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Estate Planning FAQs

The Elder & Disability Law Firm, APC Feb. 8, 2023

When people hear the term “estate planning,” they may shrug it off as something that only people with an abundance of money need to worry about. In practical terms, estate planning is a tool used to plan for what happens to whatever you accumulate throughout a lifetime of working. Who gets what in the long run? That’s what a simple last will and testament can do and what a living trust can do even better.  

However, in broader terms, estate planning means planning for every eventuality in life, not just what happens when you pass away and how you want your loved ones to be cared for. Estate planning in this sense – to plan for any turn of events – involves more than a simple will or living trust.  

In case you ever become incapacitated, you should consider a financial power of attorney to have someone manage your affairs for you and consider an advance health care directive to designate someone to voice your medical treatment choices for you when you cannot. If you have minor children, you should designate a guardian by using a last will and testament should there be no one to care for them if you’re suddenly gone.  

If you’re in the Redlands, California area, including nearby Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, and Palm Springs, rely on The Elder & Disability Law Firm, APC, for all your estate planning needs. An attorney will review the unique circumstances of your life and help you create the precise set of legal documents that will provide you and your loved ones with peace of mind going forward.  

The attorney at The Elder & Disability Law Firm, APC, handles but is not limited to dealing with the following misconceptions and questions regarding estate planning below. 

Estate Planning FAQs 

I Don’t Own Much, So Why Do I Need Estate Planning?  

Actually, you probably own more than you realize. You could possess a car or truck; plus, you probably have bank accounts, perhaps even investments. What if you collect art objects or even sports memorabilia? Those investments tend to go up in value. Also, as you continue working, your assets will no doubt grow even greater. The main point, however, is that you need to plan for what happens to your loved ones if you become incapacitated or pass away.   

What Should I Consider Before I Start? 

Depending on your age – and the earlier you start on estate planning, the better – you need to map out your goals and desires for your future, including the needs and desires of your loved ones. As your career advances, you no doubt will see your assets grow. With a will or a living trust, you can always modify it as your life and assets change.   

You also should consider who will speak for you or manage your affairs if you become incapacitated. Your spouse or partner may be able to manage your personal and financial affairs if they’re on joint accounts with you, but otherwise, they would need a power of attorney. Likewise, if you become incapacitated, you should name someone through an advance health care directive to convey your medical treatment preferences if you cannot do so yourself. 

If I Die Without a Will, What Happens to My Assets? 

Dying without a will or trust is called dying intestate. If you do die intestate, the state, through your local probate court, will literally divvy up your assets based on California’s laws of intestate succession. Generally, your spouse and children will be the main beneficiaries, but matters get more complicated if you have no surviving spouse or children.   

That’s why it’s important to map out the distribution of assets in advance, so your loved ones are not left waiting on a judge to decide everything. 

If I Have a Will, Does It Have to go Through Probate Court? 

Yes, if you die with a will, it will have to be probated. The court wants to ensure that all your creditors are paid off before any distributions are made. The probate process also has many other administrative and legal hurdles that the executor of your estate named in your will must face. The process can take months, maybe a year, or longer if there are challenges or the will is brought under question. Your loved ones will be left in limbo. 

Is a Handwritten Will Valid In California? 

A holographic, or handwritten, will is valid in California. The only requirements are that you be 18 or older, of sound mind, not under the influence of anyone else, and write and sign it in your own handwriting. You do not even need to have witnesses or have it notarized.   

The problem with a handwritten will, however, lies in making it accessible to those who need it when you do pass. If it’s stuck away in a drawer somewhere, your loved ones may not find it, or it may take a long time to uncover its location. Your best bet is to create your will with an attorney and have your attorney retain a copy. You should also give copies to your loved ones. 

What’s the Difference Between a Will and a Trust? 

A will is a document that lets you designate who gets what of your assets after your death. Through a will, you also name a personal representative – family member, friend, associate – to administer the distribution of your estate in probate proceedings. A living trust can be used to name beneficiaries as well, but unlike a will, it does not have to go through probate.  

With a living trust, you place all of your personal assets into the trust, and the trustee then manages the assets. While you are capable, you manage the trust yourself as the trustee, but you also designate a successor trustee who takes over if you become incapacitated or pass away. The trustee then administers the estate and distributes the assets as designated once you’re gone. 

How Often Should I Update My Estate Plan? 

You should review your estate plan documents frequently, especially if anything in your life changes. Say you relieve yourself of a certain investment. You need to update your will or trust to reflect that. Likewise, if you obtain new assets, those need to be added. If you divorce, remarry, or marry for the first time, you will need to reconsider the designation of beneficiaries. You don’t want a will or trust naming a previous spouse as the main beneficiary.   

Do I Need an Attorney to Create My Estate Plan? 

We’ve all seen ads online and on television for services where you can just fill in a web-based form, and you’re good to go with your will or trust. The problem with this DIY approach is that it’s too generalized – you just fill in some blanks and check some boxes – and then you’re done. There’s no one to speak to if you have questions or concerns. There may be a popup window with some brief explanation or answer.  

You really need to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to cover every possible twist and turn in your life, but to make sure that your documents are legally sound and crafted so as to avoid confusion or misinterpretations that can lead to challenges. 

Protect Your Future, Your Assets, and Your Loved Ones 

You’re never too young or old to start on the estate planning path, but you can be too late. The sooner you get started, the better off you and your loved ones will be, knowing that you’re taking charge of their future welfare and your own.  

In Southern California, contact The Elder & Disability Law Firm, APC, at the Redlands office to begin the process or to review what you already have. An attorney can help you assess your options and ensure everything is in place to offer the utmost protection and peace of mind.