PRACTICE AREAS

The Law Office of William S. Brodak is dedicated to helping individuals, couples, and families protect their assets and their loved ones. Will has the resources and experience to assist with estate planning and asset protection, elder law, legacy planning, aid and attendance benefits, and more. Contact the office to discuss representation in any of the following practice areas:

Estate planning through a will may be preferred based on the size of one’s estate, the desired effect (typically, with long term care planning between spouses), and client preference. It usually triggers a probate which is a court process to transfer assets to heirs or beneficiaries. Wills tend to cost less to set up than other estate planning devices (like Trusts), but the fees to complete the probate process may be considerable because they are based on the fair market value of the estate’s assets.
This estate planning device has three fundamental parts: 1) Trustee(s) who manage 2) assets on behalf of 3) beneficiaries. The creator of the trust (Trustor) may also be the trust manager (Trustee) who typically transfers title to assets in the name of the trust for various reasons: to avoid a probate, to reduce estate taxes, to provide post-death asset protection, etc. Benefits of a trust also exist where the Trustor loses mental capacity because a successor Trustee usually takes over control without court involvement.
To provide for a loved one with special needs, a particular type of trust should be prepared with language that will not interfere with the loved one’s ability to continue to qualify for public benefits, like Medi-Cal and SSI. A special needs trust (SNT) can hold a beneficiary’s inheritance and make distributions that supplement public benefits while avoiding disqualification and the potential State recovery after the beneficiary dies of the lifetime public benefits he or she received. Different types of SNTs may be drafted depending on whose assets are involved.
Clients may need advice in planning for long term care. Whether it is in-home supportive services, assisted living, a board and care, or skilled nursing, clients may access public benefits to help pay for this care. This planning may involve transfers of assets from the prospective public benefits recipient to others (parents, siblings, children, etc.) in order to qualify. Planning also must consider any potential lien against the client’s estate by the public benefits provider.
This type of planning involves nominating a guardian for minor children. In the absence of this planning, a court would impose its “best interests of the child” standard when selecting a guardian. But some clients may wish to designate a guardian nominee who more closely tracks the clients’ religious and moral beliefs, age, location, and lifestyle, and who has the desire and finances to take on such a commitment.
A “catch-all” phrase that encompasses the legal issues facing seniors as well as the disabled of any age. An Elder Law attorney typically advises clients in matters involving long term care planning and public benefits (Medi-Cal, SSI, Veterans, etc.), Special Needs Trusts, guardianship/conservatorship, estate and gift planning, various tax issues, etc. While some attorneys may practice in any one particular area, an Elder Law attorney often has to consider all of these areas in planning for the client’s care or a client’s loved one.
Without proper planning, clients facing a long term care situation may needlessly spend down assets that may otherwise remain intact and available for living expenses and other financial needs. Should an IRA be spent down? Should a child’s name be put on the deed to the home? What happens if both clients need long term care? Clients who engage in proper planning may address these concerns and still qualify for Medi-Cal. Even if Medi-Cal is initially denied, clients may benefit from an appeal which may increase the assets they can keep and still qualify for public benefits.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs provides a wide range of monetary benefits to veterans (and sometimes their families). Some of the financial benefits are based on the veteran’s military service (“service-connected”) while other benefits are not (“non-service connected”). Spouses, and even parents of deceased veterans, may also be eligible for certain benefits. A veteran may be eligible for “Aid & Attendance” which may be paid in addition to a non-service connected pension benefit.
When a person dies with assets and has only a will or no estate planning documents at all, the assets (depending on the dollar amount and type) may need to be inventoried and presented to the Probate court before they may be transferred to the decedent’s heirs or beneficiaries. This court process of marshaling and distributing a decedent’s estate is known as “probate administration”, or simply probate. The person appointed by the court to handle the probate is called an executor or a personal representative, and he/she may need to be bonded.
If a person’s estate plan includes a Trust that was executed and funded properly before death, then the Successor Trustee of the Trust may wind up the Trust creator’s (Trustor’s) affairs by administering the Trust and its assets. Filing formal proceedings in court are usually avoided because during Trust administration, the Successor Trustee has the authority to inventory and distribute the deceased Trustor’s property according to the terms of the Trust. By avoiding court involvement, costs of administration are often reduced while privacy is maintained.
Because probate can be a long and expensive process, clients try to avoid it, typically through their estate planning documents, or even more simply, through the way they hold title to their assets. Certain assets, like life insurance, IRA’s, etc., have an underlying contract which designates beneficiaries. Other assets, by operation of law, avoid probate because they revert to a co-owner, as in jointly held property. Trusts are often used to avoid probate, but this only works if the assets are properly titled as Trust assets or the Trust is named as a beneficiary in the underlying contract.
When an adult cannot take care of his or her personal needs (physical or financial), someone (Conservator) may be appointed by the Probate court to act on behalf of the disabled adult (Conservatee). A Conservator may have powers over only the Conservatee’s health, food, clothing, and shelter needs (called “Conservatorship of the Person”), and/or may have power over the Conservatee’s bank accounts and finances (called “Conservatorship of the Estate”) due to the Conservatee’s susceptibility to fraud or undue influence. Conservatorship is an ongoing, time consuming, and expensive process, and usually may be avoided by executing durable powers of attorney and advance health care directives before incapacity arises.