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Estate planning for seniors is critical and still achievable

California has a large population of seniors, many of whom do not have any estate planning documents prepared. It is crucial for persons in that age demographic to act quickly to evaluate and maximize the use of whatever estate planning tools may yet be available. Another large group of senior citizens may have estate planning documents, but they may be decades old and in serious need of revisions and updating.

In either event, seniors will benefit by obtaining a consultation with an experienced estate planning attorney to either update their existing documents or to create a new estate plan. With respect to updating, beneficiaries and appointees may have died or become unavailable in the years since the documents were last checked. It is also important for the individual to check all insurance and retirement or investment papers to determine the status of the beneficiary designations.

If the beneficiary listed on an insurance policy or investment account is deceased or otherwise out of favor with the owner, the name must be changed to an alternative beneficiary designation. In addition to wills and trust planning, the process must include looking at both health care powers of attorney and financial powers of attorney. The health care powers of attorney will designate a trusted spokesperson to sign medical care documents and make certain decisions on the patient's behalf whenever the maker of the power is deemed incapacitated or otherwise unable to act.

Another type of health care power, sometimes called a living will, typically instructs medical personnel that the maker does not want to be maintained alive on artificial life extension machines when the patient is brain dead. The financial power of attorney allows one's designee to sign his or her name to financial documents, including bank checks, contracts and other matters of daily living. This is a useful tool that prevents the maker's family from having to ask the court to appoint a conservator or guardian to handle the individual's affairs. California and each of the states have their own rules and requirements for the validity and enforceability of the foregoing estate planning documents.

Source:, "Your Financial Future: Estate planning", Gary Boatman, Nov. 23, 2017

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