If a California estate planning attorney asks individuals how they intend to protect their family’s future, the responses vary. Some people focus on providing for their family’s financial needs, such as purchasing a home, vehicles, and other assets.
Other individuals may focus on education, such as opening a college savings plan or investing in private school now to prepare for higher education. Some people focus on the religious, health care, and moral aspects of raising a child to protect the family’s future. All of these responses are valid and important. However, one way to protect a family’s future that is often overlooked is estate planning.
Planning an estate to preserve your family’s future can address many of the above issues. A comprehensive estate plan can provide for your family’s financial needs while addressing other items important to your loved ones, such as education, health care, and emotional well-being.
Estate planning is an essential step that everyone should take to protect their loved ones. Our California estate planning attorney discusses several topics related to estate planning in this article, including:
- Four Essential Estate Planning Steps to Protect Your Family
- Addressing Special Circumstances
- Long-Term Care Planning and Incapacitation Planning
- The Importance of Reviewing Your Estate Plan with a California Estate Planning Attorney
Four Essential Estate Planning Steps to Protect Your Family
You can create an estate plan in four simple steps:
1. Consider what you want to happen after your death.
When you develop an estate plan, there are a number of questions you’ll want to ask. For example:
- Who do you want to care for your children if they are minors at the time of their death?
- Who do you want to receive your property after your death?
- How do you want your property divided among your heirs?
- Do you want life-sustaining measures used if you are near the end of your life or have a terminal condition?
Thinking about what you want to happen after your death to your family and assets can be overwhelming. Working with an experienced estate planning lawyer can help reduce stress and make the process easier. An attorney with experience in probate matters knows what questions to ask to ensure you consider all matters that you need to address in your estate plan.
2. Create your plan by executing estate planning documents.
Now that you know what you want your estate plan to include, it is time to draft and execute estate planning documents to ensure your wishes are carried out. Okay, how do you do that?
Well, you can use DIY estate documents you find online, but those documents may be incomplete. DIY wills and estate documents may not be valid or legal in California. Additionally, these documents typically do not address all matters and issues, and they may not contain the legal language to prevent someone from contesting your will or estate plan.
Instead of using a “design your own estate plan” template you find online, talk to an estate planning attorney licensed in California. An attorney understands probate laws and how to build an estate plan that meets your needs and accomplishes your wishes and goals. Your attorney can draft documents tailored to your needs. Some of the estate planning documents your attorney may use in your case include:
- Last Will and Testament (a “Will”)
- Durable Power of Attorney (a financial power of attorney)
- Beneficiary Designations
- Revocable Trusts and Irrevocable Trusts
- Medical Power of Attorney
- HIPAA Authorizations
- Living Will
- Medical Directive
Don’t let all the effort you put into deciding what you want to happen after your death be wasted by failing to have estate planning documents that are legal, valid, and encompass your decisions.
3. Transfer title to property according to your estate plan, if necessary.
You may need to transfer the title to some property to put your estate plan into effect. For instance, if you used one or more trusts as part of your estate plan, you need to “fund” those trusts by transferring title to property to the trust or placing assets into the trust. Because trust agreements can be tricky, get an attorney to help you with this step.
4. Talk to your family about your estate plan.
Many of the arguments that arise after a person dies could have been avoided if the person had discussed his or her estate plan with family members. Once your estate plan is finalized, discuss your wishes with your family members. Let them know that the estate plan represents your desires and wishes, and you expect your family members to respect your wishes. In some cases, a simple explanation of why you choose “this” over “that” could avoid costly and time-consuming litigation for your family after your death.
Addressing Special Circumstances
Some individuals need or want to address particular circumstances and matters in their estate plans. For example, if you have a family member with special needs, you might want to include a Special Needs Trust in your estate plan to provide for your loved one after your death while protecting eligibility for government benefits. If you have a special pet, you might want to include a Pet Trust to appoint someone to care for your pet and provide funds for the care of your pet after your death. Individuals and families who own a business may need to include a Business Succession Plan in their estate plan or create a special trust to hold title to the business assets for the family.
Tax planning and asset protection are also matters addressed in an estate plan. Families or individuals with a high-net-worth can benefit from developing a gifting strategy and estate plan that reduces the taxable value of their final estate to avoid or minimize estate taxes. Utilizing one or more trust agreements can also protect assets to create a legacy for future generations.
Long-Term Care Planning and Incapacitation Planning
Nursing home care and assisted living care are expensive. Over a person’s lifetime, long-term care could cost a family millions of dollars. An essential element of estate planning is to address long-term care planning to protect assets and ensure care is provided when needed.
Medicaid planning is a strategy used by estate planning lawyers to protect assets for spouses, children, and other dependents should a person require nursing home care. By taking steps now, you can increase the chance that you and your spouse are eligible for Medicaid benefits, if necessary, while protecting your assets for the spouse that remains at home.
The Importance of Reviewing Your Estate Plan with a California Estate Planning Attorney
Certain life events should trigger a review of your estate plan. Typical events that may require a change in your estate documents include marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, adoption of a child, death of an heir, acquisition of a substantial asset, and, changes in tax or estate laws. It is a good idea to review your estate plan with a California estate planning attorney periodically, especially after a major life event. If for no other reason, you want to ensure that your estate plan reflects your current wishes and desires, which may change over time.