Newman Law Group

Tustin Estate Planning Law Blog

Multiple wills can complicate asset distribution

People in California who die without an estate plan in place may not have their final wishes carried out as they intended. Aretha Franklin passed away almost a year ago from complications related to pancreatic cancer. At the time of her death in Detroit, it was believed that she had died without leaving a will. That situation would have made asset distribution of her Michigan estate, estimated at over $80 million, very difficult.

Three wills that were purportedly written by the singer were recently found in her home. The wills, known as holographic wills, were found by a representative of the estate. Aretha Franklin had four sons and they have not been able to agree on the validity of the wills. Two of the documents are dated 2010 and the third 2014.

Beneficiary designations are important to transfer assets

As people age they may realize the need for estate planning and the creation of a will in California. Having a will helps one to transfer assets, establish guardianship for minor children and facilitate the passing of one's belongings on to one's heirs after death. While a will is a help, there are other factors that may need to be considered when establishing one's estate plan.

How something is titled can have a significant impact on how it can be transferred. This is particularly true where real estate and financial accounts are concerned. A will does not change the beneficiary on a financial account or insurance policy, nor can it change a title on real estate.

Family dynamics and estate planning

Families are made up of people. People come in all shapes, sizes and personalities, and this can add to family drama and contribute to challenges when it comes to estate planning in California. Most people understand the importance of having a plan in place in this day and age, but they may be reluctant to engage in planning because of the conflicts that may arise. This can be particularly true when sizeable estates are involved.

As with so many family issues, communication is key. Communicating final wishes to one's family members can reduce conflict and hurt feelings that could arise following a person's passing. The right plan may include a will, trust and charitable bequest, among other items. Formulating a plan and explaining the reasoning behind the plan can help allay squabbles that may occur after one's passing.

Need to update wills cannot be overstated

Another high-profile death has occurred and may serve as an alert to the public for not only the need for an estate plan in California, but also the need to keep such a plan current. Failure to update wills and other documents can have unintended consequences. John Singleton, a film director best known for directing the movie "Boyz n the Hood" died recently due to complications following a stroke. He was only 51.

Mr. Singleton had created a will in 1993. At the time, he had one child, a daughter named Justice. The will specified that his entire estate go to Justice in the event of his death. Since 1993, he had fathered six additional children but failed to update his will to include them.

Estate planning is an ongoing task

For a variety of reasons, most people in California and elsewhere do not have a will. Estate planning is a personal and challenging task, so once a will is in place, it may seem like a victory. The testator -- the person who writes the will -- may be surprised to know that a will is a document that requires frequent reviews and revisions. In fact, there are specific times when updating one's will is critical.

No one's life remains stagnant. After writing a will, it is likely that things will change and the terms of the will may no longer be relevant. For example, a testator may name an heir who passes away after the will is signed. A testator who remarries after a spouse dies but fails to update the will may leave the new spouse with a frustrating and expensive legal battle to claim his or her fair share of the estate.

Estate planning is not just about money

Contemplating one's death is not a pastime most people wish to engage in. But failing to contemplate and plan on what happens to the property and people a person cares about in California can have serious unintended consequences. These can be avoided by taking some time to determine one's final wishes through estate planning.

Creating an estate plan should not be limited to financial and tax considerations. A person should determine if a will alone can meet one's needs. Medical directives may need to be considered in the event that one is not able to speak or communicate one's wishes, and this could apply to financial decisions as well. A will by itself is only applicable after a person's death. Other instruments of an estate plan can include trusts set up for charitable contributions or care of minor children.

Women, wills and important estate planning steps

It is impossible to predict the future, but there are certain steps a person can take to have legal and financial protections in place. Through wills and other estate planning documents, a person can outline wishes, plan for future medical needs and even make plans to care for loved ones. No two estate plans are the same, and women sometimes have different needs than men.

First of all, women typically live longer then men. When drafting an estate plan, a California woman may need to think about this possibility and make plans in case she lives longer than her husband. Additionally, women are more likely to end up caring for aging or sick parents. There are specific estate planning tools a person can utilize in case they find themselves in the role of caretaker one day.

Estate assets belonging to the elderly may require protection

The sandwich generation is becoming a very popular term in the 21st century in California and elsewhere in the country. It refers to baby-boomers who are attempting to tend to the needs of adult children, aging parents and their own impending retirement years all at the same time. Needless to say, this generation is spread very thin across these three tasks. One area that may require extra attention is protecting the estate assets of their aging parents.

Financial abuse of the elderly is a real and growing issue. Many people faced with caring for parents and children are hiring caretakers for their elderly parents, which, sadly, can end in one's parents estate being exploited to benefit the caregiver. One such case occurred recently in Alameda.

Protecting assets for a special needs child

Estate planning in California can be complex and tricky in the best of situations but it takes on added gravity when a child with special needs is involved. A couple of different variables come into play when one is protecting assets in the interest of long-term care for a special needs child. There are options that can simplify the situation.

Planning for the future of a special needs child may find parents wishing they could have the gift of seeing what the future holds, even if only briefly. Not knowing what the future holds and not being fully able to predict a child's needs can make financial planning for the future a challenge. It becomes necessary to put together an estate plan with as much built-in flexibility as possible.

Estate planning and families can be a difficult mix

Families can be complicated, particularly extended families and new families. Divorce, re-marriage and children with a second spouse can all serve to complicate family dynamics, which can, in turn, complicate estate planning. Indeed, family conflict was recently cited as one of the three main threats to the success of estate planning in California and the rest of the country. According to the recent survey, the other two are market volatility and tax reform.

Nearly half of the estate planning professionals consulted for the survey cited family conflict as the biggest threat. Contributing to this belief is the difficulty that can surround designating beneficiaries, and another factor that contributed was a general lack of communication within the family. Estate planning usually involves goals for what the plan is expected to accomplish in retirement for the principals and following their deaths for their descendants.