The four key Estate planning documents you need now

The Coronavirus pandemic has everyone thinking about what could happen if the disease spreads more fully across the general population. In the U.S. alone we have reached over 600,000 cases, with over 22,000 confirmed in California. Quite simply,  people to plan for whatever could possibly happen.

No one likes to think about their mortality, and that’s why so many people drag their feet or even completely go without basic estate planning documents. However, an event like this can be the kick in the you know what that you may need to get your estate planning in order.

Will or Revocable Trust

Most people are aware that they should have a will or trust in place to pass on their assets to loved ones. Far too many think that simply writing down their wishes on a piece of paper, or copying an online form will be good enough. In California, a valid will would include:

Age: The person who’s will it is (a testator) must be at least 18 years old;

Capacity: The testator must be of sound mind, which means capable of making decisions and reasoning;

Signed: The will must be signed by one of the following:

  1. The Testator;
  2. Some other person in the testator’s name in the testator’s presence, by the testator’s direction; or
  3. A Conservator under court order to make a will.

Witnesses: The will must be signed by at least two adults who are present at the same time;

Writing: A will cannot be oral; and

Beneficiaries: California law allows property to be distributed to individuals, corporations, unincorporated associations, societies, and more.

California also accepts as valid the Holographic will. A Holographic will is one where the testator legibly handwrites and signs their own will. No witnesses are necessary, and it should probably be dated as well. While valid, holographic wills are ripe for challenging and “legibly” written is very subjective.

Many people have wills to cover what happens to their assets at death, and that typically works well, especially for modest estates.

However, in California if the testator owned over $150,000 in assets, the estate will likely have to go through probate, which can drain tens of thousands (or more) in statutory fees to attorneys and executors charged to move the estate through the long and draining probate process.

This is why it is advisable, if you have assets over $150,000 (essentially most California homeowners) set up at a minimum a revocable living trust, which can shield the estate from probate, amongst other benefits.

Whichever vehicle you choose, make sure that its up to date and reflects your current desires, beneficiaries, and family situation.

Beneficiary Designations 

 Many people don’t realize that their will or revocable trust may not cover or include all of their accounts. In particular, if you have an retirement accounts such as an IRA, 401(k) account, or life insurance policy, the person named as beneficiary of that account is who will receive the proceeds.

Further, many people fail to name anybody as a beneficiary for these accounts, creating additional complications in the event of their death.

Another complication is when someone is named as a beneficiary on these accounts, and subsequently there is a divorce, death, or other separation with the beneficiary. If these beneficiaries are not changed, they will receive the benefits, even if it is not what you wanted.

Your financial professional will have the forms necessary to name a beneficiary for your accounts or change the beneficiary to someone else.

Healthcare Durable Power of Attorney and Advanced Health Care Directives

These documents are highly important should you become seriously ill and/or incapacitated. A durable power of attorney for healthcare will give the person you choose the ability to make carry out medical decisions, at your direction.

These documents can be made quickly by an attorney, but they can be complex and need to be done right (internet forms are risky here).

For more information I have written an article specifically addressing the nuances of these documents here.

Financial Power of Attorney

Similar to a healthcare Power of Attorney, a financial POA can be a lifesaver if you are seriously ill or incapacitated.

This documents allows you to name any adult you know and trust to take care of your financial accounts, payments, and almost anything else related to your finances.

Hence, a trusted loved one or your most trustworthy friend are your best bets, although if that is not an option, you can pay professionals to act as your financial attorney in fact.

You can scope your financial power of attorney as narrowly or broadly as you want, ranging from only paying bills for you to being allowed to buy and sell assets and investments should you become incapacitated.

You should discuss the scope and your desires for this document with your attorney and other financial professionals.

Dennaoui Law is able to help you prepare any and all of these documents at a moments notice. We are agile and tech friendly meaning these documents ca be provided with a quick turnaround, 100% electronically to give you instant peace of mind.

Feel free to call Dennaoui Law Firm with any questions or contact us via email: [email protected].


Frank Dennaoui, Esq.

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