What We Do
Toni Michaels Law is a California estate planning and probate administration law firm.
ESTATE PLANNING SERVICES
We assist clients of all ages and backgrounds with the preparation of wills, trusts, financial powers of attorney, advance health care directives, and related documents. At Toni Michaels Law, we know that most people don’t want to think about their death, let alone plan for it. But, like eating your greens or heading to the gym, estate planning is important for you to do, especially if you have children, are caring for a person with special needs, own real property, or own other assets of significant value. For clarity regarding your wishes, for your own protection should you one day become unable to make decisions for yourself, and for your loved ones’ security after you’re gone, we firmly believe that a clear plan, and the peace of mind that comes with it, is a gift to yourself… and to your loved ones.
We assist clients navigating the often-onerous court process known as probate, which is required in order to distribute certain assets following a death. (In fact, one of the reasons we are such vocal champions of estate planning is to help people avoid probate in the first place.) For assets that are required to be probated (for example, homes that are not owned in a trust or bank accounts without a designated beneficiary), California probate courts first appoint a personal representative of the deceased person’s estate and then oversee the inventory and appraisal of the estate’s assets, payment of the deceased person’s debts, and, ultimately, distribution of the remaining assets. This process often begins fairly quickly, whilst loved ones are still grieving the recent loss of their deceased family member or friend. With skill and compassion, Toni Michaels Law guides clients through all aspects of an uncontested probate, from petitioning the court for your appointment as the estate’s personal representative to distribution of the assets and formally “closing” the probate, and all of the myriad steps in between.
EXCELLENT CLIENT SERVICE
While we pride ourselves on our elite legal counseling and drafting skills, what sets Toni Michaels Law apart is our personal touch. It is our goal to make your experience with estate planning or probate as straightforward and comfortable as possible, with our warm and down-to-earth approach. In the estate planning realm, we know that making decisions like choosing a guardian to care for your children, beneficiaries for your assets, and instructions for your health care providers are among some of the hardest (and, often, most emotional) choices you will ever have to make. In the probate context, we understand that sorting through your deceased loved one’s financial papers, gathering and potentially liquidating his or her assets, paying his or her debts, and helping to prepare court filings, all while you are still grieving the recent loss, can be emotionally-draining and feel overwhelming. Because we know just how difficult, intimidating, and at times frustrating estate planning or probate can be, we offer a complimentary in-person consultation (with no obligation whatsoever) to discuss your needs, describe our services, and patiently answer all of your questions. What’s more, because we understand it may be difficult to leave work or arrange for child-care during standard business hours, we offer flexible appointment times, including evening and weekend appointments, and convenient meeting locations, including house calls if needed.
Toni Michaels is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University and a graduate of Yale Law School. For years, she worked in Washington, DC and later in Century City for a large, international corporate law firm. Desiring to work more directly with individuals and families (rather than faceless corporations), Toni moved to a boutique estate planning law firm in Beverly Hills, assisting clients with all aspects of estate planning, probate, and trust administration.
Toni founded Toni Michaels Law to prioritize the emotional and financial needs of individuals and families across all income brackets and demographic backgrounds, and to empower them to navigate the all-too-often intimidating and stressful processes of estate planning and probate. Toni’s desire to practice in this area is motivated by her experiences caring for family members who did not have appropriate estate planning documents when they died or became incapacitated. Toni learned firsthand how difficult it can be to provide care for a person without the appropriate authorizations through a financial power of attorney or advance health care directive, and she quickly came to view the presence of valid estate planning documents as a gift for all concerned. Further, as the daughter of public-school educators and a one-time third-grade teacher herself, Toni views herself also as an educator in this area, one with elite legal training and a highly specialized skill set.
What is an estate plan?
An “estate plan” refers to all the documents that memorialize what will happen to your assets and who will have decision-making authority over your financial affairs and health care in the event that you die or become incapacitated (that is, if you are no longer able to make decisions concerning your personal or financial affairs). Your plan should indicate who or what entity you want to receive your assets, what each person or entity will receive, and when you want each person or entity to receive it. Your estate plan should also include instructions for your personal and medical care in the event you become incapacitated, and you may choose to also include post-death instructions regarding your funeral or burial. Importantly, depending on your personal circumstances, you may also need to designate a guardian (and, likely, a backup guardian) to care for your minor child or children in the event of your death.
The specific documents constituting your estate plan may include a will, trust, financial power of attorney, advance health care directive, and other related documents. Working with an experienced and empathetic attorney will help you best tailor your estate plan to ensure your instructions are followed, your assets are safeguarded, and your loved ones are spared the legal and financial tumult of litigation, probate, or adverse tax consequences following your death.
Who should have an estate plan?
Just about everyone benefits from having an estate plan. Far from being a tool only of the ultra-wealthy, elderly, or terminally ill, estate planning is important for individuals and families of all ages, income levels, and circumstances. Having a clear and legally valid plan in place to provide instructions in the event of your incapacity or death—stating who will manage your financial affairs, raise your young children, inherit your assets, or make medical decisions for you—provides peace of mind, helps your beneficiaries avoid probate (saving your loved ones from what is often a long, expensive, and burdensome court process), allows you to plan for any expected adverse tax consequences following your death, and lessens the likelihood of family discord in the absence of instructions from you.
Also, it is important to keep in mind that if you die without a will and/or trust in place designating who will inherit what from you, then your assets will be distributed according to California’s laws of intestacy, which essentially provide that your closest relatives will inherit from you. Instead, having an estate plan allows YOU, rather than the state, to determine who will inherit from you. But, even if these laws mirror who you would want to name as beneficiaries of your estate in a will, you should still have a comprehensive estate plan in order to plan for your incapacity, avoid probate of your estate, and provide clarity and peace of mind to you and your loved ones.
While most people should have an estate plan in place, doing so is particularly important if you own real property or other assets of significant value, if you have minor children or loved ones with special needs, or if you anticipate tax concerns following your death.
What if I find it difficult to think about my death?
Few if any of us enjoy talking about our own mortality or infirmity. Most of us, in fact, prefer not to think about such things at all. It is not surprising that we tend to put off the difficult and sometimes emotional decisions involved in making an estate plan. Yet, estate planning should really be thought of as an act of selflessness, a gift to your loved ones. Making a comprehensive estate plan allows you to protect them after you’re gone, designating assets for their future security and sparing them the extra costs, tough decisions, legal battles, and family discord that may potentially arise when you die or become incapacitated without an appropriate estate plan in place.
Understanding this tension felt by many of our friends, relatives, and clients—that is, wanting to have an estate plan in place but feeling reluctant to think about or plan for their deaths—we approach these discussions with warmth, patience, and empathy. At Toni Michaels Law, it is our goal to make the process of estate planning as straightforward and comfortable for you as possible. We are here to answer any and all of your questions, and we are skilled at asking you a series of focused questions that will help you distill big ideas or desires into small, distinct decisions that, together, form your comprehensive estate plan. Precisely because we don’t know what the future holds, it is important not to put off creating your estate plan.
What is probate and why should I try to avoid it?
Probate is a court process in which, after you die, your assets are inventoried, appraised and ultimately distributed by court order to your heirs (that is, the people who will inherit under law if you die without a will) or beneficiaries (that is, the people or entities designated in your Will to receive your assets), after payment of your remaining debts and expenses. A probate case is “opened” for your estate (which consists of all of your assets required to be probated) when a personal representative/fiduciary (called either an executor or an administrator, depending on the circumstances) is appointed by the probate court to administer your estate. In California, even a run-of-the-mill probate case requires the executor/administrator to produce required documents and information, file numerous documents with the court, attend hearings and satisfy of certain other requirements, all on a specified timeline, with more complex situations necessitating additional steps and court filings.
There are several drawbacks to the probate process, chief among them that probate is expensive, time consuming, public and burdensome. With respect to probate being expensive, your estate will be responsible for payment of filing fees and other court fees, appraisal fees, executor/administrator and attorney compensation (the amount of which is set by statute) and other costs, which chip away at the value of the estate left for your heirs or beneficiaries. What’s more, your heirs or beneficiaries generally have to wait to receive their shares of your estate until the very end of the probate process, which may take nine months, one year or even longer to complete. Another concern is that probate is a public process; that is, most of the documents filed with the court in a probate case are available to the public upon request, which could result in your intimate financial or personal arrangements being publicly disclosed through court filings. But, perhaps the most obvious downside of the probate process is that, even with the assistance of a skilled probate attorney, the process places an administrative burden on the executor/administrator of the estate, who may be your still-grieving family member or close friend. Simply put, probate is a generally avoidable hassle for your loved ones.
Fortunately, there are relatively simple and widely used strategies that you can take advantage of now to avoid probate of your estate following your death, for example, owning your home and other assets in the name of a revocable trust. At Toni Michaels Law, we will talk with you to determine whether setting up a revocable trust or other strategies to avoid probate are right for you, given your specific circumstances. We will carefully explain these concepts to you, answering all of your questions, in order to demystify probate, trusts and other estate planning concepts and tools. We want you to be empowered to make informed decisions about your estate plan and also to feel comfortable with the decisions you make.
This website is for informational purposes only and is not intended as advertising or solicitation. The information you obtain at this website is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult a qualified attorney licensed in the appropriate jurisdiction for legal advice regarding your individual circumstances. While we invite you to contact us, contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Toni Michaels Law, nor does use of this website and/or any information contained herein establish an attorney-client relationship. The only way to become a client of Toni Michaels Law is through a mutual agreement in writing. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established. Toni Michaels is licensed to practice in California only.