Being asked to serve as the administrator of a loved one's estate is both an honor and an obligation imposed upon a California resident. Although a well-crafted estate plan that takes into consideration methods of avoiding probate and removing ambiguity from the plans testamentary documents is not necessarily hard to manage, knowing how to provide adequate oversight of the estate's distribution can be nerve-wracking. This post will discuss one of the most important aspects of serving as an estate administrator: exercising a fiduciary duty toward the estate.
Most Californians imagine wills to be formal legal documents full of jargon and clauses that are typed on fancy paper and signed by serious witnesses. However, not all wills fall into this category. In California and other states throughout the nation, holographic wills are recognized as alternative testamentary documents to those that follow the formal requirements of will making.
A will should reflect the wishes of the California resident executing it, and should effectuate their desires in terms of the distribution of their assets upon their death. In fact, if a will is suspected to have been executed by someone who did not understand the contents of it or who did not have the capacity to recognize what their will would do, then the will may not stand as valid. A will may also be invalidated if the creator of the will is pressured into making it benefit someone due to undue influence.
A will is supposed to be a document through which a decedent communicates their desire for the disposition of their assets and property. In California a person must have the requisite mental capacity and be at least 18 years of age in order to create a valid will. However, even a properly executed will may face challenges by those who stand to inherit, or not inherit, under the terms of the testamentary document. This post will discuss several grounds on which a will may be challenged but will not provide a comprehensive discussion of this detailed topic.
The topic of inheritance, and in this case disinheritance, can be a very touchy subject for California families. It is generally believed that when a person dies their assets and property will pass to a spouse and if they do not have a spouse then their assets and wealth will pass to their kids. This is the usual pattern of events if a person dies intestate (without a will). If a person has a will, though, they can take an active role in who does and does not have rights to their post-death estate.
Individuals often recognize the importance of having an estate plan, even if they have not yet created one of their own. Drafting a will and executing trusts can be sobering for some Californians as they come to terms with the fact that their estate planning documents will generally only come into power once they, the creators of the documents, are dead. Often individuals create these and other testamentary devices all at once, so that their estate plans are complete. However, it is not uncommon for individuals to simply forget about the contents of their estate plans as time passes on.
Several posts on this California estate planning blog have discussed the requirements that individuals must meet in order to prepare a legally enforceable will. One of those requirements is that the creator of the will was of sound mind when the document was executed. There are several ways in which a person may be determined to not be of sound mind and this post will address those situations. As with all of the posts offered herein, the information provided in the remainder of this article should not be construed as legal advice.
Admittedly, a will is not an exciting testamentary tool. Although movies and television programs sometimes sensationalize the reading of characters' wills to add drama and intrigue to family conflicts and to add wrinkles into complex storylines, in actuality a will is more or less a list of instructions for what a person wants to see happen with their belongings once they are dead. Even though most wills do not provide individuals with excitement, it is important for all Californians to consider the value wills provide to those who choose to execute them.
A will is a useful testamentary tool for outlining how a person would like their property disposed of upon their death. It can be used to serve other purposes as well, but if a will fails to satisfy the statutory requirements set forth by the California legislature, it may not be recognized as valid. This post will briefly discuss the requirements of California wills, but readers are reminded that they must seek their own legal counsel when preparing their wills, as this post does not give legal guidance.
Many people in the Sacramento area and other parts of California may already have a trust set up for the maintenance and distribution of their property both during their lives and following their deaths. These trusts, called inter vivos trusts, are popular among Californians because of the possibility of "avoiding probate" and because, for some, they carry important tax advantages.