Planning your estate with a wills and trusts attorney in Orange County is an important step in protecting your assets, your wishes, and the people that matter to you the most. There are a number of options available, as any estate planning lawyer can tell you. Do you need a will? A trust? Is it possible that you don’t need either? Let’s take a closer look at wills vs trusts in Orange County.
It’s very rare that a person in California wouldn’t need some form of estate planning. You may think that because you don’t have a massive estate that the distribution process would be simple and straightforward without any planning in place. Unfortunately, that is not often the case. Instead, your estate, no matter how large or small, will have to go through the probate process and will be distributed according to California state law.
Generally speaking, your assets will go to your nearest living relative, which could be a spouse, child, parent, sibling, or distant cousin. This is, of course, after the Orange County probate process has taken place, and any number of court and attorney’s fees have been deducted. If no living relatives can be found, it’s likely that all of your assets will become property of the state to do with as it pleases.
As you can see, the government already has an “estate plan” for you; you simply have to determine if it’s the plan you really want. Do you trust the courts to name someone to care for you and manage your affairs in the event of incapacity? Are you comfortable allowing the courts and those they choose to determine what should happen to your belongings or your family?
If the answer is “NO,” it’s time to get a will, trust, and other key estate planning documents in place.
Considerations for Wills
If you’re trying to determine the benefits of wills vs trusts, here are some general guidelines to keep in mind:
- Wills are only sufficient for those leaving behind total assets with an aggregate value less than $166,250 (measured at fair market value, not equity).
- If you want to leave something to a friend, partner, or organization you support, a will gives you this opportunity.
- A will allows you to choose who will carry out your wishes regarding your estate (the executor of the will, whom in California we call a “personal representative”).
- If you have dependent children, a will can provide you the opportunity to name their guardians in the event of your death, rather than leaving that choice solely to the courts.
- Keep in mind that a will doesn’t keep your estate out of probate, or name guardians for your kids if you are temporarily or permanently incapacitated but have not died. So those costs, time, and all the other perils involved will still apply.
- When your estate goes through probate, all the matters become part of the public record.
Considerations for a Trust
- Those who own a home should consider at least a revocable living trust, as the fair market home values of most real estate in California is above $166,250. Remember, the measure is fair market value and not equity; which means having a mortgage on your home or other real estate is not relevant for determining whether your aggregate assets are above the probate threshold.
- Even if you do not own a home, but own other accounts or assets or insurance policies that total more than $166,250.
- Like a will, the trust can usually be revoked or modified while you are still living.
- Unlike a will, however, a trust (that is properly funded, mind you) allows your beneficiaries to skip the probate process.
- Trusts are held private, and the details of them are not made part of the public record.
- Trusts, in conjunction with properly naming legal guardians for minor children separately from a will, are a better solution for organizing the care of your children by others if anything happens to you, whether it be an untimely death or medical event that leaves you incapacitated.
- Are you concerned with how your heirs will use an inheritance? Are you worried more about an inheritance being taken from them by a creditor or predator (such as divorce, lawsuits, disability, or bankruptcy) Do you have wishes about how your heirs use the funds you leave to them? Do you want payouts to only happen if heirs reach a certain milestone (graduate, maintain sobriety) or hit a certain age? A trust can give you this level of control and oversight.
Watch the Top 5 Reasons to Avoid Probate
Work with an Orange County Wills and Trusts Attorney for Best Results
It’s highly recommended that individuals utilize the expertise of an Orange County wills and trusts attorney when determining if you need a will or a trust. This skilled professional will be able to steer you in the right direction, not to mention he or she can help reduce taxes, set up funds for surviving family members, and conduct charitable giving in a way that fits your values. By choosing an attorney in Orange County, you can ensure you are working with someone who is familiar with state and local laws for even better protection.
We are happy to help you get started in creating a will or trust that meets the unique needs of your personal and financial situation. Simply call our law firm at (949) 333-3702 and ask to schedule a complimentary consultation with the mention of this article.
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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an Orange County estate planning attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He’s all about family and passionate about estate planning, elder law, and veterans. He founded Snyder Law to help families from Orange County, Los Angeles County, and Southern California plan to protect what matters most: their loved ones, their dignity, and their legacy.