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Four Ways to Avoid Probate

What is Probate?

There are four basic ways to avoid probate in California. Probate is the court-supervised process that occurs after someone passes away, even if they left a will. It ensures the estate is distributed in accordance with their wishes, and all taxes and debts are paid in full. The executor or attorney representing the estate begins this process, and a court then authenticates the will, authorizing the distribution of the estate to proceed.

Why Avoid Probate?

Time and money are the two main reasons to avoid probate. The court deducts its own fees, and like all court proceedings, this process can be expensive and drawn out, especially if the will is contested. There are other reasons to avoid probate; it’s a public process, meaning anyone can search records to access information on the value of an estate, and personal financial affairs.

How to Avoid Probate

The only way to avoid probate in California is to plan for your assets to transfer directly to your heirs. There are four main ways to accomplish this.

  1. Trust Agreement
    Assets placed in a trust are transferred directly to the named beneficiary. It is no longer necessary for a trust to be handled by a third party. The person who creates the trust may also manage it, until the time of their death.
  2. Right of Survivorship
    The right of survivorship doesn’t apply to bank accounts, but when two individuals share the title to a property through “joint tenancy,” full ownership can be transferred to the surviving party.
  3. Designation of Beneficiary
    Life insurance policies and retirement accounts fall under the Nonprobate Transfer Rules in California. Funds in these types of accounts are transferred without passing through probate.
  4. Operation of Law
    California Multi-Party Account Laws determine who owns the remaining money in a bank account after the account holder is deceased. Funds are transferred to a new account for the survivor and avoid probate.

If you have questions regarding the probate process in California, or any other estate planning needs, please contact Lewman Law for further information and assistance.

Why You Don’t Want a Joint Will

Why You Don’t Want a Joint Will

If you’re married, a joint will probably seems like it makes the most sense. After all, married couples share everything. But a joint will may not truly be in the best interest of the surviving spouse, and some states don’t even recognize them.

The Downside of Joint Wills

The main concern with a joint will is that it can only be revised so long as both spouses are alive and in agreement. It’s a tightly binding contract. This is most likely to become an issue if one spouse greatly outlives the other and there are unforeseen circumstances that arise. In this case, the remaining spouse must contest the will through court action should they wish to make changes.

While once common, joint wills are now rarely recommended. Depending on the document, the surviving spouse may not be able to manage funds according to life changes. For example, they may not be able to sell the family home if they wish to relocate or downsize, or to help grandchildren with the cost of college.  

Another reason joint wills can be problematic is if there are children from previous relationships, or the surviving spouse later remarries. Separate wills make it easier to sort out how assets are to be divided among beneficiaries. Another way to transfer wealth to children is to set up a trust, which may include any wishes or provisions.

Legal Advice

Joint wills are more likely to lead to costly probate litigation, and it’s important for the remaining partner to be able to amend their estate plan in order to address unexpected life changes. Laws vary by state, which complicates things. For alternatives to a joint will, it’s best to seek legal advice.

If you have questions about creating or revising your current will, please contact us at Lewman Law.

Protecting Your Digital Assets

Whether you realize it or not, you probably have digital assets. If you’ve ever signed up for a simple email account, or social media profile, you’ve left an online imprint with identifying information. The management of digital assets can seem like a legal grey area because inheritance laws haven’t quite caught up with our new tech world. But there are some steps you can take to protect your digital assets.

What is considered a digital asset?

Developments such as cryptocurrency, and apps like Venmo, have made online banking commonplace, but digital assets aren’t limited to finances. Rather, your digital assets refer to any personal information you access on the web, or store in the cloud. For example, subscription services, stored photographs, and Facebook content. If something happened to you, who would be able to access your business website or share saved Google Photos with your family?

Steps you can take now

1. Consult with an estate lawyer

An attorney that focuses on estate planning will be aware of the most recent laws and can help you determine how best to protect your digital assets. This may include a letter of instruction that explains your accounts, and how to log in, as well as your final wishes for their management.

2. Get Organized

Organize your accounts, usernames, and passwords. There are password managers available, such as LastPass, that remember all your access information, so you don’t have to. You only need to keep track of the “master password.”

3. Purchase an External Hard Drive

An external hard drive is useful for storing photographs and important documents that you want made available to your loved ones. The hard drive plugs into your computer and will need to be updated periodically to remain current. 

It’s risky to leave your digital assets in limbo once you’re gone. From the ownership of domain names to your Twitter account, deciding what to do with your digital trail can be time-consuming. If you need to update, or create a new will, Lewman Law can help. Contact us today to begin the process of protecting your digital assets.

The Risk of DIY Wills

Drafting your own do-it-yourself (DIY) will online might seem cheap and convenient, but it can lend you a false sense of security. When you hire an attorney, you’re paying for the peace of mind their experience ensures. Estate planning mistakes are costly to fix, and sometimes it’s just too late to undo the damage. DIY wills put you at risk for improper estate planning, which is a future burden for loved ones who suffer the consequences.

DIY Wills vs. Hiring an Attorney

More than half of all Americans don’t have a will. The process can seem overwhelming, but well informed estate planning allows you to express your wishes after you’re gone, and it can prevent conflict within complex family dynamics. Having all documents in order reduces confusion and the possibility that disputes might need to be resolved in court.

The software for DIY wills can’t advise you on your specific situation. Nothing replaces the face-to-face guidance a good attorney provides. DIY wills are a one-size-fits-all solution to estate planning. These online services are largely inadequate for our complicated personal, professional, and financial lives. Consider what might happen if you forget a document, or aren’t aware of some nuance in your state’s probate code. Another issue with DIY wills where it’s possible to go astray is in the realm of settling estate taxes.

Yes, it seems convenient to open your laptop and settle things in the privacy of your own home, and it’s true that it’s better to have any plan, than no plan at all. But DIY wills leave you vulnerable to unforeseen mistakes. Answering one question incorrectly, or failing to execute a document properly, may render it invalid. Regardless of what you choose, whether it’s a fill-in-the-blank form, or leaving things in the hands of a trusted professional, keep your documents up-to-date with any life changes.

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