Estate planning is the process of anticipating and arranging for the distribution of the assets in your estate at your death.
In your estate plan you will name who gets what from your estate and when they will get it. Estate planning is intended to reduce or eliminate confusion and uncertainties with the distribution of your estate. Estate planning is intended to maximize the value of your estate by reducing the costs involved with resolving your estate and by seeking to reduce taxes that may be owed to the government.
What Does Your Estate Include?
Your “estate” includes all property that you own at the time of your death, including:
- Real estate
- Cash (bank accounts), stocks, and other securities
- Personal property such as automobiles, collectibles, artwork, and jewelry.
Estate Planning and Wills
Estate planning, for most, involve the preparation of a trust or a will. Many people benefit from having a living trust as opposed to just having a will. We are happy to discuss with you which one would be best for you.
- A revocable trust, sometimes called a living trust or an inter-vivos trust, will allow you to transfer title of your real estate into your trust and then avoid expensive and time-consuming probate. Distribution of your assets will take place according to the terms of the trust.
- If you make a will then it will include instructions about how your assets will be distributed to your heirs. If you have a will then your estate will most likely need to go through a court-supervised process called probate in order for your assets to be distributed to your heirs.
We recently handled a case for a client who sustained significant injuries in a car accident. The client underwent emergency surgery and was hospitalized for almost one month before he was transferred to a rehabilitation facility where he stayed for six weeks. Medicare paid almost $100,000.00 for the client’s medical treatment.
The driver of the at-fault car was from Europe. The driver had only recently moved to the United States for a high-paying job. The driver did not own a home and had few ties to the United States. The driver’s automobile insurance had liability limits of $100,000/$300,000, which means that the driver’s insurance would pay a maximum of $100,000 per claimant and a maximum of $300,000 to all claimants for any one accident.
Increasing Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage
The client’s own automobile insurance liability limits were $250,000/$500,000 and his uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM) coverage was $30,000/$60,000. Most automobile insurance companies will permit you to purchase UM coverage up to your liability limits. Clients are surprised when I tell them that their rates will not increase significantly if they increase their UM coverage as much as possible.
An injured person must reimburse Medicare for the money that Medicare paid for the injured person’s medical treatment. Fortunately for our client, we were able to get Medicare to offer a significant reduction of Medicare’s lien on the client’s case but the client’s insurance company did a huge disservice to our client but not encouraging the client to have the maximum UM limits.
Under current California law a person filing a case in Small Claims court may demand a maximum of $7,500.00 in damages. Effective January 1, 2012, the jurisdictional limits for many cases filed in Small Claims Court will increase from $7,500 to $10,000.
The revisions to California Code of Civil Procedure Sections 116.221 and 116.224 contain an important exception for personal injury victims whose injuries were caused by a driver with automobile insurance. Plaintiffs injured by negligent drivers who have auto insurance will have to wait until January 1, 2015 before the Small Claims Court limits increase from $7,500 to $10,000.