Chevron Employees: Avoid These Common Estate Planning Mistakes

Estate planning is one of the most important things you can do to protect your family and your assets. It ensures that your assets and belongings go exactly where you want them and saves your family an immense amount of stress, pain, and cost. Still, estate planning often becomes an afterthought, something that’s a “long way off” or “not a top priority right now.” 

The good news is that estate planning isn’t as complicated as it sounds. You can establish the key documents you need with much less effort or investment than you might think. In my 33 years of advising Chevron employees, here are the most common mistakes I’ve seen and the steps you can take to avoid them. 

1. Underestimating probate.

Too often, people put off estate planning because they don’t realize the alternative. If you didn’t have key estate documents in place, and something were to happen to you, all of your assets would go to probate. That is basically a simple way of saying the government would decide for you — in a very long, expensive, and public way — what to do with your assets. 

I’ve seen probate negatively impact already grieving families who don’t have the bandwidth or money to deal with the probate process. It makes everything much simpler for your surviving family to have all of your documents in place, so they can focus on things that matter instead of the cost and process of dividing up your assets.

2. Believing estate plans are just for the rich.

Estate planning might sound fancy, but estate plans are not just for the wealthy. The six estate planning documents everyone should have include: 1) Will/trust, 2) Durable power of attorney, 3) Beneficiary designations, 4) Letter of intent, 5) Healthcare power of attorney, and 6) Guardianship designations. Beneficiary and guardianship designations are particularly critical for those with minor children, as they allow you to decide who would look after them. 

A will or trust should be one of the core components of every estate plan, regardless of the amount of assets. These documents ensure that your assets go exactly where you want them. A durable power of attorney sets whom you would want to make decisions for you if you were unable to (otherwise, it would be up to the courts) — and the same principle applies to the healthcare power of attorney. Your letter of intent streamlines asset distribution and can also include wishes for your funeral. Beneficiary and guardianship designations state your wishes for your children and other beneficiaries. 

3. Assuming estate plans are too expensive.

Having your assets go through probate is actually far messier and more expensive than creating an estate plan. How much more expensive? The average cost for probate and attorney fees for a $1MM estate is $46,000. The fee to set up an estate plan, on the other hand, averages just a few thousand dollars. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to probate, not to mention you also save your family time and stress by outlining everything in advance. 

Most importantly, an estate plan leaves nothing to chance or guessing. Estate documents make it exceedingly clear whom you would like to take care of your children, get ownership of your house, inherit your money, etc. You can also detail how inheritance should occur (at specific ages, in specific percentages over time, etc.).

For more detail on how to set up your estate plan, join Warren Street and Hunsberger Dunn for a “Will, Trusts, & Estate Planning Webinar” Sept. 27. We’ll break down how to know if you need a living trust, best practices for creating wills and trusts, and more! Estate planning can seem convoluted, but we’re here for you to help make it as streamlined as possible. 

Have questions about your Chevron retirement plan? Len is an expert in Chevron benefits and would be happy to meet with you. Click here to schedule a complimentary consultation with him. 

Len Hanson

Wealth Advisor, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

Practice with Genene Dunn: Trust Basics

Hunsberger Dunn LLP

Warren Street Sits Down with Partner Genene Dunn 

At Warren Street, we want to ensure we are continuing our education to give our clients a financial edge. This applies to all aspects of their overall financial picture.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with one of the partners of the law firm Hunsberger Dunn, LLP, Genene Dunn. During our conversation, we had the chance to talk with her about estate planning, and specifically, building a trust.

Here are some of the issues we discussed, our key takeaways, and some of the nuances we learned regarding trusts and avoiding the probate process.

Who needs a trust and what does it do?

A trust’s primary objective is to avoid probate for the client. Period.

The threshold for probate is $150,000 of real assets, which are defined as physical assets that have value due to their substance. Real assets can be things such as: precious metals, commodities, real estate, land, machinery, or oil, so estate with $150,000 in real assets or more without a trust is subject to probate.

Genene gave the example of $500,000 in real assets with no trust. In this instance, you can expect to pay approximately $26,000 in fees.

Going through probate, both the lawyer and the personal representative (administrator), the person named by the court to handle the estate, are paid according to the fee schedule below. This is why probate can be so expensive.


Not only is probate an expensive process, but it is lengthy as well. The probate system in Orange County is significantly backed up, it could take up to a year to complete the process.

If you have real assets in excess of $150,000, it might be time to start thinking about building your own trust and avoiding the probate process all together.

How do I handle creditors when the trustee has passed?

If the deceased person had debt in their names, then these become debts of the trust.  They do not become debts of the beneficiaries.

When handling credit card collections, the collectors have 4 months after the announcement of the death of the trustee to file for a claim for their debt. An announcement of death can be placed in the local newspaper of the trustee. If the credit card companies do not file their claims through the appropriate process within this 4-month window, their claim becomes void and does not need to be paid by the trust.

If there is real property inside the trust, such as real estate, Genene suggested to continue paying the bills that “keep the lights on”, such as utilities and house maintenance services (pool cleaning, gardening, etc.). The reason for this is that the property may eventually be sold and you want it to remain presentable to a prospective buyers.

What about my 401(k) or other outside accounts?

Genene will sometimes gets asked about placing a 401(k) or retirement account inside a trust. This is something that is probably not recommended as these types of accounts have listed beneficiaries. Probate can be avoided if the beneficiaries are named and appropriate forms are completed.

On the other hand, non-retirement or brokerage accounts can be placed inside the trust to then be distributed according to the wishes of the grantor, the person who established the trust.

Another interesting topic was Transfer on Death (TOD) bank accounts. If a TOD is in place, then you can present your bank branch with a Death Certificate, which typically can take 10-12 days to process, before being allowed access to funds. However, if they accounts are held in trust, there would be no delay since a spouse is typically the co-trustee and would be able to act on the account immediately upon death. If there is not a Transfer on Death established or a trust account, then the assets would be subject to probate.

Special Needs Beneficiaries

One of the most interesting things we learned from our conversation was with regard to children or beneficiaries that have special needs. Some of these people receive assistance from the government for their condition, and they can become disqualified from that assistance if they have an interest in the assets of a trust.

It is imperative if you have someone in your life with special needs whom you want to ensure receives assets from your estate, that a special needs trust is established and that it is set up correctly to avoid disqualifying them from government assistance in the future.

As we had mentioned earlier, the main objective of establishing a trust is to avoid probate and the wasted time and expense associated with it. A trust usually runs between $2,000-$3,000 depending on the complexity, but the amount of time and money saved by going through the process can be 8-10x the cost of the trust itself. Not to mention not having to waste time in an Orange County probate system that is already significantly backed up.

If you are concerned about your current estate planning situation, including your current assets, trusts or other aspects of your plan, please feel free to contact us to discuss.

Contact Us

Next Event: Taxes & You

Joe OcchipintiJoe Occhipinti
Wealth Advisor
Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Joe Occhipinti is an Investment Advisor Representative of Warren Street Wealth Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor. Information contained herein does not involve the rendering of personalized investment advice, but is limited to the dissemination of general information. A professional advisor should be consulted before implementing any of the strategies or options presented.

Warren Street Wealth Advisors and its representatives are not attorneys and all information herein should be verified via qualified legal opinion. 

Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. Changes in investment strategies, contributions or withdrawals may materially alter the performance, strategy, and results of your portfolio.Historical performance results for investment indexes and/or categories, generally do not reflect the deduction of transaction and/or custodial charges or the deduction of an investment-management fee, the incurrence of which would have the effect of decreasing historical performance results.Economic factors, market conditions, and investment strategies will affect the performance of any portfolio and there are no assurances that it will match or outperform any particular benchmark. Nothing in this commentary is a solicitation to buy, or sell, any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. We may hold securities referenced in the blog and due to the static nature of content, those securities held may change over time and trades may be contrary to outdated posts.