couple and attorney with documentsIf you find preparing for the end of your life distasteful, you’re certainly not alone. While most people know that they need an estate plan, only 40 percent of Americans have actually sat down and made one, according to the AARP. While 81 percent of the Greatest Generation and 58 percent of Baby Boomers have made an estate plan, 64 percent of Gen-Xers and 78 percent of Millennials have not.

Manhattan Beach Estate Planning

No matter how old you are, you need an estate plan, especially if you have children. Without an estate plan, your estate will be distributed according to your state’s laws, and what the state sees fit to do with your estate may not be what you would have preferred.

Whether you’ve already made an estate plan, or you’re just now getting around to it, it’s vital that you know what documents to include, and which ones you might be missing.

1) A Will

Your will forms the cornerstone of your estate plan. No matter your age, you should have one, especially if you own property or other assets, or have children. Your will should name an executor, a person or entity authorized to oversee the distribution of your assets.

You can use your will to name a guardian for your minor children, and ensure that your property and estate are divided among your heirs according to your wishes. You can even use your will to specify that you would like to disinherit specific heirs.

2) A Letter of Instruction

Unlike a will, which is a public legal document, a letter of instruction is private, meant to be seen by only your relatives and executor. You can use the letter of instruction to give informal directions regarding the contents of your will, where and how you’d like to be buried, or where your heirs can locate other important documents you may have left behind. However, unlike the will, the letter of instruction is not legally binding.

3) A Durable Power of Attorney

A durable power of attorney, or DPOA, authorizes someone to act on your behalf in the event you are incapacitated by a serious illness or other medical event. It will allow a trusted representative to care for your property, pay your taxes and bills, collect any benefits to which you’re entitled, manage your investments, and otherwise look after your affairs if you cannot do so yourself.

4) A Living Will

A living will lets your medical providers know what medical interventions you would or would not want in the event you’re too incapacitated to make your wishes known.

Without one, medical providers must prolong your life using artificial means, and your next-of-kin would have to make difficult decisions about whether to prolong your life artificially. A living will allows you to approve or decline certain kinds of care in advance.

5) A Health Care Proxy or Power of Attorney

A health care power of attorney authorizes a trusted representative to make medical decisions for you, in the event you can’t do so for yourself. You can specify exactly how much authority you would like your health care proxy to have.

6) A Do Not Resuscitate Order

A Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order tells medical personnel not to administer CPR if you suffer cardiac arrest. Generally, there are two types of DNRs. One is effective only if you are hospitalized, while the other is to be followed outside the hospital.

7) A Living Trust

Not everyone will need a living trust, but if you own a lot of property or assets, or have property in multiple states or countries, setting up a living trust can help you pass on assets to heirs without including them in the probate estate.

While you are alive, you will manage the trust, and can change the terms of the trust, move property in and out of the trust, or end the trust entirely.

Once you have passed away, the living trust will allow your property to be distributed quickly and easily, which will allow your family access to the assets they may need to continue providing for themselves. A living trust can also make it easier for your heirs to manage stock portfolio assets, and since the property in the trust doesn’t go to probate, the arrangement can protect your privacy.

8) An Account List

Once you have passed away, your heirs will need to access your bank and brokerage accounts, retirement accounts, 401(k)s, safe deposit boxes, and other accounts. The account list is an informal, private document that provides your heirs with the information they need to access your accounts. Your account list should include information about:

  • Bank accounts
  • Brokerage accounts
  • 401 (k)s
  • IRAs and Roth IRAs
  • Auto-pay accounts, including contact information for payees
  • Annuity contracts
  • Life insurance policies
  • Safe-deposit boxes
  • Savings bonds, with copies of the bonds themselves
  • Pension documents
  • Long-term care insurance policies

Include the related online usernames and passwords that those you leave behind will need to access these accounts. Make sure that your heirs or executor know where to find this list, and any relevant associated documentation.

9) Your Important Paperwork

When you’re gone, your executor and heirs will need to tie up your loose ends. Make it easy for them by including in your estate planning information about where they can find important documents, such as:

  • Deeds to homes, land, or cemetery plots
  • Titles to your vehicle(s)
  • Mortgage account documents
  • Your last three years’ tax returns
  • Marriage license(s) and divorce decrees, if you have them
  • Proof of loans you’ve made
  • Partnership and corporate operating agreements
  • Military discharge information
  • Usernames and passwords for email and social media accounts, as well as instructions for what you’d like done with those accounts

10) A List of Important Contacts

Finally, every estate plan should include a list of important contacts. Include names and current contact information for all individuals you’ve named in your estate planning documents, as well as contact information for your estate attorney and the CPA handling your estate.

Contact a Skilled California Estate Planning Attorney Today

Estate planning is a chore that no one wishes to face, but once it’s done, you’ll enjoy peace of mind knowing that your family will be provided for after you’re gone. The Ledbetter Law Firm, APC is dedicated to helping individuals and families plan for their futures through all aspects of estate planning.

Contact The Ledbetter Law Firm, APC by filling out our online contact form, or call us at 310-507-7022 to discuss your estate planning needs and any questions you might have about trusts, wills, or the probate process.