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The components of an estate plan

According to a 2016 survey, almost two-thirds of Americans do not have a will. Such a document, which designates how a person's assets should be distributed, is an important part of an estate plan, but many California residents may not have created one because they do not like to think about the subject. However, a well-organized estate plan can be a help to families after a person's death.

An estate plan may have many other components besides a will or a trust. People might want to include a health care power of attorney that chooses someone to make their medical decisions if they are unable to do so. They may also want to write out their wishes for end-of-life care. They might even plan their funeral and what they want done with their social media accounts.

Beneficiary designations that people fill out when they get life insurance or open a retirement account are also part of an estate plan, and people can name primary and contingent beneficiaries. A person who owns a business may want to put together a succession plan. All of these documents should be kept together in a secure location, and the executor should be informed of where they can be found.

Talking to family members about the estate plan and discussing one's wishes with the executor may reduce the likelihood that the will might be challenged or that a person's wishes might be misunderstood. An attorney also might be able to help ensure that legal language is correct and that potentially complex vehicles such as trusts are set up correctly. For example, in some cases, a person may create a trust but forget to fund it by moving assets into it.

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