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Caution with complicated estate plans

Although many California residents ignore the need to plan for the management of their affairs at life's end, others go to the opposite extreme by creating estate plans that are more complex than necessary. In some cases, there can be substantial losses because of the failure to consider tax benefits in certain estate planning tools. Sound planning should be at the center of any formal documentation of one's wishes.

Some individuals avoid estate planning because the topic of death and other difficult circumstances can be uncomfortable. Others simply don't think about these issues. However, an individual's failure to create a legal plan could leave loved ones to face greater stresses as they attempt to tie up loose ends involving assets and debts. Intestacy law governs the process of handling an estate in which the decedent has left no will.

Life events can prompt an individual to create an estate plan to avoid going through invasive processes such as probate. An individual might be party to a situation in which someone's will is overridden by a probate court or challenged by certain heirs, which might lead to a decision to create an irrevocable trust, a planning tool that allows for most of the estate to bypass probate. However, the irrevocable nature of this type of trust can make it difficult to adjust if the grantor changes their mind. Extremely complicated trusts can leave heirs with little remedy for tax burdens or other negative outcomes.

People who want to head off legal challenges to their final wishes might begin their estate planning process by discussing their concerns and goals with an attorney. This allows for a discussion about the various types of documents. An attorney might recommend appropriate strategies for ensuring that a client's wishes can be observed with minimal delay and expense.

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