Many California adults don’t have an estate plan. While it’s understandable that many people prefer not to think about death, the lack of an estate plan often results in severe stress for family members after someone dies or can no longer make decisions for themselves.
It begins with a will
Your will expresses your wishes for:
• Your estate executor: An executor manages your affairs after you die. Your will should state who you want to serve as the executor and list backup executors if your first choice is unable or unwilling to fulfill this role.
• Distribution of assets: Your will states how you want your personal assets, including savings accounts, real estate, and personal items distributed after your death.
• Care of your children: If you have minor children, your will should name a guardian for them.
End-of-life and incapacity planning
A complete estate plan should also include directions for how you wish to be cared for if you become unable to make medical and personal decisions for yourself. A living will directs medical staff to stop life support and other treatments that prolong life. A power of attorney makes sure someone can make decisions about your medical treatment and financial matters if you become incapacitated and are thus unable to do so.
Not all assets are passed to others through a will. For example, retirement accounts and life insurance policies require you to name a beneficiary or beneficiaries when you set up your account or buy coverage.
Setting up a trust
One way to distribute assets outside of a will and probate court is to set up a trust to hold them. Trusts allow for the quick transfer of assets at minimal expense.
Once you’ve established an estate plan, update it regularly. Life events such as marriage, divorce, the death of a spouse, or the birth or adoption of a child may require that all of your estate planning documents, including wills and beneficiary designations, undergo revision to reflect your current situation.