Most Americans do not have a simple will as part of their estate plan. You might believe that a will is only for the rich and famous, and not the average person who has a far smaller net worth (NOT TRUE). On the other hand, you may think that a will is entirely unnecessary since you have a trust, jointly owned property, or have named beneficiaries on your insurance.
So, do you really need a will? The short answer to this question is “yes.” In fact, everyone who owns anything – no matter how little value it may seem to have – should have a will. This is because a will puts you in charge of directing others on your wishes and distribution of assets upon your death.
Without a will or other estate plan – referred to as intestacy – you have no control and your state’s rules determine who gets what after your death. Even if you have a trust, jointly owned property, or have named beneficiaries on your insurance, a will is an important, even as just a “backup” plan.
So, what is a Will?
A will is a written document that is signed and witnessed. It is considered a “death” document as it only goes into effect when you die.
- provides for the distribution of assets owned by you, but not assets directed to others through beneficiary designations (e.g. life insurance or retirement benefits)
- sends assets in your individual name or payable to your estate through the probate process
- allows you to appoint permanent guardians for your minor children
- names the person you wish to settle your estate (e.g. executor or personal representative)
- doesn’t always include protective trusts for beneficiaries and tax planning because many wills are simple 2-3 page documents
- permits you to revoke or amend your instructions during your lifetime
- tends to cost less than a trust on the outset but costs more to settle during court proceedings after death through probate court.
What Wills Can Do – That Revocable Living Trusts Can’t
- Name guardians for children. Only a will – not a living trust or any other type of document – can be used to name guardians to care for minor children.
- Specify an executor or personal representative. Wills allow you to name an executor or personal representative – someone who will take responsibility to wrap up your estate after you die. This typically involves working with the probate court, protecting assets, paying your debts, and distributing what remains to beneficiaries. But, if there are no assets in your probate estate (because you have a fully funded revocable trust), this feature is not necessarily useful.
Our Ventura Will Lawyers Can Help You Create Your Will
A proper will should include many things, and an estate planning lawyer can help you make these important decisions.
Here is what we can do for you.
Distribute your estate assets
Even if you don’t consider yourself wealthy, a will is integral to ensuring your assets are distributed how you want them to be, no matter how much you have saved. A will can help you name heirs for assets like your house, car, jewelry, or even small, sentimental items like photo albums. State laws dictate who gets what from your estate without a will, and there’s no way to know if that will align with your wishes.
Grant custody of minor children
This is perhaps the most important if you are a parent of minor children. A will states who would get custody of your children if something happens to both parents or guardians. While this scenario may feel unlikely, a will helps you prepare for the unexpected and can give you peace of mind that your children will be cared for in your absence.
While all parents hate to think about what their children would do without them, that thought is scarier if you aren’t sure who they would end up with in the event of your death. Let us help take that fear away.
Name an estate executor
You can name an executor of your estate. In this role, the person you choose would be responsible for wrapping up your financial affairs, like closing your credit cards and letting creditors know you’re deceased. They would also ensure your assets are distributed as you have laid them out in your will. It doesn’t matter if this person is a friend or family member, but it does matter that it is someone you trust.
Leave people out of your will
If you do not leave a will behind stating your wishes, your estate will be divided among your surviving relatives or heirs. We all know family issues can be complicated, so if there’s anyone you would like to leave out of your estate, a will allows you to “disinherit” them or prevent them from receiving any of your assets after your death.
You must specify that in the will to prevent certain people from getting your assets.
Avoid legal issues and a lengthy probate process
A valid will can help your family and friends avoid legal issues and disputes once you are gone. Probate court is the process wills go through to ensure they are valid and has a proper representative to administer the estate.
By spelling out your wishes clearly in your will, your loved ones can ensure your estate is handled the way you want after your death.
But a will alone will not avoid probate court.
Our Ventura County probate attorney can walk you through what it takes to keep your assets out of probate and more money in your estate.