There’s no way to stress the true importance of estate planning for people of all wealth levels. Estate plans protect our wishes regarding the dispensation of assets, name the beneficiaries for important accounts and policies, express our desires for medical care, name the people we trust to make decisions on our behalf, and more.
Without an estate plan, things change dramatically. The perils of dying without a will or trust in place (intestate), means that your assets will be dispersed according to state law and not according to your wishes.
Furthermore, your estate will have to go through probate, a lengthy and expensive process where the court requires an accounting of your assets and then disperses them pursuant to intestacy statutes, which essentially means that only your closest biological relatives will collect. This might be directly opposed to your desires, since you might have actually wanted, for example, a distant relative or family friend to inherit the bulk of your property.
What documents are important?
- Wills: In a will, you can name someone who carries out your wishes (an executor), direct inheritance of your assets by naming heirs, dictate your desires for funeral arrangements (including whether you prefer burial or cremation, whether you’d like a memorial service, etc.) and more. An important thing to remember about a will is that it is a part of the public record while in probate.
- Trusts: California trusts not only allow you to plan for the disposition of assets for the benefit of a special needs loved one, but you can also name a guardian for your minor children and withhold assets for their care. You can even set aside money for the care of a beloved pet or for contributions to a favorite charity. Trusts do not have to go through probate, and they remain private, off the public record.
- Durable powers of attorney: These grant a responsible person of your choice the authority to make personal and financial decisions on your behalf in the event of your illness or incapacity.
- Advance directives: This is key for establishing your wishes and desires for healthcare should you become ill or incapacitated. You can list the types of extraordinary care you would prefer, as well as your wishes for such things as palliative care and hospice.
This list is not necessarily conclusive, as estate planning is a very fact-specific area of the law. Different people have different needs, and everyone’s situation is unique. You should strongly consider proceeding through the estate planning process with the aid of an attorney. Estate planning isn’t something that should be “do-it-yourself,” and those cookie-cutter forms on the Internet can sometimes do more harm than good.