For many people, hiring an estate planning attorney in Orange County isn’t a high priority. Estate planning often feels like something that can wait, but it’s more important than you might realize. It becomes vital when you’re ill with a terminal disease or reach an older age. Of course, an accident or fatal illness can happen to anyone at any time, and it’s best to be prepared. Whether you are ill, entering your golden years, or just want to ensure appropriate plans are in place for your estate, there is no better time than now to get started.
Creating Your Comprehensive Estate Plan
Here are some items to consider in estate planning for elderly:
Draft A Will
A will is probably the primary document that comes to mind when planning your estate. Your will lays out who you want to take over your assets after you pass away. It also helps ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes. If you have children under eighteen, your will also states who will become their guardian. You can distribute your property to a single person, multiple people, or charity. You are not required to leave anything to family members if you don’t want to. How your assets are handled is entirely up to you.
If you do not have a will, decisions about your assets, property, and minor children are made by a local court. Even if you’ve told a close personal friend or family member how you’d like your estate handled, a court makes the final decision absent of an official will.
While there are various online templates to write your will, it is wise to visit an estate planning attorney. Online templates are a one-size-fits-all option, and may not cover your unique circumstances. A single, seemingly insignificant mistake in your will can completely invalidate your wishes and require a probate court to make a decision. Not only can this confusion be stressful for your loved ones, but it can result in your requests not being adequately followed.
Set Up Trusts
Trusts are primarily arrangements that hold assets on behalf of a beneficiary. There are a variety of kinds of trusts, so it’s essential to work with a qualified estate planning lawyer to ensure they are set up correctly. Some trusts, called revocable trusts, can help your estate avoid probate. Other trusts, known as irrevocable trusts, help to limit exposure to estate taxes. Of course, there are pros and cons to each kind of trust. The best step is to talk to a trust attorney in Orange County who can help you determine if a trust is right for you and which type will best accomplish your goals.
Create Powers of Attorney and a Living Will
A durable power of attorney provides someone of your choosing the legal authority to act on your behalf. The person you select should be someone that you trust to work in your best interest if you are incapable of doing so yourself. If you do not appoint an agent or attorney-in-fact, the judge will either appoint one for you or will make the necessary decisions in court. There are several documents that you will create.
- Living Will or Advanced Directive: This document provides directions to your health care providers regarding wishes for your end of life care. You can go into as much detail as you want or keep it simple. For example, you might suggest that you want anything available to relieve pain, but do not want to use drastic measures to sustain life, like breathing machines or CPR. If you are terminally ill, talk to your doctor about how the disease will progress, so you know what to expect and can plan for the worst.
- Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care: At some point, you may find yourself incapable of making decisions for yourself. Assigning an agent gives someone the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf. You must discuss your wishes with your agent to ensure he or she makes the appropriate decisions.
- Durable Power of Attorney for Finances: You’ll want someone to make decisions regarding your assets. If, for example, your spouse needs to access your checking account to pay the mortgage and you don’t have POA, your family would have to petition the court to access these funds.
Double Check Beneficiaries
You may already have accounts set up that have beneficiaries named – life insurance, investments, and retirement accounts, are great examples. When planning your estate, make sure to check on these accounts to ensure the appropriate people are named. It is far too familiar for people to forget about these accounts. In some cases, you may have a conflict where a particular account’s beneficiary is different than who is named in your will. In some cases, you may have named your beneficiary before a divorce or significant life change and therefore require an update.
While looking into your accounts, you may decide to turn them into payable-on-death accounts. This is typically an easy and free option that transfers bank or brokerage accounts to a beneficiary immediately upon your death.
Letter of Intent
Beyond the legal documents and beneficiary designations, you should also consider drafting a letter of intent. While this document will not supersede a will and doesn’t carry any real legal weight, it helps your loved ones cope after your passing. A good letter of intent contains account numbers, passwords, PINs, and more. Typically, a copy of your message would go to the executor of your estate as well as your spouse or trusted family member.
The best part of a letter of intent is that you write it; it’s personal. You don’t necessarily need an attorney to draft this document, although it’s a good idea to ask for tips or pointers from your estate planning attorney, so nothing is left out. Some people even like to include their preferences for funeral arrangements. Families often stress over little things associated with the death of a loved one. A letter of intent can alleviate that stress by making your wishes clear.
Working With An Estate Planning Attorney In Orange County
Having the appropriate estate plan is vital for everyone. If you are terminally ill or advancing in age, it is especially important to make sure these arrangements are in place. It is also worth reviewing and updating your current plans if they exist. To best ensure that your preferences are followed, work with an experienced Orange County estate planning attorney. Both you and your family will be glad that everything was set up thoroughly, legally and correctly.