Estate Planning & Probate in Sonoma County
Work With a Qualified Santa Rosa Estate Planning AttorneyMany people believe estate planning is only for the super-rich. In fact, estate planning can benefit nearly all people, from all walks of life. Estate planning can, however, seem overwhelming. At the Gullotta Law Group we believe estate planning should not be a task you dread, rather should be easy and comfortable for you.
At the Gullotta Law Group, we go to great lengths to take the burden off your shoulders when it comes to creating or administering an estate plan. To help you keep your costs in check, we offer fixed fees for the creation of estate planning documents, believing this encourages you to ask all the questions you need answered and to take an active role in your estate plan without fretting about hourly fees.
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At the Gullotta Law Group, we believe your estate plan should be uniquely tailored to your life, your needs and your goals. We want you to be involved, therefore Attorney Gullotta will talk to you at length to determine those needs and goals, they will translate your wishes into legally binding estate planning documents. You will work with Attorney Gullotta throughout the process, receiving assistance from our always-helpful support staff along the way. We believe in direct, continuing contact with our clients, and believe you will be happy with your choice of the Gullotta Law Group for your estate planning needs. At the Gullotta Law Group, we can assist you with any of the following estate planning needs:
- Advanced Health Care Directives-Having an advanced health care directive can be an extremely important step to take in your life and an important part of your estate plan. End-of-life care is a very personal matter—in your advanced health care directive you will lay out your end-of-life care in the event of a serious illness which leaves you unable to make your own health care decisions. When you create an advanced health care directive, you choose a person you would trust to make decisions on your behalf. This removes any potential burden on your family members should you have an emergency or a debilitating illness. Remember, the legal preferences laid out in your advanced health care directive only go into effect should you become incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself. As your circumstances in life change, you can make changes to your advanced health care directive, and while you can detail many end-of-life decisions. Having a comprehensively advanced health care directive can give you peace of mind in the event of an unexpected accident or illness.
- Revocable Trust-A revocable living trust can be amended or revoked at any time and allow the assets in the trust to pass to the named beneficiaries without the expense and time delays of probate. A revocable living trust will not shield your assets from creditors, as the assets within the revocable living trust are still considered your personal assets for creditor and tax purposes.
- Distribution of Assets-Once you have determined what your “estate” consists of, you will then decide who you would like to have your assets, and the best way to accomplish those goals. There are essentially three methods of asset distribution.
- You can gift your assets to loved ones prior to your death,
- You can establish trusts during your lifetime which will distribute your assets while you are still alive,
- Your assets can be distributed outside your will when you die.
Each of these methods has pros and cons, therefore your specific financial situation, your tax rate and your probate plan will determine the best way for you to distribute your assets. In some cases, your Sonoma estate planning attorney can help you combine two or more of these methods to help you accomplish your objectives. If you have children from a prior marriage you could potentially specify what gifts or assets you want them to have in your will, however, if those gifts bypass your spouse, a family conflict could ensue. A trust might be the best legal instrument for leaving assets to your children from a prior marriage, while still ensuring your current spouse is taken care of. There are many aspects to asset distribution, therefore it can be extremely beneficial to speak to an attorney at the Gullotta Law Group.
- Estate Administration-If you have only a living trust, you will have a named successor trustee who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes after your death or in the event of your incapacitation. If you have a will, you will name an executor—a person you trust to adhere to the terms of your will and carry out your wishes. If you die without a will (intestate), the court will appoint an executor following a hearing. No one can be forced to be an executor, therefore, it is important that you have an honest conversation with your proposed executor to determine whether he or she is willing to serve in this capacity. Executors have a fiduciary duty to ensure the beneficiaries of the will are protected. Should that fiduciary duty be breached, personal liability can be imposed on the executor. Once appointed, the executor will “run” the estate in the same way a business is run; that is, the executor will ensure all debts are paid, taxes are properly taken care of, assets are cared for and the remaining assets are distributed to the named beneficiaries.
- Estate Taxes-The state of California does not currently collect an estate tax, although prior to 2005, the state did collect such a tax, known as the “pick-up tax.”. California also does not collect a state inheritance tax—the tax assessed against the share received by each individual beneficiary of an estate as opposed to the estate tax, assessed against the entire estate. This means the only “death” tax that residents of California must think about is the federal estate tax. This tax falls on the estate of the deceased, rather than on the people who inherit. Currently, there is an exemption of $11,400,000(2019), therefore only those who die with an estate larger than that will have to pay federal estate tax—currently only about two out of every 1,000 people who die.
- Guardianships-If you leave behind minor children when you die, it is important that you provide for their future care by naming a guardian in your will. If you fail to name a guardian for your minor children, the probate court will appoint a guardian, and that person might not be one you would choose to raise your children. In some instances, the probate court will appoint a guardian to physically care for the children and a conservator to oversee the management of the financial details for the children. Even when parents do name a guardian in their will, the court will still need to approve the parents’ choice, however, absent any compelling reason not to do so, the choice is generally approved.
- Powers of Attorney-A power of attorney is a legal document which allows you to appoint a person to handle your financial or healthcare affairs in the event you become incapacitated. A limited power of attorney can also be used when you plan on being out of the state or country for a length of time and you need someone to take care of specific financial issues while you are away. A general power of attorney gives much broader powers to a person or organization to act on your behalf—the person chosen is also known as an agent or attorney-in-fact. A general power of attorney—or any type of power of attorney ends upon your death. A health care power of attorney allows your chosen agent the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you become incapacitated. You might also choose a durable power of attorney which keeps the power of attorney in effect until your death unless rescinded during a period of time you are not incapacitated.
- Probate Administration-If you leave a will, your named executor will administer your estate. This includes collecting assets, paying debts and taxes, filing a final tax return, taking an inventory of assets, and distributing remaining assets to heirs. If you do not leave a will, an executor will be appointed, and that person will do the same things a named executor would do. If you leave a trust, your successor trustee will be responsible for implementing the terms of the trust and filing a Notice of Trust with the beneficiaries. In the state of California, estates worth more than $150,000 must go through formal administration.
- Wills and Trusts-Having an estate plan containing either a will, a trust, or both is the responsible thing to do for those you will leave behind. There are many extremely good reasons to have a will or trust, however, the bottom line is to ensure your assets go to those you would choose to have them. When you die without an estate plan, you leave unnecessary chaos behind for your loved ones. If you have minor children, you will need a will to name a guardian for them, and you might also benefit from a trust. Speak to a knowledgeable attorney from the Gullotta Law Group today to determine whether you could benefit from a will, a trust or both, and give yourself peace of mind.
How an Estate Planning Attorney from the Gullotta Law Group Can Help You Plan for Your Future
Contact the Gullotta Law Group today for comprehensive assistance with your California estate plan. We believe we can help you create the right estate plan for your circumstances and your loved ones.