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Common Estate Planning Questions Answered

Many people know that they should at some point create a will or a trust or set up succession planning for their business, but they never seem to get around to it. This, unfortunately, leaves the job to family members, who are often grieving and not in the best emotional place to make clear-headed decisions.

In an effort to increase understanding of what California estate planning is, we have created this short list of frequently asked questions and their answers. For more specific answers to your questions, call our office and set up a consultation. Call 619-239-8096.

What does estate planning entail?

Estate planning is planning for the future in regard to your minor children and the assets you have accumulated. Estate planning can involve what you’d like done regarding your own health care should you become incapacitated (a living will), your children, real property or your money. See the health care directive or proxy questions below. Older people and those with accumulated assets may be best served with a trust so that assets can be managed by a trustee and distributed according to a set plan. Estate planning, along with business succession planning, is imperative for small business owners.

Who needs a will and why?

If you have a spouse and kids and you own a house, you would be well served with a will. A will is an official document that specifies who you want to raise your minor children should you and your spouse die. A will can also detail which items you want to go to which person and what you want to happen to your house or other items of financial or sentimental value. A will can also contain instructions for what medical procedures and care you want or do not want should you be incapacitated. A will can also designate who should make medical decisions for you if you cannot. A will is a relatively simple document that an estate planning attorney can draw up for you often in just one or two visits.

When should someone create a trust?

A trust can be beneficial if you want your spouse, or someone else, to have control over specific assets should you die. A trust is also a good idea if you (or you and your spouse) know what you want to give to whom and can designate a trustee to execute this on your behalf. Some couples create their own individual trusts. A revocable trust is a common type of trust for married couples.

What is a power of attorney?

A power of attorney (POA) gives the person you designate the power to make either financial decisions or health care decisions for you (called a health care proxy). Typically the POA designation is related to financial decisions only. A health care proxy, advance directive or living will (see the next question) covers your medical decisions. When someone has POA for you, it means they can write checks for you, pay your bills and transfer assets if you are unable to do so yourself. In choosing the person (and a successor, should the first person you pick not be able or willing), select someone you trust to act with integrity, not necessarily the person who is “best with numbers.” This role is also referred to as “attorney-in-fact.”

What are an advance directive, a heath care proxy and a living will?

An advance health care directive is just what it says it is: a document you create when you are still well enough to make decisions for yourself about your health care and the direction you want those decisions to take. A health care proxy means that you designate a “proxy” or someone else to make decisions. A living will is often a part of the health care proxy and specifies which treatments or procedures you want and which you do not want, including if you want only “palliative” care, a feeding tube, to be put on a ventilator, or if you want heroic measures to be taken to save your life. Having these documents means that your spouse or family members do not need to guess, argue or face the terrible anguish of having to make these decisions without knowing what you would truly want. These documents are generally created as part of a last will and testament or “will.”

Why do people want to avoid California probate?

Effective planning can help you avoid the delay and cost of California probate. Probate can take from nine to 18 months and can have a significant cost. If your estate is valued at over $166,250 (in 2020), will not go to a spouse and is not directed to beneficiaries (or have payable on death deeds or transfer on death directives), it will have to go through the probate process. There are various probate fees that will range from just under $1,000 to much more depending on the complexity of the estate. Read more about California probate questions here.

Get Answers To All Of Your Estate Planning Questions

At William H. Sauls, Attorney At Law, founding attorney William Sauls takes a personal approach to help clients understand their options. When you are ready to plan for and protect your assets, call 619-239-8096 or send William an introductory email to get in touch. Helping people plan since 1981.