Do I Need A Living Trust?

Surprisingly, whether you need a Living Trust does not depend on your net worth, but rather on your family structure, the kind of assets you have, who your beneficiaries are, and your goals for them.

A Living Trust will give you maximum flexibility, control and choices in planning your estate. It is a good choice if you want to avoid probate and protect your beneficiaries.

There are three main reasons you might want to avoid Probate:

1. Cost. Probate is expensive. Attorney’s fees are set by law, and are a percentage of the gross value of the estate.

2. Privacy. In a probate case private information about your beneficiaries and your assets is made public.

3. Control. Since probate is a court proceeding, you can lose control of how and when your assets are distributed.


A Living Trust is a document that describes how your assets are to be handled while you are living and still competent, when you become incompetent, and after you pass away.

1. While you are alive and competent you can continue to have complete control over your assets.

2. If you should become incompetent the Trust says who should manage your assets, and how they should be managed and spent on your care.

3. After you pass away it says how your assets should be distributed, or held in trust for loved ones, and who is to have those responsibilities.

With a Living Trust, you avoid the cost of probate. Your personal information does not become part of a court record. You control how and when distributions are made. It can protect the assets of your beneficiaries who are disabled, have debt and spending problems, divorce or spending issues, are financially inexperienced, or struggle with substance abuse.

With a Living Trust, you can simplify your estate and make it easier for your loved ones, while saving money and protecting those who need it. This planning tool can give you peace of mind and protect the ones you love.

So Now That Same Sex Couples Can Marry…

Last June the Supreme Court decided two cases. One struck down the federal law called DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, which had defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. That decision granted federal marriage rights to same sex couples residing in states that recognize the marriage. The other upheld the right of same sex couples in California to be legally married. In the months that have passed since those historic decisions, thousands of California couples have celebrated their long awaited marriages.

There are more than 1,000 rights and responsibilities under Federal and state laws that come into being when a couple is legally married, and that is one reason people fought so hard for marriage equality.  Immigration is a great example. Now a citizen spouse of a same sex couple can obtain a spousal or fiancé visa to bring their loved one to this country, just as heterosexual couples have long been able to do. And there are benefits relating to Social Security, Medicare, pension and retirement accounts, capital gains taxes, estate and gift taxes, veterans benefits, military spouse benefits, and even property tax re-assessment.

Along with all of the many pros, there are a few possible cons for both straight and same sex couples contemplating marriage. For example, if both spouses are high earners they might become subject to the “marriage penalty” resulting in a higher tax liability. But, if same sex couples are like their heterosexual counterparts, most won’t do a tax analysis before getting married.

Alma Soongi Beck, a San Francisco attorney and highly regarded thought leader on these subjects has worked with same sex and unmarried couples for over a decade. She poses a philosophical question for couples to ponder “How much should you consider income taxes as a reason to marry or not?” She writes and speaks widely, giving generously of her time and expertise to educate both the lay public and legal professionals. I heard her speak recently and she graciously granted me permission to post one of her articles on this site. Click here for her clear and comprehensive article on Who Should Get Married?

What Does Divorce Have to Do With The Creature From The Black Lagoon?

If you are facing a divorce you may be experiencing feelings of sadness, guilt, anger, betrayal, fear, confusion, and worry about your children and your finances. You may be dreading a high conflict, long and costly court proceeding.

While the end of your relationship may be inevitable, if you prefer to transition in a way that does not leave long standing bitterness, you may want to explore Collaborative Divorce.

The basic components of Collaborative Divorce are a pledge not to go to court, an honest exchange of information by both spouses, and a solution that takes into account the highest priorities of both spouses and their children.

And, although each case is unique, because Collaborative Divorce is more efficient and eliminates protracted court hearings, it may cost less than a tradition divorce.

When you choose Collaborative Divorce a team of professionals is assembled especially for your family. You will each have both a collaborative attorney and a divorce coach (mental health professional) to advise and support you through the entire process. The team will also include a neutral financial specialist and where appropriate, a neutral child specialist. All team members have had special training, which they will use to guide and support you through the difficult transition of reshaping the family into two new households.

Why does it work? Believe it or not, there is a scientific reason why people behave so badly when they are getting divorced. Here’s how it works. When our ancestors were climbing out of the primordial swamp (aka the black lagoon) our primitive brain developed with a strong instinct for self-preservation, which told us when to fight, flee, or play dead. As we developed into our current human form our brains became much more developed and complex, but we maintained that original, “reptilian” brain with its fight or flight mechanism. It is that part of our brain that becomes engaged when we feel threatened, for example during a divorce.

When we feel threatened our instincts take over and often we retaliate. And when our self-preservation instinct, or reptilian brain, is engaged, it stops the more highly functioning part of our brain from helping us to act more rationally.  We are prevented from accessing and using the part that is able to “rise above it”. We can’t use reasoning and judgment.

The Collaborative Divorce process, with its use of the professional team, helps both parties to disengage their fight or flight mechanisms, and to use more highly functioning parts of their brain. It encourages the participants to have respectful discussions, engage in problem solving, look to the future, compromise, and develop creative solutions.

100 Days to the end of the year!

Not only is September 22 Elephant Appreciation Day, and the day the SF Giants clinched the National League West and a berth in the play offs, and the first day of autumn but it also marks another milestone in the annual calendar. It is exactly 100 days until the end of the year!

What a nice round number. And it reminds us this is the perfect time to think about what you want to accomplish by year’s end. With a full 100 days you have enough time to accomplish something significant, and the deadline that year-end represents may give you the incentive to actually get going and get it done.

One important task you may have put off is perfect for this time frame – getting your estate plan drafted or reviewed. The steps are pretty straightforward. Make a call to set up an appointment with an attorney, collect the documents you need and have a meeting, review the drafts and answer any questions the lawyer has, then return to the office to sign your documents. Of course sometimes there are other steps, and I’m not promising it won’t take a bit of time and effort, but you can do it. Here’s how….

Like any other task you have been putting off, breaking it up into manageable bites will make it easier. So take the first step – pick up the phone and make the appointment. And tell your attorney you have a goal of getting it done by the end of the year. Before you know it you’ll have a full set of documents in your hands. Knowing your family is going to be taken care of, and your intentions are going to be carried out will bring you peace of mind.  And it is a very nice holiday gift for you and your loved ones.