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Estate planning is the process of establishing a plan for the management and distribution of your assets upon your death or incapacity. You want to make sure that your final property and health care wishes are honored, and that your family and loved ones are provided for when you are gone.A typical estate plan for a couple in California will include the following main elements:

  • A revocable living trust, to hold most of your assets and make sure probate is avoided
  • “Pour-over” wills which nominate guardians of minor children
  • Financial powers of attorney, authorizing those you trust to manage your financial affairs if you are unavailable or unable to do so
  • Advance health care directives (formerly called “health care powers of attorney” or “living wills”), specifying your wishes for medical decision-making authorizing those you trust to carry out those wishes


Once your estate plan is drafted and signed, the revocable living trust must be funded in order to work properly. “Funding” is essentially the process of transferring assets into your trust. An estate planning attorney will generally record a grant deed, signed by you, which transfers your real property into the trust. For bank accounts, brokerage accounts, mutual funds, etc., you should bring a signed copy of the trust, or a shortened version of the trust (called a “certification of trust”) to the entity and ask them to retitle the accounts into the trust. Other steps may need to be taken to transfer more complicated assets, such as LLC interests and timeshare holdings, into the trust.

Some assets, such as retirement accounts and life insurance, are not typically transferred into the trust. Instead, beneficiary designation forms can be updated to name the trust or individuals as the designated beneficiaries. This should be discussed with your attorney, as there can be income tax implications.

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