Estate planning is an area of law that deals with protecting your assets during your life, and making sure that your assets protect your loved ones after you die. Discussing what happens to your estate when you die is a very difficult conversation to have, and many people flat out avoid it. But, it is an important conversation to have with your loved ones, and with an experienced attorney. Regardless of how large or small your estate may be, planning ahead can help your loved ones avoid many of the financial and emotional costs of a probate dispute in court. Further, with the help of a detailed, comprehensive estate plan, you can help distribute your assets to your loved efficiently and exactly the way you would want them to be distributed.
At the Law Offices of Nigel Burns we work with our clients to prepare their estate plan. Every plan is individualized and tailored to the needs and desires of each client. However, we center our estate planning practice on our Estate Package, which includes the following crucial estate planning documents:
The living trust is the centerpiece of our Estate Package. When people think of estate documents, the first one that comes to mind is more often than not a will. However, a living trust has many advantages over a will.
First, a living trust can help your loved ones avoid probate, which is the lengthy, formal, court-supervised process of distributing your assets upon your death. The way that this works is that property properly transferred into a legally valid trust is no longer considered property of the person, rather it becomes the property of the trust, which is held for the benefit of whoever is designated the beneficiary.
Second, trusts are much more flexible in terms of how you can structure them. This gives the person who creates the trust, called the settlor, a great deal of flexibility in establishing how that property will be distributed to the beneficiary or beneficiaries of the trust.
Third, trusts do not require you to die before you distribute your assets. Therefore, with a trust you can dictate what you do with your assets during the course of your life, and you can appoint someone else to manage and distribute those assets of the trust according to your specifications.
A will is a formal document that dictates what happens to your assets when you die. Rather than thinking of it as a separate document, it is better to think of it as a part of your estate plan. Because wills tend to be less comprehensive than trusts, and provide much fewer options, we often refer to them as “back-up” documents to your Living Trust.
Durable Power of Attorney for Property and Personal Affairs
A durable power of attorney is a document that gives another person, your “agent,” the power and legal authority to act on your behalf. This document is important because it give you, the “principal,” the ability to plan who you want to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf in case if your health deteriorates and you are no longer competent to make those decisions on your own. At the Law Offices of Nigel Burns, our attorneys work with you to make sure that the power of attorney we draft accurately represents your desires in terms of who can make decisions on your behalf, and what decision you allow them to be able to make.
In California, you can draft a power of attorney to be “durable,” meaning that it remains in effect even if the principle is determined to be mentally incompetent. Further, it can be drafted to go into effect immediately after you sign it, or, when a doctor certifies that you have become mentally incapacitated.
The added benefit of preparing a durable power of attorney is that it is less expensive than having the court appoint a conservator, which happens under certain circumstances where a person is found to be incapable of making legal and financial decisions on their own behalf.
Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
A durable power of attorney for health care gives another person the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf.
Advance Health Care Directives (“Heath Care Directives”)
An advance health care directive lets your doctors, family members and friends know what your health care preferences are.
Authorization for Release of Medical Information (HIPPA Waiver)
A HIPPA waiver authorizes the release of your medical records to another person. This document is very helpful for caregivers and family members who want to be able to make the right healthcare choices for a loved one who can no longer make those choices for himself or herself. This document is also particularly helpful in the unfortunate circumstances of an unexpected death. A person’s cause of death can have serious implications for insurance purposes and in the case of a dispute over wrongful death. In addition, having a deceased loved ones medical records can provide some peace of mind.