Revocable living trusts, wills, advance healthcare directives, and powers of attorney prepared by knowledgeable lawyers according to your specifications
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Do You Need Estate Planning?
Estate planning is not just for millionaires. Regardless of your level of material wealth, estate planning is required if you want to control what happens to your assets after you pass away, nominate a guardian for your minor children, and save your heirs the time and cost associated with probate.
Estate planning also allows you to control events during your lifetime, such as appointing another person to manage your financial affairs and make decisions for you if you become unable to do so yourself, and specifying in advance what emergency and end-of-life medical treatment you do or not want in the event you become incapacitated.
The alternative to estate planning is to allow the government to make decisions for you, without your input. If you become incapacitated without an estate plan in place, a judge must appoint a conservator to act on your behalf, causing personal embarrassment and invading your privacy. If you die without an estate plan in place, a judge must oversee probate proceedings to determine who will receive your assets after your debts are paid, according to set-in-stone rules that may not reflect your wishes. In some cases, the government may award all of your assets to itself. If you have minor children, they may be placed in the care of strangers based on the state's interpretation of what’s best for them, even if you would disagree.
Additionally, probate court proceedings are open to the public. This means that anyone can obtain official records itemizing the assets you left behind and who received them. Probate is also a lengthy process, so your heirs may wait up to a year or more before receiving anything from your estate.
The disadvantages of probate—including the invasion of privacy, long wait-times, and statutory fees that often add up to tens of thousands of dollars—can largely be avoided by establishing a proper estate plan.
Revocable Living Trusts
A revocable living trust is an estate planning tool that allows you to manage and benefit from your assets during your lifetime, and designate beneficiaries who will receive them upon your death. One of the main advantages of a trust is that it allows for the distribution of assets without a court being involved. Because the terms of the trust remain private, there are no public records reflecting the assets you left behind or who received them. The trust assets can also be distributed to your beneficiaries immediately, which is important when family members depend on the use of those assets or the income they generate.
When you create a revocable living trust and transfer ownership of your assets to it, you remain in complete control of those assets during your lifetime. That is because you are the trust settlor (the person empowered to modify or revoke the trust) the trustee (the person responsible for managing the trust assets) and the beneficiary (the person for whose benefit the trust assets are managed) all at the same time. After your death, a successor trusteenamed by you will assume control of the trust assets and follow your instructions as to how they should be distributed or managed. We can help you develop a plan to protect your assets and ensure your that family will be provided for according to your wishes.
A will is a legal document giving instructions to be carried out after your death, including how your assets should be distributed. Though a probate court must supervise the distribution of assets under a will and one of the main goals of estate planning is to avoid probate, a comprehensive estate plan will include a pour-over willaccounting for any assets that were not transferred to your trust before your death. A will is also the instrument used to nominate a guardian for your minor children.
Advance Healthcare Directives
An advance healthcare directive serves two important functions. First, it allows you to dictate in advance what emergency and end-of-life medical care you do or do not want in the event you cannot effectively communicate with your doctors. Second, an advance healthcare directive allows you to designate another person to make healthcare decisions for you outside of those specifications. This is important because the person you want be in charge of your healthcare decisions may not otherwise have that ability or even be able to access your medical records.
Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney is another legal document that should be included in a comprehensive estate plan. Its purpose is to give another person legal authority to act on your behalf, manage your financial affairs, and oversee your daily life if you become unable to do those things yourself. However, a durable power of attorney is not a substitute for a trust because it expires upon your death, and therefore cannot be used to distribute your assets after you pass away. One of the principal benefits of a durable power of attorney is that it eliminates the need for someone to obtain a court-ordered conservatorship over you in the event you become incapacitated, and thus avoids the personal embarrassment, significant legal fees, and court supervision associated with a conservatorship.
When Should I Start?
The answer is now. People typically put off estate planning because it's uncomfortable to contemplate one's own demise. That wouldn't be a problem if we all knew the hour of our deaths. But nearly two million Americans die every year without an estate plan in place, many of whom told themselves that they would get around to it eventually. You can protect your family and achieve great peace of mind by starting the estate planning process now. We make it easy. Call us now at 949-668-0611 for a free consultation.
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