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Estate Planning

Guide to Understand Estate Planning in California

What is Estate Planning in California

Estate planning in California is a carefully thought-out process designed to manage and distribute a person’s assets according to their wishes. This process involves the creation of legal documents like wills and trusts to ensure that assets are smoothly passed on to the right beneficiaries. But it’s not just about money; estate planning in California also covers important decisions regarding healthcare directives, guardianship, and protecting your legacy. This proactive approach does more than just secure your assets; it brings clarity and peace of mind to Californians from all walks of life. It’s about making sure your wishes are honored and your loved ones are well taken care of in the future.

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steps of estate planning

What’s Included in a Basic Estate Plan in California:

In crafting a basic estate plan in California, several key components are essential to ensure a comprehensive and effective strategy:

Living Trusts

A cornerstone of Estate Planning, living trusts offer a private and flexible means of safeguarding assets and ensuring a smooth distribution process, bypassing the complexities of probate.

Asset Transfer Documents

These documents facilitate the seamless transfer of assets to intended beneficiaries, ensuring a clear and efficient distribution process according to your wishes.

Medical Needs

Incorporating medical directives into your estate plan addresses health-related contingencies, ensuring your preferences are honored in challenging medical situations.

Living Will

A living will is crucial for expressing personal preferences regarding medical decisions, providing a clear guide for healthcare professionals and loved ones.

Last Will and Testament

This document outlines your final wishes, distributes assets, and provides for loved ones. Regular updates are essential to adapt to changing circumstances.


Clarifying the role of power of attorney in Estate Planning is crucial, as it designates individuals to make decisions on your behalf in the event of incapacitation.

Financial Decisions

Delving into financial decisions within Estate Planning covers investment strategies, tax considerations, and the overall financial roadmap to secure your legacy.

Beneficiary Forms

These forms impact asset distribution, retirement accounts, and life insurance policies. Optimizing them is vital for a comprehensive and efficient estate plan.

By incorporating these elements into your estate plan, you ensure a well-rounded and effective strategy that not only protects your assets but also reflects your values and provides for the well-being of your loved ones.

Importance of Estate Planning for individuals from all walks of life in California

In California, Estate Planning holds profound significance for individuals from all walks of life, serving as a crucial step towards securing one’s future and leaving a lasting legacy. Beyond financial considerations, a well-crafted estate plan provides peace of mind by clearly articulating personal wishes, ensuring they are honored during critical life moments and beyond. For families, it minimizes the potential for disputes and legal challenges, fostering harmony among beneficiaries. 

Contrary to the misconception that Estate Planning is solely for the affluent, it is a universal tool that allows anyone to safeguard their assets, support loved ones, and express their values. Whether you’re starting your career or enjoying retirement, initiating this process early ensures adaptability to life’s changing circumstances, making Estate Planning an essential and responsible undertaking for individuals at every stage of life.

importance of estate planning

The Consequences of Neglect: Too Many People Fail to Plan

Neglecting Estate planning can have severe consequences. Without a plan, your assets may not be distributed according to your wishes, potentially leading to family disputes and legal challenges. Taking proactive steps to plan ensures that your intentions are clear, reducing the likelihood of conflicts and providing peace of mind.

State-Imposed Plans: What Happens If You Don’t Have Your Own

In the absence of a personal estate plan, the state imposes default plans, which may not align with your wishes. State-imposed plans lack the personalization needed to reflect your unique circumstances. Crafting your plan ensures that your assets go where you intend and that decisions align with your values.

Foundation of Planning: Initiating with a Will or Living Trust

A solid foundation for Estate Planning in California often begins with a will or living trust. These documents serve as the cornerstone of your plan, outlining your final wishes, distributing assets, and providing for loved ones. Initiating your estate plan with these foundational elements ensures clarity and a starting point for comprehensive planning.

Organizing Your Legacy: Managing Records and Beneficiary Designation

Organizing your legacy involves meticulous record-keeping and proper beneficiary designations. Keeping records accessible and up-to-date ensures a smooth execution of your estate plan. Thoughtful beneficiary designations on accounts, insurance policies, and retirement plans contribute to the efficient distribution of assets according to your wishes.

Inheritance Planning: Beneficiary Designation

Affordable Planning: Estate Planning on a Budget

Contrary to common belief, Estate Planning doesn’t have to be expensive. Affordable planning options exist, allowing individuals to create a comprehensive strategy within budget constraints. Seeking professional advice and exploring cost-effective alternatives ensures that Estate Planning remains accessible to everyone.

The Optimal Time to Plan: Start Your Estate Planning Journey Now

The optimal time to start your Estate Planning journey is now. Regardless of age or financial standing, early planning offers the advantage of adaptability to life changes. Initiating the process early provides a proactive approach, ensuring that your plan evolves with your circumstances.

Review Your Beneficiaries: Ensuring Alignment with Your Current Wishes

Regularly reviewing and updating beneficiaries is a critical aspect of Estate Planning. Life events such as marriages, divorces, or births may necessitate adjustments. Keeping beneficiaries aligned with your current wishes avoids unintended outcomes and maintains the accuracy of your estate plan.

California Estate Tax Laws: Understanding Local Implication

Understanding California’s estate tax laws is essential for a well-informed estate plan. State-specific regulations can significantly impact your plan’s efficiency. Awareness of these laws ensures compliance and helps optimize the distribution of your assets while minimizing potential tax implications.

The Crucial Role of a California Estate Planning Advisor in Securing Your Future

An Estate Planning advisor is pivotal in shaping your future, adeptly navigating complexities to minimize the potential for disputes. Beyond managing financial aspects, they formulate a comprehensive, personalized strategy. Functioning as your guide, an Estate Planning attorney safeguards your assets, secures your family’s interests, and ensures a seamless transition of your legacy. Their profound grasp of legal intricacies and tax implications empowers them to tailor a plan to your unique situation.

minimize the potential for disputes

Collaborating with an Estate Planning advisor guarantees meticulous translation of your wishes into a robust and legally sound plan, providing peace of mind as you embark on this crucial journey of legacy preservation.

Understanding the costs involved in Estate Planning is a key part of the process. Knowing the expenses helps you make informed decisions about your investment in securing your legacy. These costs can vary, depending on the complexity of your estate, the need for legal expertise, and any additional services. While Estate Planning might seem like a significant financial commitment, it’s important to realize that its benefits often surpass the initial costs. By working with Estate Planning professionals, you gain not only an understanding of these costs but also tailored advice to maximize your investment, ensuring your assets are protected and your loved ones are well-cared for efficiently.

Understanding the costs involved in Estate Planning is a key part of the process. Knowing the expenses helps you make informed decisions about your investment in securing your legacy. These costs can vary, depending on the complexity of your estate, the need for legal expertise, and any additional services. While Estate Planning might seem like a significant financial commitment, it’s important to realize that its benefits often surpass the initial costs. By working with Estate Planning professionals, you gain not only an understanding of these costs but also tailored advice to maximize your investment, ensuring your assets are protected and your loved ones are well-cared for efficiently.

Choosing the Right Guide: Finding a Financial Advisor for Your Estate in California

Selecting the right guide for Estate Planning is crucial for securing your financial future. Finding a qualified financial advisor specializing in this area is like having a trusted navigator through your financial journey. A skilled advisor offers expertise in investment strategies, California tax considerations, and overall financial planning, customizing their advice to fit your unique goals and circumstances. Their role goes beyond numbers, encompassing a deep understanding of your aspirations to ensure your estate plan reflects not just your financial priorities, but also your personal values. Choose the right Financial Advisor for your Estate Plan in California today! And have peace of mind that your assets will be secure for your next generations.

California Estate Planning Checklist: 7-Steps-Guide

Understanding Estate Planning in California is much easier with a structured 7-step guide. This approach ensures that you have a comprehensive and carefully considered plan in place.

1. Create an Inventory: Cataloging Your Assets and Liabilities

Begin by documenting a thorough inventory of your assets and liabilities. This includes properties, investments, debts, and any other financial obligations. A detailed list serves as the foundation for your estate plan.

2. Account for Your Family’s Needs: Ensuring Financial Security

Consider the financial well-being of your family members. This step involves evaluating their current and future needs and ensuring your estate plan provides the necessary resources for their security and stability.

3. Establish Your Directives: Clearly Communicate Your Intentions

Clearly communicate your directives to avoid misunderstandings among family members. This step involves expressing your wishes regarding medical care, end-of-life decisions, and the distribution of assets.

4. Review Your Beneficiaries: Ensuring Alignment with Your Current Wishes

Regularly review and update beneficiary designations to reflect changing circumstances. Ensure your assets are designated to the intended recipients, aligning with your current wishes and avoiding potential conflicts.

5. Note Your State’s Estate Tax Laws: Understanding Local Implications

State Tax

Understand the estate tax laws specific to your state. This step ensures that your estate plan complies with local regulations, optimizing the distribution of assets while minimizing tax implications.

6. Weigh the Value of Professional Help: Considering Estate Planning Advisors

Explore the benefits of seeking professional assistance in Estate Planning. An experienced Estate Planning advisor can provide valuable insights, ensuring your plan is comprehensive, legally sound, and tailored to your unique needs.

7. Plan to Reassess: Adapting Your Plan to Life Changes

Recognize the importance of regularly reassessing and updating your estate plan as circumstances change. Life events such as marriages, births, or significant financial changes may necessitate adjustments to ensure the continued effectiveness of your plan.

Using this 7-step Estate Planning checklist helps individuals take charge of their assets, safeguard their loved ones, and confidently navigate the complex world of Estate Planning with foresight and assurance.

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The Trust Protector: Your Guardian Angel

What is a Trust Protector?

Traditionally, the three roles that must be filled when setting up a trust are the settlor (also called a grantor, trustor, or trustmaker), the trustee, and the beneficiary. All three roles are necessary to create a trust that functions properly. Although it is relatively common to use trust protectors in foreign asset protection trusts, a trust protector is a fairly new role in trusts drafted in the United States for estate planning purposes. However, as the number of trusts designed to last for generations grows, estate plans need more built-in flexibility. Giving a trust protector, through the terms of the trust, certain powers over the trust, such as removing or appointing trustees, adding or removing beneficiaries, and amending or even terminating the trust, ensures that your intentions for creating the trust are fulfilled despite changing law or circumstances.

How is a Trust Protector Selected?

A settlor may select as a trust protector any individual or group of individuals, such as family members, business associates, friends, attorneys, accountants, or other professional advisors. The naming of a trust protector may be specific, such as “my neighbor John Doe,” or general, such as “a CPA selected by the majority of the owners of the [ABC CPA Firm].” The settlor provides for and selects a trust protector in the trust agreement.

Who Makes a Good Trust Protector?

Because of the many and varied powers that a trust protector can hold, you should name a trust protector who has attributes, knowledge, or skills suitable for the responsibilities of the role. For example, if the trust protector has the power to amend the terms of the trust to account for changes in tax law, the trust protector should have some understanding of tax law and how it will impact the trust. If a trust protector has the power to veto or direct trust distributions to beneficiaries, the selected trust protector should understand the family history and desires of the settlor. Different powers may require the selection of different trust protectors or possibly a committee of trust protectors.

What Does a Trust Protector Do?

Based on your wishes, the purposes of the trust, and applicable laws, the trust protector can hold many different powers, including administrative powers traditionally held by a trustee, such as the power to make distributions, and judicial powers traditionally held by a court, such as the power to remove beneficiaries. Trust protector powers can include the power to:

  • remove a trustee or appoint a successor trustee,
  • add or remove beneficiaries,
  • amend the trust agreement,
  • exercise the voting rights of closely held business interests owned by the trust,
  • interpret the terms of the trust,
  • veto or direct trust distributions,
  • terminate the trust
  • appoint and remove members of a distribution or investment committee.

This list is not exhaustive, and you should include any of these or other trust protector powers only after careful consideration of your desires and purposes for creating the trust.

Reasons for Including a Trust Protector in Your Trust-Based Estate Plan

There are several reasons to include a trust protector in your trust-based estate plan:

  • Trust protectors offer increased flexibility and peace of mind. The administration of a perpetual trust that may last for generations can be a daunting task because no one knows what the future may hold. Including trust protector provisions in your trust agreement can ensure that your trust achieves your goals despite changing circumstances and laws.
  • Trust protectors can provide additional oversight and support for a trustee. A trust protector can ensure that a trustee is properly administering the trust and carrying out the trust’s purposes. If the trustee is delinquent in its duties, a trust protector may remove the trustee and appoint a better-suited trustee. A trust protector can also help a trustee correctly interpret trust provisions and address changes in the law or beneficiary circumstances.
  • Trust protectors provide an easier and less costly means of modifying a trust. If a trust needs to be modified after the settlor’s death, usually the only route is through the court system, a complicated and costly process. Giving a trust protector the power to modify the terms of a trust can prevent the need to go to court to modify the trust. 

Can I Name a Trust Protector for a Testamentary Trust?

A testamentary trust, usually created through a will, comes into existence after the settlor dies and the will has been probated. A testator (the person who makes the will) can, and in many cases should, include trust protector provisions in a testamentary trust to ensure that their  intent for the trust is properly carried out over time.

Does Every State Allow Trust Protectors?

State law varies in its treatment and classification of, and guidance for, trust protectors. Though many states have adopted a uniform set of laws governing trust protectors, or a modified version of these uniform laws, other states have not addressed trust protectors at all. It is important to consult an attorney familiar with your state’s laws to understand whether trust protector provisions are right for you and your goals.

Lewman Law, APC

Please contact us to learn more about naming a trust protector and discuss whether it is a good idea for you. We are happy to answer any questions you may have and help you craft an estate plan that is perfect for you and for your loved ones. Request a consultation by clicking here.

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Creating a Treasure Map: The Benefits of Preparing an Inventory Before Death

If you have already done your estate planning, you have taken a significant step toward ensuring that your loved ones will know how to manage your affairs if you become incapacitated or die. However, simply having a will or a trust and related estate planning documents is often not enough. A detailed inventory of all of your accounts and property is crucial for helping your loved ones manage your legal and financial affairs effectively.
Most estate planning attorneys have received calls from distressed children who knew that a deceased parent had a will or a trust, but had no idea what accounts, insurance policies, or items of real and personal property the parent owned. If an inventory was never prepared and shared with the parent’s attorney, the child likely had to spend countless hours meticulously combing through the parent’s file cabinets, drawers, tax returns, mail, and online accounts to identify what the parent owned.
Needless to say, this is not something that anyone wants to happen. Even if you do not have a will or a trust in place, you do not need to wait to prepare an inventory of your property until you have created these legal documents. In fact, assembling an inventory can be an excellent first step when it comes to your estate planning. This preliminary effort will allow your attorney to immediately begin focusing on the creation of a will or a trust that takes into account each of your accounts and pieces of property and how they should be coordinated with your estate planning goals. If you take this step, your attorney is guaranteed to be impressed and grateful for your preparation.

How to Create an Inventory

Creating an inventory of your accounts and property does not need to be very complicated. It can be a simple word processing document or even a handwritten list. Many individuals create spreadsheets in software programs like Microsoft Excel, Numbers, or Google Sheets. There are also numerous online services that can help you create a thorough inventory of your property. Many of these services enable you to automatically share your inventory with chosen individuals at a time that you designate before death or disability strikes. The bottom line is that any of these methods can work well—the important thing is that you create an inventory. Below is an example of an inventory formatted as a spreadsheet with columns and rows:

How to Create an Inventory

Of course, this is just an example of what an inventory could look like. You should include any information that you think will be helpful to someone who is put in charge of collecting your property after you have passed away. You might include additional details, such as where the property is located. For example, if you keep certain items of jewelry in a safe, or a boat you own is stored in dry storage, this would be crucial information to include.

In addition, though you will not share this with your attorney, consider using a software program or other service to store passwords for online accounts and even store digital copies of your important documents.

Probate and Your Property

As you create your inventory, you will review how each item is titled or who is named as the beneficiary on certain accounts, which will enable you to identify those items of property that will have to go through probate. Probate is the court process that appoints an executor or personal representative to inventory your probate property and distribute the property according to state law or the terms of your will, if you have one. Generally speaking, any account or property that meets the following conditions will have to go through the probate process: (a) is owned only in your name, (b) is not owned jointly with another person, (c) is not titled in the name of a trust or business entity (like an LLC or partnership), and (d) does not have a named pay-on-death (POD) or transfer-on-death (TOD) beneficiary associated with the property.

Probate can be an expensive, time-consuming, and public process that most people would rather avoid. If avoiding probate is a goal of yours, preparing an inventory well before you pass away can alert you to those items of property that will require a probate so that you can take steps prior to your incapacity or death to transfer ownership or retitle them.

Additional Benefits of a Complete Inventory

By creating an inventory with the type of information demonstrated in the example above, you can help your loved ones understand their next steps with regard to taking control of your property for management and distribution. Certain items and accounts, such as the following, may be distributed according to the unique legal aspects of that type of property:

  • Property owned in joint tenancy with rights of survivorship (such as real estate or bank accounts) will pass automatically to the surviving joint owner and outside of a trust or probate.
  • Some bank or investment accounts may have POD or TOD designations that allow those accounts to skip the probate process and be paid directly to a named beneficiary such as a child, spouse, trust, or charity.
  • Life insurance proceeds typically will not have to go through probate if you have properly completed the beneficiary designation form by naming your loved ones, a trust, or a charitable organization as beneficiaries on the policy.
  • Accounts and property titled in the name of a trust (i.e., owned by the trust) can be distributed outside of probate according to the terms of the trust agreement.
  • Retirement accounts usually require the listed beneficiaries to file a claim with the account custodian before the account will be paid out. Probate courts and trusts usually have no control over retirement accounts.
  • Vehicles will typically need to be transferred through the local department of motor vehicles, which requires an affidavit along with a death certificate and the physical car title.
  • Certain items of personal property (e.g., furniture, jewelry, art, collections, etc.), if above the value determined by state law, may be subject to probate, unless they are transferred into a trust before death.

What to Do with Your Inventory Once Created

After creating your inventory, make sure to store a copy where your loved ones will be able to easily find it should something happen to you. Consider the following locations:

  • an estate planning portfolio or binder
  • a file folder that is clearly marked and easily accessible to your loved ones
  • your client file with your estate planning attorney
  • an electronic document format that can be shared with your trusted loved ones online
  • a clearly labeled USB drive in your safety deposit box or safe (as long as you let your loved ones know what to look for, where to find it, and how to access it)
  • your client file with your other professional advisors (so that they can help your loved ones easily identify all of your property if your loved ones call them first after your death)

Once you have created and shared your inventory, you should create a plan for updating it. Over time, accounts get closed or consolidated with other accounts, property is sold or acquired, stocks get converted to cash, and retirement accounts get depleted. If you do not regularly update your inventory, there is a chance that you could create confusion and send your loved ones down rabbit holes as they try to handle your affairs.

Some people find it helpful to choose a specific date each year when they will review and update their inventory and also review their estate planning documents. Whatever will work best for you, make a plan, implement it, and then stick with it. Your loved ones will praise your name for years to come if you do. If you need assistance or have questions reviewing your important documents, feel free to give us a call

Brought to You By: Lewman Law APC

The focus of Lewman Law is estate planning, estate litigation, probate, trust administration, and Medi-Care planning which is designed to help seniors and their families preserve their legacy and prevent the devastating financial effects of long-term care. Please contact us at (925) 447-1250.

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Why Choose Lewman Law For Your Estate Planning?

It’s always important to have your affairs in order, but more people have been thinking about their estate planning needs this last year due to the pandemic. And with so many options, how do you choose the right Livermore and Pleasanton estate planning attorney to manage these sensitive documents? If you need estate planning services in the Bay Area, read on to learn more about what Lewman Law has to offer.


John Lewman is the founder of Lewman Law, APC. He first studied economics before going on to complete his legal training at the McGeorge School of Law, located in the state’s capital. He passed the bar in 1994, the same year he graduated. Since then, he has distinguished himself as a dedicated and compassionate attorney.


John’s mission at Lewman Law is to safeguard your family as if it were his own. With over twenty years of professional legal experience, both in and out of the court room, John has the know-how you need to provide the best possible care.

Our Services

At Lewman Law, we offer probate and trust administration, estate planning, will disputes and trust litigation, as well as help with Medi-Cal qualifications. You can take a more in-depth look at our services by clicking here.

Whether you’re wondering what should be included in your will, or the best trust to set up for your children, Lewman Law is here for you. These are some of the most important decisions you’ll ever make, so you need a skilled attorney who can guide you through the process—from start to finish. Or, maybe you already have an estate plan, but it hasn’t been updated in a while. We can take care of that, too.

Pleasanton Estate Planning Attorney

For a Pleasanton estate planning attorney who can handle all of your estate planning and probate needs, contact Lewman Law. Office hours are Monday through Friday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. We’re happy to answer any questions you have. Call today at (925) 447-1250, or email by clicking this link.

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