Common Estate Planning Tools

Below is a brief overview of a few of the "tools" commonly used as part of a basic estate plan:

A will allows you to name your beneficiaries, the guardian for your minor children, and the executor who will manage the administration of your estate. A will can serve as the main document in your estate plan, or it can be used to supplement other estate planning tools such as a revocable living trust.

A living trust is increasingly used as the primary instrument in California estate plans. A living trust can provide many potential benefits, including reducing the expense of administering your estate, accelerating the process, providing greater privacy, avoiding conservatorship and centrally coordinating the collection and distribution of your assets.

A power of attorney is a written instrument in which one person appoints another person to act on his or her behalf. As part of an estate plan, a durable power of attorney allows you (rather than the court under a formal conservatorship proceeding) to name the person who will manage your personal and financial affairs in the event you are incapacitated.

An advance health care directive, which can include a power of attorney, allows you to instruct doctors and other health care providers regarding medical treatment you do or do not wish to receive under various scenarios. Without a valid AHCD, your family members may have to go to court to obtain the authority to make critical health care decisions on your behalf.

To avoid unnecessary taxation, probate and administrative obstacles, your estate planning process should include a review and possible addition or modification of assets such as IRAs, 401(k)s, ESOPs, deferred compensation plans and life insurance policies. An Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust often represents a particularly valuable way to keep life insurance proceeds out of your taxable estate.