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3 Reasons to Hire a Probate Attorney

Estate Administration, ProbateNo Comments

help button 150x150 3 Reasons to Hire a Probate AttorneyIf you are an executor of an estate, you hopefully take the job seriously enough to want to do the best possible job – and to ensure that all your actions are in accordance with California law.

This can be a primary motivation for trying to do everything yourself, thinking you will be saving the estate money in the long run.  And while some simple estates can be administered without any professional help, there are three instances when it is in the best interest of an executor to hire a probate attorney:

When there is family discord.  Disagreements among family members over an estate can prove to be a major headache for an estate administrator.  If there is a potential for a will contest – a process that can drain assets from the estate and take a long time to settle – it will be better for all involved to involve an experienced probate lawyer.

When there is a lot of debt.  If the estate is financially sound, an executor will usually be able to satisfy all debts.  However, if an estate cannot pay its debts, the executor may find it difficult to make decisions about who gets paid what.  The law does give certain creditors priority over others, and a probate attorney can help you discern which debts should be paid first.

When the estate includes a business.  If the estate contains a business, it complicates the process – and the more complicated things get, the more you need professional guidance.  Business assets will likely need to be valued, managed or sold off, and you will welcome professional help if this is the case.

If you need help with estate administration or probate, contact our Orange County law firm.

The Dementia Dilemma: Will It Rob You of Your Inheritance?

Probate, WillsNo Comments

last will 150x150 The Dementia Dilemma: Will It Rob You of Your Inheritance?One-third of seniors die with some form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, including Alzheimer’s, which currently affects more than five million Americans.

Beyond the care giving burdens this places on a family, there are also increasing instances of seniors being exposed to financial exploitation because of their dementia, including signing assets over to people who normally would never inherit.

So what if your inheritance becomes a victim of an elderly relative’s dementia?  You will likely want to contest the will – and if you do, you need to find out the following:

Who wrote the will? Was the will prepared by an estate planning attorney already familiar to your family, or was it one of those wills downloaded from the Internet?

Was your relative taking any medications?  Some medications can cause memory loss.  In addition, knowing what medications your relative is currently taking can clue you in to a dementia diagnosis.

What do the medical records indicate?  If you have access to medical records, you will gain the necessary knowledge you may need to successfully challenge a questionable bequest, especially if your relative lacked the testamentary capacity to execute a new will.

What do care givers say?  If your relative was under the care of a professional healthcare worker, they will be able to attest to his or her ability to make decisions.

When was probate opened?  You have a limited time to contest a will in California.  If a probate petition has already been filed, you should file before the hearing on the petition.  You will need the help of a probate attorney to make your claim.

For more information on protecting an inheritance, contact our Orange County law firm.

What to Do When a Loved One Leaves Only Debt

ProbateNo Comments

debt e1360610282486 What to Do When a Loved One Leaves Only DebtThanks to the housing market crisis and the Great Recession, there are plenty of people who leave only debt behind when they die.  Here is what happens to major sources of debt after death:

Mortgage.  Since a mortgage is secured debt (secured by the home for which the loan is made), it is not forgiven when the borrower dies.  Instead, it becomes part of the decedent’s estate.  If the estate has cash to cover the remaining balance, the home can then be passed to heirs.  If not, you can work with the lender to assume the mortgage, refinance or sell the home to pay it off.  If you can’t pay it off, don’t want it or the house is underwater (more is owed than the home is worth), you can just walk away and let the lender foreclose.

Car loan.  The process here is similar to that for a mortgage, since a car loan is a secured debt as well.  You can either pay off the loan from the estate, sell the car to pay it off, or work with the lender to assume ownership.

Student loan.  Student loans that are federally insured are forgiven upon death.  Private student loans are not forgiven and pass to the estate for payment.

Personal loan.  Personal loans are typically unsecured, and do pass on to the estate.  If there are not sufficient assets in the estate to pay these, the estate executor usually takes what is available and pays a percentage to each debtor.

Credit card debt.  This is unsecured debt that passes to the estate for payment.  However, if there are not sufficient assets, then creditors are often out of luck – although many try to convince vulnerable family members that they owe the debt.  And in community property states like California, if a surviving spouse or child inherits community property, they may be liable for the debt.

When a family member dies, creditors should be notified immediately.  But your first step should be to consult with a probate attorney before any debts are paid out of an estate so you know exactly which debts the estate is liable for paying.

Let our Costa Mesa law office help you get started by contacting us today.

Ask These Questions Before Agreeing to Be an Executor

ProbateNo Comments

question2 150x150 Ask These Questions Before Agreeing to Be an ExecutorIf you have been asked to be the executor of a family member or close friend’s estate after they die, you might agree without really knowing what the job entails.  Many people have done so, to their lasting regret.

Being the executor of an estate is a big responsibility; before you take on the task, ask these questions:

Do you have the time?  Depending on the size of the estate, it can take anywhere from a year to several years to settle.  During that time, you will be responsible for administering all the assets, filing the proper paperwork with the court and the IRS and dealing with beneficiaries.

Do you have the knowledge?  If you are not financially minded, you might want to decline, since an executor is responsible for an accurate accounting of estate assets and attention to detail is a must.  Running an estate can be similar to running a small business; if you don’t have good management skills, you should pass.

Can you ask some tough questions?  Before agreeing to be an executor, you should ask the person some detailed questions about their financial condition – including about their assets and their debts – as well as their family dynamics.  If the thought of doing this makes you squirm, you should reconsider agreeing to serve.

The California probate code imposes many duties on an executor; if you have agreed to serve, you should consult with a probate attorney, who can guide you through this complicated process.

Contact our Orange County law firm for any questions you have about probate in California.

How to Protect the Dead Against Identity Theft

Identity Theft, ProbateNo Comments

grave stone e1320087233707 How to Protect the Dead Against Identity TheftTips On How To Prevent Identity Theft Of Deceased Family Members

According to an article in the March issue of AARP The Magazine, nearly 2.5 million deceased Americans are the subjects of identity theft every year.  Thieves gather personal information from obituaries, purchase the decedent’s Social Security number from an illegal website and file false tax returns to gain refunds or obtain new credit cards and rack up thousands of dollars in charges before anyone is the wiser.

To prevent this from happening to your family, here are some guidelines to protect assets following a loved one’s death:

Don’t list a birth date in the obituary; use an age instead.  Keep as many personal identifiers as possible out of the obituary (mother’s maiden name, birth place, etc.).

Send death certificate copies to the three credit reporting bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – and request that they place a “deceased alert” on the decedent’s credit report.

Send death certificate copies to the financial institutions where the decedent had accounts — banks, credit unions, insurance companies, brokers, mortgage companies, credit card companies, etc.  For joint accounts, remove the decedent’s name.  If you close an account, ask the financial institution to note on the closed account that the owner is deceased.

Notify Social Security of the death at 800-772-1213.

If the decedent was receiving a pension, notify the issuer.

Contact the local Dept. of Motor Vehicles to cancel the decedent’s driver’s license.

Check the credit report of the decedent a month following the death to see if there has been any suspicious activity.  You can get a free report at www.freecreditreport.com.

Contact our law firm in Orange County if you want more information regarding probate, estate administration and asset protection strategies to help preserve your wealth.

How to Choose the Right Person to Carry Out Your California Advance Health Care Directive

ProbateNo Comments

medical logo e1315341047144 How to Choose the Right Person to Carry Out Your California Advance Health Care DirectiveImportant Information Regarding A California Advance Health Care Directive

An advance health care directive allows you to assign someone to make medical decisions according to your wishes in the event that you are no longer able to speak for yourself. Most people name a spouse, close friend, or relative who knows them well.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing someone to serve as your agent:

  • Name an alternate in case your first choice is unavailable.
  • Be sure the person you choose is willing to serve and discuss your health care choices with them.
  • Consider someone who can be quickly contacted in an emergency; somebody in a different time zone or who travels a lot may not be a good choice.
  • Make sure you can trust your choice to carry out your wishes; it can be easier if that person’s beliefs align with yours.
  • Choose someone who is assertive enough to make sure your directives are followed; they may need to stand up to reluctant medical staff or relatives who do not want to follow your wishes.

An advance health care directive can allow or prohibit life-prolonging treatments if you have a terminal or irreversible end stage condition or are in a persistent vegetative state.  You will be doing yourself and the person you choose as your health care agent a great service if you inform the key people in your life about your preferences as well.

Contact the probate attorneys at Matsen Voorhees for assistance with setting up an advance health care directive or other estate planning protection strategies.  You will get sound advice for your probate needs from attorneys who are knowledgeable, professional, and responsive to your requests.

Still Good Reasons to Establish a Trust: Protect Assets, Avoid Probate and More

Asset Protection, California Trusts, ProbateNo Comments

trust1 e1319135794367 Still Good Reasons to Establish a Trust: Protect Assets, Avoid Probate and MoreCommentary from a Top Rated Estate Planning & Probate Lawyer in California

Trusts are fundamental estate planning tools that have been used for years by people wishing to protect their assets and ensure their safe passage on to heirs.  With the estate tax exclusion now set at $5.25 million per person for 2013 (and adjusted annually for inflation), some may think that a trust is no longer necessary to perform these valuable tasks.

However, there are still several good reasons for establishing a trust:

  • Trusts can allow you to pass on assets without having to go through probate.
  • Establishing a trust is usually much less expensive than the cost of probate.
  • Trusts provide everyone with a degree of privacy that is lost through probate.
  • Trusts can protect assets against creditors.
  • Trusts enable you to set rules on when and if a beneficiary will inherit assets.
  • Trusts guard against the vagaries of changing estate tax rules, shielding assets from potential taxes.

Even if your estate is modest, a trust can help you provide for your heirs today as well as for those in future generations.

Your California legal and financial planning experts are at your service; Contact us today.

California Estate Administration: What to Do When There’s a Death in the Family

ProbateNo Comments

funeral ribbon 150x150 California Estate Administration: What to Do When There’s a Death in the FamilyExpert Advice from California’s Top Probate Attorneys

A death in the family often imposes cruel demands on family members, not the least being the necessity to tackle a list of financial responsibilities.  Here is a list of the  most critical financial duties to perform in the days and weeks after a loved one dies:

Find the will.  It must be the original document, not a copy.

Locate information on assets and liabilities.  This may take some sleuthing if the decedent was not organized, and includes insurance policies, bank accounts, retirement accounts, investment accounts, pension plans, etc.

Contact employer.  If the decedent was still employed, contact his or her employer for information on 401(k) or other retirement accounts as well as any insurance benefits.

Monitor the mail.  Look for account and loan statements and bills.

Pay bills.  The executor named in the will (or by the court) will be responsible for paying the monthly bills from the estate, and will need to petition the court for “operating” expenses.

Tax returns.  The executor will also be responsible for filing tax returns on behalf of the estate.

Consult a lawyer.  Many people are uncomfortable handling an estate; an Orange County probate lawyer can assist executors with carrying out their legal duties.  At the very least, an executor should consult with a probate attorney to ensure what they are doing is correct.

Let our Costa Mesa law offices help you get started by contacting us today.

The Benefits of Avoiding Probate in California

ProbateNo Comments

gavel 2 e1319495176879 The Benefits of Avoiding Probate in CaliforniaExpert Guidance from America’s Top 100 Asset Protection Attorneys

There are two primary disadvantages of the California probate process:  time and money.  The California probate courts generally take an average of 7-9 months to settle an estate; a “quick” settlement in a small estate (estate value under $150,000) can take several months as well.

Probate can also be expensive, although the state of California has guidelines for reasonable compensation of probate attorneys and personal representatives.

California probate fees are based on the value of the estate and have been established as follows:

  • 4 percent of the first $100,000
  • 3 percent of the next $100,000
  • 2 percent of the next $800,000
  • 1 percent of the next $9 million
  • .5 percent of the next $15 million
  • Court-determined for estates over $25 million

Smart estate planning, including the use of a revocable living trust, can help your heirs avoid the time and expense of probate and ensure they inherit the funds you intend for them to receive in a timely manner.

Get started by contacting our Orange County asset protection estate planning law firm as soon as possible.

California Probate: What Happens to Credit Card Debt After Death?

ProbateNo Comments

debt e1360610282486 California Probate: What Happens to Credit Card Debt After Death?Expert Advice from the Best Probate Attorneys in California

When someone dies, does their credit card debt die with them?  The answer is, it depends.

If sufficient assets are available in the estate after a debtor’s death, credit card debt will be paid off by the estate executor along with the decedent’s other debts.  However, if there are not sufficient assets, then creditors are often out of luck – although many try to convince vulnerable family members that they owe the debt.

There are some instances when surviving family members may be liable for credit card debt of the decedent:

If a surviving family member was a joint account holder;

If a surviving ex-spouse agreed to pay off a joint credit card as part of the divorce settlement;

In community property states like California, if a surviving spouse or child inherits community property, they may be liable for the debt;

If you continue to use a decedent’s credit card as an authorized user when you know the debt won’t be paid.

When a family member dies, creditors should be notified immediately.  But your first step should be to consult with an Orange County probate attorney before any debts are paid out of an estate so you know exactly which debts the estate is liable for paying.

Let our Costa Mesa law offices help you get started by contacting us today.

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