Frequently Asked Questions: Estate Planning
Estate planning is a topic that few people relish discussing. This is understandable since it’s a reminder of our mortality, but our hesitance to talk about our estate plans can result in the propagation of falsehoods and myths about the process. Burying our heads in the sand won’t make the problem go away. Failing to craft a detailed estate plan could mean we lose an opportunity to leave behind a lasting legacy of generosity for those whom we love.
Below, you’ll find some of the most commonly-asked questions we field as California estate planners. Read on to dispel some myths and common misconceptions about creating a will or estate plan. Please do not hesitate to contact Torrance’s wills and trusts law firm Samuel Ford Law with any additional questions you may have.
I’ve seen free wills online, and I’ve heard that I can write my will out by hand. Why should I hire a lawyer?
It can be tempting to choose a free option instead of paying a professional to create an estate plan for you. However, a free option is rarely your best choice. Even when forms appear simple, there is a good chance that someone inexperienced in the law might make an error when completing a form will or hand-written will. Due to the nature of the document, there’s a good chance these errors will not come to light until it’s too late to fix them.
Form wills cannot ensure that you account for all assets you own, as an attorney would. Additionally, a form will cannot make suggestions for alternative ways to give certain gifts—alternatives that could save your heirs months or years of waiting and thousands of dollars in fees and taxes.
In addition to these issues, a form will or holographic will is unlikely to include all documents you should have in place, such as documents designating a guardian for your minor children, advanced healthcare directives, or powers of attorney. A knowledgeable California estate planning attorney will ensure that you have a complete and carefully drafted estate plan that includes all legal instruments you’ll want in place when you reach incapacity.
But I’ve already written my will once; can’t I just forget about it now?
If you’ve already drafted an estate plan, congratulations! You’re way ahead of the game. However, an estate plan is a document that should evolve over time, just like you do. As your life continues, you’ll acquire and sell assets that should be accounted for in your estate plan. As your estate grows, you may develop new tax concerns that can be addressed in an estate plan review with your attorney. As time goes on, your personal interests may change, leading you to want to include new institutions or charities in your will that you hadn’t included before. Your family may grow, resulting in more loved ones to be included in your plan. Likewise, your personal relationships may change, as may those of your children, leading you to include or exclude certain persons from your will. While some of your loved ones may thrive financially, others may struggle, or develop special needs. A review of your estate plan will help you address these shifting needs with a professional.
How is a trust different from a will?
A trust is a legal instrument that will hold the assets you choose and distribute them only to the people you designate under the terms you set. Trusts can go into effect during your lifetime, unlike a will, which only enters into effect once you pass away. Assets held in trust do not go through probate, meaning that your heirs can access them sooner than assets passed down through a will. Additionally, while a will can only state that certain persons should receive certain assets, a trust can place conditions on gifts and payments that a will cannot.
Trusts can also provide your beneficiaries with protection from their creditors. A trust may be drafted in such a way that the assets will be available for your loved ones, but are not reachable by their creditors.
In certain cases, trusts can also be used to help reduce or eliminate taxes on your estate, allowing you to pass more of your assets on to your beneficiaries, rather than the government.
Torrance estate planning attorneys committed to our clients
At the Torrance offices of estate planning law firm Samuel Ford Law, we want our clients to understand the importance and generosity of creating a reliable and legally sound estate plan. By taking the time to consider how your current decisions will ripple into the future, you could have a positive effect on your loved ones for generations to come, as well as rest easy knowing that the estate you’ve worked hard to build during your lifetime will live on and do good long after you go. While your estate may be humble, it’s still worth sheltering from exorbitant fees and taxes, and your family deserves to reap the rewards of your hard work. Our South Bay estate planning professionals can help you carefully construct end-of-life documents and gift transfers, no matter the value of the estate. Contact the Torrance estate planning law offices of Samuel Ford Law today to consult with an attorney about your will.