If you created a trust or will in Orange County, California with an attorney who has since retired or passed away, you may be wondering what happens to your important legal documents and how you can protect yourself. This is an understandable concern, as our estate plans are deeply personal and ensure our wishes are carried out when we pass. Even if your documents were drawn up perfectly by your prior lawyer, his or her absence can create complications. Fortunately, with some proactive steps, you can safeguard your estate.
When an attorney retires, they should notify clients and give them the option of having their files transferred to a new law firm. However, this does not always happen. If your Orange County trust lawyer has retired without notifying you, contact the State Bar of California to inquire about the status of his or her license. If it is inactive, seek out a new trust and estates attorney to take over your plan. You will need to provide them with copies of your documents so they can review and update them as needed. Expect to pay a fee for this service.
If your lawyer passed away, their law firm should have notified clients. If you were not informed, check the state bar to confirm their status. Depending on the size of the firm, your documents may have been passed on to other attorneys there. If not, you will need to hire someone new. Orange County has many qualified estate planning attorneys who can take over your case.
Ideally, your heirs would be able to access copies of your trust, will, financial statements, insurance policies and other important information in the event of your death or incapacity. However, if your lawyer of 20 years passes away without warning, those crucial documents may be locked away in their office. To avoid this, keep your own records up to date. Here are some tips:
- Maintain an accurate list of assets, liabilities and important contacts. Review annually.
- Keep original estate planning documents in a secure location at your home or bank safety deposit box.
- Let a close family member or friend know where these documents can be accessed if needed.
- Update beneficiaries on all retirement accounts, insurance policies and transfer-on-death assets.
- Convert paper documents to digital copies stored securely online or on a flash drive. This includes estate plans, mortgages, titles, policies and more.
If your trust was created prior to 2011, you may also want to check if it contains a “portability provision.” The Tax Relief Act passed that year allowed spouses to transfer any unused estate tax exclusion to each other upon death. However, trusts drafted before then may not account for this change in law. Updating your trust with your new Orange County attorney will ensure it takes full advantage of the current $12 million combined estate tax exclusion for married couples. A review will also identify any other relevant tax law or asset changes to incorporate.
While unpleasant to think about, having a plan in place if your lawyer becomes unavailable will ensure your estate is protected. Conducting a periodic review of your documents and contacts will also keep you prepared. With these proactive steps, you can have confidence in your estate plan going forward.
Also prior to 2011, a sophisticated approach called the A/B trust was used and is no longer necessary but not changing it could result in problems for the survivor and additional ongoing expenses they were not prepared for. If you haven't had your trust reviewed in years and it pre-dates 2011 you should come in for a review to get peace of mind or stop a bad outcome that the old trust might have been set on. Click here to learn more