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The documents necessary in an estate plan

If a person in California dies without an estate plan, the state will decide what happens to that person’s assets. The outcome could be very different from the person’s wishes, and for this reason, all adults should consider having an estate plan.

A last will and testament is one of the main estate planning documents. It can appoint an executor to manage the estate as well as guardians for minor children. It can also name beneficiaries for a person’s assets. Some people may want to use a revocable living trust for this instead. This allows assets to be passed directly to beneficiaries without going through the probate process. It can be canceled or revoked by its creator.

A durable power of attorney that gives financial power to someone in case the individual becomes incapacitated and a health care power of attorney that appoints someone to make medical decisions may also be useful. An advance healthcare directive or living will can express a person’s preferences for end-of-life care. One estate planning document that is frequently overlooked is the beneficiary designation, which is used for such assets as life insurance and retirement accounts. These should be reviewed after any major life changes. An attorney may be helpful in determining what documents are needed and whether they should be updated.

In addition to changes in the family, people may want to review the estate plan periodically with a professional in case there are changes in the law that may require changes in the estate plan. For example, some people may have designed an estate plan a certain way to avoid estate taxes, but that strategy may no longer be the right one since the estate tax exemption is now more than $11 million. Changes in beneficiaries and other roles in the estate plan might also be necessary.

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