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Pro BonoIn a Prince-themed blog last spring, we used the singer’s untimely death to make the point that “you don’t have to be rich” to need an estate plan.  While the litigation surrounding Prince’s $100-300 million estate grinds on, as well covered in the Star Tribune, here in Sacramento there’s a new pro bono Estate Planning Clinic to help low income residents prepare estate plans.

On March 6, 2017, the Voluntary Legal Services Program of Northern California (VLSP) held its first Estate Planning Clinic at its office located at 501 12th Street in downtown Sacramento, California.  Several clients met with volunteer lawyers that evening and left smiling with fully-completed estate planning documents.  The Clinic, which is supported by the Sacramento Estate Planning Council and the Probate and Estate Planning Section of the Sacramento County Bar Association, will continue to operate one Monday evening per month.  Potential clients can call VLSP at 916-551-2102 to learn more about the Estate Planning Clinic and find out if they are eligible for its free services.

Estate planning has two broad purposes and the Clinic serves both of them.

We all should plan for possible incapacity.  We may be unable to make our own medical or financial decisions because of illness or injury, and by planning ahead we can select someone to make decisions for us.

One key incapacity planning document is a financial power of attorney, which allows a named agent to conduct business on behalf of the principal.  The Clinic uses the Uniform Statutory Power of Attorney, recognized in California Probate Code section 4401, with customization to allow greater flexibility.  Clinic attendees can choose whether to make the power of attorney effective immediately or upon a physician’s certification of incapacity.

The other important incapacity planning document is an advance health care directive, which allows a named agent to make health care decisions for the principal.  In the directive, clinic attendees can provide instructions to their agents regarding the level of medical care they wish to receive if they are terminally ill.  The Clinic uses a form of health care directive created by, and supplied courtesy of, the California Medical Association.

Of course, estate planning is also about making arrangements for when we die.  The Clinic will offer attendees a simple will, either the statutory will authorized under California Probate Code section 6240 or an alternative, more-customizable form of will.  For parents of minor children, the will allows the Clinic attendee to nominate a trusted person to serve as legal guardian.  The Probate Court will give preference to the nominated person over other potential guardians, thus avoiding potential uncertainty and conflict.  The will also permits Clinic attendees to specify who will inherit property from them and to name the persons who will serve as executors of their estates.

If Prince had even a simple will, he would have been able to shape the administration of his musical legacy and fortune.  Instead, his sisters and half-siblings will inherit from him without a clear plan of administration to follow.

Clients must be financially eligible to receive services through the VLSP Estate Planning Clinic.  Income cannot exceed 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines established by the US Department of Health & Human Services.  While clients can own a home, their other assets must be modest.  Also, since VLSP receives federal funding, participants must reside legally in the United States.

Note that the VLSP Estate Planning Clinic does not offer trusts to clients.  An ordinary will usually meets the needs of clients of modest means.

The Clinic operates by appointment only.  If you live in the Greater Sacramento area, please call 916-551-2102 to follow up on this opportunity to create an estate plan to serve your needs.