People of all ages can benefit from a comprehensive estate planning process. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney allows you to ensure that your assets are distributed as quickly and painlessly as possible after your passing, so that your loved ones can focus on grieving and healing. Probate court can be expensive and time consuming but putting in the effort to make the necessary preparations now can lessen the burden significantly.
For many people, drafting a will for the first time can seem intimidating, especially when you consider the fact that mistakes could cost your family money and time in probate. It is important to remember that, while wills can be extremely effective estate planning tools, there are some limitations to what can be included within them. Working closely with your estate planning lawyer can help you avoid common will writing mistakes and verify that everything included in the document can be validated in probate.
Simplify Your Will
An important aspect of estate planning is minimizing the portion of your assets that must go through probate court. Probate is the process through which your will is validated, interpreted, and enforced. The larger the estate, the longer the probate process will take. Since probate fees are assessed as a percentage of the value of your assets, a larger estate will be more expensive as well. Fortunately, there are many ways you can reduce the size of your estate, such as adding a joint owner to any accounts or properties that allow it, transferring properties to a trust, or giving away assets while you are still alive.
Anything you can distribute outside of probate court should be kept out of your will. For that reason, any properties you might have that are already owned by a trust or are under joint ownership should not be included in a will. The same applies to any assets that are automatically paid out or transferred to your beneficiaries upon your death without the need for probate, such as bank accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and certain digital assets. Those are handled independently by the companies that hold the accounts, and you should verify your chosen beneficiaries for the assets directly with them.
Three Things You Should Avoid Including in Your Will
So, what should you keep out of your will? Aside from assets easily transferable outside of the probate process, here are three other things you should consider eliminating:
- Funeral InstructionsWhen someone passes away, the priority is often to take care of the deceased by way of arranging for a funeral. Only after the person has been properly put to rest do loved ones move on to the difficult task of searching for and finalizing accounts, locating a copy of the will, and filing the appropriate paperwork. In fact, some people can become so overwhelmed with grief that they might not take that next step for months.
As the purpose of a will is to communicate your wishes regarding what should happen after your death, it might seem like a logical place to detail your funeral preferences. However, it is highly likely that your will may not be read until it is far too late for the contents to have any bearing on your funeral. If you have specific preferences, it would be better to communicate those to your loved ones directly or leave them with a separate letter of instruction to be read immediately after your death.
- Inheritance ConditionsDepending on your relationship with your beneficiaries, you may wish to place certain conditions upon their inheritance. For example, you might want to ensure your children have a certain amount of funds set aside for their college education or choose to provide payments for your spouse if they remain unmarried to make up for the lost income. When it comes to conditions, there are two types: precedent and subsequent. The former refers to conditions that must be met prior to the delivery of funds, while the latter refers to conditions that would trigger an end to their delivery.
Both are technically admissible in the state of California. However, if conditions can be interpreted in such a way that they violate state law or public policy, they would be rendered invalid. Another hurdle is that some conditions can be exceedingly difficult to enforce without setting aside funds to cover a costly Executor’s fee. In general, it is best to avoid including conditions in wills altogether. If you feel that conditions are necessary in your case, consider working with your attorney to create a trust instead, as those are far better suited for such complexities.
- Assets for Your PetsMany people consider their pets to be important members of the family, and it might seem logical to include them as beneficiaries. However, pets do not have the legal right to own property, as they are considered personal property themselves. Any assets set aside for pets would instead be distributed to your other beneficiaries, who are under no legal obligation to take care of your pet.
That does not mean that there is no way for you to ensure that your pet is protected after your death. As with the previous example, trusts are an excellent way to accomplish tasks that are outside the scope of a wills. Establishing a pet trust is a much better way to guarantee your pet will live a happy, comfortable life after you are gone.
Begin Your Estate Planning Discussion with a Trusted Attorney Today
Regardless of your current circumstances, writing a will is an incredibly important part of estate planning. That is why it is critical to work with a skilled estate planning attorney who can work with you to ensure your wishes are properly carried out in the event of your passing. Your Sacramento wills attorney can help you determine whether that means reevaluating your current ownership arrangements, confirming your beneficiaries for independently handled accounts, or creating a trust.
At Huber Fox, our team of Sacramento estate planning attorneys have over a decade of experience assisting clients with many kinds of complex estate considerations. Our attorneys can guide you through the process step by step, evaluating your financial statements, assessing your assets, and learning about your priorities to create a comprehensive plan for you. Schedule a consultation with Huber Fox today and put any concerns you might have about estate planning to rest.