Posts by category

Contact Us

Law Office of Janet L. Brewer
2501 Park Boulevard Suite 100
Palo Alto, CA 94306

palo alto estate planning    (650) 325-8276
palo alto estate planning    (650) 325-8296
palo alto estate planning   Email - Contact Us

Serving Palo Alto, Atherton, Portola Valley, Woodside, Los Altos, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Menlo Park, Redwood City, Belmont, San Carlos, San Mateo, Burlingame, Santa Clara, Cupertino, Saratoga, Los Gatos, Campbell, San Jose, and all of Santa Clara County, San Mateo County, Alameda County, San Francisco County, Santa Cruz County, and Silicon Valley.

Probate, Trusts, and Estate Law Blog

Current Articles | RSS Feed RSS Feed

Helping Your Elderly Parents Plan Their Estate


estate planning for the elderlyAs the Baby Boomer generation continues to age, millions of Americans are finding themselves in an awkward, critical position: their elderly parents are need assistance with their estate planning, but they are hesitant to ask for help from their adult children or don’t think they need to plan their estate at all.

This can be a very delicate situation, both on a personal and legal level. Children only want the best for their parents – and they will end up having to handle any issues with the estate that surface after their parents are gone. On the other hand, parents may continue to be private about their financial lives or simply stubborn that the time has come to plan.

How can you help your elderly parents plan their estate?

  • Put their health and care first. The most important aspects of your elderly parents’ estate plan don’t have to do with their property or their wealth. Instead, your primary focus should be to ensure that they have the funds to live comfortably and pay for their end-of-life care. In addition, you need to make sure that they have a power of attorney for health care so that someone they trust will be in charge of their health care decisions in case they become incapacitated.
  • Set up a durable power of attorney. Sadly, as your parents age, the chances increase that they won’t be able to make their own financial decisions. Setting up a durable power of attorney can give everyone in the family peace knowing that they will be cared for by someone loving and able. It also ensures that they will have complete control until they can no longer care for themselves.
  • Understand their wishes. Do you really know what your parents want from their estate plan, or are you just making assumptions? If your parents are able, sit them down and have a serious talk about what they want: from their end-of-life care to their will to their charitable causes. Once you know exactly what their goals are, it will be easier to take the first step toward creating an estate plan with a professional.
  • Look for financial abuse. Especially if your parents are in an assisted living home, or especially they will be passing on significant wealth, you should familiarize yourself with the red flags of financial abuse. Are your parents withdrawing unusual sums of money, missing key payments, or becoming confused about their finances? The elderly are also often targets of scams, and you may be the only person who can alert them to the danger.
  • Respect their personal boundaries. Even if you believe you are doing what is best for your parents, at some point you have to respect their wishes. If they are mentally competent and understand their actions, and if they are sure they do not need assistance, you may not be able to help them.
  • Bring in help. Your parents may not feel comfortable having you help them with their financial planning and end-of-life plan. Or they may not trust that you have all of the answers. They may be more amenable to having an outside professional help, including a tax accountant, a financial planner, and an estate planner.

Estate planning for the elderly is vital – and if your parents need help, we can provide that assistance with patience and understanding. To learn more about our California estate planning services, please call The Law Office of Janet Brewer today: (650) 325-8276.

photo credit: moodboardphotography via photopin cc

All the best,
Janet Brewer

When Should I Begin Estate Planning?

estate planning

Many people have the misconception that estate planning is reserved for the very old or the very rich. However, estate planning can help the majority of people protect the ones they love, protect themselves, and protect the assets that they have. While estate planners will tell you that it is never too early to begin planning your estate, there are a few times in life when you should absolutely begin to consider what would happen if you were to die or become incapacitated.

  • You are getting married. Getting married means joining your life with another person’s and taking mutual responsibility for each other. Once you are married, it is important to have a clear plan for what would happen if one or both of you should unexpectedly die or be injured. Marriage also usually increases your assets, making it more important to have a plan for those assets.
  • You are having a child. Even more than marriage, having a child ties you to another person forever. Until your child can care for himself, you and the other parent are solely responsible for his wellbeing and care. Planning your estate is absolutely the best way to ensure that your children are cared for in the event that you cannot care for them yourself.
  • You are entering a dangerous profession. People who engage in dangerous types of work or who engage in risk-taking in some other facet of their life should seriously consider planning their estate early. While no one wishes to think about the worst that could happen, it is critical that you understand the risks that you are undertaking and taking responsibility for the possible consequences.
  • There is a threat to your health or wellbeing. Perhaps you are having a major surgery, or perhaps you have found out about a long-term health problem or disease. These shocking turns of events are often reminders that life is precious and we have to plan for everything. This is especially time to set up your medical power of attorney, just in case someone needs to make medical decisions for you.
  • You have accumulated significant assets. Even if you are young, healthy, and single, estate planning may be a great idea if you have already accumulated significant wealth. If you don’t yet have a family, what would you like to have happen to your assets and property in the event of your death? What are your long-term plans and wishes?
  • You have strong feelings about what happens to your assets. Are you strongly tied to a cause or a charity? Do you wish to pass your assets on to someone that may not otherwise get them if you don’t outline it in your will? These are two great reasons to plan your estate even if you don’t have a family and even if you aren’t approaching retirement.

Are you ready to start planning your estate? The Law Office of Janet Brewer is here to help. Call today to speak to a Palo Alto estate planner: (650) 325-8276.

photo credit: Glyn Lowe Photoworks. via photopin cc

All the best,
Janet Brewer

International Estate Planning and the Question of Domicile


domicile Home is where the heart is, right? Unfortunately, the matter is not quite that simple when it comes to international estate planning. Establishing where you home – referred to officially as your domicile by attorneys and the government – is located can have important consequences when it comes to estate planning, taxation, divorce, and inheritance. This is the case whether you spend time in more than one state or more than one country.

Here’s one illustration of how domicile can affect your life if you spend significant amounts of time in more than one country: If you are a non-citizen who splits time between a flat in London and a house in California, you could either receive a $60,000 estate tax exemption or a $3.5 million estate tax exemption depending on whether you qualify for a “domicile” or “non-domicile” exemption.

Determining Your Domicile

So, how do you know where your domicile is located? It is not as easy as stating it in paperwork or checking a box when you fill out tax forms. It is also not an entirely back-and-white issue: your domicile can depend on a large number of factors, and often your domicile will be determined on an individual, case-by-case basis.

Legally, domicile is defined as the place that you reside permanently: the place that you intent to return to eventually (if you are currently living somewhere else) and the place that you wish to remain indefinitely once you are there. However, for many families who have multiple residences and split their time somewhat evenly between homes, establishing domicile can be difficult. The government may use the following factors to find an answer:

  • What is your visa status?
  • Where do you spend the most time out of the year?
  • What is the value of your property in each location?
  • Where do you do business?
  • Where are you registered to vote?
  • Where are your vehicles registered?
  • Where are you active in the community?
  • Where do you file your taxes?
  • Where do your pets live?
  • Where do you intend to be buried?

Since where your domicile is located can have a huge affect on how you are taxed, taking any extra precaution to establish your domicile is recommended. Start by making certain that your estate planning documents, such as your will, clearly state your domicile.

California Estate Planning for International Families

If you have property abroad, live abroad for a significant part of the year, or are married to an non-resident, you may wish to take extra care when planning your estate. At The Law Office of Janet Brewer, we have extensive experience working with international families and couples. Call us today to make certain your estate is protected and to minimize tax penalities: (650) 325-8276.

photo credit: geraldbrazell via photopin cc

All the best,
Janet Brewer

Four Great Reasons for International Estate Planning


Estate planning is extremely important for anyone who cares for their family and wants to protect what they have earned over their lifetime. But if you are part of an international family, if you are married to a non-citizen, or if you live abroad, you may have even more reasons to take the time to carefully plan your estate.

Here are four good reasons to look into international estate planning:

  • Lessen your tax burden. Did you know that non-citizens of the United States must follow different estate tax and gift tax laws than citizens? Or that if you own property abroad, you could end up getting taxed twice, in two different countries? Getting guidance from an estate planning attorney with experience in international estate planning can help you avoid these pitfalls, which could potentially cost you a significant portion of your wealth.
  • Prevent confusion and delays. International estate planning is an opportunity to deal with any issues related to taxes, family members abroad, and conflicts in inheritance laws, all while you are still present to answer questions and make your wishes clear. If you don’t plan your estate, the red tape could at best delay your loved ones getting the support they need and deserve. At worst, it could prevent your loved ones from getting what you wished for them at all.
  • Protect your wealth and property. When you don’t plan your estate, it is left in the hands of the government. You simply don’t have a say in what happens to everything that you have worked for. While the law attempts to make fair decisions, you will not have a chance to make your voice heard or make certain your assets end up in the right hands. If you have international property, the future of those assets could depend heavily on where they are located, and estate law can vary wildly from country to country.
  • Protect your children. Especially if you wish your children to have a guardian who lives abroad, it is essential that you plan your estate so that your guardianship wishes are clear. International families should consider appointing both a temporary and permanent guardian. We also encourage that these families clearly outline why they have made the best choice for their kids.

Planning your estate when you have property overseas, or when you or your spouse is not a United States resident, can feel overwhelming. However, that is not a good reason to avoid taking steps toward completing the planning. At the Law Office of Janet Brewer, our knowledgeable California estate planners have extensive experience dealing with international families and non-residents. Call our law office today to make certain your family, your property, and your interests are protected correctly: (650) 325-8276.

photo credit: iowa_spirit_walker via photopin cc

All the best,
Janet Brewer

Who Can Benefit From International Estate Planning?


international estate planningThere are a number of common misconceptions regarding international estate planning and international tax law – and each year these misconceptions lead to families finding themselves facing tax problems, financial losses, guardianship issues, and other serious problems. Many of these issues can be avoided altogether with forward-thinking international estate planning.

Who should consider finding an attorney who has experience with international estate planning? It is not, as many people think, only those who have dual citizenship or those who are married to a non-citizen. It is for anyone who might have interests, assets, or loved ones living abroad, or for anyone who is living abroad in the United States. You may benefit from the services of an international estate planner if:

  • You are a United States citizen who owns significant assets and property abroad.
  • You are a United States citizen married to a non-citizen of the United States.
  • You are a non-citizen of the United States married to a citizen or with significant assets and property in the U.S.
  • You are a U.S. visa holder in the process of securing a green card.
  • You are a United States citizen living abroad permanently or who spends significant time at an overseas residence.
  • You are a United States resident who wishes to name an international guardian for your children.
  • You are unsure in which country your “domicile” is legally located.
  • You are concerned that your international property may be subject to double taxation.
  • You are concerned that your overseas assets or property may be subject to forced heirship laws or mandatory inheritance laws.
  • You are not sure how a United States estate tax treaty will affect your international estate plan.
  • You believe you need assistance with setting up a qualified domestic trust (QDOT).

Remember: even if you are not sure whether you need an estate planner with international experience, speaking with one of our attorneys can help you confirm the answer and make certain your estate is in proper order.

Do you have a question about international estate taxes, estate tax law for non-citizens, or international guardianship law? Would you like to make certain that your wealth is distributed properly and quickly in the event of your death? Would you like to ensure that your children are cared for by the correct legal guardian if something happens to you? At the Law Office of Janet Brewer, we can help you with all of these needs. To get your questions answered, to speak to a California estate planner, or to schedule an appointment, please call (650) 325-8276.

photo credit: sarah sosiak via photopin cc

All the best,
Janet Brewer

International Estate Planning: Establishing Your Domicile


domicile In one of our recent blog posts, we discussed the legal term “domicile” and outlined exactly why it is so important to establish the correct domicile during the estate planning process. If you are part of an international family, or if you or your spouse is a non-resident of the United States, correctly establishing your domicile may save you significantly when it comes to estate taxes and gift taxes.

It is critical to understand that there is no black-and-white test to determine where your domicile is located. Instead, officials may take an overall look at your life before deciding where your permanent residence is and how you should pay your taxes. Because of this system, there are certain steps that you can take to make your primary place of residence very clear. Here are some ways to get started:

  • Spend time in your domicile. Officials will wish to know how many days of the year you were in each location. The more time you spend in one place, the more clear your residence.
  • Take steps to become a permanent resident in the United States. Your visa will often reflect your long-term intentions. If you are striving to secure a green card or to become a citizen, you make it clear you want to remain in the United States.
  • Get active in your community. Join organizations, attend events, and donate to local charities. Anything that you contribute to your community is evidence that you care about the area and want to put down roots there. 
  • Establish your everyday life there. Where is your drivers’ license from and where is your car registered? What address is associated with your credit cards? Where are you registered to vote? These are easy, inexpensive changes you can make that go a long way toward establishing your domicile.
  • Leave your other life behind. If you are establishing a your domicile somewhere new, take steps to distance yourself from your old residence, even if you still live there part time. Change you address on all of your accounts, try not to spend too much of the year there, and move your pets and big pieces of personal property to your new place.
  • Move your business interests. Where you do business reflects where you consider home. If you are not retired, your business interests should stick closer to where you want to establish your domicile. Limit or end your business near your old residency if possible.
  • Declare your domicile in your documents. All of your estate planning documents, such as your will, should state your domicile outright. An experienced estate planning lawyer can make certain that this is the case.

Are you part of an international family that worries how your domicile might affect your taxes and your estate planning efforts? At The Law Office of Janet Brewer, we can help you make certain that your estate plan is sensible and optimal. Call today to speak with an experienced, skilled California estate planner: (650) 325-8276.

photo credit: geraldbrazell via photopin cc

All the best,
Janet Brewer

Personal Legacy Letters: Estate Planning from the Heart

personal legacy letter

Estate planning isn’t all about assets, tax laws, and legal documents. In fact, at the heart of estate planning is your wish to care for the people and causes that you love, for as long after you are gone as possible. With this in mind, it is easy to see that not all aspects of your estate plan need the assistance of your lawyer, your accountant, or your financial advisor.

One item that we recommend our clients consider is a personal legacy letter: an opportunity to say all of the things that you would say to your friends and family if you knew you only had one last chance. These letters can vary widely in scope, length, and subject matter, but in many cases they can be the most precious item a loved one can leave behind.

What can you write in your personal legacy letter?

  • Share how you feel about your loved ones. Write personal notes to your family and close friends, even if it is simply to say that you love them, that you are proud of them, or that you are there for them. These words may seem strange to write, but they are extremely meaningful to your loved ones after you are gone.
  • Tell your story. What do you want future generations (or just your grown children) to know about you, your life, and your accomplishments? What stories do you want to tell? What do you want people to know about your internal life, your decisions, and your dreams? Take the time to write down all of the things that only you know about your life.
  • Share what you’ve learned. Do you have life lessons that you wish to pass on? Or wisdom that you think could help others? This is your opportunity to help your children and others benefit from your experiences.
  • Distribute meaningful family items. This may be the best place to outline who gets your grandfather’s pocket watch as well as to write about the history of that watch. Remember to note where these items are located along with any special care instructions.
  • Leave instructions regarding other personal items. What would you like your family to do with your personal letters, creative writing, art, or other similar items? Where are these items located? Some people may want their letters to be read and shared, while others might wish for these items to be stored to destroyed.

Remember: your personal legacy letter does not have to be a physical letter at all: some people make audio or video recordings. You may even consider interviewing some of your older relatives to create a lasting document that will be valuable for many generations to come.

Do you need assistance with California estate planning? For more information, or to speak with a San Jose estate planning attorney, call The Law Office of Janet Brewer today: (650) 325-8276.

photo credit: rfduck via photopin cc

All the best,
Janet Brewer

Understanding Untied States Estate Tax Treaties & Gift Tax Treaties


Purchasing foreign property often comes with being closer to family, rewarding cultural experiences, international adventure, and the realization of long-held dreams. It could also mean having a home away from home in a relaxing place or near loved ones who live overseas. However, although owning foreign property can enrich your life, it can also cause complications when it comes to taxes, estate planning, and inheritance. It is vital that you understand the implications of buying property abroad and work with an experienced attorney to avoid issues like double taxation and mandatory inheritance laws.

Unfortunately, there are very limited international estate tax laws – and estate tax and gift tax laws can vary drastically from country to country. This lack of consistency can lead to double taxation and large amounts of confusion, especially if it is unclear which country the owner lives in permanently. To fight some of these ambiguities and complexities, the United States has established treaties with 18 different countries. These treaties establish specific rules related to estate taxes, gift taxes, and the determining where a resident is domiciled. In many cases, the treaties provide a tax credit in the country of residence so that the estate’s owner does not have to pay estate taxes twice.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, the United States has estate tax and gift tax treaties with the following countries:

  • Australiaestate tax treaties
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • South Africa
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom

The details of each of these treaties may be different. It is critical to speak with an experienced international estate planning lawyer about your case if you have foreign property in one of these countries. 

Whether you have property in a foreign country or whether you are considering a purchase overseas, you may wish to fully understand the tax implications of such a decision. Our California estate tax law office works with a number of clients who are non-residents or who hold international property – and we can help you with a large number of legal issues related to international estate planning. To learn more about our services or to request an initial consultation, call The Law Office of Janet Brewer today: (650) 325-8276.

photo credit: dcgreer via photopin cc

All the best,
Janet Brewer

California Estate Planning for New Parents in Five Steps

estate planning for new parents

When we think of estate planning, we usually think of senior citizens, those approaching retirement, or those with significant wealth. However, estate planning is something that adults of most ages should be engaging in – and it is especially important for couples that are just starting out as parents.

As soon as you have a child, you have a person who you are responsible for protecting – and someone that you wish to support and protect even after your death. Life is no longer just about you, and you now have more reason than ever to be concerned with what happens to your assets and your loved ones in case of a tragedy. Below, we’ve listed five steps you can take to plan your estate after becoming new parents.

  • Consider life insurance. The need for life insurance is usually minimal before you have dependents. But once you have children, you need a plan in case the unthinkable happens before they are old enough to support themselves. Remember that your life insurance plan should be enough to cover all of the expenses of raising a child, including childcare, healthcare, and schooling.
  • Choose guardians. Choosing a guardian for your children can be an extremely difficult choice, but don’t put off the task for this reason. In California, those who don’t their outline guardianship wishes before they die will have a guardian chosen by the state. Make sure your voice is heard – and that the person or family you choose knows about your decision.
  • Write a will. Yes, it is very hard to think about your eventual death, and perhaps harder to think about your loved ones moving on through life without you. But even though you may have many decades of health and happiness left, you never know what will happen. A will helps ensure that your wishes will be followed after your death and that your child receives the support and care that he or she needs despite your absence. Note that a do-it-yourself online will may not be valid and may not correctly outline your wishes.
  • Learn about trusts. Trusts are not just for the super wealthy: they are great tools for parents who wish to protect their assets from taxes, for parents who want to give back to their kids, and for the parents of special needs children. Trusts may also be especially important if you or your spouse is a not a citizen of the United States.
  • Write a personal legacy letter. Not all estate planning has to do with money, property, and wealth. Leaving behind you thoughts, passions, and hopes in a letter can help your loved ones remember you and pass on your memory to others. Legacy letters are especially valuable if you have very young children who may not remember you well or who may not yet understand who you are as a person.

Having young children doesn’t leave you much time to cross items off of your long-term to-do list, but making the above steps is critically important to your kids and your family. Call The Law Office of Janet Brewer today to ensure you’ve done all you can to support your children in the future, no matter what happens: (650) 325-8276.

photo credit: limaoscarjuliet via photopin cc

All the best,
Janet Brewer

Estate Planning for Women: Six Essential Tips

estate planning for women

While estate planning is vital to anyone who wishes to pass their wealth on to their loved ones, it can be especially important to women. Why? One big reason is that women live significantly longer than men. This means that they often outlive their husbands, sometimes remarry, and likely need more money for senior care in their later years. Let’s take a closer look at some of the estate planning issues that women should understand as they prepare for retirement and beyond.

  • Women need wills, too. Some women make very dangerous and inaccurate assumptions about estate planning: some think that their husband’s will is enough. Some think that others will know exactly what her wishes are after her death. Some think that they don’t have enough assets to do any estate planning at all. Some assume that their children will automatically split her assets correctly and fairly upon her death. In reality, everyone should understand that a will is there to protect your interests, cut through red tape, and help ensure that your wishes are heard.
  • Durable power of attorney is an absolute must. On average, women live six years longer than men. This means that they are more likely to face their last years alone and more likely to be incapacitated near the end of their lives. It is imperative that ever woman appoints someone trustworthy who can make important financial decisions for them if that time comes after their spouse has passed on.
  • Reevaluate your estate plan after your spouse’s death. You might have planned your entire lives together, but when you are left alone, with whatever assets you have accumulated, you have a lot of important decisions to make. Ensuring that you have enough retirement assets and ensuring that your family’s wealth goes to the people and causes you care about most should be two of your top priorities.
  • Don’t forget about estate planning during a divorce. Studies show that women are more likely to secure the marital house during a divorce and less likely to secure their fair share of retirement accounts and investments. Even if you are divorcing at a young age, remember that your future estate is in the balance – and that in many states you have a right to your fair share of the family retirement account.
  • Trusts aren’t just for the super wealthy. It’s a misconception that only the rich need to utilize trusts in their estate planning. In reality, many people benefit from trusts, including women who wish to provide for their children from a previous marriage.
  • Remarry with caution. It is becoming more and more common for female seniors to remarry – either after a spouse dies or after a late-in-life divorce. Women considering remarriage should be sure to protect the financial interests of themselves and their children before making their vows. This could include a prenuptial agreement, a gift-giving plan for your children and loved ones, and the creation of trusts.

It is never too early to begin planning your estate. If you are a woman who wants to protect her wealth and ensure comfort and care in her golden years, call The Law Office of Janet Brewer today: (650) 325-8276.

photo credit: moodboardphotography via photopin cc

All the best,
Janet Brewer

All Posts