Estate Planning



Dimitriou & Associates, P.C. represents attorneys and others in estate planning and probate administration matters.  We engage our collective tax and litigation expertise to assist our clients in reaching their financial goals, such as transfers of wealth, present-day tax benefits, and minimization of the risk of third party liability.  Our counselors focus on maximizing available assets in order to achieve wealth preservation and transfer goals.

Estate planning is an important step for everyone, regardless of age or financial circumstances.  In order to have an effective estate plan, we encourage our clients to review their plan regularly and make updates whenever a significant change occurs.  Changes that may affect an estate plan include marriage, birth or adoption of children, purchase or sale of a home, receipt of inheritance, or other acquisition or loss of assets.

For seniors, we recommend a brochure from the State Bar of California entitled Seniors and the Law.

If you are considering setting up an estate plan, our counselors can assist you in determining:

  • How and by whom your assets will be managed for your benefit during your lifetime if you ever become unable to manage them yourself;
  • When and under what circumstances it makes sense to distribute your assets during your lifetime;
  • How and to whom your assets will be distributed after your death; and
  • How and by whom your personal care will be managed and how health care decisions will be made during your lifetime if you become unable to care for yourself.

Although there is a common misconception that estate planning merely requires drafting a will, the process often involves much more than that.  Estate planning generally includes financial, tax, medical, and business planning.  At Dimitriou & Associates, we handle all of the following:

Wills

A will is a legal document in which you give certain instructions to be carried out after your death. Instructions cover everything from the distribution of your assets to the choice of guardians for children. A will designates:

  • Your beneficiaries. You may name beneficiaries to receive your assets. Beneficiaries are usually family members, spouse, domestic partner, friends, or charitable organizations. You may direct specific gifts, such as jewelry or a sum of money, to particular people.  You should also state how any left-over assets should be distributed.
  • A guardian for your minor children. You may nominate a person to be responsible for your child’s personal care if you and your spouse die before the child turns 18.You may also name a guardian to be responsible for managing the child’s assets until he or she is 18 years old.
  • An executor. You may nominate a person or institution to administer your will. The executor plays an important and time-consuming role, including: collecting and managing your assets; paying any debts, expenses, and taxes that might be due; and distributing your assets to the beneficiaries, according to your will.

A will “speaks” at death, so it can be changed as often as desired prior to death.  If you die without a will (“intestate”), California law will determine the beneficiaries of your estate.

Living Wills

The term “living will” is a misnomer.  The use of this term sometimes means a trust which will operate during the lifetime.  Alternatively, it can sometimes indicate a durable power of attorney or advance health care directive.

Trusts

A trust is a written legal document that can substitute for a will.  There are two main types of trusts that apply in the estate planning context: intervivos trusts (“living trusts”) and testamentary trusts.

Intervivos Trusts (Living Trusts)

With an intervivos trust, you can place your assets into a trust whenever you are ready. During your life, you (or someone you name) can manage the trust for your own benefit; and after your death, your property can be distributed to your beneficiaries without the need for probate.

Testamentary Trusts

A testamentary trust is set up through instructions in a will. The trust is not established until after the will has gone through probate. Once the trust is established, a trustee manages it for the benefit of the beneficiaries you named.

Testamentary trusts do not address the management of assets during your lifetime. However, they can provide for young children and others who would need someone to manage their assets after your death.

Durable Powers of Attorney

Our counselors recommend that all our clients have a durable power of attorney, designating an agent or attorney-in-fact to make financial decisions and manage assets on their behalf if they become unable to do so.

If you do not have a power of attorney and you become unable to make sound decisions or care for yourself, a court may appoint a court-supervised conservator to manage your affairs and be responsible for your care. Conservatorships can be more cumbersome, expensive and time-consuming than the appointment of attorneys-in-fact under powers of attorney.

A durable power of attorney permits another person to act for you. The agent (or attorney-in-fact) has no duty to act unless you and the agent agree otherwise in writing.

This durable power of attorney gives the agent power to manage, dispose of, sell, and convey your real and personal property, and to use your property as security if the agent borrows money on your behalf. This power exists even in the event of your disability or incapacity It is vital to obtain trusted advice from experienced legal counsel prior to arranging for a durable power of attorney.

Advance Health Care Directives

Estate planning can include an advance health care directive, which is a legal document that contains your wishes concerning life-sustaining treatment, other health care issues, organ donation, disposition of remains, and your funeral. By setting up an advance health care directive or durable power of attorney for health care, you can also designate an attorney-in-fact to make health care decisions for you if you ever become unable to make such decisions.

Asset Protection

Asset protection is an over-arching concept in estate planning, encompassing numerous business, tax, and legal techniques for protecting assets from creditors to the maximum extent allowed by law and ethics.

Probate

The probate process has advantages and disadvantages. The probate court is accustomed to resolving disputes about the distribution of assets fairly quickly through a process with defined rules. In addition, the probate court reviews the executor’s handling of each estate, which can help protect the beneficiaries’ interests.

One disadvantage, however, is that probate matters are not private; your estate plan and the value of your assets will become a public record. Also, because lawyer’s fees and executor’s commissions are based on a statutory fee schedule, a probate may cost more than the management and distribution of a comparable estate under a living trust. Time can be a factor as well; a probate proceeding generally takes longer than the administration of a living trust. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of probate administration with an estate planning lawyer before making any decisions regarding your estate plan.

Seek Advice from Experienced Legal Counsel

Before you make any decisions about your estate planning, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each option with an experienced estate planning attorney. At Dimitriou & Associates, P.C., our counselors have significant expertise in estate planning and probate. In particular, we regularly advise attorneys and other professionals on the creation of estate plans that fully address their needs. To learn more about our services, contact our office today.

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