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Helping California Families With Their Estate Needs

Estate Planning

We create and update estate plans that protect our clients’ futures.

Estate Administration

We guide families through the administration of trusts and other assets.

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Build A Plan That
Works For You

Anyone with assets can benefit from an estate plan. We offer options for people from all walks of life. Estate planning can save your loved ones from making difficult decisions after you pass away or if you become unable to make your own decisions. It can also ensure that your wishes for both your assets and your care will be met.

At The Dayton Law Firm, P.C., our team of San Jose estate planning attorneys is compassionate to families and individuals. We aim to help answer questions about your long-term planning options. We help with a variety of estate needs, including:

Why Choose Us?

We focus on our clients. While some firms seek the highest-value cases with disregard for the clients’ needs, we focus solely on what techniques are going to help you most.

Competitive Pricing

We strive to keep our hourly and flat fees accessible to as many families as possible.


We use our knowledge from planning and administering estates to achieve efficient legal solutions with a process proven to work.

Personalized Legal Work

By blending industry standards with custom in-house templates, we can advise and customize your plan to include your wishes to make sure it works how you want.

Free Consultations

We offer initial consultations at no charge so we can evaluate your legal needs before you ever receive a bill. Please call us at 408-758-5750 or email us to schedule an appointment.

Our firm is located in San Jose and serves the entire Bay Area. We also serve clients throughout California.

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When a loved one passes away, their estate often goes through a process known as probate, where debts are settled, and assets are distributed according to the deceased’s will or state law. However, a less commonly discussed aspect of managing an estate is collecting debts owed to it. Whether it’s a loan your loved one made to a friend or unpaid rent from a property they owned, these are considered estate debts, and there are specific steps that the administrator can take to collect these debts to ensure fair asset distribution.

What Are Debts Owed to an Estate?

Debts owed to an estate represent money or assets that are due to be paid to the estate of a deceased individual. When a person dies, they leave behind not just liabilities (debts they owe) but also assets and receivables (debts owed to them). These receivables can be an integral part of the estate’s value and are crucial for the equitable settlement and distribution of the deceased’s assets among heirs and beneficiaries. Examples of these receivables may include:

  • Personal Loans: If the deceased had lent money to friends, family members, or others under formal or informal arrangements, these loans are considered assets of the deceased person. The executor or administrator is responsible for collecting these debts based on the terms of the loan agreements.
  • Business Debts: If the deceased owned a business or was owed payments for services rendered or products provided, these outstanding payments are debts owed to their heirs.
  • Property Rents: For estates that include rental properties, any unpaid rent at the time of the deceased’s death is still owed to their heirs. This includes ongoing rent payments due after the deceased’s death until the property is legally transferred to new owners or the rental agreement is otherwise terminated.
  • Sale Proceeds: If the deceased sold property or assets before their death but hadn’t received payment by the time of their passing, these proceeds are debts collectible by the administrator.
  • Dividends, Interest, and Other Investments: Earnings from investments that were not paid out before the deceased’s death, including dividends from stocks, interest on bonds, or distributions from trusts, are considered debts owed to the heirs.

The estate’s administrator, often named in the deceased’s will or appointed by the court, is responsible for managing the property through the probate process. This includes collecting any debts owed to the heirs. The administrator has the legal authority to take necessary actions to ensure these debts are paid, which contributes to the decedent’s total assets before distribution to beneficiaries.

Steps for Collecting Debts for an Estate

The estate’s administrator must identify these debts early in the probate process to determine the total value accurately. This can be accomplished by: 

  • Identify and Document the Debts: The first step in collecting debts before probate is to identify all the debts owed to the deceased. This involves gathering documentation, such as loan agreements, promissory notes, or any other evidence of the debt.
  • Notify Debtors: Once the debts have been identified, the administrator should notify the debtors of the death and inform them that the debt is still due. This communication should be in writing and include details of the debt and instructions for repayment.
  • Assess and Negotiate: In some cases, debtors may not be able to repay the full amount owed. The administrator has the authority to negotiate a settlement or payment plan that is in the best interest of the estate.
  • Legal Action: If a debtor refuses to pay or disputes the debt, the administrator may need to take legal action to collect the debt. This could involve filing a lawsuit against the debtor to recover the owed amount.

Throughout the process, it’s essential for the administrator to keep detailed records of all communications, payments received, and actions taken to collect debts. These records will be important for the final settlement.

Don’t Leave Money on the Table During Estate Administration

Collecting debts owed to a deceased loved one’s estate is a critical part of managing the assets and ensuring fair distribution to beneficiaries. It requires careful documentation, clear communication, and sometimes, negotiation or legal action. At The Dayton Law Firm, P.C., we can help you ensure your loved one’s estate is administered correctly and all debts are collected. Learn how we can support you during estate administration by scheduling a consultation today.

There are a variety of tools and mechanisms available to ensure that an individual’s assets are distributed according to their wishes after their passing. Among these, the testamentary trust stands out for its versatility and specific application in certain situations. Particularly within the legal framework of California, understanding the nuances of a testamentary trust is crucial for anyone planning their estate. Below, we’ll break down what testamentary trusts are, how they operate, and when they may be a strategic choice for a California estate plan.

What Is a Testamentary Trust?

A testamentary trust is a legal arrangement established through a will that comes into effect upon the death of the person creating the will (the testator). Unlike a living trust, which is operative during the testator’s lifetime, it is dormant until the testator’s demise. At that point, the trust is created to manage and distribute the assets to the beneficiaries according to the stipulations laid out in the testator’s will. Key features of these trusts include: 

  • Activation After Death: It only becomes active upon the testator’s death, providing a structured way to manage and distribute assets posthumously.
  • Flexibility in Design: The testator can tailor the trust to address the specific needs of their beneficiaries, such as setting age stipulations or distributing assets over time.
  • Probate Process Involvement: Since the trust is part of the will, the assets designated for it go through the probate process before being transferred into the trust.

The trust is administered by a trustee, who is appointed by the testator in the will. The trustee’s role is to manage the assets within the trust for the benefit of the beneficiaries, which may include minors, adults, or even other entities, following the guidelines and objectives specified by the testator.

The Role of Testamentary Trusts in a California Estate Plan

In the context of California’s legal environment, these trusts offer several advantages that can make them a fitting component of an estate plan. Here are scenarios where they may be particularly beneficial:

  • Minor Beneficiaries: If the estate includes minor children, a testamentary trust can ensure that their inheritance is managed responsibly until they reach an age deemed appropriate by the testator for inheritance.
  • Special Needs Planning: For beneficiaries with disabilities, these trusts can be structured to provide for their care and living expenses without jeopardizing their eligibility for government assistance programs.
  • Control Over Asset Distribution: For testators who wish to impose certain conditions or timing on the inheritance (e.g., releasing funds when a beneficiary reaches a certain age or achieves a specific milestone), these trusts offer a mechanism to enforce these stipulations.
  • Simplicity and Cost-Effectiveness: For individuals whose estate planning needs are straightforward, testamentary trusts can be a simple and cost-effective way to address their objectives without the need for more complex arrangements.

Considerations and Limitations

While testamentary trusts offer numerous advantages, there are also considerations and limitations to be aware of:

  • Probate Required: Assets must go through probate before being transferred, which can incur costs and delays.
  • Public Record: The probate process is public, meaning the details of the assets and their distribution may become accessible.
  • Lack of Lifetime Benefits: Unlike living trusts, testamentary options cannot provide management or protection of assets during the testator’s lifetime.

Despite these limitations, they may still be good options for many California families. An experienced California estate planning attorney can help you better understand if a testamentary trust is the right solution for your goals.

Get Help Managing Trusts in Your Estate Plan

Testamentary trusts represent a powerful tool within the realm of estate planning, particularly suited to scenarios requiring posthumous asset management and distribution under specific conditions. In California, where estate planning can be complex due to the state’s legal nuances, understanding the role and utility of testamentary trusts is essential. Whether for safeguarding the interests of minor children, addressing special needs considerations, or ensuring a measured distribution of assets, testamentary trusts offer a structured, customizable approach to achieving a testator’s long-term objectives. As with all aspects of estate planning, consulting with a legal professional experienced in California estate law is crucial. At The Dayton Law Firm, P.C., we can help ensure that a testamentary trust is properly integrated into your estate plan, reflecting your wishes and providing for your beneficiaries in the most effective manner possible. Schedule your consultation today to learn more about how we can help you. 

In the landscape of family businesses, the transition of leadership and ownership is not just a matter of corporate governance but also of preserving a legacy and ensuring the continuity of values and vision that have propelled the business to its success. 

Among the plethora of mechanisms available for planning the succession of a family business, trusts stand out as a powerful tool, offering flexibility, privacy, and tax advantages. However, without careful planning and consideration, the use of trusts can also lead to disputes and complications. Let’s explore how to effectively plan for passing on a company using trusts and how to mitigate potential problems that could lead to disputes during the transition to new leadership within a family business.

Understanding Trusts in Estate Planning

A trust is a fiduciary arrangement that allows a third party, or trustee, to hold assets on behalf of beneficiaries. Trusts can be tailored to the specific needs and goals of a family business, making them an attractive option for business succession planning. There are several types of trusts, but the most common in the context of business succession are revocable trusts, irrevocable trusts, and special-purpose trusts like Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs) or Charitable Remainder Trusts (CRTs).

Advantages of Using Trusts for Business Succession

Trusts offer the grantor (the person who establishes the trust) considerable flexibility in dictating how and when the assets, including the business interests, are distributed to the beneficiaries. This can be particularly useful in ensuring that the company is passed on to those who are interested and capable of running it. Other benefits include:

  • Tax Benefits: A properly structured trust can help minimize estate taxes, gift taxes, and generation-skipping transfer taxes, preserving more of the company’s value for future generations.
  • Privacy: Unlike wills, which become public records during the probate process, trusts operate privately, keeping the details of the company transition out of the public eye.
  • Avoidance of Probate: Assets held in a trust bypass the probate process, allowing for a potentially smoother and quicker transfer of the business to the beneficiaries.

Planning to Avoid Disputes

While trusts offer many benefits, their success in business succession planning depends on careful and strategic planning. Here are key considerations to avoid disputes:

  • Clear Communication: One of the most common sources of disputes is a lack of clear communication. The current leadership must communicate their succession plans, including the use of a trust, with all family members involved. This helps manage expectations and reduce misunderstandings.
  • Equitable Treatment of Family Members: Equitable does not always mean equal. In many cases, it may be appropriate for the family member who has been actively involved in the business to receive a larger share of the company assets than those who have not. However, providing fair and balanced consideration to all family members can help prevent feelings of resentment or neglect.
  • Selection of Trustees: The choice of trustee is paramount. A trustee with a deep understanding of both the family dynamics and the business can help navigate the complexities of managing the trust assets. In some cases, it may be wise to appoint a neutral, third-party trustee to avoid bias and conflicts of interest.
  • Regular Review and Update of Trust Documents: As the company evolves, so too should the trust documents. Regular reviews and updates can ensure that the trust reflects the current state of the company and the grantor’s wishes, adapting to changes in family circumstances, business valuation, and tax laws.

Build a Better Business Succession Plan 

Utilizing trusts in the succession planning of a family business offers a pathway to preserving the legacy and values of the company while ensuring its continued success. However, the creation of a trust should not be viewed as a set-and-forget strategy. To truly leverage the benefits of trusts and avoid potential disputes, ongoing communication, fair treatment of all family members, strategic selection of trustees, and regular updates to the trust documents are required. With these considerations in mind, trusts can serve as a cornerstone of a successful and harmonious business transition to the next generation.If you’re preparing to build a business succession plan as part of your estate, the experienced attorneys at The Dayton Law Firm P.C. can help. Learn more about how we can assist you with succession and estate planning by scheduling your consultation with our San Jose lawyers today.