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Family estate planning and asset protection takes the skills of both highly qualified financial AND legal advisors. It is truly rare to find them at one company or law firm in California, let alone in one individual.

Thomas McKenzie is a special kind of attorney. He is the founder of McKenzie Legal and Financial, a premium law firm serving clients in Los Angeles and Orange County. Mr. McKenzie a member of the California State Bar (the Trust and Estates section of the bar), an active member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Elder Counsel, and one of the accredited attorneys by the United States Veterans Administration. He is also a Series 7 licensed securities broker, a licensed independent insurance broker, and a Series 65 Investment Advisor Representative. You may also see him as a trust administration lawyer in Orange County and Los Angeles, California.

With over 20 years of experience as an estate planning attorney, real estate broker and financial advisor, Mr. McKenzie is uniquely qualified to handle your legal, financial and real estate matters. When Mr. McKenzie helps you, you get the most comprehensive estate planning services to protect you and your family’s assets today, and as you and your loved ones age. Learn more about Mr. McKenzie, by clicking this link.

Estate Planning Attorney in Los Angeles and Orange County – Helping You Prepare For The Future

Mr. McKenzie is an expert in lawyer-client dialog, providing full service estate planning representation and legal advice in Los Angeles and Orange County. He is very transparent and gives a personal guarantee to all his clients that each and every Living Trust, Durable Power of Attorney and other estate planning document, is PERSONALLY drafted by him in accordance with your unique circumstances.

If you need legal advice or for more information about creating or evaluating a Living Trust, contact our office today. Our trust attorney in Orange County and Los Angeles can also help with elder law services and medi-cal planning needs. Thomas McKenzie’s lawyer profile reviews and Avvo rating are proof that he is very experienced in court and well-versed with the California Estate Planning Law.

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When the average person thinks of an estate, they probably imagine a very wealthy person’s home, property, and belongings. The word “estate” is often used to describe well-to-do residential communities or the occasional high-rent apartment complex. As a legal term, however, the word “estate” has a very specific meaning, which can be a bit confusing at first.

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What is an estate, exactly? Who owns them? Do I have an estate? If so, what am I supposed to do about it?

  • echnically, almost anyone who owns a property has an estate. Whether it’s property like a house or land, investments such as stocks and bonds, or even personal property like a car or a collection of clothing; this is all considered an “estate”.
  • The literal legal terminology comes into play when a person is deceased, and their property becomes a matter of public policy – i.e., how that person’s property is distributed among their survivors.
  • The process of arranging those details is what’s properly known as “estate planning.”

The distribution of one’s property after their death is a matter of law in all fifty states. Each state has very precise and exact requirements in regards to estate planning. These safeguards help to ensure the property is passed to the deceased’s beneficiaries exactly as intended. Without these strict requirements, the process could easily generate disputes which can be extraordinarily difficult to manage – even for a court of law.

Ensuring that the fine details are covered before it becomes necessary to distribute property is what estate planning is meant to accomplish. Since it is a matter of law, it’s critical that a qualified and experienced Los Angeles estate planning attorney is involved every step of the way.

The Legal Process of Estate & Financial Planning

In some states, when a person dies, it is mandatory that their estate go through a legal process called probate. This is when a court of law determines if there is a legally sufficient will in place, or possibly a more elaborate plan like a living trust involved. Based on the contents of the will or the trust, the court then supervises the orderly distribution of the estate’s assets.

If there is no will, no trust and no estate plan, then the court is left to its own devices as to how to distribute property. This rarely satisfies anyone, as the court has no way of knowing the wishes or intentions of the deceased. When this occurs, the courts can only rely on the law itself and the self-serving words of each beneficiary. The word “chaos” comes to mind, and you may have heard of or personally know someone who has been through this struggle before. Hiring an experienced Los Angeles trust lawyer can help you avoid any problems and discrepancies regarding your estate.

Certain decisions must be made well in advance to allow for a competent plan of distribution and management of an estate’s assets. The living trust is a good example of the necessity of this kind of planning. If there is real property included, for example, the title and management responsibilities for each property have to be legally transferred to the trust and must become the purview of the trustee. This can be a complicated process, as many properties may still have mortgages, multiple owners, property tax issues, liens, or other complications. The required amount of paperwork and strict adherence to law can be an intimidating step and complex process. Without an estate planning attorney or help from a law group, you run the risk of errors and claims – even the tiniest of which can completely invalidate the legality or validity of your will or trust.

The Documents
Common Mistakes
Common Situations

When you finally get to the details, things can get very confusing very quickly. The good news is there is voluminous reference information available for most of these subjects, so it is unlikely you’ll be left without the necessary knowledge to advance your estate plan.

  • The first document most people have heard of and understood on at least a basic level is the will or “last will and testament”. This is simply a written set of instructions usually compiled by your local Los Angeles estate lawyer. It expresses your wishes with regard to the distribution of your property. In some circumstances it doesn’t have to be anything particularly official nor does it need to be written in exacting legal terminology. Absent a trust, this is the document that will likely govern the probate process (with few exceptions).
  • The second important document is called a “durable power of attorney“. This is an instrument that allows someone to act on your behalf in the event of incapacity or other legal obstacle. The power of attorney gives the right for someone to exercise authority over your own affairs. Absent this permission, decisions may be made by your behalf by the courts, which leaves your estate at risk of an undesired outcome. In many cases, your actual attorney will act legally on your behalf, however, if you prefer to assign authority – whether partial or in full – to a relative or close friend, the durable power of attorney gives you that option.
  • Beneficiary Designations are documents prepared by any estate planning lawyers in Los Angeles to appoint certain people as the beneficiaries of properties and/or funds that pass from one to another outside the scope of your will or trust. For example, the proceeds of a life insurance policy go directly to a beneficiary from the insurance company and are not normally under the auspices of the probate process. However, any monetary instruments (including cash or investments) and property owned by the deceased is part of their estate, and therefore governed by a will or trust.
  • The Designation of Guardian is the appointment of someone assigned to the affairs of an estate or a person (or both) prior to the need for such a person to serve. It is a document that allows the designated person to exercise legal authority over an estate or person absent the governance of a trust or other documents. In some circumstances, powers of attorney or living trusts do not provide the protection a guardian designation can, especially in situations where an estate is subject to competing interests. Disputes over the details of a probate case can result in legal actions where one party attempts to take control of an estate from another. Making certain there is a designated guardian on hand to look after the affairs of both the estate and its owner is an important part of a highly effective and well organized plan.

One of the fastest ways to create problems for your loved ones (and for your estate in general) is to allow default beneficiary conditions to arise. This happens when a beneficiary is either improperly named, or, various kinds of accounts that should pass directly to a beneficiary are not maintained properly. These assets then end up going to your estate instead, which itself could be subject to months or even years of delays due to various legal matters. This is one of the most frequent blunders made by estates and their owners. It can be very costly in both time and money to rectify, and there is no guarantee as to what the outcome may be.

Another easy-to-overlook detail is the presence or absence of a residuary clause. If an asset or piece of property is not covered in a will, the purpose of the residuary clause is to be the catch-all for them. This includes any property acquired between the time you draft your will or set up your trust and your death. Always remember any property that isn’t covered by your estate plan will end up governed by the probate court and may not end up where you might prefer. This among other things is a key reason you need to plan ahead.

The most easily avoidable problem is dying intestate. This is a legal way of saying a person died without a will or trust. The result can be a protracted legal battle as competing family interests must first prove their relationships to the deceased, and then petition the probate court for whatever they believe the deceased wanted them to have. In a complex estate with various kinds of property, this can be a fantastically expensive process which can, in many cases, threaten to drain the estate of most of its value.

Once an estate plan is in place, a step or process for regular examination and the updating of information as needed is a top priority. While it is possible to put together a will or trust that is flexible enough to accommodate changes in a person’s life and financial situation, there are too many details involved in even a simple estate plan to maintain any degree of certainty. It falls to the owner of the estate to make sure everything is protected, and that any changes in finances are provided for. The safest way to secure and protect your assets and provide for your loved ones is to establish and maintain a relationship with one of the highly qualified and experienced estate planning attorneys serving clients Orange County and Los Angeles, CA.

Working with a professional and maintaining the most up-to-date plan is the key to avoiding mistakes, prevent problems between your family, and eliminating threats to the value of what you’ve spent a lifetime working for. Your estate planning attorney is one of your most powerful and important advisors.

Secure the future of your children today! Call our law office at (562) 526-6941 to request a consultation on family or real estate business planning in Los Angeles and Orange County, CA. You can also come to our free seminars, we’ll teach you simple ways to avoid costly mistakes and how to protect your family, your home, your business and all of your important assets. We are ready to discuss your financial and estate planning needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Estate Planning?

Estate planning is the process of making financial plans for your death. It determines who will receive your assets and how much. It also includes details like your advance directive and guardianship designations.

Two of the most important documents in your estate plan are your will and any trusts you may have. Your will can include very specific instructions, such as leaving a particular vehicle to a particular person.

Trusts are complex legal entities that allow you to smoothly transfer assets to beneficiaries, sometimes resulting in tax benefits.

Why do you need to plan?

Planning gives you the chance to decide what happens to your belongings after you pass away. Even if you have spoken with your loved ones extensively about your final wishes and how you want to divide up your property, those conversations don’t hold legal weight.

Legal planning is essential because it leaves clear answers to the professionals who will need to assess your estate after your death. Otherwise, their decisions may not match your preferences.

Another benefit of estate planning is the ability to avoid probate—this can take months or even over a year to administer your will and settle your affairs. Instead, you can create a trust that automatically gives your beneficiaries access to your assets after your death.

What is an estate?

An estate is a broad term for all of your property and assets. It includes physical property, real estate, bank accounts, insurance policies, stocks, and more. It also includes more abstract assets, such as digital property.

All of these items are considered your estate, and they will be divided up among your beneficiaries after your death. Estate planning gives you the chance to make sure the distribution goes according to your wishes.

What happens if someone dies without a will?

If someone dies without leaving behind a will, they’ll be declared intestate, which means that the court will divide your assets and assign someone as executor in order to settle their affairs.

The court uses succession laws to determine who gets what assets. These laws prioritize your closest living relatives, starting with your spouse and children.

Your siblings and parents may also be included, depending on the size of your estate and the circumstances.

Should you hire a lawyer to help you draft a will?

Anyone with a unique and complex financial situation should consider hiring a lawyer to help draft their will.

There are numerous books and websites that provide a template for creating wills, but none of them can offer you specific legal advice.

Your will allows you to distribute your estate among loved ones as you see fit. If you want to make sure that it is carried out after your death, it’s a good idea to have a lawyer help you draft and finalize one that is legally valid and clearly communicates your wishes.

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