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Estate planning for the 'modern family'

If your family doesn't involve a spouse of the opposite sex and a couple of kids that you had together, you're not alone. Family dynamics have evolved considerably in recent decades. The term "modern family" has largely replaced "traditional family." A family can easily be comprised of an unmarried couple (of the opposite sex or the same sex), a single parent, grandparents raising their grandchildren, stepparents and stepchildren and other variations.

Regardless of what your family looks like, you want to make sure that your loved ones are provided for if something happens to you and that they inherit the assets you'd like them to have after you're gone. State probate laws -- even those in California -- still tend to recognize "traditional" family relationships when determining who inherits an estate if a decedent dies without a will ("intestate").

Therefore, if your family isn't what might be considered "traditional" by I Love Lucy-era standards, it's essential to designate your wishes to ensure that they're carried out. This can help you protect and provide for a partner who may not be your legal spouse and children whom you haven't officially adopted but are raising as your own, for example.

With a will, trust and other beneficiary designations, you can state who will get your property and other assets. Many people prefer trusts -- in part because they don't have to go through probate and are more private.

If you have a nontraditional family, it's wise to put other estate planning documents in place that will designate who has the authority to manage your financial affairs and make health care decisions if you become incapacitated and unable to make your wishes known or handle your own affairs. You can do this with an advanced health care directive and powers of attorney.

It's wise to discuss your wishes with an experienced estate planning attorney. They can help you develop an estate plan that will protect you and those you love.

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