Why Consider Estate Planning?
Although people spend the better part of their lives earning the assets which comprise their estates, all too often ...
Michael S. Harms is a licensed attorney and C.P.A. in the State of California, and holds a masters of taxation degree from New York University's School of Law.
Mr. Harms is admitted to practice before all courts in the State of California as well as the United States District Courts for the Central and Southern Sections of California, and the United States Tax Court.
Mr. Harms professional memberships include The American Bar Association, Tax and Estate Planning Section; The State Bar of California, Tax and Estate Planning Section; The Orange County Bar Association, Tax and Estate Planning Section; The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Tax and Estate Planning Section; and the California Society of C.P.A.'s, Tax and Estate Planning Section.
Mr. Harms experience includes extensive preparation of estate plans, as well as the representation of trustees and beneficiaries in trust litigation and probates throughout California. Mr. Harms regularly lectures on the topics of tax and estate planning from seminars to law school classes.
You spend the better part of your life earning the assets which comprise your estate. Estate planning will transfer that hard earned estate to your family, friends, charities or others at the least possible cost. Don’t lose a significant portion of your hard earned estate to taxes, probate fees or other costs! Estate planning is generally one of the best investments you can make to preserve your hard earned assets.
There is a common misconception held by many that estate planning is just for the “wealthy”. That is not true. Estate Planning is an issue which everyone should address. In most cases, there are thousands of dollars to be saved with the proper estate plan for adults of any age, with any amount of assets, and with or without children.
Please read the information on the website carefully as we are certain you will find it informative and useful. It addresses some of the planning opportunities for your estate as well as the topics of probate, guardianship and conservatorship.
If you decide to pursue your estate plan further, you may call or e-mail us for a free one-hour consultation. Prior to our appointment, it will be helpful if you would complete the questionnaire which is relevant to your marital status and it will be emailed directly to us.
After you make an appointment, please complete the appropriate Questionnaire (Married or Single) and the form will be emailed to the Law Offices of Michael S. Harms. Thank you!
Once your Living Trust is set up, you then need to transfer your assets into it. This is a simple process, which involves little more than just notifying your bank, stockbroker, etc., that you have set up a Living Trust and that you want to transfer title of the asset into it. Your bank, stockbroker, etc. will just change the name on your account card.
The Law Offices of Michael S. Harms will provide you with complete and comprehensive instructions on how to transfer your assets into your Living Trust. This process of transferring your assets into your Living Trust is discussed in more detail under the link Transferring Assets into the Living Trust.
With few exceptions, it is absolutely imperative that all your assets be transferred into the Living Trust. The primary exceptions are retirement plans and life insurance policies, which are discussed in detail in our instructions that accompany your Living Trust.
This process of transferring your assets into your Living Trust is called “funding” the trust. Many people are concerned that when an asset is transferred into a Living Trust control over that asset is lost. That is not true. In fact, in a properly drafted Revocable Living Trust, you retain complete control of all your assets transferred into the trust.
The same principle applies to the transfer of your real estate, stock, and any other assets which you own. You transfer assets into your Living Trust by simply changing the name on the document of title for that particular asset.
The transfer of assets which were not properly titled in the name of the Living Trust is the primary purpose of the Pour-Over Will, which is just a standard Will that leaves i.e. pours-over, all your assets into the Living Trust. If the Pour-Over Will is invoked because an asset was left outside of the Living Trust, then for that asset, the costs and time delays of the probate process will have to be incurred.
The goal, therefore, is to never use the Pour-Over Will. If all your assets are properly titled i.e. transferred, into the name of your Living Trust, then the Pour-Over Will would not be used, and thus there would be no probate.
GENERALLY YOU SHOULD TRANSFER ALL YOUR ASSETS INTO YOUR LIVING TRUST. THE POUR-OVER WILL IS JUST A SAFETY-NET TO CATCH THE ASSETS YOU FORGOT TO TRANSFER INTO YOUR LIVING TRUST.
Upon the death of the surviving spouse or single person, the successor trustees first job is to make an inventory of all the assets noting their description and values at the date of death.
For estates which are to be fully distributed upon the death of the surviving spouse or single person, the successor trustee then generally will propose a distribution plan pursuant to the terms of the Living Trust. It is a good idea to get in writing each of the beneficiaries approval of the proposed distribution plan prior to making any distributions. This will avoid the situation where the successor trustee distributes the assets among the beneficiaries, and then finds one or more beneficiaries complaining about how the assets were distributed.
If you desire for certain assets to go to certain beneficiaries, then you simply need to describe those assets in detail and provide the name of the intended beneficiary on our questionnaire. In this event, prior to making the distribution of the estate by percentages, the trustee will distribute the specific assets you have described to the named beneficiaries.
For estates which are to be administered (e.g. where the beneficiaries have not attained the age set for distribution in your Living Trust), the successor trustee needs to notify each of the financial institutions to have the successor trustee’s name put on the account signature cards. The successor trustee then continues to manage the assets in your Living Trust for the benefit of your beneficiaries making periodic distributions pursuant to the terms of your Living Trust until such time that your Living Trust requires complete distribution.
UPON DEATH OF THE SURVIVING SPOUSE OR A SINGLE PERSON, YOUR SUCCESSOR TRUSTEE WILL EITHER DISTRIBUTE ALL OF YOUR TRUST ASSETS OR RETAIN AND MANAGE THE TRUST ASSETS FOR YOUR BENEFICIARIES.
Generally clients will come into the office for a consultation whereat we will discuss the estate planning options for your particular circumstances and desires. Once the Questionnaire is completed, then I will prepare your estate planning documents and we will get together about a week or so later to review each of the documents. If there are no changes to be made, then you will execute the documents which will be notarized and witnessed as appropriate. Also at the conference where we execute the estate planning documents, I will have prepared the Grant Deeds for your California real estate which will too be signed and notarized. Then my office will organize your original estate planning documents into a three-ring binder with index tabs for each section, and make two copies, one of which I will keep in your file and one which will be provided to you.
Generally a complete estate plan will consist of at least the Living Trust, Pour-Over Will, Durable Power of Attorney for Asset Management and the Advanced Directive for Health Care, and for these documents, my office charges $2,500, plus $150 per Grant Deed which we will have recorded in the County Recorder’s Office for you. Beware of Living Trusts being offered for much less because estate planning, which consists literally of the disposition of all your hard earned assets to your chosen beneficiaries, is not a subject to be "penny wise and pound foolish" with. I have done considerable trust litigation for clients who come to me with Trusts which are deficient in their drafting, and most often these are the Trusts on which the creator tried to save a few hundred dollars. Ironically, trying to save a few hundred dollars in estate planning can ultimately cost tens of thousands of dollars, if not more, in lost opportunities to save estate taxes and in attorney’s fees where Trust litigation results. The bottom line is that, given the importance of estate planning, you should be comfortable with the qualifications of the attorney who is drafting your estate plan.
As discussed in the section "Transferring Assets into the Living Trust" under the Education icon, it is imperative that once your Living Trust is established that you transfer the title on all your assets into your Living Trust. As you can imagine, at this point with there being so many Living Trusts in existence, you will find that most everywhere you go people will be very familiar with the procedures for transferring assets into your Living Trust. In addition, with the original estate planning documents in your three-ring binder, I will also provide you with a letter of instruction which explains in detail how to transfer specific assets into your Living Trust. Of course, the bottom line is if you have any questions, you can always just call me for assistance for which there is no additional charge.
Generally, there are no further charges for your Living Trust, unless you change your mind and decide to make certain amendments to your estate plan. Although the cost of an amendment can vary depending on the complexity, generally the cost is approximately $400.
The person named in your Living Trust to take over after your passing is called your "successor trustee". Generally for husband and wife, the survivor becomes the sole trustee and the "successor trustee" does not act until the death of the surviving spouse. When the successor trustee does become the current trustee, most often that person will call me and I will request that the successor trustee prepare an inventory of the assets and their respective values. At my first meeting with the successor trustee, I will then review the inventory to make sure that all the assets have been transferred into your Living Trust. If there are assets which are outside of the Living Trust, then I will review how title to them is held and take whatever steps are appropriate to get those assets distributed. I will also review the inventory to determine what asset allocations, if any, are necessary and whether there is the need to file an estate tax return. For further information on this topic, please refer to the section titled "Trust Administration".
Most people are very surprised by the amount of probate fees they will pay without a Living Trust. It does not take a “large” estate to incur significant probate fees, especially if you own real estate in California. Remember, probate fees are paid on the “gross” value of your assets, including your real estate, so you do not get to subtract the mortgage from the fair market value. As an example, on a $500,000 probate estate, which could be a $300,000 fair market value home (regardless of the mortgage) and $200,000 of cash and stocks, the total probate fees are $22,300. You should review the section titled Avoidance of Probate under Education to calculate how much the probate fees would be for your estate.
All too often, I have surviving spouse’s come into my office, or adult children of the decedent who did not have a Living Trust, and at that point obviously it’s simply too late to do any estate planning and most often we end up going through the timely and expensive Probate process. This is particularly troubling when there are deceased parents of minor children because after the Probate, the Court will establish a Guardianship of the Estate (over the money) as well as a Guardianship of the Person (physical custody), and when the minor children each attain age 18 they get their entire inheritance outright with no conditions or restrictions whatsoever. For most eighteen year olds, while it was the parent’s intent to take care of their children the result without the Living Trust is that they receive too much too soon which often times becomes detrimental to their lives. Therefore, the appropriate time to do your estate planning is now, and then, if necessary, to keep your estate plan updated as the age and maturity of your beneficiaries changes.