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Estate planning may require only a few basic documents

California law regarding estate planning and the administration of estates follows the same general framework and principles that apply in all other states. Each state has its own little twists and turns, however, making it advisable to begin and maintain one's estate plan in cooperation with an estate planning law firm in one's own state. The process involves making legal documents that become effective on one's death, and also in the event of incompetence, to handle one's financial affairs during life.

Estate planning establishes legal directives for the distribution of a person's assets at death. It is recommended for individuals or married couples with or without minor children. There are some basic documents and legal instruments that form the foundation of most estate plans, with more intricate structures available if and when needed.

An estate plan usually includes a will, durable power of attorney, living will and a health care proxy. For some, living trusts may be added as needed or desired.  If there is no will, the state of California intestacy laws state how the assets are to be distributed after death. Thus, a person's last will and testament tells the person's appointed representative who shall get the assets, either in kind or by percentages.

The will allows the maker to appoint a guardian for the funds of any minor children. The maker can also state who shall take care of any minor children. It is standard for a married couple to make reciprocal wills and provide for a guardian of the person of any minor children if both parents are deceased.

The durable power of attorney appoints a trusted person to take care of one's financial matters in the event of legal incompetence. Its use will save the person's estate significant funds that would be paid for an appointed guardian to handle an incompetent person's affairs. Estate planning in California and elsewhere also allows for setting up health care proxies and directives, which give the maker power over medical decisions and treatments that may or may not be desired.

Source: CBS Boston, "The Boomers' Kids: Estate Planning", Dee Lee, June 9, 2017

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