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Estate Planning and Administration

The Sad Saga of SB and Aaron

(Why you need an estate plan even though you are not "rich.")   This is a retelling of a 2018 incident and our subsequent post. We have seen replays of exactly the same or a similar scenario and outcome several times since then. Only one of those scenarios had a happy ending: and that only because the “sister-administrator” generously made a post probate gift to the life partner after settling the estate.

Your estate plan determines what happens to your assets, liabilities, and family when you, your spouse, or someone close to you dies. Three things are almost axiomatic:

  • A good estate plan allows the people you leave behind to continue on in your absence with minimal disruption to their normal lifestyle. 

  • If you have no estate plan, the state has one for you. In all likelihood, the state's plan is not consistent with your wishes.

  • Having a defective or out of date estate plan is almost as bad as having none at all -- it creates more chaos than it prevents.

If you still think that only-rich-people need estate planning, think again.

Almost no one (0.1% of decedents) needs to plan for estate tax obligations. For the rest of us, estate planning is about caring for the ones we leave behind and securing our philanthropic legacy. It is about making sure the transition from a family unit to a functional but reduced family unit is as smooth and flexible as possible—even if, as has happened often in the last several years, your departure is sudden and unanticipated. It is about providing solutions before the need arises.

Our lifestyles make Estate Planning mandatory. The 12th century philosophy, laws, and practices we inherited or adopted in 18th century America don’t cope well with 21st  century realities: For example

  • In California, long-term non-marital partners have absolutely no say or rights in their partner’s estate or its administration.* They are at the mercy of statutory heirs and administrators.

  • Blended Families (e.g., families formed after divorce and remarriage, or relationship and re-relationship) often have children from both partner’s prior relationships, separate and quasi-separate property from those same relationships, and children or property from the current relationship. Your new partner’s plans for these “yours-mine-ours” situations may not mesh well with yours.

  • The “default estate rules” of intestate succession make no accommodation for Special Needs or your Philanthropic  aims.

Add in dysfunctional, over-crowded, courts and legal-legislative systems, and your desire to provide for ordinary life needs of your family; even the most traditional family you can imagine needs devices and arrangements that minimize or eliminate government intervention in your estate process.

A solution, though not simple, is available: if the default statutory succession rules (every state has their own) do not  fit your needs,  then write your own rules. For that, you need an Estate Plan, documentation (e.g., Wills, Trusts, DPOAs, Letters of Instruction) that operationalizes the plan, and someone to execute it. The bare-bones process:

  • Assess your needs and expectations:

    • identify family characteristics and variables,

    • marshal and value assets and liabilities, and

    • clarify current titles and future beneficiaries

  • Design a framework that satisfies as many of your requirements as possible

  • Work with an attorney to document, refine, and implement the framework

  • Revisit and revise the plan and documents periodically (every two years) and when “life events” alter your family structure or needs.

Ask Cambyses Financial Advisors to guide you along that path. We cooperate with our strategic partners to our supplement our skills and offer with a  comprehensive array of business and personal planning, management, governance, finance, insurance, legal, and tax solutions:​  We work closely with your legal team to plan and implement your strategy. When needed, we work with your administrator, executor, trustee and their legal team to execute its terms and insure compliance with administrative and reporting requirements.

* There is a pervasive belief among unmarried long-term California couples that "living together for over ten years" (or some other arbitrary but long period) creates spousal rights in California. We hear this erroneous belief expressed several times every year. The client is usually "dumbfounded that we don't know that rule." Straight truth: California does not recognize common law marriage (or anything remotely like it) regardless of how long an unmarried couple has been together, unless the common community originated in another state that recognizes common law. Unmarried couples who intend to stay unmarried in California must take special care to establish and maintain an estate plan that benefits their partner. It's either that, or move to South Carolina.

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