The Basics Of Estate Planning
(And Why You Need An Attorney)

Perhaps you have a vague concept of estate planning, but you are fuzzy on the details. Perhaps you know some of the details but are not sure if you need an estate plan. Even if you know you need estate planning, you likely have questions.

For over 20 years, WealthPLAN, PC, has been helping individuals and families create custom estate plans. We answer some common questions about wills, trusts and estate planning to give you the broad strokes and some food for thought. When you are ready to get started and discuss specifics, give us a call to make an appointment.

What is estate planning?

Estate planning is often referred to as “getting your affairs in order.” It is a set of legal documents and legal strategies that anticipate death or incapacity and the orderly transfer of your estate. While you cannot control the future, you can make your wishes known, protect family wealth, and spare your loved ones from much hassle and grief. The elements of a comprehensive estate plan might include a will, powers of attorney, a health care directive, nomination of guardians, revocable and irrevocable trusts, annual gifting and other tools.

Why do I need an estate plan?

Estate planning is a safety net for family wealth and a road map for your loved ones. If you died without an estate plan, California statute would dictate how your estate is divided. If you became incapacitated tomorrow without the right documents in place, your family members would be left in the dark about your wishes or powerless to act on your behalf. Estate planning allows you to create your legacy and have peace of mind that your loved ones are cared for. You do not have to be “elderly” to start planning. To the contrary, the earlier the better.

What does an estate planning lawyer do?

A good estate planning attorney will take the time to learn about your goals, your asset base, your family dynamics, and your biggest concerns. They help you discuss uncomfortable topics, walking you through different scenarios to make important decisions. They will break down complex legal and financial issues into plain English. They can help you shield your estate from creditors and lawsuits, and anticipate the tax ramifications for your heirs. Lastly, your estate planning lawyer ties it all together and drafts it in the appropriate legalese so that your documents are clear and enforceable.

Can’t I just create my own documents?

Numerous online services offer “do-it-yourself” kits. But true estate planning is more than multiple choice checkboxes. Your documents must comply with California law. A small error or omission can have big consequences. Our attorneys have litigated poorly written estate planning documents, including cookie-cutter wills from the internet. There is no shortcut for truly customized and legally sound estate planning.

What is a will, and why do I need one?

A last will and testament declares who shall (and shall not) inherit when you die. You can bequeath specific assets or assign each heir a portion of your estate. A will can also record your wishes regarding guardians for your minor children, funeral rites, and an executor of your estate. Every adult should have a will – you probably have more assets than you realize, and an unexpected death can occur at any age. A will gives you peace of mind today, but it also gives comfort and answers to those you leave behind.

What is a power of attorney?

A Power of attorney signs over authority to a trusted person to manage your financial and business affairs. This ensures that your interests are protected in the event of incapacity due to illness, accident, or mental infirmity. Those powers can be as broad or limited as you desire.

What is an advance health care directive?

health care directive, also known as an advance directive or a “living will,” gives specific direction to medical providers and your loved ones regarding medical treatments, medical intervention and end-of-life care. Without instructions in writing, doctors and family members may not know or may not be able to honor your wishes.

What is a trust? Do I need one?

A trust holds assets apart from your estate on behalf of designated beneficiaries. Trusts are a useful tool for accomplishing specific estate planning goals. A key benefit is that trust assets bypass the probate process. Other uses range from asset protection and tax planning to setting aside money for a charitable legacy or a family member with disabilities. Our attorneys incorporate several types of trusts into our clients’ estate plans.

What is probate, and why do I want to avoid it?

Probate, also known as estate administration, is the legal process for setting your estate when you die. That duties are carried out by an executor or personal representative – usually a family member – and the process is overseen by the probate court in the county where the deceased lived. Probate and estate administration can be expensive, drawn out and contentious. Avoiding probate through the use of estate planning trusts can spare your loved ones from many of those hassles.

Ready to Talk with An Estate Planning Lawyer?

WealthPLAN, PC, provides knowledgeable and compassionate guidance in San Jose and surrounding areas. We provide custom wills and basic estate planning, as well as sophisticated solutions for clients who have complex estates or advanced goals around wealth preservation and business succession planning.

We take pride in our professional integrity and personalized service. Please call us at 408-918-9030 or use our online form to schedule an appointment.