People in Northern California who have questions about estate planning may not initially know where to turn. Most people understand that it is a very important task, but busy people also know how easy it can be to put it off. The problem with putting it off is that nobody can see the future, and those who die or become incapacitated without a legally sound estate plan in place may leave their family and close friends in a very difficult position.
As Joan Rivers' passing last year illustrated, the proof of a person's domicile can have tremendous ramifications on a person's estate, in particular the amount of state estate tax a person may be liable for. California, which has not had an estate tax since 2005, would be a much more preferable state of domicile in Joan Rivers' case, as opposed to New York, where estate taxes can be upwards of 10 percent of the entire estate. Since Rivers spent time in both California and New York, the question of her true domicile is still up in the air, and it will be interesting to see how the court finds in this high profile case.
Comedy and entertainment pioneer Joan Rivers left a legacy of laughter and success to her family, as evidenced by the $150 million estate she left behind to family and loved ones. What nobody is laughing about, however, is the fact that an apparent ambiguity in her estate planning documents could end up costing her estate millions in state estate taxes, depending on the outcome of the case.
People with substantial estates want to ensure that their money is going to the people and causes they love and support after they die. Most people want assurance that their money isn't going to disappear into the coffers of an overreaching government when they die, but unfortunately even a minor mistake in a person's estate planning documents can send a case to probate, an expensive and often inefficient system that determines how a person's assets will be distributed.