Q&A: Here’s a primer on all those estate planning documents

Dear Liz: Our dad’s kidneys are failing. Our mother passed away awhile ago, so it’s just me and my sister. He has a will, and my sister is on his bank account, but how do we handle the house transfer? Do we need a living will? We don’t want it to go into probate. We are splitting everything equally.

Answer: Losing a parent is stressful, so it’s good that you have your father’s estate-planning document to guide you. If it was properly drawn, it will name an executor who will handle the details of settling his bills, paying his creditors and transferring his remaining assets to his heirs.

If the executor happens to be you or your sister, you’ll be able to hire an attorney to help you and pay for it out of the estate’s assets. Having an attorney can help make the process much smoother and help avoid potentially costly mistakes.

You asked about a living will, but that’s a document designed to communicate someone’s wishes regarding end-of-life medical care. Living trusts are the documents that can avoid probate, the court process that otherwise follows death.

In many states, including California, probate also can be avoided with a “transfer on death” deed. If your father is still able to make decisions, you might want to hire the attorney now to advise you about which document makes the most sense.

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