How Our Estate Planning Services Work

We get hundreds of calls from people who are inquiring about their estate planning needs. From creating and recording a simple Pay-on-Death Deed, creating a will, or setting up a living trust, every person has different estate planning needs based on their particular circumstances.

This article will give you information about the estate planning document preparation services of A People’s Choice, and is to be used as a reference tool for our clients or people who are considering using our services. We understand that often people have many questions that are too difficult for our staff to discuss with callers on the phone. Once you have read this information, if you still have other questions, please feel free to call our office. Furthermore, for more detailed information about a particular estate planning tool, please search our website for articles pertaining to that particular topic.

estate planning documentsChoosing Your Estate Planning Tool

First, you need to know what particular estate planning tool is best for your particular situation. Since we are not attorneys, our office cannot give you legal advice. Generally speaking, there are several different documents that are used separately or individually in a person’s overall estate planning portfolio. The basic estate planning documents for people with small estates under $150,000 and who do not own real property include 1) a Will, 2) an Advance Healthcare Directive and 3) a Financial Power of Attorney. Although we do offer discounted package pricing, we can prepare separate documents as well. Pricing for all of our estate planning services can be found here.

For individuals or couples with larger estates or who own real property, we often set up a simple living trust because this avoids California probate. Our living trust package includes the Revocable Living Trust, Certification of Trust, Declaration of Trust, Pour-over Will, Advance Healthcare Directive and Revocable Power of Attorney. For common terms in wills and trusts, click here.

Simple Revocable Trust or AB Trust?

Although AB trusts used to be a popular tax avoidance vehicle in the past, we typically do not prepare AB trusts as they are no longer necessary for most people.  Changes to state and federal tax laws have eliminated the need for most couples to consider an AB trust as a required estate planning tool. In fact, many couples are changing from their old AB trust to a standard revocable living trust because doing so avoids the unnecessary expense and hassle an AB Trust demands. Talk to an attorney if you need legal advice about this issue.

For couples, the Revocable Living Trust is a “joint document.” In addition to the joint trust, we also prepare for each party their own personal Pour-over Will, Advance Healthcare Directive and Revocable Power of Attorney. In addition, all real property owned by the person or couple is the transferred into the revocable living trust, which avoids the California probate process. Therefore, for each piece of real property owned, our office prepares a Trust Transfer Deed. This would also need to be done for any timeshare to be put in the living trust.

A Transfer on Death Deed is typically not the ideal long-term estate planning tool for real property. More information on this can be found here.

The Interview – Getting the Information for Your Documents

interviewWe believe the best way to get information for estate planing documentation is one-on-one, directly from our clients. Since about 80% of our clients are scattered throughout California or beyond the State, we offer 2 options for the interview which allows us to get the needed information. If you are local to our corporate office in Ventura County, we can schedule a personal interview in our office. If you are not local (which most of our clients aren’t), we schedule a phone interview which is conducted in the same way as if you were personally in our office.  The phone interview typically takes about 45 minutes, depending on what documentation we are preparing for you.

Getting Ready for the Interview

estate planning interviewBefore our office can legally prepare any documentation, California law requires we have a signed contract. This contract was designed by the Department of Consumer Affairs. It is not something we created ourselves. If you are coming into the office to prepare your paperwork, this will be the first document presented to you for signing before we start. If we are doing the interview over the phone, we will email you the Contract before we schedule the interview. Upon receipt of the signed contract (3 pages need signatures), we will set up your file and call you to schedule the phone interview. Sometimes the phone interview can be set up that same day, depending on what appointments are already scheduled.

Upon receipt of the signed contract and prior to our interview, our office will email you a memorandum. This memorandum will go over some of the topics we will be discussing about your estate plans. Please make sure you read the memorandum before our interview so that you will be ready to give us the information being requested. You will find it very helpful and it will make the interview process go much smoother. If you are not ready with the needed information during the interview, we may have to reschedule it and complete it at a later time. Unfortunately we don’t have time to wait while information is looked up during the interview process.

If you own real property and are preparing a living trust, you will need to email or fax our office a copy of the current Grant Deed to each piece of real property you have an interest in. Often this document is confused with other documents that have a similar name. We do NOT want a copy of the Deed of Trust. The title of the document we need will be either Grant Deed, Quitclaim Deed, Interspousal Transfer Deed or Warranty Deed. If you cannot find the current deed to your real property, our office can often order it instantly for a fee of $25 from a service we subscribe to. it is up to you how much effort you want to exert to find it.

After the Interview – Reviewing Your Documents

review-documentsAt the end of our interview, our office will need about an hour to generate your documentation. We will provide a draft of all the paperwork prepared either when you are in the office or by email after our phone appointment. It is important that you carefully review each document to make sure there are no inadvertent typographical errors with spellings of names, etc. and that we have correctly understood your intentions. If there are typographical errors on our part, please send us a quick email and we will promptly make the corrections. If there are substantive changes to the paperwork (meaning you have changed your mind about one thing or another) we will gladly make any needed revisions. These revisions. however, will incur a small extra fee to cover the staff time needed to revise and regenerate your paperwork.

Executing Your Estate Documents

notary-signing-documentIf you will be signing your estate planning documents in our office, we will  set up that follow-up appointment after the interview has been completed. The signing appointment takes usually 30 to 45 minutes, again depending on what documents we are preparing. There are many documents that need notarization and the will(s) need to be signed in front of 2 separate witnesses. The California notary fee is $10 per signature notarized (increasing to $15 effective January 1, 2017). In an individual trust package there are usually about 7 signatures that require notarization. You are not required to use our notary services to execute your documentation. If you are a member of Auto Club, they usually offer free notary services for their members. If you choose to sign your documents elsewhere,  our office will give you detailed instructions about which documents need to be signed, and where so there will not be any confusion.

Storing Your Estate Documents

Estate planning documents are not filed or recorded anywhere. As the maker, you will retain the originals in a safe place. This article provides some more information about options for storing estate planning documents.

Funding a Living Trust

Please refer to our article What is Funding a Living Trust  for a detailed discussion about this issue. Generally speaking, however, if you are setting up a trust, you want to make sure that you fund your trust with all of your assets so that they are controlled by the terms of the Trust. If you own real property, our office will prepare and help record the Trust Transfer Deeds which will put your real estate into the trust. Other property such as bank accounts, insurance policies, etc. will have to be changed by contacting the agency that holds the asset. It will be your responsibility to do this. You simply give them a copy of the Certification of Trust document which will have all the necessary information to properly title the asset in the name of your trust. It should be mentioned, however, that you may decide that some assets do not need to be put into the trust. This is usually because you have already set up the asset with a beneficiary, pay-on-death clause. Just keep in mind that pay-on-death clauses only work well if the person is living and is not a minor. If you want the asset to be controlled by the terms of the trust, the asset either needs to be in the name of the trust or the trust needs to be designated as the beneficiary in a pay-on-death provision.

Changing or Amending Your Estate Documents

Estate documents can be amended if you later change your mind about who you want to get your estate after death or who you want to manage various aspects of your estate. If you need to amend paperwork later on, our office can help you for an extra fee, depending on what changes will be made. The fee for an amendment can vary from $75 to $150 or more, depending on what you are changing.

We have lots of articles on our website that cover various aspects of estate planning and go into a bit more detail. For a complete listing of all our current articles on estate planning, click here.

Please give our office a call if you have further questions that were not answered in this article. You can reach us at 800-747-2780.

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By |2018-01-18T15:46:39+00:00September 13th, 2016|Estate Planning|0 Comments

About the Author:

Sandra M. McCarthy, founder of A People’s Choice Inc., has worked exclusively in the legal field since 1976. She served as the 2004-2005 President of CALDA (California Association of Legal Document Assistants). She obtained a Paralegal Certificate from the University of California, Santa Barbara. During her career in the legal field, she has worked as a freelance paralegal, law office manager and paralegal studies teacher, and has co-authored numerous legal publications and written hundreds of self-help legal articles. As a registered Legal Document Assistant, Sandy is dedicated to providing affordable, low-cost, self-help document preparation services for California consumers in all 58 counties.

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