults have a will. The reasons behind this collective reticence may vary, yet some might fear the possibility of contention arising amongst their beneficiaries over the decision they make regarding the dispersal of their estate. In many cases, even in those situations where one has created a will, disagreements can arise as to its interpretation. 

When a will is read, the one who wrote it (or at least authorized its creation) is not around to offer clarity as to their intent. Thus, it is left up to the interpretation of those who are party to it. Many may claim that the wording is too vague as to specify intent, or that the language used carried a different meaning for the testator. In such instances, one can see why guidance is needed in interpreting the language of wills. 

Dealing with small estates

There are enough horror stories out there related to the probate process to make it understandable that most in Los Angeles would prefer to never have to be involved in it. While many of the claims made in such tales may be baseless, there is some wisdom in the advice to try and avoid probate, if possible. It's expenses are paid for out of an estate's assets, thus lowering its overall value. Most think that one has to plan ahead of time in order to avoid probate, yet the question of whether an estate will even need to be probated should also be considered. 

Per information shared by the website NewRetirement.com, in 2015 the average American had $177,000 to leave behind to their heirs. Much of that may be in personal property rather than easily liquidable assets. Thus, affording the costs of probate can often be prohibitive to many beneficiaries. State probate courts also do not want to increase their caseloads unnecessarily with matters that likely need little in terms of resources to be resolved. Thus, most states have made laws addressing the probating of small estates. 

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