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San Diego Probate & Estate Administration Law Blog

Should you challenge a will?

When an estate plan gets to probate court, you may want to challenge the will. The most common reason for a challenge is that a family member thinks the will is inaccurate. It does not describe what a loved one believes the deceased person wanted.

Deciding to challenge a will in probate court is a big deal, though. It can take time. It can be stressful for the family. If not everyone agrees with your decision, they may feel like you are attacking their position or threatening their assets.

Do you want to use a 'Do Not Resuscitate' order?

A Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order tells medical professionals that you do not want them to utilize any aggressive measures to save your life. Medical care itself is fine, but if you pass away, you want them to stop short of attempting to bring you back. This can be an important part of your estate planning, along with documents like a health care advance directive.

Should you use a DNR order? Obviously, that's a very personal choice and whatever you decide is perfectly fine. That said, it is worth noting that many doctors actually have DNR orders, and some studies have found that about 80% of people claim they do not want doctors to use aggressive measures. Reasons they give include:

  • The medical care can be invasive and painful.
  • Efforts to bring you back and care for you afterward can be incredibly costly for your estate and your family.
  • You may see your quality of life massively decline, even if doctors technically do save your life.

After a spouse's death, put off big financial decisions

If your spouse passes away, you know you may have some big financial decisions to make. This could include doing substantial estate planning to alter the plan in light of your new situation.

For instance, perhaps your estate plan included setting assets aside to make sure you can cover your medical bills. You may need to use this money to pay the costs for your spouse, which were incurred before they passed away, but then you have to reconsider your financial position and plan for your own future. What expenses might you face? Are you prepared? Have you updated the will now that you're the sole owner of the family's property? There are many questions to ask.

Do a high percentage of wills get challenged?

Your last remaining parent passes away. You know that they did their estate planning, but you also worry that you and your siblings will not see eye-to-eye regarding that plan. You've never really gotten along as adults, and you fear that they'll try to challenge the will almost no matter what it says.

For instance, maybe you live close to your parents, while they live on the other side of the country. You worry that they'll accuse you of using undue influence, manipulating your parents to alter the estate plan.

It's (almost) never too late to do your estate planning

You have probably heard people talk about how it's never too early to do your estate planning. You don't have to put it off until you retire. Even if you're in your early 20s, it wouldn't hurt to get an estate plan in place. After all, accidents take lives every day. You can't count on surviving into your 60s or 70s, when people traditionally start thinking about estate planning.

But is it ever too late to do your estate planning?

Reasons for sibling rivalry

Parents often spend a lot of time trying to diffuse sibling rivalries when the children are young. However, those rivalries do not always go away. They often last into adulthood. When a parent passes away, these rivalries may come back up and cause some serious estate planning disputes.

For instance, imagine that one child has always wanted more attention from their parents. They always felt like they were neglected and that the parents gave more time and attention to a sibling.

Can you put personal property into a trust?

Trusts are often used to hold financial assets. For instance, you may put cash aside so that an heir can use it to pay for college, or you may set up your life insurance policy to pay out into the trust when you pass away.

However, it's important to remember that trusts can go beyond the purely financial. You can also add tangible personal property that you already own. Some examples include:

  • Personal papers
  • Books
  • Computers
  • Clothing
  • Jewelry
  • Artwork
  • Collectibles
  • Antiques
  • Motor vehicles
  • Home furnishings
  • Furniture
  • Scooters
  • Airplanes
  • Boats
  • Pets
  • Cattle
  • Firearms
  • Tools
  • Horses
  • Photos

If you want to move money around, use a revocable trust

All trusts are not created equal. They all give you different financial options, and they come with their own advantages and disadvantages, depending on your situation.

For instance, maybe your goal is to reduce the tax burden on your estate as much as possible. If so, you may want to use an irrevocable trust. You will need to pick someone else as the trustee, though, and the money leaves your possession. They will administer the trust, and you cannot change it after the fact.

Procrastination and estate planning: The excuses

Do you know people who have not written a will or made an estate plan? Even if you never talk about it with them, you probably do. A shocking amount of people have never drafted a will. They just keep procrastinating and putting it off.

Have you ever wondered why they do this? Some potential reasons include:

  • They do not have any idea how to get started. They know they need an estate plan, but it sounds complex and confusing. They just don't know where to begin, so they do nothing.
  • They do not feel like working on it. They get distracted by other projects and activities. The estate plan feels like work. They just procrastinate because they have other things they want to do more.
  • They worry about doing it wrong. People often procrastinate -- this goes for far more than estate planning -- because of a fear of failure. This may be wrapped up in their confusion over where to begin. They worry about doing it wrong, so they do nothing -- which is actually the biggest mistake they can make.

The 3 main goals of an estate plan

There are dozens and potentially hundreds of individual goals for an estate plan, which differ from person to person. What your goals are depend on what assets you have, what you want to accomplish and what your family needs.

However, the basic goals that you have can be divided into three main areas of focus. They are:

  • The basic distribution of the money and assets you control after you pass away.
  • Reducing the amount of taxes that your heirs have to pay on the inheritance and ensuring that those taxes are not exorbitant.
  • Making sure that, should you become incapacitated and unable to make your own decisions while you are still alive, you have a trustworthy person in place to do it for you.

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