A will is a legal document where you give instructions to be carried out after your death. Your will cannot be modified or terminated after your death. In your will, you can name:
Your beneficiaries. You may name who will receive your assets according to the instructions in your will. You may list specific gifts or a certain sum of money, to certain beneficiaries.
A guardian for your minor children. If you have children under the age of 18, your will may nominate a person to be responsible for your children’s personal care and/or managing any assets given to your children if you and your child’s other parent die before the child turns 18.
An executor. You may nominate a person to manage your assets, pay debts, expenses and taxes, and then, with the court’s approval, distribute your assets to your beneficiaries according to your will. An executor is entitled to compensation for their services according to a statutory fee schedule.
What Assets Does a Will Cover?
Generally your will affects only those assets that are titled in your name at your death and for which there is no designated beneficiary. The following assets are not affected by your will:
Life insurance. Life insurance benefits are paid to the person(s) you designated as beneficiaries of the policy in a form filed with the insurance company.
Retirement plans. Assets held in retirement plans, such as a 401(k) or an IRA, are transferred to the person(s) you named as beneficiaries in the plan documents.
Assets owned as a joint tenant with right of survivorship. Real estate, vehicles, bank accounts and investment accounts held in joint tenancy with right of survivorship will pass to the surviving joint tenant upon your death.
Transfer on death or pay on death. Some bank and investment accounts include a designation of beneficiaries to receive the assets in that account when the account owner dies. The names of the beneficiaries are preceded by the words “transfer on death”, “TOD”, “paid on death” or “POD.”
Community property with right of survivorship. Married couples or registered domestic partners may hold title to their community property assets in their names as “community property with right of survivorship.” When the first spouse or domestic partner dies, the assets pass directly to the surviving spouse or partner without being affected by the will.
Living trusts. Generally, assets held in a revocable living trust are distributed according to the terms in the trust without court supervision. You can name yourself as the initial trustee of your living trust and then name a successor trustee to manage the trust if you become unable to do so.
Your spouse’s or domestic partner’s half of community property. In California, any assets acquired by you and your spouse or registered domestic partner from earnings during your marriage or registered domestic partnership are community property. You each own equal shares of those assets. Your will affects only your half of the community property. Assets that either of you owned before your marriage or registered domestic partnership, and gifts or inheritances acquired later, together with the earnings from such interests, are usually separate property and will be distributed by the terms of your respective wills.
What If You Don’t Have A Will?
If you die without a will, California law will determine the beneficiaries of your estate. If you are married or have established a registered domestic partnership, your spouse or domestic partner will receive all of your community property assets. Your spouse or domestic partner also will receive part of your separate property assets, and the rest of your separate property assets will be distributed to your children or grandchildren, parents, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews or other close relatives.
If you are not married or in a registered domestic partnership, your assets will be distributed to your children or grandchildren, if you have any — or to your parents, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews or other relatives. If your spouse or domestic partner dies before you, his or her relatives may also be entitled to some or all of your estate. Friends, a non-registered domestic partner or your favorite charities will receive nothing if you die without a will. The State of California is the beneficiary of your estate if you die without a will and you (and your deceased spouse or domestic partner) have no living relatives.
Norbert U. Frost can make sure that your will conforms with California law. He will make suggestions and help you understand the many ways that assets can be transferred to or for the benefit of your beneficiaries. Norbert will also help you develop a complete estate plan and offer alternative plans that may save taxes. This kind of planning can be extremely helpful and economical in the long run.
Call (707) 553-7356 or fill out the form on our Contact page to schedule your consultation.