Although you might count yourself among those in California who would rather discuss just about anything other than their own mortality, you may also be among those who understand that it’s important to talk about such things, especially if you are getting ready to execute an estate plan.

If you fail to discuss certain issues with your spouse, adult children or others to whom you might designate specific appointments in your plan, it could lead to confusion or discord among your family when the time comes to administer your estate. It’s also a good idea to research the various types of documents available to include in your estate plan, and to speak to someone well versed in estate planning and probate laws for help to determine which documents best serve your needs.

If your focus is will-based

The great thing about planning an estate is that you can customize your plan and update or change it as needed, provided you are of sound mind when you do so. The following list shows the most common types of documents included in the estate plans of many California residents:

  • An advance medical directive allows you to have a certain amount of control over what types of medical procedures you will have or not have if you become incapacitated or are in an emergency situation where you can’t speak for yourself.
  • A final will and testament is the most basic type of estate planning document. This is where you would list your assets, heirs, beneficiaries, etc. and also write any stipulations or terms you wish to attach to an inheritance.
  • A power of attorney allows the person or people you designate to make decisions on your behalf. You might wish to have both a medical power of attorney and a financial power of attorney.

A will-based estate plan is a rather basic plan. If your situation is not complex and you have no need for a revocable trust, it might be the way to go. If you devise a plan and later determine a need to change it, it’s only a matter of writing a new plan and signing it in front of the appropriate witnesses.

Facts about trusts

You may decide to make a trust the main governing document in your estate plan. If so, the following documents may be useful to you:

  • A revocable living trust is a way you can set aside funds that will transfer to the person, people or group you intend, upon your death.
  • A pour-over will is a last will and testament that accounts for any and all assets you do not place in trust.
  • A revocable trust is so-named because you can change it at any time, if you are of sound mind.

In a trust, you can include instructions that pertain to the time while you’re still living, as well as what should happen if you become incapacitated or die. A key factor to a solid estate plan is to make sure you write the terms in a clear manner and that any and all parties you name in the plan understand their roles. If a legal problem arises, you can seek support from someone experienced in reviewing estate plans.