Written by Grace Greer St. Clair
Getting motivated to establish your estate plan can be uncomfortable, but
if you knew what our clients experience when a good plan is not in place,
you would rush to get it done. Without a well-crafted plan, the Probate
Court will determine who will receive your hard-earned assets and belongings,
and this is not likely to be your first choice.
You can protect yourself and your loved ones with a basic estate plan that
includes a living trust, a will, an assignment and certain powers of attorney.
living trust is a document created by the person who owns the property and who most
often serves as the current trustee. All property and assets are transferred
to the trust. The trust names a person or people as successor trustee(s)
to succeed the original trustee when needed at death or incapacity. The
trust designates how the property will be handled during life and after a death.
will is created by a person (testator) during their life for use upon death
to designate distribution of assets. A pour-over will is used in conjunction
with a living trust and allows assets to be included in the trust plan
when they may have inadvertently been left out of the living trust.
assignment is a document used to assign personal property without recognizable title,
such as furniture or household goods, to the living trust. It shows the
grantor’s intent for their nontitled property to be governed by
the trust terms and is coupled with the pour-over will.
durable power of attorney is executed to name a trusted person as your agent to manage your financial
and personal property if you are unable to do so.
advance health care directive is executed to name a trusted person as your agent to make decisions about
your health care if you are unable to speak for yourself.
These basic definitions provide a description to help you get started,
and an estate planning attorney can go into more detail with you. Do not
let the following common roadblocks stop you from protecting your assets
and ensuring their disposition is handled according to your wishes:
Who Wants to Talk About Death? Discussions of death, dying, illness, money, family, wills and trusts
make many uncomfortable. Do not let a few minutes of discomfort cost your
family thousands of dollars. Without a plan, your estate goes to probate
court, where fees can severely reduce your estate’s value. The entire
process is public—an emotional drain on those subjected to it—and
is totally avoidable with proper planning.
This Is Not a Good Time. Everyone is busy, and there will ALWAYS be something seemingly more urgent
or more important to do. The best time is now, because if you wait too
long it may be too late. Estate planning helps you handle your property
while you are alive, and, once your plan is accomplished, you will live
with the security of knowing your wishes will be fulfilled.
I Don’t Know Where Everything Is. Gathering important documents can be daunting, but once you have completed
the estate planning process, the time you invested will be worth the effort.
You’ll feel better knowing a plan is in place which will make it
much easier for your heirs.
The truth is, estate planning is not really that scary, and there is no
better time than today to begin. The process involves analyzing your family
and financial situation, discussing your goals and concerns with your
loved ones and working with a trusted professional to create a solid plan.
You’ll incur some legal fees, but they will pale in comparison to
what your estate will bear if it ends up in probate court. With proper
planning you can be assured your plan will keep you out of court.
Grace Greer St. Clair is an estate planning attorney with St. Clair Law
in Redondo Beach. Grace is also a member of the
Torrance Memorial Professional Advisory Council. email@example.com, 310-374-5479.