Why a will is not enough protection

Californians who opt for a will and only a will are limiting their estate planning options and taking risks with precious assets.

Many people in California draw up a will because they want their property and other assets to go to specific people or groups when they die. However, a will does not provide enough protection in some circumstances, and more thorough estate planning may be necessary.

A will can be risky

With a will, the deceased cannot control what their heir does with a piece of property. For example, suppose Joe's wish is for his children from his first marriage to eventually inherit the house that has been in his family for close to a hundred years. Joe is on a second marriage, though, and he has no wish to displace his wife. So, he leaves the house to his wife in the will and tells her that she should leave it to his children.

Will she? Possibly. Or she could remarry and want to leave the house to her new spouse. Or perhaps one of her own children is in dire need of a house and moves in. The wife may eventually decide to include her own children as heirs of the house as well. Alternatively, the wife might encounter severe health problems and have to sell the house to pay for her medical care. And even if the wife draws up a will leaving the house to her deceased husband's children, her own children might contest it when she dies.

In a nutshell, a lot could happen even with the best intentions on the part of the deceased and the person receiving the assets. Something such as a living trust can ensure that Joe's wife gets to live in the house, and upon her death, that his children receive the house.

Furthermore, a living trust is designed to avoid fights among heirs about what to do with property and assets. Say Joe has three children who cannot agree on what to do with the house they inherited. If he left it through a will, the house would likely have to be sold eventually, and it is possible none of the children would end up with it. With a living trust, Joe can designate someone to decide on a child to get the house, with the other children getting assets of equal value.

A will can be costly

People tend to want to maximize the inheritances they leave. Many times, though, wills go through probate, and that can be a costly and time-intensive process. It can result in less money and assets available for heirs. Other approaches to estate planning such as business succession planning and valuation can minimize much of the pain.

Unfortunately, too many people die in California with wills that are problematic. Everyone deserves the chance at estate planning that best meets their needs, and an attorney can help.