Estate Planning / Living Trust Packages
Every family situation is different. To help you get the right plan in place, we will generally need to have at least two meetings with you.
Living Trusts are the foundation of a comprehensive estate plan.
Living Trust packages generally include:
- Revocable Trust, commonly called a “Living Trust”
- Pour Over Will/s
- Advanced Healthcare Directive/s (Healthcare Power of Attorney)
- Durable Power of Attorney/s for Property Management
- Certifications of Trust
- Assignment/s of Property/businesses into the Trust
- Nomination of Guardian/s for minor children
- For married couples with community property, a Marital Property Declaration
- Detailed Instructions for Trust Maintenance
- Deeds to Transfer real estate into the Trust (Optional, as some families opt to do this step with their real estate brokers) property
A Living Trust is also commonly called a “Revocable Trust” because it can be changed or canceled (revoked) by the maker any time. One of the main benefits of a Living Trust in California is that it allows your assets to avoid the probate court process IF they were put into the trust. Probate is the legal process through which a court oversees the distribution of a person’s assets after they pass away. It is a lengthy and expensive court process. Everything in a probate court case is public record, from what you owned and how much each asset was worth, to the names, ages, and addresses of the person/s receiving assets, and what and how much they received. Publication of certain notices are also required in the newspaper, and court hearings before a judge are required for most steps of a probate. Hearings and court documents are open to the public – anyone can attend the hearings and access all the probate court documents and information about your assets, and how they are distributed.
But for families with a Living Trust, the designated successor trustee can step in without probate court involvement, to distribute the assets to your beneficiaries without the need for a probate judge. This saves time, money, and helps keep your family’s finances private.
An important added benefit of having a Living Trust is that it can provide for the management of your assets if you become incapacitated and unable to manage them yourself. You can name a successor trustee to take over management of the trust in this situation, avoiding the need for a court-appointed conservatorship; conservatorship is another public court process that is time consuming, expensive and completely avoidable.
We recommend that every married couple or parent have a complete estate plan, simply because it’s the most important planning you can do for your family. If you aren’t available due to illness or death to protect them, would you really want them to face the future without any guidance or instructions from you? Wouldn’t it be better if they were armed with a plan that you designed for them? The death or illness of a loved one is when they will need your protection and guidance the most. An estate plan should be comprehensive and have a contingency in place for a variety of potential situations.
Many people think they can wait to create a plan and only contact us when they are about to take a trip, or they have medical issues. While it’s certainly understandable to want to make an estate plan under those scenarios, the best time to put a complete estate plan into place is when they are healthy, and have time to carefully consider all available options. Waiting until a medical diagnosis has been received also takes away important planning options for insurance, liquidity and other important planning, that are out of reach for most people after a diagnosis. Important decisions involving the financial future of your entire family shouldn’t be put off; they should be made as soon as possible, when you aren’t also undergoing medical procedures or are under other time constraints.
We provide 30 minute consultations free of charge. During this complimentary consultation, we review your property profile and estate tax considerations with you, and provide a base fee quote for your plan. Every plan is different and we don’t know what you will need until you have this consultation with us where we exchange important information about YOUR GOALS and options. For this reason, our staff is NOT able to quote fees for our trust packages over the phone. The fee can only be determined AFTER your consultation with the attorney.
Our estate planning advice and Trust packages provide you the benefit of our decades of experience. Your estate plan can include a range of proprietary provisions to minimize taxes, allow for changing circumstances, and protect your family’s inheritance. Utilizing state of the art estate planning software and cutting edge planning techniques, our estate planning documents are the most comprehensive and flexible plans that you can make for your family. We’ve also brought our experience from working on the complete spectrum of trusts and estate litigation issues, to benefit our trust and estate planning clients. We’ve seen to it that our complete trusts protect the families they were made for, even when unforeseen complications arise. Our complete trusts have withstood or avoided litigation challenges and fulfilled the intention of our clients exactly as they wished, where other trusts have failed.
Step-By-Step – ESTATE PLANNING PROCESS:
Our firm doesn’t just create great estate plans; we also help our clients’ successors and families put the estate plan into action when the time comes. From our trust and probate litigation experience, we also have a very unique view of what will be required to make sure your estate plan will perform its intended purpose when the time comes, even if it is attacked. While no one can guarantee the outcome of any particular case, we have steps in place from your very first contact with us that are intended to protect YOUR wishes and make sure the instructions YOU provide in your estate plan will be followed and honored by your loved ones and give them the best chance of success.
We understand that estate planning can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be. These are important decisions you are making about your life savings and safeguarding your loved ones, and we are here to answer all your questions.
Every family situation is different. To help you get the right plan in place, we want to maximize your access to the information that needs to be shared with YOU to meet YOUR goals. Here is what you need to know about working with us:
Step 1 – First Contact
We strongly recommend that YOU, the person who owns the property that will be the subject matter of the estate plan, be the one to initiate the first contact with our office. For many reasons, we recommend that you not delegate this important step to anyone else. We understand that there are situations where a family member or friend lends a hand to help out, but we recommend that any help with driving, transportation, email use, etc. happen only after YOU have chosen an attorney you are interested in working with and YOU initiate the first contact with the attorney. The main reason for this is to protect your wishes in the event any disgruntled party chooses to attack your estate plan. Many people don’t know that if someone is unhappy with the plans you have made for your property and you can no longer speak about those wishes due to death or incapacity, the attorney who helped YOU prepare your estate plan is an important witness. When the drafting attorney is asked who initiated the estate planning process, the answer should ideally be “the client contacted us to ask about doing XYZ.” If on the other hand the answer is “the client’s friend” or even “the client’s child” contacted us, the attacking party will generally claim that the estate plan was that other person’s idea and that it was all done at THEIR instruction, not YOURS. The First Contact is very important because it helps establish that the estate planning process with the attorney you chose, was initiated by YOU and no one else.
The process of working with us begins with the first consultation meeting for which you should set aside 1 to 2 hours to go over your wishes and options. After the first consultation meeting is scheduled with us by YOU, you can then delegate certain other people amongst your friends or family to help you with the other parts of the estate planning process.
Step 2 – The Client Questionnaire
When you come to your First Consultation, we ask that you bring your completed Client Questionnaire, where you provide your general asset and family information to help us understand and analyze your current situation. The types and values of property you hold, the ages of your children, your marital status, and general information about your concerns will help us provide you with information that is directly relevant to your situation. All information you provide is confidential. You can click here for the Client Questionnaire form, or we can send it to you by email or mail, or you can complete it in our office by arriving 20 minutes before your consultation time.
As you complete your Questionnaire form about your property and family situation, please keep in mind that your lawyer will need clear instructions about how you want your property to be distributed (“WHO are my beneficiaries?”) as well as a list of 2-3 people you trust to carry out your detailed instructions (“WHO are my trustees/agents/Executors/fiduciaries?”). If your children are minors, you should also have a a list of 2-3 people who could become their guardians, and some thought to how old your children should be in order to be able to handle important money decisions for themselves. We can go over these decisions with you and discuss options, pros, and cons to help you finalize these important planning decisions.
Step 3 – First Consultation Meeting – Approx. 2 hours
Our First Consultation meeting is a two part process and will generally require you to spend 1 to 2 hours with us. First, attorney Ernest Kim or Catherine Kim will review your goals and concerns with you and recommend the types of estate plans and trusts that would meet your needs. The attorney will also provide a general flat fee quote for the estate plan options that would best meet your goals. If you decide we are not the right fit for your needs, the meeting will end no fees will be charged to you. Once you choose us and the type of estate plan that you would like to put in place, we will go into the design and specific terms and conditions you would like included, asking very detailed questions so that your plan will be complete. It is very important that you share any information that could be relevant to the needs of your family, your family’s future financial situation, and goals. At the meeting, you will sign our flat fee retainer agreement if you decide we are the right firm for you, and 50% of the flat fee quoted will be due.
For all of the same reasons that it is so important that the person initiating the phone call to us regarding their estate plan should be the actual client rather than a friend or relative of the person, this Consultation should be attended ONLY by the actual parties who will be making the estate plan (i.e. the individual or a married couple who owns the property), and no other parties should be in this meeting unless their attendance is necessary to the process for some reason (for example, some clients may need the assistance of their children in order to attend, or certified foreign language translators, financial advisors, or CPA’s who need to be involved in the planning process).
This first consultation meeting can usually be held by Zoom for those who are not able to travel to one of our office locations.
Step 4 – Estate Planning Binder and Document Preparation
We will prepare all of the documents that will become part of your estate plan. During this process, we will contact you for further information and follow up questions about your estate plan. Upon completion of the documents, we will contact you to set up your review and signing meeting with us. We may also contact you for follow up information or to clarify your choices. The documents are reviewed for quality control purposes throughout the process, and this document preparation stage can take 3-6 weeks.
We understand that many people have work and family commitments and that it may seem convenient to delegate these important decisions and discussions to be decided by just one spouse, and sometimes we even receive calls from the children of our clients asking us to make changes to the client’s documents. These important decisions regarding the disposition of your entire life’s savings, will have ripple effects for the rest of your life, and upon generations of your family in the future. As attorneys, we have legal obligations that prevent us from discussing any client files with parties who are not our clients, and we must receive instructions directly from our Clients.
Step 5 – Signing Meeting and Estate Planning Binder Review – Approx 2 hours
At the final review and Signing meeting, we will go over your documents with you to confirm that they reflect your instructions and wishes, review the administrative steps and future management of your Trust by you as a Trustee, and you will sign your documents with our notary that day. We will provide you with the original documents in your Estate Planning binder, for your safekeeping.
This review and signing meeting is conducted in person at one of our office locations, and not by Zoom or other remote means. The notary will need to make a permanent record of the signing and verify your signature and identity with a valid form of identification.
Step 6 – Trust Asset Funding
Funding your assets into your Trust is an important step that must be completed to ensure that your estate plan will control and protect those assets in the event of your death or incapacity. At your signing meeting, we will provide you with the instructions and the needed documents for you to instruct your banks, real estate professionals, insurance agents and financial advisors on the proper titling of your assets. If you choose to have us help you with the real estate transfers into your Trust, we will conclude the recording of deeds with the County Recorder and provide you with these important Trust Transfer Deed documents to add to your Estate Planning binder for safekeeping once the County/ies have processed them. We encourage all of our clients to confer with their bankers, financial advisors, realtors and insurance professionals to make sure your asset management partners are aware of, and can assist you with, confirming that your assets are properly transferred into your Trust.
Step 7 – Liquidity Planning
Setting up an estate plan that suits your family’s needs is a crucial step in securing their future wealth and well-being. The decisions you make today will impact your ability to support yourself, your spouse, and your children, enabling them to achieve their educational goals and financial stability should anything happen to you. Nobody intends to leave their families in financial distress, yet throughout our nearly three decades as probate and trust attorneys, we consistently witness the most common problem faced by our clients: a lack of liquidity.
In simple terms, liquid assets refer to cash available for expenses. When a parent, spouse, or primary breadwinner in the family becomes incapacitated or passes away, their income stream ceases. Many families nowadays rely on dual incomes from both parents or a working parent and a stay-at-home parent to maintain their household. Single parents leave their families even more vulnerable to the challenges brought about by a shortage of liquid assets. For instance, a family that previously had a parent providing childcare at home will now need to find alternative arrangements, often incurring significant financial costs.
Surprisingly, we have discovered that many families, even in the most affluent areas of California and those with seven-figure “assets,” have not adequately planned for the cash required to replace income in the event of incapacity or death of a family member. Living in expensive California homes requires ongoing monthly mortgage, loan and property tax payments. Accessing equity in real estate is often difficult without selling the property, particularly on a single income that makes qualifying for loans more challenging. People seldom consider that they can either live in the house while leaving the equity untapped or sell it to access the funds, but will then require a new home and a new mortgage with monthly payments.
Without a proper plan to replace lost income, it becomes impossible to meet obligations such as mortgages, living expenses, and tuition fees, often resulting in the need to sell assets quickly. Real estate, stock accounts, and retirement savings must be liquidated when cash is needed, regardless of whether market conditions are favorable for selling or not. The death or incapacity of a loved one, which is already a traumatic event, is typically followed by further upheaval when the family realizes they must relocate, leaving behind friends and important connections. Additionally, plans for college, graduate school, and other aspirations must be altered to fit the new financial reality of the entire family.
When planning for your family’s protection, it is vital to consider liquidity and life insurance planning for income replacement, especially in high-cost-of-living areas like California. Here are some essential questions to ponder:
Step 8 – Optional – For Further Reviews and Documentation
Some situations will require further reviews, more complex planning, or further documentation of your wishes. Many family situations lend themselves to disagreements and litigation over property, and if your situation has such “red flags,” there will be further recommendations made by the attorneys to help your successors defend your legacy from attack. Not every family will need these further steps however, so these will be determined on a case-by case basis. It is very important that you share all relevant information to help the attorney advise you properly. Your attorney absolutely needs to know certain things about your family, even uncomfortable issues such as:
- Problematic family relationships or history of disagreements, especially between children;
- Family members with unreliable spouses, or who may be at risk of divorce;
- Family members who have past issues with substance abuse or addictions;
- Family members who have a past history of being involved in litigation over money;
- Family members with a history of gambling/ problematic spending habits/ bad investment decisions;
- Family members who don’t get along with others;
- Family members with a history of mental health issues;
- Financially struggling family members, or family members who are in debt or have needed to borrow money;
- Family members with bankruptcy or creditor issues, or judgments against them;
- Family members in risky professions prone to being sued, such as dentists, doctors, lawyers, etc.;
- Family members with health problems that affect their ability to work
As a separate issue, business owners will often need to do additional planning for the succession of the business, if they expect it to continue to operate beyond their own management. Many business owners don’t realize that a family owned business will typically disappear if it is improperly operated due to the illness or death of the owner. Many valuable businesses that could have been sold for a profit or continued to generate income for the family, will fail because of the lack of planning. A business succession plan can ensure continued operation and success, even if there is no one else the family who can run that business.
A note about document requests: When our clients leave our office upon the conclusion of creating their Trusts with us, they will have all of their original Trust documents and Certifications with them, for their use in conducting Trust related transactions such as opening and managing bank and stock accounts, buying and selling investments, real property, etc. as the current Trustees. The Certification of Trust is a complete and sufficient document evidencing the current Trustee’s identity and authority to conduct transactions pursuant to California law. If a client or former client does not have their original documents for any reason, they should contact us to discuss how to resolve this problem, since the original Trust should always be safeguarded and will be needed in its original form to be effective (copies do not have the same effect).
Please refer to our “Lost Documents” page for further information about document copies.
If a Successor Trustee needs to take over for a deceased or incapacitated Trustee, the Successor Trustee should make an appointment with us to discuss Trust Administration steps and requirements.