A Will is a document that distributes the property you owned during your life to those you wish to benefit on your death. What a Will consists of in order to be a legally binding document varies from state to state in the United States, and from country to country around the world.
In California, a Will may be as simple as a handwritten document, as long as there is sufficient information contained in the document to allow it to be clearly understood and its terms carried out. If the Will is not handwritten, then it will need to be properly witnessed (by people who are not receiving gifts, directly or indirectly, under the Will).
Do you need a Will? Is a Will alone enough?
As awful as it may sound, the need for a formal Will and/or a more complex estate plan is very much a matter of “it depends.”
There are a variety of different courses of action you could take, depending on the size of your estate, however, it is important to have some sort of plan in place to designate someone to manage your assets and make health care and personal care decisions for you if you ever become unable to do so for yourself.
If you have or are expecting children, and if any of your existing children are minors, then you should have a Will at a minimum to appoint one or more guardians for your children in the event that you die before they are legally adults. If you have any concern that the best person to raise your child is not the best person to manage his or her money, then consider a Will that will create a “Testamentary Trust” on your death.
It is important to understand that upon a death, with or without a Will, any decedent’s estate is generally subject to the jurisdiction of the Court through what is known as “Probate.” The Probate process in California is fairly expensive, and can be daunting without sufficient planning. However, there are alternatives that can save money and leave behind assets for those you love, and these are things that you should be discussing with your attorney at your initial consultation. That consultation should be your education as to what is best for you and your family depending on your personal circumstances.
If you would like to consider discussing your own situation, or simply want to learn more about the estate planning process, then please contact the experienced San Diego Probate Lawyers of Zeldes Haeggquist & Eck, LLP at 619-342-8000.