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4 elements of estate planning

Estate planning is a process that California residents may need to take seriously. If it is done properly, an estate plan might be able to reduce taxes heirs will have to pay on the estate, document how a person wants to handle end-of-life decisions, arrange for the care of minor children if both of their parents die, and avoid probate court.

There are four documents that may serve as the foundation for basic estate planning. Those documents are a will, a health care power of attorney, a living will and a financial power of attorney. A will contains instructions detailing how a person wants their assets divided after his or her death. The document might also appoint a guardian for minor children and determine the age that those children will be given their inheritance.

The other estate planning documents may become enforced while a person is still alive. Medical and financial power of attorney documents designate another party to make decisions if the person who drafted the document becomes legally incapacitated. A living will is a document that provides specific directives to physicians. The document may describe the type of care a person wishes to receive under certain conditions. For example, a living will may direct a physician to stop giving life-sustaining care if the patient falls into a vegetative state.

These documents are some of the most fundamental components of an estate plan, but there are other tools that an individual may use to make sure that his or her wishes are fulfilled after death. Those who are beginning the estate planning process or reviewing documents drafted earlier may benefit from working with a lawyer who has experience in probate law and estate administration.

Source:, "The Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes You Can Make", Kelly Trageser , April 01, 2014

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