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What exactly is an estate plan?

As a California resident, you may have heard your friends and/or family members talking about their estate plans on occasion. Depending on who they are and what their own estate plans include, they may have used such words as “will,” “living trust,” “health care directive,” “financial power of attorney,” or any number of other words or terms.

Given that no two people talk about their estate plans in the same way, you may have gathered that no two estate plans are identical. Each person creates the estate plan that meets his or her own needs, goals and objectives. But this might naturally lead you to wonder just exactly what an estate plan is and what all it could include.

Basic concept

As FindLaw explains, put simply, your estate plan consists of the various documents you instruct your attorney to draft and you then sign that make sure your health care wishes are honored and your final estate, i.e., all the property you own at the time of your death, goes to the people you want it to. The number of documents you wind up with in your estate plan could range from one or two to a dozen or more depending on how much property you own and how you wish to distribute that property.

Remember, your estate includes all the property you own, including such things as the following:

  • Personal property, including vehicles, jewelry, antiques, etc.
  • Real estate
  • Bank accounts
  • Stock and/or bond accounts
  • Life insurance policies

Possible documents

At the very least, your estate plan likely will contain your Last Will and Testament, the document in which you name your heirs and which pieces of property each one of them receives after your death. Usually, however, your will serves only as your estate plan’s foundation document. Even if you do not believe you are particularly wealthy, your estate plan may well need to include documents such as the following in addition to your will:

  • Your health care directive that sets forth what medical care and treatment you want and do not want in the event you suffer an injury or illness that renders you unable to make these decisions yourself
  • One or more trusts for the benefit of your children, your church, your alma mater, your favorite charity, etc.
  • A special needs trust if you have a disabled child
  • A general, limited and/or financial power of attorney appointing the person you want to make your financial and/or other decisions in the event that you cannot make them yourself

The foregoing information is educational in nature and does not represent legal advice.

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