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.
Think Steve Jobs must have handled his estate planning well? He likely did; he avoided probate; so, we don’t know any details of his estate. 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.