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California Estate Planning Blog

Wills are of no use if they are lost

Many California residents may have the best of intentions when it comes to creating their estate plans. They may want their wills and other documents to help their loved ones settle important matters after their passing. However, certain mistakes could make that more difficult for surviving family members.

Though a person may take the time to create a will, it is of little use to the family if it cannot be found. In some cases, a person may not inform the family where the document can be located, and in other cases, the person could forget. As a result, the will ends up lost, and the family may have a difficult time ensuring that their loved one's wishes are carried out. Therefore, it is important that individuals discuss the location of the document ahead of time with those who need to know.

Estate planning can help new parents protect their children

Many California residents feel like there is no greater joy than having children. For new parents, the feelings of excitement, happiness and love for their new child may be overwhelming. Because they undoubtedly want to do what they can to protect their child in various ways, they may want to look into estate planning.

Some individuals may wonder how creating an estate plan could protect a child, but having this plan could ensure that the child would receive necessary care in the event that the parents cannot provide it. When it comes to ensuring care, parents can create a will that names a guardian for their child in the event that both parents become incapacitated or suffer fatal injuries. It is also wise to buy life insurance because it can provide financial stability after such an event.

Don't stop with a will when you really need a trust

California residents sometimes consider their estate plans to be complete after writing a will and issuing an advanced directive. But, in reality, that is often only the visible tip of a very large iceberg.

How can you tell whether you need to take a deeper dive into the realm of estate planning? Since everyone's circumstances are different, there is no stock answer to this question.

Probate hinges on the validation of the will

Many surviving loved ones appreciate when a family member has created a will. This and other estate planning documents can make settling the estate easier, but it is important that the will is valid. In fact, ensuring the validity of the will is the first step of the probate process.

The executor, who is often named in the will, has the obligation of filing the document in the probate court. The court will then review the document to ensure that it is valid under California law. The executor cannot take any steps to close the estate until the will is deemed valid. While this may seem straightforward, different issues could come up that could result in the court considering the document invalid.

Remember to include digital assets in wills

When trying to get certain affairs in order well ahead of time, it can be easy to overlook some details. For instance, while many California residents are focused on using their wills to distribute their physical assets after their passing, they may overlook the fact that they need to account for their digital assets as well. If digital assets are left unaddressed, issues could come about later.

Like with many other activities, it can be beneficial to start with a list when accounting for digital assets. The list can include email addresses, photo-sharing accounts, online storage accounts, social media, online dating profiles and much more. It is also important to list the devices that these accounts are used on. Some people may only access certain social media accounts from their smartphones, and that detail could be important later.

Storing original wills and other estate documents safely

Taking the steps to create an estate plan is a major endeavor. California residents need to assess many small details of their lives and make major decisions about extremely personal topics. As a result, it is important that wills and other planning documents are kept safe.

When it comes to keeping estate planning documents safe, especially the original copies, the task goes beyond simply filing them away in a place that individuals will remember. Any number of unfortunate incidents could befall a person, including a house fire that destroys the original documents. It is important that parties take the time to determine where and how they can keep their documents safe. For many people, an ideal situation is to leave the original documents with an attorney.

Handling retirement accounts during probate

Settling a person's final affairs after his or her passing can be a difficult experience. Those individuals close to the decedent may have many questions about what will happen to remaining assets and other factors associated with the estate. Typically, probate will focus on handling these remaining affairs, but not every asset has to go through probate.

Some California residents may be particularly interested in whether retirement accounts have to go through probate. When it comes to these accounts, it can depend on the decedent's planning as to whether probate is required. Typically, retirement accounts are payable or transfer on death accounts, which means that they will pass directly to a named beneficiary rather than being subject to probate. However, if the account holder did not designate a beneficiary, the account will have to go through the legal process before distribution.

Information that can help an executor during probate

Acting as the executor of an estate is not an easy task. Because it's a complicated endeavor, it is often useful for the executor to know about the role and the required duties before the time to probate the estate comes about. In fact, it is can be useful to gain certain information before the testator passes away.

One immensely important bit of information that a California executor needs is the location of the testator's will and other estate planning documents. The executor needs the original will in order to file it with the court to have it validated and for the probate process to begin. If he or she does not know where to find the will after the loved one's passing, the process can be complicated before it even begins.

Attention to detail will help prevent estate planning mistakes

When it comes to estate planning, it's critical to prevent mistakes. Even a minor slip-up can cost your loved ones time and money in the future, all while adding stress during an already difficult time.

While there are hundreds of potential estate planning mistakes, these five are among the most common:

  • No estate plan: It's easy to put off estate planning for the time being. It's easy to think that you'll have enough time to get everything in order in the future. However, if you continue to procrastinate, it could eventually come back to haunt you. If you need an estate plan, there's no better time than now to create one.
  • Forgetting to review your estate plan: Estate planning isn't something you do one time and then forget about. You must regularly review your estate plan for any changes you need to make. For example, if you marry or divorce, you'll want to review your estate plan and make the necessary changes.
  • Ignoring incapacity planning: Don't turn all your attention to what happens to your assets upon your death. Incapacity planning is a big part of estate planning, so creating a living trust and/or appointing a power of attorney is a good idea.
  • Neglecting to name a guardian: If you have children under the age of 18, it's critical to name a guardian. This is a person who agrees to raise your children should you and your spouse pass on.
  • DIY estate planning: With the rise of technology, DIY estate planning has become more common than ever before. People are doing this for many reasons, including the hope of saving time and money. The problem with DIY estate planning is that you could make a simple mistake that causes big trouble. It's best to consult with a legal professional, as they have a thorough understanding of estate planning and federal and state laws.

Applicable parties receive copies of the will as probate begins

For California residents who have never had a close loved one pass, they may think that surviving family members still gather in a room and hear someone reading the deceased's dying wishes. While the reading of the will sometimes still takes place in fictional settings, it is not an action that happens in reality anymore. Instead, copies of the will are typically provided to applicable parties in association with the probate process.

If there is an attorney associated with the estate, that legal professional may provide the copies of the will. Because the executor named in the document will handle the upcoming probate proceedings, he or she typically receives a copy of the document. It is also common for beneficiaries named in the will and any guardians for minor children to obtain a copy as well.

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