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Estate Planning

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Don't let the life insurance that covers your spouse or parent get away!


Do you know what life insurance policies cover your spouse or parent? Few of us can remember like an elephant. Many years ago, when someone came to our firm for help after their spouse or family member died, we would follow procedures offered by a large life insurance database to check and see whether there was any life insurance on the life of the person who had died. Using this database, we regularly found life insurance benefits for surviving family members. Then the insurance industry group that offered the database went away.

Family members often do not know what insurance their spouse or parents carry.
Read more . . .


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Don’t Ruin Your Life vs. Don’t Put Me in a Nursing Home

Don’t Ruin Your Life
vs.
Don’t Put Me in a Nursing Home

Families deal with aging in different ways. We all hope that, if we are struck by Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s or another Dementia, our spouses and our children will be willing to step up and be there for us.  At the same time, many of us are torn between our desire to be taken care of by our own family and the realization that if our spouse or children take care of us, the caretaking will takeover their lives.  Our instinct is to protect them, even in the face of our own needs.  According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP over 65.7 million people take care of someone who is ill, disabled or aged in the U.S. without compensation.

We may be forced to wrestle with how to save our families from our own needs.  Bringing outside care providers into our homes can quickly consume our life’s savings and quickly eat up our family’s nest egg.  Agency supplied care providers often start at $18 an hour and peak at $28/hr. Privately found and paid caregivers can be less, but are unknown and working unsupervised can pose a threat to a Senior’s person, finances, and dignity. Most Seniors are very hesitant to spend their life savings on in home care.  This quandary quickly becomes a quagmire.

As a nation, we are very loyal in our commitment to take care of our spouses and parents.  How much should we be willing to sacrifice? How much do we want our spouses to endure and our children to sacrifice?  At what point do we want them to find a suitable care facility for us? How much of their lives must they give up before getting help? Do we want them to continue to carry the burden of keeping us at home if we no longer know we are there?  The Washington Post ‘Promise you’ll never put me in a nursing home’ recently focused in on these issues, and came away without an answer.

These are thorny issues that need to be discussed and revisited every few years.  Part of the discussion needs to be the best ways to pay for care.  Including an elder law attorney in that discussion is critical.  Elder law attorneys are experienced in helping families arrange their affairs to qualify for public entitlements and Veterans’ benefits to help pay for a Senior’s care.  At the Weissler Law Group, we are accustomed to helping families prepare for and face these issues. We believe that everyone deserves to be cared for when they are old and that being able to access help to pay for in home or residential care can make an enormous difference.  If elder care is not yet a crisis for your family, call us today at (619) 281-1888 to plan for tomorrow.  If you are dealing with overwhelming care needs today, call us immediately at (619) 281-1888 to find out what can still be done to protect family assets and pay for care. 



Wednesday, January 6, 2016

40 Percent Of Baby Boomers Run With Scissors

40% of Baby Boomers Run With Scissors

New clients, visiting my office in San Diego, are often embarrassed when they admit to me that they don’t have, a will or trust or that it’s been a long time since they updated their estate planning documents.  For years I’ve told them that they are in good company; maybe I should have said bad company?

Unfortunately, an amazing number of smart people seem to put planning for how their assets will be deployed after they die on the bottom of their to do lists.  Even so, running without a will, running without an estate plan is like running with scissors.  It doesn’t matter until we fall and none of us know when we will fall.

According to AARP nearly 40% of Baby Boomers between 51 and 69 years old, do not have wills or trusts. They are running with scissors.   

AARP also found that Baby Boomer have taught this lesson to their children.  71% of all Americans over the age of 34 are running with scissors. 

You cannot control who will get your assets without taking action. Over the last twenty-six years as an estate planning attorney I’ve seen how proper planning can make a positive difference for families and how the failure to plan can rip families apart and put children and young adults on paths of destruction. 

Your assets are your life’s work, with proper planning they can continue to work for you after you’re gone by providing incentives to guide your children and grandchildren and provide support or a long term nest egg to help your family members be more financially secure.  Prudent deployment of your nest egg has become increasingly important for families in our world where businesses fail, pensions are rare; social security uncertain; and the cost of raising children and the costs of getting help if you are disabled keeps going up.

While doing estate planning right is not cheap, it is always less expensive than the financial and personal cost of dying without plan documents.  For average San Diego home owners choosing to die without a living trust, they have chosen a ten to eighteen month delay as to when their family can receive their inheritance and chosen to pay attorneys’ fees and court expenses of not less than $18,000.  

Money is money and time is time, but subjecting your family to the Probate process is encouraging them to fight. It is in the nature of being in court, where misunderstandings and old wrongs thought left behind become fuel for conflict and legacy consuming attorneys’ fees. The one legacy you don’t want to leave behind is a court battle between your family members.

Make it your New Year’s resolution to call an estate planning attorney today. Call me at (619) 281-1888. I, or one of my staff, will make sure that start 2016 off on the right foot, with no scissors in hand. 

 


Friday, November 27, 2015

Pre-Planning with a San Diego Elder Lawyer for Nursing Home Care

Pre-Planning with a San Diego Elder Lawyer for Nursing Home Care

One of the more difficult topics that San Diego elder law attorneys and their clients must discuss is the potential need for nursing home care. However, talking about it and knowing the options is actually one of the things that can make things easier. With the help of a good elder care lawyer in San Diego, seniors and their adult children can plan ahead to remove fear and uncertainty about the future.

One of the most compelling reasons for pre-planning nursing home care is the fact that the senior can be thoroughly involved in the process. Far too often, San Diego elder law lawyers work with families where the person in need of care has experienced physical or mental impairments that limit their participation in the planning process.  It is not uncommon for seniors who have had a simple fall, even if they only suffered bumps and bruises, to feel paralyzed when they face the planning process.  Whether overwhelmed by facing a sudden reality that they need to plan, are incapacitated and unable to communicate or their cognitive functions have deteriorated due to dementia or other problems, elderly individuals who wait too long can find that they have a hard time making their true wishes know or perhaps simply cannot make long term care decisions without guidance..

An additional problem that pre-planning solves is that nursing home care is often needed on very short notice, as the result of an unexpected illness or injury. In the midst of a medical crisis, most families would prefer to already have arrangements in place so they can simply focus on treatment, recovery, or long-term care.

Understanding the importance of pre-planning is a great starting point. The next step is to familiarize yourself with some of the conversations you and your elder law attorney should have. For example, a lawyer may talk you, as their client, through the various alternatives to nursing home care in order to determine what is really the best option for you. Instead of a nursing home, it’s possible that you might be better served with in-home care or at an assisted-living facility. An elder lawyer with extensive experience in the San Diego area will also have first-hand knowledge regarding the reputation and levels of care available from various local caregivers and institutions.

The entire process of researching, selecting, applying to, and paying for nursing home care is complex. It’s not something that most people can navigate easily. Pre-planning with an elder law attorney can remove some of the mystery and also gives you the opportunity to compare facilities and negotiate prices. Each of these things gets considerably harder when being done in a rush on the heels of an illness or accident.

The thing to keep in mind is that San Diego elder care lawyers are experienced in focusing on the needs of seniors. From pre-planning for nursing home care to qualifying for Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid plan) to setting up a smart estate plan, elder law attorneys have specific knowledge of the unique planning issues that directly affect our older generation.  A San Diego Elder Law Attorney  can help you and your family anticipate problems and prepare solutions for problems that haven’t even arisen yet!

The Weissler Law Group can help you start or fine tune your planning to prepare for aging and care related issues. Call us at (619) 281-1888


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Preparing your Executor or Trustee for Wills and Trust Administration in San Diego

Wake up and Prepare your Executor or Trustee to Administer your Will or Trust in San Diego

As an individual puts together his or her estate plan, there is a need to really think about how it will be administered. California Wills and trusts administration can be a complex process, although having an estate plan in place is without a doubt one of the best ways to simplify it. Another way to improve the outcome of the administration is to thoroughly prepare your executor or successor Trustee for the job ahead of them.

In California we call executors and successor trustees “Personal Representatives.” In San Diego Personal Representatives are called on to take care of many different details related to administering a will or trust. In order to improve that person’s efficiency and make the most of your estate plan, start by talking with the person you want to perform the job and make sure that he or she is willing and able to do so. It’s possible that you could name someone as the executor of the estate intending it to be an honor, but without briefing them in advance, that person might actually feel like it is a burden or unwanted responsibility. Keep in mind that this doesn’t make the person uncaring, rather, it allows you to name someone who will do the job willingly and well. For many people they just don’t have time in their lives to step into another’s shoes and either wind up their affairs or administer them over an extended period of time.

You can also smooth the process for the executor by actually discussing the contents of your estate plan with him or her, as well as with other family members and friends who will be affected. It’s hard to foresee what kinds of problems could arise during will or trust administration, so laying things out in advance can help avoid surprises later. Family dynamics are an incredibly personal and complicated thing, and the estate plan will likely need to take them into consideration. So, if one family member has a problem with addiction, a grandchild has a disability, or one sibling is substantially wealthier than others, these are all possible reasons a plan might not look the way everyone expected. Your goal of protecting more vulnerable family members could be perceived as unfair by those who don’t ‘need’ the help but feel distributions should be equal. Preparing them, and the executor, can avoid drama later—including but not limited to discouraging someone from trying to contest your will or trust.

Keeping your executor, or successor trustee, apprised of potentially upsetting aspects of the estate plan can help them navigate the will or trust administration later, especially since they will be clear on your intentions and therefore better armed to carry them out. Their abilities can also be bolstered by introducing them to your estate planning lawyer who can help them to really understand what will be expected of them and give them insight into things like taxes, court costs, paying off debt, and so on. With a little guidance up front, family conflicts can be reduced and your will or trust’s administration can run as smoothly as possible.  

At the Weissler Law Group we work to make certain our Clients' wishes are carried out and family conflicts are minimized or avoided.  We can be reached at (619) 281-1888


Monday, November 2, 2015

A Primer from Your San Diego Wills and Trusts Lawyer

A Primer from Your San Diego Wills and Trusts Lawyer

Wills and trusts lawyers in San Diego handle so much more than just the creation of legal documents. One of the most important parts of the job is educating and guiding clients through their options, which often depend on the client’s unique financial and family needs.  Commoditized, standardized, fill in the blank documents almost always fall short of meeting the needs of San Diego families.

Estate planning lawyers use all kinds of strategies to help clients

  • provide for their own needs against the possibility that they will not be able to speak or act for themselves,
  • protect their assets,
  • provide for future generations

Guidance provided by estate planning attorneys can extend beyond the creation of legal documents and structures.  Sometimes it can be about your retirement planning options or might include recommendations regarding life insurance and the best way to hold or pay for it.

All of that being said, when father and mothers in Poway or Pacific Beach think of trusts, they think of estate planning, wills and trusts lawyers.  When grandparents in Otay Lakes or La Mesa think of wills, they think of estate planning, wills and trusts attorneys.  Only an attorney can help utilize wills and trust to provide for your wishes to be followed, when you are unable to voice them yourself, and to protect your assets.

To that end, today’s blog article is a basic introduction to wills and trusts.

Trusts

Trusts are a great tool for protecting an estate because they provide tax benefits, privacy, and the ability to minimize drawn-out and potentially expensive probate proceedings.  A wills and trusts lawyer can help you create the trust. Trusts offer enormous flexibility in dictating how your assets can be, or should be, handled when you are unable to do so yourself.  Your personal values and goals in providing for others should be reflected in the trust documents you create.  Unrestricted support trusts and lump sum distribution wills and trust too often do harm.  Each of us wants the life’s work to make a difference when we are gone.  Most of my Clients don’t want to leave inheritances to their children or grandchildren in such a way as discourages hard work and achievement. 

Trusts are a hybrid between business entities and contracts.  Modern trusts trace their roots back to the English King, Henry VIII.  Trusts can only affect and control what they own.  Most people use their revocable living trusts like gloves.  All that they own, they hold in their hands through the trust.  When you create your trust, you will be able to choose whose hand should slide into that glove to manage your assets if you are not able to do so.  During your lifetime, revocable trusts are invisible for tax purposes.  This means that any income or loss created by assets within the trust must be reported on your own personal tax return. It is your income.  Likewise, in California, the assets in a revocable living trust remain vulnerable as your assets if you are sued or owe taxes. 

In addition to flexible revocable trusts there are many other available trust uses, like providing protection from your own potential future creditors and shifting growth to the outside of your taxable estate.  There are many trust options available, so it’s best to really go through the options with an estate planning, wills and trust lawyer in San Diego in order to determine what makes the most sense for you and your family.

Wills

A will, on the other hand, acts as a set of instructions as to what you wish to have happen when you die.  Wills nominate executors, but those nominated executors have no real power unless they are then appointed to that post by a court proceeding.  This court proceeding, called probate, tightly scrutinizes and exposes to family and public scrutiny, all actions taken by the appointed executor. 

Before living trusts became affordable and the probate process became so expensive and drawn out Wills were the way things were handled.  To avoid the hassle of transferring assets during your lifetime – most trusts were contained within Wills and were given life, and supervised, by the court overseeing the probate. It is now rare for Californians to intentionally pass their assets through a Will.  The costs of administering a will are too high, the process tends to make family members fight, and it takes so long.

Although Probate has become a process to be avoided, Wills still have a place.  They are an excellent tool to use to name who you wish to have as the guardian for your children.  Wills are also an excellent tool which can be used by older married couples to protect assets against a disabled spouse’s disability care costs.

The best way to move forward is to work with a wills and trusts lawyer to develop both a will and one or more trusts. Yes, there are a lot of choices, but a San Diego  wills and trusts lawyer can simplify the entire process for you and offer expert advice to help you develop and implement a solid strategy for the future.

As an aside, wills and trusts are not the only important things you will want to discuss with your lawyer. Your estate plan should also include documents such as powers of attorney and advance medical directives to ensure that your choices for helpers are known should you become incapacitate or disabled. Again, a good San Diego wills and trusts lawyer is a great resource for getting things underway. Please call me for help getting started creating a will, trust or more involved estate plan to protect your family.  Call (619) 281-1888

 


Friday, October 16, 2015

San Diego Estate Planning Lawyers Recommend Revocable Living Trusts

San Diego Estate Planning Lawyers Recommend Revocable Living Trusts

OK, that title may be a little misleading, as not every estate planning lawyer in San Diego is going to recommend a revocable living trust for every single client. That said, this particular kind of trust is one that is suggested and discussed a whole lot because of all the things it can do for you, your estate and your family. Non-Attorneys often believe that Living Trusts are just to avoid probate when you die. Experienced Lawyers know that isn’t true. These tools not only help get things in order in case you unexpectedly pass away, but also protects your control over your assets should you become incapacitated or even stuck outside of the country.

You Have Access to Your Stuff

San Diego trust lawyers and clients alike appreciate the revocable living trust because it doesn’t get in the way while its owner is living. It doesn’t impede its owners access to money, property, and so on while they are alive and able to express their wishes. All trusts have the same parties involved – a “settlor” who creates the trust and a “trustee” who manages the trust assets on behalf of the “beneficiaries.” The revocable living trust is special because it allows the creators (“settlors”) to name themselves as “trustees” who are able to direct what happens to the assets of the trust. Money can be spent, property can be sold, investments can be made. There aren’t a whole lot of limitations on what the settlors as trustees are allowed to do with trust’s assets. This flexibility extends to any other trustees who the settlors may designate to handle things if they are not able to act as the trust’s Trustee. This is an incredible benefit to make certain your assets are used the way you want them to be used if you are absent, ill or no longer walking the earth.

What “Revocable” Means

Another reason that revocable living trusts are favored is because the grantor retains the ability to make changes to the trust. In fact, they can even end it altogether if desired, i.e., revoke it. This allows the trust to be especially flexible and to change along with the grantor’s circumstances. A brief meeting with their San Diego trust lawyer is usually all that’s required put in place an amendment to modify or terminate the trust.

You Have Control

As the Settlor of a trust you can provide in your trust document for how your assets are to be used during your lifetime and who gets what, when, and with what conditions or stipulations after you pass away. This means that your wishes, whether to provide an incentive for an adult child to take certain actions or to help your children pay for your grandchildren’s piano lessons or summer camp, you can do so through your revocable and amendable living trust.

What Your Assets are Protected From

When an individual, with more than a small amount of assets, passes away without a trust, his or her estate will go through the probate process. This is a totally public process in which assets will be listed for the courts, debts will be made public, your heirs/beneficiaries and their addresses will be made public, and any number of things someone might rather keep private can become public knowledge. Fortunately, assets held in trust are not exposed to this kind of scrutiny.

Privacy isn’t the only issue people have with probate, either. It is generally lengthy, expensive, and sometimes ridiculously complicated. Typical San Diego Probates take from a year to two years to finish before families can receive their inheritances. California Probate fees are based on the gross value of the assets going through the probate. This can make it very pricey. Estate planning lawyers know this and regularly recommend revocable living trusts as ways to circumvent the process. In fact, someone owning property in both California and one or more other states can avoid probate in more than one state at the same time by placing all the properties into the revocable living trust.

A revocable living trust is only one of the many tools a California trust lawyer has at their disposal, but it is undoubtedly a very important one because it directly benefits their clients during their lifetimes and their client’s heirs upon death. If have questions about how a living trust works or whether it makes sense for you, please give me a call at (619) 281-1888.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

30 Things Good San Diego Will, Trust, and Estate Lawyers Want You to Know

30 Things Good San Diego

Will, Trust & Estate Lawyers

Want You to Know

Estate planning is a pretty big field, with lots to take into consideration with your lawyer. There are complexities and confusion; but at the end of it all, there’s no doubt that coming up with a solid plan is one of the best paths for retirement, saving, what you are able to leave behind, and—of course— making things easier on your loved ones.

What follows is a list of things that every credible San Diego will and estates lawyer would want you to know. Items range from funeral arrangements to important documentation to life insurance and IRAs. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it does give you a little insight into the complexities of estate planning.  So, here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Trusts aren’t just for wealthy people.
  2. Trust assets don’t go through the probate process and can be put into action right away.
  3. Trusts keep your family business private.
  4. You should share your plans with those they will affect.
  5. Healthcare directives (Advance Directives) and financial powers of attorney are an important part of your estate plan.
  6. Anyone with minor children in California should have an estate planning lawyer draw up standby guardianship papers.
  7. Make sure your family can find your estate plan.
  8. If you die without a will or trust, pretty much every decision is up to the courts—not you!
  9. Wills and trusts can be contested, but it’s not nearly as common as you might think.
  10. There is a very good chance that you will be physically incapacitated before you die.
  11. Family members don’t always think clearly when an estate is being distributed.
  12. Your ex-spouse may be entitled to your assets if you haven’t changed beneficiaries.
  13. There are trusts to provide for everything from your pets to your family’s ability to travel the world.
  14. You can place limitations on how and over what period of time your heirs get to use their inheritance.
  15. A good San Diego will and estate lawyer can save you an unbelievable amount in probate fees, estate, property and income taxes.
  16. You can use life insurance and other means to supply funds for a trust.
  17. Websites that promise do-it-yourself planning kits are pretty much NEVER the answer – they necessarily need to be “one size fits all.”
  18. Family members are not the only people you can choose as the executor of your estate—there are professionals who can do this job.
  19. You can make annual gifts (currently up to $14,000 per person) tax-free while you’re still living – but if you may need long term care soon there are other restrictions that should be observed when making gifts.
  20. There’s a big difference between a “will” and a “living will” (Both are important).
  21. It’s never too early or too late to start your estate planning (But the earlier you start, the better).
  22. Review your estate plan at least once a year.
  23. Review your estate plan after any major life change.
  24. As you age, your estate planning (and other legal) needs will change focus.
  25. Money cannot ordinarily be left to minor children directly.
  26. Make sure your family knows if you’re an organ or tissue donor.
  27. Make funeral arrangements (and cover expenses) a part of your estate plan.
  28. Small business owners need a succession plan
  29. There are many ways that a San Diego will and estate lawyer can help you increase the value of your estate for your heirs (such as stretch payments for IRAs, avoiding taxes with a trust, etc.).
  30. Your estate will be responsible for debts accrued during your lifetime.

If you have questions about any of these items or you are ready to get started creating an estate plan (or updating your existing plan) that takes into account your wishes for your finances, end-of-life affairs and providing for your family, feel free to contact our San Diego will and estate lawyers at (619) 281-1888 to schedule a consultation.

 


Monday, June 15, 2015

San Diego Elder Law Attorneys Ask: Are you ready to be your Parent’s Helper?

Are you ready to be your Parent’s Helper?

First Steps to Being Ready to Manage Your Elderly Parent’s Finances

Elder law attorneys in San Diego very often find themselves advising adult children of the elderly on the intricacies of managing their parents’ finances. Why get help from an Elder law attorney and not from an accountant? With rare exception, most of us know how to pay our bills. We don’t need an accountant to tell us when SDG&E or the water bill needs to be paid. Helping or handling a parent’s finances may seem straightforward at first, but without pre-planning senseless hurdles can make it stressful and unnecessarily difficult.

Too many children and grandchildren only realize that a senior’s finances have gone sideways when they see late notices in a mail pile or notice stacks of unopened mail. Parents often feel that their privacy has been violated when their lack of attention to paying their bills has been discovered. They often become evasive and defensive, when all you want to do is help.

Sometimes families are forced to deal with a senior’s financial situation without warning. These emergencies come to the surface after a bad fall or stroke which prevents a senior from handling their own affairs.

Adult children often come to an Elder law attorney to help them after their parent has suffered a debilitating health crisis. They are often in the dark. Culturally, to our own detriment, we are all trained to keep our finances private. Few seniors realize that failing to share makes it harder for them to stay captains of their own financial ships. Many seniors find it easier to be forthcoming about their finances with an elder law lawyer to provide against an uncertain future. Sometimes this is a first step that lets them begin to open up to their children. This can take time, for many senior seniors it feels wrong to speak about their finances with family members.

San Diego Elder law attorneys are accustomed to helping families deal with these issues. Seeking out an experienced elder law or estate lawyer before problems arise can help you and your parent avoid awkwardness, embarrassment and heated emotions.

The biggest triggers, making families dive-in to rearrange senior’s affairs and empower adult children to manage their aging parent’s finances, are probably health events requiring long term care and sudden realizations that their parents have significant memory issues. Financial management problems make these types of events even more painful. At times like these, getting an answer to important questions may be difficult or even impossible. Sidelined seniors seldom can tell you who they owe, how much they receive each month or where they have bank and investment accounts.

Acting ahead of time, or at least before ordinary bill paying has become a problem, empowers older parents and adult children to act as a team and avoid being forced into a role reversal. Working with an Elder law attorney, a senior maintains control by putting into place the marching orders for how things should be handled. They get to choose how their financial safety can be monitored.

Using an Elder law attorney changes the paradigm. No disruptive and harsh role reversal is needed. A good Elder law attorney can coach a family and help seniors put in place tools protect themselves while staying actively involved in their own finances. Some home bill pay pre-planning mechanisms are legal documents, many are not. The goal is for our parents to put in place mechanisms to shield them from everything falling to pieces, if and when, illness or disability prevents them from doing what must be done. Proper planning allows a senior senior to choose who they want to have act for them and put in place alerts so that their chosen person, whether family member or friend, can step in and make certain the bills are paid and the lights stay on.

Watch out for assurances that having a basic revocable living trust and a standard springing power of attorney is enough to avoid this pitfall. Although they are a good starting point as a method to transfer the power to act, they fall short in making available accurate information to act upon. If planning in advance, putting in place an immediate limited power of attorney which allows others, including banks, pension plans, brokerages, and utilities to share information between family members is a good start. Your Elder law attorney can coach you and identifying tools to either prepare for or use to handle any crisis that arises.

Most Estate planners start the idea that their work is to help you be prepared if you die, planning for disability is secondary. Most of us will experience a period of time during which we are incapacitated before we die. For attorneys cross trained in Elder law the challenge is instead to help clients be prepared to live, protect their assets and have their wishes competently followed if they are incapacitated.

Advance planning helps prevent painful family conflict. If you can act to plan in advance, you will avoid a bad situation which can cost you the closeness you have with your parent. The earlier you and your parent start meeting with a San Diego elder law attorney that you trust, the more likely you are to get the information you need. As an added bonus, your parent will have the ability to make his or her wishes known in order to offer guidance on how to handle their affairs if and when all of the responsibility is passed on to you.

No matter what stage the parent is at, the subject needs to be discussed. Again, earlier is better, too many families miss the window of opportunity during which solutions can be put in place without a tug of war. It is hard to know what or when an event will occur which robs you of your opportunity to plan in advance. You may choose to start the conversation by relating it to your own estate planning or by bringing up a situation you heard about recently, such as the death of a celebrity. San Diego is blessed with a number of good attorneys who can offer suggestions on how to bring up the subject, as well as how to help steer the conversation in the right direction.

Attorney Joel Weissler has been helping families plan for life cycle events for over 25 years. He is available for consultation and for group speaking engagements through the Weissler Law Group at (619) 281-1888.

Friday, June 5, 2015

What happens when a San Diegan dies with debts left behind?

  • WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A SAN DIEGAN DIES WITH DEBTS LEFT BEHIND?

In good times and in bad, San Diego will, trust and estate planning lawyers are intimately aware of their clients’ financial situations.  They see the plain facts; most people carry a heavy debt load.  Whether it is the person setting up an estate plan or one who has inherited from it, there are often questions regarding what happens to that debt.  Does money come out of the estate for medical bills?  Are adult children responsible for credit cards?  What happens to the mortgage?

As with so many aspects of law, the answers are somewhat complex, but here’s a basic look at what you and your San Diego will and estate lawyer might expect to see:

  • Mortgage Debt

When a home is inherited, its mortgage is, too.  Federal legislation forces banks to work with families who have inherited an encumbered (mortgaged) home.  Watch out though, these banks will expect payments to be made and may be resistant to providing inheriting heirs with the information they need to meet their obligations under the outstanding loan.  The exception to this, are reverse mortgages.  Reverse mortgages come due shortly upon the borrower’s death – with a maximum extension of a year from death.  Fortunately, new rules protect surviving spouses, even if they aren’t ‘on the loan.’   In California, all home purchase and most refi loans (except cash out loans) are non-recourse.  This means that in most cases an individual’s other assets aren’t liable if a mortgage is higher than the home is worth.  For Federally insured home mortgages, lenders must allow family members to acquire a property, prior mortgage free, for 90% of the homes appraised value, no matter how high the mortgage.  

  • Taxes

Taxes are sticky.  Most taxes stick to anything a person owing the taxes left behind. When it comes to paying bills left behind, taxes are usually exempt from claim period limitations and one of the highest priorities, needing to be paid before other debts.

  • Medical Expenses

This is an area where things can get a little dicey, so definitely work with a local San Diego attorney with experience in estate administration and probate to minimize the amount of medical debt left behind.  Who pays what and when is a tough question for outstanding bills.  More surprising for many families is that  if a person who has passed away received Medi-Cal benefits, those benefits become a debt on death and may need to be repaid from the estate.   If heirs receive distributions prior to Medi-Cal being repaid, they can become liable for all or part of the debt.  Again, the responsibility for medical and nursing home expenses is very complex and should be taken to a lawyer.

  • Credit Cards

As long as you aren’t a co-signer on a credit card, you aren’t personally responsible for them.  Remember, being an authorized user does not necessarily make you a co-signer. The companies can call the executor in order to collect from the estate, although there is a finite time frame in which to do so.  California law has procedures which can be followed to shorten the amount of time a person’s creditors have to come forward after they have died.  In addition, a good estate administration attorney can often get credit card companies to negotiate down outstanding balances in order to get a more certain and immediate payment.

  • Duty to Not Pay Unenforceable Claims

If you are not the only heir, remember that you must exercise due diligence in confirming a debt before you can pay it.  Remember, too, that when a debt is paid for by the estate, it lowers the overall amount that is left to be inherited.  It is amazing how many companies are unethical in their collection efforts.  Many pursue claims they know are no longer legally enforceable and sometimes, purely fictitious claims show up. 

  • Everyone Needs Help

Some debts must be paid from an estate.  Others do not.  Unfortunately, unethical collectors can haunt family members and it is hard to know what is what without good legal help.  A good San Diego will, trust and estate planning lawyer can help you deal with these issue properly when the time comes, or help your family proactively plan ahead to limit the value of your estate exposed to creditors using legal tools such as trusts.  To discover all of your options when dealing with someone’s debts after they have died, contact our centrally located Weissler Law Group office at (619) 281-1888


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Three California Estate Planning Myths: True or False

Three California Estate Planning Myths: True or False

San Diego estate planning lawyers eat, sleep, and breathe estate planning. They see pretty much every kind of situation unfold.  The families of individuals who have taken the time to create solid estate plans nearly always fare better than those who do not.  Still, there is an amazing amount of misinformation, misconceptions and out and out myths floating around out there that stop people from taking action to protect their futures and families with an estate planning lawyer’s assistance.

Education is the key.  I feel it is incredibly important that San Diego Attorneys, Tax Professionals and Financial Advisors tackle these myths head-on and debunk those that aren’t true.

T or F:  Estate plans are just for those with lots of assets.

The answer is false.  So many people end up unknowingly damaging their estates and hurting their families because they just don’t think they have “enough stuff” to justify an estate plan.  This myth absolutely needs to be debunked!  Estate Planning is about control, both during your lifetime and after you are gone.  If you care about what medical decisions may be made for you if you are unable to make your own decisions – you need to make estate planning decisions. If you own anything and want to direct what those assets can be used if and while you are incapacitated, you need estate planning. If you care about getting as much of your property as possible to your chosen heirs, you need estate planning.

If you fail to plan and die owning anything, there will be a legal process in order to determine what to do with it after you die.  It doesn’t take a lot of assets to force a family to endure the probate process.  In California, not only is the Probate process long and drawn out, but it also costs money!  That money comes from the estate itself, meaning that those precious few assets you wanted to pass on could actually end up being sold in order to pay for probate and taxes.  Fortunately, working with an estate planning lawyer ahead of time allows you the opportunity to put in place structures which protect your assets and circumvent probate using whatever tools are appropriate for your situation.

T or F:  You don’t need an estate plan as long as your family knows your wishes.

The answer is false.  There are a couple of problems that San Diego estate planning lawyers encounter with this line of thinking.  First, and probably most importantly, is that just because you and/or your family wants things to happen in a certain way, there’s no guarantee they will.  Without estate planning work, the California legislature’s wishes will be followed.  Your family may not be allowed to follow your wishes and may not be able to follow their own wishes.  Instead, your loved ones will be forced to follow the laws of the state of California—even if these go completely against what you wanted.  Second, and perhaps more importantly. everyone experiences grief differently.  After a death, small token items with emotional connections can become much more important.  Things become a substitute for the love they claim.   The probate process hits the grief sticken hard.  It encourages family members to resolve questions by legal challenges.  Within the probate process you cannot count on your child properly remembering your true preferences and instead not remembering different wishes which can lead them to find ways to subvert them for their own gain.  The best way to avoid both of these kinds of drama is to work with a San Diego estate planning lawyer who knows how to ensure that things go the way you want as a matter of law.

T or F:  Trust funds are for more than passing on money.

The answer is true.  While we may have certain ideas about trust funds as a result of watching too many movies, a whole lot of people aren’t clear on what they can really do.  For example, your San Diego estate planning lawyer can help you set up a trust in order to limit the taxes your estate (and heirs) will have to pay later.  Trusts also provide you with a big say in how your heirs are able to use or lose the inheritance you are leaving behind.  On the one hand, do you want them to have free rein, to pay for  their own or their children’s education, to use going on vacation or fixing their car? On the other hand. do you want your life’s savings to be at risk if they divorce or have their own financial troubles? These are just some of Client’s wishes that trusts are used to handle.

When we look back at our lives, it easy to see that even a small amount of money, useable for the right thing at the right time could have made a big difference. Even if you don’t have a ton of assets, a skilled San Diego estate planning lawyer can help you create a roadmap that will be followed by both the courts and those you’ve left behind.  From avoiding probate and un-necessary taxes to preventing family fights and ensuring that your grandkids go to college, working with an estate planning lawyer in San Diego is the first step in protecting what you hold dear.


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