Wills and Trusts in California
How Do Wills and Trusts Work?
Wills and trusts ensure that the assets of your California estate become distributed the way you imagined after you pass away. While this may not be the most pleasant thing to think about, it’s necessary to prevent complications or create disputes among your loved ones. So how do wills and trusts work? Well, while an estate planning attorney isn’t required to write a will or create a trust, you may find their advice invaluable to the process. Either document has to meet the criteria for the state, and a will and trust attorney can ensure that you’ve dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s.
Trust vs Will
Wills and trusts play a role in ensuring the distribution of your estate after you pass away, but they have different approaches and functions. How do wills and trusts work in California? A will is a legally binding document that describes what assets you have, who you want them to go to, and how that should occur. A trust creates a financial relationship between parties that handles the transfer of savings, property, or investments. The two often work together as critical parts of your entire estate planning strategy.
How to Create a Will or Trust in California
Creating a will or trust begins with accounting for every asset in your estate, including property, investment accounts, or business ownership. An experienced estate planning attorney can better help you navigate this process. Once you have confidence that you understand what needs distribution, you can do so with clear goals in mind.
Choose the Distribution
While you want a clear explanation of how your assets should distribute among loved-ones, it’s also important to consider assets beyond your control. A life insurance policy or a 401k may have designated beneficiaries who are not mentioned in your documentation.
Choose the Executor of your California Will or Trust
The executor of your will or trust takes on the legal responsibility to execute your wishes. While it’s a given that you want to choose someone you can trust, it’s worth considering your attorney or an accountant for the job. A reliable trust attorney or will attorney can better help you navigate this process, and inform your decisions.
California law provides very few restrictions on who can serve as an executor for a California estate. The executor must be over 18, of sound mind, and a United States resident. In addition, a business partner of the decedent cannot serve as executor if any beneficiaries object.
Choose a Guardian
Unless you want the court to appoint a guardian, it’s best to choose one for your dependents. Then, name them as such in the will.
Sign with Witnesses
After you have reasonable confidence that everything is in order, it’s time to make the document official. To make the will or trust legal, you and witnesses should sign the document. An experienced estate planning attorney can better help you navigate this process, and ensure the validity of your will or trust.
Update and Create your Will or Trust as Necessary
You may feel locked into your will after all the preparation. But you don’t have to feel completely married to your decisions. If circumstances change in your life or you change your mind, don’t hesitate to make changes to ensure your final wishes are clear and carried out properly.
The California Bar Association suggests updating your will after a major life event such as marriage, divorce, birth, or death. Wills are also commonly updated after a significant change in the value of the estate. California wills can be amended using an instrument called a codicil, or you can choose to write a new will.
The Different Types of Wills in California
As the name suggests, a simple will meets the basic requirements but it remains subject to probate after your death. This document is an essential outline of how you would like your assets distributed by an executor for designated beneficiaries, pets included. As always, consulting with a trust attorney is your best option when it comes to designing your estate plan.
A joint will is created by two individuals, usually a married couple, that details how assets are distributed upon one or both passing away. While this is a single document, legally it can be treated as two separate entities.
It may sound obvious that a will is written while you’re alive. But, this type of legal document establishes directives to medical providers regarding your wishes for end-of-life care. In the event that you are incapacitated and cannot express your desires, this tells doctors and nurses your preferences in advance. This type of will typically does not include beneficiaries after your death and serves this sole function.
Whether it’s written on a napkin or a regular piece of paper, a holographic will is a handwritten-only document signed by the testator. Most states require witnesses to sign a testament to validate an individual’s intentions. However these may be legally valid especially when created during emergency situations.
California accepts most holographic wills as valid. Under California statute, the material portions of the will, as well as the signature, must be in the decedent’s handwriting.
A pour-over will is a testamentary that creates a trust and specifies the property that will transfer after someone passes away. This acts as a safety measure that can transfer assets to an account that might not have transferred otherwise.
The Different Types of Trusts in California
This type of trust cannot be changed or terminated without permission from the beneficiaries. This has the legal effect of transferring assets where the grantor gives up all rights of ownership. This can have significant tax advantages, but it can have its drawbacks depending on your circumstances.
This trust gives the flexibility necessary for the grantor to make modifications until they pass away. If you need the funds in a trust for living expenses while living, this can provide a solution. One that still distributes an estate as desired.
People choose to create this type of trust to care for their family members after they’re gone. This provides an opportunity for you to have peace of mind that children, siblings, or extended family members have access to the share of your assets you have designated.
If you wish to leave a philanthropic legacy behind while taking care of your family and loved ones, a charitable trust might be the right choice for you. Some individuals choose to leave behind ownership in a business, stocks, or real estate if they have the means to do so.
How to Avoid Probate in California
States may have similarities in how they handle the distribution of assets that go to probate. But as always, the devil is in the details. However, in most states, probate is required. Unless an estate is particularly small, and doesn’t concern the transfer of real property. An experienced will and trust or estate planning attorney can better help you navigate this process.
There are several ways to avoid probate in California. You can set up a trust with a named successor or add a transfer-on-death designation to certain property. Alternatively, any property you own as a joint tenant will automatically transfer to the other tenant upon your death. Property acquired during a California marriage is automatically owned jointly with your spouse.
In addition, California law allows for some smaller estates to be exempt from probate. Eligibility is based on specific value limits for both personal and real property. Property from these California estates can be transferred by affidavit once specific amounts of time have passed after the death.
Work with an Experienced California Estate Planning Will and Trust Attorney
Planning for your eventual death is not a pleasant task. Along the way, you are bound to wonder how wills and trusts work in California? How can I make this process easier? It is tedious, but it’s crucial in order to ensure that your family and legacy are secured. The law does not require an individual to hire a trust attorney or will lawyer, but they can prove invaluable if they catch issues that could result in your estate going to probate. If you feel like you need help, it’s worth your time to consider hiring an experienced estate planning attorney. We can even help you connect with legal help across California state lines.
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