In California, many people opt to use a revocable trust instead of a will as their primary estate planning vehicle. One of the main advantages of a revocable trust is that it can enable the trustor's estate to avoid probate.
When novelist Gore Vidal died in 2012, he left an estate worth an estimated $30 million - not including future royalties from his published works. But within months of his death, distant relatives began fighting over the property he left behind, including a $4 million home in Southern California. Several lawsuits were filed, but, recently, the interested parties settled their dispute.
Most of us do not know how to relate to the financial power of the super-wealthy. Whether they earned their money from the entertainment industry, in the tech sector, or through another path to substantial earnings, some California residents possess assets and wealth that dwarf those of our friends and ourselves. To us, it may make sense for individuals of extreme wealth to have estate plans: they need to know that their assets will not be lost after their deaths. We may not, however, see the same level of urgency in estate planning with regard to protecting our own modest savings in comparison to the affluence experienced by others.
As we discussed in last week's post, under California law there are some assets in an estate that will pass to beneficiaries independently of the instructions in a will or trust. These non-probate assets include funds or securities in bank accounts, investment accounts and some retirement accounts. In most cases, these assets will pass to a beneficiary named in the account agreement when the original account owner dies.