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There was a time when only legitimate children–i.e., children born to a lawfully married couple–could inherit property from a parent. Modern law in California and most states have largely eliminated the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children, but it can still be an issue in some probate situations.

For example, a court in the Canadian province of Ontario recently denied a man a share of his late grandmother’s estate because he was born out of wedlock. The grandmother’s will, which she signed in 1977, left shares to each of her “children” or their descendants. Ontario law at the time defined “children” as only including those born in wedlock. Ironically, Ontario changed the law in 1978 to include illegitimate children, but the court in this case said that did not apply to pre-1978 wills.

Establishing Paternity When There is No Will

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If you die without a will, California’s intestacy law dictates how your estate must be distributed. For example, if you are married at the time of your death, your spouse is entitled to a certain share of your property under intestacy. But if you are legally separated when you die, then your spouse does not inherit.

Living Apart Does Not Necessarily Prove the Marriage is Over

What does “legally separated” actually mean? Is it enough if you and your spouse are living in different homes? A California appeals court recently addressed this question in the context of a tragic case from Los Angeles.

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The term “trust” refers to an arrangement in which one person holds property for the benefit of another. In estate planning we commonly use revocable and irrevocable trusts as tools to bypass traditional probate. You give your assets to a trustee, who then administers the property for the benefit of the persons you name in the trust instrument.

Sometimes the word “trust” is used to signify something else. For example, you may have heard the term “Totten trust” used by banks. A Totten trust is really not a trust; it is a type of payable-on-death bank account. The person establishing the Totten trust has the unrestricted ability to withdraw money from or close the account. The “beneficiary” is simply the person who receives the remainder of the account, if any, upon the account holder’s death.

Court Imposes “Constructive Trust” After Stepson’s Mistake

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Not every California estate has to go through a formal probate administration. If you do careful estate planning and transfer all of your personal assets into a living trust, for example, you can ideally leave no probate estate at all. But even if you do not have a trust, if you leave a California estate worth $150,000 or less, your heirs can use a simplified affidavit process to transfer certain personal property without going to court.

Court Penalizes Stepdaughter for “Fraudulent” Affidavit

The affidavit process only applies to personal property such as bank accounts and stocks, and not real estate, like your house. The person who has the legal right to inherit the property must file the affidavit after your death. If you have a will, that means the beneficiaries you named to inherit your property. If you do not leave a will–i.e., you die intestate–then your heirs under California law have the right to file the affidavit.

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A person is free to dispose of property as he or she wishes by making a will. There are cases in which a person may enter into a written contract to make certain provisions in their will in exchange for certain considerations. For example, a father may promise to make a will leaving his house to his daughter. In exchange, the daughter agrees to move in with her father and take care of him in his final years.

Court Rejects Breach of Contract Claim Due to Late Filing

When there is an offer, acceptance, and consideration, a contract to make a will is legally binding in California. This means if the person who promises to make the will fails to do so before he or she dies, the other party may have grounds to file a breach of contract lawsuit. Under California law, such lawsuits must be filed within one year of the decedent’s death.

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Living in southern California gets more expensive every year. For many elderly San Diego residents on a fixed income, just paying monthly bills can be a struggle. This is one reason “reverse mortgages” have become popular in recent years.

How Reverse Mortgages Work

Most of us have taken out a home mortgage loan at some point in our lives. The typical mortgage is a 30-year loan secured by the property being purchased. Each month the borrower must make fixed payments towards the mortgage’s principal and interest.

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Estate planning is a process that affects your entire family. The decisions you make today regarding your will and trust can affect your spouse, children, and other relatives years down the line. This is why it is important to make sure your family is aware of your estate planning intentions.

52% of Americans Have No Will

BMO Wealth Management, an international bank based in Montreal, recently released the results of a survey it conducted of 1,008 American adults about their attitudes towards estate planning issues. The report, called “Estate Planning for Complex Family Dynamics,” offers some interesting insights into how the average American views the estate planning process, in particular how they responded to their own experience with inheritances.

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If you are married or in a long-term relationship, your estate plan will likely name your partner as the principal beneficiary under your will or trust. But what if you both die in a common accident? The law in this area can get a little complicated.

California’s 120-Hour Rule

When a California resident dies without a will, the state’s intestacy law dictates the distribution of property. If you have a surviving spouse but no children, the spouse automatically inherits everything. If you have children, your spouse inherits all of your community property and splits any separate property with the children.

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There are many kinds of trusts used in estate planning. One you may not have heard about before is a special needs trust. This is a trust designed to provide for a person who is receiving certain types of government benefits, such as Medi-Cal or Supplemental Security Income.

Because these programs are means-tested, a beneficiary can lose his or her eligibility if he or she suddenly receives a large amount of cash, say from an inheritance or a lawsuit judgment. But by creating a special needs trust, that money can be placed in the hands of a trustee, who retains legal ownership. The trustee can then use trust funds to purchase goods and services for the beneficiary without compromising government benefits.

Trustee Removed After Questionable Property Deal

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Many people do not bother to plan for their own funerals. They just assume their family will take care of the arrangements when the time comes. If there is disagreement among family members, however, a funeral can quickly turn into a financial and legal battleground. This is why it is a good idea to consider who should plan your funeral as part of your overall estate planning.

Disinheritance Does Not Apply to Funeral Arrangements

Recently, a court in New Jersey had to deal with the fallout from a contested funeral plan. A woman with three adult children passed away. Her will left nothing to the children. The will further stated her estate should pay any “just debts and funeral expenses,” but made no other provision regarding the planning of the funeral itself.

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