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CA estate lawyerIf you are a competent adult, you should have an estate plan. Whether you are single or married, a parent or childfree, healthy or ill, young or old, you need an estate plan. Life is unpredictable. As much as we all wish that only elderly people in poor health passed away, we know that this is not the reality of life. No one knows when they will pass away or become incapacitated. Having both a testamentary plan and an incapacity plan in place can help reduce the distress your loved ones will experience should the worse come to worst. Doing this type of planning can also help ensure that your personal beliefs and wishes would be respected should you find yourself in a situation like a coma where you could not speak for yourself. Our lawyers can work with you to help you decide which documents you need given your current personal situation.

The Benefits of Estate Planning for All

Thinking about what your closest loved ones would go through if you were to pass away unexpectedly is not comfortable for anyone. Thinking about what you might go through if you were alive, but incapacitated, is not comfortable either. However, once you have an estate plan in place, you can stop worrying about these unlikely events, knowing that you and your loved ones would be protected. Benefits of making an estate plan for all include:

  • Deciding property distribution - Even if you do not own much of any valuable property, many of your possessions are likely to hold significant sentimental value for your loved ones. You know that you would want the friend who was with you when you caught the ball at a major league game to keep the ball if you passed away, but the person who would likely inherit your estate by default may not.
  • Reducing distress to loved ones - Having a strong estate plan in place can take some of the burdens of dealing with your property off your loved ones if the unexpected happened. With an estate plan, they are likely to have an easier time distributing your property. This way, they will also have the comfort of knowing that your wishes are being respected instead of having to guess what you would want.
  • Incapacity protection - Many adults have strong opinions about what they would want were they to be left in a permanent vegetative state or experience another form of mental incapacity. Documents like a living will and powers of attorney allow you to make certain decisions in advance.

It does not take all that long to form an estate plan for most people. If you find it unpleasant, we can help you accomplish the task expediently so that you can go back to much happier thoughts, assured that you and your loved ones are protected.

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CA estate lawyerYou may or may not have heard the term “holographic will” before. No, it is not a high-tech device that presents your final wishes using a hologram. Rather, a holographic will is a handwritten will made and executed by the testator alone. It need not comply with all the legal formalities required to make any other type of will, such as being witnessed by two people.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of ways for this to go wrong. Holographic wills are generally used only in emergency situations where the testator knows that they are dying and do not have the time or ability to find a lawyer and create a formal will. Really, a holographic will should never be used if you can avoid it. It can be extremely difficult to prove that these documents are valid and extremely easy to successfully challenge one. Your best bet is to work with an estate planning attorney rather than taking a DIY approach to such an important legal matter.

Why is Making a Holographic Will Not a Good Idea?

In many ways, creating a valid and enforceable holographic will is much more difficult than making a will in a lawyer’s office. The only time you should consider doing this is if you are facing imminent death and you have absolutely no other option. If you have been stranded in the desert for a week with little hope of rescue, it may be worth a shot. Otherwise, it probably is not a good idea.

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CA estate lawyerMany people, especially when they are young, regard estate planning and the preparation of a living will as something that can wait or something that is only for older or infirm individuals. The reality is that medical emergencies can happen at any time. When a medical crisis strikes, your loved ones may be unsure about the level of care and lifesaving treatment that you may want. Each person should have a living will or advance health care directive, which can clearly specify their desired medical care and gives decision-making power to a person they choose through a medical power of attorney. The attorneys of Law Office of David Schechet will work to prepare documents that address each client's specific needs.

Benefits of a Medical Power of Attorney in California

When you grant someone power of attorney, you are giving them the legal right to make decisions in your name. Powers of attorney can cover financial management, legal and business matters, and medical care. While some, like a financial power of attorney, can take effect at any time of your choosing, a medical power of attorney typically only takes effect when you are incapacitated and unable to make decisions about your medical care and treatment.

The person you give the power of attorney should be someone you trust, such as a spouse, child, brother or sister, parent, or trusted friend since they will have the ability to make the same decisions about your health care that you would have yourself. This can include decisions on whether you should undergo surgery, medication, and treatment your doctors should provide, and which health care providers should be responsible for your care. To guide the person through your preferred treatments, you will prepare a living will or advanced health care directive. This document explains your preferences for care, treatment, and if necessary, which life-sustaining procedures you would like performed including ventilation, feeding, dialysis, and resuscitation. For end-of-life decisions, your living will can also contain a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order and a Physician's Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST), which will avoid the person with the power of attorney from having to make these decisions without your guidance.

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CA estate lawyerIn estate litigation, there is a problem known as the “worst evidence rule.” When there is any legal dispute over a trust, will, living will, or power of attorney, the only person who is guaranteed to know what these documents mean is generally either dead or incapacitated. In neither event can the individual who executed the document hop up on the witness stand and clear things up - nor can they guide others to where they have placed these important documents. This is why it is critical that all estate and incapacity planning documents are well in order before any precipitating event kicks them into effect. One of the best ways to make sure the plan you put time and money into creating will be enforced is to work with an attorney and follow their advice.

How Can I Make Sure My Estate and Incapacity Plans Are Enforced?

There are a few steps you can take to increase the likelihood that the plan you made is going to be carried out. For starters, make sure that your documents are very clear. Using precise, unambiguous language is extremely important. A good attorney will know how to write out these documents in a way that prevents confusion.

It is also a good idea to spread the word about what you have done. If you make a will or trust and then shove it in a closet - or worse, a locked safe - without telling anyone, you run the risk that your loved ones will assume that you are intestate and proceed accordingly. It could take months for anyone to find your testamentary documents - at which point you have created more of a mess than anything.

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CA estate planning lawyerWhen you have taken the time to make a will, the last thing you want is for someone to challenge it when you are no longer there. You made a will because you want to control where your assets go. Having your will set aside after a successful challenge can defeat the purpose entirely. Will contests can be expensive, and they can also cause lasting rifts among families that may never heal. Fortunately, there are a few tactics estate planning attorneys use to anticipate and prevent will contests. If you have any concerns about a potential will contest, it is important to let your lawyer know so that they can take steps to prevent one.

What Are Some Ways to Prevent a Will Contest?

There are a few steps that you and your attorney can take to greatly reduce the odds of a will contest. They include:

  • No-contest clause - A no-contest clause in a will states that anyone who contests the will automatically receive nothing. These clauses are very effective when they are enforceable. However, judges will frequently override these clauses if they believe the person who filed a contest had probable cause to do so. Additionally, there are limited circumstances under which these clauses can be enforced.
  • Capacity documentation - One of the most common reasons wills are contested is because someone believes that the testator lacked the mental capacity to execute a will. It may be a good idea to obtain a letter from your doctor or a mental health professional stating that you are of sound mind and capable of creating a will.
  • Careful execution - The legal requirements regarding how a will is to be executed are quite strict. Executing a will under the guidance of a lawyer can help ensure that anyone who plans to challenge your will for improper execution would be extremely unlikely to succeed.
  • Self-proving clause - This tactic involves a formal written statement by those who witness you signing your will. Such a statement should include assertions that you clearly have the capacity to make a will, that you intend to create this will as it is written, and that there is no apparent undue influence and you are in no way being forced or coerced into signing. Your witnesses must not be beneficiaries.
  • Explain disinheritance - Will contests are frequently initiated by someone who would inherit from you under the laws of intestacy, but was left out of your will. You can add a document explaining that you intentionally left this person out and it was not an accidental omission. It may be a good idea to include an explanation of why.

Your attorney may recommend any or all of these steps, or additional steps depending on your particular situation.

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