What are the critical documents in a California estate plan?


A California estate plan is set out in a series of key documents prepared before one's death. We discussed one of these documents, the durable power of attorney, in last week's post.

Beneficiary designation forms are another important part of an estate plan, and often overlooked. These forms control who receives the funds in retirement accounts, life insurance policies and similar accounts when a person dies. The funds in these accounts are non-probate assets, and the beneficiary form, not the owner's will or trust, will control their distribution.

Two related forms are the Transfer on Death and Payable on Death (POD) designation forms. TOD forms name the person who gets the funds in a brokerage account upon the accountholder's death. POD forms do the same for savings and checking accounts. Under a new California law, real estate can now be transferred using a Transfer on Death deed.

An advance health directive, sometimes called a living will, allows an individual to maintain control over end-of-life health care decisions. It typically appoints a health care agent and sets forth the person's preferences regarding medical treatment, organ donation and related issues.

Finally, a will or living trust gives legally enforceable instructions as to how an individual's property should be distributed at their death. A will can also be used to name a guardian for minor children. A living trust has the advantages of avoiding probate and allowing for asset management during the trustor's lifetime.

For an estate plan to be effective, these documents must be carefully drafted by someone who understands the nuances of California trust and estate law. An experienced estate planning attorney can help a client prepare these essential documents.

Source: Forbes, "Ask The Estate Planners: What Documents Do I Need To Start An Estate Plan?" Rebecca Reisner, Feb. 12, 2016

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