Frequently Asked Questions
I think I need an estate plan. What will the process with Sunset Legal be like?
We know that estate planning can seem daunting and is not always at the top of your to-do list. Our goal at Sunset Legal is to be your best friend throughout this process, gently navigating you through the difficult discussions and decisions you need to make to ensure that your family and assets are planned for and protected.
As working parents ourselves, we value our time and yours. Our process is designed to make it easy and convenient for busy families and professionals to complete their Estate Plan in 1-3 months. If this seems like a long time, that's because we don't rush you through decisions. We offer online booking, and evening/weekend appointment times to accommodate busy schedules. And while we prefer to meet our clients in person so that we can make sure the relationship is a good fit, we make housecalls so that you don't need to leave your living room. We strive to tailor communication to our clients' preference: the default being email, then phone, and even text message when it makes sense to do so.
Note: This year, due to Covid precautions, we have started doing most meetings by Zoom and will continue to do so as long as that makes sense. Signings will still be in person or with a mobile notary.
Stage 1: Intro Call with Kaitlin (Complimentary)
This will be a short, 10 to 15 minute phone call with Attorney Kaitlin Kellogg to establish your general needs and make sure that we're a good fit before moving forward. We can use this time to answer any brief questions and set your expectations for the rest of the process.
Please book your intro call through our website by clicking "Book Now" and picking an available date and time under "New Contacts".
Stage 2: Estate Planning Design Meeting with Kaitlin ($200)
This is our opportunity to start designing your plan to meet your families' specific needs and values. You will need to complete our online personal information intake profile at least 1 day prior to our meeting, which will be emailed to you after you book your appointment. The intake profile will give us an idea of your family and asset situation so that we can properly advise you. This is a standard practice of good estate planning attorneys and we cannot continue with your plan unless we have this information. At the design meeting, Kaitlin will walk you through the decisions that you need to make, and likely force you to think about things you haven't thought about before. By the end of this one-hour meeting, you will know exactly what documents you are getting and how much it is going to cost. While you should be prepared ahead of time to pay the flat fee as described on our pricing page, it is possible that your planning needs are more complicated than we both thought at the initial outset requiring an additional cost. This is a rare occurrence, but it does happen. Of course you are free to walk away at this point without any further investment. If do do decide to move forward with us, you can apply the $200 meeting fee to your final balance.
All Estate Planning Design Meetings will be held via Zoom video call until further notice or unless other arrangements are made.
Stage 3: Drafting
After we get all of the input from you that we need, your estate plan will be drafted within 2-3 weeks of signing our legal fee agreement and paying your invoice. One set of drafts will be sent to you for your review, if you'd like. After you review your documents, you then send back any questions or revisions. We will then prepare your final documents for signing.
Stage 4: Signing and Receiving Your Estate Plan
Once your documents are complete, we will have another in-person meeting to sign all of your documents. Most of these documents need to be notarized, and some need to be witnessed. Kaitlin will either meet you herself or will work with a mobile notary to get this done for you at your convenience. Kaitlin will then take all of your signed documents to make copies and put together your Estate Plan Portfolio binder. We will then mail or otherwise deliver your portfolio and all of your originals to you within the following week. Please note, Sunset Legal is a paperless office, we will only retain a pdf copy of your documents stored on the Cloud.
Stage 5: Trust Funding Check In *NEW*
The estate planning process does not end once you have your signed documents. You also need to make sure that your financials align with your new plan. Usually this means that bank accounts and other assets are either properly titled in the name of your new trust or that beneficiaries are properly updated with the financial institution. THIS IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF MAKING SURE THAT YOUR ESTATE PLAN WORKS SEEMLESSLY WHEN IT NEEDS TO. We will provide you with customized instructions in your portfolio and suggest that you make a "check in" meeting with Kaitlin a few weeks after the signing date so that she can see how you are doing with the instructions, answer any questions, and notarize any financial institution forms.
Stage 6: Ongoing Communication and Review
Technically, the attorney-client relationship ends once the plan is completed and we do that final check-in meeting. Moving forward, at this time we do offer a complimentary review for our clients at least once every three years to make sure that your plan still accurately reflects your needs as your circumstances and the law changes. Please contact us immediately if you experience any life-changing event, such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, death, or the birth of a child that may impact your planning. We look forward to serving you and your family through all of life's changes.
I have a will. That's estate planning, right?
Yes and no. A will is certainly part of an estate plan-- but it probably won't do everything you think it will.
A basic last will and testament, if done correctly, will at least state where you want your property to go when you die and name a person who will manage it all. There are actually very few legal requirements to make a valid will, and having one is definitely better than doing nothing.
The problem is, most people who say they have a will, whether they wrote one themselves on a napkin, did it through an online document service or even had one drafted by an attorney, don't realize that even a valid will won't keep their loved ones from having to go to court. A will, on its own, must be "probated" if the value of the estate is more than a threshold amount. Probate is the judicial process whereby a will is "proved" in a court of law and determined to be the true last wishes of the decedent. It involves lots of paperwork and court appearances by lawyers (think: stress, time, money).
The other thing most people don't realize, or don't think about, is that a will only works when you pass away. It does nothing for you while you are still alive. So, what happens if the unthinkable happens and you find yourself incapacitated, either temporarily or for a longer term? If you have not nomiated someone to have power of attorney over you, or have not appointed a successor trustee over assets in a living trust, then someone is going to have to go to court. Through a public conservatorship proceeding, a judge will appoint someone--a family member, friend, or stranger--to take care of you and your finances. You won't get a say. And again, paperwork and court appearances (stress, time, money).
If this sounds foreign to you, the best thing to do is meet with an attorney who can review any documents you already have and advise you in terms of what else should be done for your specific situation. This likely includes a durable power of attorney, health care directive, and quite possibly a living trust. You may also need to nominate guardians for your minor children.
How old do you need to be to have an estate plan?
Everyone needs estate planning, no matter their age. Children under the age of 18 are protected by their parents' estate plan; everyone 18 or older needs his or her own estate plan. Of course, estate plans vary immensely depending on goals, finances, family situation, domicile (where you live). There is no one-size-fits-all estate plan. If you're wondering whether you need an estate plan, you're asking the right question, and yes, you do.
When do my children need to get their own estate plan?
Everyone is surprised when we answer this question. Even an 18 year old high school student needs her own estate plan. Once a child attains the age of 18, she is legally an adult and must make her own health care, financial and legal decisions. Without legal documentation, parents are powerless to act on behalf of their adult children.
Of course an 18 year old's estate plan is very different from a 48 year old's estate plan because life, assets, goals, and family situation evolve over 30 years, but some basics are the same.
How much money do I need before an estate plan is necessary?
You don't have to be a Rockefeller or Kennedy to need an estate plan. In fact, you don't need any assets to justify an estate plan. What you do need is one of the following:
(1) someone you love,
(2) the desire to control your life and finances,
(3) the desire to maintain privacy in your affairs, or
(4) the wish to avoid court interference.
To help you think this through, here are non-monetary reasons to have an estate plan in place. An estate plan:
(1) Empowers your trusted helpers to make health care decisions and manage your day-to-day business if you're not able to,
(2) Appoints guardians for minor childen and pets, and
(3) Avoids medical heroics through the living will provisions of your health care directive.
That being said, there is a certain estate value that becomes important if your ONLY goal is to avoid probate. In California, this magic number is $166,250.
What should I tell my children about my estate planning?
There is no cut-and-dry rule for what you should and shouldn't tell your children about your estate planning, but it's usually a good idea to err on the side of more information rather than less. It's a good idea to tell your children the reasons behind your decisions, so they understand how your values translate into your plan. It is the best way to reduce (or even eliminate) any arguments between your children or other relatives after your death. We've seen families get torn apart when this understanding isn't there.
Sharing your perspective far in advance using important documents like your health care directives can also reduce stress on your family in a difficult moment down the road.
At Sunset Legal we offer to faciliate a family meeting as part of the planning process, so that you can sit down with your adult children in the presence of an attorney to discuss your plan and they can ask any questions at that time. Of course, they can also meet with us down the road and/or hire us as part of the estate administration process.
What is probate and why do I want to avoid it?
Probate is the process by which the court validates the authenticity of a will, appoints an executor (aka personal representative), and supervises the settlement of an estate, including the payment of bills, filing of tax returns, and transfer of assets to beneficiaries. If no will is presented, the court will appoint an estate representative, called an "administrator." The administrator carries out the same duties as an executor, but when a person dies without a will the court must determine the heirs of the deceased. Without a will, estate assets are distributed to heirs at law as determined by California's intestacy laws, not beneficiaries chosen by the deceased. For example, if you're married, most people assume everything will go to their spouse when they die. Without a will or trust, not so. Your spouse will get either 1/2 or 1/3, and the other portion will go to your children or relative. The ultimate outcome may or may not be in the best interest of everyone involved.
Only assets in your individual name or payable to your estate will go through probate. Many people use a (fully funded) revocable living trust to avoid probate. Assets owned by joint tenants with rights of survivorship avoid probate as well, but there are other factors and consequences at play there so get advice from a competent attorney before putting all your assets in a joint tenancy with someone else.
Many clients wish to avoid probate because it can include high fees and costs, significant time delays and stress, and public dissemination of private information. We can take a look at your entire situation together and let you know whether a probate avoidance plan should be part of your estate plan.
I can tell my parent is having trouble managing their financial affairs. At what point do they need to see an attorney, and at what point should I on their behalf?
Do what you can to get them to meet with an estate planning attorney right away. Your parent(s) can make new estate planning documents or make changes to documents they already have as long as they have the mental capacity required pursuant to the California Probate Code.
You can even make the appointment yourself and bring them to the meeting. However, the lawyer will likely ask you to step out of the room while she talks to your parent or parents alone. If it becomes clear throughout the course of discussions with the attorney that capacity is an issue, the lawyer may require documentation from a licensed physician certifying capacity or insist on an independent review by another attorney of the situation before making any changes or drafting new documents.
If your parent is incapacitated, then your options depend on whether they currently have any estate planning documents and what those documents say.
If they have a durable power of attorney and/or a revocable living trust, they have designated a successor agent and/or successor trustee to manage their financial affairs in preparation for just this sort of situation. The designated person(s) may be you, but it might not. The best thing for you to do would be to find their estate plan (if you know where the documents are) and call the law firm that drafted their plan. They should be able to tell you what documentation you need to provide in order for the lawyer to talk to the successor agent or trustee about your parents' estate (if you are calling a new attorney not associated with their plan, you'll need to provide them the documents to interpret). Usually, you will need to provide one or two letters from physician(s) certifying mental incapacity. Once you have what is needed, a meeting can be arranged between the lawyer and the successor agent/trustee for legal advice moving forward.
If your parent is incapacitated and they do not have an estate plan in place, make an appointment to see an estate planning attorney that does conservatorships. A conservstorship is a legal arrangement which allows a responsible adult to manage the personal care or financial matters of an impaired adult person. A conservatorship in California must be estabished through a court proceeding.
I know I am named the executor of my parents' estate and they are now deceased. What do I do? Do I really have to hire a lawyer?
Make an appointment to see an estate planning attorney as soon as you have both certified death certificates (or just the one, if that's the case). You can either meet with the same attorney that drafted your parents' plan, or can meet with any other attorney of your choosing. If you meet with a new attorney they will ask you to bring all of the estate documentation you can find. The lawyer should be able to walk you through your legal obligations in how to manage and administer your parent's estate.
While you do not technically *need* to hire a lawyer, it is the best way to ensure that you are doing what the law requires. An executor and trustee has fiduciary obligations, and can be held personally liable to the beneficiaries if things are not handled properly. An attorney will be your best friend throughout this process.
How much does it cost to get an estate plan?
At Sunset Legal LLP we believe in transparent fees. This is why we have the cost of our most common plans and documents published on our website at www.sunset.legal/pricing.
In general, expect to spend at least $3000-$4000 for a comprehensive plan involving a revocable living trust at Sunset Legal. We are not the cheapest firm on the market, but we are not the most expensive, either. We know the value that we provide and are firm on our prices. Scenarios that require more complex drafting can cost upwards of $5,000, but that is rare.
We strongly believe in committing to up-front flat fees so our clients can better prepare for the cost. We will fully disclose what it will cost for the plan we recommend by the end of our first in-person consultation, before any commitment from you.
Please note, when we quote a flat fee, it is based on the information you provide to us. If you give us inaccurare information, or neglect to disclose the extent of your estate, it may impact the ultimate price of your plan.
What decisions will I have to make at the Estate Planning Design Meeting?
If you decide to hire us to design your plan, at minimum we will ask you the following questions. However, keep in mind that in the course of discussion the attorney will likely provide perspectives you hadn't considered before. Many seemingly simple questions carry significant personal and tax conseqences that need to be discussed in full.
(1) Who is the person or people you would want to manage your financial affairs if you were to become incapacitated or pass away? We suggest that you have at least two "back-up" individuals as well, in case your first choice isn't able to serve in that role.
(2) Who is the person or people you would want to have custody of your minor children if you were unable to care for them? Again, have back-ups. Would you want these people to also have control over the money? This will be an in-depth dicussion with the attorney as there are often many considerations that our clients haven't thought about before. The person or people you think are the natural choice may not be in the end.
(3) Who is the person or people you would want to make medical/health care decisions for you if you are incapacitated?
(4) If you and your spouse were to pass away, how would you like your assets to be distributed? If all or a portion of your estate would go to your children, at what age would you want them to have control over it? If you happen to pass away without any children or descendants (or your designated beneficiaries predecease you), how should everything be distributed then?
(5) Do you want your spouse to be able to make changes to your joint trust if you pass away first? *This is one of those particularly simple-sounding questions that is not simple at all. The attorney will walk you through the different options and consequences in terms of structuring your trust.