Having an established estate plan, including a will, is an important step to take to protect yourself and your loved ones in the event of your death. People don’t generally prefer to think about dying, but getting your affairs in order can relieve your loved ones of future stress and ensure your wishes are granted after you are gone. At Davis Toft, we understand estate planning can be a sensitive and emotional process. We treat you with respect as we help you determine your estate planning needs and create a last will and testament.
A will, officially known as a “last will and testament,” is a legal document that identifies your wishes regarding the distribution of your money, property, and care of minor children after your death. It allows you to oversee the decisions made after your death, rather than leaving it up to the courts and any family you leave behind. A will also allows for your loved ones to access your assets much quicker than they could if you did not have a will in place before your death.
Having a will is important not only to ensure your wishes are carried out after death but also to eliminate some stress on the part of your family and friends. A will provides specific information about who gets what in terms of your money and property and how much each person gets.
It also outlines who you want to care for your children in the event you die before they can care for themselves. These can be overwhelming decisions for others to make on your behalf, so having your wishes in place allows loved ones to grieve while knowing your decisions are being fulfilled after death.
Even if you share your wishes verbally with family members and everyone is aware of them, without a will, they may not be carried out. Your family could spend unnecessary time, money, and energy working to settle your affairs once you’ve passed. If there is no will in place after a California resident dies, probate law takes over to determine how to distribute the assets of the person’s estate. Generally, the spouse is the person who is going to receive the decedent’s assets. This can put a lot of stress on your spouse, though, as they may then be burdened with how to divide your assets between other family members such as children and siblings.
While you want to trust your family members to carry out your verbally shared wishes unconditionally, emotions often run high after the death of a loved one. Certain family members may feel differently from you and fight to do what they feel is best after your passing when it comes to your property and children, rather than what you said you wanted. Estranged family members, to whom you would never consider giving any of your assets, can also emerge after your death seeking money. The court could grant them what they want — the court would be unaware of any reason you may have wanted to keep these family members away from your assets.
Establishing a written will can help avoid all these situations by ensuring your wishes are carried out and allowing for a bit less stress on your heirs after you’re gone.
Wills are often associated with just being a document for older people to designate what their grown children get upon their death. Wills are not just for the elderly, however. It is important for adults of all ages and financial status to consider creating a will, especially those who have young children at home.
In California, wills have a guardianship designation section that outlines whom you want to take care of your children in the event of your death. This means the designated person is responsible for providing food, clothing, and shelter to the child, as well as meeting their educational and medical needs. This can be difficult to think about, but having your child being left in uncertain care after your unexpected death is even more heartbreaking. Guardianship of your estate can also be outlined in a will, which would allow a person to manage your assets until your child can manage the money and property independently.
A will does not go into effect until death, which means it does not indicate who should make decisions on your behalf in the event you are incapacitated. Again, this is not a pleasant scenario to think about, but having a plan in place for if you should become incapacitated is important.
Consider creating a plan for a situation like this when you create your will. An incapacity plan allows you to decide who can make your financial and medical decisions and gives you the power to provide specific directions regarding your wishes in these events.
Creating a will on your own is possible, but it is wise to get a witness or contact an attorney if you are not experienced in creating legal documents or if there are unusual circumstances surrounding your wishes. For example, if you want to disinherit your spouse or have suspicions your will might be contested after death, discussing the case with an experienced will attorney can be helpful.
Even in straightforward cases, having an attorney look over your will is a good idea. An experienced lawyer can quickly point out any errors or considerations you may have otherwise overlooked. If you choose not to consult a lawyer and your will is found to be invalid after death, your family must spend time, energy, and money sorting things out. Your wishes also may not be fully realized upon your passing.
A will must meet certain requirements to be considered valid. In the State of California, a will is valid if it meets the following criteria:
Making sure your will is valid is crucial to ensuring your wishes are carried out once your will goes into effect. If there are errors or it is not well written, it could be contested after you have passed.
Unfortunately, your will can be contested by those who feel your wishes should not be fulfilled as written. There are specific guidelines for contesting a will, such as if your will is suspected to be fraudulent or you were a victim of undue influence when creating the will. Failure to create a valid will or creating a will while lacking the mental capacity to do so can also be grounds for contesting.
Contesting a will can be expensive, but if a family member or loved one feels one or more of these terms has been met, they can attempt to contest the will. Unless you were unduly influenced or not of sound mind when creating the will, you likely do not want your will to be contested after your death. There are a few things you can do to make contesting a will more difficult, including the following:
Davis Toft is an asset in every phase of your estate planning, including the establishment of a last will and testament. We are knowledgeable in California estate planning law and can guide you through the creation of a comprehensive plan tailored to your situation. Don’t leave the burden of your estate planning for your loved ones to carry. Trust that the discomfort of thinking of these situations is worth it for the peace of mind you can have knowing your wishes are legally obligated to be executed after your death. Contact us today to request a consultation and begin your estate planning.