Broadly speaking, there are two goals of estate planning. The first goal is to distribute assets at your death efficiently. Efficiently means with a minimal amount of effort, delay, taxes, fees, and other expenses. This first goal is what most estate planning clients have in mind.
Most people do not give as much thought to the second goal of estate planning, which may actually be the more important of the two goals. The second goal is to make sure that someone you know and trust will have the legal authority to take care of you if you cannot take care of yourself anymore in the future for some reason. You might not be able to take care of yourself if, for example, you were in a car accident and now you are in a coma, you suffered a stroke, you have dementia, etc.
Estate planning is drafting documents to accomplish those two goals. The more common estate planning documents are wills, trusts, powers of attorney for financial or asset management, and powers of attorney for health care (often called advanced health care directives).
If you do not have the proper estate planning documents in place when you die, then a probate decedent’s estate court proceeding may be necessary at your death. Similarly, if you do not have the proper estate planning documents in place when you become unable to care for yourself anymore, then a conservatorship court proceeding may be necessary. Because both types of court proceedings are a lot of work, take a long time, and can be quite costly, it is something that most people want to avoid. A probate decedent’s estate court proceeding normally takes one to two years or more, and a conservatorship court proceeding lasts for the remainder of the person’s life.
Both of these types of court proceedings also are very public. Anyone can review the documents filed with the court and listen in during the court hearings with the judge. That’s another reason why most people want to avoid these types of court proceedings.
Again, you can avoid these court proceedings by having proper estate planning documents in place.
No two people are exactly the same, and every estate plan should be unique and tailored to the specific needs of each client. So not everyone will have exactly the same documents as their estate plan documents.