Our Services

Estate Planning & Probate Litigation Services

Below you'll find the essential list of services we offer our clients (though this list is not exclusive), followed by a brief explanation of these services. If you have questions at any time about your situation and whether or not we can help you, please call 805-392-9639 or contact us online.

  • Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts, including Special Needs and Charitable Trusts
  • Wills
  • Health Care Directives
  • Durable Power of Attorney
  • Sweeper Provisions
  • Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements
  • Contracts for Unmarried Persons
  • Business Succession Planning
  • Vacation Home Planning
  • Inheritance Challenges
  • Undue Influence
  • Breach of Fiduciary Duty
  • Administration of Estate Plans
  • Administration of Estates

Drafting and Updating Estate Plans

Minimizing state and federal estate, gift, income and capital gains taxes is the tail that wags the dog in estate planning.

You must take these considerations into account - but not at the expense of your primary legacy wishes.

  • Legacy Wishes: Meaning to whom and under what conditions your property will be inherited by your heirs, loved ones and the objects of your philanthropic and charitable interests.

Both life and the law change over time, sometimes dramatically, so it's important to make regular updates to your estate plan, not just at birth, death, or serious illness/injury. Legal changes can happen without much notice. If timely action is taken by using the tools discussed below regarding legacy wishes and special needs, the adverse impacts of these changes may be minimized, if not avoided entirely.

Ultimately, estate planning tools are effective when used to minimize state and federal estate, gift, income and capital gains taxes, as well as to carry out your primary legacy wishes to protect your heirs and loved ones.

Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts

In general, these allow you to (1) protect assets from taxes, probate and sometimes even litigation and (2) ensure your assets pass according to your wishes (without general public disclosure) and to generate income.

  • Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust: The CRAT provides for an annual distribution to you or to designated family members while you are still living. Upon death, the remaining assets are distributed to the beneficiary charity. When structured properly, there may be no income, gift, or estate taxes.
  • Charitable Lead Annuity Trust: The CLAT is primarily used to reduce the taxable income of an estate. The trust donates to a charitable foundation or other qualifying charity for a fixed period at an amount that will offset the estate tax burden. The remainder transfers to your heirs on your death. When set up properly, there may be no capital gains taxes or estate taxes.
  • Grantor Retained Annuity Trust: The GRAT minimizes tax liability during intergenerational transfers of estate assets.
  • Special Needs Trust: These protect against Medicaid and Social Security claims or offsets on the assets of the special needs recipient of those benefits. The trust may be either self-stated and funded with your own assets to protect them from your personal "special needs" or created and funded by you and/or others to provide for a loved one with "special needs."

Under these plans, an irrevocable trust is created for a certain term or time period. The individual establishing the trust pays a tax when the trust is established. Assets are placed under the trust and then an annuity is paid out every year. When the trust expires the beneficiary receives the assets tax free. With these plans, the annuity payments come from interest earned on the assets underlying the trust or as a percentage of the total value of the assets. However, if the individual who establishes the trust dies before the trust expires, the assets become part of the taxable estate of the individual, and the beneficiary receives nothing, unless your plan for your taxable estate makes a separate provision for such an occurrence.

Wills

Wills state who will inherit your estate upon your death, can provide for a guardian of your minor children and will assure oversight by a probate judge along with the attendant public disclosure, expense and time that it takes for such legal procedure to be implemented.

Health Care Directives

Appoints another person to make healthcare decisions on your behalf when you are unable and declares your wishes regarding heroic measures and end-of-life decisions. This document has tremendous impact on all concerned and too often is overlooked when planning could eliminate need for last-minute anxiety in the face of powerless helplessness of both the person who failed to plan (and no longer is able to speak or act) and those to whom he or she is a loved one.

For example, Romney Law Offices may help you declare what measure you do want and what measure you don't want. There are many scenarios such as vegetative state (brain death), coma, cardiac arrest, congestive heart failure or the advanced stages of cancer. A Health Care Directive is not a "yes or no" proposition. You may want some heroic measures such as resuscitation and blood transfusions but not others such as intubation or intravenous sustenance. You might want to be kept alive indefinitely or "let go" if two or more doctors agree you will not recover consciousness or will become bedridden and entirely dependent on extreme medical care. In addition, you may decide that at the end of your life you would prefer to die at home rather than at a hospital. These matters all require your serious thought and direction.

Durable Powers of Attorney

A durable power of attorney appoints another person to act as an attorney-in-fact for financial and other personal affairs as identified in the document. The person serving need not be an attorney so, to that extent, it is a misnomer. The powers of the person acting on your behalf must be set forth specifically in the document. Powers should be broad enough to include gifting (in case long term care becomes necessary in the future). In addition, since banks, stock brokerages and other financial institutions have their own internal considerations that sometimes make use of a Durable Power of Attorney difficult, effort should be made to assure their practical usefulness through contact and approval by these entities while the grantor of the Durable Power of Attorney (who is you) still are able to participate.

Sweeper Provisions

Sweeps property intended to be placed in trust into the trust by expressly contemplating that a "Heggstadt motion" may be brought to authorize the transfer to the trust if such property is left out of trust inadvertently.

Family Law Considerations

May require drafting prenuptial, post-nuptial agreements and affidavits or contracts for unmarried partners.

Business Succession Planning

Buy-sell agreements, family limited partnerships, limited liability companies (LLC), and Subchapter S corporations.

Vacation Home Planning

Vacation home planning often becomes difficult when the original owners - all of whom get along - die. Thereafter the operation and funding of the vacation home may become problematic without planning. And the "problematic" issues become ever more prominent with the coming of each new generation. A family limited partnership or a trust may be the answer.

Estate Administration

Romney Law Offices serves as counsel to advise and implement the administration of an estate plan and, also, for intestate estates (meaning an estate administered in accordance with state law because there is no will or trust). The services include assuring proper accounting to the court and the estate, assuring valuation of the estate for tax purposes, and its distribution after notice to creditors and others entitled to statutory notice.

Inheritance Challenges

Inheritance challenges range from questioning the mental capacity and competence of the person who wrote the will or trust, challenging that "undue influence" has illegally and adversely affected the judgment exercised by the person who wrote the will or trust or a challenge that a "fiduciary duty" owed by virtue of the terms of a will or trust or the applicable law to those instruments has occurred - to a myriad of other issues including claims of pretermission of an heir (meaning improper omission as a subject of inheritance) and alleged improper valuation of the estate that is the subject of the will or trust.

Such challenges have become almost common place since the legal force and effect of "no contest" clauses steadily has been eroded due to new case law and statutory amendment. Romney Law Offices serves as trial counsel for both petitioners (meaning plaintiffs) and respondents (meaning defendants) when facts supporting or claimed to support these challenges exist.

Undue Influence

Is an equitable cause of action brought before the court when a person is taking advantage of a position of power over another person. This inequity in power between the parties can nullify the party's consent subject to the "undue influence," as they are unable to freely exercise their independent will. Romney Law Offices serves as trial counsel when this circumstance arises and requires court action as the remedy.

Breach of Fiduciary Duty

A trustee of a trust, an executor of a will and an administrator of an intestate estate (meaning an estate administered under state law since there is no will or trust) is a fiduciary. A fiduciary duty is an obligation to act in the best interest of another party. A person acting in a fiduciary capacity is held to a high standard of honesty and full disclosure in regard to the client and must not obtain a personal benefit at the expense of the client.

Where the facts establish or otherwise claim a breach of fiduciary duty Romney Law Offices serves as legal counsel for petitioners (plaintiffs) and respondents (defendants).