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Irvine, CA Estate Planning Blog

Monday, July 6, 2020

Who’s Going to Get It: Do You Really Know the Beneficiaries of Your Dynasty Trust?


Today many estate plans contain irrevocable dynasty trusts that will continue for the benefit of a spouse’s lifetime and then for the benefit of several generations. Since these trusts are designed to span multiple decades, it is important that they clearly define who will be included as trust beneficiaries at each generation.

Who Are Your Descendants?

In the past the definition of “descendant” was straightforward: A person who can be traced back to a specific ancestor through the same blood lines. But the modern family now encompasses much more than just blood heirs:

  • Adopted beneficiaries. In your trust, should the definition of “descendant” include a minor child who is legally adopted by your child, grandchild, or great grandchild? What about an adult who is legally adopted by your child, grandchild, or great grandchild? What happens if your child, grandchild or great grandchild gives up their naturally born child for adoption, should your blood heir who has been adopted away from your family be included as your descendant? You should consider specifically including or excluding adopted minor and adult beneficiaries in the definition of “descendant” used in your trust agreement.
    Read more . . .


Monday, June 29, 2020

Important Steps to Plan for the Future of a Special Needs Child

Important Steps to Plan for the Future of a Special Needs Child

#1 Establish a Comprehensive Plan
Most estate planning attorneys will say that no person should use a “do-it-yourself” will kit to establish their estate plan.  If you have a child with special needs, it is extremely important to seek competent legal counsel from an estate planning lawyer with special needs planning experience before and during the process of writing your will.

In your estate plan, make sure that any bequests to your child are left to his or her trust (see #2, below) instead of to the child directly.  Your will should also name the person or persons you want to serve as guardian of your child (see #3, below).

Once your estate plan is complete you should give copies to all the guardians and executors named in the will.

#2 Establish a Special Needs Trust
A special needs trust is the most important legal document you will prepare for your child.  In order to preserve your child’s eligibility for federal financial benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid, all financial assets for your child should be placed into this trust instead of being held in your child’s name.  This is because federal benefit programs restrict the amount of income and assets the recipient may have.  If your child has too many financial assets, he or she could lose his eligibility for important federal assistance programs.

You can use this trust as a depository for any money you save for your child’s future, money others give as a gift, funds awarded in a legal settlement or successful lawsuit, and other financial assets.

Should you create a special needs trust if your child doesn’t currently have any financial assets?  Yes.  Once you create the special needs trust, then the trust can immediately become the named beneficiary of any life insurance policies or planned bequests, either yours or family members’.

#3 Appoint a guardian and complete necessary guardianship papers

Like any parent, you worry about who will care for your child if you were to die before the child becomes an adult.  Unlike other parents, you worry about who will care for your child and provide guidance even after he or she is an adult.

A legal guardian is the person who will care for your child after your death and until the child turns 18.  If your child is unable to live independently, then you can either make arrangements for adult care or discuss your preferences with the appointed guardian.

As you consider choices of a guardian for your special needs child, consider how much time is required to raise a child with special needs.  Who do you know who can respond to the challenge?  Who do you know who has already formed a bond with your child?

After you make a choice, ask the individual if he or she will accept the responsibility of serving as your child’s named, legal guardian.  It is never wise to keep this decision a secret.  Also, discuss with your selected guardian how he or she will probably still have responsibilities toward your child even after his or her 18th birthday.

#4 Apply for an adult guardianship

Even if your child is still a minor, you can start planning now for when he or she reaches the age of majority.  When children turn 18, the law considers them adults and able to make their own financial and medical decisions.  If your special needs child will be incapable of managing his or her own health and finances, consider a legal guardianship.

#5 Prioritize your savings account
Parents of special needs children quickly learn that their children need many resources and equipment that insurance and school systems do not cover.  The more financial assistance you can give your child, the better.  Start saving as early as possible for your child’s lifetime needs – just remember to not open the savings account in your child’s name

Savings can help pay for therapies, equipment, an attorney to advocate for your child in the school system, or a special education expert who can help you make sure your child is getting access to all the programs he or she qualifies for.

#6 Plan for your child’s adulthood

Early planning for your child’s adult years will help you bring the legal and financial picture into sharper focus.  Will your child continue to live with you?  If so, will he or she need in-home assistance?  How often?  Do adult day care programs for people with special needs exist in your community?  How are they rated?

Is your goal for your child to live independently?  If so, what support will he or she need?  Will your child live in a group home, an assisted living community, an apartment with on-site nursing care, or another type of situation?  The earlier you research available options in your community, the sooner you can add your child’s name to the waiting list for the living situation you both prefer.

#7 Write a letter of intent
A letter of intent is not a formal legal document.  It is more like a manual of instruction, containing your wishes for your child’s upbringing.  In the best case scenario, you would give this letter of intent to your child’s chosen guardian and to anyone else who will play a significant role in his or her life after your death. 

  • What is your child’s daily routine?  What kind of weekly and monthly routine does she have?
  • What does he find especially comforting?  What frightens her?  What are favorite foods, books and movies?  Be as detailed as you wish.
  • List all of your child’s health care and educational providers.
  • List all current medications, doses and schedules.
  • List all allergies.
  • Are there people you don’t want your child to spend time with? Be specific.
  • Are there people you want your child to spend time with? Who?
  • Are there activities you especially want your child to try, such as sports or arts and crafts?

Update this letter at least once a year.  Keep a copy wherever you keep copies of your will.  And be sure to give a copy to your child’s appointed guardian.

#8 Talk with family members
Either in person or in writing, explain the major decisions you have made to important family members.  It is especially important to explain to generous grandparents and other relatives why they must not leave gifts of money – or inheritances – directly to your child.  Give relatives the information about your child’s special needs trust and instruct them to leave any financial gifts to the trust.  Similarly, explain that family members should designate the trust – not the child – as the beneficiary of life insurance policies and so forth.

If you have made decisions you fear will be unpopular (such as naming a guardian), consider explaining your reasons directly to family members whom you fear will be unhappy.  You could also consider including the named guardian in these difficult conversations.

The process of planning for your special needs child’s future may seem long and arduous at times, but you will experience a great relief when the major pieces of the plan are in place.  Creating a plan for the future will allow you to relax and enjoy the present with your child and family.


Thursday, June 4, 2020

How Powers of Appointment Can Improve Your Trust


Today many estate plans contain trusts that will continue for the benefit of a spouse’s lifetime and then for the benefit of several generations. Since these trusts are designed to span multiple decades, it is important for the trust creator to consider including powers of appointment in the trust agreement to allow trust beneficiaries to be added or excluded at each generation.


Read more . . .


Monday, May 4, 2020

The Wrong Successor Trustee Can Derail Your Final Wishes

Today many estate plans contain irrevocable trusts that will continue for the benefit of a surviving spouse’s lifetime and then for the benefit of several generations.  Since these trusts are designed to span multiple decades, it is crucial to choose the right succession of trustees.


Read more . . .


Friday, December 13, 2019

Make an Achievable 2020 New Year’s Resolution – Get an Estate Plan Checkup!

With 2020 right around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about your new year’s resolutions. 

It doesn’t matter whether you have an estate plan or don’t, one important item to add to your list is getting an estate plan checkup.

Don’t Have an Estate Plan? 

If you don’t already have an estate plan, then getting one in place should be at the top of your 2020 new year’s resolutions. 

Why?  Because without an estate plan, you and your property may end up in a court-supervised guardianship if you become incapacitated, and your property and your loved ones may end up in probate court after you die. 

Worse yet, if you don’t take the time to make your own will, then the state where you live at the time of your death will essentially write one for you, and it most likely won’t divvy up your property the way you would have. 

A common misconception is that estate planning is only necessary for wealthy people. But this simply isn’t true – anyone with a bank or a retirement account, a home, or a family needs to make a plan for what happens if they become incapacitated or when they die. Of course the complexity of a plan will vary depending on your circumstances, but all estate plans should be put together with the help of an attorney who is experienced with the legal formalities required to create a valid will, trust, health care directive, and power of attorney in your state.


Read more . . .


Wednesday, November 13, 2019

4 Tips for Avoiding a Will or Trust Contest

A will or trust contest can derail your final wishes, rapidly deplete your estate, and tear your loved ones apart.  But with proper planning, you can help your family avoid a potentially disastrous will or trust contest. 

If you are concerned about challenges to your estate plan, consider the following:

  1. Do not attempt “do it yourself” solutions.  If you are concerned about an heir contesting your estate plan, the last thing you want to do is attempt to write or update your will or trust on your own.  Only an experienced estate planning attorney can help you put together and maintain an estate plan that will discourage lawsuits.
  2. Let family members know about your estate plan.  When it comes to estate planning, secrecy breeds contempt.  While it is not necessary to let your family members know all of the intimate details of your estate plan, you should let them know that you have taken the time to create a plan that spells out your final wishes and who they should contact if you become incapacitated or die.

Read more . . .


Monday, October 7, 2019

An Estate Planning Checklist to Facilitate Wealth Transfer

Studies have shown that 70% of family wealth is lost by the end of the second generation and 90% by the end of the third. 

Help your loved ones avoid becoming one of these statistics. You need to educate and update your heirs about your wealth transfer goals and the plan you have put in place to achieve these goals.


Read more . . .


Thursday, September 12, 2019

Year End Estate Planning Tip #5 – Make Gifts that Your Family Will Love but the IRS Won’t Tax

Don’t let the chaos of the holiday season prevent you from avoiding federal gift tax by making “annual exclusion” gifts, medical payments gifts, and educational gifts.


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Monday, August 12, 2019

Strategies for Reducing the Income Tax Squeeze on Irrevocable Trusts

Under federal income tax laws, irrevocable, non-grantor trusts (such as Bypass Trusts and Dynasty Trusts) are subject to highly compressed income tax brackets. In 2019, the top 37% tax rate kicks in at only $12,500 of trust income. In addition, trusts in the top tax bracket are subject to the 20% long term capital gains rate, a 9.3% California state tax and a 3.8% surtax on the lesser of undistributed net investment income or adjusted gross income over $12,500.


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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

If You Die Without a Will or Trust, Does Your Spouse Inherit Your Entire Estate?

If you are married and you die without a Last Will and Testament, you may mistakenly believe that your spouse will still inherit your entire estate.  Not so fast.  Who will inherit your estate depends on several different factors:

1.   How is your property titled?  Is your property titled in your name alone, in joint names with your spouse, in joint names with a child or other relative, or does it have a beneficiary designated?  Knowing how all of your property is titled is the real key to understanding who will inherit it after you die.  For example, if your home is titled in joint names with rights of survivorship with your spouse, then your spouse will inherit the home.


Read more . . .


Friday, June 14, 2019

3 Asset Protection Tips You Can Use Now


A common misconception is that only wealthy families and people in high risk professions need to put together an asset protection plan.  But in reality, anyone can be sued.  A car accident, foreclosure, unpaid medical bills, or an injured tenant can result in a monetary judgment that will decimate your finances.  Below are three tips that you can use right now to protect your assets from creditors, predators and lawsuits.

What Exactly is Asset Protection Planning?

Before getting to the tips, you need to understand what asset protection planning is all about.
Read more . . .


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Law Offices Of Michael J. Wittick, A Professional Law Corporation is located in Irvine, CA and serves clients with estate and wealth preservation matters throughout Irvine, Lake Forest, Laguna Woods, Laguna Hills, Foothill Ranch, Tustin, Aliso Viejo and the surrounding areas.



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