San diego County
Practice Areas - Estate Planning

          Contradictory to widespread views, you don’t need an enormous home with stables and a riding arena to have an estate.  An estate is simply all of your assets, or everything you own, when you die.  A typical estate might include bank accounts, investment accounts, the family home, a vacation home, your personal items, and possibly a personal business.

Why do I need an Estate Plan?

         You need an Estate Plan because it allows you to control, decide and designate who your beneficiaries will be and who will be in charge of administering your estate, rather than the Government.  If you do nothing, the Probate Code will decide for you by utilizing the laws of intestacy, sometimes with unwelcome results. 

          An example of a potential unwanted result arising is illustrated when a married couple with children does not have an Estate Plan.  Many married couples expect everything to go to their surviving spouse, but the rules of intestacy may require portions of the deceased spouse’s estate to be distributed to the children, not leaving enough funds for their surviving spouse.  With high San Diego County real estate values, the family home may need to be sold to generate enough funds for the intestate distributions. 

         Individuals or married couples with children should also realize that an estate plan is the place where they nominate guardians for their minor children.  Although the Court will make the final appointment of guardian after proper investigation, a nomination in the Will provides significant support and guidance for the proper and ultimate guardian appointment.

         For those without children and not married, intestacy may result in all assets being distributed to an estranged sibling or cousin instead of a lifelong friend.

What is an Estate Plan?           

       A typical Estate Plan is a collection of documents that have been contemplated, executed and are waiting to either work together or individually to accomplish a host of goals that an individual or married couple has for their finances, health, death and children.  Each document in the Estate Plan serves a unique purpose and deserves individual attention.

        In short, a Trust with a Will or standalone Will determines who controls the administration of your estate and who receives the assets from your estate.  An Advance Health Care Directive allows you to select agents to carry out your health care goals should you be unable to communicate them.  A Financial Power of Attorney provides authority for another to act in your place regarding financial affairs should you be unable to act. 

Can I make my own Estate Plan?

           In 2013, why not take the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) approach with Estate Planning?  In light of the books and software available today, DIY advocates tend to indicate something is better than nothing and a DIY product will be cheaper than working with an attorney.  This assertion can be accurate, but is not necessarily always true.  
For example, a DIY Will executed incorrectly could end up being invalid, thus resulting in one’s estate being administered in Probate under the laws of intestacy.  Another example is a DIY Trust that is not properly funded, resulting in assets, like one’s home, still being subject to Probate even with a valid trust. 
It is quite possible that a family could end up spending more money on attorneys to correct or alleviate a situation created by incorrect DIY estate planning documents than if an attorney was hired to assist with the planning at the outset. When you hire an attorney to assist you with Estate Planning in 2013, you are paying for the professional's knowledge, guidance and assistance with planning, drafting and execution of the documents. 

          If you would like to learn more about Estate Planning, contact Attorney John Donnoe directly at (858) 201-9030.

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