What Documents Should I Use in My Estate Plan?

If you want to create a comprehensive plan for your estate, it’s critical that you learn about the documents that make up this type of plan. Since these documents can help simplify the way your assets are maintained and distributed after your passing, our estate planning attorneys in San Diego believe that it’s critical that every one of our clients have a comprehensive understanding of each one. 


Document #1: Last Will & Testament
Your Last Will and Testament determines who will manage distributing assets left in your personal name when you pass away (also known as the executor) and how much your beneficiaries will receive. Without a will, the courts will appoint someone to handle the distribution of your assets (known as the administrator) and a Judge will have to sign off on who gets what. This could lead to serious issues as there may be family members that you may not want to leave anything to but would be eligible to receive something from your estate under generic probate law. The creation of a will gives you ultimate power over who gets what in terms of the personal possessions, property and other tangible/monetary assets that you leave behind in your personal name. If you have a Living Trust, you still need a Last Will and Testament, but the purpose is slightly altered. Once a Trust is incorporated into your plan, your Will serves to catch any items left in your personal name and “pour” them into your Living Trust, so that all of your wishes in the Trust are followed. In this context we refer to a will as a “Pour-over Will” as it is acting as a safety net to catch missed or forgotten about assets and pour them into the Trust. If you have minor children your Will is also the proper place to nominate Guardians for the minor children in the event something were to happen to both parents while the children were still minors.





Document #2: A Living Trust
The leading reason why many people decide to see a trust attorney in San Diego is due to the fact that a living trust can help your loved ones avoid probate when you pass away, and often times can optimize how they receive their inheritance. This document enables you to transfer assets into a trust during your lifetime while still having full control over them so long as you live. When you pass away, a successor trustee assumes control of the trust and they will distribute any tangible or monetary assets to the beneficiaries of your choice in the way you prescribe. Incorporating a living trust into your overall estate plan can help to reduce the stress that your family may feel after your death in the sense that they will be able to avoid probate and can reduce costs and fees that are often associated with this process. A properly drafted Living Trust can and should do more than just avoid Probate for your loved ones. You may be able to structure inheritance in a way that’s most beneficial to your loved ones from an age, responsibility, and asset protection perspective as well. A living trust also gives you an effective means of imparting a moral compass on an inheritance or providing for incentive based access to funds, if you so wish.


Related post: Shocking Myths and Bona Fide Facts About Living Trusts


Document #3: Power of Attorney
A power of attorney document allows you to authorize the person who manages your assets and makes important financial decisions when you are unable to do so yourself. If you become incapacitated due to a serious injury or illness, the power of attorney will either be ready to go immediately or be activated with a physician’s note, at your preference.


The power of attorney also provides you with a convenient legal tool that allows your loved ones to navigate any transactions or financial quagmires that you cannot immediately address. Keep in mind that it only applies to certain personal matters/decisions and becomes inactive when you pass away. Upon death your Living Trust and Will are what will reign over decisions, but a power of attorney is a must have tool to keep our families out of Probate court seeking a conservatorship over us when we are alive but unable to make decisions on our own.




Document #4: Healthcare Directive
If something were to medically happen to you, would your family members know how you would like to be cared for? While the answer may be yes, unless you have a healthcare directive in place, it may be difficult for your family members to relay your wishes to your medical team. Your healthcare directive designates a person to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. It also clearly states your healthcare wishes so that your treatment team knows the type of care that you would like to receive, and it allows your named agent to see your medical records and speak with your treating physician via a HIPAA release. This is another must have tool to keep our families out of Probate court seeking a conservatorship over us, but more importantly it’s a must have to give your family peace of mind that the decisions they are forced to make are what you would have wanted.


Related post: 5 Reasons Working with an Estate Planning Attorney is Key



Plan Your Estate Today with Our Estate Planning Attorneys in San Diego
If you need help developing your estate plan, the attorneys at Jenkins & Jenkins, Estate Planning Attorneys are here to help. We provide every client with the personalized attention that they need to make these important decisions in their life. Regardless of whether you have questions during your initial consultation or long after you have signed this paperwork, you have the peace of mind of knowing that you have a team of experienced estate planning attorneys here to see to any of your needs. Schedule an appointment with us today!


Testimonial from Susan, Satisfied Estate Planning Client
I recently had a wonderful experience with J&J. Caroline helped with establish a living trust. She was so easy to work with, very accommodating with her time and answered all my questions. I met with her several times remotely as well as in person at their beautiful office in Sorrento Ridge. She made what can be considered a daunting and scary process seem very easy and straight-forward. I now have peace of mind that should any happen, my son will be taken care of and my family will be able to avoid the painful probate process. Thank you Caroline!

Michael Jenkins

Michael Jenkins

Estate planning became personal to Michael when his father passed away suddenly without any plan in place. Since that day Michael has made it his mission to educate everyone on the need for an estate plan, provide the legal advice and guidance needed, and ensure that no family is left dealing with estate issues while grieving the loss of a loved one.


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