Tustin Wills Lawyer
Tustin Wills Attorney
Creating a will is a common part of estate planning for many Californians. When you take the time to establish a will, the process of transferring your assets to your beneficiaries after your death is dramatically simplified for your loved ones. Additionally, you will have the peace of mind that comes with knowing your most important assets will be transferred to the correct recipients after your passing, whether an individual, an institution, or a charity.
However, it must be valid and legally binding for your will to serve its purpose. The laws and guidelines that dictate the validation process can differ depending on the jurisdiction. For example, California has established a complex set of will and probate regulations. Even if small errors are made in the document’s creation, your beneficiaries could be faced with a complicated situation, and your will might not be enforceable.
To ensure your will follows all relevant regulations and guidelines and effectively distributes your assets to those you hold dear, consider consulting with a Tustin wills attorney. Attorney Christopher P. Walker is an estate planning lawyer in Tustin, California, with the knowledge and expertise to assist you in this critical estate planning task.
What Is a Will?
When a person dies, California courts must distribute their estate, pay any remaining debts and taxes, and pursue any debtors in probate court. If that same individual has a will, this legal document is used to guide the probate process. In a will, you can establish your heirs and beneficiaries, specify who you’d like to receive each of your assets, establish the care of any minor children, and name an individual to carry out these wishes.
This person, known as the executor, will be in charge of ensuring your estate pays outstanding debts and distributes remaining assets to your beneficiaries. Wills are legal documents, and assuming you’ve created one correctly and followed regulations, the executor and California court are obligated to adhere to the terms of the will. Without a will to guide these actions, probate can be a costly and drawn-out process for your beneficiaries. Probate court will be tasked with naming an administrator and distributing your estate according to California intestacy laws instead of your wishes.
How Is a Will Different From a Trust?
Like wills, trusts are a popular estate planning tool in California. Both are used to dictate the transfer of an estate to beneficiaries or heirs. However, these two types of documents are not interchangeable.
Unlike a will, a trust is a relationship you, the trustor, create with a third-party trustee charged with holding your property and assets until it is necessary to distribute them after your death. When a trust is established as a living, or revocable, trust and signed by the grantor, it becomes effective immediately, though the grantor can change it at any point before their death. This isn’t the case for a will, which only becomes active after an individual has died. As such, it’s possible for a trust to provide instructions for asset transfer occurring before or after the grantor’s passing without the need for probate court.
If someone has created a will and not a trust, their estate will still need to proceed through California’s probate court for validation. Trusts are commonly used to minimize or avoid probate altogether. However, many individuals choose to create both a will and a trust, especially if there is a need to establish the care of minor children.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Create a Will in CA?
In California, it is possible to create a will without the assistance of a probate attorney. However, if you opt to set up your will without any legal help, your beneficiaries may experience difficulty during the probate process. If you’re unfamiliar with California probate laws and regulations, it’s surprisingly easy to make a mistake. Even a simple error can lead to a will being contested or invalidated after your death.
A skilled Tustin wills lawyer will be able to answer any questions you have about the process, ensuring that you’re following the necessary guidelines and drafting a legally viable document for your peace of mind. Perhaps even more importantly, your will and probate lawyer can help you ensure your loved ones avoid unnecessary legal headaches when it is time to probate your will.
What Happens If I Don’t Create a Will?
If you die without a will (or another estate planning document), your estate will become subject to California’s intestacy laws. According to California law, property will be transferred to the decedent’s closest relatives, starting with their children and spouse. If no spouse or children are available to receive the estate, assets will instead be transferred to the individual’s parents or grandchildren.
If no parents or grandchildren exist, the process continues, moving into more distant relatives. In fact, an estate can be received by someone’s grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, or even relatives of their spouse. In some cases, probate court is unable to find relatives, whether they’re related through blood or marriage. When this occurs, the state of California will receive the property, and the decedent’s final wishes will remain unknown.
How Do I Create a Will in California?
There are several key stages to the will creation process, and a skilled Tustin wills attorney can help you navigate each with ease. The stages include:
- Determine Your Property
The will creation process begins with a list of the property you’d like to transfer to beneficiaries after your death. This could include a wide range of possible assets, including (but not limited to) real estate, financial accounts, vehicles, retirement plans, and other belongings. If you’re married, you and your spouse must create separate wills, which may alter how you account for jointly held assets.
- Determine Your Beneficiaries
Once you’ve examined your assets, you’ll need to name your beneficiaries and decide how you want to distribute your assets. It is important to select alternate or contingent beneficiaries, and that way, someone will still receive your assets even if your first choices have passed away.
- Decide on an Executor
The individual you select to carry out your wishes after your death will oversee probate, tax and/or debt payment, and the overall transfer of your willed property. Often, the executor will hire an attorney of their own. This means that they don’t necessarily need to have any formal training or experience before serving in this role. However, their selection as executor shouldn’t take them by surprise after your death.
- Decide on a Guardian for Your Children (If Necessary)
If you have any minor children, you’ll need to determine who will take over guardianship if their other parent is also unable. Name this person, along with two contingencies, in your will.
- Determine Who Will Manage Your Children’s Property
Rather than transferring your assets directly to your minor children, you can assign an adult authority over your children’s inheritance. This person will be considered either a property custodian (under the UTMA), property guardian, or trustee.
- Create the Will
Now that you’ve finished preparing and making key decisions, you’ll be able to draft the will. At this stage, you may:
- Hire an estate planning attorney to give legal advice and help you with the process.
- Fill out a statutory form.
- Create your will from scratch (this only works if you don’t have any complex assets).
- Sign the Will
You must initial, date, and sign the final draft of your will in the presence of two or more witnesses. If you’ve opted for a self-proving affidavit, your signature will also need to be notarized by an official notary public.
- Keep the Will Safely Stored
If your loved ones cannot access the will after your death, it won’t serve its intended purpose. Make sure your will is clearly labeled and stored in a safe, secure place. Your executor should also be made aware of its location.
Can I Revoke or Modify My Will in Tustin, CA?
California residents can revoke or modify a will at any time prior to their death. If you’d like to make major changes to your will, it’s often best to revoke the will and create a new document. Once you’ve created a new will with contradictory terms, the previous will is rendered obsolete.
Alternatively, if you need only make small adjustments to your will, this is possible without starting over. It’s permissible to add amendments to a will, also known as a codicil. However, if you make any changes or additions, you’ll need to perform the same steps as if you were creating a brand new will.
Experienced Tustin Estate Planning Lawyer | Orange County Estate Planning Services
If you need to create a will in the Tustin, CA area, consult with the Office of Christopher P. Walker for guidance. Christopher is a highly experienced elder law and advanced estate planning attorney. He has been providing Tustin living trust, will creation, and estate planning services for a number of years.
Without adequate estate planning, the probate process can be stressful, expensive, and time-consuming for your loved ones. Take control over your estate and who receives it by consulting with a Tustin wills lawyer to create this important document. To consult with Attorney Christopher P. Walker for estate planning, will creation, or probate litigation, utilize our online contact form.