California Estate Planning Checklist: Everything You Need for an Effective Estate Plan

California Estate Planning Checklist: Everything You Need for an Effective Estate Plan

When you’re ready to create an estate plan in California, making sure that you have all the right information in place is critical. Your estate plan helps establish what will happen to your property following your death and even what might happen to you if you cannot, for any reason, voice your own opinions about your medical care and needs. Here is an estate planning checklist to get you started.

Speaking to an estate planning attorney will be an important next step.

Here are some tips from the best trust attorney in Newport Beach.

Item #1: Make Decisions About Your Future Plans and Desires

Before you start drawing up legal documents that you want to include in your California estate plan, take the time to think through your future plans and your desires, particularly your wishes if, for any reason, you cannot make decisions for yourself. Think about:

  • The best person to make medical decisions on your behalf
  • Who you might want to be able to control your finances if for any reason you can’t control them for yourself
  • Who you want to take custody of any minor children
  • How you want to distribute your assets
  • What type of medical care you might want, or what measures you might want to be taken to prolong your life

By carefully considering those decisions before you start drawing up paperwork, you can ensure that your California estate plan reflects goals for yourself and your family. 

Note: Estate planning for special needs children is also something to consider if you have young or adult children who will need help caring for themselves.

Item #2: Prepare an Advanced Healthcare Directive or Medical Power of Attorney

An advanced healthcare directive serves two purposes. First, it lays out any specific desires you have as they pertain to your medical care. You may, for example, know that you do not want to be on a ventilator or that you do not want care providers to take extreme measures to prolong your life. By clearly establishing those facts as part of your directive, you can increase the odds that your wishes will be taken into consideration, even if you have a medical emergency that prevents you from sharing your desires with your care team. Advanced healthcare directives cover the key details that people want their care providers to consider. 

Next, a medical power of attorney establishes who you want to make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot make them for yourself for any reason. Choosing the right person to make those decisions can make you feel much more confident, especially since you cannot plan for every medical contingency.  

Item #3: Create a Durable Power of Attorney 

A durable power of attorney allows a specific individual or individuals to take care of legal and financial needs on your behalf if you are incapacitated and cannot manage them yourself. Filing a durable power of attorney can make it easier for family members or loved ones to make sure your bills get paid and your other needs get taken care of, even if you cannot do these things yourself. 

Item #4: Set Up Any Living Trust Documentation

A living trust is a revocable document—one that you can change, if desired, up until your death—that effectively creates an outside entity to hold your assets until you die. While you are alive, you can manage those assets normally. After your death, those assets are distributed according to your wishes, usually without having to go through probate. 

Note: There are many different types of trusts, including Medi-Cal asset protection trusts.

Item #5: Create Any Needed Irrevocable Trust Documentation

In some cases, you may want to create an irrevocable trust, which will transfer your assets away from your estate. Under the terms of an irrevocable trust, those assets are no longer applied to your tax debt during your lifetime. They will be transferred according to your wishes following your death. 

Item #6: Write Your Last Will and Testament

Your last will and testament clearly lays out your plans for your assets following your death. It includes details about who you want to have specific possessions, how you want to distribute your financial assets, and other estate distribution details. A last will and testament may also lay out any plans for minor children, including who should take custody of those children in the event of your death. Your will may be as complicated or as simple as you like, depending on your assets, the extent of your estate, and whether you need to make provisions for minor or disabled children.

Item #7: Legalize Your Documentation

In order to ensure that you have all the documents you need for your California estate plan and that your desires will be executed accordingly, make sure you work closely with a California estate planning attorney. A skilled lawyer can help ensure that you have thought through all the necessary details and that you have filed all the legal paperwork correctly. Furthermore, an attorney can make sure that your wishes are carried out according to those documents. 

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