When it comes to preparing for the future, many people think having a “simple will” is enough. However, sometimes complicated and time-sensitive issues can arise in this area that can’t be addressed by a will. The good news is that you can help make sure everything is covered by having a comprehensive estate plan. An excellent place to begin is by asking: What is the difference between having a will and estate planning?
What is a Will?
Your last will and testament or “will” is a legal document that you create to formally designate where you want your property to go when you pass away. Your will is also used to name your executor or personal representative. This individual is responsible for carrying out the tasks associated with getting your will through the probate process. If you have minor children, you will use this document to nominate the people you want to serve as their legal guardians. If you die and there is not another parent, your will is going to provide crucial guidance as to whom the family court will appoint to raise your children. You can also use this document to express your final wishes.
What is Estate Planning?
Estate planning involves evaluating your assets, goals, and circumstances and then developing multiple legal devices to meet your needs. An estate plan includes considering ways to protect your interests based on where you are today and where you will be in the long-term. Just as your life is not one dimensional, your estate plan should not be either. A will can be an essential part of preparing for the future. This document can also work in conjunction with other equally important parts of your estate plan.
Estate Planning and Your Health Care Decisions
When you think about your estate plan, you may be considering long-term issues. However, some aspects of estate planning require being ready today. For example, if you were to be injured or ill to the point of being incapacitated, someone else would have to decide about your medical care. Without estate planning, critical choices about your medical treatment could be delayed and ultimately made by someone you would not have selected.
A California estate plan will include an Advance Health Care Directive. This is a legal document that allows its creator to name a medical decisionmaker to act on their behalf. The Advance Health Care Directive also provides a way for the patient to leave specific treatment instructions for their medical care providers.
Estate Planning and Your Finances
When it comes to financial matters, some people think that everything in an estate plan is about determining where property will end up in the future. Another crucial part of estate planning, however, is protecting assets now. Without an estate plan, your finances could be placed at risk. If you were to become suddenly incapacitated and no one was designated to safeguard your assets and income, there could be serious fiscal consequences.
Fortunately, you can avoid this type of situation by preparing a power of attorney for finances. A power of attorney for finances allows the creator or grantor to designate an agent to assume responsibility for managing certain designated financial tasks. The power can be broad or limited to specific accounts or types of duties.
Estate Planning and Your California Trust
When you meet with an experienced estate planning attorney, you may find that, in addition to having a will, a California trust is also an appropriate device for you. Depending on the type of trust you create, you may be able to be a beneficiary and the trustee. Additionally, when assets are distributed through a trust, they do not have to pass through probate. Further, unlike a will, with a trust, you can create terms that specify how disbursements are to be used by beneficiaries.
Considering Your Heirs and Beneficiaries
An important part of estate planning is considering your heirs and beneficiaries and how you may or may not want them to inherit your property. You and your estate planning attorney can discuss how you would like to provide for your loved ones and any measures you may already have in place. For instance, you may have a life insurance policy that names your sister as the sole beneficiary, and your brother may be the named beneficiary of your retirement account. You may decide to leave these relatives out of your will because you have already provided for them through other means.
Meeting with Your California Estate Planning Attorney
These are just some of the documents and steps that can be part of creating a comprehensive California estate plan. To fully evaluate your situation, you should meet with a California estate planning attorney. You and your counsel can discuss your goals and determine the best devices for your needs.
At the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo, we are experienced California estate planning attorneys who can prepare your will and all of your other estate-planning documents. Please contact us by phone at 818-676-9572 to set up a free consultation today.