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Top 5 Tips On Trusts And Estate Planning Presented During Court Buddy's May Meet-Up

Katie Lyon
Katie Lyon Student – University of California, Berkeley
Katie Lyon is an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley studying Political Economy and Conservation & Resource Studies, and hopes to pursue a career in environmental policy.
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    Melinda Gimpel on Unsplash
Will Document & Pen, estate planning

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Court Buddy began hosting monthly virtual Legal Meet-Ups to help people get advice from real lawyers on pressing legal topics. The Meet-Ups are run in a panel format, mediated by Court Buddy’s Chief Legal Officer Jennifer McGlone who asks the panelists questions submitted by you, our Court Buddy users. 

The first legal meet-up was held on May 8th and was attended by around 250 people across the United States. Seven Court Buddy lawyers participated as panelists.

Bradley Bailyn, Eafon Cobb, Lou Russo, Patricia De Fonte, Neil Opdahl-Lopez, Michael Neumann, and Bowen Klosinski discussed topics ranging from landlord-tenant issues to unemployment.  

Patricia De Fonte was our panelist answering questions on trusts and estate planning. She is an accomplished estate planning lawyer based in San Francisco, California.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to have your legal affairs in order. For this reason, much of the Meet-Up focused on these front-of-mind questions, including HIPAA waivers, the difference between a trust and a will, and whether estate planning can be done without a lawyer. 

Here are the five tips Patricia gave on trusts and estate planning presented during Court Buddy’s May Meet-Up. 

1. Share your advanced healthcare directives and HIPAA waivers with your loved ones.

Since we can't follow our loved ones into the hospital, whether they're going in for COVID or just about anything else,” Patricia De Fonte highly recommends organizing and sharing your advanced healthcare directives and HIPAA waivers

This is crucial. These documents enable “the people who are important to you [to understand] what you want to have happen… if you cannot advocate for yourself.” 

De Fonte informed listeners that they can usually get these for free on their state websites. In states like California, you can also get these forms from your healthcare providers. 

2. Don’t talk about the money. Focus on their wishes.

To begin a productive conversation about estate planning with your elderly parents or any loved one, focus the discussion on them. 

It can be hard to begin these important conversations without making your loved ones feel that you’re only interested in their money. 

Patricia De Fonte says, “Couch the conversation in… asking your parents what their wishes are for themselves. Making sure that they understand that this is about them maintaining control.” 

This is especially important while living through a public health crisis

De Fonte encouraged listeners to reframe estate planning through this lens. She says, “You or someone else they really trust is already in a good position to [take care of them] without interference from the courts.”

3. Make a trust or a will as soon as possible.

This goes for everyone, even if you are young and healthy. 

Dying without an estate plan can have serious backlash. This is referred to as “dying intestate,” and De Fonte informed listeners that “different states have different rules about who gets your stuff” in this scenario. 

To find out who would get your possessions if you die intestate (without a trust or will):

  1. Google the “Table of consanguinity” to see who you're related to under the statutes
  2. Then, Google “Intestate succession for (Your State)” to learn the default order for who will receive your possessions

If you are a bit confused about where to start with estate planning, read up on Patricia De Fonte’s explanation of the difference between a trust and a will, and what it means for a trust to be “funded.” 

4. Don’t use online estate planning tools in lieu of an attorney.

It can be tempting to use easy, cheaper, online services to make your estate plan. Don’t do it.

Patricia says,  “These tools are full of little things that will cause enormous problems later. They really lack a lot of clarity… and are generally not state specific.”

While a good trust made with the help of a lawyer is usually at least 50 pages, the much shorter trusts made online leave “endless possibilities for people to fight.”

If you are looking for more help making your estate plan, Court Buddy can connect you with a lawyer with experience in this field.

But, if you are really set on making your own estate plan without the help of a lawyer, De Fonte recommends using the “documents that were specifically created for you by your legislature,” most of which “come with really, really extensive instructions.”

5. Update your estate plan every three years.

It’s easy to put your estate plan under your bed and forget about it. 

But for every big change in your life (a death, a divorce, a birth), your plan should reflect that. 

De Fonte advised looking back at your estate plan “every time you do your tax returns” to ensure “all of your assets are transferred to your trust, if you have a trust.” 

This should happen at least every three years, ideally with your lawyer


If you would like to learn more, an excerpt of the transcript covering trusts and estates issues is available here. 


The next Court Buddy Legal Meet-Up will be held via zoom on June 26th. You can sign up to ask a question on our website or by calling us at 866-653-3017.


Legal Disclaimer

Court Buddy is here to connect you with an experienced and trusted lawyer who can help you at an affordable rate. The company assists with the management of your case and lawyer relationship. Your lawyer will assess your legal issue in a timely and confidential manner, explain why you need or do not need a lawyer, and only charge you for the legal services performed and associated out of pocket fees. This article is intended to convey general information and does not constitute legal advice.


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