Please, make a will…

As a professional organizer in the Bay Area, I am often building filing systems for my clients.  Part of that project is determining where legal papers are being kept, and making suggestions on the best way to house those all important life papers.  I generally find the usual documents: passports, credit cards, old driver’s licenses (the one we are keeping because the picture was either really good, or really bad), the deed to the house, etc.  But when I ask, “where is your will or trust?”  I most often hear, “we don’t have one yet”.  It’s always a shock to me, especially when families have young children.

Creating a will or trust

There are many sites that offer quick kits for creating a will or trust. Nolo press and Suze Orman both offer these.

This information is from Jennifer Sawday, an Estate Planner: (please note, laws change, so this is intended as basic information only).

Generally speaking if you pass away without a Will or any other estate planning in place… the laws of the state in which you reside in will create an estate plan for you.

In fact, your state’s laws will determine both the persons to whom your property will pass and the division of your property among those persons.

The distributions provided by law are inflexible, and do not take into account any particular or special circumstances that may exist. Or any specific wishes that you may have had, but did not put in a signed writing like a Will. If you utter something before you pass away or trust a certain individual to handle your affairs in a certain manner, there is no way to ensure this is enforced without a Will or a estate plan.

In California…

In addition, any amounts to be distributed to your children may require legal guardianship proceedings if they are minors at the time of your death. If you die without a Will, and are survived by your spouse, the law states that your probate assets will pass to your spouse.

However, if any of your children are from a prior marriage, then California law states that two-thirds of your probate assets will pass to your children and one-third will pass to your surviving spouse.

For the most part, a probate assets is any asset which is owned in your name alone at the time of your death and cannot pass to a loved one upon your death. If you have a retirement account that lists beneficiaries upon your death, this retirement account would not be a probate asset if those beneficiaries are living at the time of your death.

If you die without a Will, and do not have a surviving spouse, the law states that your probate assets will pass to your children. If they are minors, a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding will be necessary to manage the property until the children reach eighteen years of age.

If you are not survived by a spouse or children, your probate assets will pass to your parents if they are living at the time of your death.

If your parents do not survive you, your probate assets will pass to your brothers and sisters and so on it goes.

Making a basic will or trust is not that difficult, and not that expensive, especially compared to what it will cost your estate if you don’t have one.  And, don’t forget to provide for your pets – designate who will take them and, if you can, leave some money for their care.


3 comments on "Please, make a will…"

  • Lisa says:

    Good point: If you fail to make a will, the State will make it for you. And then who is going to put fresh water in the birdbath every morning?

  • Paul says:

    Good advice Gayle! I just finished completing a trust and other related documents and I feel relieved now knowing that it’s done and all set up. It was not all that expensive for having that piece of mind.

    • Gayle Grace says:

      Good for you, Paul. I don’t get why people who work hard for their money and love their things ignor what will happen to it after they die, especially when they have minor children depending on them.