California Estate Planning Attorney
What is estate planning and why should you bother with it? After all, it might not be very pleasant to talk to a stranger about the details of your family life and finances. Estate planning is designed to avoid all the problems and delays associated with the probate process, which can be needlessly time-consuming and expensive if your estate planning documents are not prepared and prepared well.
Since I help families with probate on a daily basis, I bring first-hand knowledge to the problems associated with probate and know how to, through estate planning, avoid the costs and delays associated with the probate system. The fundamental service I am providing is the peace of mind and security in knowing that a client’s wishes will be carried out with the least possible intrusion by our legal and financial institutions.
What Estate Planning Documents Will I Need?
The first question my clients ask is why are so many documents needed and what are they? When a family trust is completed, the clients leave, literally, with a binder full of papers that includes not only a revocable trust, but other documents as well. Why so many? The answer is that each one was created at a different time in legal history to solve a different set of problems; so no one document, even a revocable living trust, can solve every problem that our legal and financial institutions present you. I’ll walk through each of the documents you’ll need in California next.
A Living Trust
The key document in any estate planning package is a living trust. The term “living” is one of the many confusing metaphors that attorneys use, but it does have a real life meaning. The trust is living because it comes into existence during the lifetime of the people who create the trust (generally called the “Settlors”) but the trust continues to exist after the Settlors pass away. The “magic” of a living trust is that it allows the Settlors to appoint people to manage their affairs and distribute their property in accordance with their wishes without a court order after they pass away. Court orders, which are part of the probate process that a living trust can avoid, drive up the cost of transferring property after someone passes away. A living trust is important to ensure that assets are distributed in the most timely and least costly method for your heirs. Call us or contact us today in our California offices to discuss your situation (510) 724-2020.
Almost all trusts are revocable; that is they can be changed at any time during a person’s lifetime. We can also help you with making changes to your estate planning documents.
Powers of Attorney
A second set of key documents used by an estate planning attorney are powers of attorney. Unlike a trust or a will, powers of attorney are only valid during the lifetime of the person who signs it. There are two kinds of powers of attorney that are generally used by a trust lawyer: a power of attorney for financial management and an advance health care directive.
Both of these documents are used in the estate planning process because of the demographic dynamic of our aging population. With all the advances in medical care, people are living longer but not necessarily maintaining the quality of life. More and more people are becoming seriously disabled before they pass away. Although it happens, it is less and less likely that someone will pass away suddenly in the prime of their life in their mid-fifties. More likely, people will pass away in their eighties or nineties. As a consequence of this changing demography, trust attorneys have developed these two kinds of powers of attorney.
Power of Attorney for Financial Management
A power of attorney for financial management allows an individual to appoint someone to manage his or her finances if he or she is unable to do so. This helps in the estate trust planning process because it avoids a very expensive proceeding known in California as a conservatorship. A conservatorship is established in California to allow someone to manage a person’s finances if he or she is unable to do so. Once again, as with the probate process, a conservatorship is slow and expensive. Typically at the same time as a will or a trust is prepared by an estate planning lawyer, the lawyer will also do a power of attorney for financial management.
Advance Health Care Directive
An advance health care directive is a special kind of power of attorney used by trust attorneys to avoid problems relating to medical care of an incapacitated person. It is rare, but on occasion, an individual cannot talk to a health care provider, such as a physician. The classic example is when someone is unconscious and in an emergency room. An advance health care directive appoints someone to communicate with health care providers, review medical records, and approve procedures. There is also typically a clause for the removal of life supports under very narrow circumstances.
Estate planning attorneys that draft revocable trusts typically also use “pour over” wills. Once again this is a terrible metaphor used by lawyers and its intended meaning is that the will “pours over” assets into the trust. Of course, it actually does no such thing; no will or trust automatically pours over into anything in the real world. This kind of a will helps the trust by directing any assets that are outside of the trust to be transferred to the trust. Why is this so important? Because people forget to retitle their assets into the name of their trust, especially during situations like home refinances To make sure that the individual’s distribution plan in the revocable trust is honored, the will directs that those assets outside the trust to be included in the trust distribution plan. Read more about wills here.
Help With Estate Planning Law
As you can see from this discussion, estate planning, estate planning law, trusts, and wills, are complex documents that are designed to work to accomplish the end goal – ensuring your heirs received the assets you intended for them with the least amount of expense, delays, and hassle.
Estate planning law is not an IQ test, but is a highly technical area that is neither common sense nor intuitive. Many problems can arise when people blindly pull documents from the Internet or from a CD purchased at a stationery store.
Whether it be a will, trust, power of attorney, or medical directive, put your mind at ease by contacting us today to get started on your estate planning documents. The Law Offices of David Baker have 30 years of experience working in estate planning and we work in the following California Bay Area locations: San Francisco, Berkeley, Albany, Pinole, Crockett, Martinez, El Sobrante, El Cerrito, Vallejo and Richmond. Call us or contact us today to discuss your situation (510) 724-2020.