Now that same-sex marriage is here to stay in California, LGBT couples who have tied the knot can enjoy the same legal advantages available to all married couples when it comes to estate planning. Many same-sex married couples have no estate plan in place at all; others may have done some planning before marriage was possible. Either way, couples that are now married have an opportunity to update their estate plans to take advantage of tax and other laws that benefit married couples.
The basic concept of a trust is very versatile and can be adapted to accomplish a number of goals. One of the most useful forms of trust for California residents is the special needs trust, which is designed to provide for the supplemental needs of a disabled person while maintaining their eligibility for needs-based government assistance programs.
Under California law, undue influence can be grounds to challenge the validity of a will or trust. A 2014 case from the California Court of Appeals illustrates the courts' power to void estate planning documents procured by undue influence. The case involved the third wife of an elderly multimillionaire. Before he died, the husband made multiple amendments to his trust, progressively giving more assets to the wife and disinheriting his two older children from a previous marriage. The husband and wife then jointly executed a new family trust which, among other things, designated all his assets as community property and gave the wife a life interest in his estate.
People who are starting the estate planning process often wonder about the potential estate or inheritance tax implications. For most individuals in California, this is no longer a major concern. California has no estate tax for individuals who died on or after January 1, 2005 and has no inheritance tax for those who died on or after June 8, 1982. The federal estate tax is now only a concern for individuals with significant wealth.