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Call Us Today!
(619) 660-1600
Call Us Today!
(619) 660-1600

Estate Planning

Contact Information

Law Office of Richard J. Lewis
3322 Sweetwater Springs Blvd., Ste. 202
Spring Valley, CA 91977

Phone: (619) 660-1600
Cell Phone: (619) 246-3226

Appointments Available



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Estate planning is the process whereby you create a strategic plan for (1) the management and distribution of your assets in the event of your death or incapacity and (2) the carrying out of your wishes with regard to the caretaking of your person or remains upon your incapacity or death. Estate planning requires you to marshal all of your assets and make specific determinations as to who you want to receive them. It requires you to evaluate the financial and tax consequences of those actions and prepare for them. I have the knowledge and experience to assist you in accomplishing all of your goals. The following are the important elements of Estate Planning:

1. Integrated Living Trusts

A living trust is an important estate planning tool for individuals and married couples. A living trust is a legal document that is created to hold and manage your assets during life and then distribute your assets to your named beneficiaries upon your death. A living trust also allows you to avoid probate upon your death. In California, the probate process is quite expensive. Probate fees are statutorily set and are based on the size of your probate estate. Therefore, it is generally beneficial for homeowners to create a living trust to hold their real property, thereby avoiding probate upon their death. A great deal of flexibility is afforded in planning your desired distribution provisions with a living trust, especially when dealing with beneficiaries who are minor children or individuals with special needs. Because a minor child does not have the legal capacity to manage property, an outright gift to a minor child is rarely advisable. Instead, with a living trust, you are able to manage the property in trust for the benefit of the minor child until an age specified by you. This date could be when the child reaches the age of 21 or upon the happening of a certain event, such as graduation from college or a combination of these. California is a community property state, and as such, joint living trusts are a popular planning tool for married couples. A joint living trust enables both spouses to hold community property in one trust instrument. Joint living trusts are ideal when both spouses and domestic partners have similar ideas of how they each would like to distribute their respective interests in their property upon each of their deaths. Living trusts also enable individuals to participate in estate tax planning. Currently, individuals have a $5 million exemption from estate taxes. In other words, every person is entitled to transfer up to $5 million in assets upon their death without paying any estate tax. Amounts over $5 million are subject to steep taxation rates. Married couples whose joint estates are over $5 million would be well advised to create credit trusts to ensure that their individual $5 million exemption amount is not wasted and subject to taxation in the surviving spouse's estate. With a living trust, there is also the added protection of naming a successor trustee to manage your property for your benefit in the event you become incapacitated. A comprehensive estate plan or integrated living trust package should include a living trust, pour-over will, financial durable power of attorney and an advance health care directive.

2. Wills

A will is a legal document that allows you to name an executor for your estate and to distribute your assets to your named beneficiaries. If you die without a will, then the state of California will decide for you who receives your assets through the laws of intestacy. An important point to keep in mind, however, is that whether you die with or without a will, in either case your estate will have to go through the California probate process, which is expensive and time consuming. A common misconception is that having a will avoids the probate process, which is simply not true. An estate that goes through the probate process is subject to steep statutory probate fees for both attorneys and executors. Unless your estate is under $100,000 or is being left in its entirety to your surviving spouse, the only way to avoid probate is with a well-drafted living trust. The Law Office of Richard J. Lewis can assist you in deciding whether a will or a living trust is best suited for your particular situation.

3. Living Wills

There are two main types of durable powers of attorneys. The first is for health and is commonly called a living will or an Advance Health Care Directive. The second type is for finances and is commonly called a financial durable power of attorney.

A living will is a legal document that allows you to specify whether you would like to remain on life support in the event of a terminal illness should you become incapacitated and unable to make those decisions for yourself. In California, you are also able to create an Advance Health Care Directive that goes one step further and not only allows you to specify end-of-life decisions, such as whether you would like to remain on life support in the event of a terminal illness, but also permits you to name an agent to make health care decisions for you in the event you are incapacitated and unable to do so. A financial durable power of attorney is a legal document that allows you to name an agent who is authorized to act on your behalf with respect to financial decisions in the event you become incapacitated. For example, if you become incapacitated and are unable to make your own decisions, the person you have listed to act as your agent on your behalf would have the authority to deal directly with third-party financial institutions, such as banks.

4. Probate

Probate is the court-supervised legal process through which a decedent’s assets are collected, his or her debts are paid and then the remaining assets are distributed to the decedent’s heirs or beneficiaries. The California probate process is a time consuming and very expensive venture to undertake. A typical probate lasts at least nine months to a year. A complicated estate can take more than a year to complete. California probate fees are statutorily set and are based on the fair market value of the probate estate.

5. Trust Administration

Trust administration is the process by which a decedent's trust assets are collected, debts are paid off and the remaining assets are distributed to the named trust beneficiaries. Depending on the type of trust that was created, assets may be distributed outright to the named beneficiaries or they may continue to be held in trust for the benefit of the named beneficiaries. During this time, appraisals of major assets may need to be completed in order to get a clear picture of what the decedent's net worth was for estate tax purposes. Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, the services of an attorney and/or a certified public accountant may need to be coordinated. An important aspect of this process is the avoidance of the expensive and the time-consuming process of probate.


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