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Horizon Elder Law & Estate Planning Blog

Thursday, January 20, 2022

What is in a California Estate Plan?

The specific documents in a California estate plan can vary somewhat. The general concept of a California estate plan is a combination of documents that protect the individual while one is alive and the heirs and beneficiaries after one’s death.

Everyone has a unique situation and different goals and needs, which is why one person’s estate plan might contain different papers than another person’s estate plan. A California estate planning attorney can evaluate what you need and answer your questions, like, what is in a California estate plan?

What is Usually Included in a California Estate Plan?

The “starter kit” of a California estate plan typically includes a basic living trust, a pour-over will, a durable power of attorney for financial matters, a living will or healthcare directive, and a HIPAA medical records authorization. The purpose of these documents is:

  • A basic living trust keeps you from dying intestate (without a valid will or trust) and helps you to avoid the loss of privacy and the expense of having a will go through probate court. A will becomes public record once it gets filed with the court for administration of the estate.
  • A pour-over will directs that assets acquired since the living trust got signed but have not been titled in the name of the trust will get distributed through the trust.
  • A durable power of attorney for financial matters lets you select who will take care of your finances if you become incapacitated. Without this document, your loved ones would have to go to court to get someone appointed to act on your behalf.
  • A living will or healthcare directive is your opportunity to choose who will make your healthcare decisions if you are unable to make or communicate your choices. If you do not have this paper, your family could end up in court spending thousands of dollars to get a judge’s permission to make your medical decisions.
  • If you want the person who makes your medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated to have access to your medical records, you will have to sign a HIPAA medical records authorization ahead of time. Without this document, your decision-maker will have to “fly blind.”

Depending on the circumstances of your family, you might need additional documents or more sophisticated ones.

Why Do I Need So Many Documents if I Am Not Rich?

Many of the protections a person receives from having a California estate plan involve avoiding inconvenience and expense for the family if a person becomes incapacitated during life or when a person dies. Just as you buy insurance and have to pay premiums every month to be covered in the event of a worst-case scenario, a California estate plan anticipates adverse life events and creates a strategy to minimize the consequences.

Here are some situations in which estate planning documents can be beneficial regardless of a person’s wealth:

  • A college student has devastating injuries from a car crash and does not have a living will or healthcare directive. Because the student is 18 or older, the parents cannot make medical decisions on behalf of their child, even if unconscious, without a court order.
  • A person who works a job that pays an average salary gets killed in an accident. The wrongful death lawsuit resulted in a $1 million jury verdict. Without a will or living trust, the estate could end up in lengthy litigation that could deplete many of the assets.
  • An individual whose family does not approve of a romantic partner could exclude that person from the hospital and medical decisions if there is no applicable power of attorney. Also, the romantic partner would not receive anything from the estate unless there is a will or living trust.

These are but a few of the situations in which people who are not necessarily wealthy could benefit from estate planning documents.

A California Estate Planning Attorney can talk to you about your circumstances, recommend the documents for your California estate plan, and draft the papers for you. Contact our office today for help with your estate planning, we offer a free consultation.


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