Wills and Trusts in Southern California
Plan for Your Future and Your Family’s Future
While none of us wish to think about what happens if we should become incapacitated or suddenly lose our lives, it is an important aspect of protecting those we love. The fact is, advance planning, which includes having an estate plan, is an important part of making sure your assets pass to your loved ones and are available as quickly as possible.
Oftentimes, people think estate plans are only for “seniors” but the fact is, any person can benefit from having an established plan in place. Estate planning encompasses many things including providing the necessary tools should you become disabled for someone else to manage your health care and financial decisions. Everyone who owns any assets, regardless of the value, should have either a will or a trust in place to ensure their assets are distributed in accordance with their wishes.
Protect Your Family
Our firm has extensive experience handling the following areas of law:
- Revocable Trusts
- Durable Power of Attorneys
- Advanced Health Care Directives
- End of Life Decisions (Make it easy on your family and let them know your wishes.)
When a Will Suffices
Many of the clients we see at The Law Offices of Susan J. Wolf can easily manage their estates by the effective use of a will. A will is your final instructions, issued to the court, which provides guidance on the disposition of your personal property at the time of your death. California law requires the following when creating a will:
- The will must be in writing
- The person who is creating the will (the maker) must be over age 18
- The maker must be of sound mind
- Two non-beneficiaries must witness the signature of the maker of the will and each other
- Both witnesses must be aware they are witnessing a last will and testament
Should any of these conditions not be met, the Probate Court may invalidate a will.
What is Included in a Will?
If you have minor children, your will can specify who will care for them in the event of your death. When creating a will, you will have an opportunity to name an executor of your estate. The executor should be someone who you trust to handle your affairs. The executor will not only be required to present your will to the California Probate Court, they will also be responsible for cataloging, seeking evaluations, and distributing your assets in accordance with the terms of your will. The executor of your estate will also be responsible for ensuring your final expenses, and any outstanding debts are paid, filing a final report with the courts, and filing a tax return on behalf of your estate.
When you work with a law firm who has experience handling a will or trust, you can feel confident these documents are properly filled out and signed in accordance with California statutes. In general, California residents who have a modest estate, can handle most of their assets through the use of a will. Generally, if you have multiple investment accounts, multiple properties, or significant assets however, a trust may be better suited to your needs.
Revocable Living Trust
Living trusts serve two purposes, first, you can use this legal vehicle to manage your assets while you are alive, and upon your death, the will may be used to distribute your property in the manner you intend. When creating a trust, many California residents serve as their own trustee while they are living, and they name a successor trustee who will take over the administration of the trust in the event of your incapacitation or death.
Most frequently, those California residents who own a business, or have significant estates will use a trust instead of a will. Upon creation of a trust, the creator may take some of the following steps:
- Transfer real estate assets into the trust
- Change beneficiaries on life insurance accounts to the trust
- Change beneficiaries on retirement accounts to the trust
- Place any business ownership into the trust
Another significant benefit of a trust instead of a will is privacy. Unlike a will which must be presented to the Probate Court, a trust does not have to go through probate. This means the details of your assets, and the disposition of those assets never becomes part of the public record.
Updating Wills and Trusts
One important item to be aware of is it is possible to update your trust or your will. This is most commonly done when certain life events occur including:
- Birth of a child
- Divorce or remarriage
- Death of a spouse
- Death of your executor or successor trustee
When The Law Offices of Susan J. Wolf prepares your will or trust, you can discuss when they should be reviewed, and under what circumstances they may require changes. Should you have an existing estate plan, we can also help you modify it should you feel it is necessary.
Basics of Estate Planning
One thing to remember is there is no one size fits all approach to estate planning. Every person has their own family structure, assets are different from person to person, and each of us has individual wishes about how our assets are distributed. This is why it is always a good idea to work with an attorney who will customize a plan that works to meet your specific goals and to help ensure your final wishes are carried out.
Preventing Problems After Incapacitation or Death
When you are incapacitated or you die, your family is under a great deal of stress. Taking the time to have an estate plan in place can help ensure your assets are transferred to your family members as quickly as possible and in accordance with your will or trust. Remember, should you die without having a will or trust in place, a California Probate Court judge will make the determination of how your assets are distributed.
If you do not currently have a will or trust in place to protect your loved ones, contact The Law Offices of Susan J. Wolf today at (818) 992-1182 or (760) 285-8225. We will review your specific financial situation and help you determine the best estate plan to meet your needs. We have several offices located in and around Southern California including the main office in Canoga Park, CA and additional locations in Palm Desert, CA serving the Coachella Valley as well as Oak Park, CA, Ventura County and Riverside County to meet your estate planning needs.