Estate Planning Attorneys in California
Choosing to be in control of your finances is a great stress reliever. At Hackard Law, A Professional Law Corporation, we help families with multimillion-dollar estates as well as those just beginning to accumulate assets plan for the future and protect their loved ones.
You may have an estate plan in place, but are you certain that it serves your current needs? We work with a number of clients who recognize that their life situation has changed dramatically since they originally created the estate plan, and they need to address new challenges in real time. These may include deaths in the family, marriage, divorce, remarriage, business succession concerns or any number of issues.
Our firm has assisted individuals and families in Sacramento and throughout California-especially Los Angeles and Santa Clara-with estate planning needs since 1983. Founding attorney Michael A. Hackard has represented members of the Forbes 400, as well as professional athletes and a number of families with complex asset protection issues. Michael is AV Preeminent* peer review rated by Martindale-Hubbell, a testament to the fact that his peers rank him at the highest level of professional excellence.
Your Wealth, Your Decisions
Our estate planning process begins by carefully listening to your concerns and understanding your objectives. Our lawyers will take the time to explain the options available to you and what each estate planning tool achieves. We can assist you with the full spectrum of estate planning needs, including:
- Wills – The foundation of any estate plan and a starting point for providing instructions on how you wish to distribute your assets after you die
- Trusts – Can help you avoid probate and provide additional assurance that your someone will manage your assets according to your wishes in the event you can no longer make those decisions
- Advance healthcare directives – Name someone to handle decisions regarding medical treatment and your wishes regarding life-sustaining efforts if you become incapacitated
- Durable powers of attorney – Name someone to handle financial decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so
- Business succession planning – Creates a viable plan for the continuation of a family business in the event of the retirement or death of the current leader by establishing leadership roles and other key decisions
- Asset protection – Involves efforts to protect personal assets for future generations, often by separating personal assets from business liabilities
Why Is Estate Planning Important?
In the absence of a will, trust, or some other testamentary arrangement-legal talk for a legally binding estate plan, including wills and trusts-it is likely that you will be deemed to have died intestate. This means you died with no will or other document directing how to distribute your assets. In the absence of such a document, the court will distribute your assets based on California probate law. It’s complicated, it can be expensive-the state rarely is frugal with other people’s money-and the process will take place with absolutely no regard for how you might have wanted your assets distributed. You had your chance to write a will and you blew it, so the state will do the distribution according to the statute. Basically, this means that your assets will be distributed based on people’s relationship to you, such as a spouse, child, and the like. While the distribution hierarchy makes a certain amount of sense, it might not be-and often is quite different from-how you would have preferred to distribute your assets. Estate planning reasserts your control over the distribution of your assets.
The simplest and most common way to ensure that your assets are distributed the way you want them to be is a will. At its most basic, a will is a document that states that this asset will go to this person and that asset will go to that person. Wills also can make arrangements for the custody and care of any minor children, in addition to the distribution of assets.
A will can be set up in any number of ways, using specific individual bequests, distribution by percentages, such as leaving each of your four children one-fourth of your total estate after payment of debts and taxes, or some combination of the two methods. No matter what type of will you set up, your beneficiaries will have to go through probate, a court proceeding oversees the distribution of assets according to the terms of the will. Depending on the complexity of the estate, this can get complicated, drawn-out, and expensive.
What Can Estate Planning Do?
The goals of estate planning generally include making sure the people you want to get your assets are the people who get those assets. Often, estate planning is designed to minimize probate court involvement, and thus minimize expense. This kind of estate planning, designed to avoid probate, seeks to put as many assets as possible under some form of joint ownership so that upon death, without any probate court action, the asset passes to the joint owner. This can apply to many kinds of property, including bank accounts, insurance proceeds, retirement accounts, various kinds of financial investments, real estate, and many other assets. With joint ownership of an asset, the surviving account holder gets the account upon your death, with no probate involvement.
For those assets not subject to joint ownership-through choice or otherwise-estate planning kicks in. Estate planning can-and in many cases, should-cover medical, financial, business, and tax planning in addition to asset distribution. Estate planning lets you decide:
- Who will receive what assets after your death
- Who will manage your assets if you become incapacitated during your lifetime and unable to manage your assets yourself, and how those assets will be managed
- Whether there are circumstances when your assets should be distributed while you are still alive, what those circumstances are, how the assets should be distributed, and by whom the distribution should be managed
- Who will make your personal healthcare decisions should you become unable to make those decisions yourself, and what principals, guidelines, or specific instructions will be in place to govern those decisions.
Effective estate planning requires just that-planning. To achieve what you want through estate planning, you have to develop a roadmap of what you have, where it is, and where you want to go with it all. Throw in contingency plans for unexpected developments-such as you being alive but unable to manage your business or medical affairs-and estate planning can get complicated in a hurry. To deal with that, you have to develop a full picture of where you are and where you want things to go. This involves many issues, including:
- What assets do you have, what are they worth, and would do you want to receive those assets?
- When do you want that asset distribution to happen?
- If you become incapacitate and unable to make decisions during your lifetime, who do you want to manage those assets? What instructions should they be given?
- Who should make healthcare decisions if you become incapacitated, and what guidelines or instructions should they follow?
- What do you want regarding care of your minor children if you are incapacitated? What about after you die?
Most of these issues can be dealt with through the will. Others will require documents such as Advance Health Care Directives. Other issues can be addressed through a living trust. A living trust leaves you with control of your assets while you are still living, but provides for distribution to named beneficiaries after your death. In many ways, a living trust is a partial substitute for a will. You put your assets into the living trust, but the trust is administered for your benefit while you are alive. The assets pass to your beneficiaries upon your death. Most often, you are the trustee who administers the living trust while you are alive. A living trust:
- Grants the trustee the legal power to manage the assets held in the trust, requiring the trustee to manage trust assets for your benefit while you are alive
- Names the beneficiaries who will receive your trust’s assets upon your death
- Provides guidelines and instructions for the management of trust assets by the trustee
Whether a living trust or other estate-management plans are right for you is a complicated decision. Such a decision likely is best made with the assistance of legal counsel who focuses on estate planning law.
Meeting Us Is the First Step Toward a Secure Future
At Hackard Law, we welcome the opportunity to review your estate planning needs during a free consultation. Email us to schedule a meeting, or call us at (916) 313-3030 from Santa Clara or (213) 357-5200 from Los Angeles.
* AV Preeminent is a certification mark of Reed Elsevier Properties Inc., used in accordance with the Martindale-Hubbell certification procedures, standards and policies. Martindale-Hubbell is the facilitator of a peer review rating process. Ratings reflect the confidential opinions of members of the Bar and the judiciary. Martindale-Hubbell ratings fall into two categories – legal ability and general ethical standards.