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If you have minor children, it is important to consider the estate planning implications of providing for them before they reach the age of 18. If you leave your children a substantial inheritance, it will be necessary to name a guardian for their estate until they reach the age of majority. A guardianship of the “estate” is separate from a guardianship of the “person.” The latter refers to the person who has physical custody of the child and oversees his or her daily care. A guardianship of the estate, in contrast, only deals with property owned by the minor child.

Family Member or Professional Fiduciary?

In many cases, a guardian of the person will also serve as guardian of the estate. But depending on the size and complexity of the inheritance that you plan to leave, it may make sense to name a separate guardian of the estate. For example, you might name a close relative to serve as guardian of the child’s person while designating a professional fiduciary to serve as guardian of the estate.

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There are many stories about people who make unusual bequests in their last will and testament. Perhaps the strangest story involved a wealthy Portuguese aristocrat who passed away several years ago at the age of 42. The man was unmarried and had no children. But he did leave a will, which named 70 different people to share in the proceeds of his estate.

What made the will unique was that the 70 people were complete strangers. According to a 2007 BBC report, the man sat in the presence of two witnesses and selected the 70 beneficiaries “at random” from a local telephone directory. These individuals had no idea they were the man’s beneficiaries until they were contacted after his death.

American vs. European Rules Governing Heirship

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Administering a California probate estate is often a time-consuming affair. The personal representative (or executor) of your estate is responsible for gathering and maintaining all of your assets, paying any legitimate creditor claims, and ultimately ensuring all property is distributed according to the terms of your last will and testament. Depending on the size and complexity of your estate, the personal representative may end up spending up hundreds of yours settling your affairs.

How California Sets Compensation Levels

For this reason, California law recognizes the personal representative’s right to receive compensation for his or her services. The maximum allowable compensation for “ordinary services” is determined as a percentage of the total value of the estate. For estates valued at $100,000 or below, the personal representative’s compensation cannot exceed 4%. This means that, for instance, if you leave a probate estate worth $80,000, your personal representative cannot receive more than $3,200 in compensation.

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Many younger people think they do not need to concern themselves with making a last will and testament. A will is something that older people make when they are in poor health or even on their deathbed, right? Of course, that is ludicrous thinking. Every day we see reports of people cut down in the prime of their lives due to an accident, and in many cases those individuals died without taking the time to make a proper estate plan.

Star Trek” Actor’s Sudden Death Highlights Legal Effects of Dying Without a Will

Anton Yelchin, a 27-year-old actor residing in Los Angeles, died this past June after he was accidentally crushed by his own car. Yelchin was best known for his appearances in the recent “Star Trek” feature films, the most recent of which premiered shortly after his death. Recently, Yelchin’s parents filed a petition to open a probate estate for their son, who they say died without leaving a will.

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Many people pledge money to charity as part of their estate planning. In California, charitable pledges are generally not enforceable in court unless the donor receives some consideration, thereby creating a binding contract. For example, if a college offers to name a building after you in exchange for your gift, that would be consideration for your pledge. If you pledge money contingent on other people making similar donations, that would constitute mutual consideration among all of the donors.

If you do make a binding pledge as part of your estate plan, however, make sure you consider the wishes of your spouse. Under California law, any community property held by a married couple is owned one-half by each spouse. This means you may not make a gift of your spouse’s share of such property without his or her consent.

Ex-Husband Cannot Pay for Pledges With Ex-Wife’s Share of Community Property

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For many of us the “paperless office” is a reality. Our personal and professional lives reside online through our laptops, smart phones, and cloud storage. But what does this mean for our estate planning?

An article on CNBC.com discussed the growing popularity of “digital document archives,” which offer specialized cloud storage for estate planning materials including wills, powers of attorney, and health care directives. The idea behind such services is to make it easier for family members or other fiduciaries to locate important estate planning documents. For example, if a person dies, his or her executor could go to a digital archive and promptly download a copy of the will.

Are “Digital Wills” Admissible in California?

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Elder abuse remains a major problem in California estate planning. Relatives, caregivers, and other parties often exploit their relationship with someone who is ill or dying in order to obtain an inheritance from their estate. Such undue influence is against the law, and an interested party may ask a probate court to nullify any provision in a will or trust that benefits the abuser.

Court Holds Disclaimer Does Not End Elder Abuse Petition

A California appeals court in Santa Clara recently emphasized the public policy importance of discouraging elder abuse in a recent decision involving an ongoing contest to a revocable living trust. The trust was originally created by a married couple in 1990. Upon the wife’s death, the trust was subdivided into two trusts, one of which remained subject to amendment or revocation at the husband’s discretion.

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A revocable living trust is a useful estate planning tool when you want to make provisions for your family members beyond your death. A trust need not distribute all of its assets upon your death. You may instruct your trustee to retain the trust principal and distribute only the income at periodic intervals to your designated beneficiaries. This can ensure your beneficiaries receive a steady stream of income for many years.

Ex-Wife Continues to Collect From Late Father-in-Law’s Trust

It is important to be as specific as possible when spelling out the conditions for any income distributions under a revocable living trust. A recent California probate case offers a useful cautionary example. In this case, a man created a revocable living trust in 1977 just before he died. The trust became irrevocable on his death and remains in force today.

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Death does not automatically void any debts owed by the deceased. In the normal course of administering an estate, the personal representative named in the decedent’s last will and testament is responsible for paying any valid creditor claims presented. Indeed, once a person has died, a creditor may only enforce a debt through the probate courts. This includes debtors who obtain a civil court judgment against the decedent prior to death.

Claimant Waits Too Long to Challenge Illegal Creditor’s Lien

A recent case from Los Angeles illustrates the complications that can arise when creditors seek to enforce their judgments against a deceased debtor. In this case, a civil plaintiff obtained a $2 million judgment against the decedent in January 2012. The decedent passed away in August of that same year. Approximately two weeks after his death, the civil plaintiff filed a lien against a piece of real estate that the decedent owned in Malibu.

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In a recent post we discussed how Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid system, can go after the assets of a deceased beneficiary recipient’s probate estate or revocable living trust for reimbursement of medical costs paid during the person’s lifetime. There is some good news for future Medi-Cal beneficiaries and their potential heirs. California’s recently adopted state budget includes important provisions designed to limit Medi-Cal “recovery” against estates. This is an important decision that will help many low-income California residents and their families by protecting their homes and savings from mandatory state seizure.

Legislature Adopts Important Protections for Medi-Cal Recipients and Families

There are actually two categories of reimbursements sought by Medi-Cal. The first is for “specified medical assistance, including nursing facility services, home and community-based services, and related hospital and prescription drug services” provided to California residents ages 55 and over. Federal law requires California to seek reimbursement from a recipient’s estate in these cases.