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  • James Brownlowe

What Documents Should My Estate Plan Contain?

Updated: Sep 24, 2018


You’ve decided it’s time to create your Estate Plan. One may ask, “What really is an effective Estate Plan and what documents should it contain?” For most of us, it is more than just a simple will. For families that have over about $150,000 in assets, including your home, an estate plan should have at least the following documents prepared:


1) Revocable Living Trust

2) Pour-Over Wills

3) Durable Power of Attorneys

4) Advance Health Care Directives


These documents will allow your agent or successor trustee to take care of all of your personal affairs during times of incapacity and to distribute your assets as you wish after your death.


Revocable Living Trust

The center piece of your Estate Plan is the revocable living trust. The trust is the document that

will control the distribution of your assets after your death. It is “revocable” and “living” because it’s created during your lifetime and can be revoked or amended during your lifetime. During your life and your spouse’s / partner’s lifetime, you do not lose control of your assets since the assets are titled in your names as the trustees of the revocable trust. However, upon the death of both of you, a successor trustee steps in to administer the orderly distribution of your assets to your beneficiaries. The primary advantage of having a revocable trust is that is avoids the often expensive and long probate process that is required if you die only having a will or no will at all. This alone is reason enough for most of us to spend the time and small amount of money required to create an Estate Plan.


Pour Over Will

When creating a trust, one will retitle their assets (homes, large bank accounts, stocks, business

interests, etc.) in the name of the trustee of the trust. This gives them legal title to the assets so they can administer the distribution upon death. However, there may be some assets that did not get transferred and this is where the pour-over will comes into play. As the name implies, upon death, any assets that are still in the name of the decedent are “poured over” into the trust. Thus, all property avoids probate.



Durable Power of Attorney


This document is critical to allow your agent (normally your spouse or domestic partner) administer your affairs should you become incapacitated. This allows your agent to pay bills, sell assets, or attend to business affairs of a business owner, etc. in the event you cannot take care of them yourself. The power of attorney can be made effective immediately or it can be written such that it only takes effect upon incapacity.


Advance Health Care Directives (Living Will)


Most of us have an idea of how we want to be treated should we be subject to an incurable medical condition. We may have specific desires for how our remains are handled such as burial / cremation or donations of organs for life saving or scientific use. The Advance Health Care Directive puts those desires in writing such that they will be honored by doctors and health care providers. Without them, one may not be able to “die with dignity” or your final days may be subject to conflicting wishes of family members. The Advance Health Care Directive is a vital document for the peace of mind of your loved ones and lets them make the decisions that you would have made for yourself.


Summary

An Estate Plan is an important element of a sound financial plan for any family. Most estate planning attorneys will evaluate your unique needs and craft all the necessary documents to fulfil your wishes. Almost all Estate Plans will include, at a minimum, the documents described above.

If you would like more information about Estate Plans to meet your needs, contact me at jim@brownlowelaw.com or 661-388-1592 for a free consultation.

Note: This article contains “legal information” and is not intended to provide “legal advice” for any specific situation.

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