Santa Cruz Estate Planning Attorneys Answer Frequently Asked Questions

At Penrose Chun & Gorman LLP, our Santa Cruz estate planning attorneys take a very personal approach to meeting our clients’ needs. We take the time to advise individuals and families about their options and respond to each inquiry and concern. Frequently asked questions include:

Is life insurance good for estate planning?

Many people incorporate a life insurance policy into their overall estate plan. As proceeds from these policies are not distributed through the probate process, beneficiaries can access these funds much more quickly and without concerns about taxation.

When should I start developing an estate plan?

Regardless of their age or the value of their potential estate, every adult who owns property should have some legally enforceable means of distributing their assets upon death. The cornerstone of a sound estate plan is typically a revocable living trust. Depending on your circumstances and goals, you may wish to add other elements to your program, including a life insurance policy, an Advance Health Care Directive and a Durable Power of Attorney document. Whether you should engage in advanced estate planning depends on your level of wealth, the retirement you envision and your intentions regarding legacy giving.

What should I prepare when meeting with an attorney about creating an estate plan?

To get the most out of an initial meeting with your estate planning attorney, you should fill out our Estate Planning Questionnaire, which helps you to organize  your assets and debts, provides us with information about your family  and identifies the people and/or charitable organizations you wish to remember when you pass on.

Whom should I choose as a trustee?

Serving as the successor trustee and/or personal representative of estate is an important legal responsibility. When selecting a trustee and executor, you can choose a trusted relative or friend whom you believe is honest and responsible. However, that person should also have the time and inclination to handle the position. Or, if you prefer, you can name a legal professional to serve in this role. 

What should business owners include in an estate plan?

Business owners should create succession instructions detailing the ownership and operation of their enterprise as part a complete estate plan. Without a succession plan, the business could suffer an unnecessary loss in value or even fail. You should also confer with a qualified attorney about potential tax consequences.

What are the primary goals of an estate plan?

An estate plan gives legal force to your instructions about the allocation of your assets once you pass away. You can also create legal instruments to protect what you own, avoid unnecessary taxes, direct how you would like funds to be spent, keep funds in trust for your family members for appropriate periods of time, and appoint an agent to handle medical decisions if you become incapacitated.  

Should I have an estate plan even if I have no immediate family members?

If you have immediate family members and no estate plan, your assets go to the state according to California’s intestacy law. Even if they have no individual beneficiary in mind, most people prefer to execute a will that leaves a legacy to a charity they have supported. You might also want to have arrangements made to ensure a dignified funeral.

Will an estate plan help me avoid taxes?

The federal government currently imposes a tax on estates worth more than $11.7 million until January 1, 2026, when estates worth more than about $5.85 million will be taxed. That tax can be anywhere from 18 to 40 percent of the surplus value. An estate plan can help you reduce the size of your taxable estate to reduce or avoid this obligation.

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