Estate Planning

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The answer to the question about whether your family needs an estate plan is always yes. A well-prepared estate plan provides for your wishes to be communicated after you are gone and addresses your plans for your medical treatment while you are alive and no longer able to speak for yourself. Because our practice is focused on estate and tax issues, we can provide in-depth counsel for clients of all ages.


We know it’s important to make sure that your loved ones are provided for after you are gone. How can you ensure that everything you’ve worked for goes to the right place after you’re gone? Here’s what you need to know.

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What do most estate plans include?

Most estate plans include pour-over wills, a living trust, durable powers of attorney, advance health care directives, and a Schedule A.

What is a Schedule A?

Your Schedule A will list your assets such as bank accounts, real estate, business interests, partnerships, and limited liability corporations (LLCs).

Is hiring an attorney really necessary?

An experienced attorney will make sure that your beneficiaries receive the maximum amount possible. An attorney knows what language must be included in each document and where certain documents need to be filed. For example, your attorney will handle properly filing deeds with the county recorder’s office when transferring your real estate to a trust.


Here's everything you need to know.

Estate planning is a task that everyone agrees is important, but it is so easy to put off. Fortunately, it is never too early or too late to talk about your plans for the future. At Business Estate & Tax Attorneys, P.C., our lawyers will help you prepare properly to protect your legacy and your family’s future. A thorough estate plan will ensure that your wishes are carried out and that your assets are protected for future generations. Ultimately, a well-structured estate plan will give you peace of mind.

Everyone should have an estate plan to determine how their belongings are distributed after they die. Everyone who owns assets has an estate, whether it’s small enough to fit into a shoebox or is a large, sprawling mansion. An estate includes all of your property such as your home, car, investment property, investments, life insurance policies, and personal possessions. Without a proper estate plan, a court might determine how to distribute your belongings according to state law. A well-drafted estate plan ensures your wishes are carried out in regards to where your assets go after your death.

Our estate planning attorneys have served the greater Orinda, CA, area for several years. We have extensive experience in estate planning, administration, and litigation, as well as tax and business law. We can help you craft a comprehensive estate plan that takes into account all of your goals for the future and your family.

Contact us now to schedule a free consultation with one of our Orinda estate planning lawyers.


The primary reason for a living trust is that it lets you hold the title to major assets like real estate, bank accounts, or business interests. It also allows you to retain control of your assets while you are alive. If you become incapacitated or die, the living trust transfers the power to your successor trustee(s) so they can access and manage your properties. They can pay your debts and taxes before distributing the remainder of your assets to your beneficiaries as outlined in your living trust.


You can alter, update, or amend a living trust at any time during your lifetime as long as you retain the mental capacity required. An irrevocable trust differs in that it cannot be changed or canceled.


Some specialized living trusts do exist including A-B, A-B-C, three-way marital, and basic disclaimer trusts. Disclaimer trusts contain embedded provisions that allow the surviving spouse to place specific assets in the trust by disclaiming ownership of the estate. The goal of any of these trusts is to reduce the tax liability for the remaining spouse.


Trusts can have “carve-outs” for a beneficiary with special needs or to create a dynasty trust or legacy for your heirs. They allow a company to capitalize on a business segment that exists outside of its core operations.


An A-B trust is traditionally used for a married couple, and an A-B-C trust is for married couples who are dangerously close to the estate tax exemption. An attorney can explain your options and advise you on the type of specialized living trust that is right for your needs. Understanding the different types of trusts will help you make the best decision for your situation.

Why You Need an Attorney for Estate Planning in California

Unfortunately, drafting a will isn’t simply creating a list of your final wishes. In fact, there are
many important facets of estate planning that go far beyond a simple will. When you work with
one of our Orinda estate planning attorneys, we will guide you through the process of:

  • Making sure your final wishes are clear and consistent with current law. We will draft comprehensive legal documents that reflect your wishes, including addressing issues such as guardianship for your children, asset distribution, and final healthcare instructions.
  • Understanding all your options for protecting your wealth and your family. With a proper estate plan, you can minimize the tax burden ─ and any legal stress ─ left to your family. Our attorneys can help you set up and fund trusts to provide for your survivors, leave contributions to charity, and achieve your other planning goals.
  • Defining your health care decisions and designating trusted caretakers. We will walk you through the process of creating an advance health care directive and designating powers of attorney so you and your family are prepared for any situation.
  • Avoiding any potential family disputes. By creating a well-structured estate plan, both you and your family can avoid any unnecessary surprises in the future and you can ensure that your wishes are carried out. You will also save your family time, money, and a great deal of heartache and stress by eliminating costly legal battles that often arise when there is no comprehensive estate plan to guide surviving family members

If you are ready to get started on your estate plan, please contact our firm today for a free
consultation. We are here to discuss your options, answer your questions, and help you make
the best decisions possible for your family.

Creating a Will

Creating a will is a crucial component of estate planning. A legally sound will ensures that your
wishes are followed and that decisions about your estate and any minor children are not left up
to a court. In your will, you can outline your wishes for:

  • How your assets are to be distributed
  • Who should have guardianship of any minor children
  • Who should handle the finances for those minor children
  • Who should be the executor of your estate

In many situations, our skilled Orinda estate planning attorneys can identify additional tools beyond a will that may be necessary to help protect your wealth and your family.

Creating an Advance Health Care Directive

Perhaps you have questions about Advance Health Care Directives and how this kind of Directive may differ from other documents, such as a living will. A living will is a document that states your preferences for medical treatment, should you become unable to communicate or unconscious. For example, you may not wish to receive life-sustaining treatment in the event that you are terminally ill or you have become permanently unconscious.

An Advance Health Care Directive is now recognized as the proper form for a living will in California. It allows for comprehensive instructions about your health care wishes should anything happen to you including:

  • Power of attorney for health care. This form designates a person you choose to act as your “agent” to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so yourself. In many cases, the person designated may be a spouse or close sibling. However, you may choose almost any adult whom you trust and who is capable of making those important decisions. If you wish, you can also list alternative agents in the event your primary agent is unable or unwilling to serve in that capacity.
  • Individual instructions. You can also provide specific instructions for certain procedures or situations that you wish to be part of your Advance Health Care Directive. As an example, you might choose to include a “do not resuscitate” order or other elements of a living will as part of your individual instructions in an Advance Health Care Directive.

Designating Durable Power of Attorney

A durable Power of Attorney is a document that names a selected person to make health care, financial, and other decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated. For estate planning purposes, a Power of Attorney is often important because it can help avoid confusion in tense situations. A durable Power of Attorney protects you and your finances by giving someone you trust the legal authority to handle these important matters. Our estate planning attorneys in Orinda can help you create the proper paperwork to protect your legal interests.

Protecting Your Assets with a Trust

Trusts are important tools that can be used to distribute your assets and protect your family from the complicated state probate process. Going through probate can be very expensive in California. However, by having the foresight to create a trust, you can make your property disposition wishes known, while also helping your family avoid confusion and the waste of valuable time and money. Additionally, probating a will is a public process. So if you’re interested in keeping your family’s business matters out of the public eye, a trust often helps you preserve family estate disposition decisions between you, your family, and your lawyers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Wise estate planning is much more complicated than simply writing a will or filling out a few online forms.

Thorough estate planning necessarily involves thoughtful discussions about your goals and how you want to preserve your legacy. Our knowledgeable Orinda estate planning lawyers will help answer your questions and guide you through the entire process. To help get you started, here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

Do I need an attorney to make a will?

No, you do not. California allows people to make their own wills. However, we strongly advise you to speak with an estate planning lawyer when making a will. Doing so will help avoid any ,potential issues, such as a contested will, and make sure your final wishes are clearly articulated and followed after your passing.

When should I start on an estate plan?

As soon as possible. None of us know when life might toss us a curveball. Putting off your will, Advance Health Care Directive, and other estate planning documents can leave you, your finances, and your family vulnerable. Being unprepared can force your loved ones to make painful end-of-life decisions that they were not prepared to make.

What happens if I die without a will?

California has a series of laws in place that dictate who gets your assets if you die without a legal will. There are specific legal requirements for decedents with a spouse but no children, children but no spouse, and so on. To make sure your assets are directed as you wish and that your heirs are protected, you need a will and other estate planning documents completed ahead of time.

When should I make updates to my estate plan?

It’s generally a good idea to review your estate plan every few years to make sure your documents accurately reflect your current wishes. Remember, things change and life circumstances can force a detour even in a well-planned future. You’ll also want to update your plan whenever there’s a major event in your life, such as getting married, having children, and so on that alters your future path.

Talk to an Orinda Estate Planning Attorney Now

Proper estate planning offers peace of mind when it comes to your future. By going through
this process now, you can make sure that:

  • Your final wishes will be honored.
  • You and your finances are protected.
  • Your family’s future is secure, especially for your children.
  • Your children will keep more of what you’ve worked throughout your life to earn.
  • Your private affairs will stay private.

The Orinda estate planning lawyers at Business Estate & Tax Attorneys, P.C., are committed to crafting a plan that fits your unique needs. We will sit down with you, carefully review your wishes and your options, explain the various tools you have at your disposal, and determine and craft the best strategy for you.

To learn more about our estate planning services, call our Orinda law office today for a free consultation. We look forward to helping you plan for the future and putting your mind at ease.


What stage are you at with estate planning?

Not sure...

Check out our resources for a step-by-step estate planning guides.


Depending on the jurisdiction where you live, a living trust might be an essential part of estate planning. It is the only way to avoid the probate period required with a will. All that is required is to ensure your trust owns your assets. Then, your successor trustee will distribute the property in the trust according to your wishes. Another advantage to a living trust is that your successor trustee doesn’t need to go to court to manage your property if you become incompetent.


Choosing the person you name as the successor trustee is an important decision. This person will hold title to your major assets and oversee their distribution once you die. Your attorney will draft a living trust and backup pour-over wills to better protect your wishes.

A pour-over will ensures that your remaining assets automatically transfer to a previously established trust. This legal document is designed to work with a trust. It covers the assets that you didn’t fund into the trust at the time of your death. Without a pour-over will, the remaining assets are subject to the laws of intestate succession according to the jurisdiction. If you obtain assets after creating the living trust, it captures them as a backup even if you forget to add them.

Pour-over wills are also the simplest way to nominate guardians for minor children. It names the custodians you want for your minor children and who have agreed to the responsibility in case something happens to both parents.


A power of attorney names an agent to handle your financial matters while you are still alive but unable to manage them yourself. This person will take care of paying your bills, filing and paying taxes, writing checks, and handling any other financial decisions on your behalf.

Every person’s situation is different, and their power of attorney should reflect this. Your attorney should draft the document to specify exactly what powers you want to give your agent.


No one expects to become incapacitated and unable to make decisions about their own healthcare. When the unthinkable happens, an Advance Health Care Directive lets you determine who should make those important decisions for you. It can also include your desires regarding burial or cremation in the event of your death as well as your preferences for organ donation.


Estate planning is important for people with any size of estate, but is essential for high-net-worth individuals. High-net-worth individuals are those with liquid assets valued at several million and they typically require more extensive high-net-worth estate planning services. Specifically, people with assets exceeding the federal estate tax exemption amount of $11.4 million for a single person and $22.8 million for a married couple should consider hiring an attorney who is experienced with high-net-worth tax and asset planning.


What stage are you at with estate planning?


Read our article to see how much you can expect to pay for estate planning.

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Getting Started

Read our article to determine which estate plan is right for you.

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Up and Running

Read our article on the importance of managing your estate frequently.

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Optimizing Wealth

Download our white paper, The Complete Guide to Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts.

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We're here to help.

Let us know how we can assist you with a well-drafted estate plan that ensures your wishes are carried out when you are gone.