Every estate plan is different, but there are general steps to take to ensure that you and your family are prepared for the worst. Documentation is necessary to properly manage how your finances and health care are handled after you can no longer do so yourself. It’s important to ensure that all of your wishes are fulfilled in the case of incapacity or death.
Even if you tell your family members what you want, there is no guarantee that your desires will be carried out exactly as you wish. People can forget details, let something slide, or decide against it later without your permission. Below is a list of the most important estate planning documents for residents of the state of California. It should give you an idea of the kinds of documents required to set up your own plan. It’s important to document all crucial decisions so that they can be followed precisely.
Financial Power of Attorney
A very important instruction to establish is financial power of attorney. With this document, you determine which of the people you trust the most can handle your financial situation in case you become incapacitated. Incapacitation can include unconsciousness or the inability to care for yourself, such as with dementia.
It’s a terrible experience to watch a family member become unable to handle his or her own finances. If not handled properly, such matters can cause messy legal problems. By assigning a power of attorney, a lot of the hassle is removed from this painful and stressful situation. Such a document can be put into action immediately or be set up in case of future situations. A durable power of attorney persists through any incapacitation that occurs.
Advanced Health Care Directive
An advanced health care directive helps you establish how you want to be taken care of in the event of incapacitation or death. With this document, you declare who can access your health records in case of an emergency. This trusted person would then be given the information necessary to make informed decisions about your care while still following your wishes.
The directive includes decisions such as whether or not you want your life extended if you are left in an incapacitated state. A do not resuscitate (DNR) order keeps doctors from prolonging your life if there is no real hope of recovery. The directive also includes instructions for organ donation. You can specify which, if any, parts of your body you are willing to donate.
Last Will and Testament
Probably the most well known estate planning document, an up-to-date will and testament is a crucial part of your arrangements. Your will establishes your final wishes in the event of your death. It also gives instruction as to how you want your belongings to be distributed among friends and family members. Within the will, you name an executor who will carry out the wishes for you, the testator.
A last will and testament is incredibly important for helping your family handle the many issues that come up after a death. If young children are involved, trusted people should be established as guardians. In California, a common and very effective type of document known as a “pour-over will” can be used in combination with a revocable living trust (discussed below). A pour-over will makes it easier for your property to be passed on to your beneficiaries through your trust.
Revocable Living Trust
Establishing a revocable living trust is a crucial step for California estate planning. This is especially true if you own real property (land and/or buildings). When you place your property into a trust, you are no longer considered the “owner” of that property. Instead, it is officially owned by the trust, which you control along with anyone else specifically included within the documentation as a trustee.
If you keep your trust paperwork up-to-date, it can significantly reduce the stress, hassle, and fees involved in transferring property to your beneficiaries. A probate is the process of establishing the validity of a will, and it can be a lengthy and expensive process for your heirs. A well-formed trust can bypass this problem.
We can’t plan for everything in life, so it’s best to be prepared for anything. By having a well-established plan in place, you can save your loved ones a lot of time, money, and stress when the worst happens. Before incapacitation or death occurs, make sure that the ones closest to you are legally prepared. If you want more information about the importance of such documentation, you can read about what happens if a will and testament is not in place here.
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