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There are many questions you may have when thinking about estate planning. In addition to worrying about making a will, or setting up a trust, and dealing with decisions about whom to leave your property, there are also more mundane issues to consider. For example, do you still have to file tax returns after your death?

It probably will not come as a surprise that the answer is “yes.” Tax obligations do not end at death. In fact, death raises a number of tax issues that your surviving spouse (if you are married) or the executor of your estate will need to handle.

Personal Income Taxes

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The London Telegraph recently reported that there has been a “huge rise in the number of lasting powers of attorney” filed with the government. The Telegraph said more than 441,000 powers of attorney were established in 2015, nearly 12 times as many as were filed in 2008, when the British government amended the laws governing powers of attorney in England and Wales.

The Telegraph noted the correlation between the increased filings of powers of attorney and new figures from the UK’s National Health Service indicating dementia and Alzheimer’s disease had become the leading cause of death in England and Wales, overtaking heart disease. The powers of attorney figures cited above were obtained by a pension company that told the Telegraph many British citizens were still at risk for losing control over their finances due to a lack of a legally executed power of attorney.

In the United States, Alzheimer’s is currently considered the sixth leading cause of death. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million American citizens suffer from the disease. One out of every nine people over the age of 65 will develop Alzheimer’s, and 1 out of every three seniors will die with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia.

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It is not uncommon for a person entering a second marriage to keep certain assets as separate property for the benefit of any children from the first marriage. If you are in this situation, it is important to make sure that your estate planning reflects your intentions so as to avoid any potential misunderstanding with your current spouse. You have every right to leave separate property to your children without interference from your spouse.

Court Rejects Wife’s Estate’s Effort to Claim Husband’s Estate

Unfortunately, there are some cases where a person may still and try and challenge a deceased spouse’s estate plan. A California appeals court recently issued a series of three decisions in a long-running Orange County probate dispute involving the children of now-deceased spouses.

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If you co-own real property with others, it is important to clearly establish each party’s interest. Among other reasons, this can have a significant impact on your estate planning because your will or trust can only dispose of your own interest in real estate. Your estate plan will not affect the rights of the other co-owners in most situations.

Brothers Fight Over Share of Mother’s Property

Here is an illustration from a recent California case. In 1978, a mother and her three children–two sons and a daughter–acquired a piece of real estate in Los Angeles. There were a number of title changes made to the property over the years. According to a 1986 deed, ownership was divided as follows: a one-third interest belonged to a revocable trust established by the mother, a one-third interest belonged to the daughter, and the final one-third interest belonged to one of the sons (who is the defendant in the lawsuit discussed below). In 2002, the daughter effectively transferred her one-third interest to her mother’s trust.

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When you name someone as a beneficiary of your last will and testament, you are effectively making a gift to that person (conditional on your death). A testamentary gift can take the form of cash, property, or even forgiveness of an outstanding debt. For example, if you loaned your child $10,000 during your lifetime, you may include a clause in your will canceling the loan, thereby absolving her of any legal duty to repay your estate.

Sisters Continue Lengthy Fight Over Father’s Forgiveness of Business Loan

California law defines a gift as “a transfer of personal property, made voluntarily, and without consideration.” If you plan to forgive a debt as part of your estate plan, it is important to do so expressly in writing. California does not recognize “verbal” gifts “unless there is an actual or symbolical delivery of the thing to the donee.”

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Some people decide to write their own last will and testament without the assistance of an estate planning lawyer. While such wills are generally valid, provided they comply with the requirements of California law, there is always the risk that ambiguity in a will drafted by a non-attorney may lead to misunderstandings. Such misunderstandings can lead to litigation, which largely defeats the purpose of having a will in the first place.

Handwritten Will Leads to Lawsuit Over Woman’s Intentions

A recent South Dakota case illustrates the types of problems that may arise from self-drafted wills. The will in this case was written by a woman who was serving a jail term at a South Dakota women’s prison. The will was “holographic,” meaning it was handwritten by the woman. Holographic wills are considered valid in most states provided they are signed and in the testator’s own handwriting.

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California allows the spouse or heirs of a deceased individual to file a wrongful death lawsuit against anyone whose negligence caused the individual’s death. In many cases the personal representative or executor of the estate brings a wrongful death claim on behalf of the persons entitled to recover. If successful, wrongful death claimants may recover losses attributed to the estate, such as the decedent’s medical bills and funeral costs, as well as economic and non-economic losses suffered by the individual heirs.

Utah Court Rules Executor May Sue Herself for Wrongful Death

While most wrongful death lawsuits involve third parties unrelated to the estate or the decedent, the Utah Supreme Court recently examined an unusual case where the executor of an estate filed a wrongful death claim against herself. This may sound illogical, but the court said the case could proceed.

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Many wills and trusts contain a “no-contest” clause designed to discourage unnecessary litigation among family members after a person’s death. Basically, a no-contest clause disinherits anyone who files a lawsuit subsequently challenging the validity of the will or trust in court. But a recent San Diego case offered an unique spin on this legal principle: What happens when someone files a lawsuit claiming a trust is valid, notwithstanding the contrary claims of the trustee?

Court Revives Son’s Claim Against Mother Over Grandmother’s Trust

The litigants in this case are a mother and son. The dispute is over the terms of a revocable living trust established by the mother’s mother (i.e., the son’s grandmother). The grandmother originally created the trust in 1990. She purportedly signed two amendments to the trust, the first in 1999 and the second in 2013, several months before her death.

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A conservatorship is a legal last resort for someone who is unable to properly provide for his or her personal needs or manage his or her finances. With proper estate planning, a person can anticipate such contingencies by signing a power of attorney or even creating a trust. Still, there may be cases in which a court determines such documents are invalid due to a person’s deteriorated mental state or the undue influence of others.

Court Rejects Stepdaughter’s Petition for Conservatorship Over 101-Year-Old Stepfather

A recent case from here in San Diego illustrates the problems that can arise when dealing with elderly relatives and estate planning. This case is just an example and should not be viewed as a definitive statement of California law on estate planning or conservatorships.

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You should never procrastinate when it comes to estate planning. If you are thinking about making a will or trust—or amending an existing document—you should speak with a San Diego estate planning attorney as soon as possible. After all, you never know what sudden or unexpected event may leave you unable to put your estate plan into action.

Divorce, Death Prevents Funding of New Trust

A recent case from here in San Diego offers a cautionary example. A husband and wife established a joint revocable trust. Some time later, the couple began divorce proceedings. The wife hired an estate planning attorney to assist her in revoking the joint trust and establishing her own trust. She wanted to ensure her 50% interest in the couple’s community property would go to her heirs.

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