Estate planning is a crucial step for any Californian, especially if you want to spare your loved ones the difficulty, time, and expense of probate. But it is easy to lose track while working out all the details of what is most important: who is this for?
The people you designate in your will or trust are your beneficiaries, but more than that, they are often the people you care the most deeply for. This article will help you understand:
Estate planning is the process of getting your affairs in order so that your legacy and wealth will be protected after you die. Your beneficiaries are the people you are doing this for.
You will no longer be around to care, but the family and loved ones you can pass your hard-earned property and wealth onto certainly will be. And the impact of a well-crafted estate plan can be felt down across the generations, as can the damage from a badly or improperly planned estate.
But beneficiaries are not limited to your family and loved ones. Many Californians may choose to help strangers in need or causes they care for by designating charitable organizations among their beneficiaries. Regardless of who you want your legacy to benefit, an estate planning attorney will help you set up your estate to best follow through on your desires and their needs.
While it can feel great to secretly plan amazing revelations into your estate to wow and impress your beneficiaries, it is often better to be transparent, or at least careful, about your intentions. Not everyone is ready to receive a home, for example, or needs a car.
First, you probably should find out if the person you are considering giving something to even wants or needs it in the first place. It would be a shame for your legacy to be a burden for one when it might benefit another.
Once you have chosen your beneficiaries and decided on who will get what, it is also important to think about the person you want to be in charge of making those transfers after your death. With a will, this is called the executor; with a trust, the trustee. If you do not appoint any, a probate court may do so at the expense of your estate, yet if you appoint a family member or loved one who proves unreliable, that can cause untold harm and damage.
Finally, you should always examine and consider the financial responsibility of your beneficiaries, whether individuals or organizations, especially for high-value financial assets or accounts.
If your beneficiary is a child, for example, you might rightly be concerned about their ability to handle receiving a large sum of money all at once. They might spend it foolishly or act irresponsibly with it, wasting both your hard-earned wealth and their own potential in the process.
However, one measure you can take to help avoid this is to work out a staggered or deferred distribution. You could decide on a percentage they get every few years, for example, 33% at age 25 and another 33% at age 30, etc. Staggering the payment pay helps them act a bit more responsibly, or at least can limit the harm.
Whatever your concerns and goals, your attorney will work closely with you on your estate planning documents to ensure your wishes are followed and respected. It is also important, however, to ensure your wishes and preferences are followed even when you are still alive, especially when you are incapacitated.
Not all estate planning decisions revolve around wealth, assets, probate, and beneficiaries. Some are focused on laying out your wishes for unlikely but all-too-possible scenarios. While beneficiaries do not benefit directly in the same sense, these kinds of documents can avoid serious conflict or division within your family.
The first kind of medical document your attorney will help you draft is an advanced healthcare directive or living will. This lays out your wishes for specific medical circumstances or situations, such as being on life support, comatose, or more. These are not decisions you want to impose on those you love, not when you can avoid conflict or guilt by expressing your own preferences.
The second type of document is a power of attorney, which can be both medical and financial. These empower someone else to make decisions for your finances or healthcare while you are incapacitated, either temporarily or long-term. Again, these allow you to forestall questions or conflicts among those you care about most, so while they might not be beneficiaries in the traditional sense, there is no doubt they are benefiting from such estate planning.
Even if you have nothing to give and nothing to lose or fight over, if you have kids, your estate plan can impact how they are cared for after you die.
Few things are as tragic as the death of one or both parents of a young child. But who steps in to care for that child will undoubtedly have a massive impact on the course of their life. Without a clear choice for who should take care of them, the decision taken by the government may not be one that you would approve of.
Then there is also the chance that some third party, such as a friend or relative, will try to step in and make their case to take care of those children. There might even be a legal or custody battle that ensues. But your estate planning can have a significant impact on the process, helping ensure the best possible outcome.
The first and most important thing you can do to ensure your children will be cared for after your death is to name a guardian, and maybe even a backup or two, in your will. If you have a preference between your parents, for example, or a favorite sibling you would entrust them to, mention it clearly. This can help determine the state’s eventual guardianship decision.
Doing so will also help prevent them from going through any kind of foster care or other government program notorious for leading to difficult childhoods.
Then, you can create a trust for the assets you wish to leave for them, with specific rules for what should be entrusted to whom, when, and how. A revocable living trust, perhaps; that way, you can easily change it as your children age and as you acquire more assets or wealth, eventually dismantling it if, hopefully, nothing happens to you and it is never needed.
All of these are steps your lawyer can help you take when planning your estate. For guidance on how to best Take Care Of Your Beneficiaries Through Estate Planning In California, an initial consultation is the place to start.