An estate plan will keep your heirs from having questions

You've written your will. That's a great first step.

But that's all it is. A first step.

To make sure your assets don't wind up in the hands of a California probate court, you need to take your estate planning a step further. A simple will might not address more complicated issues, and you don't want your heirs to have to figure it all out when you're gone.

An estate plan will answer the questions your family might have: What you want to happen in the event of your death, why you have made those choices and who will make sure your wishes are carried out.

You don't want to leave your family to wonder.

Here is how you can get started.

Record your financial assets and debts

List your assets, including real estate, personal property, financial accounts and life insurance. Also list your debts, including your mortgage, car loans and credit card balances. Write down the value of each asset and the beneficiaries. Your spouse likely jointly owns your home, and your insurance and financial accounts should have beneficiaries.

Go so far as to earmark personal property to an individual if you think some things might be fought over. That could be something of large monetary value, such as an expensive piece of jewelry, to things of only sentimental value, such as Grandma's old carving knife that has been used every holiday. Your heirs could fight over things big and small.

Write a letter detailing your intentions and instructions

Let's go back to that piece of jewelry and say it's an engagement ring. You should state in a letter to your heirs that you want your son to have it so he can give it to his future wife, or you want your daughter to have it so she can wear it when she gets married, guaranteeing it will stay in the family. That way, your children won't argue and say, "But Mom told me I could have it one day."

Choose someone who will carry out your wishes as your executor

It is essential you select a person who will be able to make tough decisions, act in a timely manner and be prepared to do what you wanted – even if it means disappointing that son who wanted the ring.

This is not a do-it-yourself task, in most cases. Be prepared to consult with an attorney. He or she can help you learn more about your legal options.

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