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California Estate Planning

How can you ensure that your financial affairs are taken care of when you're gone? Maybe you want your children to have your family home or to be financially taken care of.

There are many ways and tools to help you with estate planning in California. Whether you live in Los Angeles, San Francisco or San Diego, you have access to legal estate planning resources like wills, living trusts, advance health care directives and more. Using LawInfo's California estate planning articles, you can learn about the legal ins and outs of securing your family's future and connect with a qualified local attorney.

California Wills

In the event of your death, a will (also known as your Last Will and Testament) can ensure that your assets are distributed to your family and friends according to your wishes. You can name your beneficiaries in your will, as well as who would execute your will and a guardian for your children should you and your spouse pass away.

Your will governs the distribution of monetary and property assets to your named beneficiaries. Note that your will can't govern the distribution of assets that are already promised to beneficiaries in:

  • A life insurance policy.
  • A living trust.
  • A retirement plan.
  • Securities or brokerage accounts with "transfer/pay on death" clauses.
  • Joint ownership or community property agreements between spouses or domestic partners with survivorship clauses. This means that if certain assets are owned in part by your spouse or partner, they will receive those assets regardless of the terms of your will.

Without a will, the state of California will determine the distribution of your unassigned assets upon your death. The state will distribute your assets according to the following beneficiary hierarchy depending on who's available to receive your assets:

  1. Your spouse or registered domestic partner.
  2. Your children or grandchildren, if any.
  3. Your living relatives, including your parents and siblings.
  4. The State of California if you have no living relatives, spouse or domestic partner.

California Power of Attorney

While a will carries out your wishes when you die, what happens if you become incapable of doing so while alive? There are several solutions to this issue available to you in California. One of those methods is to assign a durable power of attorney to another person. With the durable power of attorney, another person may act on your behalf should your physical or mental health deteriorate.

You can assign the durable power of attorney to anyone you trust to make decisions for you, including family members, a lawyer or an accountant. You must specify whether the power you grant to your agent (the person you choose) is for general or specific situations and the extent of their power.

You should know that if you already have a will, your agent can't change it under California law. Your agent may establish or modify a living trust, though. When you die, the agent's power of attorney expires.

California Living Trusts

A living trust is similar to a will in that it will distribute your assets to your beneficiaries when you die. However, your living will may also be used to manage your assets while you're still alive. Assets like stocks, bank accounts and real estate can be placed into a living trust, which you can then assign a trustee to manage according to your wishes.

The major difference between a living trust and a will is that a living trust is established and regulated without court supervision. It's typically safer to govern the distribution of your assets after death using a will, in which case the executor of your will would be under court supervision.

Speak to an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney Today

This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified estate planning lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local estate planning attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.

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