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Estate planning is about more than just your will

When people think about estate planning, they often equate it with writing a will. Although a will is indeed an integral part of any estate plan, it is by no means the only thing to consider. Other things that you should be sure to discuss with your lawyer when planning your estate include a living will, healthcare proxy and power of attorney. If properly prepared and executed, these documents function along with your will to ensure that your wishes are carried out to the fullest extent possible.

A living will (also known as a health care directive) is a document that sets forth your wishes for your own medical care in case you lose your ability to communicate. For example, a living will can contain instructions for your doctors and loved ones about whether or not you would like to remain on life support or be resuscitated if your heart should stop. Although these questions can be unpleasant to contemplate, setting out your preferences in a living will not only makes it more likely that your wishes will be carried out, but can also spare your loved ones from having to make these agonizing decisions without your input should the situation arise.

Along with a living will, it is also important to include a health care proxy in your estate plan. Also known as a medical power of attorney, a health care proxy authorizes another person to make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot make them yourself. This individual will be responsible for making decisions in situations that are not covered by your living will.

Another important document to include in your estate plan is a power of attorney. Like a health care proxy, this document names another person to make decisions on your behalf. In this case, however, the individual will be authorized to make certain legal and financial decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. 

It is important to understand that California's laws regarding estate planning are different in many regards from those in other areas of the country. In order to ensure that your wishes are set forth in a manner that is both clear and legally enforceable according to state law, it is important to discuss the details of your situation with a lawyer who is knowledgeable in these matters.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Four Estate-Planning Documents Everyone Should Have," Tom Lauricella, April 20, 2014

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