Grass Valley Estate Planning Attorneys
Sophisticated Estate Planning Guidance in Penn Valley and Sacramento
No matter your age, health, or financial circumstances, it is in your best interest to make an enforceable plan for what will happen to your loved ones and assets once you are gone. If you pass away without an estate plan in place, you will have no say in what happens to your property.
You deserve to know your final wishes will be honored. Our Grass Valley estate planning lawyers can help you draft and finalize the documents you need to obtain peace of mind. We can also assist families and personal representatives with the probate process, provide professional trustee services, and represent clients in litigation. No matter your needs, our approachable team at Ingram Brady is committed to client success and will work to resolve legal problems efficiently and cost-effectively.
When most people hear the term “estate planning,” they think of the last will and testament. The will serves as the foundation of most estate plans.
In California, a will allows you to:
- Name beneficiaries to your assets
- Select a guardian for your minor children
- Appoint a personal representative to oversee your estate
Writing and validating a will is extremely important. If you pass away without one, your estate will be subject to California’s intestacy laws. This means any final wishes you may have had will not be honored, and your property will in most cases be divided amongst your most immediate surviving relatives.
Wills have certain limitations. They are public documents, and willed assets are subject to probate. This means assets will not transfer immediately after your passing: Your chosen personal representative will need to navigate a majority of the estate settlement process before your beneficiaries can receive their inheritances.
Trusts are more complex financial arrangements that can function similarly to wills. When you establish a trust, you appoint a trustee to manage the trust’s assets for the benefit of your chosen beneficiaries.
In addition to being private, trusts are highly customizable and can be tailored to your unique needs. Revocable living trusts are modifiable throughout your lifetime. Irrevocable trusts cannot be changed once they are created, but they can be used to achieve asset protection and limit the impact of federal estate taxes. Crucially, trust assets are generally exempt from probate, meaning you can transfer trust assets to beneficiaries with a far greater degree of flexibility.
You cannot simply write down your instructions for asset distribution and expect them to be enforced. Your will must be signed and witnessed, and you should not attempt to create a trust without the guidance of a legal professional.
Our Grass Valley estate planning attorneys can help you establish a will, trust, or both. It is often beneficial to use both estate planning instruments: Your trust can handle the bulk of your asset distribution, while your will can be used to name a guardian for minor children and transfer any assets that did not make it into your trust at the time of your death. We can also help you make modifications to your will or revocable trust as your circumstances and wishes change.
“Probate” is the court-supervised process through which an estate is settled after someone passes away. Unfortunately, probate is notoriously time-consuming and expensive, and a majority of this process must be completed before assets named in a will can be distributed to beneficiaries. (Remember, assets placed in trusts are typically exempt from probate.)
If a personal representative was named in the deceased’s will, they are responsible for starting the process. If no will can be found, an immediate surviving relative can also usually contact the court. The probate court will review the will (if one exists) and give someone formal authority over the deceased’s estate – either the personal representative named in the will or an alternate person if the original personal representative is unable or unwilling to do the job.
Serving as a loved one’s personal representative is not easy. If named in a will or appointed by the court, you will be expected to fulfill many complex, potentially burdensome legal responsibilities.
Our team at Ingram Brady can assist personal representative with each of the following tasks:
- Notifying heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors
- Locating, protecting, inventorying, and appraising estate assets
- Using estate resources to pay legitimate creditor claims and other outstanding debts
- Filing the deceased person’s final tax return
- Distributing estate assets in accordance with the will’s instructions (or the state’s intestacy laws)
If you were named as a personal representative and find yourself overwhelmed by everything expected of you, we can help. We know how to confidently navigate probate and can provide the compassionate assistance you need to efficiently get through this process.
The trustee appointed to oversee, manage, and invest trust assets has a fiduciary duty to the trust’s beneficiaries. This means they have a legal responsibility to make reasonably smart decisions and act in the best interest of the beneficiaries.
As you are creating your trust, you may be tempted to select a family member or close friend as your trustee. Fiduciaries can be held personally liable for mismanagement or losses, even if they were not the result of deliberate, malicious conduct. In other words, beneficiaries of your trust can potentially sue your chosen trustee if they make innocent mistakes.
It is in your best interest to choose a trustee who has significant experience handling large amounts of money and assets. For this reason, many people appoint professional fiduciaries to oversee their trusts. We are prepared to serve as your trustee and can capably protect the financial interests of your beneficiaries.
Disputes often develop during the probate process, and some conflicts will require litigation to resolve. Interested parties have the right to contest the legitimacy of the deceased person’s will on certain grounds, such as fraud, lack of capacity, and undue influence.
Litigation may also become necessary if beneficiaries of a trust are unhappy with the trustee’s behavior. A beneficiary or group of beneficiaries might sue for breach of fiduciary duty or disputed trust accountings. They may even move to remove a trustee through legal action. Co-trustees might use litigation to resolve disputes, and individual trustees could ask the court for help in resolving beneficiary-driven disputes.
Our Grass Valley estate planning lawyers represent plaintiffs and defendants in these cases. If you have concerns about a will or trust, we can evaluate your situation and review your legal options. We are skilled litigators who understand how to effectively advocate for you in and out of the courtroom. Our team also recognizes the emotional elements of these matters and will work to resolve your dispute as efficiently and painlessly as possible.
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