We spend our lives caring for and supporting our families, providing them with everything they need to be successful, being there for them during times of hardship, joyfully celebrating their accomplishments and sharing compassionately in their burdens. One of the best ways to continue to express this same love for our families even after death or serious illness is to make provisions for our finances, healthcare, property and final expenses while we are still capable of making informed decisions.
Failure to plan for death or possible disability can be a costly and cumbersome mistake. Without any clear sense of what an incapacitated family member would have wanted, relatives who are already struggling with the emotional toll of a loved one’s illness may also have to make difficult decisions about medical treatment or financial management on their behalf, which can become an overwhelming burden. Furthermore, in the absence of a will or a living trust, probate proceedings can be lengthy, expensive and confusing, as well as potentially divisive for families that must figure out how to deal with a loved one’s home and other assets after their death.
By partnering with a Los Angeles estate planning attorney, you can avoid unnecessary complications in the face of your death or disability. Bridge Legal will be there every step of the way to help you put the right measures in place to protect your family and fulfill your wishes.
The key document that determines the future of your estate after your death is called a last will and testament (more commonly known as a “will”). A will can be used to:
A knowledgeable Los Angeles estate planning attorney can help you draft a will that accomplishes your goals for your estate and gives your family a clear understanding of your wishes. Bridge Legal can also advise you on how to address any unusual circumstances (for example, if you believe surviving family members may contest the terms of your will).
Your will should also name an “executor” – in other words, someone who will have responsibility for carrying out the terms of your will. If you do not name an executor, the probate court will appoint one after your death. An executor, like a probate administrator, will be responsible for:
Under California law, an executor is entitled to compensation for performing these duties, and that payment is also made from the estate.
To properly finalize a will so that it is recognized as valid under California law, you must sign your will in front of two witnesses, and both witnesses must also sign the will simultaneously with each other. Neither witness should be a beneficiary of the will (i.e., someone who stands to inherit part of your estate), as this may invalidate your beneficiary’s claim to any inheritance under state law. An attorney can help you identify or provide witnesses if needed.
You can revoke or change your will at any time before your death. An attorney can help you revoke and revise your will or add simple amendments (or “codicils”). An amended will must be finalized using the same formalities as the original will to be valid.
Listed below are other important components of the estate planning process.
In California, you can make a living trust to specify what will happen to any assets you own, either in conjunction with or in place of a will. An attorney can help you draft a “trust document” that transfers ownership of certain assets to yourself as “trustee” of the trust.
You can use a trust document to designate beneficiaries who will inherit the assets controlled by the trust. The trust document will also name someone to assume your responsibilities as trustee after your death (known as a “successor trustee”).
Establishing a living trust is an excellent way to avoid protracted probate proceedings, as it allows a successor trustee to distribute assets directly to your beneficiaries upon your death.
If you become ill or injured, you may not be capable of managing your own finances. A financial power of attorney allows you to name someone else (known as an “agent”) who can handle financial matters on your behalf, including paying bills, managing bank accounts and investments or collecting insurance payouts. In the absence of a financial power of attorney, your loved ones may need approval from a court before they can take financial actions on your behalf.
A knowledgeable attorney can help you draft a valid and enforceable power of attorney that takes effect either as soon as you sign it or after you have become incapacitated and that remains in effect until you no longer need it or until your death.
If you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions about your own medical care, someone will need to make these decisions on your behalf. Without enforceable legal documents that make your wishes clear, these important decisions may be left to doctors, judges or family members who may struggle to know the right thing to do. An advance healthcare directive can eliminate the guesswork for your caretakers and can help you maintain some control over your own health, even if you no longer have the physical or mental capability to make your own decisions.
An advance healthcare directive consists of two documents:
To be valid and enforceable under California law, an advance healthcare directive must be signed in front of two witnesses or a notary public. At least one of your witnesses should not be a relative or a beneficiary of your estate, and neither of your witnesses may be your healthcare agent, your healthcare provider or an employee or operator of a healthcare facility responsible for your care.
Estate planning documents are a crucial part of ensuring that your health and your assets are managed the way you want them to be, regardless of your future physical or mental state. A knowledgeable and experienced Los Angeles estate planning attorney can help ease your family’s burden and avoid the potential for conflicts by making sure that your wishes are clear, binding and enforceable. An attorney can also regularly review your estate planning documents with you to keep them current and account for any major life changes.
Bridge Legal has the experience and expertise to help you make the right estate planning decisions for yourself and your family. Do not wait until it is too late – contact us today, either online or by phone or text, and let Bridge Legal help you plan for the future.