You have estate, business and tax planning questions. Steve Greenwood has answers.

We know you will have many questions about the entire estate planning process.  Here are some of the most common queries we receive at Steven M. Greenwood, P.C. and brief discussions to help you gain a better idea of how estate planning works, how it protects your assets and how it ensures your wishes will be carried out in the future.  Of course, any time you have questions, we have answers, so contact us.

Q. How do you define an estate?
A. In short, it is everything you own, including cars, furniture, cash, artwork, house, investments, anything that has value.

Q. How large does my estate have to be before I need to create a formal plan?
A.  Regardless of your wealth or possessions, you have an estate and it needs to be protected.

Q. What happens to my estate, if I don’t have a plan laid out in writing?
A. If you don’t have a plan, the state has a plan for you by default and you and your loved ones will not like it one bit.  Whether you become incapacitated or die, the court will have to take over. Your business, personal assets, everything will be outside of your control or that of your family and it will be an expensive, public, time-consuming, complicated process.

Q. How often does my estate plan need updating?
A. Your estate plan needs to be fluid and adjust as you experience changes in your life.  On a periodic basis, your plan must be reviewed and updated to consider changes in your finances, family, health, and the law.

Q. I’m not even close to retirement, so why should I plan now?
A. Retirement or age has very little to do with defining how your assets will be protected and administered, minimizing estate taxes, and the like.  If you become incapacitated or die, it is too late to plan. 

Q. If I have a will, isn’t that enough to express my wishes and cover all of my assets?
A. A will is a written declaration of how you want your property distributed after death.  The document also nominates an executor and a guardian if you have minor children. However, having only a will guarantees cumbersome, public, complicated, and expensive probate and assures your heirs and beneficiaries will be on the “Government Plan.”  Further, a will does not cover your assets held in joint tenancy or other forms of holding title with a beneficiary designation, such as retirement plans, annuities, life insurance, financial accounts, and others.

Q. How do I keep family members from fighting over my estate, once I’m gone?
A. By clearly outlining your wishes in your estate plan, arguments, legal maneuvers, and other disruptions can be avoided.  Revisit and update your plan any time you have significant changes in your life or you decide to alter directives in your plan to ensure that your wishes will be carried out. 

Q. Where do I start in setting up an estate plan?
A. Begin with a will or living trust, which lays out your instructions.  Just remember that a will DOES NOT avoid probate; it guarantees it!  So, start with the basics and work with your estate planning advisor to devise a comprehensive plan over time.

Q. Can an estate plan protect my assets for my family from creditors, predators, and others?
A. Asset protection planning attempts to organize the ownership and location of your property to make it as difficult as possible for creditors and others to access your estate, thereby, protecting your estate for your beneficiaries from lawsuits, bankruptcy, divorce, predators, and unintentional disinheritance. 

Q. Who should I use to manage my trust?
A. Whether you die, become incapacitated or simply want someone else to handle the affairs of your estate, select someone who has the time and ability to protect your interests and can meet the legal requirements to manage the administration and distribution of your assets.  A successor trustee, such as a family member, can be assigned and, if needed, he or she can hire a corporate trustee. or an estate attorney such as Steven M. Greenwood for trust administration in order to ensure compliance with your wishes, procedures, and laws.

Q. How do I protect my business for my family or partners, if I become incapacitated or when I die?
A. Creating a buy-sell agreement legally lays out how a business is to be handled, if any owner(s) or partner(s) becomes incapacitated or die.  The contract can establish a value of the company or individual interests, buy or sell procedures in the event of death or incapacity, funding mechanisms for a buy-out, leadership positioning, and much more.

Q. What is business succession planning?
A. If you are an owner or part owner of a business, you may have a substantial stake in the company.  If something unplanned happens—incapacity or death—to the owner, chief executive or partner of the company, you must protect your interests by legally laying out what happens if these changes occur.  Company shares, asset allocation, sale procedure and pricing, leadership succession, and other considerations should be defined in advance in a buy-sell agreement to help ensure a smooth transition, eliminate the guesswork, and minimize potential problems.

Q. I can create my own will, using documents I found on the Internet, so why would I need an attorney?
A. The forms vendors, such as We the People and Legal Zoom, provide paper.  Nothing more.  They cannot provide legal advice.  There are other resources available to you but, as the adage goes, you get what you pay for.  A competent, experienced firm such as Steven M. Greenwood, P.C. can provide the guidance you need, save you time, help ensure your assets are fully protected, and give you the peace of mind that is so important to you and your family.

Q. What is a “Death Plan?”
A. Essentially, a “Death Plan” incorporates the basic elements of a Living Trust to avoid probate and eliminate unnecessary estate taxation, but it does not protect your family as a “Life Plan” can.

Q. What is a “Life Plan?” 
A. In short, a “Life Plan” is a basic “Death Plan” that helps avoid probate, minimizes estate taxes, and protects your loved ones, such as your spouse, children and, even, grandchildren from the “5 Maladies” – that is, Creditors, Predators, Bankruptcy, Divorce, and Inadvertent Disinheritance.

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Steven M. Greenwood, P.C.
2801 Townsgate Rd., Ste. 210
Westlake Village, CA 91361

805-277-5020 - Phone
805-277-5021 - Fax

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