Navigating The Complexities Of Estate Planning Law: Key Insights

navigating the complexities of estate planning law key insights

If you don’t grow up in a family where estate planning is the norm, or you suffer from some of the most common estate planning myths (we aren’t rich enough, don’t have enough property, already told everyone who gets what, etc.), estate planning can feel intimidating.

Yet, the sooner you create an estate plan – no matter how simple – the more you avoid complexities altogether because your plan evolves with you.

5 Key Insights For Simplifying Estate Planning & Avoiding Probate Hurdles

Here are five significant insights from Bay Area estate planning attorneys that help to demystify the process. 

Without an estate plan, your family could wind up in probate

Probate court is no fun. While it typically follows California’s straightforward intestate succession laws, the process is a nightmare for your loved ones. In California, probate is unavoidable if someone dies without a will/trust and assets that do not qualify for simple transfer total $166,250. 

Let’s use some definitions:

  • Probate. Probate is the general administration of a deceased person’s will or the estate of a deceased person without a will. Your estate will go through probate when you die. However, the probate process is either facilitated and overseen by your trustee or executor and the estate attorney if you have an official will/trust OR it goes through the state’s probate court, which is far more complicated and cumbersome for loved ones.
  • Assets that do not qualify for simple transfer. Many of your bank accounts, retirement savings accounts, and investment accounts offer the option to choose direct “beneficiaries.” You can choose a single person OR multiple people (in which case you state what percentage of the total goes to whom). Once the beneficiaries prove you’ve died and fill out the necessary forms, the money/assets are automatically transferred to them. 
  • Pay Upon Death (POD). Financial accounts that offer pre-designated beneficiaries are considered Pay Upon Death (POD) after you die. 

So, our first key insight is that having an official will, trust, or estate plan – no matter how simple – is well worth your time and minimal investment compared to what your family will have to deal with if you die without a legally sound plan.

Estate planning is NOT for the rich

Another critical insight is that estate planning is not for the rich. And, to take that a step further, creating an estate plan is a way to accumulate more sustainable wealth (see next). If you’re under the assumption that you don’t need an estate plan (yet), consider the following:

Estate planning is for anyone who:

So, even if your “estate” is valued under the CA probate maximum of $166,250, most adults (and their families) are better off with a legally sound estate plan in place. 

Estate plans can save families thousands of dollars in taxes and fees

Once you do own real property, your estate plan can save you and your loved ones money, which goes right back into your pocket. Examples include:

  • Properties held in a family trust, saving your loved ones from taxes and inheritance fees when you die.
  • Establishing how much money to distribute as “gifts” to family members each year to optimize your net worth while minimizing the amount you owe in taxes each year.
  • Estate planning techniques that minimize the valuation of properties in the trust, minimizing annual taxes.
  • We also advise clients on planning for annual charitable giving or charitable estate plan contributions that can minimize tax obligations.

A single, fee-based consultation with a qualified estate attorney is all you’ll need to glean important insights about how and what type of an estate plan can benefit you.

An old estate plan may be contestible if you haven’t updated it

Some people make the mistake of creating a DIY estate plan and “calling it good.” This may be fine if you have a very simple estate and die within a few months after creating it. However, an old or outdated will, trust, or complete estate plan is easily contested if significant changes have occurred since you created it.

For example:

  • You may have designated an heir or beneficiary who has died or who is no longer in the family picture. They still get that money, property, etc., because the most recent document prevails – no matter how old it is. If your family contests it, all of your efforts are for nothing.
  • The previously designated trustee may be deceased, divorced from your family, or no longer physically/mentally able to carry out that responsibility, which can throw the whole thing back into probate.
  • Changes in your financial or property ownership status may have changed, sending the trustee/executor or family members on a wild goose chase as they try to figure out what’s what.

If you don’t want to have your estate contested in court (and you’d be surprised because death raises ugly energies in even some of the closest families – especially if parents or elders made verbal promises about inheritances) – create an official estate plan with a legitimate state planning attorney.

Your estate plan is a living document that requires annual visits

That brings us to one of the most important insights around estate planning: your estate plan is a living document that changes along with your life – and the lives of those included in the plan. When you work with an estate planning attorney, we remind you of this fact.


  • Send reminders about revisiting your estate plan and scheduling an appointment if you want support or need to amend anything.
  • Communicate any significant tax or legal changes that could affect your estate plan.
  • Share information about things to consider as you and your estate plan grow older.
  • And more.

Don’t let your will, trust, or official estate plan sit in a folder somewhere. Take it out, dust it off, and read it carefully. You’ll be surprised how much can change in just a single year or two.

Ready to Create or Revisit Your Estate Plan? Tseng Law Is Here For You

Are you ready to finally get down to the basics of estate planning and begin creating a personalized plan? Do you have an outdated estate plan you’d like to revamp? 

Schedule a consultation with Tseng Law Firm, and we’ll ensure you and your loved ones are cared for no matter what the future may bring. We promise that navigating the complexities of estate planning law with a trusted guide brings invaluable peace of mind.