A lawyer/financial planner for our will/trust

My husband and I are in the process of adopting a sweet (now ten month old) baby through foster care. We need some help with our will. Maybe we need a trust -- I don't know. We want to designate my niece and her partner as his guardians should something happen to us. If they became his guardians/parents when he was still young, we would want to leave a large portion of our assets to go to them to use in raising him. But if, say, we perished when he was 17, we'd want to leave most of our assets to him. Further, we're interested in setting up a college fund and also a separate investment fund for big life events like starting a business or buying a house, but maybe it should be restricted to retirement? These are our questions. It seems like there is probably a formula in place, especially for the guardian question, and what portion of assets would go them versus him, at what age. We're not talking millions here, but a house, savings, insurance, pension. Can a lawyer do this for us? We live in Berkeley and would appreciate suggestions for someone who can walk us through it, preferably not too far away.

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We used Michael Burnstein for that sort of stuff about a month before our son was born, and it was easy and all done over the phone and email. He charged us ~$2k for all the pieces (trust, will, etc), which I think is a good price? Though it's still a lot. There are services online that will walk you through the steps for much less, but we found them really confusing, so it seemed worth the money to just get it done and be confident that, were sometime terrible to happen, whoever remained wouldn't be sorting through a legal mess. My parents and in-laws used him as well. His website is www.zaffrelaw.com.

we recently went through the same process of creating living trust for the family and guardianships for our children. The process was actually pretty simple after one or two discussions with lawyer David Mendelssohn 415.951.9116.

We were in the same boat and went through Jessica Barsotti (http://members.calbar.ca.gov/fal/Licensee/Detail/209557) who made the process fairly easy. She was sensitive to issues that were particular to us, as adoptive parents. Based on what you are describing, you will probably want to put most of your assets into a living trust, as well as making a will and power of attorney. I might not be remembering correctly, but I think the guardianship question was in the will. You will want to plan for at least 3 potential placements for your child in case something happens to the first in line, otherwise you will have to redo your documents. You can also separate the questions of who would manage the trust and who would care for your child, which we did in the event that our 3rd choice would be caring for our daughter, both because we wanted her to not worry about the money and estate stuff, but also because we wanted a bigger team for our daughter.

For the college money, you may want to start a 529 account. I am not sure if Jessica does this. My in-laws set up the 529 through Konstantine Giannoutsos at TIAA in Oakland.

Michael Ferguson has been my estate and trust lawyer for many years, and I never hesitate to recommend his services.  He went the extra mile to help a friend who was dying of cancer to get her estate in order.  His office is on 5th Street near Hurst in Berkeley.  Phone (510)548-9005.

I can recommend Peter Shelton. peter [at] petersheltonlaw.com 

He practices in downtown Berkeley.  He's been wonderful. 

Tell him, Sirpa sent you if you end up using him. Thanks. 

Michael C Ferguson - Berkeley, CA

1816 Fifth StreetBerkeley, CA 94710- 1915

Ferguson & Berland, P.C.

Michael was my Estates and Trusts professor in law school and did a will and trust for me and my husband (with young kids involved) and my parents. His firm is great.

You should contact my estate planning attorney, his name is Richard Lee, he's located in Oakland. He really knows his field, and can gently guide you.

I did exactly the same!  Loved my trust lawyer.  He will walk and talk you through all the details.  There is an unbelievable amount of information to digest and decisions to be made.  He also has done the trusts for many of my friends and came though for one after death when it was challenged by a discredited relative.

Amir Atashi Rang  (415) 1398-7275

amir [at] arp-law.com

I don't have a lawyer recommendation for you, but based on the research I've done as a layperson, I can clear up one basic confusion for you.  If you want your assets used to raise your son, you don't will them to your son's guardian at all; you will them to your son.  (Your son should also be named as the beneficiary -- after each other -- on your insurance and retirement accounts.)  In your wills, you name your niece as both the child's guardian and also the administrator of the child's financial affairs while he is still a minor. (Or you can name two different people for custodial care and guardianship vs financial management and guardianship!)  Alternatively/additionally, you can set up a trust which provides that upon the death of the longer-lived spouse, your son is the beneficiary and your niece is the trustee.  A lawyer can set this all up for you, but if your situation is fairly simple you may want to start with the Nolo Press "WillMaker" software, which will guide you through writing appropriate estate planning documents yourselves. https://store.nolo.com/products/quicken-willmaker-plus-wqp.html

What kind of investment accounts to set up to save for college, retirement, and other major goals and how much to put in them is a mostly separate question, and that's where you want a financial planner.

Congrats on the upcoming adoption, and best wishes to you and your family!

We did ours through Laura Patton (laura [at] planningyourlegacy.net (planningyourlegacy.net)) and she was wonderful to work with. She was able to help set up guardianship, medical directives, trust etc... for our family shortly before we had our daughter in 2018. She asked many questions about things we hadn't thought about and was great at explaining all of the legalese to us. She works out of her home so she conveniently comes to your house or place of your choosing for meetings!  

We used Elaine Ercolini to set up our will and trust (elaineercolini [at] comcast.net) and liked her. She is a Berkeley based lawyer and helped us set up all the necessary paperwork for our will and trust. She also had us fill out a form that asked some of the questions you raise above to help us think through how we want to structure our trust. It might be worth reaching out to her to see if she can meet your specific needs.

I highly recommend Stefanie West, an estate planning attorney with an office in Walnut Creek. (925) 952-7990
My family enlisted her services a couple of years ago, and she's really smart, caring, and very committed to her clients. She even does home visits for some clients!

I'm not a financial planner or lawyer, but am a parent who designated guardians for my children.  The advice we got was to set up a trust.  We named a separate trustee to administer the assets of the trust for our children, and someone else to be their guardians.  That way, the guardians don't have full control over both the children and the money.  It's a safeguard.  Also, the money is not left to the guardians--it's left to the trust, to be held for the children, and some of the assets will be distributed to the guardians, by the trustee(s), for expenses they incur in raising the children.  The rest of the money/assets are held in the trust and then the children inherit it whenever you decide you want them to inherit (age 18, 25, whatever.  You can pick--there's no law that says they have to get all the money as soon as they aren't minors.)  If, separately, you wanted to leave some money to the guardians, you could do that, but any money you want to be used for the upbringing of the children should be in the trust.

You should speak to a financial planner, and then to an estate attorney.  It will cost some money.  Mine are not local so I can't give you any names.  Good luck.

I recommend Kathleen Hunt. 510-289-2288 

My wife and I used her for our living trusts and, then later, when we had kids, she helped my wife "adopt" them and add them to our trusts. We live in East Oakland and (I think) she lives in El Cerrito, but she had no problem coming to our house to meet. My wife has a challenging work schedule to work around, but Kathleen was flexible and made it work easily. She is wonderful!

Brynne Wilson is amazing. She specializes in working with young families. I highly recommend setting up a trust after having a baby/adopting. She actually just notified us there has been a few changes in trusts for 2020. I would highly recommend her she really knows her stuff. bwilson [at] plagemanlund.com