Frequently Asked Questions About Estate Planning
At SW Smyth LLP, we firmly believe that the most beneficial estate plans come from well-informed clients. We strive to provide open and honest communication about the estate planning process and the effect it can have on you and your loved ones. Contact us in Los Angeles to learn more.
Are the terms of my trust set in stone?
That depends on the kind of trust you create. In California, trusts can be revocable or irrevocable. In a revocable living trust, the grantor can change the terms of a trust or end the trust at any time. An irrevocable trust does not allow the grantor to change the trust.
In many cases, individuals choose to create revocable trusts so they can adjust the terms of their trust to reflect major life changes such as divorce. Because every situation is different, we can examine your estate and explain the advantages of each type of trust.
Do I need to worry about estate taxes?
California no longer imposes an estate tax on residents. However, if an estate is large enough, it may be subject to federal estate taxes. For individuals who died in 2019, estates valued at more than $11.4 million are subject to estate tax. For individuals who die in 2020, estates worth more than $11.58 million are subject to federal estate tax. While this may seem substantial, if you own real estate in California, your estate could become subject to this tax. We can help review your assets and advise you on methods to avoid this risk.
What happens to my estate if I don’t draft a will?
If you should die intestate, or without a will, your estate undergoes a lengthy and complicated probate process. In California, intestacy laws dictate that your property will be divided up and distributed to your living relatives according to a certain hierarchy. If you have a spouse, they receive the entirety of your estate. If you have a spouse and children, your spouse receives all community property and 50% of your separate property. The remaining 50% of your separate property goes to your children.
If you have no spouse and no children, your parents receive the property in probate. If you have no surviving parents, your siblings receive the property.
What is community property?
California adheres to the community property doctrine for married individuals. California considers all property obtained during the marriage to be owned by both spouses equally with some exceptions.
Can I provide for my pets in my estate plan?
For many Californians, pets are just as much part of the family as anyone else. A living trust can make as many provisions as you like. This can include determining who should care for your pet and setting aside money for their care. A trust can also include provisions to donate to pet shelters or nonprofit organizations.