Ellen Cookman’s Estate Planning Insights: A Video Library

Discover the essentials of estate planning with our latest video series. Ellen Cookman guides you through the critical steps to secure your family’s future.

  • Navigating Special Needs Planning: Get expert advice on creating trusts and care plans
    tailored for your loved ones.

  • Estate Planning Explained: Learn how to safeguard your assets with clear, step-by-step
    instructions.

  • Legal Insights for the Future: Stay informed with detailed discussions on estate planning
    processes and documents.

Videos
Educational Estate Planning Video Resources
Practical Guidance for Your Estate Planning Needs

Access our collection of estate planning videos, where attorney Ellen Cookman shares her legal expertise. These resources are designed to provide clear, actionable information for individuals and families planning their estates.

Highlighted Videos:

Watch our selection of popular videos to gain insights into effective estate
planning, special needs trusts, and more.

Recent Updates

Check out the latest video content to keep informed on new strategies and legal updates that could impact your estate plans.

Essential FAQs

Get answers to common estate planning questions, helping you address any
of your concerns with confidence.

Navigating Estate Law and Benefits with Ellen Cookman

In her series of informative videos, Ellen Cookman provides clear, expert explanations to help you understand the complexities of estate law, special needs planning, and public benefits. With her comprehensive guidance across multiple topics, you’ll gain a robust understanding of strategic estate structuring. Her insights ensure that your estate planning aligns with benefit eligibility, providing peace of mind that your assets and future are well-managed and secure.

Trust administration attorney

Plan for Tomorrow, Today

Start securing your future with our comprehensive estate planning services. Click below to learn how we can personalize your estate plan to fit your unique family dynamic and financial goals.

Dynasty Trust

Safeguarding Autonomy and Assets

Discover how we can help maintain independence and protect assets even in complex situations. Learn about our approach to conservatorships and other protective measures.

Dynasty Trust in California

Connect With Our Experts

Have questions or need advice? Our knowledgeable team is here to guide you through every step of the estate planning process. Contact us today for a personal consultation.

Explore Our Video Series for Comprehensive Estate Planning

Dive into our diverse selection of estate planning videos to gain insights from Ellen Cookman on creating a resilient and flexible estate strategy. From foundational planning to advanced trust structures, our video series equips you with the knowledge to make informed decisions for your
estate.

Connect with Our Planning Specialists

Frequently Asked Questions

Crummey Trust

This is a protective trust for just about anyone. Like the SNT, this type of trust is irrevocable, and it can be set up as a stand-alone trust (while settlor is alive) or a testamentary trust (created from revocable trust upon settlor’s death). Typically the settlor is the parent of the beneficiary, and the beneficiary or a third party can act as trustee. Once funded, the trustee needs to obtain a tax ID number and file yearly income taxes.

This type of trust provides 3 major benefits:

  • All assets held in the lifetime trust are not considered part of the beneficiary’s “estate” so they remain with the beneficiary if he or she endures a divorce – it’s like doing a prenup or postnup for your loved one.
  • There is a high level of creditor protection for assets held in a lifetime trust, as long as the beneficiary is not acting as trustee of the trust
  • When the beneficiary dies, assets held in the trust pass to the beneficiary’s children free of estate taxes. Because of this, these types of trusts are also called “GST” (or Generation-Skipping Transfer) Trusts.Unfortunately, you cannot set up a lifetime trust for yourself or your spouse in California – it is more difficult to do this type of planning (called “asset protection planning”) in California. If interested, you can set up a Dynasty Trust in another state that offers more relaxed laws on asset protection, such as Nevada, Alaska or Delaware.
Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (“ILIT”)

This is a protective trust for just about anyone. Like the SNT, this type of trust is irrevocable, and it can be set up as a stand-alone trust (while settlor is alive) or a testamentary trust (created from revocable trust upon settlor’s death). Typically the settlor is the parent of the beneficiary, and the beneficiary or a third party can act as trustee. Once funded, the trustee needs to obtain a tax ID number and file yearly income taxes.

This type of trust provides 3 major benefits:

  • All assets held in the lifetime trust are not considered part of the beneficiary’s “estate” so they remain with the beneficiary if he or she endures a divorce – it’s like doing a prenup or postnup for your loved one.
  • There is a high level of creditor protection for assets held in a lifetime trust, as long as the beneficiary is not acting as trustee of the trust
  • When the beneficiary dies, assets held in the trust pass to the beneficiary’s children free of estate taxes. Because of this, these types of trusts are also called “GST” (or Generation-Skipping Transfer) Trusts.Unfortunately, you cannot set up a lifetime trust for yourself or your spouse in California – it is more difficult to do this type of planning (called “asset protection planning”) in California. If interested, you can set up a Dynasty Trust in another state that offers more relaxed laws on asset protection, such as Nevada, Alaska or Delaware.
Lifetime Trust or Dynasty Trust

This is a protective trust for just about anyone. Like the SNT, this type of trust is irrevocable, and it can be set up as a stand-alone trust (while settlor is alive) or a testamentary trust (created from revocable trust upon settlor’s death). Typically the settlor is the parent of the beneficiary, and the beneficiary or a third party can act as trustee. Once funded, the trustee needs to obtain a tax ID number and file yearly income taxes.

This type of trust provides 3 major benefits:

  • All assets held in the lifetime trust are not considered part of the beneficiary’s “estate” so they remain with the beneficiary if he or she endures a divorce – it’s like doing a prenup or postnup for your loved one.
  • There is a high level of creditor protection for assets held in a lifetime trust, as long as the beneficiary is not acting as trustee of the trust
  • When the beneficiary dies, assets held in the trust pass to the beneficiary’s children free of estate taxes. Because of this, these types of trusts are also called “GST” (or Generation-Skipping Transfer) Trusts.Unfortunately, you cannot set up a lifetime trust for yourself or your spouse in California – it is more difficult to do this type of planning (called “asset protection planning”) in California. If interested, you can set up a Dynasty Trust in another state that offers more relaxed laws on asset protection, such as Nevada, Alaska or Delaware
Special Needs Trust (“SNT”)

This is a protective trust for a disabled person. A SNT should be irrevocable, and can be set up while the settlor is alive (a “stand-alone SNT”) or it springs into being upon the settlor’s death, from the revocable living trust (a “testamentary SNT”). The settlor and initial trustee is typically the parent or other family member, and the beneficiary is the disabled person.

The main purpose of a SNT is to protect needs-based public benefits for the disabled beneficiary. All of the assets held in the trust are for the benefit of the beneficiary, but the beneficiary cannot change the trust or act as trustee. Because someone else besides the beneficiary has control over the trust assets, the assets in the trust are not considered the beneficiary’s countable assets for public benefits purposes, and the beneficiary can continue to qualify for benefits such as SSI and Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California).

A stand-alone SNT is usually set up with a minimum amount in it, say $10. This is called a “seed trust”. Once the trust is “funded”, that is, substantial assets are transferred into the trust, the trustee needs to get a tax ID number and start filing fiduciary income tax returns.

Revocable Living Trust (“RLT”)

This is the cornerstone of most estate plans in California. This type of trust can be changed or amended at any time (it’s “revocable”) and it’s set up while the settlor is still alive (it’s “living”). Typically, the people setting up a revocable living trust play all 3 roles: they are the settlors, the trustees, and the beneficiaries!

The main purpose of an RLT is to avoid probate. Assets held in an RLT pass upon the settlor’s death as described in the trust, and the named successor trustee takes over management of the trust. Thus, the assets in the trust don’t need to go through the probate court process. The RLT is also good for management, particularly if the settlor isn’t able to act as trustee – it is relatively easy for the named successor trustee to take over management of the assets held in the trust.

This type of trust is also the simplest type of trust out there. Because the trust is revocable, and the same person is acting as settlor and trustee, you don’t need to get a separate tax ID number or file income taxes – the settlor’s social security number is used to report any income generated in the RLT

Who will I be working with in your firm aside from Ellen (the attorney in your absence)?

We love working as a team at Cookman Law. At least 3 sets of eyes look over each set of documents before they go out the door: one of our drafting paralegals (Kim Tyser or Megan Orsini), our associate attorney (Hannah MacLeod), and Ellen. Hannah is typically available for questions when Ellen is out of the office.

Can you help us with applying for public benefits (for beneficiary of a SNT)?

No, we don’t assist with public benefits applications. But we are happy to refer you to folks who do help with this!

How do I know if a Special Needs Trust is right for my child?

Special Needs Trusts are useful if your child is receiving needs-based public benefits (ie Supplemental Security Income and/or Medi-Cal), and/or if they need assistance managing assets, even if they’re not receiving such public benefits.

How much of your practice is dedicated towards Estate Planning/SNT’s?

About one-half of our estate planning clients have special needs issues in their families.

What are your fees like and how does payment work?

We typically charge a flat fee for all work done. After our initial appointment (when we get a better idea of what needs to be done) we will quote a flat fee, and we collect the full fee at that time. We accept credit cards and checks. We deposit the full fee into our IOLTA trust account (owned by the California State Bar), and transfer the fee into our operating account after we send you the draft documents.

We do not offer free initial consultations.

Can you work with my other advisors (Financial Advisor, CPA, Tax Attorney, etc) while working on my Trust?

Yes!! We love working with other professionals, and we welcome them to join our meetings if you are comfortable with it.

Do you (the attorney or Cookman Law, PC) act as Trustee/Executor of the Trust?

No, we do not act as trustee of trusts; instead, we advise trustees of trusts, particularly after the settlor of a trust has died – this process is called Trust Administration. We are happy to introduce you to banks and private professional fiduciaries that act as trustee.

For how long has Ellen been practicing Law?

Ellen graduated from UC Berkeley School of Law in 2003 and has been practicing estate planning (with an emphasis in special needs planning) since 2008. She started Cookman Law, PC in 2015.

How long does it take to create/settle/establish an Estate Plan/Conservatorship/Trust Administration/Conservatorship?

For estate planning, the entire process can take as little as 2 months total – a lot of it depends on when we hear back from you on necessary decisions. Trust administrations and conservatorships tend to take 4-6 months.

What does your process look like?

Ellen or Hannah (our associate attorney) will have a call with you to discuss your goals, dive into your planning needs, answer your questions, and quote a hard fee for all of the planning. Our team then drafts the documents and sends them to you for your review, along with a flow chart and videos walking you through the documents. We then have a follow-up call with you to answer questions and fill in any blanks. Then we schedule a Remote Online Notarization appointment or an in-person notarization appointment.

We can simplify the Estate Planning process. Find out how.