The loss of a loved one can be a devastating experience. When someone dies without estate plans in place, this can compound their surviving loved ones’ stress by adding complex legal matters to the emotional strain they are already experiencing. An Orange County estate planning attorney can help you prevent this possibility for your own loved ones and provide you with peace of mind as you approach the end of your life. By investing the time in estate planning today, you can potentially save your loved ones tremendous amounts of time, money, and stress.

Estate planning can be one of the most important legal matters you ever handle. Choosing the right attorney to assist you with the process matters. At the Law Office of Christopher P. Walker, our team strives to help clients draft comprehensive and reliable estate plans that minimize uncertainty and provide lasting peace of mind.

Is an Estate Attorney Necessary in Orange County?

It is technically possible to create your own estate plan without an attorney; there are many software options and even free services for doing so. However, you are unlikely to create as robust an estate plan on your own as an attorney could help you create. An experienced Orange County estate planning lawyer will have experience navigating the estate planning and probate laws of California and Orange County. Your loved ones are far less likely to encounter procedural issues during probate if you take the time to work with an experienced Orange County estate planning attorney while making your end-of-life plans.

While it may not be technically necessary to hire an estate planning lawyer, doing so adds strength and security to any estate plan and minimizes the stress and expense of probate proceedings. If you want to develop a comprehensive estate plan that guides your loved ones after your death, call our firm. The Law Office of Christopher P. Walker can assist you with several valuable professional estate planning services.

What Does an Estate Planning Attorney Do?

If you decide to create an estate plan with the help of an Orange County estate planning lawyer, you can expect them to perform several valuable services as you create end-of-life plans that work for you and your family:

  • One of the most important parts of estate planning is a beneficiary designation. It is essential to ensure that any beneficiaries you designate in your estate plan align with those you have already designated for individual accounts. For example, if you have a life insurance policy from years ago that still lists an ex-spouse as your primary beneficiary, you will need a revisit of that documentation. Your attorney can help you revise this designation to prevent mismatches during estate litigation.
  • Your Orange County estate planning attorney will also help you gather the financial documents and other materials you will need to draft your estate plan. The purpose of an estate plan is to legally transfer ownership and responsibility over a deceased individuals’ assets and debts. This means you must begin the estate planning process with accurate and complete financial information.
  • A good attorney can also arrange appraisals for certain properties and assets to ensure they are properly valued in estate litigation or probate proceedings. For example, if your house were valued at $200,000 ten years ago, it would probably be best to arrange an appraisal prior to drafting your new estate plan to ensure it accurately reflects the current property value.
  • It is typically necessary for a deceased person’s estate to pay debts owed by the deceased before anything is disbursed to beneficiaries. An Orange County estate planning lawyer can develop a system in an estate plan for the handling of debts and also keep a running tally of an estate’s transactions during probate.
  • Your Orange County estate planning attorney may also recommend working with tax experts and financial advisors. These professionals can help you arrange your estate plan in such a way as to minimize the tax implications your loved ones could face by assuming ownership over your property and debts.

These are just a few of the most important services you can expect from an experienced Orange County probate lawyer. Ultimately, your estate planning attorney’s job is to help you craft an estate plan that meets your goals and expectations and provides your loved ones with peace of mind and security after your death.

What Is the Difference Between Estate Planning and Elder Law?

Estate planning pertains to end-of-life plans, and many people mistakenly conflate estate planning law with elder law. While estate planning can assist an elderly individual in making end-of-life plans, the area of elder law pertains to the rights of elderly Americans. An Orange County estate planning lawyer can help their client create a will, trust, or other end-of-life plan to provide security to their loved ones. An elder law attorney would come into play in the event an elderly individual is abused or exploited.

Do You Need a Lawyer for a Will in OC California?

Technically, you do not need a lawyer to create a will in California. However, you run the risk of your will being incomplete or unenforceable if you do not work with an experienced attorney in creating it. California state law requires a will to be in writing and signed by the creator and two witnesses. Unfortunately, it is quite common for people to create their own wills without meeting these requirements. Others create wills that include unenforceable or even illegal terms and conditions. Working with an Orange County estate planning attorney is the best way to avoid these issues.

What Can My Estate Plan Include?

Many people are surprised to learn how much detail they can include in their estate plans once they meet with reliable and experienced probate attorneys. It’s possible to include quite a high degree of customization when you work with an Orange County estate planning lawyer to create your estate plan:

  • Your estate plan can include a will that outlines your wishes for your funeral and disbursement of your property after your death. If you intend to name beneficiaries in your estate plan, work with your Orange County estate planning attorney. They will review any existing beneficiary designations that you already have listed on your assets, accounts, and investments.
  • It is also possible to create a “living will” that establishes ownership rights over your estate if you become incapacitated. This document can potentially allow your family to completely avoid the probate process if it is robust enough.
  • You can designate your medical power of attorney and legal power of attorney holders in your estate plan. The former has the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf, and the latter has the ability to make legal decisions on your behalf when you are no longer able to do so.
  • If you have children, it is a good idea to include your preferences for guardianship. Typically, custody of minor children falls to the other parent when one parent dies, but this may not be possible in every situation. You can include a hierarchy of preferences as to who you would like to serve as guardian of your children. For example, you could designate your sibling as your secondary choice of guardian if your children’s other parent has predeceased you or is otherwise unable to assume custody. You could then nominate another family member as a third choice if your sibling is unable or unwilling to assume guardianship responsibilities.

Working closely with an experienced Orange County estate planning lawyer is the best way to address these concerns as efficiently as possible. Perhaps the most important benefit to choosing to hire an Orange County estate planning lawyer is helping your family avoid the need to endure lengthy and tedious probate proceedings.

What Happens If I Do Not Work With an Estate Planning Attorney?

There are several possible outcomes that your loved ones could face if you do not invest the appropriate time into crafting your estate plan with the help of an Orange County estate planning lawyer:

  • Your loved ones may need to navigate the probate process without any estate plans in place. This will mean that your beneficiaries will need to spend money on legal fees that they otherwise could have received through estate distribution. Having no estate plan at all means much less left to your family.
  • An incomplete or unenforceable estate plan can lead to heated disputes among beneficiaries. If you decide to create any type of estate plan, revisit and review it on a regular basis to ensure it accurately reflects your assets and property and still aligns with your lifestyle and the needs of your family.
  • If you include inappropriate, illegal, or otherwise unenforceable elements in your estate plan, the situation could be more complex. This could form grounds to have the estate plan disregarded, and your wishes will not be followed during probate.

Probate is a notoriously lengthy and expensive process, and the main goal of any estate plan should be to prevent your loved ones from enduring probate litigation due to your death. Working with an experienced Orange County probate attorney is the best way to prevent these and other legal obstacles from troubling your family after your death.

What Does Probate Entail?

Probate is unavoidable if your loved one has died without any estate plan in place. Probate is the legal process of transferring ownership and responsibility for a deceased individuals’ assets and debts following their death. When a deceased individual had no estate plan, the state’s laws of intestate succession determine who receives what from the deceased’s estate.

According to the laws of intestate succession, property and debts from your estate may fall to exactly specified parties after your death:

  • If you die unmarried but with children, everything you own passes to your children, divided equally among them.
  • If you die married but without children, your spouse inherits everything.
  • If you die with no children or spouse, your parents have the first right to claim your property through intestate succession, followed by siblings.
  • If you leave behind a spouse and one child or grandchild, your spouse will inherit all of your community property and half of your separate property, with the other half going to the child or grandchild.

These are just a few of the basic laws of intestate succession in California. Ultimately, any given death can result in very complex questions for the deceased’s surviving loved ones. It is best to do everything you can to eliminate the need for probate proceedings by crafting a detailed and comprehensive estate plan on which your family can rely after your death.

Probate can also lead to further legal proceedings if a dispute arises over the distribution of estate assets. For example, if any party with a valid claim on the deceased’s estate contests an element of the probate process, it could change things. This could escalate into very challenging legal proceedings that place family members at odds with one another. Ultimately, it is best to invest the time in creating an estate plan your family can rely upon after your death.

Find Your Estate Planning Lawyer Today

The sooner you begin working on your estate plan, the sooner you can enjoy the peace of mind that comes with having a solid end-of-life plan in place for your loved ones. It is natural to feel uncomfortable thinking about your own death and how your loved ones will carry on without you, but the right attorney can put this challenge into perspective for you and help you recognize the advantages of having a robust estate plan in place.

Do not trust free online tools and consumer-grade software to create the comprehensive estate plan you need to feel comfortable about the future. Contact the Law Office of Christopher P. Walker today to schedule a consultation with an experienced and reliable Orange County estate planning attorney. Our team will help you understand the benefits of estate planning and help you draft an estate plan that works for you and your family.

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