Ideally, your will is only part of a more holistic estate planning scenario, but even by itself, it can be powerful. For wills to obtain and maintain that power so heirs can benefit from it at a later date, these documents need to meet specific requirements, as dictated by California law. Hiring an experienced Palm Desert will lawyer from Bochnewich Law Offices helps ensure that when your family needs to call upon the document, it accurately serves the role you intended.
What Is a Will?
To better understand why you need a will, it helps to take a closer look at what it is. Also known as a testament, this document expresses an individual’s final wishes regarding how to care for the assets and dependents left behind. These are the main contents of a will:
- An appointed executor who then becomes responsible for ensuring the wishes expressed in the will are fulfilled
- Designated guardian(s) for minors and other dependents in the family
- Details regarding who gets what, under what conditions and even for how long
What Are the Legal Requirements of a California Will?
Sadly, many Palm Desert families find documents written by deceased loved ones that expressed their final wishes but do not meet the legal requirements of a will. These situations are especially heartbreaking when the documents made more favorable allowances than the state later determines based on its laws.
This situation illustrates just one of the many reasons you should always hire an experienced attorney to help you prepare your will or update an old one. Your Bochnewich Law Offices attorney will work with you to ensure your document meets these state requirements:
- The document was signed freely and willingly in the presence of two witnesses.
- Both witnesses signed the document at the same time in acknowledgment of your signature.
- Neither witness is a named beneficiary of your will.
You do not need to name the executor of your estate in the will, but you may do so. There is also no need to notarize a will to make it legal, but you may choose to do this as well. In fact, many people in Palm Desert chose a notary as one of the witnesses.
It is also important to note that if you create a new and legitimate will later on, it automatically overrides all previous wills. Those past wills become illegitimate under California law, unless there is proof that you signed the newest will under duress.
What Happens When There Is No Will?
Some people decide not to put a will in place. These individuals may rely on other methods to express their wishes, such as establishing trusts and designating benefits on investment counts. Also known as dying “intestate,” the absence of a will leaves it up to the state to determine how to distribute the assets California recognizes as part of the final estate.
There are several downsides. Consider these risks carefully before choosing not to have a will:
- If you belong to a blended family, your new wife or stepchildren could inherit assets intended for your children and blood relatives.
- If you have no family members to inherit the property, the assets go to the state of California.
- California courts can reserve the right to determine who is the best guardian for minors, special needs persons and other dependents.
When Is It Time To Update a Will?
Some wills can last a lifetime and still remain applicable and adequate at the time the person passes away. However, for most people, life changes make it necessary to update a will. Here are some specific reasons you may want to do so.
When people marry, divorce or grow their families, they may decide to change their wills to reflect these changes. Sometimes, the nature of relationships can also change. For instance, two brothers may have become estranged and no longer wish to name each other as beneficiaries in their respective wills.
Wills determine how you distribute assets, but those assets can change. Some of the assets covered in the will may no longer exist or you may have new ones. For instance, a family heirloom may have been pawned and is no longer available for you to will to someone. Similarly, you may have started a business and want to will it to a specific family member or friend.
States and the federal government have the right to change how they treat specific assets when inherited or transferred after someone passes. In most cases, people feel concerned about taxes. However, other changes can occur, such as how to treat retirement accounts and how specific accounts can be used by beneficiaries to avoid penalties and fees.
If you created your first will while living in another state or country, it likely reflects the laws in that specific jurisdiction. You need to work with a California lawyer to ensure it still holds as legitimate once you move to the state. Should you later leave California, you may need to repeat the process at your new home.
Even when no big life changes take place, you may have a change of heart. This is perfectly natural and you are under no obligation to justify to anyone why you wish to change your will. We look forward to providing you with an estate planning lawyer who makes the process as simple as possible.
Do You Need an Attorney To Create a Will?
It is perfectly possible to create a will without the help of our Palm Desert lawyer. There is no California or federal law stating that you must hire an attorney to draft your will. However, not hiring an attorney increases the risk of your will failing to meet California’s legal requirements. If this happens, then the state may determine that you died “intestate” and use its laws to distribute your assets. The wording of the will could also present problems that make it difficult or impossible to execute.
We work with you to ensure that you create a professional, clear and legitimate will. Our lawyer can also help you put measures in place to keep your will private now but make it readily available when the time comes for its use. Contact us for more information.