When most people begin considering whether it is time to write a will, they are usually focused on estate planning. In this context, wills can be an incredibly effective tool to ensure that your assets are properly distributed in the event of your passing. In turn, a will can make the time after your passing as painless as possible for your loved ones.
However, what many do not realize is that there are multiple types of wills, and not all of them deal with estate planning. In fact, some types of wills have nothing to do with death at all. That is why it is critical to work with an experienced Sacramento estate planning attorney who can evaluate your current circumstances and help you determine if you should be drafting a will—and if so, what kind.
What is the Commonly Understood Definition of a Will?
In its most common form, a will is a legal document that identifies the Executor of your estate and dictates how your assets should be distributed after your passing. If you have children, you can also use this document to appoint a guardian for them. For the will to be validated, you must be over the age of 18 and of sound mind upon its creation, and the document itself must be signed and dated.
So, What Are the Four Basic Types of Wills?
The above description can be applied to the first three basic types of wills. The key difference between them lies in identity of the testators and the beneficiaries. These three basic wills include:
- Simple WillsThe most straightforward of the types of will documents, a simple will is what most people envision when they hear the words “last will and testament.” When you create a simple will, you are the sole testator, and the beneficiaries are the individuals you selected to take possession of your assets after you die. You can also name a guardian for your children in a simple will.
Despite its straightforward nature, even a simple will can take many forms. You might decide to leave all your assets to your children or divide them into equal shares for all your relatives. Alternatively, you might have an estranged friend or family member you want to inherit your assets after you are gone. Depending on who you choose to name and the types of assets you possess, it is best to consult an experienced estate planning attorney before proceeding.
- Testamentary Trust WillsThe biggest distinction that makes testamentary trust wills different from simple wills is that instead of individual beneficiaries, your assets are given to a trust. A trust is an excellent vehicle for more complex estates and beneficiary situations, as they allow you to be much more specific regarding how the assets should be distributed.
For example, you could specify how beneficiaries should use the funds, the frequency and amount of each distribution, and more. To determine if a simple will is sufficient for your needs, or if you would be better served by a testamentary trust will, it can be helpful to consult with your estate planning attorney and discuss your priorities and vision for your legacy. They can then provide you with the most appropriate options to make that vision a reality.
- Joint WillsJoint wills are precisely what they seem—wills with two testators instead of one. This type of will is most used for spouses who wish to ensure that the surviving member of the couple and any children are protected after the other dies. When one of the testators in a joint will dies, the assets are then inherited by the surviving testator. Only after both testators have passed away are the assets distributed to the beneficiaries.
This option can be extremely attractive for couples who have a clear and straightforward plan for how their estate should be handled once they are both gone. However, it is important to note that the joint will cannot be revoked once the first testator has passed, meaning that the second testator is unable to make changes on their own. It is critical to review all the possibilities choosing this option involves with your estate planning attorney before committing.
- Living WillsIt is important to remember that this final type of will differs from the others in that it does not actually involve estate planning in its traditional sense.
While the other wills on this list are all about making decisions for your estate after you are gone, living wills are enforced while you are still alive. The purpose of a living will is to provide some guidance for your loved ones to ascertain your wishes regarding your care if you are incapacitated. For example, if you are terminally ill and fall unconscious without a living will, your loved ones will have to make painful decisions about what kind of medical treatment to pursue and whether life saving measures should be taken. Preparing this document saves them from having to shoulder the burden of those decisions, while also ensuring that your wishes are respected and carried out.
While the wills listed above are the most common, they are not the only types of wills available in the state of California. For example, another type of will accepted by California is the holographic will. Holographic wills, like simple, testator trust, and joint wills, exist to communicate post-death instructions. What makes them unique is that they must be handwritten and can be processed without a notarized signature or witnesses.
While the nature of holographic wills makes them more widely accessible, they may invite more trouble than they are worth after your death. Your beneficiaries have the right to contest the will during probate if they suspect foul play. Further ensuring the authenticity of your will with a notary and witnesses could be in your family’s best interest, even if it is not required by California law.
Contact an Experienced California Attorney Today
With so many options at your disposal, it can be difficult to identify which type of will is the most relevant to your needs. Fortunately, the Sacramento wills attorneys at Huber Fox have over a decade of experience working with California residents. Our team will thoroughly examine your priorities, values, and wishes, identifying the best type of will and helping you navigate the rest of the process with ease. To get started, simply reach out to Huber Fox and schedule a consultation today.