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Estate Planning

While nobody wants to think about death or disability, establishing an estate plan is one of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones. Proper estate planning not only puts you in charge of your finances, it can also spare your loved ones of the expense, delay and frustration associated with managing your affairs when you pass away or become disabled.

Mary P. Kulvinskas is experienced in the areas of estate planning, trust and probate law.  In addition to her law degree, she has a  master's degree in taxation.  Her typical estate plans include:

  • A living trust for single individuals or married couples structured to minimize taxes and disputes;
  • Special Needs Trust if appropriate;
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Management;
  • Advanced Health Care Directives;
  • Pour-Over Wills that provide guardian designation for minors; and
  • Funding the trust in order to avoid probate.

Avoiding Probate
If you leave your estate to your loved ones using a will or have no estate planning documents in place, everything you own will pass through probate. The process is expensive, time-consuming and open to the public. The attorney's fees and executor's fees each range from 2-4 percent of the gross value of your estate.  The probate court is in control of the process until the estate has been settled and distributed. During this process, it is not unusual for the probate courts to freeze assets for weeks or even months while trying to determine the proper disposition of the estate, making it difficult for your family to pay for living expenses. If you are married and have children, you want to make certain that your surviving family has immediate access to cash to pay for living expenses while your estate is being settled. With proper planning, your assets can pass on to your loved ones without undergoing probate, in a manner that is quick, inexpensive and private.

Providing for Incapacity
If you become incapacitated, you won’t be able to manage your own financial affairs. Many are under the mistaken impression that one’s spouse or adult children can automatically take over for them if they become incapacitated. The truth is that in order for others to be able to manage your finances, they must petition a court to declare you legally incompetent. This process can be lengthy, costly and stressful. Even if the court appoints the person you would have chosen, the individual may have to come back to the court every year and show how he or she is spending and investing each and every penny.

If you want your family to be able to immediately take over for you, it’s essential that you work with an attorney to create the proper legal documents to designate a person, or persons, that you trust so they will have the authority to withdraw money from your accounts, pay bills, take distributions from your IRAs, sell stocks, and refinance your home. Many people mistakenly think that a simple will can effectively protect you in the event that you become incapacitated, but the truth is that a will does not take effect until you die.
 
In addition to planning for the financial aspect of your affairs during incapacity, it’s critical that you establish a plan for your medical care. The law allows you to appoint someone you trust - for example, a family member or close friend to make decisions on your behalf about medical treatment options if you lose the ability to decide for yourself. You can do this by using an Advanced Health Care Directive where you designate the person to make such decisions on your behalf.

Providing for Minor Children

It is important that your estate plan address issues regarding the upbringing of your children. If your children are young, you may want to consider implementing a plan that will allow your surviving spouse to devote more attention to your children, without the burden of work obligations. You should also discuss with your attorney the possibility of both you and your spouse dying simultaneously, or within a short duration of time. A contingency plan should include a list of persons you’d like to manage your assets and name a guardian you’d like to nominate to raise your children in your absence. The person, or trustee, in charge of the finances need not be the same person as the guardian. In fact, in many situations, you may want to purposely designate different persons to maintain a system of checks and balances. If you fail to plan, the decision as to who will manage your finances and raise your children will be left to a court of law. 

Another issue to consider during the planning process is whether you’d like your beneficiaries to receive your assets directly, or to have the assets placed in trust and distributed subject to conditions and circumstances such as age, need and even incentives based on behavior and education. All too often, children receive substantial assets before they are mature enough to handle them in a prudent manner.
 
Planning for Death Taxes
The IRS will want to review your estate at death to ensure you don’t owe them that one final tax: the federal estate tax. Whether there will be any tax owed depends on the size of your estate and how your estate plan is structured. Many states have their own separate estate and inheritance taxes that you need to be aware of. There are many effective strategies that can be implemented to reduce or eliminate death taxes, but you must start the planning process early in order to properly implement many of these strategies.
 
A well-crafted estate plan should provide for your loved ones in an effective and efficient manner by avoiding guardianship during your lifetime, probate at death, estate taxes and unnecessary delays. You should consult a qualified estate planning attorney to review your family and financial situation, your goals and explain the various options available to you.  Once your estate plan is in place, you will have peace of mind knowing that you have provided for yourself and your family.


Law Offices of Mary P. Kulvinskas located in Westlake Village, CA serves clients in southern CA including Agoura, Calabasas, Camarillo, Los Angeles, Malibu, Oxnard, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, San Fernando Valley, and Ventura.



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2625 Townsgate Road, Suite 330, Westlake Village, CA 91361
| Phone: 805-267-1125

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