California Estate Planning Documents

Many people think that estate planning simply means hiring an attorney to create a trust that pulls together all the details about your circumstances and creates a customized plan. But there are also other key documents that you will need to ensure that your estate plan is complete.


A Last Will and Testament

A Last Will and Testament

When most people think of estate planning, they immediately think of a will. A last will and testament is a legal document that allows you to dictate how your assets, property, and the care of your children will be handled after your death. To ensure your wishes are carried out, you will select an executor, a person or organization responsible for overseeing the instructions in your will. Creating a last will and testament can prevent family squabbles and disputes by ensuring that your property and assets are distributed according to your wishes. 

* Use our notary public services to make your will official. This service is included with the "ESSENTIALS PLUS" advisory services package. 

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Living Trust

Living Trust

Living trusts allow estates to avoid probate, the court process that otherwise oversees the paying of creditors and distribution of someone’s assets. Living trusts offer privacy, because probate is a public process, and can make it easier for a designated person to take over for you if you should become incapacitated.

There’s no specific dollar amount of assets for which a living trust becomes a good idea. In many states, probate isn’t a big deal, while in others — including California — probate is expensive enough that the cost of setting up a living trust can be worthwhile. Even in California, smaller estates (those under $150,000) can avoid probate or qualify for a streamlined process that can make living trusts unnecessary.

* A complimentary consultation with a trust attorney is included with the "ESSENTIALS PLUS" advisory services package.

Those with larger estates may be able to avoid probate using other methods.

The money in your 401(k)s, for example, will pass directly to the beneficiaries you name. In many states, you also can name a beneficiary for a vehicle right on the registration form so your car could avoid probate. Some states also offer this “transfer on death” option for real estate.

Living trusts typically replace the need for a will, although a lawyer likely would recommend creating a “pour-over” will to include any assets accidentally left out of the trust. If you don’t have a living trust, you’ll definitely need wills to outline how you want your property distributed.

You don’t have to update a will yearly but it’s a good idea to at least review your estate documents annually to see if any changes might be needed.


General Durable Power of Attorney

General Durable Power of Attorney

A general power of attorney is a document that grants someone else authority over your property and financial transactions. What makes a durable power of attorney special is that it remains effective (or only becomes effective, depending on how you structure it) if you become incapacitated or unable to make those decisions for yourself.

You should have a general durable power of attorney in place so that those kinds of decisions can continue to be made on your behalf if you become incapacitated. However, you should think carefully about who you want to appoint to make those decisions, since you won’t be in a condition to oversee their actions.

* Use our notary public services to make your power of attorney document official. This service is included with the "ESSENTIALS PLUS" advisory services package

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Advance Health Care Directive

Advance Health Care Directive

Part 1 of the statutory form is a power of attorney for health care. This is like the general durable power of attorney, but it grants authority over medical decisions instead of financial decisions. This is another powerful document, and you should read the form’s instructions carefully and speak with an attorney about what they mean before choosing someone to exercise that power.

Part 2 allows you to give specific instructions for health care that your doctors—and the person appointed under Part 1—must follow. One of the most important instructions you can give in this part is whether you should be given life-sustaining treatment in the following circumstances:

  • You have an incurable and irreversible condition that will result in your death within a relatively short time;
  • You become unconscious and, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, you will not regain consciousness; or
  • The likely risks and burdens of treatment would outweigh the expected benefits.

In parts 3 and 4, you can specify whether your organs should be donated when you die and designate a primary physician. If you don’t complete these parts, the person you appoint under part 1 will be able to make those decisions for you.

Completing an advance health care directive is important, because it tells your doctors who to look to for your health care decisions when you are unable to make them. In addition, by providing specific instructions about some of the hard questions that person will have to make, you can relieve him or her of some of the burden of having to choose for you.

* Use our notary public services to make your advanced health care directive official.
This service is included with the 
"ESSENTIALS PLUS" advisory services package

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