All of us need an estate plan, regardless of our net worth. The only difference between one with greater wealth is the complexity of the documents. However, each of us should have the following essential documents:
Each of us must have a Will or Trust. While there are stark difference between Wills and Trusts, both legal documents allow us to direct where our property goes upon our death, and under what conditions they are distributed to our loved ones.
Without a Will or Trust, the State of California, through the Probate courts, will decide who gets our assets when we die, and how those assets are distributed.
Advanced Health Care DirectiveEach of us must have an Advanced Health Care Directive. This document allows us to select someone (e.g., spouse, child) to make important medical decisions for us when we cannot do so ourselves (e.g., unconscious/incapacitated). The Advanced Health Care directive covers everything from routine medical decisions, to end of life decisions, and even post death considerations. However, without a Advanced Health Care Directive, our loved ones must go through the additional burden and expense of going to court in order to appoint someone to make these important medical decisions. Otherwise, a stranger at the hospital will make these personal decisions for us.
Durable Power of Attorney
Each of us must have a Springing Durable Power of Attorney. This document allows us to select someone to manage our financial affairs and personal affairs when we cannot handle these matters ourselves (e.g., unconscious/incapacitated). If we become incapacitated without a Durable Power of Attorney, our loved ones, including our spouses, must go through the burden and expense of court (referred to as Conservatorship proceedings).
Guardianship Document (where minor children are involved)
If we have minor children, we must have a Nomination of Guardianship document. This document allows us to not only select who should raise our minor child or children when we cannot, but it allows us to describe in detail how we want our minor child or children raised, including topics such as family contact, visitation, religion, education, health insurance, pets.
The Guardianship document also allows us to cover topics such as the future residence of our minor children, and even ensuring that our children be raised together in the same household.
Without the Guardianship document, our children’s future are left to the courts where there is no guarantee siblings will be raised together as a family unit, and certainly no guarantee that the person you might have picked to raise your children will be the same person the court later appoints without your input. Moreover, without the Guardianship document, there would be added delay, disruption and confusion to your children that could be easily avoided with this important document.