You can make a will three different ways in California:
A will which is prepared by an attorney.
California law provides a will form which you can “fill-in-the-blanks”.
A holographic or handwritten will.
Wills have their limits on what they can do. Here are some things you shouldn’t expect to do in your will:
• Avoid Probate.
• Property left through a will can take months or a year to work through the probate court before it can be distributed to the people who inherit it.
• Reduce Estate Taxes.
• If your estate is large enough to owe federal estate taxes, take steps now to reduce the tax liability. A will does not help you avoid taxes. Various kinds of trusts can reduce or postpone the tax bill.
• Leave Certain Kinds of Property
You can’t use your will to leave:
• Proceeds of a life insurance policy for which you’ve named a beneficiary.
• Money in a pension plan, individual retirement account (IRA), 401(k) plan, or other retirement plan where you’ve named the beneficiary on forms provided by the account administrator.
• Property you hold in joint tenancy with others.
• Property you’ve transferred to a living trust.
• Money in a payable-on-death bank account.
• Stocks or bonds held in beneficiary (transfer-on-death or TOD) form.
Put Certain Conditions on Gifts
There are legal limitations on what you can do in a will. You can try to influence certain matters. For example, you could leave money “to Lisa, if and when she goes to college.” But you cannot leave a gift that is contingent on the marriage, divorce, or change of religion of a recipient.
Leave Money to Pets
Don’t leave your pets any property in your will since they cannot own it. Instead, leave the animal to someone who has agreed to take care of it – and leave that person some money to assist with pet-related expenses. California allows you to set up trusts for animals.
Arrange to Care for a Beneficiary With Special Needs
If you want to provide long-term care for someone, something other than your will can accomplish that. It is better to set up a trust that’s tailored to the beneficiary’s needs.
Leave Money for an Illegal Purpose
You can’t set aside money for something illegal, such as encouraging minors to own a car to drive before he or she is licensed.
Leave Funeral Instructions
Write your instructions in your will as an expression of your intent rather than as a direction/demand. Or, write instructions in a note which deals only with your funeral.
Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney. Call Mitchell A. Port at (310) 559-5259. Want to learn how to probate a will in California or find out more about death and taxes? Call now.