While the Last Will and Testament is an important estate planning tool, trust and estate lawyers want clients to be aware that there are certain things it won’t accomplish. To start, a Last Will and Testament will only come into effect after you’ve passed away, which means that it cannot be used to handle any of your financial or medical affairs while you’re alive, no matter what your physical or mental state may be.
A complete estate plan will provide you with the proper protection you need while you’re alive, which is why almost every comprehensive estate plan consists of the following documents, in addition to a Last Will and Testament:
- A Power of Attorney document that names individuals to handle your financial affairs in case you become incapacitated.
- A Living Will to name an agent or agents to make medical decisions for you if you are unable and also to make your medical wishes known to family and medical staff.
- A Designation of <Guardian/Conservator> document which can be submitted to a court to let them know your wishes in case a Power of Attorney or Living Will is not sufficient in certain cases.
Experienced trust and estate attorneys also warn their clients that there are certain limitations to a Last Will and Testament, even after death. A Last Will and Testament does not allow your estate to avoid the California probate process and cannot protect your estate from severe estate taxes.
That’s why, depending on the situation, Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts can help deal with these issues. Assets that are owned by a trust do not have to go through the probate process, which saves your loved ones time and money and protects the privacy of your estate. You may also set terms and conditions on the inheritances you leave your family, especially if you are bequeathing assets to minors under 18 or, in some cases, adults under 25. Certain trusts can also help to reduce the estate taxes you may owe to the federal or state government.
If you have any questions about setting up a comprehensive estate plan with a Last Will and Testament, Trust, Living Will, and Power of Attorney – or if you already have an estate plan but would like to have it reviewed – please contact me at 916.801.4132 to schedule an appointment with me.