The key estate planning document that determines the future of your estate after your death is called a last will and testament (more commonly known as a “will”). A will can be used to:
- provide for any outstanding debts or final expenses;
- leave your remaining property to individuals or organizations;
- name a guardian to care for your minor children or conservator to care for incapacitated adult children; and
- appoint someone to manage your property on behalf of your minor children.
A knowledgeable estate planning attorney near you can help you draft a will that accomplishes your goals for your estate and gives your family a clear understanding of your wishes. The Legal Reps can also advise you on how to address any unusual circumstances (for example, if you believe surviving family members may contest the terms of your will).
Your will should also name an “executor” – in other words, someone who will have responsibility for carrying out the terms of your will. If you do not name an executor, the probate court will appoint one after your death. An executor, like a probate administrator, will be responsible for:
- preparing an inventory of all assets in the deceased person’s estate and identifying and notifying potential creditors that may have claims on those assets;
- paying bills, taxes or other debts out of the estate; and
- protecting the assets in the estate until they can be sold or distributed in accordance with the terms of the will.
Under California law, an executor is entitled to compensation for performing these duties, and that payment is also made from the estate.
To properly finalize a will so that it is recognized as valid under California law, you must sign your will in front of two witnesses, and both witnesses must also sign the will simultaneously with each other. Neither witness should be a beneficiary of the will (i.e., someone who stands to inherit part of your estate), as this may invalidate your beneficiary’s claim to any inheritance under state law. An attorney can help you identify or provide witnesses if needed.
You can revoke or change your will at any time before your death. A certified estate planning attorney in California can help you revoke and revise your will or add simple amendments (or “codicils”). An amended will must be finalized using the same formalities as the original will to be valid.
Listed below are other important components of the estate planning process.