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Redlands California Estate Planning Blog

Identifying the interested parties in probate legislation

When a will is contested in California, a question comes up as to who the interested parties are with regards to the estate. At first glance, the answer to this question might seem clear-cut. However, after more investigation is done, it may come to light that there are a number of interested parties, many of which the individual or individuals initiating the will contest might not have even known about or anticipated. The interested parties are not confined to individuals who are listed in the last will and testament.

As a general rule, potential interested parties include all of the deceased's family members. This is true even if they are not included as beneficiaries in the last will and testament. Additionally, every individual or every party listed in the last will and testament that is being considered for probate are also included in the list of interested parties in the litigation.

The nature of work performed is a disability factor

In the five-step sequential process for getting Social Security Disability Insurance, it first must be determined that a claimant is not engaging in substantial gainful activity and has a severe impairment. Many California residents who apply for SSDI benefits are denied because their impairments do not meet the Social Security Administration's threshold, which is required at step three of the process. At steps four and five, the nature and type of work previously performed becomes a factor, and it is not only the last job held that matters.

Step four evaluates a claimant's residual functional capacity to determine what they are capable of doing in consideration of their impairments. Evaluators will also assess the RFC to see if past relevant work can be performed. Disability experts emphasize that past relevant work includes all jobs performed within the past 15 years that lasted at least three months and had earnings that were at the substantial gainful activity level or higher.

SSD benefits may not be permanent

Social security disability benefits are often awarded only after a rigorous and contentious process. Many California claimants are denied on the initial application and then again on the first level of appeal, reconsideration. Often, only after the claimant has appeared before an administrative law judge at the next level of appeal, the disability hearing, do the monthly payments begin. The good news is that in many cases back benefits are available from when the disability first began, but the bad news is that the disability award is not necessarily permanent.

The Social Security Administration guidelines require a benefit recipient to regularly be assessed for a continuing disability review. Consequently, disability experts explain that a disability recipient may be disqualified if monthly earnings exceed the current substantial gainful activity amount or medical records reflect a significant improvement in the condition that qualified the claimant for disability.

Disability hearings are often important but short

People in California may think about and prepare a great deal for an upcoming disability hearing to appeal a denial of Social Security Disability benefits. After all, these hearings conducted before an administrative law judge provide the greatest opportunity for people to obtain the disability benefits they need and deserve. Despite all the preparation and materials that people develop for these hearings, they are often fairly short. Some disability hearings may take only 10 to 15 minutes.

The administrative law judges presiding over a disability hearing have access to the applicant's complete file. This includes the medical records and other documentation that the applicants and their disability attorneys submitted to the hearing office in advance as part of their preparation. As a result, some administrative law judges may have already decided to approve a claim for Social Security Disability benefits on the basis of the relevant documents. The judge may have few questions for the claimant or the disability lawyer in this case.

How to decide when to tell children about a trust

Parents or grandparents in California and throughout the country generally must tell beneficiaries that they are included in a trust. However, there is no clear guideline as to when they must tell their children or grandchildren about their inheritance. As a general rule, a beneficiary must be given an annual statement by the time he or she reaches age 25. These updates are necessary to ensure that beneficiaries can protect their own interests.

However, withholding information about a trust could also be perceived as being in the beneficiary's best interest. Withholding information about an inheritance could be a way for parents to prevent their children from growing up with a sense of entitlement. In some cases, another party could be designated to receive information on behalf of a child beneficiary. At a minimum, it is important that there is adequate trustee oversight at all times.

Common errors that lead to disability claim denials

There is no guarantee that an individual in California or any other state will have his or her disability benefit application approved. However, there are steps a person can take to maximize the chances of that happening. First, an applicant should ensure that their doctor agrees with the decision to file for disability benefits. If that is the case, that doctor should include a statement that an examiner can use to evaluate how a condition impacts the applicant's life.

In addition to stating what the condition is, it should also touch on treatment options that have already been exhausted. Furthermore, the statement should explain whether it is likely that an individual would be able to work given his or her condition. Even if a doctor is willing to provide a favorable statement, it is not the only variable when making a disability benefit determination.

Expect long waits when applying for Social Security Disability

California workers disabled by serious injuries or suffering from debilitating or terminal diseases often seek Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. The Social Security Administration will need three to six months to review an application's paperwork and medical records. Only about one-third of applicants succeed on their first attempt. When the agency denies benefits, applicants may appeal the decision, but the appeals process could take up to two years.

Due to the length of time necessary to pursue benefits, people confronted by long-term disability and the inability to work should launch their applications as soon as possible. Waiting would only worsen the financial hardship that results from income loss.

Elderly are vulnerable to financial exploitation

It's a sad fact that senior citizens in the United States are all too frequently the victims of financial exploitation. What is particularly insidious about the situation is that it typically remains undetected until the financial damage is already done.

According to one study done by the MetLife Mature Market Institute, each year, senior citizens are collectively defrauded out of $2.6 billion. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) puts the figure even higher at nearly $3 billion.

What to know about long-term care planning

It is not uncommon for individuals in California and elsewhere to be responsible for finding long-term care for an elderly family member. However, a person will usually have many questions as it relates to finding such care. For instance, there may be questions about how to pay for it or which facility offers the best service. It can also be challenging to tell a parent or grandparent that he or she needs to be in a long-term care facility.

It can be a good idea to bring up the subject of long-term care in broad terms at first. For instance, an individual could tell a parent about an article that he or she read about the topic. From there, that person may talk more about the services provided and how it could be an option if a parent can't take care of their basic needs anymore.

Aretha Franklin's estate remains in dispute

The death of a loved one in California can bring out surprising claims on an estate, especially if the loved one was wealthy or famous. Aretha Franklin, the celebrated performer known as the "Queen of Soul," passed away in August 2018 at the age of 76 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Despite having an estate worth millions of dollars and a valuable music catalog, she left behind no will or trusts to disperse her assets. As a result, relatives and others have jumped into the fray to make a claim on the estate.

The Oakland County Probate Court near Detroit is handling the estate, and filings indicate that Franklin's ex-husband is seeking a share of her music royalties. The former husband is the dad of one of Franklin's four sons, who is already an heir under state intestacy laws. Franklin was married and divorced twice during her life. Another of Franklin's sons filed a request urging a higher level of financial disclosure from the estate during processing. The estate responded by saying that this demand would be excessively expensive.

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