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Fullerton Estate Planning Law Blog

Relationships, values and money in estate planning

People often think estate planning revolves around money. The goal, after all, is to decide what to do with your assets after you pass away.

That may be true, but experts say that things like values and relationships are actually much more important than money. They are the things that really drive these conversations and determine the outcome of the estate plan.

Your estate plan can help during life and after death

You have a fairly small estate, and you're not worried about estate taxes. You really think that your will and other steps you've taken are enough to prevent your family from having to go through probate after your death. So, should you work on an estate plan?

Interestingly enough, your estate plan doesn't only help you protect your estate after you pass away. It's also a plan that can include protections for yourself and dependents while you're still alive.

You can change your will after writing it

When you write your will, be careful and do try to get everything perfectly right. Remember that your family may be counting on it to be accurate and helpful. You never know when they're actually going to need to use it. Don't make mistakes.

That said, don't worry so much about mistakes that it's paralyzing. You can change the will after you write it. In fact, you may need to change things that aren't even "mistakes" in the first place. Life happens. Maybe you have a new grandchild or sell an asset. You can update your will to reflect the changes.

What is an express trust?

You have a lot of terms to sort through if you're thinking about creating a trust as part of your estate plan. You can use revocable trusts, irrevocable trusts, special needs trusts and much more. One term you may have heard is an express trust. What is this and when would you use it?

An express trust is a consciously created trust. Essentially, any trust that you decide to use with your estate plan, no matter what it does specifically, is an express trust. You created it intentionally and with a goal in mind.

Contact with children leads to unequal bequests

Thinking of leaving unequal bequests to your children? This simply means splitting up the estate in a way that does not leave the exact assets to everyone. Suppose you have three children and $900,000. Instead of giving them all $300,000, you leave half of the estate to your firstborn and leave the remainder split between the other two.

Many parents do not do this, but it is becoming more common. One reason that it happens, experts believe, is that parents have more contact with some children than others.

New grandchild? Here are some ways to provide for them

When you have your first grandchild, it can be an amazing feeling. It can also make you realize just how old you've gotten and how important it is to provide for the family you have and love.

As you review your estate plan following your grandchild's birth, one thing you may want to look into is setting up a trust for them. If your grandchild is going to be your beneficiary, then having a trust may be a good idea. There is a chance that your grandchild may not yet be 18 by the time you pass away, and there are some special situations to consider when deciding what to leave behind for them (and how to do so).

Considering inheritance timing with a second marriage

You have a lot to consider when looking at your estate plan as you get married again. A second marriage can complicate that plan, no matter when in life it happens. That's not to say you shouldn't get married, but just that you need to carefully consider what it means and what you can do about it.

One thing to think about is the inheritance timing. When do your children get their inheritance? How can you make it happen?

Married couples sometimes use joint wills

You and your spouse can certainly write your own wills and do your own estate planning if you would like. However, remember that you also have the option to use a joint will.

Technically, a joint will is just one that two or more people use together. This means that it could be used outside of marriage, perhaps by people in a long-term relationship. That said, it is most common to see married couples use these wills when addressing their estate planning, often after they have children together.

Life insurance companies don't care about your will

You decide that it's time to write a will. You have a fair amount of complex assets, but much of your wealth comes from a life insurance policy. You know that it's going to pay out when you pass away, so you write into the will that the money should get split evenly between your three children. It seems easy enough, and you assume that covers it.

It doesn't. The life insurance company does not care about your will. All they care about is the beneficiary designation. That's the person you picked to get the money when you created the policy. It's a legally binding document. Moreover, your estate planning doesn't impact it because "it supersedes your will."

Can you use a handwritten will?

You're thinking about writing a will, but you don't like the idea of typing one up. You worry about cybersecurity and you don't know who else may access any digital files you create. It seems better to write the will yourself and keep it in a safe place.

Can you do this in California? If you do, is that will going to stand?

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