When people think of an estate, it may bring up images of wealth. But the truth is, most everyone has an estate. That’s why every adult Mission Hills resident needs an estate plan.
“If you don’t have a comprehensive estate plan, you can leave yourself vulnerable even while you’re still alive,” says estate planning attorney Larry Simons.
If you get sick or become incapacitated, your estate plan can make sure that your bills are paid, your children and pets are cared for, and critical decisions about your healthcare are made according to your wishes.
In California, a complete estate plan usually includes a Living Trust, Durable Powers of Attorney, a Living Will, and a pour-over will. All these documents need to be in place while you are alive because an estate plan cannot be created after you die or have been incapacitated.
What Happens If I Don’t Have an Estate Plan?
Without an estate plan or living trust protecting your assets, your family will likely end up dealing with the probate court to get access to your house or other real estate, bank accounts, investments, or to have a guardianship established for your minor children.
It’s a long and expensive process.
If you’re in a serious accident and have no estate plan to give a loved one or trusted friend the capacity to make medical decisions on your behalf, your quick access to treatment and, ultimately, your recovery could suffer.
Without an estate plan to serve as guidance, there can be expensive and time-consuming court battles and your wishes may not be considered.
What Does an Estate Planning Lawyer in Mission Hills Do?
California has so many specific issues to consider when drafting an estate plan that you need a highly qualified attorney to put together the right estate plan. Once your estate planning attorney has a clear picture of your assets, they will create a plan that addresses your specific challenges and goals.
There can be Medi-Cal issues, Proposition 13 tax caps, and other issues to consider during the planning process. A good estate planning attorney will ask you a lot of questions so they can determine what your heirs and loved ones will be facing when the inevitable happens.
You want an experienced estate planning lawyer on your side who will honor your wishes while protecting your family and preserving your assets.
Estate planning is not a “one size fits all” or “fill in the blanks area of the law” – although Google might suggest it is. The truth is, trying to go it alone on your estate plan with a form you found online can do more harm than good.
A qualified estate planning attorney stays up to date with changes in tax and estate law and will schedule regular review sessions to make sure your estate plan still works as intended. You want to be sure that your plan is still relevant, especially if your family dynamics or the laws change.
Is a Last Will and Testament all I need?
A Last Will and Testament is typically not sufficient to protect your estate and spare your heirs the time and expense of probate. In California, a simple will won’t qualify as a comprehensive estate plan. It only serves as a suggestion to the probate judge how you would like your assets distributed. A simple will doesn’t provide any tax planning nor does it clarify how to handle your affairs if you are still alive but unable to act in your own interests.
Most California residents need a more robust estate plan to protect themselves, their heirs, and their assets.
What Goes into a Comprehensive California Estate Plan?
A comprehensive estate plan is going to be customized to meet your specific needs, so you may not require all the documents listed here. Your set of customized documents may include:
- A California Living Trust
- A “pour-over” will
- Durable Powers of Attorney to manage your financial and healthcare decisions
- A HIPAA authorization
- A Living Will or Advance Healthcare Directive
- Nominations of guardians for minor children or incapacitated family members with special needs
Several of these documents are standardized but most require an in-depth understanding of your current assets, retirement accounts, and other important considerations.
You want to keep all your documents secured once they are executed. You want them where they can be easily accessed when you die or if you should become incapacitated. You will want to be sure that, if a living trust is right for your circumstances, it is funded, and that your financial institutions are updated about your estate plan.
Read on for more details about these critical estate planning documents:
What is a California Living Trust?
For most people in Mission Hills, a California living trust will be the centerpiece of their customized estate plan. If you’re married, you may have one or more trusts depending on your unique situation. It’s a “living” trust because it goes into effect while you are alive, and it survives your death to ensure your wishes are carried out.
A living trust is where you will hold certain assets so you and your designated trustee can retain control over these assets upon your death or incapacity. A trust is a long-accepted mechanism to protect your estate for your loved ones or to provide for charitable bequests.
And trusts aren’t just for the wealthy. People in all tax brackets can benefit from the protections a trust provides.
While you are alive, you retain total control and ownership of your assets held in the trust. It’s “revocable” meaning you can change it as you desire. But upon your death, the assets in the trust are passed to the designated trustee and managed for the benefit of your beneficiaries.
What Is a Pour-Over Will?
A pour-over will is one that moves everything that should be in your living trust into it upon your death. Even with the best of intentions, there may be instances where trust assets are removed temporarily from the trust and by some oversight they aren’t returned to the trust. Your pour-over will is the protection you need to make sure your assets are all managed according to your wishes and plans.
What Are Durable Powers of Attorney?
A “power of attorney” doesn’t refer to a lawyer.
In this critical estate planning document, an “attorney” is a carefully chosen agent who can carry out your wishes. A durable power of attorney for your property stands in for you to make business decisions, financial decisions, or handle property that isn’t part of your living trust. Basically, this person can do almost anything you can do, so it is crucial you choose someone you trust to carry out things on your behalf.
Your estate plan may also include a durable power of attorney for healthcare. This document names a “healthcare agent” that you trust to make critical care decisions. It might be scary to think about “what ifs” but it is very important that this person has a true understanding of your desires and any religious or moral concerns you have about healthcare and treatment options. It’s important that your healthcare agent has access to this document because minutes can matter in an emergency.
What is a HIPAA authorization?
Without a HIPAA authorization, necessary caregivers won’t be able to access your healthcare documents. Having a HIPAA authorization as part of your estate planning documents grants your designees access to critical healthcare information to assist your agents in making informed decisions about your care.
What Is a Living Will?
While confusing in name, your living will is a guide to assist your healthcare agent or other loved ones to make decisions in end of life or extreme situations. You should discuss specific issues with your healthcare agent, so you are confident they know your position on life saving measures like feeding tubes or “life support”.
While it is unpleasant to think about, having a living will in place can give your loved ones a measure of peace and comfort during a very emotional time.
What are Guardian Designations?
It can be very emotional thinking about the future of your children if you were to pass away while they are still under the age of 18. To give yourself some peace of mind should the unthinkable happen, you want to have guardian designations for your children.
In fact, it’s wise to have several. There are two considerations: physical custody and the responsibility of managing your children’s finances.You can name the same person to handle both aspects of your child’s care or you can name separate people to fill these important roles.
Will I Need Any Other Estate Planning Documents?
The truth is, you might.
Estate plans are customized to your specific needs after carefully reviewing your personal relationships, legal liabilities, and assets. Divorce, financial issues like bankruptcy, having a special needs family member, or being a party to a lawsuit can all affect your individual estate.
You may need documents and protections not covered here.
An estate plan is so much more than just a single document you have drafted once and stick into a drawer. A good estate plan is dynamic and personal and begins protecting you and your family while you are still alive. Then it protects the interests of your heirs upon your death.
With so many state specific issues to consider, Mission Hills residents need a qualified estate planning attorney. A local lawyer who understands all the issues that could affect you, your family, and your assets at all stages of life as well as after your passing.
Reaching out to a local estate planning attorney and scheduling a consultation is your first step to protecting yourself and your loved ones.
Mission Hills Estate and Trust Law Firm
The Law Offices of Larry D. Simons is proud to serve our Mission Hills neighbors from our suite in the Blackhawk Office Building. We pride ourselves on our personal approach and we will work with you to ensure you and your family are taken care of.
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