Estate Planning / Family Matters

You've worked hard for everything you have, now let us help you protect it.

You’ve worked your entire life to earn all of your assets, don’t leave it unprotected when you are gone. With an Estate Plan from Next Level Legal, we can ensure that your assets are distributed as you desire, and that your loved ones are taken care of. 

Next Level Legal offers simple, straightforward, flat-rate packages, or individual services to help you plan your estate and ensure your loved ones are taken care of.

Estate Planning FAQ

Estate Planning is defined as the process of determining how your wealth and assets should be transferred to the heirs of your choice: your children, grandchildren, friends, families, charitable causes, etc., and then deciding which legal tools and structures to use to best meet your estate planning goals. Although lawyers and others like to call this process Estate Planning, a better description would be Inheritance Planning.

An estate plan is to ensure that you are taken care of the rest of your life and that your wealth is transferred to the people you want to have it. A good estate plan ensures these goals are accomplished with as much efficiency and as little cost as possible. A good estate plan also can smooth family relationships, while a bad estate plan makes bad family relationships worse and even turns good relationships into bad ones. After establishing how you want your estate’s assets to be distributed, you can consider ways to reduce taxes and avoid probate.

An estate plan addresses the management and distribution of an individual’s property and financial obligations after their death, with financial tools such as wills, revocable living trusts and power of attorney.

Estate planning is one of the most important actions a person can take to provide for their loved ones before dying. Estate planning helps transfer property and provides life insurance, disability income and long-term care insurance to family, friends and loved ones with few legal hurdles.

There are two reasons that a Revocable Living Trust fits most estate planning needs. First, the revocable living trust facilitates probate fee avoidance. Probate fees are substantial; for example, probate fees can exceed $40,000 for an estate with a gross value of $1,000,000.00. Any assets that are transferred into the trust during the life of the client are not included in the probate estate and avoid inclusion in the probate fee calculation. Second, trust administration is usually simpler, faster and more private than estate administration through a public probate process.
Establishing a revocable living trust is a wise decision for the vast majority of Californians, thus, revocable living trusts are very common and very mainstream. Banks and financial institutions are completely familiar with the trust method of holding assets and are very accommodating in helping clients to change title to their assets.

Incorporating a Trust into your Estate Plan:

– Avoids, or significantly reduces the need for probate.
– Manages property in the event you are incapacitated.
– Prevents children from irresponsibly spending an inheritance.
– Ensures the surviving spouse is taken care of.
– Saves time and money for your loved ones when you pass away.
– Easily amendable as life changes.
– Easy to fund.
– No additional tax consequences after setup.

If you pass without an effective estate plan in place in California and have assets exceeding $150,000 (as indexed for inflation), your estate will need to be administered by the state through a process called probate. Probate is the legal process of passing property from a deceased person to their beneficiaries or heirs. Probate is necessary to transfer title to property such as bank accounts, real property and automobiles which the decedent owned at death. A personal representative, an executor, if named in the will, or an administrator, if appointed by court, will be approved by the court to probate the decedent’s estate. The personal representative’s duties include notifying all creditors of the decedent’s death, filing an inventory and appraisal listing all assets, and the court-appointed referee will appraise the assets. The personal representative also must file the decedent’s tax returns and pay any taxes from the estate. 

The probate process can be very cumbersome, time-consuming, public and expensive. A properly created estate plan can avoid the process in its entirety and save the decedent’s beneficiaries a great deal of time and money. The probate process generally takes a year to complete so long as the procedures detailed in the paragraph above are properly completed. An additional drawback of the probate process is that probate entirely lacks privacy as the filings with the probate court are a matter of public record. Most importantly, the probate process can be very expensive, especially in the case of larger estates.

(The probate code provides for a sliding scale for attorney and administrator fees. Probate Code Section 10810 provides that the attorney for the personal representative shall receive fees equal to 4% of the first $100,000 of the estate; 3% on the next $100,000; 2% of the next $800,000; 1% on the next $9,000,000; one-half of 1% on the next $15,000,000; and a reasonable amount to be determined by the court for all amounts above $25,000,000. Probate Code Section 10800 provides that the personal representative is also entitled to fees in the same amount. Additional fees may be awarded for extraordinary work.)

A properly drafted and executed estate plan can avoid the probate process. The deceased person’s assets will be in the trust and the successor trustee will have the task of distributing the assets according to the trust’s instructions. This process is referred to as trust administration and although it is not without some cost, it will generally result in substantial savings when compared to the probate process. The trust administration is also carried out in private and it is not made public record like probate. There are no statutory waiting requirements to distribute assets of a trust unlike probate’s requirements. Also, there is no court supervision, so the successor trustee does not have to go to court and receive permission before acting.

There are a number of events that may require you to update your estate plan. A change in your family relations, economic position, employment status and external factors requires an evaluation of your estate plan to determine whether it should be changed. See the lists of examples below.

Changes In Family Relations

  • Marriage
  • Dissolution of marriage
  • Death of a spouse
  • Changes regarding a child, grandchild or another beneficiary
  • Birth of a child
  • Death of a child
  • Marriage of a child or dissolution of a child’s marriage
  • Adoption of a child
  • Medical issues of a beneficiary
  • Substance abuse issues of a beneficiary
  • Financial irresponsibility of a beneficiary

Changes In Economic Position and Employment Status

  • A substantial increase or decrease in asset values
  • Change in insurability
  • Change of employment
  • Change in business interests
  • Property acquired
  • Change in health or health of spouse
  • Retirement

External Changes

  • Changes in laws
  • Change of residence out of state
  • Death of executor, trustee or guardian

It is especially important for married couples with estate plans executed prior to 2012 to have their estate plans reviewed in light of the introduction portability of the deceased spouse’s unused estate tax exclusion. Many estate plans drafted before this change require the mandatory funding of a bypass trust upon the death of the first spouse, which may lead to unnecessary administrative expenses and taxes.


Caring For a Minor Child’s Best Interests.

Sometimes, the care for a minor child may need to be given to someone other than the child’s parent. This can arise when both parents have passed without an estate plan or guardian nomination in place, or it can arise when having another caregiver is in the child’s best interest.

No matter the reason, we can get you through the petition process so that you can focus on the care.

Contact us today, or check out our flat fee pricing guide and schedule a consultation online. 

Guardianship FAQ

*Guardianship is when a court orders someone other than the child’s parent to:

  • Have custody of the child; or
  • Manage the child’s property (called “estate”); or
  • Both.

A probate guardianship of the person is set up because a child is living with an adult who is not the child’s parent, and the adult needs a court order to make decisions on behalf of the child. Generally, probate guardianships are for children under 18 and is not the same as an adoption.

*Please note that this does pertains to probate proceedings only and does not apply if custody of the minor was awarded to a non-parent through the juvenile dependency court, or if Child Protective Services (CPS) is involved in your case.

There are 2 types of probate guardianship:

Guardianship of the person

In a guardianship of the person, the guardian has the same responsibilities to care for the child as a parent would. That means the guardian has full legal and physical custody of the child and can make all the decisions about the physical care of the child that a parent would make. A guardian can be anyone: relatives, friends of the family, or other people suitable to raise the child can ask to be legal guardians.

The guardian is responsible for the child’s care, including the child’s:

  • Food, clothing and shelter
  • Safety and protection
  • Physical and emotional growth
  • Medical and dental care
  • Education and any special needs

The guardian is also be responsible for supervision of the child and may be liable for any intentional damage the child may cause.

Guardianship of the estate

A guardianship of the estate is set up to manage a child’s income, money, or other property until the child turns 18. A child may need a guardian of the estate if he or she inherits money or assets. In most cases, the court appoints the surviving parent to be the guardian of the child’s estate.

In some cases the same person can be the guardian of the person and of the estate. In other cases, the court will appoint 2 different people.

The guardian of the estate must:

  • Manage the child’s money;
  • Make smart investments; and
  • Manage the child’s property carefully.

The court will look at what is in the best interest of the child to make sure the child is raised in a safe, stable, and loving environment. A legal guardian can care for a child when the parents are unable to.

A guardianship of the person is sometimes needed when, no matter how much parents love their child, they are not able to parent.

Maybe 1 or both parents:

  • Have a serious physical or mental illness;
  • Are in the military and have to go overseas;
  • Have to go to a rehab program for a while;
  • Are going to jail for a while;
  • Have a drug or alcohol abuse problem;
  • Have a history of being abusive; or
  • Cannot take care of their child for some other reason.

A guardianship of the estate is created to manage a child’s property. It is needed when the child owns or receives valuable property, like if a child inherited a house or a large amount of money.
A guardianship of the estate is not needed when a child only owns inexpensive toys and clothing; or the child receives social security benefits or TANF/CalWorks (welfare).


Do you need to care for another adult who cannot care for themselves?

Sometimes, a friend or loved one may become physically or mentally unable to care for themselves. In order for another adult to make decisions on their behalf and provide care, a conservatorship may be needed. Let us guide you through the petition process so that you can focus on the care.

Contact us today, or check out our flat fee pricing guide and schedule a consultation online. 

Conservatorship FAQ

A Conservatorship is a court proceeding in which a Judge appoints a family member, friend or other responsible person (conservator) to care for another adult (conservatee) who cannot care for themselves and/or their finances.

In a Conservatorship of the Person, the conservator is responsible for making sure that the conservatee has proper food, clothing, shelter, and health care. Depending on the conservatee’s ability to understand and make decisions, the conservator may need to make important medical choices for him or her.

In a Conservatorship of the Estate, the conservator handles the conservatee’s financial matters. These duties include managing the conservatee’s finances, protecting income and property, paying bills, making investments, preparing and filing taxes on behalf of the conservatee. The conservator is also required to make regular reports of the financial account to the courts and other interested parties.

General Conservatorships are often for elderly people, but can also be younger people who have been seriously impaired, like in a car accident, for example.

Limited Conservatorships are for adults with developmental disabilities who cannot fully care for themselves or their finances. Conservatees in Limited Conservatorships do not need the higher level of care that conservatees in General Conservatorships need.

A temporary conservatorship may be set up when a person needs immediate help. A judge, upon finding of good cause, may appoint a temporary conservator of the person or of the estate, or both, for a specific period until a permanent conservator can be appointed. A temporary conservator arranges for temporary care, protection, and support of the conservatee and protects the conservatee’s property from loss or damage. A temporary conservator may also be appointed to fill in between permanent conservators, if, for example, the permanent conservator dies or the judge has ordered his or her removal. The authority of a temporary conservator is much more limited than a permanent conservator.

Name Change/Gender Conformity

Name changes can be done for adults and minors for several reasons. Whether you have gotten a divorce, would like to change your name for gender conformity, or whether it is just your personal preference, let us work with you to help navigate through the judicial process to formally and legally change your name and/or gender.

The process requires filings with the proper court, publication of your name change, and potentially a hearing in which the Judge may hear objections against your name change. We can guide you through this process seamlessly so that you can live in your identity.

Contact us today, or check out our flat fee pricing guide and schedule a consultation online.