How Do I Prepare for Estate Planning?

Feb 02

Estate planning, like most other specialized legal fields, may seem simple at first. However, it can quickly become overwhelming for people who lack the necessary legal training.

An estate plan is more than a list of your assets and heirs. A good estate plan will be a comprehensive and legally binding “road map” for what happens to your assets upon your demise or incapacitation. Even if your estate is modest and your inheritance situation is fairly simple, there will be many factors to consider.

A will is an important legal document that requires specific language to hold up if contested in court. Even then, it is only one part of a comprehensive estate plan. It may involve living trusts, powers of attorney, medical directives, and a variety of other legal, financial, and insurance instruments.

Due to the complexities of estate planning, it is recommended that you partner with the estate planning attorneys at Davis Toft. They can help you develop a truly comprehensive estate plan that offers security and peace of mind.

Getting Started with Laguna Beach Estate Planning: 8 First Steps

Depending on your particular situation, an estate plan can be quite different from person to person. A last will and testament with advanced medical directives might be sufficient for someone with simple, stable assets. However, this certainly will not be the case for everyone. Someone with complex, dynamic assets and large business interests may need to set up multiple trusts to properly handle the transfer of their assets. It is important to remember that estate planning is not only for the elderly. You owe it to your loved ones to be as prepared as possible for disaster, whatever your current age.

People who try to complete the estate planning process on their own often fail to consider major aspects of estate planning. These can include tax burdens that might be levied against the estate. This can leave critical matters in the hands of the probate court system. It is highly recommended that you work with a lawyer to explore all the available options.

If you are planning for the future of your Laguna Beach estate, here are 8 initial steps to start the process:

  1. Catalog your assets and liabilities: Take stock of all your property and finances, including real estate, investments, bank accounts, retirement accounts, and life insurance policies. Then do the same for all your debts. This will give you and your attorney a clear understanding of your financial situation.
  2. Identify your beneficiaries: Decide who you want to inherit your assets when you pass away. This could be your spouse, children, grandchildren, business partners, or even a charity. This will also determine which legal instruments (trusts, wills, etc.) will need to be included in your estate plan.
  3. Choose an executor: An executor is the party responsible for carrying out the instructions in your will. They will also distribute your assets to your beneficiaries as per your wishes. Choose someone you trust who is organized and responsible. The executor typically receives a small percentage of the overall value of the estate for their services. People with significant assets often name a trusted and experienced attorney as their executor.
  4. Consider your healthcare wishes: Decide who you want to make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated and cannot make them yourself. You can also draft a special living will or advanced medical directive that specifies your own wishes regarding life-sustaining treatment. You may also assign different responsibilities to different parties if you are incapacitated. For example, you can leave a business partner in charge of your business interests while assigning your spouse to make medical decisions.
  5. Start with a will: A comprehensive estate plan can be much more than a will, but it is still a good place to start. Start by creating a rough draft of your will so that your wishes and instructions are clearly stated. Then, take it to your lawyer to have the language tightened up to legal standards.
  6. Explore trusts: A trust is a legal arrangement in which a trustee manages assets on behalf of the trust’s creator. In this way, a trustee functions similarly to an executor. The trustee will manage the trust until the conditions for disbursement are met. For example, you may want to leave some money for your grandchildren with the stipulation that they enroll in college before receiving it. Trusts can also be useful for transferring your assets to a charity. There are many types of trusts, and your estate planning attorney can help you determine if one is appropriate for your situation.
  7. Review and update your plan regularly: It is important to review and update your estate plan regularly to ensure it reflects any changes in laws or tax codes. You should also update it to reflect major changes in your life, such as births, deaths, marriages, divorces, or significant changes in your assets.
  8. Contact Davis Toft: Quality estate planning attorneys are available at Davis Toft in Laguna Beach. We can help you draft a comprehensive estate plan that meets your unique needs and goals.


Q: What is the first step in estate planning?

A: A good first step to estate planning is to assess your assets and liabilities. You must evaluate your complete financial situation, including:

  • Real estate
  • Investments
  • Bank accounts
  • Retirement accounts
  • Life insurance policies
  • Debts

A clear understanding of your financial situation is necessary. From there, you can determine how you want to distribute your assets and make other important decisions about your estate. You should also consult a qualified lawyer early in the process.

Q: What are the seven steps of the estate planning process?

A: There are many different philosophies for estate planning. The one you use will depend on your situation and your lawyer’s style. A seven-step model might look like this:

  1. Cataloging assets and liabilities
  2. Identifying beneficiaries
  3. Choosing an executor
  4. Healthcare wishes
  5. Choosing an estate planning attorney
  6. Creating a will
  7. Creating trusts, if needed

Q: What are common estate planning mistakes?

A: Common estate planning mistakes include:

  • Failing to update estate plans after major life changes
  • Not properly titling property or assets
  • Forgetting to consider tax implications
  • Failure to appoint a trustworthy executor/trustee to carry out your wishes
  • Not communicating the estate plan to heirs and business partners beforehand
  • Focusing only on assets while ignoring debts or long-term healthcare needs
  • Not properly funding trusts

Perhaps the most common mistake, however, is trying to create your own estate plan without the help of a qualified attorney. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney like those at Davis Toft can help you avoid mistakes and ensure your estate plan is legally binding.

Q: What are the three primary goals of estate planning?

A: Estate planning has three primary goals. When these are met, your estate plan can protect your loved ones, give you peace of mind, or help you achieve your long-term philanthropic goals:

  1. Plan for medical incapacity to ensure your assets are cared for and your healthcare wishes are followed.
  2. Ensure your assets are distributed according to your precise wishes after your death.
  3. Minimize taxes and expenses associated with your estate to prevent an undue burden for loved ones.

Davis Toft: Your Trusted Estate Planning Partners for Laguna Beach, CA, and Surrounding Areas

When you are ready to begin creating a comprehensive estate plan, we can help. Contact us today for a no-pressure consultation and learn what our estate planning attorneys can do for you.