Drafting a will and planning your estate are two of the most important parts when preparing for the distribution of your assets at the end of your life, but many individuals aren’t aware that the two are not actually the same thing. In order for your end-of-life wishes to be followed correctly, it is important to not only be able to understand the difference between a will and estate planning but correctly complete each of these two vitally important steps.
When writing a will, an individual dictates specific end-of-life wishes, like choosing beneficiaries who will inherit the individual’s assets and detailed instructions on how assets will be distributed to these beneficiaries. In addition, when writing a will, the testator will also designate an executor to oversee all provisions of the will. If the individual has children, a will can also dictate who will have guardianship over any of their minor children.
Unlike an estate plan, a will is a single document that is legally prepared and bound. When completing a will, you will also need to sign the document or have a designated person sign it when creating the will. Many states require two other witnesses to be present at the time of signing, though California does allow for a holographic will which does not require witnesses.
When creating a will, you should consult a lawyer to assist with constructing proper language to ensure your wishes are properly followed.
When creating an estate plan, an individual is required to organize a series of documents. Some of these documents will be used during your life as guidance for your family when you are unable to designate your wishes. Other documents in an estate plan will not come into effect until the end of your life. Included in these documents are a living trust, a healthcare power of attorney, and a durable power of attorney. Your living will and last will and testament are also documents included as part of an estate plan.
These documents construct a plan that details not only your last wishes but other important information, like your end-of-life care preferences and who has the power to make those decisions if you are unable to. This is known as the advanced healthcare directive. There is a similar document and assignee to manage and make financial decisions on your behalf if you are unable due to illness or other debilitating issues.
Similar to writing a will, it is vital to have a lawyer assist with creating these additional documents to ensure your wishes are properly followed. An estate plan is an integral way to protect your family’s inheritance, as well as leave behind specific instructions on how assets are split up. By working through an estate planning attorney, your family won’t have to deal with handling your affairs while they are grieving your passing.
Because a will is the foundation of any estate plan, the will you choose to pursue will affect how you structure other elements of your estate plan. You will want to ensure that verbiage about beneficiaries, as well as the individuals with specific powers, is clearly stated across all documentation and properly named.
While many will create the last will and testament described above, it is also possible to create a trust instead, which allows for an individual’s assets to be added to a trust while the testator is alive and still capable of managing these assets.
Many estate plans include a trust because it makes the transition of assets to a beneficiary quicker and easier, as it helps inheritors avoid things like probate. When planning your estate, it is important to discuss with your attorney the best course of action.
A: When choosing how to construct your will, it’s important to note that any assets the document can control are those titled in a testator’s name. Any jointly owned assets will go immediately to the spouse of the testator upon death. Similarly, a will does not include assets such as an IRA, a life insurance policy, or other assets that have beneficiary designations. Inheritors will have to go through probate to obtain these assets.
A: When establishing an estate plan, the testator will need to include a will, a revocable trust, a power of attorney for financial issues, as well as a durable healthcare power of attorney.
A: By creating an estate plan, you are leaving a blueprint behind for your family to follow regarding how to divide assets, handle your healthcare and funeral, as well as assign guardians for any minor children or even pets. By creating an estate plan, you are ensuring your family is protected and has access to the assets you are leaving them to help them financially. An estate plan ensures you leave the legacy you desire.
A: In California, there are three different types of wills that are legally allowed. The first is holographic wills, which are written by hand, but this handwriting must be deemed true by a witness’s testimony. Statutory wills are made from a pre-printed document and are simple, though often not very flexible. Attested wills are the strongest and clearest wills as they are prepared by an attorney.
When planning your estate in California, it is important to hire an experienced estate planning attorney who can guide you through the process and ensure your plan is carefully followed. Robert G. Petrovich, Attorney at Law, is here to help clients navigate creating their estate plans, and will work to outline each client’s unique wishes. It can be intimidating facing the estate planning process, which is why we are standing by to guide you through planning your estate. Contact our team today for more information on how to get started planning your estate.
Based in San Marino (near Pasadena), Mr. Petrovich handles estate planning, probate, business law, real estate, and other legal matters throughout the San Gabriel Valley.