The Best Estate Planning Tips of 2011
December 30, 2011
Dear Julia,

Estate Planning Attorney Julia P. Wald This newsletter is a recap of some of what you have read this year.  I hope this inspires you to revisit some topics which are particularly important to you. 

The list of newsletters is on the Law Offices of Julia P. Wald website. 

When you visit the site,  drift from page to page.  It's fun!




Julia P. Wald


It Started with the Egyptians
I started 2011 talking about the Egyptians' desire for physical immortality, a desire to come back to life in their preserved body.  I urged you to use your estate planning documents as a vehicle for your own immortality. 
Take Charge of Your legacy
I wrote:

"But, what is important to me is that although these long ago people of Egypt did not attain physical immortality, they did attain another sort of immortality.  Because of the solidity of what they built, because of the beauty of their jewelry and artwork, even of their writing, succeeding generations of people have knowledge of them which lives on and on and on.

One area where you can plan how you will be remembered is in your WILL (and your LIVING TRUST). Do you have a WILL? Or a TRUST? Do you have an Advance Directive?  You really must."

I hope that you used some of your time in 2011 to plan and sign your estate planning documents.


We Were Already Thinking Baseball in February
A Giant Celebration In February the newsletter outlined some important changes in the federal estate tax laws.

"Like the 2010 Giants, the current federal estate tax laws have a successful short term life but an uncertain future. . . .

The current estate tax laws apply only to the estates of persons passing away between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2012.  In 2011 and 2012 a decedent is allowed to pass $5 million worth of assets to whomever he or she wishes free of federal estate tax. . . . Assets in excess of the $5 million exemption for individuals and $10 million for opposite-sex married couples will be taxed at a maximum rate of 35%.

The temporary federal estate tax law provides an additional advantage to married heterosexual couples by allowing the surviving spouse to take advantage of the deceased spouse's unused exemption amount. This is referred to as 'Portability'."
We Explained the Evolving Tax Laws
Your Estate Plan and the Galapagos Spring time brought to mind the Galapagos Islands and Darwin's writings on evolution.  I compared the evolution of the creatures of the Galapagos with the evolution in the federal tax law.

Consider the annual gift tax exclusion.  The newsletter pointed out that:
"The $10,000 [gift tax exclusion] amount has evolved so that in 2011 the amount not recognized as a gift is $13,000, annually per recipient.  Let's call this your "annual gift freebie." That evolution is as beautiful and unexpected as the evolution of the Blue-Footed Boobies of the Galapagos . . . .

If an annual exclusion gift is made in Trust, the annual exclusion is available only if the beneficiary is given a limited withdrawal right under the so called "Crummey Trust" rules."

(Read the full newsletter) 

We Recommended Spring Cleaning
 In Spring, it is good to consider spring cleaning.  As estate planners, the lawyers at the Law Offices of Julia P. Wald recommend a little spring cleaning and reviewing.

Chicken in the spring"For many, many people their estate planning documents have been gathering dust. Getting rid of dust is just what you do with spring cleaning.

Before you can decide whether you need to update your estate planning documents, you need to read them (or a summary of them) to remind yourself what they say. . . .

Skip to the most important parts of your Will and Trust Agreement, the parts about family members; family treasures; who receives an interest in trust and when does that interest come out of trust; look at the schedule at the end of the Trust Agreement with a list of your assets; look at the parts that deal with estate tax issues and generation skipping tax issues.  
Regarding Family Members - if they have changed, the documents need to be updated . . . .  For example a remarriage invalidates a Will that does not mention the new spouse. The Will from your first marriage will not be enforceable.

You may have a child or grandchild who is on public benefits for one reason or another or is not able to be self supporting because of an addiction. For the family member on social security income (SSI) or with a disability such that you are pretty certain they will be on SSI, a Special Needs Trust could be enormously helpful.

If your grandchild wasn't even born when you signed your living trust, you definitely need an update. "

(Read the full newsletter) 

We Cautioned about Estate Planning Icebergs
Trying to act as a Trustee over someone else's money without "advice of counsel" is like being a novice sailor sailing amidst icebergs, as was pointed out in the May newsletter.

"It is not uncommon for the successor Trustee to look at the Trustee's duties and responsibilities as over burdensome and unnecessary. Trustees, in these situations, often believe a formal administration is unnecessary if all the beneficiaries "get along" and they all "agree" to a distribution plan. Though this scenario sounds nice and cost effective, and on occasions is true, the Trustee takes a major risk since only the Trustee will be held liable if something goes wrong . . . . Being liable means, for the Trustee, he or she will have to use his or her own money to make the matter right again."


I recently saw a trust for which the Trustee turned over all Trustee duties to a financial planner. The "planner" lost all the money. I believe the Trustee will need to put his own millions into the trust for failure to fulfill his fiduciary duties. DO NOT be like that Trustee.

(Read the full newsletter) 

We Suggest Insurance for Your Estate Plan
Alaskan hospital The newsletter of August addressed completing your estate plan and raised issues of insurance. The one I want to highlight here, because it is so important, is Long Term Care Insurance.
"Long Term Care Insurance will give you money to hire someone to take care of you if you cannot take care of yourself.
Some people say it is too expensive, not necessary, not something they want to buy. Consider this: the chance of your needing to be taken care of at some point in your life is high.
You can determine the features of the policy you want to purchase. The features largely determine the price. How long you can self-insure before you want to have the policy start paying benefits (this is the waiting period), how much money do you want to receive to pay your caretaker, how much should those benefits grow over time in relation to inflation, how long do you want benefits to last.
Caring for Loved Ones in the Autumn
Conservatorships when the way ahead is foggy In fall, the newsletter addressed concerns about caring for loved ones in the autumn of life when sometimes the way ahead is foggy.  The most important issue I'd like you to think about is CONSERVATORSHIPS.  We, as a nation, need to stop the abuse of the frail elderly.

"Sometimes concerns arise when a family member becomes aware that a caretaker, housekeeper, gardener, or new boyfriend / girlfriend is taking money from his loved one. That problem surfaces when someone is writing checks for the elderly person and the relative or the bank notices unusually large withdrawals. Other times, the elderly person announces that she is going to give money to a caretaker or other new best friend.  If the elderly person needs the money for his own care, these gifts are imprudent and need to be prevented. How to stop them may be unclear.
What can you do to protect your loved one?
Heliocopter with a clear view The first step is to find out if your relative will accept assistance voluntarily.  Unlikely.  Most likely the new best friend has "brainwashed" the elderly person.  You may have to petition the Court for appointment of a Conservator. A petition for the appointment of a Conservator may be filed by any concerned person.

In order to avoid a Conservatorship for yourself, it is very important to have and to fund a revocable living trust.  Then if you become incapacitated, your successor trustee can take over your financial affairs. Your successor Trustee usually does not have to go to Court.    

In addition, you should have a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. This document gives power to a person of your choice to make medical decisions for you."
That Was 2011. 
We're Looking Forward to 2012!
A new baby
Happy New Year! 

We will be, as usual, here to help you with estate planning, probate, conservatorships, and trust administration. 

Please contact us when we can assist you and your family.


Julia P. Wald
The Law Offices of Julia Wald

1108 Fifth Avenue
San Rafael, California 94901

Julia is a board certified specialist in probate,
estate planning,  and trust administration.

In This Issue
It Started with the Egyptians
Estate Planning Icebergs
Caring for Loved Ones
Featured Article

Favorite Views of Estate Planning

Throughout the year the newsletters have been illustrated with photographs taken by Julia and by others in her professional and personal lives.

Here are more of the best shots from 2011.

Column from the August newsletter
August, 2011

Beach Child
November, 2011

Cartagena Kids
July, 2011

October, 2011

Crowd for the SF Giants
February, 2011

Blue-Footed bird
March, 2011

Take charge of your legacy
January, 2011

Red-Hearted Bird
March, 2011

Golden Gate Bridge
September, 2011