What could happen if a California resident has not planned for the future? Perhaps a catastrophic illness or accident leaves a person incapacitated and unable to make decisions or provide personal care. If this unfortunate situation happens to someone who has not done any estate planning, there would likely be a lot of confusion and potential legal issues for loved ones.
If the appropriate documents are in place, the people designated in them would be legally allowed to act on the person's behalf. However, if a person did not have a will, a trust or a health care power of attorney in place, all decisions would fall to probate court. Family members would have to ask for the court to appoint a conservator to deal with financial issues. In addition, an agent would have to be appointed to make any medical or mental health care decisions.
Estate planning is vital in ensuring that someone's wishes are followed, both in life and after death. People of all ages should consider creating an estate plan. Even young adults could benefit by addressing health care or financial issues. After the age of 18, should someone become incapacitated, medical treatment information could not be shared with anyone unless a health care power of attorney was in place. Likewise, newly married couples must legally designate the authority to make medical or financial decisions, as the marriage alone does not grant that authority.
Families with young children would need to designate a plan in the event something were to happen to both parents. A plan for the children's guardianship and financial support should be developed to prevent a decision for their future being made by a court. If a couple did not have extended family to become guardians, the children could become part of the foster care system if a plan for their care was not in place.
Estate planning is important for all California residents, regardless of income level. The process is much broader than simply determining how someone's assets are distributed. An experienced estate lawyer can help clients develop a plan to meet their specific needs and ensure that their interests are protected both now and for the future.
Source: thetimesherald.com, "Who needs estate planning?", Matthew M. Wallace, Aug. 18, 2017