Both parts of the title to this article are a myth. First, most people don’t have a will. In fact, it’s estimated that only about half of all Americans have a will; even though, all need one. Second, a will is not all that anyone needs. A will only handles a few matters and is only effective when you’re dead. There’s much more to estate planning than that.
For example, a will almost guarantees probate, except for modest estates. Probate is expensive, especially in California. Probate is also time consuming, a hassle, and a public process.
When you die and assets must go through probate, your will is lodged at the courthouse so everyone can see what it says, what debts you owed, a detailed list of your beneficiaries, and the name of your executor. Probate can be avoided with the use of a fully funded revocable living trust (and in other ways as well.)
This means that, in addition to a will, you may benefit from a revocable living trust. You also need a health care power of attorney known as an advance health care directive, financial/general durable power of attorney and HIPAA release. Everyone needs a comprehensive estate plan.
We’re not saying you don’t need a will. In fact, we wish everyone, age 18 or older, would have at least a will. It’s just that you need other documents in addition to your will.
Your will has three main and very important functions.
- Your will distributes your assets after your death.
- Your will appoints an executor (and contingent executor) to administer your estate.
- Your will appoints guardians (and contingent guardians) to raise your minor children and handle their finances.
For folks with more than a modest estate, their affairs will probably later better be handed by a revocable living trust.
The bottom line is that only half of Americans have a will; although, everyone needs one; and, that, in addition to a will, you need other estate planning documents as well.
How can you determine what is the right plan for you? Meet with an experienced and qualified estate planning attorney.