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Estate Planning Q & A

If you have not created a will or trust, you are not alone. Many Orange County residents have not participated in any meaningful estate planning. This can prove problematic if you become incapacitated because of a serious injury or illness. Without estate planning, your assets could end up under court guardianship and your family could struggle to get the support they need. Furthermore, if you suddenly die before filing out at least some basic estate planning documents, your assets will be distributed according to state laws and not in a way that you or your family wants. Here are a few common questions and answers to help you get started:

What is estate planning?

Estate planning is the procedure that determines how an individual’s assets will be distributed after he or she passes away. Estate planning can be as simple as a will or it can involve a living trust, charitable remainder trusts, life insurance trusts, and a number of other methods to ensure that your family receives your assets and not the government.

What happens if I don’t plan?

The state of California has a plan in place called an interstate succession. If you do not file any of your own paperwork, state laws will determine who will receive your estate. Having a will or trust is a way to make your own decisions about your assets.

Is estate planning only for the rich?

No. You want your assets to go to your family if something happens to you. It doesn’t matter if you are wealthy or not. You probably would rather your family receive your assets than the courts.

How old do you have to be to set up estate planning?

Many Orange County residents make the mistake of waiting until they are old to discuss estate planning. You must plan ahead to protect your family, no matter how young and healthy you are.

Do I need a will or trust?

If the value of your total estate is less than $150,000, your estate will not be probated. So a will may be all that you need. You might also want to consider an advance health care directive and a power of attorney document. This will make it easier for your family after your death. If your estate is valued over $150,000, having an estate plan can help you avoid probate and federal estate taxes. A will is not enough to help you avoid probate and it will not affect federal estate taxes.

Do you need an attorney?

An Orange County estate planning attorney can guide you through the filing process and ensure that your assets are protected. Some people try to draw up their own estate plan online, but if mistakes are made, all that planning will be for nothing. There are many steps you must take to ensure that your plan is official. For example, California requires two witnesses for a will, while in other states, a notarization is all that is needed. There are different laws to consider and guidance is often needed to ensure that everything is in order.