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Deborah A. Malkin is a Certified Legal Specialist in Estate Planning, Trusts & Probate, certified by the Board of Legal Specialization of the State of California.
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What Is Estate Planning?

(Is it possible that I have an estate?)

The phrase estate planning is often misunderstood. Most people tend to think that "estate" means a large home with rolling acreage like the one shown on Dallas, and that owners of those kinds of "estates" are the only ones who need concern themselves with estate planning. Actually, estate planning is a term that simply indicates you are thinking ahead and planning to whom your assets will be distributed.

Everyone has an estate. Your estate is made up of your assets, which may be anything from a couple of compact discs to a home and a portfolio of investments. An estate plan consists of legal documents outlining instructions for distribution of your assets after your death. These documents may also include specific instructions for the guardianship of your children or other dependents.

For unmarried partners, estate planning is especially important. Without it, after death your assets could be distributed to estranged relatives by the court, and your partner could receive nothing.

Who needs an estate plan?

Virtually everyone needs some form of estate planning.

  • Unmarried partners need an estate plan to provide for the surviving partner. Without a will or other estate plan, assets pass to family members according to the legislative scheme. There is no provision in that plan for inheritance by unmarried domestic partners, no matter how long-term the relationship.
  • Married couples can save thousands of dollars in estate tax through basic estate planning.
  • Single people need an estate plan to ensure that relatives, friends, or favorite charities receive specific possessions and assets after their death. If there is no will or other estate plan, assets will be distributed according to a pre-set formula devised by state legislators.
  • Older adults may want to provide for their long-term care instead of having that potential burden fall on other family members.
  • Business or professional practice owners need a plan to name a successor. Most businesses are left to a surviving relative, who may not have the skills needed to run the business. In many cases, the business will fail. As a business owner, you can make provision for someone with specific business know-how to come in and run your business, at least until it can be sold. Your business is more likely to succeed and continue to provide for loved ones.
  • Parents need to name a guardian for their young children. The only way that parents can nominate a guardian for a minor child is through a will.
  • Homeowners can save thousands of dollars by using a living trust to avoid probate. Probate can be expensive, time-consuming, and psychologically wearing. A simple living trust can save loved ones from the ordeal of probate.
  • Those with custody of a physically or mentally challenged individual can protect their dependent financially by using a special needs trust, so that the heir can remain eligible for government benefits without having to deplete his or her own assets.

What do I do now?

No matter what your age, the value of your assets, or your family situation, you should give some consideration to how you would like your assets distributed in the event of your death, and decide who should care for your minor children. A well-thought-out estate plan can save a great deal of money and can also spare your loved ones unnecessary emotional pain.

Even if you already have an estate plan, there may have been significant changes in your assets, your family, and/or the law since your documents were created. You may want to consult an estate planning attorney to make sure your plan fits your current situation.

Attorney Deborah A. Malkin has practiced law in Santa Cruz, California since 1988. She specializes in wills, trusts, and other forms of estate planning, as well as probate matters. Deborah A. Malkin is a Certified Legal Specialist in Estate Planning, Trusts & Probate, certified by the Board of Legal Specialization of the State of California.

Deborah A. Malkin
Attorney at Law

2425 Porter Street, Suite 3
Soquel, CA 95073

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