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Estate planning process includes several key legal documents

In California and elsewhere, people tend to be confused when discussing the difference between a will and a living will. It is important to know how the two documents differ so that one can see how each of these legal instruments is vital to a full estate plan. When meeting with an estate planning attorney, all of the different documents that make up the arsenal of legal protections will be explained and discussed.

A person's last will and testament is a testamentary instrument that sets forth various actions that are to be taken by the appointed persons after the testator's death. It specifies who will act as the executor of the estate to manage all matters through to conclusion. It identifies each beneficiary who will receive a share of the estate and lists the assets and/or the percentages thereof that each beneficiary will receive.

Where there are minor beneficiaries, the will appoints a trustee or guardian to hold specified funds in trust. The will directs the trustee to distribute the funds at certain intervals after the child reaches adulthood. The persons appointed to official positions in the will are trusted friends and relatives, or where the testator prefers, the appointee may be a trust company or a bank.

A living will is a medical directive setting forth the maker's wishes for medical maintenance in the case of brain death or a similar state of catastrophic bodily failure. It usually instructs the medical providers to cease and desist from the use of artificial life-extending mechanisms where there is no hope of revival. The purpose of the two kinds of "wills" is obviously not related and a person will likely want to add each to the estate plan.

There are also medical powers of attorney and durable powers of attorney that are vitally important in the estate planning process in California. Each of these may provide critical protection and may be instrumental in satisfying the testator's wishes. The meetings with one's estate planning attorney will enlighten the client on the purpose and value of each kind of legal instrument that is recommended for his or her particular circumstances.

Source:, "Estate Planning: Even wills have some loopholes", Christopher Yugo, Dec. 24, 2017

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