Estate News --- Observations of a Trust and Probate Attorney

Sunday, September 13, 2015

You Can Do A Pet Trust Too

Joan Rivers Estate Included a Pet Trust

When a celebrity passes away, will and trust lawyers often watch for news of their affairs, hoping that the celebrity in question had a great estate plan in place.  With the recent loss of comedian Joan Rivers, it was reassuring to see that she had planned well for her loved ones, including her pets.

At the time of her death, Rivers’ estate was worth approximately $150 million, and she clearly knew that estate planning was no joking matter.  Most of her assets were left to her daughter Melissa and her grandson Cooper.  However, the celebrity also took the additional step of setting up a pet trust for her four dogs.

How Pet Trusts Work

Pet trusts have become somewhat popular these days, which is great news for companion animals who have been left behind.  Not only will the person creating the trust designate a guardian for the pets, he or she will also set aside funds for the animals’ upkeep.  There is also a trustee named who is in charge of the financial aspects of the trust.  In some cases, the guardian or caretaker is also the trustee, but in others a separate person is designated.  The trustee disperses funds to the guardian, lessening the likelihood of the guardian misusing the money for his or her own benefit.  An additional safeguard is to photograph or microchip your pets so that fraud cannot be committed later.

Better Than a Will

While your will and trust lawyer may still encourage you to have a will in order to disperse your estate, those wanting to provide for their pets are probably better off creating an additional pet trust.  Animals are not allowed to own property, so leaving anything to a pet via your will is unlikely to work.  Instead, a pet trust is set up specifically for the animal’s benefit while having the oversight and management of actual humans.

The terms of trusts are not typically made public (one of the reasons will and trust lawyers like them so much), so it’s not really known how much Joan Rivers provided in her pet trust.  What is known is that her long-time assistant Jocelyn Pickett will be the dogs’ caretaker.  Many organizations are excited about the fact that such a high-profile celebrity has created a pet trust, hoping that it brings awareness to the possibility and improves the lives of animals whose owners pass away.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Stretch IRA Tax Free Growth

Make Your Estate Plan Go Further with a Stretch IRA 

One of the important things to discuss with your estate planning lawyer is the topic of your IRA.  Because estate planning lawyers work so extensively with these plans, they can usually offer insight into how best to utilize them.  For many people, the IRA will be left to their beneficiaries, and if done right, you can significantly increase the amount of money the beneficiary will receive.  For that reason, your estate planning lawyer might recommend a “Stretch IRA.”

How a Stretch IRA Works

The “stretch” part of the IRA refers to how it pays out to your beneficiaries.  The math can get a little complicated, but an estate planning lawyer should be able to walk you through how it works.  Basically, instead of getting a lump sum upon your death, the beneficiary takes payments over a long period of time.  So, if you’ve got a $100,000 IRA, you can choose for the beneficiary to receive it all at once or to spread it out.  If that doesn’t necessarily sound helpful, keep reading.

As the beneficiary is taking out small amounts, the remainder is still tax-deferred and growing.  Over the course of 50 years, the beneficiary could potentially receive payments totaling more than $1 million! If a grandchild is listed as a beneficiary of a Stretch IRA, the payouts over a lifetime can add up even more.  Estate planning lawyers are helping clients put together plans that utilize this process to leave behind far more than they would have otherwise.

Making It Happen

The fact of the matter is that many beneficiaries don’t take the stretch option.  The vast majority of IRAs are cashed out within the first year. If you’re really looking to encourage your beneficiaries to get the most from your gift, you may want to discuss setting up a trust with your <insert city> estate planning lawyer. These types of trusts go by several different names, including but not limited to:

  • IRA Stretch Trust
  • Retirement Benefits Trust
  • Stand Alone IRA Trust

While it may be less exciting to receive payments over a long period of time than to get a large lump sum all at once, the stretch option allows for the beneficiary to receive a significantly larger amount of money that can help them repeatedly over the course of a lifetime, rather than just once.

An IRA Stretch Trust might not be for everyone, but it is definitely one of the options that a good <insert city> lawyer will be able to discuss with you to help you make the appropriate choices for your estate.


Monday, September 7, 2015

Special Needs Planning for Special People

Trustee Fees as Part of Special Needs Planning

In order to ensure proper use of funds, special needs planning lawyers help their clients choose a trustee.  This person is put in charge of the special needs trust, and instead of providing money directly to the beneficiary (the child with special needs), the trustee will usually pay directly from the trust to service providers, housing officials, etc.  Some trusts are set up with the parents and the special needs planning lawyer in a way that provides payment to the trustee for taking on these responsibilities.

Sometimes, there is no mention of a fee in the trust paperwork, but the trustee is still entitled to payment, if desired.  There are several factors that should go into determining an suitable fee, whether it is stipulated in advance by those creating the trust or it is later determined that one is needed.  The complexity of the trust is certainly one of those considerations.  If there are numerous investments that need to be managed, for example, it would be appropriate to pay the trustee for the time and expertise involved.

The types of services the trustee provides also play into determining the fee.  More complex tasks, like the investment management mentioned above, would likely be paid at a higher rate than less complicated ones, such as paying monthly bills.  The trustee would be responsible for tracking his or her time, along with the service, in order to determine a fair fee. 

Occasionally, a trustee will pay for a good or service from personal money.  When that happens, the trustee can expect to be reimbursed out of the special needs trust by providing a receipt for money spent on the beneficiary’s behalf.  This type of payment is separate from the trustee’s fee and would not be treated the same.  That’s because the trustee’s fee is taxed as income.  On the trust’s end of things, the fee is a tax deduction.

Special needs planning lawyers in are continually looking for the best ways to serve their clients and provide for the future.  Having a trustee in place is one method to ensure that funds are being used appropriately, and paying that trustee can be one way to ensure the job gets done right.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Business Lawyers & Estate Planning

Business Planning Attorneys in Recommend Living Trusts

Business attorneys see again and again how folks under appreciate just what they can do to protect their businesses through estate planning.  After spending years building a solid business, it should almost go without saying that you want to protect what you’ve created.  One way is to work with a business planning attorney to create a living trust.

A living trust gives you the ability to legally transfer your business or shares of it when the time comes.  One advantage that is not to be overlooked here is the fact that the assets in the living trust won’t be subjected to the probate process.  This allows for a much smoother transition—one in which you have a significant say.  Of course, taking this step with your business attorney now can also save a whole lot of money that would have been spent in that probate process, too.

A lot of business owners also find that avoiding probate is good for the health of their company for non-financial reasons.  When a business or estate goes through probate, the information that comes out of the situation is made public.  This can be damaging to a business, whether through reputation or the sharing of information that should be held in confidentiality. 

The living trust is something that can be used not only in the event of your death, but also if you happen to become incapacitated by illness or injury.  Because you’re the one setting the trust up, you have the opportunity to set out the parameters for it, within legal bounds.  In a best-case-scenario, you will already have a succession plan in place and will have prepared that person for the job.  Unfortunately, things like this don’t always follow the best case scenario, which is why your business attorney will probably encourage you to share the pertinent details of the trust with your successor.

In consulting a business attorney during this process, you can put yourself, your business, and your heirs in the best possible position.  The lawyer will be able to ensure that the terms of the trust are in synch, not only with California law, but also with any legal obligations that are a part of your organization’s policies and procedures.  Putting the trust together well in advance of a catastrophic event and under the direction of your lawyer also helps to strengthen it so that your wishes will be followed.

You’ve worked really hard to create a successful enterprise, and you likely hope it will endure without you.  Asking your local business attorney to help set up a living trust is an excellent way to do exactly that!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Managing Your Parents Finances

Elder Law Attorney: When You Must Manage Your Elderly Parent’s Finances


Elder law attorneys  very often find themselves advising adult children of the elderly on the intricacies of managing their parents’ finances.  While it may seem straightforward at first, there are a lot of details and difficulties that can get in the way.  There are so many things to coordinate, and often the parent is less than helpful in the process.  Being somewhat prepared and having access to an experienced elder law or estate lawyer in <insert city> are two of the ways you can help avoid some of the more common pitfalls, such as:


  • Memory Loss – Memory loss is prevalent among the elderly, and it’s actually one of the big reasons that adult children are called in to take over finances.Unfortunately, it also makes the job that much more difficult because the parent isn’t able to answer important questions such as “How much do you owe?” or “When is this bill due?”
  • Role Reversal – For the majority of the adult child’s life, the parent has been in charge.Taking over and being firm with the parent can be more than a little uncomfortable.On top of that, it can be frustrating and cause resentment to see the person who taught you so much no longer following their own advice.
  • Lack of Information – Your parent may have chosen to be forthcoming about finances with an elder law lawyer here in <insert city>, but that doesn’t mean that they want to let their children in on all the financial details of their life.Previous generations found it improper to discuss money, resulting in an air of secrecy that can be difficult to break through.

So, how should you deal with these obstacles?


As with so many other aspects of life, the best way to deal with problems is to avoid them altogether.  The earlier you and your parent start meeting with a local elder law attorney that you trust, the more likely you are to get the information you need.  As an added bonus, your parent will have the ability to make his or her wishes known in order to offer guidance on how to handle their affairs if and when all of the responsibility is passed on to you.


No matter what stage the parent is at, the subject needs to be approached.  Again, earlier is better, as the parent is more likely to understand the importance of what is happening.  You may choose to start the conversation by relating it to your own estate planning or by bringing up a situation you heard about recently, such as the death of a celebrity.  A good attorney can offer suggestions on how to bring up the subject, as well as how to help steer the conversation in the right direction.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

7 Reasons to Update Your Estate Plan

7 Signs that It’s Time to Update Your Estate Plan

So, you and your  estate planning lawyer have put together a great plan for you.  Congratulations!  You are ahead of the majority of the population already.  Keep in mind, however, that even though the hard part is done, there is some maintenance that you and your attorney will want to do from time to time.  Your life and circumstances will likely change over the years, and you’ll want your estate plan to change accordingly.

Some of the changes that should precipitate a call to your estate planning lawyer are fairly obvious, but they can still be overlooked.  After all, who has a baby and then thinks, “I should call my lawyer” in their sleep-deprived state?  For that reason, it’s a good idea to do the occasional mental inventory to see if you’ve undergone any of these life changes since you last updated your estate plan:

  1. You got married.While a spouse does often inherit by default, there are a lot of other considerations to make.As a bonus, your estate planning lawyer will likely have great suggestions on how to adjust your plan in order to save your spouse on taxes and other time and money concerns when dealing with your estate.
  2. You got divorced.If you don’t want your ex-spouse to receive your property upon your death, it’s worth your while to get together with your estate planning lawyer to make sure the ex’s name is removed as a beneficiary of accounts and policies, taken out of the will, removed from trusts, etc.
  3. You’ve been widowed.When one spouse passes away, the other will need to update his or her estate plan to reflect that change.Not only will your beneficiaries likely change, but you may also have an inheritance from your spouse that now needs to be incorporated into your own estate plan.
  4. You had a child or grandchild.The birth or adoption of a new family member means that aspects of your estate plan may need to be changed to accommodate new needs.For example, you may want to create a college fund or set up a trust.Also, it’s very important to have your estate planning lawyer draw up legal guardianship papers to determine who will care for your child should you be unable to do so yourself.
  5. Your financial situation has changed.Whether you’ve received some sort of windfall, gotten a significant increase in pay, or have lost your job, it is important to review your estate plan to determine if it provides for these changes.If not, you’ll need your lawyer to adjust it appropriately.
  6. You’ve purchased real estate.A home often represents an individual’s biggest life investment, and you want to be sure to cover it in your estate plan.From how to pay it off to whom you want to leave it to and plenty in between, an estate planning lawyer will help incorporate this big change into your existing plan.
  7. You started (or ended) a business.Starting or ending a business warrants a trip to the estate planning lawyer’s office for plenty of reasons, not the least of which is that it will certainly have some sort of effect on your financial situation.Succession planning is another big aspect of running a business, as you’ll want to clearly outline what is to happen to the biz if you die or become otherwise incapacitated.A little legal stuff now will save big headaches later.

There are, of course, other events that should likely trigger a call or visit to your estate planning lawyer, but these seven are some of the biggest.  Fortunately, with the major estate planning done, these types of updates will typically be fairly easy while benefitting you and your heirs greatly.

Friday, August 14, 2015

3 Estate Planning Myths

Three Estate Planning Myths: True or False

Inland Empire estate planning lawyers eat, sleep, and breathe estate planning and see pretty much every kind of situation unfold.  Clearly, individuals who have taken the time to create a solid estate plan nearly always fare better than those who do not.  Still, there are a whole lot of myths and misunderstandings floating around that stop people from making the choice to protect their futures with an estate planning lawyer’s assistance.

In an effort to help as many people as possible, it is incredibly important to tackle these myths head-on and to debunk those that just aren’t true.

T or F:  Estate plans are just for those with lots of assets.

The answer is false.  So many people end up unknowingly damaging their estates and hurting their heirs because they just don’t think they have “enough stuff” to justify an estate plan.  This myth absolutely needs to be debunked!  As long as you own something, there will be a legal process in order to determine what to do with it after you die.  This process (probate) is not only long and drawn out, but it also costs money!  That money comes from the estate itself, meaning that those precious few assets you wanted to pass on could actually end up being sold in order to pay for probate and taxes.  Fortunately, working with an estate planning lawyer ahead of time allows you the opportunity to protect your assets using whatever tools are appropriate for your situation.

T or F:  You don’t need an estate plan as long as your family knows your wishes.

The answer is false.  There are a couple of problems that Chino Valley estate planning lawyers encounter with this line of thinking.  First, and probably most importantly, is that just because you and/or your family wants things to happen in a certain way, there’s no guarantee they will.  Instead of your loved ones following your wishes, they will be forced to follow the laws of the state—even if these go completely against what you wanted.  Additionally, everyone experiences grief differently, and even though your child or other loved one knows your preferences, he or she may find ways to subvert them for their own gain.  The best way to avoid both of these kinds of drama is to work with an estate planning lawyer in Chino who knows how to ensure that things go the way you want as a matter of law.

T or F:  Trust funds are for more than passing on money.

The answer is true.  While we may have certain ideas about trust funds as a result of watching too many movies, a whole lot of people aren’t clear on what they can really do.  For example, your  estate planning lawyer can help you set up a trust in order to limit the taxes your estate (and heirs) will have to pay later.  They also provide you with a big say in how your heirs are able to use the money—do you want them to have free rein, to pay for an education, or to give the money to charity?  These are just some of the ways trusts are often used.

Even if you don’t have a ton of assets, a skilled estate planning lawyer can help you create a roadmap that will be followed by both the courts and those you’ve left behind.  From avoiding probate and excessive taxes to ensuring that your grandkids go to college, working with an estate planning lawyer in your area is the first step in protecting what you hold dear.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Can the Creditors Collect from My Children

What Happens to Debt When Someone Dies in the Chino Valley?

Will and estate lawyers in the Chino Valley are becoming intimately aware of their clients’ financial situations, and it’s just a fact of life that many people have considerable debt.  Whether it is the person setting up an estate plan or one who has inherited from it, there are often questions regarding what happens to that debt.  Does money come out of the estate for medical bills?  Are adult children responsible for credit cards?  What happens to the mortgage?

As with so many aspects of law, the answers are somewhat complex, but here’s a basic look at what you and your will and estate lawyer might expect to see:

  • Mortgage – When a home is inherited, its mortgage usually is, too.That’s not to say that banks won’t work with the heir, but they will expect payments to be made.In cases where the mortgage is more than the home is worth, the bank may allow it to be sold on a “short sale” (meaning for less than what is owed), and the heir will probably not be required to pay the difference.
  • Taxes – If property is left behind, there will likely be taxes owed on it.The individual may also have some unpaid income taxes that need to be taken care of out of the estate.Taxes are usually one of the highest priorities, needing to be paid before other debts.
  • Medical – This is an area where things can get a little dicey, so definitely work with an estate planning lawyer in to minimize the amount of medical debt left behind.Medi-Cal debt will need to be repaid from the estate, and the state can place a lien on the deceased’s house in order to get the money.Again, the responsibility for medical and nursing home expenses is very complex and should be taken to a lawyer.
  • Credit Cards – As long as you aren’t a co-signer on a credit card, you aren’t personally responsible for them.The companies can call the executor in order to collect from the estate, although there is a finite time frame in which to do so.

So, some debts must be paid from the estate, but others can haunt family members.  Remember, too, that when a debt is paid for by the estate, it lowers the overall amount that is left to be inherited. A good will and estate lawyer will help you deal with this issue properly when the time comes, or help you proactively plan ahead by working to limit the value of your estate while protecting its assets using legal tools such as trusts.  To discover all of your option when dealing with the debt of an estate, contact a local will and estate lawyer.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Intangible Assets -- The Most Important Assets

Incorporating Intangible Assets into Your  Estate Planning

Will and estate lawyers  are charged with a number of tasks when it comes to wealth management, retirement planning, and setting up wills and trusts.  For the most part, clients are concerned with their money and other assets, which makes sense.  After all, no one really wants to pay more taxes than are necessary, and it’s important to pass on family money and heirlooms.

All of these tasks are essential, but there are other ways in which you may want to utilize your will and estate lawyer’s expertise.  Many people are now choosing to add “intangible assets” to their estate plans.  These are items that may not have any monetary value but that can help to truly build a legacy.

Intangible assets such as personal letters you’ve written to loved ones, a recorded family history, or other types of messages can become a part of your estate’s trust, with the lawyer delivering them at the appropriate times.  This idea can be especially interesting to someone facing a terminal illness earlier in life.  A young mother, for example, could create a video of herself giving her children advice and then have those videos delivered after her death when her children meet certain milestones in their own lives such as graduation, marriage, or becoming parents themselves.

While there is no dollar amount attached to intangible assets, they can become some of the most treasured parts of your estate.  Just because you can’t be there for a grandchild’s big day doesn’t mean you can’t offer your love and support, to share your pride and happiness, to offer advice and guidance.

Here are some of the things that  will and estate lawyers have seen left as intangible assets:

  • Annual birthday cards or recorded greetings
  • Congratulations on life events
  • Stories from the deceased’s life (oral or written)
  • The deceased reading bed-time stories to kids or grandkids
  • Handwritten cards or letters
  • Life lessons that should be passed down
  • Video instructions of how to do something (make a favorite recipe, for example)

You may also be interested in creating a video will. Your  will and estate lawyer will want to make sure you have everything written down according to state and other laws, but there is no reason that you cannot make a recording of yourself reading the will, perhaps even adding in the reasons for your decisions or the hopes you have for your beneficiaries. 

A video will serves another purpose, too, as it can be used to show that you were competent when you made your will.  Estate planning lawyers do have to occasionally deal with family members and others challenging a will, so your video reading could be an important way to ensure that your wishes really are followed.  Whether you are looking to develop intangible assets or to create a video will, your  will and estate lawyer is a great resource in how to get it done properly.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Do You Need a Local Probate Lawyer?

Do You Need a Local Probate Lawyer?

Local probate lawyers have a pretty complex job to do, and it can be even more difficult because of the fact that many people don’t really even know what the probate process is.  This isn’t all that surprising, as by the time a person needs probate, it’s because he or she has passed away.  That means that someone else needs to be in charge.

Probate is the court process that happens when a deceased person’s estate is administered.  There are a lot of steps to the process, which is just one of the reasons that those left behind find it so helpful to work with an experienced probate lawyer locally.  He or she can help to make sure that these steps are being followed in accordance with the law and to their client’s best advantage.

Different states generally have different probate laws, which is one of the reasons it’s so important for <insert state> residents to work with an attorney from our state.  If the decedent held property in other states, it’s quite likely that an additional probate lawyer from that area will need to be consulted, as well.

A lot of people would prefer to avoid probate altogether, and they may have worked with an estate planning lawyer to try and make this happen.  Why would they go to that trouble?

  • It can take a very long time for an estate to make it all the way through the probate process.
  • Everything revealed in probate becomes public knowledge.
  • Probate costs can eat away at the value of an estate.

A good local probate lawyer will do his or her best to expedite the process, minimize discomfort, and protect assets as much as possible.  Perhaps one of his or her most important jobs is simply to talk individuals through this unfamiliar landscape and to help set reasonable expectations for those who haven’t dealt with the process before.

During probate, the courts will name a representative for the decedent and will then charge that person with compiling an inventory of assets.  The probate lawyer will be very helpful in figuring out how to do this.  Based on current law, the courts will determine how assets are to be distributed, including to pay off debts.  If there is a will, this will be taken into consideration.  Many folks don’t realized that even if they have a will, the estate will still go through probate. 

There are other alternatives in estate planning, however, that can keep an estate out of the process.  For those who need it, though, an experienced local probate lawyer can make a huge difference in the outcome.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Estate Planning Can Be a Royal Pain

Bad Estate Planning Decisions Can Be a Royal Pain


It seems that nearly everyone is interested in the lives of the British royal family, and now estate planning lawyers have theirs piqued, too.  In September, Prince Harry—Princess Diana’s youngest son—turned 30.  With his birthday came access to the rest of his inheritance from his late mother.  It’s not his birthday that is of such interest, rather the fact that Princess Diana had clearly expressed her desire that he receive her assets five years ago. 


That’s right, Princess Diana’s own estate planning wishes were not followed, and it’s all because of a handwritten letter.  She had stated in her will that her directions should be followed “…as soon as possible but not later than two years following my death…”  She also stated that the directions to be followed could also come in the form of “memorandum or notes of wishes of mine.”  The next day, she wrote a Letter of Wishes that laid out how she wanted various assets to be distributed.


Because of certain wording used in the letter, the distribution of many of these assets was successfully postponed by the executors of her estate—her mother and sister.  In the Letter of Wishes, Diana directed that her assets be held in trust for her two sons and 17 godchildren.  The princes were to receive 2/3 of her property at the age of 25, and the other ¼ was to be divided among the godchildren.  Instead of sticking with the obviously clear intent of the letter, the executors quietly went to court and had things changed.  They were able to do this because the Letter of Wishes allowed them to use their discretion.


And their discretion included only giving one piece of jewelry to each godchild (instead of their share of the 25% of Princess Diana’s personal property) and keeping Harry and William’s inheritance in trust until the youngest reached 30.  In the 17 years since her death, all of her personal property was held in a collection by Diana’s brother who earned money by charging people to view it.


So, what is the lesson that estate planning lawyers here in <insert city> want our clients to learn?  Always work with your estate planning lawyer to double check the language and legality of any amendment to your estate plan.  If Princess Diana’s clearly-worded Letter of Wishes could be dismissed because of a few words, we non-royals probably need to be extra careful.  While Prince William and Prince Harry didn’t struggle to make ends meet, that might not be the case for your heirs.  Double check all amendments with your <insert city> estate planning lawyer to make sure they’ll hold up.


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Brock, Robinson & Associates assists clients with Estate Planning, Wills, Trusts, Special Needs Planning, Pet Trusts, Probate & Estate Administration, and Family Business Preservation in Chino, California as well as Chino Hills, Inland Empire, Pomona, Rancho Cucamonga, Ontario, Montclair, Diamond Bar, West Covina, Covina, Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne, Claremont Fontana, Riverside, Colton, Corona, San Bernardino, Redlands, Orange, Brea, Yorba Linda, Fullerton, Hacienda Heights, Eastvale, Norco, Mira Loma, Alta Loma, Upland, Rialto, Highland, Loma Linda and Grand Terrace in San Bernardino County, Los Angeles County and Orange County.

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