I found myself at court in Downtown LA the other day and unexpectedly ran into a good friend, Lindsey Downey. She and I caught up for hours in the courthouse hallway.
As we chatted, I learned she was at court for a probate matter. Realizing that, as an estate planning and probate attorney, Lindsey could answer questions I had recently been contemplating, I started to pick her brain. To her, my questions were basic. To me, her answers were useful.
Our discussion is roughly reproduced (in part) below.
- What considerations should women in their twenties and thirties be making in regard to their estate planning, generally?
This really depends on each individual situation, but generally they should be thinking about all of the potential issues that could arise if they were to pass away or become incapacitated tomorrow and what they can do today to prevent those problems from arising in the first place. How will their family pay the bills? Who will take care of their minor children? What resources will be available to the guardian of their children to allow them to properly care for them (e.g., life insurance policy)? How will their debts and funeral expenses be paid? How will their assets be divided? Who will be responsible for managing their estate and “winding things up”? If they own a business, will someone take over? If so, who and how? Will the business be dissolved? They should also be thinking about these things beyond the first level. For example, maybe a single mom wants her sister to take care of her minor children, but what if her sister predeceases her or is otherwise unable to care for the children, who is the backup guardian?
- Why should young women have a will? How does this differ between single and married women, and between women without children and those with children?
Everyone should have a will because it allows a person to express their wishes regarding the distribution of their assets and care of their minor children upon their passing. However, a will does not avoid probate. Thus, a will alone may not be sufficient and a more comprehensive estate plan may be necessary.
- Why should young women have a trust? Again, how does this differ between single and married women, and between women without children and those with children?
One of the biggest advantages to having a trust is the ability to avoid probate. Probate is the court process of handling a person’s affairs and distributing their assets upon their passing. Probate is a time consuming, expensive, and public process, and individuals should make appropriate estate planning arrangements to avoid probate. While there are simplified procedures available for estates with a gross value of $150,000 or less, estates with gross values over $150,000 will be probated in the absence of appropriate planning.
For women with estates valued above $5.49M (the current 2017 federal estate and gift tax exemption amount) having a trust can reduce, or eliminate, estate and gift taxes on assets above and beyond the $5.49M threshold. Further, with a trust, your successor trustee (person who you have designated to manage your estate) is able to step in and manage your affairs not only after you pass but during your life if you become incapacitated and unable to manage your affairs. This avoids the need to have a guardian or conservator appointed by the court.
- Advance health care directives—what should we know?
An Advance Health Care Directive (“AHCD”) allows you to designate individuals to make health care decisions for you in the event you are not able to do so. An AHCD also allows you to express your wishes in regards to donation of organs, autopsies, disposition of your remains, and life prolonging treatment. The individuals appointed by you in the AHCD must adhere to these expressed wishes in executing the authority given to them under the AHCD.
Without an AHCD your family and doctors are left to make decisions on your behalf that may be contrary to what you would have wanted because you have failed to provide them with any guidance about what your wishes are. This can lead to costly and emotional legal battles if family members disagree about the course of treatment.
A good example of this occurring is the Terri Schiavo case. At 26 years old Terri Schiavo feel into a vegetative state, her husband wanted to disconnect her feeding tube and take her off of life support, arguing Terri did not want her life artificially prolonged; however, Terri’s parents adamantly disagreed. Terri’s family endured a 15-year legal battle in both state and federal courts before the Court ordered Terri’s feeding tube be removed; ultimately resulting in Terri’s passing.
Lindsey Downey is an attorney at Gold Law, APC, in Camarillo, California. She focuses on estate planning, probate, and family law. She holds an MBA and JD from the University of La Verne, and a BS in Business Management from San Diego State University.
PLEASE NOTE: The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from Pinot Epiphanies or Lindsey Downey, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.