Estate Planning for Special Needs Children

Posted June 16, 2017 in Estate Planning by Michael Lonich.

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June 16, 2017
Estate Planning for Special Needs Children
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Having a child with special needs brings countless challenges to overcome. Parents of these children, regardless of age, are their biggest advocates, providers, and caretakers. Life is unpredictable, but if parents have a well thought out plan they can take comfort in knowing their child will continue to be provided for. Therefore, it is essential that parents of a special needs child plan early regarding their estate.

Setting out an estate plan to provide for a child with special needs has its own unique hurdles. One is to design a plan that supplements a child’s government benefits while enhancing the quality of the child’s life. As a parent, if you leave your child too much outright this may risk them losing their public benefits. Another hurdle to overcome is to figure out how to provide for proper supervision, management, and distribution of the inheritance through a third party created and funded Special Needs Trust. The task of estate planning may feel daunting at times, but with a knowledgeable attorney and good organization parents can execute a successful estate plan.

The ultimate goal is to preserve public benefits for a disabled child. Parents will want the plan to provide a lifetime of money management for the child’s benefit, protect the child’s eligibility for public benefits, and ensure a pool of funds available for future use in the event public funding ceases or is restricted.

These goals can be accomplished by executing a Special Needs Trust. If properly drafted and administered, a Special Needs Trust will allow the child to continually qualify for public assisted programs even though their parents have left them an inheritance. This occurs since the assets are not directly available to the child and because this type of trust has strict limits on the trustee’s availability to give money to the child.

Parents who draft a Special Needs Trust will appoint a trustee to act as the child’s money manager. This is a very important decision because it will ensure the long-term success of the Special Needs Trust. Parents should closely counsel with their attorney before making this selection.

Parents may also wish to appoint a guardian or conservator. A conservatorship or guardianship are court proceedings that designate a person to handle certain affairs for an incapacitated person. Where a conservator cares for the estate and financial affairs, a guardian is responsible for personal affairs such as where the child lives or what doctor they see.

Parent’s planning will ensure their child is cared for in the best way possible. But it is important to plan now. If you are considering drafting an estate plan and would like more information about Special Needs Trusts or other options available, please contact the experienced estate law attorneys at Lonich & Patton.

Lastly, please remember that each individual situation is unique, and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship

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Understanding the Impact of the Spousal Fiduciary Duty on Estate Planning

Posted March 21, 2017 in Estate Planning, Family Law by Michael Lonich.

We have outlined the spousal fiduciary duty on this blog before; now, we’re delving a bit deeper to discuss the impact of the spousal fiduciary duty on estate planning.  Traditionally, California courts rely on a common law burden-shifting framework when confronted with the possibility that a spouse has unduly influenced his/her spouse’s estate planning decisions.  However, a 2014 case from a California Court of Appeal—Lintz v. Lintz— took a different approach, and instead, relied on the statutory spousal fiduciary duty articulated in California Family Code section 721 to resolve an estate planning/undue influence claim.

The common law framework provides that the person alleging undue influence bears the burden of proof.  However, the challenger can shift the burden to the proponent of a testamentary instrument by establishing, by a preponderance of the evidence, three elements: 1) a confidential relationship, 2) active procurement of the instrument, and 3) an undue benefit to the alleged influencer.

Departing from the common law, the Lintz court—faced with an allegedly abusive wife who intimidated her husband into amending his trust to her tremendous benefit and to the extreme detriment of her stepchildren—looked to Family Code section 721 when it decided in favor of the husband’s estate.  Section 721 creates a broad fiduciary duty between spouses that demands a duty of “the highest good faith and fair dealing.”  Further, neither spouse may take unfair advantage of the other.  As a result, if any inter-spousal transaction advantages only one spouse, a statutory presumption arises under section 721 that the advantaged spouse exercised undue influence.  The presumption is rebuttable—the advantaged spouse can demonstrate that the disadvantaged spouse’s action was freely and voluntarily made, with full knowledge of the facts, and with a complete understanding of the transaction.

California Family Code section 850 describes three categories of inter-spousal transactions: 1) community property to separate property, 2) separate property to community property, and 3) separate property of one spouse to separate property of other spouse.  Notably, the section does not consider transferring community or separate property to trusts.

The court concluded that section 721 applies because section 850 does include property transferred to revocable trusts—in Lintz, Wife’s undue influence caused Husband, via his trust, to transmute a large part of his separate property to community property.  Accordingly, the court held that Family Code section 721 creates a presumption of undue influence when one spouse names the other as a beneficiary in a revocable trust.

Criticism of the decision abounds—all estate plans that name a spouse as a beneficiary, by their very nature, benefit one spouse.  In turn, use of the Family Code undue influence presumption threatens to disturb all testamentary instruments, and litigation may flood the family courts as spouses seek to rebut the seemingly automatic presumption that Lintz creates.  On the other hand, some commenters believe Lintz does not indicate a new paradigm, but rather, showcases a court’s eagerness to remedy the serious injury inflicted by a spouse’s egregious influence.

At the very least, the Lintz case does demonstrate that estate planning and family law are deeply intertwined.  Consulting with an attorney to learn how a marriage or divorce can impact your testamentary wishes is always wise.  If you have any questions about your family law and/or estate planning needs, please contact the experienced attorneys at Lonich & Patton—we offer free half-hour consultations.

Lastly, please remember that each individual situation is unique, and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

SOURCES:

California Family Code section 721

California Family Code section 850

Lintz v. Lintz (2014) 222 Cal.App.4th 1346.

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Trust Administration: How a Trustee Can Collect Reasonable Fees

Posted January 24, 2017 in Estate Planning by Michael Lonich.

Although trusts do avoid the complication and expense of probate proceedings, a trustee—the person given power to hold legal title to and to manage trust assets—is not necessarily spared the administrative burdens that can accompany estate management.  Trustee responsibilities can include clearing title to property held in the decedent’s name, the preparation and filing of estate and income tax returns, and the collection of insurance proceeds—essentially any task necessary to administer the trust as the trust instrument instructs.  Typically, the creator of the trust—the settlor—will appoint a trustee in the trust instrument and provide compensation from his or her estate for the trustee’s services.  However, if the trust instrument does not specify any compensation, California Probate Code § 15681 allows a trustee to receive “reasonable compensation under the circumstances.”

In re McLaughlin’s Estate defines “reasonable.”  First, the trial court has wide discretion when making a fee determination, but it should consider the following factors:

1) The gross income of the trust estate

2) The success or failure of the trustee’s estate administration

3) Any unusual skill or experience which the trustee may have brought to his/her work

4) The fidelity or disloyalty displayed by the trustee

5) The amount of risk and responsibility assumed by the trustee

6) The time spent by the trustee in carrying out the trust

7) Community customs as to fees allowed by settlors/courts or as to fees charged by trust companies and banks

8) The character of the administration work done

9) Whether the work was routine or involving skill and judgment

10) Any estimate which trustee has given of his/her own services.

In McLaughlin, the appeal court concluded, after considering the above factors, that the trial court justly allocated reasonable fees—the trustees had profitably and with special skill managed the trust property, had accurately summarized receipts and transactions, and had committed a large amount of time to the trust’s administration.

Estate of Nazro provides another example of the above factors in action: Here, although the trustee received dividend checks, made bank deposits, wrote checks, prepared quarterly accountings, and reviewed trust assets, the work did not consume much of the trustee’s time.  Further, the court noted that corporate trustees in the area customarily charged management fees based on a schedule of percentages of the value of the various trust assets.  Therefore, the court held that $2,500 was an appropriate amount of compensation for the trustee’s services.

Ultimately, managing a trust estate is not always a walk in the park—if not otherwise provided, trustees should not be afraid to ask for compensation for their services.  However, keep in mind that compensation must reasonable and proportional to the work done on behalf of the trust.

If you have recently been named or appointed as a trustee or you are interested in creating a trust, please contact the experienced attorneys at Lonich & Patton.  We can help you understand what being a trustee entails, and if you want to create a trust, how you can properly compensate your chosen trustee.

Lastly, please remember that each individual situation is unique, and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Sources:

California Probate Code § 15681

In re McLaughlin’s Estate (1954) 43 Cal.2d 462

Estate of Nazro (1971) 15 Cal.App.2d. 218

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Estate Planning for Millennials

Posted September 28, 2016 in Estate Planning by Michael Lonich.

While estate planning may sound like an activity reserved for the baby boomer generation, even Millennials can get in on the fun!  Further, estate planning is not only for people with ample assets—planning for your future can extend to healthcare decisions and even your Facebook account.  Of course, thinking about death—especially one’s own—is hard, but there are many benefits to be reaped from laying out a few guidelines for your loved ones.

To begin, estate planning at a young age may not involve complex financial considerations, but there are two key areas to focus on: healthcare and personal property.

First, once you turn 18 years old, family members no longer have the legal right to access your medical records, and should you become incapacitated, your family would not be able to speak to your doctors or make medical decisions on your behalf.  Estate planning ensures that in the event of your incapacitation, your health is taken care of according to your wishes and by people you trust—

1) Advanced Healthcare Directive: A legal document in which you detail what medical actions should be taken if you are incapacitated or unable to make decisions on your own.  This document can be used to record your preference (or not) for a “do not resuscitate” order.

2) Durable Power of Attorney: A legal document which, should you become incapacitated, gives power to a person of your choosing to make medical or financial decisions on your behalf.  A durable power of attorney works in conjunction with an advanced healthcare directive to ensure that your health preferences are understood and heeded.

3) HIPPA Release Form: This form allows people listed on your advanced healthcare directive to access your medical records.  Access to your records makes it easier for your designated caregivers to make informed decisions regarding your health.

Second, you may not have a lot of assets, but most likely, you do have some treasured possessions.  To prevent your assets from being waylaid by intestacy (in which state laws determine how your property is distributed), consider making a will or trust—

4) Wills and Trusts:  A will and/or trust details to where and to whom your assets will go after your death.  While you may be content to let intestacy laws distribute your estate, creating a will or trust can streamline the process and assure your relatives that they are honoring your true wishes.  Importantly, besides money, you should consider other cherished aspects of your estate.  First, your pet—who will take care of your beloved fur friend?  Second, consider family heirlooms passed down to you through grandma and grandpa—a will or trust ensures that those items fall into the right hands.  Third, do you want to allocate any assets to a significant other?  If you and your partner are not married, he or she is not entitled to any of your assets and will likely receive nothing through intestacy either.  Whether you want to leave money or possessions—valuable or sentimental—a will or trust ensures your significant other receives a piece of your estate.

5) Digital Assets:  Social media accounts and digital files need postmortem management, especially if you would like your family to shut down your various online accounts.  Federal law does not require that websites permanently delete the account of a deceased user.  Therefore, designating a digital “executor” and creating an inventory (with updated usernames and passwords) of your online accounts that details what you would like done with them can ensure your online presence is handled according to your wishes.

Death is a difficult subject, but estate planning ensures that your family is not left without direction for how your final wishes should be carried out.  Therefore, if you are interested in learning more about estate planning, please contact the experienced attorneys at Lonich & Patton.  We can help determine what documents would best safeguard your assets and/or your medical wishes.

Lastly, please remember that each individual situation is unique, and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

 

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Three Things to Know About Creating a Living Trust

Posted July 27, 2016 in Estate Planning, Probate by Michael Lonich.

First, one of the biggest advantages of creating a living trust is avoiding probate court.  Administering a will or trust through probate court takes time and money.  A living trust is a great estate planning vehicle because it can keep the entire administration process court-free.  When the settlor of the trust passes away, the terms of the trust dictate how the estate should be administered. In turn, probate court is avoided.

Second, make sure that the successor trustee is someone who is capable of administering the trust.  Often times, the oldest child is chosen to be the successor trustee.  However, the oldest child is not always the right choice.  A successful administration requires a trustee who is organized, diligent, and capable of administering the trust.  It is also beneficial to have someone with an understanding of accounting.  If your oldest child does not have any of these characteristics, consider appointing another child, relative, or friend.  If no one you know is capable of administering the estate, you may have to hire a third party. There are a number of trust companies and banks that administer trusts.  The biggest concern about hiring a third party is the administration fees, which can be substantial.  If your estate can handle the fees, a third party may be the right choice for you.  Lastly, a trust will never fail for lack of a trustee.  If the elected trustee refuses, another one will be appointed.

Finally, creating a trust avoids California’s intestacy laws.  A state’s intestacy laws provide the default estate plan for those who die without a will.  In California, the beneficiary of a decedent’s estate depends on whether the property was community property or separate property.  Assuming that decedent was married and had community property, the surviving spouse’s intestate share is the decedent’s one-half share of the community property.  On the other hand, if the decedent’s property was separate property, the intestate share of the surviving spouse depends on how many children the decedent had, if any.  While it is important to know a state’s intestacy laws, they should be avoided at all cost.  Thus, creating a trust is a way to avoid intestate succession and have your estate administered the way you want it.

If you are interested in creating a living trust or have any questions regarding your current estate plan, please contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at Lonich & Patton for further information.  The attorneys at Lonich & Patton have decades of experience handling complex estate planning matters, and we are happy to offer you a free consultation.  Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Sources:

California Probate Codes § 6400-6414.

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