Golden Gate Bridge Practice Areas - Estate Planning, Trust Administration and Probate

Estate Planning

At many law firms, "one size fits all," and clients often discover, too late, that their unique problems had been "solved" with a modular set of documents, substituting their names for "Mr. and Mrs. Smith."

At SuttleLaw, we seek first to identify your unique personal priorities. We use this understanding and our knowledge of the law to synthesize solutions that are in line with your priorities. The result is a strategy that gives proper weight to the technical and the personal and a set of documents to implement that strategy.

At SuttleLaw, most of our clients come to us as a result of a referral—a trusted friend or family member. And, indeed, trust is the most essential element of the relationship we build with you, our clients. For you to put in place a plan which plays out decades from now, you must feel free to share the personal and financial "secrets" that must be duly taken into account in creating that plan. The fact that we have been around for 25 years—and have more than 600 active estate planning clients—helps to assure you that we will continue to be there for you and your loved ones as you pass through the different phases of your life.

SuttleLaw's estate planning vehicles and services include:

  • Estate, gift, generation-skipping and related tax planning
  • Simple and complex wills, including "pourover" wills (when a revocable trust is involved)
  • Revocable inter vivos (lifetime) trusts
  • Irrevocable life insurance trusts ("ILITs")
  • Irrevocable "Crummey" trusts
  • Financial powers of attorney
  • Health care directives and privacy waivers
  • Real property deeds, deeds of trust, and related documents
  • Charitable remainder trusts ("CRTs" or "CRUTs")
  • Qualified Personal Residence Trusts ("QPRTs")
  • Family limited partnerships ("FLPs")
  • Limited liability companies ("LLCs")
  • Tenancy-in-common ("TIC") agreements
  • Business succession plans, including buy-sell agreements
  • Property agreements to ensure a "double step-up" in the basis of your assets in order to minimize future income taxes
  • Post-mortem planning

Trust Administration & Probate

Even if you have taken all of the right steps in the planning stages, nothing equips you for the emotional anguish and bewilderment that follows the death or incapacity of a loved one. And, in fact, in many cases, clients come to us not having taken all of the right steps.

We try to help you to navigate the trust administration or probate process by clearly and compassionately spelling out for you what you have to do and when you have to do it. We take the burden off of you, and we do for you what you cannot or choose not to do yourself. This process includes some of the following steps and documents:

Trust Administration—No Probate

  • Initial Meeting; discussion of process, including possibility of "disclaimer"
  • Notification of Social Security, casualty and life insurance carriers
  • Filing life insurance claims
  • Preparation of notification of death for known creditors
  • Preparation of petition to the Probate Court with respect to creditors' claims
  • Letter to Successor Trustee spelling out fiduciary duties of trustee
  • Obtaining new federal identification number for trust
  • Preparation of required statutory notice to beneficiaries
  • "Lodging" the will with the Court (required even if no probate)
  • Obtaining death certificates for institutions
  • Preparation of affidavit(s) of death of joint tenant
  • Preparation and recording of affidavit(s) of death of trustee—required for all real property
  • Filing of real property change of ownership report and related reassessment exemptions
  • Compilation of schedule of assets and liabilities and related valuation guidelines
  • Compilation of schedule of beneficiaries, contact information, related information
  • Preparation, execution, and delivery of "disclaimer" (if appropriate)
  • Preparation of Federal estate tax return ("Form 706") and any required state estate or inheritance tax returns
  • Preparation of Federal and state final income tax returns for decedent
  • Preparation of Federal and state fiduciary income tax returns for revocable trust and any subtrusts created thereunder
  • Preparation of comprehensive schedule of assets and liabilities of decedent and surviving spouse—for purposes of "funding" decisions
  • Preparation of tentative funding schedule
  • Brainstorming funding strategies; guidance in making final decisions
  • Preparation of funding agreement
  • Communications with IRS and other taxing authorities
  • Representation of trust in IRS and state audits (if applicable)
  • Preparation of distribution receipts as part of winding up process
  • Distribution of assets—conveyance of real properties, assignment of tangible and intangible personal property, re-titling of certain intangible assets
  • Preparation of accountings by trustee or the obtaining of accounting waivers from all beneficiaries


Most of our clients prefer that their assets not go through probate, because probate is an expensive, public, and time-consuming process. In most cases, probate can be avoided through the use of a revocable trust. In some cases (e.g., when court supervision is desired), however, a client may use a will as his or her primary testamentary document, and upon the client's death, his or her assets will be subject to probate. In other cases, a probate may be required because of circumstances beyond the client's control—e.g., an accidental death that gives rise to a "wrongful death" claim, or the death of a client at a time at which he or she has a "vested" interest in inherited assets that are "tied up" in a probate or trust proceeding (for a friend or relative) that was still in process at the time of the client's death. A probate may also be required as the result of inadvertence—e.g., if the client has established a revocable trust, but he or she fails to transfer all of his or her assets to the trust or fails to designate a valid beneficiary for an IRA or other retirement plan.

The probate process adds a layer of complexity to the winding up of an individual's affairs. The probate process includes some of the following steps and documents (in addition to many of the documents and procedures necessary in the case of a non-probate trust administration):

  • Preparation of petition for the probate of the will and the appointment of the executor or administrator of the estate
  • Service on all interested persons (beneficiaries, heirs, and others required to be noticed and those requesting special notice)
  • Preparation of an "inventory and appraisal" of all of the probate assets of the decedent
  • Preparation of petition to sell any unusual or valuable assets of decedent
  • Preparation of court accounting or the obtaining of a waiver of the accounting by all beneficiaries
  • Preparation of petition for final distribution of the estate, including a request for the payment of attorney and executor fees
  • Preparation of declarations supporting requests for any "extraordinary" fees
  • Preparation of appropriate court orders
  • Preparation of beneficiary receipts
  • Filing of the court order and receipts with the Clerk of the Probate Court
  • Preparation of petition to legally discharge the executor or administrator

The Firm also represents clients in court and in mediation proceedings in cases where beneficiaries and estate administrators disagree on the distribution of assets.

SuttleLaw's attorneys and legal assistants have the skill and experience to guide clients through the difficult legal, tax, and administrative responsibilities that follow the death of a loved one.

SutteLaw, P.C. One Front Street, Suite 1300, San Francisco, CA 94111   TEL: 415.781.0250   FAX: 415.398.1869  EMAIL: