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What Estate Planning Documents Are Needed?

What Estate Planning Documents Are Needed?

Estate planning can seem like an overwhelming task, with so many decisions, and so many documents, that you can end up putting it off—yet again! Many people believe estate planning is nothing more than having a Will prepared—and, in some cases, this is true, and a Will takes care of the estate planning for a specific person. Much more often, however, most people will require additional estate planning documents to ensure they are fully covered for any eventuality. These documents need not be scary or difficult and can be easily taken care of by an experienced California estate planning attorney from Gullotta Law Group who can answer all your questions and tailor your estate planning documents to your unique situation. Consider these key California estate planning documents for your estate plan:

Last Will and Testament

If you want the simplest estate planning document—and your estate is very straightforward, with no major complexities—a Will could be sufficient. If you do not have a Will when you die, your property and assets will be divided according to the California rules of intestate succession—which is likely to be significantly different from what you would want. If you do have a Will, you can designate a Guardian for your minor children, leave your assets to those you choose, and indicate those you want to have your personal items as well. You will also designate an Executor for your Will—a trusted person who will work with the court to distribute your estate and ensure your wishes are honored.

Living Trust

A living trust allows you to maintain control of your property while ensuring the property passes on to those you choose after your death. Usually, you will serve as the initial trustee of your Living Trust, then you will name a successor trustee that would take over as trustee at the time of your death, or if you were to become incapacitated. Unlike a Will, a Living Trust does not have to go through probate, meaning the information in the Trust is not made public. In some instances, a Living Trust can provide certain tax benefits, but more often those benefits only affect Irrevocable Living Trusts rather than Revocable Living Trusts. Living Trusts can be used together with a Will; the Will catches any property that was not transferred to the Trust, and if you have minor children, you must have a Will to name a Guardian.

General Durable Power of Attorney

While a General Power of Attorney gives another person authority over your property and financial transactions—usually for a specific period of time, such as when you are out of the country or for another similar reason—a Durable Power of Attorney only becomes effective (depending on how it is structured) when you become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions regarding your property and financial transactions on your own. Just as you should think very carefully about the person you name as successor trustee for a trust, as guardian for your minor children, or as the executor for your will, you should also carefully consider the person you name in your General Durable Power of Attorney. It is important that you trust the person you choose for these roles and believe he or she will follow your directions.

Advance Healthcare Directive

An Advance Healthcare Directive allows you to leave explicit directions to a trusted person regarding your healthcare in the event you become incapacitated. This estate planning form lets you grant authority over your medical decisions to another person. Thus, if you were involved in a serious accident, unable to make medical decisions on your own, the person you name would make those decisions on your behalf. You will determine when (or if) you would want heroic measures or to be kept alive by artificial means, and the person you choose will follow your wishes. You can also designate whether your organs should be donated upon your death and designate your primary physician.

Durable Power of Attorney for Finances

This document allows you to arrange for someone to manage your finances in the event you become incapacitated. If you do not have a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances, and you do not have a Living Will that addresses this issue, then if you become incapacitated, the court would be forced to intervene and might choose a person you would not have chosen to handle your financial affairs. Your goal with these California estate planning documents, is to ensure your loved ones do not have to face additional difficulties following your death or incapacitation. At Gullotta Law Group, we are dedicated to making the legal concepts of estate planning and probate more understandable to our clients. Contact Gullotta Law Group today, and we will discuss your concerns and determine the best estate planning documents for you and your situation.
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