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An Overview of Estate Planning: An Interview with Scott Fisher of Scott D. Fisher and Associates

By Scott Fisher

Tell us a little bit about your company and its foundation.

I founded my law firm in 1995. I proudly assist clients with their estate planning, probate and trust administration needs within offices maintained in Beverly Hills and Palm Springs. I have developed a wealth of knowledge, experience and efficiency that benefits my clients. Even further, I understand and appreciate that estate planning issues raise important and difficult questions for clients to consider. I strive to carefully, thoroughly and sensitively explain to clients the many alternatives that they should consider when formulating and documenting their estate planning wishes. It is important to my practice that I maintain open lines of communication with my clients at all times through our working relationship, and that my clients fully understand and appreciate how their estate planning decisions will serve to fulfill and honor their expressed wishes.

Can you briefly state for our readers a generalized definition of estate planning?

Estate planning typically involves the preparation of Will and Trust documentation, with the goal of clearly and effectively providing for and respecting my clients' specifically expressed instructions regarding transfer of their assets and specific belongings to their intended individual and charitable beneficiaries. My law firm also prepares Advance Health Care Directives and Durable Power of Attorney documents that govern health care and financial decisions for the client in the unfortunate event of incapacity during his/her lifetime.

Probate and trust administration typically come into focus upon the death of a loved one. If the individual died with a Will document as the sole estate planning document, or if the individual died without a Will, that person's estate is subject to administration through the formal court process known as probate. Probate actions typically take six months, and even longer, completion of this process and, ultimately, for distribution of assets to the identified beneficiaries.

Trust administration arises after the death of an individual who has formed a Trust during his/her lifetime. Under most circumstances, formation of a Trust will eliminate the need for formal court oversight of the administration of the individual's estate. The most commonly identified type of Trust is identified as the Revocable Living Trust. This form of Trust provides for complete flexibility and control retained by the person who has set up the Trust. The Trust requires that the client transfer title/ownership of his/her major assets of value into the Trust. All aspects of setting up the Trust are thoroughly explained to my clients before we begin this process.

At what age should you start planning your estate details?

There is no set age when someone should begin to formulate their estate planning wishes. Instead, it is more dependent upon the occurrence or change in lifetime events. Some examples of such events would include a client's marriage, addition of children or other dependents to the client's family, acquisition of valuable assets such as real property, 1financial/investment accounts, receipt of an inheritance, or the death or serious illness of a spouse or family member.

What can be expected from a basic estate contract?

By the term "basic estate contract", I assume that you are referring to a basic estate plan. For those clients who do not own real property and or other significant financial assets, the Will document may suffice to adequately reflect and provide for the clients' estate planning needs. Yet, for those clients who own real property and/or financial assets, it is important to understand and appreciate the concept of more sophisticated estate planning devices, such as the Revocable Living Trust mentioned above. The goal for most clients is to avoid the formal probate system, due to its significant delays in distribution and to the very substantial expenses that result from administration of an estate through the probate process. I can assist to accomplish this crucial goal for clients through the preparation of a Revocable Living Trust.

How is estate planning different from the creation of a will?

Estate planning involves a broader analysis and evaluation of the client's assets, relationships and expressed wishes with regard to how they wish to distribute their assets upon their death. This is a very complex area of law, and it is woefully inadequate for an attorney to simply prepare a Will for a client, and for that client to expect that the Will document will serve to accomplish all of the client's wishes upon his/her death. Estate planning also takes into account the client's potential exposure to estate taxes upon death, and strives to minimize such taxes while simultaneously honoring the client's instructions to distribute his/her assets upon death.

Are there different types of estate planning lawyers?

There are many different types of estate planning attorneys. Some attorneys focus upon the area of elder law, which involves financial and health care issues for the elderly community, and their eligibility for governmental benefits that will assist with the substantial health care expenses that often arise later in life. Other attorneys' practice focus upon the preparation of estate planning documentation for clients, while others provide services for the administration of formal probate court actions, and other practices are devoted to the administration of estates formed under trusts.

How do estate planning laws vary from state to state?

There are significant variations of estate planning laws from state to state. Some variations involve the complexity and time frame for formal probate actions. Other states permit individuals to own certain types of assets, such as real property, through documents that more directly provide for the transfer of such assets upon death. One example of this variation in documentation includes the Beneficiary Deed that, essentially, provides for the transfer of real property to a designated individual without requiring the owner to designate such real property within a formal Will or Trust document.

What is the best way for people to reach you and or your company?

I strongly encourage people to contact me at my office, at (323) 944-0011. Alternatively, people can send a brief introductory email to me at scott@scottfisherlaw.com. I pride myself upon prompt and efficient communications with my clients, and I absolutely welcome your readers to contact me with their questions, without any obligation to me whatsoever. I offer an initial, free in-person consultation for all potential clients. It is important to me that my clients meet with me in person, initially, in order to appreciate the knowledge, integrity and comfort that I will provide to them through our working relationship.

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