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Estate Planning: Wills, Probate, and Living Trusts

Families’ two most popular estate planning strategies are Wills and Living Trusts. But contrary to what you would’ve probably heard, a Will may not be the best solution for you and your family. That’s primarily because a Will goes through probate when you die.

What is Probate?

Probate is the legal (and public) court process that validates and administers a deceased person’s Will. After authenticating a deceased person’s Will, a probate court will ensure debts are settled before releasing assets to beneficiaries per the terms of the Will. Probate is a public and often time-consuming and expensive process.

Dying without a Will or a Trust is called dying intestate. When dying intestate, the probate court will require your assets to be distributed according to your state’s law. Laws vary in different states.

Why Families Should Avoid Probate

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Cost

Probate can often be expensive. Legal fees, executor fees, and other costs must be paid before your assets can be fully distributed to your heirs. In addition, if you own property in other states, your family could face multiple probates, each one according to the laws in that state.
For example:
A 1 Million dollar estate in California will cost $46,000 in probate fees (estate worth includes the fair market value of your home).

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Time

As a court process, probate is time-consuming. In California, probate usually takes around two years, but often longer. During this time, the court usually freezes your assets while accurately inventorying your estate. Thus, nothing can be distributed or sold without the court’s and/or Will’s executor’s approval. Also, if your family needs money for living expenses, they must request a living allowance, which the court may deny.

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Public Record

With probate, your family has no privacy. Probate is a public process, so any “interested party” can see what you own, your debts, who will receive your assets, and when they will receive them. This means the probate process “invites” disgruntled heirs to contest your Will and can expose your family to unscrupulous solicitors.

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Lack of Control

Your family has no control. The court process determines how much it will cost, how long it will take, and what information is made public.

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Why Choose A Living Trust?

Avoid Probate: Since the successor trustee distributes the assets according to the trust creator’s instructions, without the interference of the court, living trusts help you avoid probate.

Ensure Your Family’s Privacy: A probate can become a matter of public record. But a living trust is a private document.

Secure Your Assets & Loved Ones: A living trust sets out a clear plan for the distribution of your assets, which can help you protect your assets from certain people and provide care for a loved one with special needs.

Prevent Court from Controlling Your Assets in the Event of Incapacitation: When you have a living trust, the person you chose as the trustee can manage your assets—without the court’s interference— if you become incapacitated or ill.

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What is a Living Trust?

A living trust is a legal document that, similar to a Will, contains your instructions for what you want to happen to your assets when you die. But, unlike a will, a living trust can avoid probate at death, control all of your assets with the use of a trustee similar to a business, and prevent the court from controlling your assets if you become incapacitated.

A good estate plan will include a living trust, pour-over will, durable power of attorney, and an advanced health care directive.

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Based on 48 reviews
Sunny Hy
Sunny Hy
2024-01-29
Working with Julie Ann was a great experience. We had her help us with our trust and tailored it to what we needed/wanted and followed up quickly and promptly, giving us peace of mind throughout the process. It was done within a reasonable time and cost. I would highly recommend her and her team if you were looking to get a trust for you and your family.
Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson
2024-01-13
Julie has helped me both personally and professionally for more than a decade. During those years Julie has shown herself as a great listener while presenting intelligent options and sound legal advice for both my family and my clients in their estate planning process. She has never disappointed. I'll continue to refer my friends, family and clients for a great experience!
Andy B
Andy B
2024-01-11
Julie helped my wife and I secure our future with a Living Trust as well as a Post-Nuptial agreement. Julie was thoughtful and thorough in gaining an understanding of our specific needs and interests; was effective at translating complex legal-ese into something we understood; and was prompt and efficient in providing the final product. Kelsey supported this process as a legal assistant and was proactively communicative; ensured we had all necessary files, forms, and ephemera necessary to successfully complete what would otherwise be a confusing process. They are an great team and are highly recommended.
Ryan Lam
Ryan Lam
2024-01-11
Julie and her team were great to work with throughout the entire estate planning process. They were very understanding of our goals and always took the time to guide us through the complex information. After sharing my experience with friends and family, I have already had people asking for an introduction to Julie and her team!
Richard Ho
Richard Ho
2023-11-25
Julie handled our estate planning needs very professionally. She has a lot of knowledge and experience and helped us understand the changes to the law that have happened since we last looked at estate planning. She is so calming and very patient to answer questions and make sure we understood everything. Her staff are super helpful and very friendly and accommodating. Highly recommended!
Barry
Barry
2023-10-30
I engaged the services of Ms. Sowards in July of 2022 for the purpose of drawing up my will and establishing my living trust. She carried these out to the highest standards, thus relieving me of a major concern. I highly recommend her to my friends, acquaintances, and anyone else who need this done.
Jerry Young
Jerry Young
2023-10-30
Julie was phenomenal in helping me administer my great grandfathers trust. Her steps were easy to follow and I look forward to forming my own trust with her.
Terry F
Terry F
2023-10-23
By Terry F... Having grown up as an only child I never felt a sense of urgency to address my parent's trust when they passed since I didn't have any siblings to complicate matters - boy was I wrong! When I finally got around to it, I was surprised to learn that the assumption that they had a trust plus Prop 13 on my side was going to make it easy was waaay off base. From the time my parents passed away and my addressing their estate, you can imagine my shock when I learned that Prop 13 was not a guarantee of a smooth transfer of assets due to a multitude of legislation including Prop 58 and Prop 19. A reassessment of property values and corresponding tax bills can easily be triggered by how applications are submitted. (e.g. Parent to Child Exclusion, Death of a Cotenant, etc. ). Fortunately, I had Team Julie on my side and they knew when to "zig" and when to "zag". From the outset I knew that if we were to battle the county and state, Julie would go to war for me. She successfully navigated properties with different circumstances around obstacles that could have easily resulted in reassessment. If someone has what you deem to be a simple transfer (like I did) or a complicated one, I strongly urge you to meet with Julie. I trust Team Julie because she is genuinely concerned for my family's best interests. Her office is also quick to respond to questions - she is not part of a big conglomerate, she is part of the community! Best~Terry F
Linda Barnes
Linda Barnes
2023-10-02
Julie is so knowledgable and nice to work with. The office staff are friendly and very efficient.