One of the more common mistakes about estate planning is that estate planning basically equals the creation of a will. But that’s not the case.
The more thought you give to your estate plan, the more you might find that other tools better advance your goals. Additionally, there are many things a will can’t do.
Your will has its limits
Generally, your will provides the court with the information it needs to distribute your assets according to your desires. It should also name an executor to oversee the distribution. Beyond this, many parents use their wills to appoint guardians for their children in case of emergencies. And you might add an advanced healthcare directive to let others know how you want them to make tough medical decisions.
These are important concerns, but there are other common concerns that fall outside your will, such as:
- The transfer of jointly owned property. For example, if you and your spouse are both listed on the title of your house, your spouse will become the sole owner.
- The transfer property with designated beneficiaries. Retirement funds and insurance accounts most often have named beneficiaries. You don’t need a will to direct the funds to the beneficiaries, but you do want to keep your beneficiary information up to date in case anything changes.
- Bypass probate. You might hope your will can spare your loved ones from the California probate process, but that’s not entirely the case. You might shorten the proceedings, but your will is still subject to probate.
- Property held in living trusts. You may create a living trust to bypass the probate process. If you do, your will shouldn’t address any of the property assigned to the trust. The property already belongs to the trust, and you would most likely just create unwanted and unhelpful confusion.
- Break the law. Your will and its provisions all need to follow the law. If you break or simply fail to follow the law, it could leave your will open to a contest—or cause the court to scrap it altogether.
Find the plan that’s best for you
The will is the most common and famous estate planning tool. But it’s not the only tool at your disposal. There are other ways to transfer your assets, and in some cases you might avoid probate altogether.
Your estate plan should be based on your circumstances and your goals. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you find the tools that work best.