When potential clients begin to discuss estate planning, we attorneys often hear similar concerns repeatedly. They do not want to burden family members who may provide care, especially in a serious illness. They do not want the government to control their real estate or personal property when they die. They want to make sure the correct people get their possessions — and the wrong people do not.
While people tend to have strong feelings about these estate planning concerns, they still hesitate to begin the process. They likely think they have more time or do not want to face their mortality
Although you may want to avoid the discussion, estate planning will provide you with vital peace of mind. An experienced estate planning attorney can help make sure that survivors will respect your wishes.
Each client has a unique situation, but in general, an estate planner recommends that you have four key elements in place:
1.Your Last Will and Testament
For many people new to the process, a will is synonymous with estate planning. This legal document empowers you to decide what happens to your property after your death. Family, friends, favorite charities, or a combination of these, tend to be common beneficiaries.
Suppose you do not have a will when you die. In that case, California has rules of intestate succession that control the distribution of your estate, including retirement accounts, real estate, and personal property.
Under these rules, the distribution begins with the surviving spouse for married couples, followed by surviving children. Parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all take a place in line if you have no surviving spouse or children.
If you have strong feelings about the distribution of your assets, a will can give you peace of mind.
Still, after your death, the will goes into probate, costing time and money. If you want to spare your family the probate process, you should add a living trust to your estate plan.
A living trust, also called a revocable trust, is a legal document that gives a trustee the power to control property for a beneficiary or beneficiaries.
Since you establish the trust, you will act as the first trustee. The agreement sets forth the person who will assume the title of a trustee when you die or become unable to handle your personal affairs. It also details how the assets covered by the trust will be distributed.
A living trust does not need to go through the probate process. You can also alter or revoke the trust at any time so that you do not relinquish any control of your assets while you are alive.
Wills and trusts work well together, covering your assets and your wishes while avoiding the time and cost of probate. A living trust attorney can answer any questions you may have about this part of the process.
3.Power of Attorney
When you complete a durable general power of attorney, you designate another person to control your property and financial interests if you become incapacitated.
A power of attorney provides significant authority, so you must make your selection carefully. Should the time come when you cannot make your own decisions, you want that power to rest in the hands of someone you trust.
Your living will, also called an advance health care directive, protects your wishes regarding medical treatment.
The form created by the State of California features one section that acts as a power of attorney specifically for health care. You name someone who will make health care treatment decisions for you if you cannot do so on your own.
The second section allows you to set forth specific directions for your care that your doctors and your appointee in the first section must follow. The document will enable you to choose under what conditions you do and do not want life-sustaining care.
The third section of the living will gives you the power to choose whether or not to donate your organs, while the fourth section provides for your choice of a primary doctor. Your appointee from section one will make these decisions if you do not specify your preferences in advance.
With these four items in place, you can decide what will happen to your most precious possessions after you die. Though you may be avoiding estate planning, you will have great peace of mind when you complete the process with an attorney you trust. Plus, you can make sure your assets do not fall into the wrong hands.
Contact California Probate and Trust, PC for Your Estate Planning Needs
The knowledgeable and experienced team of professionals at California Probate and Trust, PC in Fair Oaks, California, can help protect your assets and interests. We look forward to assisting you with a wide range of customized estate planning services.
Listen to Estate Planning Attorney and Founder of California Probate and Trust, PC, R. Dustin MacFarlane, discuss Death & Dying, And DIY on his podcast, Legally Speaking:
California Probate and Trust, PC offers a free estate planning guide that gives you some vital information. Call our 24-hour hotline at 916-603-2782 to leave your name, number, and mailing address. We will send your guide to you ASAP.
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