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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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Navigating the intricacies of estate planning can be complex, especially when considering the interplay between state and federal laws. In California, understanding these differences is crucial for effective estate planning. Here’s what you should know about how state and federal estate laws operate within California so that you can make informed decisions for your future.

Understanding Federal Estate Planning Laws

Federal estate planning regulations are primarily concerned with the taxation of an individual’s assets after death. Understanding these laws is essential for effective planning. The most important regulations include:

  • Federal Estate Tax: This tax applies to the transfer of property at death. As of 2024, the federal estate tax exemption is $13.61 million for individuals and $27.22 million for couples, meaning estates valued below this amount are not subject to federal taxes. However, for estates valued above that amount, the tax rate is set at 40% of the excess value, which can substantially impact high-net-worth parties.
  • Federal Gift Tax: The gift tax applies to transfers made while living. There’s an annual exclusion amount set at $18,000 per recipient in 2024. Amounts above this, however, count toward a “lifetime exemption” that aligns with the federal estate tax exemption. In other words, if you give someone $38,000 in 2024, $20,000 of that would count against your exemption. As an individual, that would reduce your total exemption from $13.61 million to $13.59 million. It may seem small, but these big gifts add up over time.  
  • Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax (GSTT): This applies to transfers to a beneficiary two or more generations below the donor, like grandchildren. It’s designed to prevent the avoidance of taxes through multi-generational transfers. The GSTT has the same exemption limit as the estate tax and uses a similar rate structure.

These rules apply to everyone nationwide, regardless of where they live. However, every state has additional laws that can interact with federal regulations. 

California State Inheritance Laws

Unlike federal laws, which are primarily focused on taxation, California’s laws address the ownership and distribution of a person’s assets after their death. Here are some key components of California’s inheritance laws:

  • No State Estate or Inheritance Tax: One of the most significant aspects of California estate law is that it does not impose a state-level inheritance tax. This is in contrast to some other states that levy extra taxes on estates or inheritances.
  • Community Property Laws: California is a community property state, which means that any assets acquired during marriage are generally considered jointly owned by both spouses. This has significant implications for estate planning, as it affects how property is characterized and divided upon death or divorce, particularly for high-net-worth individuals or those with complex asset structures.
  • Probate Process: The probate process in California can be lengthy, expensive, and public, which is why many people choose to create plans that avoid probate, such as through the use of trusts. 

The Interaction of State and Federal Laws for Estates

Considering both state and federal laws is crucial when planning your estate in California due to the distinct but overlapping jurisdictions of these laws. Here’s how to integrate both into your plans:

  • Use Trusts: Utilizing trusts can provide advantages under both sets of laws, such as avoiding probate or minimizing tax liabilities. You might use a revocable living trust to avoid the often lengthy and expensive probate process in California or consider an irrevocable trust to cut down on taxes both now and later for your beneficiaries.
  • Lifetime Gifts: Make use of the annual gift tax exclusion to reduce the size of your taxable assets over time without impacting your lifetime federal exemption. 
  • Asset Protection: Utilize California’s homestead exemption for asset protection, particularly in relation to bankruptcy proceedings. In combination with careful property ownership planning, you can protect your home and pass it on to the next generation without taking a tax hit. 

Skilled Assistance With California Estate Planning Problems

Estate plans in California requires a careful balance between state and federal laws. It’s advisable to consult with an estate planning attorney to understand these complexities and craft a plan that best suits your needs and goals. Schedule your consultation with The Dayton Law Firm, P.C., to discuss your concerns and learn how we can help you. Remember, a well-thought-out plan is not just about taxes; it’s about ensuring that your wishes are honored, and your loved ones are taken care of in the way you intend.

When it comes to family business succession planning in California, the process is as unique as the businesses themselves. Unlike conventional corporate transitions, family businesses often carry a blend of personal relationships, long-standing traditions, and deeply rooted values. Let’s explore the nuances involved in ensuring a smooth transition that honors the legacy of the business while paving the way for future success.

What Is a Family Business Succession Plan?

A business succession plan is a strategic roadmap designed to guide the transition of ownership and management in a family-owned business from one generation to another. This type of plan is crucial for the continuity and stability of the enterprise. It outlines how leadership and responsibilities will be passed on, ensuring that the company can continue to operate successfully after the current leaders retire, pass away, or are otherwise unable to manage the company.

Key components of a company succession plan typically include:

  • Identification of Successors: Selecting who will take over the key roles in the business. This can include relatives or external individuals, depending on the business’s needs and relationship dynamics.
  • Development and Training: Providing the necessary training and development opportunities to the identified successors to ensure they are ready to take over the business roles effectively.
  • Governance Structures: Establishing clear guidelines and structures for decision-making, governance, and resolving disputes, which is especially important in family businesses where personal relationships may complicate professional decisions.
  • Financial Planning: Addressing financial aspects such as valuation of the company, tax implications, and financial support for retiring loved ones.
  • Legal Considerations: Ensuring all legal aspects of the transition are addressed, including the transfer of ownership, updating of wills and trusts, and compliance with relevant laws and regulations.
  • Contingency Planning: Preparing for unforeseen circumstances, such as the sudden incapacity or death of a key family member, to ensure the enterprise can continue to operate smoothly.
  • Communication Plan: Maintaining open and effective communication among relatives and key stakeholders to manage expectations and reduce potential conflicts.

The goal of a family business succession plan is not only to preserve the legacy and values of the family business but also to ensure its long-term success and viability. 

What Makes Family Business Succession Planning Difficult?

Family businesses are more than just commercial entities; they are a legacy intertwined with familial identities and emotions. This fact makes succession planning uniquely challenging. A few key aspects that set it apart include:

  • Emotional Attachment: Succession in a family-owned business often involves handing over control from one generation to the next. This can be emotionally charged, as it’s not just a business transition but a family milestone.
  • Relationship Dynamics: Unlike corporate businesses, small businesses often have complex interpersonal dynamics. Balancing company needs with family relationships requires careful navigation.
  • Legacy Preservation: There’s a deep desire to maintain the founder’s vision and values, making the selection of a successor a sensitive issue.
  • Tax Considerations: California has specific tax laws that can impact the transfer of ownership. These need to be carefully considered to minimize financial impact.

Planning for Difficulties in Family Business Ownership Transitions

To better prepare for the complexities of company succession, consider the following steps:

  • Open Communication: Foster an environment where family members can openly discuss their expectations and concerns about the business’s future.
  • Develop a Succession Plan: This should include identifying potential successors, defining a timeline, and outlining the training and transition process.
  • Seek Professional Guidance: Consult with an estate planning attorney to understand the legal and financial implications, especially under California law.
  • Consider Unrelated Parties: Sometimes, the best successor may not be a relative. Be open to external candidates to ensure the company’s longevity.
  • Implement Governance Structures: Establish clear policies and roles to separate personal and business matters, reducing potential conflicts.
  • Plan for Contingencies: Address potential scenarios like the sudden incapacity of a key family member or disputes among potential successors.

Succession planning is not a one-time task. Regularly review and adapt the plan to reflect changes in the family or business.

Protect Your Family-Run Business for Generations

In California, where small businesses contribute significantly to the economy, effective succession planning is crucial. Balancing the emotional, relational, and financial aspects while adhering to state-specific legal requirements can be challenging. However, with thoughtful planning, open communication, and professional guidance, it is possible to ensure a smooth transition that honors the family legacy and secures the company’s future.If you’re facing the complexities of business succession planning in California, don’t navigate this journey alone. Contact the skilled attorneys at The Dayton Law Firm, P.C., for tailored legal advice that ensures your family’s legacy and your business’s future are in good hands.

The holidays are best spent with family and friends. Most people take time out of their busy schedules to spend at least a day or two with the people they love most and talk, relax, and bond. This time of family celebration is more than just a welcome break at the end of the year; it’s also an excellent time to think about your estate plan.

Estate planning may seem like the opposite of good cheer, but it’s more appropriate than you’d think. Don’t miss this opportunity to spend time with loved ones and make sure your plan is up-to-date. Here’s why you should consider your estate plan when spending time with family this winter and a checklist of considerations you can address while everyone’s together.

Why Perform Estate Planning During the Holidays?

The goal of an estate plan is to protect your loved ones and give them the best possible present after you’re gone: the gift of peace of mind. A good plan includes many documents to accomplish this goal, including:

  • A Will and Testament to clearly explain what you want to happen with your assets when you’re gone to minimize conflict during the probate process.
  • A Medical Advanced Directive (sometimes called a living will) explains what kind of medical care you do and do not want to receive if you are incapacitated, so your loved ones don’t have to make that choice for you.
  • Power of Attorney papers to give a trusted person the right to make financial, legal, or medical decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated.
  • Guardianship documents explaining who you want to care for your dependents if you are unavailable.
  • Trust paperwork identifying trustees and the rules of any trusts you have set up to protect your assets after you are gone. 

The point of all these items is to ensure you can pass on assets to your loved ones and ensure they are well cared for after you can’t take care of them. That makes the holidays the perfect time to update your plan. You’re already thinking about how much you care about your family, and they are hopefully all in the same place, making it easy to discuss matters face-to-face. 

Checklist for Holiday Estate Planning

If you’re drafting or revising your estate plan over the holidays, there are several things you should do to make the most of the opportunity:

Talk to Family 

It’s too easy to lose touch with loved ones during the busy summer months. Family gatherings are the perfect time to reconnect with everyone and learn what’s going on in their lives. Talking with family members allows you to:

  • Learn about financial changes in people’s lives.
  • Identify who may benefit most from receiving certain assets.
  • Refresh yourself on the ages of any grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and other young people in your extended family.
  • Learn which family members have moved back to the area or are planning to move away.

In short, the holidays help you catch up with your family and discover who may benefit most from your estate.

Identify Good Agents 

If you are drafting an estate plan for the first time, the holidays are the perfect opportunity to identify people you would trust with Power of Attorney. Granting someone power of attorney makes them your agent if you should be incapacitated, such as falling into a coma or developing Alzheimer’s. When talking to your family, you can determine who may make a good agent by considering the following:

  • Who seems reliable and trustworthy?
  • Who has the time and energy to act as your agent?
  • Who is loyal to you and willing to prioritize your best interest?
  • Who lives close enough to you that they could easily appear in person?

Once you identify a candidate or two, you can discuss this sensitive matter with them in person. On the other hand, you may decide you do not want to burden any family member with this responsibility. In that case, you can consult with an experienced attorney and request that they act as your agent instead.

Consider Changes 

If you already have an estate plan, talking to your loved ones allows you to make informed decisions about changes. For example, if you realize your oldest grandchild is now a legal adult, you may decide to change how they are treated in your will. Meanwhile, if the person you granted Power of Attorney is moving to another state, you may need to revoke their power and give it to someone else. 

Draft or Update Your Estate Plan for the New Year

Whether you need to write an estate plan for the first time or you are considering revising your current one, the holidays are a good time to get started. Schedule your consultation with the expert attorneys at The Dayton Law Offices today to discuss your considerations. We will help you draft or revise your plan to fit your current and future needs, no matter what those may be.