OC Elder Law Blog

Older Americans Technology Usage Continues to Grow

elderly couple using IpadVirtually all Americans use some type of technology on a day-to-day basis, and citizens over 50 years old are no exception to this rule. Even though many people may think that older individuals shun modern devices, smart phones, the Internet and other 21st-century must-haves, this is not the case. A new study put out by AARP indicates that adults over the age of 50 use a broad range of devices to shop, obtain information, and connect with friends and family.

Interesting Statistics

Statistics show that 91 percent of Americans over the age of 50 use a personal computer and 90 percent own a laptop. Additionally, over 80 percent of individuals between the ages of 50 and 64 have smartphones or iPhones, a percentage that is very close to that of the general population.

More than 50 million Americans above the age of 55 state that they believe modern technology enriches their lives in one way or another. Additionally, 25 percent of older adults enjoy advanced driver assistance technology in newer model cars.

Technology at Home

With regard to technology at home, approximately one out of two older Americans now own a Smart TV–a television that is Internet connected and digital–and almost 10 million plan to purchase one sometime in 2019. Older Americans are even interested in ultramodern devices such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home. A recent survey completed by AARP indicated that one in seven individuals 50 years of age or older own one of these two devices.

Various Uses for Different Types of Technology

Older individuals have distinct patterns regarding how they use modern technology. For example, Smartphones and iPhones are their devices of choice for communicating with friends and family, whether through text or voice calls. However, for entertainment and news they report using tablets went on the go. Traditional desktop PCs and laptops are used most frequently by older individuals to pay bills, search for information, schedule medical appointments or send emails.

With regard to social media, older individuals often use such venues to post pictures, send congratulations, wish people happy holidays, and connect with old friends with whom they have lost touch over the years. Some older adults even use Facebook and Twitter to “keep tabs” on their grandchildren and see what they are up to from time to time.

Wearable Technology

Regarding fitness trackers, Apple watches and other types of wearable technology, just a small percentage of older individuals are currently on board. Those under 50 are far more likely to invest in such devices than those over age 50, although this statistic may change significantly in the future.

4 Reasons Why Estate Planning is Vital Regardless of Age or Income

young couple at estate planning attorneys officeEffective estate planning is sometimes overlooked by many individuals, even those who are proficient at managing their current finances. If you have never thought about completing this task, you are inadvertently making your loved ones vulnerable to negative circumstances in the event of your death. Although proper estate planning takes time and effort, the latter is minimal when compared with the more time-consuming and potentially costly situation your loved ones may find themselves in once you are gone. For this reason, hiring an estate planning attorney to complete this task should be a priority in your life.

Avoiding Unnecessary Problems

Should you pass away without an estate plan, your heirs must attempt to reach a mutual decision concerning who gets your property and other assets. In addition, your estate will almost certainly go to probate court, where these decisions are ultimately made by a judge, leading to additional fees or even a long and complicated probate. This means that your heirs receive less of your estate than you would have designated if an appropriate plan had been drawn up by an attorney. Also included in a proper estate plan is a designated individual who is given power of attorney in the event you become injured or otherwise incapacitated. This is certainly something you do not want left to chance.

The Danger of Making Assumptions

You may also be surprised to discover that courts do not automatically rule in the manner many people assume they do, such as awarding everything to the surviving spouse. Similarly, you may assume that children always go to the nearest living relative, but this is not always the case either. Therefore, to avoid having these decisions made by a judge who is a perfect stranger, it is important to make them yourself while you are still able.


The primary purpose of estate planning is to designate heirs for your assets, but it is this term that often confuses people. Some individuals believe the word “assets” refers to large bank accounts, expansive investment portfolios, or multiple properties. In reality, however, whether you have a stock portfolio and a beachfront home or a small bank account and a modest retirement fund, it is vital to have an estate plan in place. Do not make the mistake of thinking that there is no need for such a plan simply because you are young or you do not have substantial net worth. Even if your net worth is modest, you do not want the assets you do have going to a person for whom they were never intended.

Timely Planning

It may feel as if you have your entire life to ensure that an estate plan is in place that explicitly spells out your wishes in the event of your death; however, no one ever knows when he or she is going to pass away and sudden deaths are not as uncommon as people may think. After your death, you no longer have a say regarding how your assets are distributed. The only way to control what happens after you are gone is to contact an estate planning attorney and make sure that the appropriate documents are in place ahead of time.

Understanding How Divorce Affects Your Estate Plan

A couple in divorce courtEven the most amicable divorce is a difficult process for all involved. The dissolution of a marriage requires both partners to untangle complicated legal and financial matters. An estate plan is obviously based on the assumption that the marriage will continue. Therefore, if the relationship changes, the estate plan must change as well. Most estate planning attorneys recommend paying close attention to the following aspects in order to avoid unnecessary problems in the future.

Update Your Will

You should execute a new will and remove your spouse as executor of your estate. You must then decide how much you want to leave your spouse and what he or she is entitled to under the laws of your state. In some cases, disinheriting your spouse entirely may be a complicated process, as he or she has the right to contest the will and gain a specific percentage of your assets. However, it is ultimately up to you how much or how little you want to leave to your former marriage partner.

Change Your Health Care Proxy

Although the odds may be small depending on your age and other factors, it is possible that you may become ill or injured before your divorce is final. If a catastrophic event should occur, chances are you would prefer not to have your soon-to-be-ex listed as your health care proxy. Therefore, you should name a different person for this task as soon as possible.

Update Your Power of Attorney

You and your spouse may have executed powers of attorney in the past. If you chose durable power of attorney, you essentially gave your spouse access to your assets and accounts. This is a cause for concern, especially if your divorce is not amicable. The power of attorney given to your spouse should be revoked by your lawyer.

Ask your estate planning attorney about what you can and cannot alter. You may not be able to change pensions, retirement accounts, or life insurance beneficiaries until your divorce is final.

Amend Your Trust

If the laws in your state allow you to make amendments to your revocable trust, these should be made without delay. Similar to your will, the primary question you must answer is how much money and assets you wish your spouse to receive. You may decide to remove gifts for his or her family or make other change as well. However, the most important issue with regard to trusts is provisions for minor children: you may not want your spouse having access to and managing their money. If this is the case, have your estate planning attorney create a revocable trust that names an individual you have selected as the trustee. Otherwise, if you die, your spouse will automatically gain control of your children’s money.

Review Prenuptial and Postnuptial Documents

You should review your prenuptial agreement in light of your divorce. This document will state exactly what your spouse is entitled to should you pass away. When you draft a new estate plan with your lawyer, it must be consistent with your prenuptial agreement terms.

Reviewing Your Estate Plan After Your Divorce

Your estate plan should be revisited once you receive your final divorce decree. This is because changes made during the process are often only temporary from a legal standpoint. After the dissolution is complete, review all documents with your estate planning attorney to determine which parts require post-divorce updating.

Top Reasons to Update Your Estate Plan

A senior couple meeting with attorneyTop Reasons to Update Your Estate Plan

Having an estate plan in place is an important task in virtually anyone’s life. However, once an estate plan is created, it should not simply be placed in a drawer and forgotten about. Rather, estate plans should be reviewed from time to time by an estate planning attorney. This is because the need for occasional revisions is not an uncommon situation. As a general rule, if the estate plan is five or more years old, it is time to review it and make sure it is still appropriate. Below are some examples of when it is time to have the plan re-evaluated:

Executors and Trustees

Trustees and executors are individuals who implement an estate plan and in some cases, they are also the people who determine whether or not it is an effective plan. Many individuals do not give the appropriate amount of consideration to these appointments. However, even if the people were selected with great care, a change in circumstances may make it necessary to reconsider whether or not they are still the most appropriate people for the job. After several years have past, another person may be a better choice: someone may no longer be able to perform the duties, or an appointed person may have even passed away.


If a person has moved to another state, it is important for him or her to understand that estate planning laws are not national, but vary from one state to the next. Therefore, there may be a variance of laws concerning living wills, advance medical directives, powers of attorney, and similar issues. Anyone who has moved should make sure these documents are updated in accordance with the laws of the new state or parts of the plan may become null and void.

Outdated Retirement Plans

Retirement plans can sometimes become outdated, but this occurrence is commonly overlooked by many individuals. Updating beneficiary designations of 401(k)s, IRAs, and other retirement plans is essential. The beneficiary of such accounts is the person on file with the estate plan, not necessarily the will or trust. This is why this issue often falls through the cracks, as such forms are often unreviewed for a decade or more.

A Change in Liabilities or Assets

If assets or liabilities changed significantly in the value of a person’s estate since the original plan was created, it should be reviewed. This is true regardless of whether the estate’s value has decreased or increased. The owner of the plan must decide if the original way the property was divided is still desirable in light of the change in circumstances. Ultimately, all changes call for reassessment of the plan.

Additions to the Family

Documents may also need to be revised by estate planning attorneys if there are new additions to the family. For example, a person may wish to place a new grandchild in his or her will or the person may have been divorced and want to remove a former spouse from claiming an inheritance. Revised documents must be created to reflect these new preferences or the old ones will remain in place. Beneficiary designations also dictate who receives certain assets, financial accounts, life insurance or annuities. All forms should be reviewed by an estate planning attorney and amended, if necessary.

If you have questions about updating your estate plan, contact our estate planning attorneys in Orange County or Corona today!

Most Affordable US Cities in Which to Retire

Elderly couple smilingFinding a city that is both a pleasant and affordable place in which to retire is a task that many people undertake each year. Fortunately, there are interesting and attractive US cities that offer a manageable tax burden and a low cost of living to such individuals. Below are some great places that our estate planning attorneys have learned about for soon-to-be retirees who wish to enjoy their golden years while keeping costs under control:

Safe and Convenient Kendall

Convenience and safety are two reasons the city of Kendall, Florida ranks high among retirees looking for an affordable place to live. Seniors have reported feeling safe walking through the city’s downtown section any time of the day or night, and the crime rate in the city is very low. Additionally, a post office, beauty salon, pharmacy, restaurants, supermarkets and medical offices are all within walking distance from the town’s center. The cost of living in Kendall is six percent lower than the national average and the tax burden is also well below the country’s average. Additionally, Florida residents pay no individual income tax.

Great Living in Huntsville

The cost of living in Huntsville, Alabama is approximately five percent less than the national average and is a tax friendly state for retirees. Work opportunities are also higher than the national averages for seniors who wish to supplement their income. This city in the heart of Dixie is also filled with attractions and activities that retirees can access easily from most residential neighborhoods.

Taking it Easy in Savannah

Featuring a low crime rate and easy to navigate roads and highways, Savannah, Georgia ranks high on the list of affordable retirement cities. Well known as a tax friendly area for retirees and boasting a cost of living that is 9.4 percent below the national average, this picturesque city has an appeal for those searching for a beautiful, yet affordable place to retire.

Revitalized Pittsburgh Cost-Effective Choice for Northern Retirees

With one of the lowest tax burdens for seniors and a cost of living below the national average by more than eight percent, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a great choice for retirees who are not necessarily looking for a warmer climate. Here, seniors can ride the city’s buses and trains for free on a daily basis, and easily accessible healthcare is always available due to Pittsburgh having revitalized itself by investing in medicine.

Safe and Tranquil Palm Coast

Retirees looking for a tranquil, safe and affordable Florida city need look no further than Palm Coast. This peaceful community has a low crime rate, a cost of living that is six percent below the national average, and a relatively low tax burden for seniors. Retirees are usually pleased to discover that due to its location on Florida’s upper East coast, it is also less touched by serious storms than other areas of Florida. Palm Coast has retained most of its natural beauty throughout the years, and therefore many retirees find it a tranquil, yet thriving community.

Affordable Living in Fayetteville

Fayetteville, Arkansas boasts a cost of living that is 10 percent less than the national average. Although not quite as tax friendly as the cities mentioned above, its lower cost of living and the broad range of senior friendly services offered by the county offset this factor. Additionally, plenty of low cost attractions and activities are found in the county, as well as an easy-to-use public transportation system that can be accessed by senior citizens for free.

Did we miss some place? Let our estate planning attorneys know at info@ocelderlaw.com.

Choosing the Best Senior Care Option for Your Loved One

 Son with elderly fatherIf you have ever wondered what kind of senior care is best for an elderly family member, you may have found yourself a bit overwhelmed with the different options available.To help you along with this delicate process, our estate planning attorneys in

Independent Living

Independent living facilities or retirement communities offer a very minimal level of care for elderly individuals. Residents typically live in private apartments and have the option of purchasing customized meal packages and participating in planned social outings. This option is best if your loved one is essentially independent and has few health problems but does not wish to live alone.

In-Home Assistant

An in-home health aide is a good option if a senior individual prefers to remain at home, but needs help with some or all activities of daily living. Different levels of care are associated with this option: there are live-in home health aides to assist with all activities, as well as those who visit daily, several times a week, or once weekly to perform specific duties, depending on your elderly loved one’s needs.

Residential Care

Group homes, also called residential care homes, are living facilities where elderly individuals live in a private home with round-the-clock caretakers. Nursing services such as assistance with medications are typically provided as well. Such care is perfect for an elderly loved one who needs a significant amount of assistance, but still wishes to maintain some independence.

Assisted Living

The next level of senior care  is an assisted living facility. This option is perfect if your loved one cannot safely live alone due to health problems. In an assisted living facility, your senior loved one receives help with all activities of daily living, as well as assistance with medications and meals. Housekeeping services are also provided, and the facility is staffed 24 hours a day in case of emergencies.

Skilled Nursing Facilities

If your senior family member requires skilled care, a nursing home is the best option. Residents at skilled nursing facilities receive housekeeping services, assistance with meals, full-time medical care, and organized activities, depending on the resident’s mental and physical ability. Additionally, most staff members are skilled health professionals, such as RNs and physician’s assistants.

Memory Care

Caring for a family member with age-related dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is often challenging and difficult. If such care is needed, a memory care facility is the ideal solution. Residents at such facilities have structured activities and 24 hour support to ensure both their quality of life and their safety. Additionally, such facilities are secured to prevent residents from accidentally wandering away and sustaining harm.

Hospice Care

Hospice care is specifically designed for individuals who are terminally ill and expected to pass away within six to 12 months. Such care is administered at home or in a facility and focuses on palliative measures and patient comfort. Hospice care also centers on helping individuals make the most of their remaining time with their loved ones.

It is wise to check with a lawyer who is familiar with elder law, as he or she may be able to determine which facilities are covered by Medicare. You may even wish to speak to an estate planning attorney who can help you plan ahead for an aging family member.



Important Estate Lessons can be Learned From the Late Stan Lee

Stan LeeStan Lee, the co-creator of numerous iconic superheroes belonging to the Marvel Comics Collection passed away in Los Angeles this past Monday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Lee’s estate is surrounded by a significant amount of controversy, and estate planning attorneys say there are numerous lessons to be learned from his situation.

Financial predators were allegedly attacking Lee’s estate prior to his death. The value of the estate was estimated at approximately $50 million. Memory, vision and hearing impairments reportedly stopped Lee from combating certain individuals who were allegedly after his fortune. Family members, caregivers and business associates were attempting to help Lee gain control of his assets prior to his death.

Charlie Douglas, a Georgia-based estate planner, said that situations such as Lee’s will occur more frequently in the future, as an increasing number of individuals are now living well into their 90s and may not be able to properly manage their finances due to various age-related problems.

Estate planning typically centers around the distribution of money and assets upon a person’s death, rather than end-of-life planning, yet the latter is vitally important as well: wills only protect a person’s assets after death, but revocable trusts and similar options focus on managing assets as one ages.

Experts recommend something called a “revocable trust” for older clients such as Lee, as this type of trust offers more protection against elder financial abuse.

For example, a “standby revocable disability trust” is a type of trust that allows a successor trustee to manage all the assets in a trust should the owner of the estate become incapacitated or mentally impaired.

This type of a trust may have been beneficial for Lee, as he reportedly had multiple problems with his 67-year-old daughter, JC, with whom he was on bad terms. She was allegedly spending up to $40,000 a month on credit cards and also demanding that alterations be made to a trust that was previously set up for her by Lee.

Lee had also filed a declaration through an attorney that stated “three men with bad intentions” were attempting to obtain control of his money, property and assets. During summer of 2018, an LA court issued a temporary restraining order against one of the three men. Some financial experts and lawyers have pointed to Lee’s situation as a perfect example of financial elder-abuse and how this type of crime is frequently committed by those closest to the person.

Some estate planning attorneys in Orange County believe the most important lesson to be learned from Lee’s dilemmas, both before his death and after, is appropriate trustee selection. Hyman Darling, an estate planner and elder law expert recommends naming a trustee for reasons other than the fact that the person lives closest to the estate owner or is the oldest among all his or her relatives. Charlie Douglas has stated that he believes it is also important to ask clients exactly why they are choosing a certain person as a trustee, and if there is any possibility that person may be influenced by someone else in the future.

Another option that has moved to the forefront of estate planning is the use of a group of co-trustees or an independent, professional trustee to oversee an estate. This is a good protective measure to take against unscrupulous individuals who may be part of the estate owner’s inner circle. Douglas stated that Lee may have been an ideal candidate for this kind of set up, as he only had one daughter and his relationship with her was difficult.

How to Discuss Estate Planning With Your Parents

family in parkNo one wants to feel as if their grown children are inferring that financial documents must be scrutinized because death or mental decline are imminent. However, details regarding estate planning, bank accounts, and general family finances are all things that you should discuss as a family in order to prevent any future problems.

You may find you are hesitant to broach the subject because it might seem as if you are merely inquiring about your inheritance. Nevertheless, it is beneficial to both yourself and your parents to talk about these matters in advance, rather than after a crisis or emergency has occurred. Even if estate planning attorneys are involved, it is important for you to talk to your parents directly about their wishes concerning a broad range of matters, from the distribution of property to end-of-life medical decisions.

A Practical Place to Begin

To start the conversation in a way that will not seem intrusive or demanding, use a third-party story, rather than making a direct reference to your parents. Similarly, instead of asking to read any specific documents, you can simply ask your parents where such items can be found if the need arises. Therefore, consider beginning the conversation with a story about someone whose parents found themselves in a crisis and family members did not know where or how to access vital documents. Even though your parents probably have an estate plan and wills or trusts in place, they are not helpful if you do not know where to find them and have no idea which estate planning attorney prepared the documents.

Property and Real Estate

Having open discussions about property and real estate is also important. Your parents may have real estate listed in a trust for you and your siblings, but confusion may occur if they should become incapacitated or pass away suddenly and you are unaware of the location of such documents. Probate for real estate and property can drag on with seemingly no end in sight if there are any gray areas regarding beneficiaries.

Final Topics to Discuss

End-of-life planning is another important topic that may prove awkward to discuss. Therefore, it may be wise to speak of this aspect after the conversation has been underway for awhile. End-of-life planning involves a variety of aspects, such as a living will. Also called an advance directive, a living will allows your parents to make their own decisions about life support and other medical options in the event they are unable to communicate. You may decide to use another third-party story about individuals who had no living will or power of attorney, and subsequently had decisions made for them that they would not necessarily have made for themselves. This is not intended to frighten your parents, but merely to remind them that they deserve to be part of the decision-making process.

Cognitive decline is perhaps one of the most difficult subjects to discuss. However, individuals in their 80s and 90s often struggle to make financial decisions and are sometimes vulnerable to scams designed to target older individuals. Since there is no easy way to introduce this topic, you may simply wish to offer to help out with your parents’ finances on a regular basis, while they are still clearly the decision-makers. This way, you will notice any signs of failing judgment or confusion and you can intervene. Explain that your goal is not to make decisions for them if there is no need for you to do so, but rather to help out if impaired ability eventually occurs.

Relationship dynamics differ greatly from one family to the next, and therefore there is no exact formula for having the aforementioned discussions. Ultimately, your main goal should be to broach the subject before it is too late. Unfortunately, negative life events often happen without warning, and therefore it is in your best interest to have these conversations when your parents are both mentally and physically well.



Understanding the Difference Between Estate Planning and Legacy Planning

family walking through the parkAn estate plan and a legacy plan are two very different processes, but they are sometimes used in conjunction with each other to ensure that a comprehensive plan is in place prior to one’s death. Fortunately, most estate planning attorneys can explain how the two plans work and how they differ from each other. Below are some essential facts about legacy planning and why it is different from conventional estate planning:

When a traditional estate plan is created, it is typically focused on real estate, bank accounts, and other tangible assets and how they will be distributed in the event of a person’s death. This is because those who have worked hard their entire life, saved wisely, and invested prudently almost always want to pass down their tangible wealth and assets to future generations. To ensure that a person’s property and possessions are distributed according to his or her wishes, a proper estate plan must be created and put in place while the person is still living.

However, many people feel they have much more to pass along to friends and loved ones than merely items of monetary value. Such individuals generally benefit from a legacy plan.

Passing on Values and Philosophies

Most people have formed philosophies, beliefs and values throughout the course of their life that ultimately contributed to their success. Therefore, a person may wish to pass these down to children, grandchildren, and other beneficiaries upon his or her death. Legacy plans were designed for this purpose.

For instance, certain individuals have a desire to be remembered for their generosity. If this is the case, such a plan may include acts of charitable giving. A person who greatly values education may wish to set up a trust fund for the specific purpose of paying college tuition for worthy individuals. Others may hold the entrepreneurial spirit in high regard, in which case they may wish to include trust terms in the legacy plan that motivate a beneficiary to become an entrepreneur or a small business owner.

Legacy planning may also include something referred to as an “ethical will.” The latter date back to biblical times, when many individuals shared spiritual and moral values as part of their legacy after death.

Heirlooms and Mementos

Some individuals also write a diary or record their personal memoirs when creating a legacy plan. The goal of such activity is to offer friends and relatives a record of one’s formative experiences so that those who survive the person’s death can experience personal enrichment from these memories.

Legacy planning may even involve a specific outline for the distribution of family heirlooms. Such items often showcase a family’s history and as such, are highly meaningful to certain individuals. Therefore, a person may wish to designate the way specific heirlooms are transferred to friends or loved ones and may even attach a personal message to each one.


Those who were philanthropists during their lives sometimes choose to continue giving through their estate plan, according to the objectives outlined in their legacy plan. Not surprisingly, in some ways, both the traditional estate plan and the legacy plan work together to reach a common goal.

Each person’s legacy is unique to him or her, and a well thought out legacy plan allows all individuals to pass along more than just money and real estate to their friends and loved ones. Making a legacy plan part of a comprehensive estate plan may be the best way to accomplish this goal.

Estate Planning Made Simple for Millennials

young professional woman with laptopOur estate planning attorneys in Corona routinely correct misconceptions about estate plans. For example, many people believe that one must be a senior citizen, wealthy, or have complicated financial circumstances in order to require this service. However, it is never too early to begin estate planning, and most experts agree that young individuals should give significant thought to this task, as anyone without such a plan is at risk.

Estate Planning Simplified

Estate planning essentially comes down to having the proper documents in place and the appropriate person in charge of estate matters should an individual become ill, disabled or pass away. Below are five basic documents for those who are new to estate planning and are wondering where to begin:

Life Insurance and Beneficiaries

Life insurance is typically not something that younger individuals think about, but it is an important part of estate planning. Experts recommend having life insurance in place at an early age. This is because its cost is relatively low for a younger person, but may be very expensive or even financially out of reach later in life. Such insurance is also usually easier to obtain when a person is young and healthy. However, when life insurance is purchased, it is essential to regularly update the beneficiary so that the appropriate person receives the benefits in the event of the insured’s death.

Last Will and Testament

A will is simply a document indicating how a person wishes to distribute his or her assets upon death and it is never too early to have one in place. It should also name an executor, which is simply an individual that a person puts in charge of settling his or her estate. This individual is typically also in charge of the deceased person’s children. If this document is not properly executed or does not exist, the state must step in and distribute the deceased person’s assets, which most people would agree is not an ideal situation.

Health Care Proxy

Although it is not common, there are occasions where even very young people face serious health issues or are involved in accidents that make it impossible for them to communicate their desires. A health care proxy is simply the legal term for an individual who knows a person’s wishes and can speak for him or her in the event of a catastrophic illness or accident.

A Living Will

Similar to a health care proxy, a living will communicates the kind of medical care, resuscitation efforts, life-sustaining measures or drugs a person wishes to receive. However, a living will is a document that outlines such wishes in writing, as opposed to relying solely on verbal communication from the health care proxy.

Durable Power of Attorney

A durable power of attorney is a document that names a person who is allowed to make financial decisions for someone else if that individual can no longer manage assets without help. It is important, however, to select this person carefully, as he or she can make legal decisions on the other individual’s behalf.

It is natural for Millennials to feel as if their lives are just beginning. However, no one can predict the future. Proper estate planning allows people to enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing their loved ones and assets are protected in the event of a serious illness or death.

If you are a young person trying to be proactive about getting your affairs in order, our estate planning attorneys can answer your questions at info@ocelderlaw.com.

Understanding Probate and How it Can be Avoided

probate stamp on file folderThe term probate refers to the process by which a person’s last will and testament is executed. The will is filed in court, and the latter oversees the administration of the terms and conditions found within the document. Some individuals use an estate planning attorney to ensure the appropriate documentation is in place prior to their death, as this can go a long way toward avoiding probate complications at a later time.

The Probate Process

Probate is governed by state laws, and each step of the process is contingent upon a variety of factors, such as the real estate laws in the area where the deceased person lived, and whether he or she had a will or died intestate–without a will.

If the appropriate documents were in place at the time of the person’s death, the administrator of the estate is typically named in the will and referred to as an executor. However, if no such person is named or no will is in place, the probate court chooses an executor and the process begins.

The next part of the probate process is the identification and inventorying of the deceased person’s property. In most cases, assets cannot be distributed or sold until probate is complete. Properties are then appraised, and any taxes or debts owed by the deceased must be paid. Finally, the assets that remain are then distributed according to deceased individual’s will or based on state law if the person died intestate.

Even though probate is typically a straightforward process, numerous individuals prefer that it be avoided. Multiple reasons exist for this preference, but below are the three most popular:

Time Frame

If the will is contested or if the estate is particularly complicated, it may take several years to finalize it through probate court. Such delays often cause major inconveniences for all involved.


Although specific costs vary widely from one state to the next, probate generally includes administrative expenses, such as fees for the executor, appraiser, and probate lawyer. The fast accumulation of such charges often leads to additional expenses that most people do not anticipate.

Public Disclosure

Probate is a court-related process, and therefore a matter of public record. For this reason, many individuals prefer to avoid this process entirely. However, no matter why a person wishes to avoid probate, he or she will be pleased to know that specific steps can be taken to do so.

Estate Size

In most states, a probate exemption level is predetermined by the state. At the very least, this provides for an expedited process if the estate is small. For this reason, some individuals prefer to keep their estate small, as well as familiarize themselves with the probate estate limits in the area where they reside.

Benefits of a Living Trust

Establishing a living trust is another good way to avoid probate, as property that is held in trust does not become part of the deceased’s estate. This is due to the fact that a specifically-appointed individual controls the trust under previously arranged terms and that person is obligated to distribute it accordingly, with no need to wait for the probate process.

Making Accounts Payable Upon Death

Accounts designated as payable upon death are immediately distributed to the appropriate beneficiary, rather than having to go through probate. Therefore, this is another good way to simplify the process.

Advance Distribution of Assets

Some individuals avoid probate or ensure a simplified probate process in the future by reducing the value of their estate in advance. This can be done by distributing property to friends and family prior to one’s death, rather than after.

Estate planning attorneys can assist virtually anyone to avoid probate or its pitfalls. For this reason, certain individuals seek the advice of such a professional in advance in order to simplify or eliminate the probate process.

Estate Planning for Surviving Spouses

close up of man's faceWhen a person loses his or her partner in marriage, in addition to the burden of grief, there are also many other complicated issues that must be addressed. These include the legal needs of the surviving spouse, and the creation of a new or revised estate plan.

The most appropriate estate plan for a surviving spouse largely depends on the person’s individual circumstances, as well as his or her future life goals. If there is a high probability that the individual will at some point remarry, as is often the case with younger people who lose a partner, a temporary estate plan may be the best option. On the other hand, if the person is likely to remain single, a more permanent plan should be designed.

Children or Dependents

Guardianship of any minor children is the first issue that should be addressed. A new contingent or alternate guardian should be named to take the survivor’s place if something should happen to him or her. This should be reflected in a new will as soon as possible.

Revising Beneficiaries on Insurance Plans and Financial Accounts

The survivor should update his or her beneficiaries on retirement plans, life or accident insurance policies, and other financial accounts that were to be left to the deceased. In an organized manner, the surviving spouse should review all beneficiary designation forms, bank accounts, retirement funds and brokerage accounts. Additionally, all joint accounts and assets need to be appropriately re-titled.

There may also be accounts inherited from the decedent or accounts that are in the surviving spouse’s name. Special attention should be given to accounts inherited by the surviving partner, such as retirement funds, as the alternate beneficiary on such documents no longer applies. Therefore, it is the surviving spouse’s duty to submit a revised designated beneficiary form.

Durable Power of Attorney

Many married couples have at some point given each other durable power of attorney, which gives each spouse the right to advocate or speak for the other, as well as sign paperwork on his or her behalf. Such a document is quite powerful, as it allows one spouse to essentially act as an “attorney-in-fact” for the other. An arrangement of this kind typically includes medical power of attorney as well, which gives each spouse the authority to make healthcare decisions for the other. It is easy to see that this is an important document to have changed if one of the marriage partners has died.

Wills and Trusts

Not only should the decedent’s trust and will be reviewed, the survivor should revise his or her own estate plan with a qualified lawyer. It is a good idea to have another professional or a trusted friend present to make sure that clear thinking prevails during the decision-making process. This is an excellent way to guarantee that all decisions are made in the best interest of the survivor. In certain cases, wills and trusts are drawn up to offer a surviving spouse a second chance to look over all documents and make sure the decedent’s estate plan is still appropriate.

Social Security Claims

In some cases, a bereaved spouse may overlook Social Security benefits. However, if a survivor benefit is available to the living spouse, he or she will likely want to pursue this option. In most instances, claims for such benefits can be filed with the Social Security Administration or the company from which the deceased received a pension that included a spousal benefit in the event of his or her death.

The needs of each person vary, but the aforementioned documents are a good place to begin with regard to estate planning for a surviving spouse, and we urge you to speak to a qualified estate planning attorney to handle your affairs. 


How to Avoid Common Power of Attorney Mistakes

A document being notarizedThe most important document in your estate plan is your power of attorney. A POA determines who manages your affairs if you cannot do so. Having such a document ensures that important tasks are performed, such as investment management and bill paying. This document is also necessary if you have a living trust, as it names successor trustees to manage your property should you become incapacitated.

If fortunate, we will all live long enough to eventually need some form of help due to the side effects of aging. Our estate planning attorneys have put together a list of important steps to follow in order to make sure things go smoothly as you age gracefully.

Carefully Choose an Agent

An agent is an individual designated to act on your behalf according to your POA document. In a living trust, this person is called a successor and should be selected carefully. Consider appointing another individual to share the responsibility as well, who is referred to as a co-agent.

Although this does not guarantee a problem-free arrangement, since co-agents can also conspire against you, it may offer an extra layer of protection.

Talk to Your Bank

Many financial firms, brokers and banks have their own standards, rules, and regulations regarding honoring POAs. You should work with your estate planning attorney to make sure that they are aware of your bank’s policies and procedures and are drawing up your documents accordingly.

Establish Oversight

Throughout history, agents acting as POAs were not accountable to others unless a court complaint was filed. However, according to the Uniform Power of Attorney Act, agents are now required to show relatives your records if they are asked to do so. This Act is currently on the books in 25 states.

One simple way to establish oversight is to require that one or more trustworthy individuals to have online or hardcopy access to your account statements. These individuals can monitor your agents’ performance and look for red flags.

Additionally, a protector can also be used in numerous states and this is becoming more and more common with estate trusts. Protectors are entitled to review actions taken by your agents or even replace agents. However, a protector may also initiate collusion or abuse. Therefore, this person must be chosen with care as well.

Be Crystal Clear

Make sure you clarify your intentions. To supplement the POA, you can draft a letter outlining what the agent trustees should do and not do. The letter should be signed by both you and the agent. Even though it may not be legally binding in most states, it is likely to affect the agent’s actions and serve as court evidence if necessary.


Distribution Of Aretha Franklin’s Estate Uncertain

Aretha FranklinAretha Franklin, renowned singer/songwriter responsible for hits such as “Think” and “Respect,” passed away on August 16, 2018, from pancreatic cancer. She learned of her terminal diagnosis well beforehand, but still left behind no will, estate plan, or any other document to help her heirs distribute her estate, according to documents filed by David J. Bennett in an Oakland County, Michigan, court last week.

Her lawyer of three decades, Don Wilson, recently told the Associated Press that he advised her to set up a will and a trust to ensure that her intended estate plan was followed, but she “never got around to it.” Unfortunately, this is very common for people of all incomes as confronting your own mortality is often a difficult thing to do.

Initial estimates peg her net worth at the time of her death at around $80 million, including multiple pieces of property in the Detroit area with an assessed value of over $2 million and a market value even higher. The IRS will audit her estate (a process that could take years) in order to determine an exact amount for tax purposes.

Once a figure is determined, the IRS will collect any back taxes she owed before taxing the estate at a 40 percent rate for anything above $11.2 million. For example, this means that her estate would be responsible for an estate tax of approximately $27.5 million if her total estate was valued at $80 million (40 percent of $68.8 million, the value after the tax-free $11.2 million is removed from consideration).

As a resident of Michigan with no will, what happens to the remainder of her estate will be determined by Michigan law. She was not married at the time of her death, so the law says that her 4 sons (Clarence, Edward, and Kecalf Franklin plus Ted White Jr.) should split her estate evenly.

No discord among her four sons has become public knowledge as of this writing, but it has been reported that Clarence (age 63) has special needs and may need more than his brothers. Some estate planning attorneys have speculated that Franklin failed to codify her wishes because she did not want to admit this fact in writing as a parent, but there is no concrete evidence supporting this assertion.

It is also commonplace for more distant family members, friends, and even acquaintances to come out of the woodwork claiming that the estate owes them something once a celebrity has died, especially if they were as well-known as Aretha Franklin with a lot of money to disperse.

For instance, Prince also passed away without codifying how he wanted his estate (estimated at anywhere between $100 million and $300 million) distributed, creating a legal mess that is still working its way through the judicial system.

Franklin’s niece has accepted a position as executor of her estate, so it will be up to her to figure out any controversies that ultimately arise between her heirs. Any disagreements are likely to be resolved behind closed doors if at all possible, as one of the cardinal rules of estate planning is to keep it out of court whenever you can.

Most people do not have the assets of an Aretha Franklin or a Prince, but the public legal battles that could arise from their situations can still be seen as a valuable illustration of the consequences of failing to leave behind a proper estate plan when you pass away. If you have been procrastinating getting your affairs in order, now would be a great time to talk it over with an estate planning attorney to ensure that your wishes can be carried out.

Nichelle Nichols

Nichelle NicholsNichelle Nichols, American actress and star of TV’s Star Trek has found herself in the middle of a bitter battle for conservatorship to protect her interests. Nichols was diagnosed with dementia recently and four temporary conservators were appointed to handle her finances. Her son, Kyle Johnson, has claimed that the conservatorship was for his mother’s best interests.

According to Johnson, nearly $300,000 of his mother’s money has gone missing from her bank account. He has also claimed that Gilbert Bell, Nichols’ current manager, has had a property owned by the actress deeded to himself. The fiduciary conservators are not members of the family.

A friend of Nichols has filed a case to challenge the decision of the court to designate conservators on her behalf. The actress friend, Angelique Fawcette, claimed that the move to overturn the decision is to prevent damage to Nichols’ personal and financial interests. Fawcette also claimed that Nichols’ son has ulterior motives.

Fawcette claims to be a close friend of the legendary TV actress. According to her, Nichols was not diagnosed by a psychiatrist or a geriatrician. Five years prior to the events, she recorded a video where she interviewed Nichols. Nichols could be seen on the video telling Fawcette she was frustrated at how Johnson has been insisting that she stop going to conventions, essentially telling her to stop working.

According to Fawcette, who is 48, Nichols asked her to make the video in early 2013, prior to the onset of her health problems. The video clip was released by Fawcette in favor of Nichols, who she fears will no longer have an income source once she stops attending conventions. Fawcette, a filmmaker, claims that this could put a serious dent on the star’s finances and put her Woodland Hills, California home at risk. Should this happen, Nichols might have to be moved to a nursing home, something the star vehemently opposes. Fawcette said that Nichols’ request to film the clip was a way for her to protect herself.

This type of situation is something that unfortunately occurs all too often. Disputes like this are easily avoidable when a proper estate plan is in place, and we urge all our readers to consult with an estate planning attorney to plan for their future.

What Does “Micro Estate Planning” Mean?

Happy Parents with 2 childrenOne aspect of estate planning is organizing your financial and personal assets for distribution to family and friends after you’re gone. Preparing an estate plan in advance helps to reduce taxes on your estate, eliminates the need for probate, facilitates distribution of your financial assets and enables you to share your wealth with loved ones as you see fit.

Another aspect of estate planning deals with legal guardianship of minor children. Whether you’re a couple with minor children, or a single parent, your plan should include designating a legal guardian for your kids in the event of your unexpected demise. If a car accident or plane crash were to take your lives, your children will have someone to care for them until they are grown. Funds from your estate can be allocated to covering living expenses for your children until they reach adulthood.

The sooner you put plans in place for your estate, the better. Getting this done early gives you peace of mind that your loved ones will be provided for after you’re gone. You’ll be glad you planned ahead when the time comes.

Micro Estate Planning Explained

Micro estate planning plays an important role in the estate planning process in relation to the care of minor children, as it covers the interim period immediately following your demise. In the event both you and your spouse were to unexpectedly pass on, who would take immediate responsibility for your children until they can be placed in the care of their legal guardian?

Your guardian may live in another city or state, causing a delay of hours or even days before they can assume custody of your kids. They may need to wait until the court releases your children into their care. In the meantime, your children may be placed under the care of child protective services — people they don’t know or may not trust — until your guardian can take over. Your young children won’t understand why they’re being taken from their home and being placed in stranger’s care.

Through micro estate planning, you can provide for your children’s immediate care upon your unexpected demise. You can specify in your will who you want the authorities to call in the event of a tragedy that takes your lives. You may want your children to stay with close friends, people they know and love, until their situation can be worked out. Being with people they know and trust can help reduce the trauma of your children’s loss.

Your estate planning attorney can help you draw up the appropriate legal documents to ensure that authorities will know who to call and where to take your children for short term custody if a tragedy takes your life. You can even give a copy to your short term guardian(s) to present to authorities if the need arises.

Micro estate planning will protect your children’s interests by placing them in loving, trustworthy hands when they need it most.


What Young Adults Should Know About Estate Planning

young couple working on documentWhen you hear the term ‘estate planning’, most people think it implies end-of-life planning, but legally, that is not the case. When a person reaches 18 years of age, they are considered an adult under the eyes of the law. Consulting with an estate planning attorney in Orange County or Corona is the ideal way to get things in place and decide which documents are most relevant for you and your family.

Durable Power of Attorney

A durable power of attorney means that you can appoint a trusted individual, like a family member, to make important financial decisions on your behalf. This is activated when you are unable to make your own decisions. The person appointed to act on your behalf is known as ‘attorney in fact’, and that person can handle financial decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so, like if you are away at college or traveling. This is an important document to have in place as for some legal issues, time is of the essence, and if you are not available for whatever reason, a trusted individual like a parent, can act on your behalf and in your best interest.

A Living Will

Also known as a health care directive, a living will allows you to document your wishes regarding medical intervention if you are unable to communicate them yourself at the time. This applies to issues like artificial life support, or cases of coma, or vegetative states. This is an important document to have in place to ensure that your wishes as to what you consider living are followed through, even if you can’t communicate them.

Health Care Power of Attorney

With this document, you can allow a trusted individual to make important health-related decisions on your behalf. In these instances, the ‘attorney in fact’, has the power to make crucial decisions based on your wishes that you have communicated to them. These types of emotional circumstances include life support and life-ending scenarios.

From a parent’s perspective, if a child is in an accident while away at college and is unresponsive and kept alive via respirator, if the parent has been appointed as their child’s ‘health proxy’, they have the rights to pertinent information about their child’s health, as well as important end-of-life or medical-intervention decisions.

Obviously, this is an important aspect of estate planning for young people as without it, geography and legal red tape can prevent an important person in your life, such as your parents, from having the power to represent your wishes.

While no one really wants to entertain the possibility of situations like these happening, the reality is that they do happen. Having documents like a financial power of attorney, a living will, and health care power of attorney drawn up before you depart on your next stage of life as a student or adult is a mature and responsible step to take. Not only can these documents protect your own wishes, they also can save your loved ones a lot of added time, money, and stress during already potentially devastating times.

Avoiding Estate Planning Scams

a salesman and elderly coupleWhen it comes to estate planning, there’s definitely a great deal of confusion and misinformation. This is one of the bigger decisions you’ll make and your  getting it right is key to making sure that you leave your loved ones and your assets protected. One thing is clear, it’s important to make sure that you have a will or trust in place, regardless of your age. These documents can help make your final wishes clear and will help protect your interests once you’re gone. In the event of an untimely death, you’ll want to make sure that your loved ones receive certain items or that you are able to provide the financial help a spouse, child, or other loved one might need after your passing.

While it’s recommended that all adults have some type of plan in place, it’s also important to make sure that you know how to avoid some of the most common estate planning scams. There are individuals who seem intent on preying on seniors and other vulnerable adults. Even if you think that you would never fall for one of these scams, it’s important to know what to look out for and how to avoid becoming a victim.

Unfortunately, it’s often the elderly who are targeted by these scammers, especially if they have diminished cognitive abilities or don’t have close relatives to act as a second set of eyes for them. Scams targeting the elderly often revolve around having them sign a power of attorney, giving someone else control over their property, or it could be as straightforward as having the elderly sign their property over to someone who doesn’t have their best interest in mind.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

One of the most recent scams come from what is referred to as “trust mills.” These establishments offer a one-size-fits-all solution by using scare tactics to push an expensive “living trust kit” on people. These cookie-cutter-solutions are not efficient, and in most instances will not hold up legally. Trusts and wills are complex legal documents that need to be customized to the individual with special care. We don’t recommend buying software, or prepackaged documents to fill out.

Avoiding Estate Planning Scams

Finding a reputable estate planning lawyer is really the only way to avoid getting scammed. We don’t recommend using software, or prepackaged documents to plan your estate. Ask friends and family if they can refer an attorney to you that handled their will or trust.

If you can’t get a referral, use review sites like Yelp or Avvo to find an estate planning attorney with a high rating and a good reputation who will be able to properly advise you on these matters.




What Anthony Bourdain’s Estate Plan Teaches Us About Estate Planning

Anthony Bourdain Anthony Bourdain’s estate plan has become a public matter due to his celebrity status, and can be used as a learning opportunity. His estate plan offers practical insights that can be used when developing your own estate plan.

While some folks might question how Bourdain was worth “only” $1.21 million at the time of his death, that figure still places him among the wealthiest three percent of Americans. If his estate plan was centered on stock, bonds, and other “rich people” financial instruments, his wishes would not carry much value to a general audience.

However, Bourdain did two things in specific that set a good example for others. First, he left nearly his entire estate to his 11-year old daughter.

That may seem like an obvious thing to do, but many individuals fail to realize that they still need to have a proper estate plan in place in order to ensure their wishes are carried out correctly. The ultimate purpose of any estate plan is to protect the interests of those you love, and you’re not doing that unless they’re mentioned by name in your will or trust.

According to Caring.com, 60 percent of Americans don’t have an estate plan at all. This opens up a gray area that can lead to your assets getting distributed in a manner you may not expect.

Worse, the same source noted that 64 percent of Gen Xers and 78 percent of Millenials have yet to engage in any estate planning at all, even though they have reached a child-rearing age. Should something unforeseen happen to them, their children may not inherit everything that they should.

The other interesting thing Bourdain did is to leave his frequent flyer miles to his estranged wife. Bourdain traveled a lot for his job, especially to film his “Parts Unknown” TV show. As a result, he would have accumulated more miles than the average person by a significant margin.

Yet frequent flyer miles, rewards points, and other perks are often neglected in estate planning. Considering that it has become nearly impossible to shop without hearing a sales pitch for some type of rewards system, there is real value in this category. For example, 68 percent of American adults have at least one credit card that earns travel rewards according to Nerd Wallet.

Part of the reason that these assets are often neglected is that they cannot be exchanged through a simple beneficiary designation form.

Instead, each airline has its own policies on what can be inherited and by whom. They can do this because every rewards program is essentially a contract between a consumer and a company.

Some estate planning attorneys in Chino might not know the specific rules every different airline utilizes, so they group these assets under the “Tangible” category in the formal estate plans that they draw up.

Bourdain has the advantage of a celebrity status, so any airline that failed to honor his wishes would likely face a substantial PR backlash. Therefore, it is probable that his wishes will be honored even if the airline(s) in question would not do so otherwise.

That said, regular people may be able to mimic the strategy to an extent by sharing their story with the local media in their area. It’s unlikely to receive the amount of coverage Bourdain’s estate plan has, but may generate enough buzz to get you what you want.

Bourdain also documented his estate plan in his formal will and named a specific agent to ensure its execution. Both are “estate planning best practices” that everybody should follow his example on.

In summation, Anthony Bourdain’s estate plan illustrates several practices that may be utilized by the public at large. The purpose of an estate plan is to protect your loved ones, so make sure that yours does so. Rewards points and frequent flyer miles are assets, so make sure they are accounted for. Finally, include your estate plan in your will and talk to your estate planning lawyer about naming a specific agent to bring it to fruition.