When some people first meet an estate planning lawyer, one of the common questions they have is why they need an estate plan at all. After all, if estate planning is all about making choices that apply after you are dead, you won’t be around to get any benefit from the plan anyway. Right?
Not exactly. Estate planning isn’t only about making choices about inheritances or other issues that affect you and your family after you die. It’s also about making choices that affect you and your family while you are still alive.
Not only that, but the estate planning choices you can make have already been made for you in most situations. Every state, including California, has estate planning laws that will apply if you don’t get around to making your own choices. Whether you like these laws or not, they will apply to you if you choose not to make an estate plan. Here’s what we mean.
Estate Planning and Intestacy
Take, for example, your property and inheritance planning. With an inheritance plan you get to choose how you want to leave your property once you’re gone. You can choose to leave it entirely to your spouse, your children, your grandchildren, your favorite charity, or give it to anyone else as you prefer.
But the method through which you make these choices is very important. If you don’t make an inheritance plan that states your choice in a legally recognized manner, your choices won’t be honored. Instead, state laws will determine who inherits your property.
These laws are called laws of intestacy or intestate succession. If you don’t have an estate plan, they predetermine who inherits your property. The only way to avoid these laws is to create an estate plan of your own.
Estate Planning and Incapacitation
Even if you’re not worried about inheritances, you’re probably concerned about what might happen to you if you are ever incapacitated. Incapacitation occurs when a person is suffering from a medical condition that renders them unable to make decisions on their own. Should this happen to you, how will your doctors know the kinds of medical treatments you do or do not wish to receive?
The answer to this question lies with incapacity planning. Within an incapacity plan, you create advance medical directives that state your medical wishes. You will also create a directive that appoints another person to represent your wishes and communicate them to your doctors on your behalf.
These choices must still be made even if you fail to have an incapacity plan in place. Who makes them, however, will not be up to you. Instead, you will rely on California law to determine who gets to make decisions that affect your life and death.
Creating your own estate plan allows you to have control over your future and peace of mind that things will proceed as you like. The time to start is today. The way to start is to meet with an experienced and qualified estate planning attorney.