Estate Planning

Estate planning is an essential process for preserving financial success and planning for unforeseen events. Our staff at Triumph Law Group offers knowledge in probate law, wills, power of attorney documents, and living trusts.

What is Estate Planning?

Estate planning is a process. It involves people—your family, other individuals and, in many cases, charitable organizations of your choice. It also involves your assets (your property) and the various forms of ownership and title that those assets may take. And it addresses your future needs in case you ever become unable to care for yourself.

Through estate planning, you can determine:

- How and by whom your assets will be managed for your benefit during your lifetime if you ever become unable to manage them yourself.
- When and under what circumstances it makes sense to distribute your assets during your lifetime.
- How and to whom your assets will be distributed after your death.
- How and by whom your personal care will be managed and how health care decisions will be made during your lifetime if you become unable to care for yourself.

Many people mistakenly think that estate planning only involves the writing of a will. Estate planning, however, can also involve financial, tax, medical and business planning. A will is part of the planning process, but you will need other documents as well to fully address your estate planning needs.

Who needs estate planning?

Everyone—whether your estate is large or small. Even you don’t think you have an estate, someone should be designated to manage your assets and make health care and personal care decisions for you if you ever become unable to do so for yourself.

If your estate is small, you may simply focus on who will receive your assets after your death, and who should manage your estate, pay your last debts and handle the distribution of your assets. If your estate is large, your lawyer will also discuss various ways of preserving your assets for your beneficiaries and of reducing or postponing the amount of estate tax which otherwise might be payable after your death.

If you fail to plan ahead, a judge will simply appoint someone to handle your assets and personal care. And your assets will be distributed to your heirs according to a set of rules known as intestate succession. Contrary to popular myth, everything does not automatically go to the state if you die without a will. Your relatives, no matter how remote, and, in some cases, the relatives of your spouse will have priority in inheritance ahead of the state. Still, they may not be your choice of heirs; an estate plan gives you much greater control over who will inherit your assets after your death.

What is a will?

A will is a traditional legal document which:

- Names individuals (or charitable organizations) who will receive your assets after your death, either by outright gift or in a trust.
- Nominates an executor who will be appointed and supervised by the probate court to manage your estate; pay your debts, expenses and taxes; and distribute your estate according to the instructions in your will.
- Nominates guardians for your minor children.

Most assets in your name alone at your death will be subject to your will. Some exceptions include securities accounts and bank accounts that have designated beneficiaries, life insurance policies, IRAs and other tax-deferred retirement plans, and some annuities. Such assets would pass directly to the beneficiaries and would not be included in your will.

In addition, certain co-owned assets would pass directly to the surviving co-owner regardless of any instructions in your will. And assets that have been transferred to a revocable living trust would be distributed through the trust—not your will.

What is a revocable living trust?

It is a legal document that can, in some cases, partially substitute for a will. With a revocable living trust (also known as a revocable inter vivos trust or grantor trust), your assets are put into a trust, administered for your benefit during your lifetime and transferred to your beneficiaries when you die—all without the need for court involvement.

Most people name themselves as the trustee in charge of managing their living trust’s assets. By naming yourself as trustee, you can remain in control of the assets during your lifetime. In addition, you can revoke or change any terms of the trust at any time as long as you are still competent. (The terms of the trust become irrevocable when you die.)

In your trust agreement, you will also name a successor trustee (a person or institution) who will take over as the trustee and manage the trust’s assets if you should ever become unable to do so. Your successor trustee would also take over the management and distribution of your assets when you die.

A living trust does not, however, remove all need for a will. Generally, you would still need a will—known as a pour over will—to cover any assets that have not been transferred to the trust.

What is probate?

Probate is a court-supervised process for transferring a deceased person’s assets to the beneficiaries listed in his or her will. Typically, the executor named in your will would start the process after your death by filing a petition in court and seeking appointment. Your executor would then take charge of your assets, pay your debts and, after receiving court approval, distribute the rest of your estate to your beneficiaries. If you were to die intestate (that is, without a will), a relative or other interested person could start the process. In such an instance, the court would appoint an administrator to handle your estate. Personal representative is another term used to describe the administrator or executor appointed to handle an estate.

Simpler procedures are available for transferring property to a spouse or for handling estates in which the total assets amount to less than $100,000.

The probate process has advantages and disadvantages. The probate court is accustomed to resolving disputes about the distribution of assets fairly quickly through a process with defined rules. In addition, the probate court reviews the personal representative’s handling of each estate, which can help protect the beneficiaries’ interests.

One disadvantage, however, is that probates are public. Your estate plan and the value of your assets will become a public record. Also, because lawyer’s fees and executor’s commissions are based on a statutory fee schedule, a probate may cost more than the management and distribution of a comparable estate under a living trust. Time can be a factor as well. A probate proceeding generally takes longer than the administration of a living trust. Discuss such advantages and disadvantages with an estate planning lawyer before making any decisions.

Who should help me with my estate planning documents?

Can I do it myself? Yes. It is possible for a person to do his or her own estate planning with forms or books obtained at a stationery store, bookstore or from the State Bar. However, many times the documents are not prepared properly in light of specific issues that may arise. If that is the case, a self-prepared document can often do more harm than good. Thus, we recommend individuals seek the help of a qualified legal professional.

How much does estate planning cost?

It depends on your individual circumstances and the complexity of documentation and planning required to achieve your goals and objectives. The costs may vary from lawyer to lawyer. Generally, the costs will include the lawyer’s charges for discussing your estate plan with you and for preparing your will, trust agreement, power of attorney or other necessary legal documents. Some lawyers charge a flat fee for estate planning services. Others charge on an hourly basis or use a combination of both types of fees. Triumph Law Group will asses your Estate Planning needs to ensure that you are given a reasonable fee.

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219 N. Indian Hill Blvd #201, Claremont, CA 91711
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