Estate Planning is the management of assets during lifetime and the preparation for orderly administration and distribution of a person's assets after death. A properly executed estate plan that documents your wishes for long term care can help prevent court proceedings such as Conservatorships. The preparation of an estate plan also includes taking actions that will minimize taxes and distribute assets to the appropriate heirs. A well-drafted estate plan is your assurance that the taxes and costs associated with your death will be minimized. A good estate plan also keeps the process of settling your estate as simple and efficient as possible. Most importantly, your estate plan will ensure that your assets will be used to benefit the people or institutions that you choose, in the amounts that you choose. Also, if you have minor children, your estate plan will designate a guardian and create a trust to provide for your children.

Wills and Trusts

A proper estate plan will include a Will or a Trust, or sometimes both. A Will is a written document directing the disposition of a person's assets after death and designates someone to be in charge of the process (an Executor or Personal Representative).

If it is appropriate for your situation, your estate plan might also include a Trust. Like a Will, a Trust is a written document directing the disposition of a person's assets after death and designates someone to be in charge of the process (in this case called a Trustee). If you create a Trust, you transfer your assets to the Trust while you are alive and it can assist you manage your long term care needs. The Trust also continues on through your death. If a decedent’s property is in a Trust at the time of death, the estate does not need to go through Probate, but instead the Trustee will do a Trust Administration. (See more information about Probate and Trust Administration below.)

Powers of Attorney

A Power of Attorney is a legal document authorizing a person to act as an agent on your behalf. This document is only effective during your lifetime, not after your death. A Power of Attorney can be used to transact various financial related tasks if you are incapacitated or otherwise unable to do so for yourself.

Advance Heath Care Directives and Powers of Attorney

Advance Health Care Directives (or Living Wills) allow you to provide your medical providers with written instructions about your wishes medical treatment under certain circumstances, life support, organ donation, and other medically-related decisions.

Health Care Powers of Attorney allow you to designate a person or persons to make decisions for your medical care and long-term care in the event you are unable to make the decision on your own. Putting these wishes in writing is a critical part of your estate plan.

Guardianship Nomination

A Guardianship Nomination will dictate who is to care for your minor children in the event of your incapacity or death. If you do not appoint a Guardian in writing and become incapacitated or deceased, the State of California may make the selection of a Guardian for your minor children. Preparing a proper Guardianship Nomination can help avoid court involvement in the event of your incapacity or death.


Probate is a court supervised process where a deceased person’s property is changed into the name of the person(s) who is to inherit it. The probate court chooses an Executor or Personal Representative (who may or may not be named in the decedent’s Will) to inventory and value the property, pay creditors and taxes, and distribute the property to the beneficiaries. Probate is required when a person dies with or without a Will in the State of California. Probate has very technical and legal requirements that must be followed, and thus, can be expensive and time-consuming. The Probate proceedings are also a matter of public record. With proper Estate Planning, Probate can be avoided in most circumstances.

Trust Administration

Trust Administration is the process in which the Trustee named in the Trust inventories the decedent’s assets, values the assets (typically with the assistance of a broker, accountant, and/or attorney), reports the assets to the IRS, prepares and files tax returns on behalf of the deceased and the Estate, and distributes the assets to the beneficiaries. This is the process that replaces Probate if a proper estate plan is in place that allows a decedent’s estate to avoid Probate.

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