Estate Planning: Estate planning should be done with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney. It is especially important for large estates, for families with young children, for families that include former spouses and children from previous marriages, and for individuals in non-traditional relationships. Assets can be passed from a decedent to his heirs at death by:

  1. Will
  2. 2) Contract (such as payment-on-death and transfer-on-death accounts)
  3. Titling (such as joint tenancy) and trusts

In California, estates over $150,000 in value must pass through probate, generally an expensive and time-consuming procedure. Assets transferred through contract, title, or trusts do not pass through probate; instead, they transfer directly to the named beneficiary, joint owner, or trustee. Beneficiary designations for retirement plans or other assets transferring by contract should be reviewed periodically to insure that they are current, and should include at least one contingent beneficiary. Estate planning strategies include gifting during life, various trust arrangements, and life insurance. Living wills or advance directives, durable powers of attorney (including one for health care) and letters of instruction are additional estate plan components.