Online resource center to help you explore these key issues, and others, regarding your estate.

Practice Areas

Mr. Miller has many years of experience in designing and implementing a comprehensive variety of Trusts, Wills, and other estate planning documents, as well as settling estates in the most expedient and appropriate method. Further, he counsels and assists clients on becoming eligible for VA benefits and Medi-Cal.

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VA Pension/Aid & Attendance/Medi-Cal

Mr. Miller has been active in the area of VA Pension and Medi-Cal for well over a decade. He uses various specialized types of Trusts as well as non-trust strategies to gain eligibility for his clients and save the family money.

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Probate & Estate Administration

Mr. Miller has been settling estates (both simple and complex) for well over 40 years. The starting point is always to create a strategy to settle the estate in the most efficient manner possible with a minimum of taxes. Often times the strategy created allows the family to bypass Probate Court proceedings.

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Heaven on Wheels!

By merv,

  Filed under: Blog, Estate Planning

Southern California loves its cars.  California’s traffic congestion is well-known throughout the country despite our extremely wide roads.  Car companies specifically advertise to San Diego consumers with special car colors and SoCal editions of certain models.  Like many of our other assets, cars may be worth next to nothing, or more than some people’s houses, or may carry substantial sentimental value (a la Gran Torino).  Also, like our other assets, we can’t take them with us when we go.  However, dealing with vehicles is frequently overlooked in the estate planning process.

A vehicle may be transferred into trust, following the ordinary transfer protocol.  Doing so funds the vehicle into your revocable living trust and makes the vehicle subject to the terms of the trust. Personally, I rarely fund a vehicle into a living trust.  Under California law, a vehicle will never cause a probate proceeding.  However, if a probate will occur, the vehicle (if not funded into the trust) typically will be part of the probate.  Therefore, as long as all of the financial/investment assets of the individual are properly funded into the trust, generally a probate will not occur and there is little reason to title  the vehicle in the name of the trust.  I did break that rule, once, for a client who had an investment grade, antique, Mercedes Benz.

Properly funding the trust facilitates a smooth transition of asset ownership from you to your successor trustee after death.  Trust administration is frequently smoother and less expensive than estate administration due, in large part, to the lack of court intervention.  The trust only has control over assets that reflect trust ownership in their titles. If the vehicle is worth a large amount, particularly if it is an antique car that appreciates in value, it may be wise to fund it into the trust at the outset. However, if the vehicle is not funded into the trust, it may still be handled expeditiously in most cases.

Where title is not transferred into trust, an Affidavit for Transfer Without Probate (Small Estates Procedure) may be completed if certain requirements are met.  The affidavit procedure may be used in cases where there is only one beneficiary of the estate, where there are many, or where there is a trustee of a trust.  The estate (assets left outside of trust) may not exceed $150,000.  Additionally, a Spousal Property Petition may be used as a summary probate procedure if there is a surviving spouse.

If there are multiple owners of a vehicle, the second owner will automatically become the sole owner of the vehicle upon the joint owner’s death.  If there is only one owner of the vehicle, a Transfer on Death designation may be made for the benefit of a single beneficiary.  The title to the vehicle will reflect the transfer designation.  In both instances, there is no planning for the event of the co-owner or beneficiary predeceasing the other owner.

Depending on the nature and value of your vehicles, any of these methods may be suitable.  Because cars typically have relatively short lifespans and rapidly decreasing values, many individuals choose not to change title of their existing car into the name of the trust.  Some purchase their next car in the trust’s name.  In all cases when transferring a vehicle, it is likely that multiple forms will be necessary, especially to avoid use tax and smog certification.  Although use tax and smog certification may be avoided in most family transfers, transfer fees are generally still assessed.  No matter how you choose to transfer your car, it has reliably taken you “from Point A to Point B;” shouldn’t you make sure it ends in the right place?

Estate Planning: The Price of Organization, Rewards, Gifts, and Wondrous Tax Things… FREE REPORT: This complimentary report, focused on Estate Planning, is comprised of many of Mr. Miller’s articles from his long running column for the largest regional newspaper in San Diego County. This report will guide you through the questions surrounding getting your estate planning in order.

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About Living Trusts

About Living Trusts is hosted by the Law Offices of Merwyn J. Miller, as your online resource center to help you explore these key issues, and others, regarding your estate.

Merwyn J. Miller, J.D.

  • Board Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law
  • Co-Author of legal text book and of “Don’t Go Broke in a Nursing Home
  • Teacher of law courses at public and private colleges
  • Continuing Education Instructor for attorneys
  • Columnist for largest regional newspaper in San Diego County and professional journals for 15 years, Contributing author to the book “In Your Service: The Veteran’s Friend”
  • Masters Degree in Financial Services - Estate Planning

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