Information on Wills, Living Trusts & Estate Matters

Category: Estate Planning

What is the function of an estate planning attorney?

Estate Planning Attorney

Estate Planning Attorney

What is an Estate Planning Attorney?

An estate planning attorney is a lawyer who specializes in helping individuals and families plan for the transfer of their assets and wealth after their death. The estate planning attorney’s role is to help clients create a comprehensive plan that addresses their financial, tax, and personal goals. An estate planning attorney should always take into account the specific circumstances and needs of their client. An estate planning attorney typically work with clients to create a range of legal documents specific to the clients needs. The estate planning legal documents typically include wills, living trusts, power of attorney, and health care directives. These legal documents  are designed to protect their clients assets, provide for loved ones, and ensure that the client’s wishes are carried out after their death. In addition to drafting estate planning related legal documents, an estate planning attorneys may also advise clients on tax planning strategies.  An estate planning attorney also helps those who are dealing with the loss of a loved one by assisting with the probate process, and providing representation in court if necessary.

How much does a typical estate planning attorney charge?

The cost of an estate planning attorney can vary significantly. The cost typically depends on a number of factors, including  geographical location, complexity of the legal matter, the attorney’s experience and the scope of work needed. Some estate planning attorneys charge an hourly rate, while others charge a flat fee for their services. In general, estate planning attorneys may charge anywhere from $1,500 for a simple will to upwards of $7,000 or more for a more complex and comprehensive estate plan that includes trusts and other documents.

How to find a capable Estate Planning Attorney?

There are several ways that a person can go about finding a qualified an capable estate planning attorney in their area.  One tried and true method is to ask someone who has dealt with the situation if they had a positive experience. A personal recommendation or referral can be a great way of finding a good trust and estate attorney.  Another good method is a free online service such as which will allow you to search for an estate planning attorney in your area and view testimonials left by their past clients. You can also view what areas the attorney specializes in to make sure that they will be able to assist you with all of your needs.

10 Best Estate Planning Websites

10 Best Estate Planning Websites

10 Best Estate Planning Websites

The Top 10 Estate Planning Websites of 2022

Here is our list of the Top 10 Best Estate Planning Websites for 2022. Each of these websites features free estate planning information to assist you. Our top sites all included comprehensive information on estate planning that is approachable and easy to understand.  If you have a suggestion for a great estate planning website that did not make the list, please leave us a comment or contact us here.

Best Estate Planning Website List:

#1 – Estate Planning Guide is our top rated Estate Planning Website for 2022. Estate Planning Guide features free information on a vast selection of estate planning topics.  The site is easy to navigate and has a variety of free tools available to help those getting started with their estate planning, including a free and downloadable estate planning guide. In addition to estate planning information, the site also features helpful tools for calculating inheritance and even potential property tax savings on an inherited home.  You can view a list of their free to use estate planning tools here.

#2 – My Estate Plan Lawyer is another great estate planning resource. The site includes a blog with a variety of pertinent estate planning articles and the ability to request additional estate planning information by email. The is the website for Los Angeles based attorney, Richard Seff, Estate Planning & Elder Law Attorney. Richard Seff has a 5 Star review on Google. Here is some additional information from their website “As your trusted advisor, we will be there to answer your questions, offer advice and update your estate plan so it continues to meet your needs throughout your lifetime. To that end, we encourage you call us with questions and you will not have to worry about a bill. Everything we do is billed on a flat-fee basis, agreed to in advance, so there are never any surprises. And because relationships change, finances change, and the law definitely changes over time, we offer a free consultation every three years to make sure your estate plan is up-to-date.”

#3 – American Bar Association Estate Planning

The American Bar Association has a fantastic estate planning section on their website that covers a variety of estate planning topics including wills, trusts and power of attorneys.  A good place to start on their website is in their Introduction to Estate Planning Wills section of their website.

#4 – American College of Trust and Estate Counsel is the website for the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. The site features an abundance of estate planning information including estate planning videos.  Some of the topics they cover include, Preparing for Your Initial Estate Planning Meeting, Common IRA Beneficiary Scenarios, Understanding Cryptocurrency in Estate Planning, Tips for Managing Digital Assets of a Deceased or Disabled Person, When and How to Use a Prenuptial Agreement and Key Roles Involved in an Estate Plan.

#5 – Trust & Will Estate Planning has a variety of information to assist you with your estate planning.  Their website features an Estate Planning 101 guide that covers all of the basics of estate planning including topics such as, What is Estate Planning?, Basics of Estate Planning, Most common Estate Planning Documents, Estate Planning & Taxes, Who Needs an Estate Plan, How to Create an Estate Plan, Common Estate Planning mistakes and The Difference Between an Estate Plan and a Will.

#6 – Estate Planning Checklist

Investopedia hosts a really great Estate Planning Checklist that walks you through the basic steps of estate planning. “Estate planning is putting your affairs in order so that your loved ones can take over if you die or are incapacitated. A will is an essential piece of the plan. So are lists of your assets and obligations, with details of all open accounts. Make sure you record your beneficiaries on your retirement and investment accounts so there’s no delay in carrying out your wishes.” That is just the introduction of their estate planning section.  Their estate planning checklist includes a variety of sections including, Itemize Your Inventory,  Listing Your Assets, Assemble a List of Debts, Transfer on Death Designations, Select an Estate Administrator and Draft a Will.

#7 – The Cunningham Legal Estate Planning Team

Cunningham Legal is a top law firm in California and has developed a really great website with a wealth of information on estate planning. They can assist you with basic estate planning issues to the most complex elements. Their website features a comprehensive Estate Planning Frequently Asked Questions section that includes such topics as:

  • How long does it take to create an Estate Plan?
  • Does a Trust expire?
  • What’s the difference between a Will, a Living Will, a Pour-Over Will, and a Living Trust?
  • Do Advance Health Care Directives, Living Wills, and HIPAA documents expire when someone dies?
  • If my Trust is written in California, will it work in different states?
  • Do I have to pay for future changes to my Living Trust?
  • Should I name one Successor Trustee or two for my Living Trust?
  • What is the cost of probate vs. the upfront cost of Estate planning and creation of a Living Trust?
  • Are handwritten Wills legal?
  • Is a Will or a Living Trust Better?
  • Does it matter if the law firm that creates my Living Trust still exists after I die?
  • What is a letter of instruction in an Estate, also known as a letter of intent?
  • What is a Certificate of Trust?

#8 – The Bank Rate Estate Planning Section is a website the guides assists it’s viewers with locating financial information such as savings and mortgage interest rates, but they also do more than just that. also has a section of their website that is dedicated to estate planning. The website covers topics such as Elements of a Well Rounded Estate Plan, Why Do You Need An Estate Plan and How To Create A Well Rounded Estate Plan.

#9 – Estate Planning Information has a great selection of estate planning resources on their website. Their Estate Planning 7-Step Checklist gives some great advice for those who are just starting on their estate planning journey. Here is a some information on their website on  What is estate planning, “Estate planning is the process of designating who will receive your assets in the event of your death or incapacitation. Often done with guidance from an attorney, one goal is to ensure heirs and beneficiaries receive assets in a way that manages and minimizes estate taxes, gift taxes and other tax impacts.” Their seven step guide to estate planning covers the following topics:

1. Inventory your stuff
2. Account for your family’s needs
3. Establish your directives
4. Review your beneficiaries
5. Note your state’s estate tax laws
6. Weigh the value of professional help
7. Plan to reassess

#10 – Estate Planning has a phenomenal section on estate planning that covers everything from Advance Healthcare Directives to Wills. One of the best aspects about is that they can provide you with state specific information about legal matters such as will, regardless of where in the United State you reside.  To find state specific estate planning information, click here and then select your state of interest. also has a blog with a selection of articles on a variety of estate planning topics such as:

  • Avoiding Family Disputes
  • Charitable Gifts and Trusts
  • Cryptocurrency and Estate Planning
  • DIY Estate Planning
  • Estate and Inheritance Taxes
  • Estates, Executors & Probate Court
  • Financial Powers of Attorney
  • Intestate Succession
  • Living Trusts
  • Living Wills & Medical Powers of Attorney
  • Pets and Estate Planning

What is a Beneficiary?

What is a beneficiary?

What does beneficiary mean?

What does Beneficiary mean?

A beneficiary is a person or thing that receives help or an advantage from something. At least that is the definition if you look beneficiary up in the dictionary, and it is a true statement. When it comes to estate planning, the word becomes further defined. In estate planning, a beneficiary is a person (or thing) that receives the benefit of money, property or real property from a trust or estate on behalf of a Testator, Benefactor or Settlor. For example, the beneficiary of a life insurance policy is the person who receives the payment from the insurance company after the death of the insured. Or one of the beneficiaries of the estate received the decedent’s automobile.

How do you designate a Beneficiary?

A beneficiary can actually be designated in several places and that can be problematic. Beneficiaries are most commonly designated in a Will or in a Living Trust, but they can also be designated in a life insurance policy, retirement fund, investment account or bank account. The reason this can be problematic is that the information can become outdated and conflicting. For example, a Testator (the person who makes a will) may designate the Beneficiary of his life insurance policy as his second daughter in his will, but he may have previously designated the beneficiary of that policy as his first son when he took out the policy with his insurance company.  In this situation it will likely be up to the probate court to determine who the true Beneficiary of the insurance policy is.

Can a Beneficiary be removed from a will or a trust?

Yes, a beneficiary can be removed from a will or trust while the Testator is still alive and while the living trust is still revocable. The term “Last Will and Testament” means the final version of a will if multiple version exist or existed. People will commonly make updates to their will as life events occur and they may choose to add or remove beneficiaries.  A living trust is typically a revocable living trust while the person who created it (the Settlor or Trustor) is alive. Revocable means that they are able to make changes to the trust. Often when the creator of the living trust passes, it becomes irrevocable and changes to it can no longer be made. It should be mentioned that each state has their own laws and rules governing the validity of a will, trust or estate. In most situations if it can be proven that a person made changes to their estate planning documents when they were not of sound mind or do to coercion, those changes may not be accepted by a court.

What is an Executor?

What is an executor?

What is an Executor?

What is an Executor?

An Executor is the individual chosen to administer the estate of a person who has passed. The Executor is usually declared by the decedent (the person who passed) in their will. If a person passes without having a will, if the will can not be validated, or the person chosen by the decedent can not act as the executor for any reason, a court will select an Executor / Administrator during the probate process.

What are the responsibilities of an Executor?

The Executor on an estate often has several important responsibilities. During the potentially lengthy probate process, the executor operates as the primary contact person for the estate. The estate Executor is responsible for completing all of the tasks required for probate to be finalized.  The following is a list of some of the common duties of an estate Executor:

  • The estate Executor is responsible for carrying out the wishes of the decedent
  • Locating, collecting  and maintaining the assets of the estate
  • Obtaining legal or professional assistance for the estate if needed
  • Maintaining or creating a bank account for the estate
  • Alerting creditor and potential heirs of the passing of the decedent
  • The cancelation or payment of expenses related to the decedents estate
  • The payment of the decedents taxes with the estate funds
  • The distribution of the assets to the beneficiaries once probate has concluded

Does an Executor get paid for their duties?

An Executor can be paid a reasonable fee for the work they do on behalf of the estate.  Often times when the Executor is a close friend or relative of the decedent, they will choose not to request compensation for their duties. If the decedent has chosen an attorney or professional estate administrator, the courts will permit non excessive compensation providing the estate can afford the expense.

How to Guide for Creating an Estate Plan

Guide to Creating an Estate Plan

Guide to Creating an Estate Plan

Easy Guide For creating an Estate Plan

Creating an estate plan is the process by which an individual or a family arranges the transfer of assets in advance of death. An estate plan typically attempts to preserve as much wealth as possible for the beneficiaries included in the estate plan. An estate plan is important because without an estate plan a will or trust, your state laws determine what happens to your property after your death. Additionally, your state courts will decide who receives custody of your children if you have any that are legally considered minors. Some of the benefits of having an estate plan include:

  • The ability to determine how and to whom your assets will be distributed
  • Minimizing taxes, court fees, and legal expenses related to the distribution of your assets and settlement of your estate
  • The naming of a guardian for the care of any non adult children
  • Instructions for your care and financial affairs if you become incapacitated prior to death

Why is it important to create an Estate Plan?

For most people who own real estate, personal possessions or are responsible for the care of a minor, it is important to create an estate plan. An estate plan may contain a will and or living trust. We strongly encourage you to seek the assistance of a legal professional when designing your estate plan. A trust and estate attorney or professional estate planner can help you design an estate plan that will best meet your needs and helps you avoid potential mistakes.

The following information is intended to educate you on the basics of estate planning and to provide you with an idea of what options may be available to you. Each state has their own laws and regulations that govern trusts, wills and probate. A capable attorney or estate planner can help you create an estate plan that is best suited for the state that you reside in.

Guide to Creating an Estate Plan

Step 1 – Create an inventory of your possessions

In trust and estate matters, the person who creates a will or last will and testament is referred to as the testator. When creating an estate planning trust, they are referred to as the settlor. In estate planning, sometime this person is also referred to as the principal.

Before you begin planning for how your possessions will be distributed, it is important to create an inventory of your assets. You can use this Estate Planning Inventory Form (excel document) as a starting point to help list your assets. Items that you will want to consider including in your estate plan may be the following:

  • Motor vehicles such as automobiles, motorhomes, boats, tractors and motorcycles
  • Real Estate including your primary residence, second home, investment properties or land
  • Life Insurance Policies
  • Retirement accounts such as IRAs, Roth IRAs, 401K plans and SEP Plans
  • Investments like stocks, bonds, ETFs, mutual funds and crypto currency accounts
  • Cash and bank accounts such as checking accounts, online accounts like PayPal or Venmo, savings account and certificates of deposit
  • Business ownership interests
  • Important personal property and possessions such as family heirlooms, collections, time pieces, jewelry, and furniture

Step 2 – Organize and value your possessions

Once you have created an inventory of your possessions you should estimate their value as accurately as possible and keep the information in an easy to interpret and organized fashion. We recommend using an estate planning inventory spreadsheet which can be accessed in a software such as Microsoft Excel or Google Docs. The document can be found at:

You will want your estate planning inventory to be as accurate and detailed as possible. Doing so will help eliminate any confusion and make a distribution as easy as possible for your beneficiaries. For some assets, outside valuations such as real estate appraisals can be helpful in properly assessing an assets value.

Step 3 – Specify your beneficiaries and their relationship to you

To be sure that your property and assets are properly distributed to the individuals of your choosing, you will need to name the beneficiaries of your estate. Once your estate beneficiaries have been determined, you may choose to communicate with the individuals and inform them of any asset they are expected to acquire upon the distribution of your estate. You should review your insurance and retirement accounts and verify that their beneficiary designations match your estate plan, will or trust. Failure to do so may complicate the distribution of those assets. Also, make sure to make a complete listing of assets and assign the beneficiaries as you desire. Failure to do so can result in a more complicated probate process and any non designated remaining assets are likely to be distributed based on the state’s probate rules.

Estate Planning Beneficiary List

Above is an example of an Estate Planning Beneficiary List

Step 4 – Specify your medical requests and directives in case you become incapacitated prior to death

It is important for you to declare your medical requests and directives. In case you should become incapacitate and unable to make decisions about your wellbeing later in life, and estate plan can help you document and layout your wishes. For instance, you may wish to declare a course of medical treatment to receive upon a specific situation or condition.

A medical care directive, sometimes referred to as a living will, declares your wishes for medical care. Often with a medical care directive, you also specify a trusted friend or agent and grant them a medical power of attorney for your healthcare. Doing so gives this person the authority to make decisions you did not account for in the case that you are unable to. These two documents are sometimes combined into one and are known as an Advanced Health Care Directive or AHCD.

Step 5 – Determine if a will or trust is best for your situation

A trust is a legal arrangement that allows your assets to be held and managed by a third party. This third party is known as a Trustee. The Trustee is the person or group of people that are responsible for ensuring that your estate is handled in the manner specified in the trust. There are several good reasons for creating a trust, but one of the more common reasons people choose to use a trust is to make sure their assets are distributed how they wish. It can also help avoid the need for a potentially lengthy probate process. We suggest you speak with a professional estate planner or trust and estate attorney to determine if a trust is right for you and your family.

Step 6 – Consider implementing a Financial Power of Attorney

If you become unable to make decisions for yourself prior to death, you may want to have a plan in place to carry out your wishes. A Financial Power of Attorney allows someone else to manage your financial affairs if you are unable to do so. Much like an Advanced Health Care Directive, you can designate an agent to act on your behalf if certain conditions are met. The agent can legally manage your finances and property, make all financial decisions, and conduct all financial transactions that are within the scope of the agreement. The individual granted financial power of attorney is limited to the agreement and cannot do anything not specified in the agreement. The agent is legally obligated to make decisions consistent with your wishes but has full authority to make independent decisions.

Step 7 – Plan for your family’s needs

If you have children who are under the age of 18 or are the guardian of an adult with special needs, an estate plan can list out with wishes for their guardianship in case of your death. You should consult with and name a guardian for your children in your estate plan. You should also plan for having secondary guardian in place in case the named guardian is unable to meet their obligations. You should document your wishes for your children’s care and discuss them with those who you have chosen to be their guardian.

Step 8 – Consider using an online estate planning service or meeting with a professional to discuss your estate planning needs

There are many reputable online estate planning tools that can assist you in drafting an estate plan and will for as little as $100. If your estate is small and your needs are not complicated, that may be a good option. Before signing up and paying any fees, you will want to verify that the online estate planning solution accounts for state specific requirements. Each state has their own rules and regulations and those need to be considered when drafting an estate plan and will. For instance, a will that is valid in Florida may not be valid in California. You will also want to verify that they guide you in designing your estate plan to optimize potential tax savings options for you and your beneficiaries. You may want to check for independent customer reviews and testimonials to make sure they satisfy the needs of their customers.

If your estate is large or complicated, seeking the assistance of a professional estate planner or trust and estate attorney familiar with your state laws may be a better option.  Some Attorneys specialize in drafting wills and creating family or living trusts. If you are in need of a qualified Estate Planner in your area, there are a variety of legal referral resources available to you. You will want to make sure that the person or firm specializes in assisting people with estate planning, charge a reasonable rate for their estate planning services and have positive client reviews on an independent site such as yelp or AVVO.

Step 9 – Be sure to keep your estate plan up to date

It is recommended that you review your estate plan annually or upon any major life or financial event. You should be updating your estate plan inventory, reassessing asset valuations, reviewing beneficiaries and updating the assets beneficiaries will receive as needed. State propositions and regulations change periodically and you will want to consider having your estate plan reviewed and updated as the laws change or you change the state you reside in.

Guide to Creating an Estate Plan

What is an Estate Plan?

Estate Plan

Estate Plan

What is an estate plan?

An estate plan or estate planning is the process by which an individual or family arranges the transfer of assets in advance of death. Typically an estate plan attempts to preserve as much wealth as possible for the beneficiaries included in the estate plan. Some of the benefits of estate planning or having an estate plan include:

  • The naming of a guardian for the care of any non adult children or children with special needs
  • Specifies instructions for your care and financial affairs if you become incapacitated before death
  • The minimization of taxes, court costs, and legal fees related to the distribution of your assets.

Generally, when a person passes without a will or trust, their money and property will be distributed according to state law. Essentially the state will determine who gets the property based on their relationship to the person who passed. Some property, such as insurance policy proceeds, joint bank accounts and retirement accounts will be distributed to the person you designated as the beneficiary of that specific account. In most cases, the company providing the account allows you to specify a beneficiary. In the case that it is a joint account, the other person on the account with you usually gets the balance when you pass.

One way you can control the distribution of your property after death is through a will. But, even though your will can provide for information on how to distribute your assets, your beneficiaries or a named executor will still need to go through a court process called probate to distribute your property. You can also arrange for the distribution of your property through a living trust.

What is a trust?

What is a Trust?

What is a Trust?

A trust is a legal arrangement that allows your assets to be held and managed by a third party. This third party is known as a Trustee. The Trustee is the person or group of people that are responsible for ensuring that your estate is handled in the manner specified in the trust. There are several purposes for a trust, but one of the more common reasons people choose to use a trust is to make sure their assets are distributed how they wish and avoiding the need for Probate. There are many different types of trusts, each serving a specific purpose; here are some of the most common:

  • Living Trust – A living trust is a legal arrangement established by a grantor during their lifetime to protect their assets and direct their distribution after the grantor’s death.
  • Revocable Trust – A revocable trust allows the creator / trustor to make changes to the document or terminate the trust altogether.
  • Irrevocable Trust – An irrevocable trust is a trust where the trustor nor anyone else is allowed to change the document. Often a revocable trust will become irrevocable when an even occurs, such as the passing of the trustor.
  • Special Needs Trust – A Special Needs Trust allows a person with special needs to be awarded their inheritance without impacting their Social Security benefits.
  • Asset Protection Trust – An Asset Protection Trust is a trust that is designed to protect a trustor’s assets from creditor claims.
  • Charitable Trust – A Charitable Trusts is a trust designed to carry out the charitable interests of a trustor.
  • Trust Fund – A Trust Fund is an estate planning tool that holds property or assets for a person or organization. Trust funds can hold a variety of assets including currency, real property, stocks, or a business interest.

A trust is just one way of handling estate planning. In some cases a will or last will and testament may be a better option for you. If you are trying to decide how to provide for the distribution of your assets or care of your children after you die or need legal assistance, you should contact a lawyer for guidance.

What is a last will and testament?

Last Will and Testament

What is a last will and testament?

A will or last will and testament, is a legal document that provides instructions for what should happen to a person’s assets after his or her death. This term “last will and testament” is commonly used to mean the same thing as a “will”, but to be exact, a last will and testament refers to the most recent version of a will. A will is commonly used to distribute a personal property, real estate, investments or business interests. It may also be used to appoint legal guardians. If a person dies without a will, they are said to be intestate, and state intestacy laws govern the distribution of the property of the person who passed.

A will is just one way of handling estate planning. In some cases a trust or living trust may be a better option for you since it can allow your beneficiaries / heirs to avoid the probate process. If you are trying to decide how to provide for the distribution of your assets or care of your children after you die or need legal assistance, you should contact a lawyer for guidance.