Planning for your family’s future can be a stressful and unsettling process. Trying to navigate estate law and probate court in the state of California is a major undertaking—even in the best of times—and, when it comes to preparing your will, a single mistake can cost you and your loved ones dearly. By working with a reputable, high powered family law attorney like Paul V. L. Campo in Vista, CA, you ensure that your assets, your family, and your peace of mind are well protected.
The Four Main Types of Wills
- The Simple Will – a simple will is what many people think of when they hear the word “will”, though in reality a simple will is often insufficient to protect a high value estate. A simple will is what it sounds like; the simplest possible will. A simple will is a legal instrument which declares who will receive what assets upon your death, and also assigns guardians for any minor children. Many websites offer templates or fillable forms for generating a simple will yourself, but if you have any concerns about protecting your assets and wishes, it is strongly recommended you have an attorney review your will.
- Testamentary Trust – a testamentary trust will is a legal instrument that places your assets into a trust and names a trustee to administer said trust. A testamentary trust will is often used in situations where a high value estate has minor children as beneficiaries and it is desired that they not have access to the assets until adulthood (or certain other conditions have been met). A testamentary trust can also be used to design complex payout structures if, for example, you wanted a beneficiary to receive half of their inheritance upon your death and the other half upon reaching adulthood.
- Joint Will – a joint will is, as it sounds, a will signed by two or more people together. Yet, in effect, it functions as a separate and distinct will for each party. A common use for a joint will is for a situation sometimes referred to as “mirror wills,” wherein two spouses each sign a will in favor of the other inheriting everything upon one partner’s death. Joint wills often seem like a simple and equitable solution for married couples at the time they are signed; however, there is one technical detail about joint wills that can cause a lot of headaches down the road. The terms of a typical joint will (the beneficiaries, conditions, executor, etc.) cannot be altered after one of the signees has died. This locks the surviving spouse into the terms of the will for the remainder of their lifetime.
- Living Will – a “living will” might sound like it’s simply a will you sign while you’re still alive, but it’s actually a special legal instrument used for a very particular purpose—one that has almost nothing to do with distributing your assets to your heirs. A living will is a document that declares which medical treatments you authorize (or decline) for yourself in the event you become incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions for yourself. A living will can also be used to name someone to make those decisions on your behalf. In some states, including California, a special will-like legal instrument called a Healthcare Directive can be used to combine the functions of a living will with a power of attorney, so that all of your affairs can be handled by parties of your choosing if anything should happen to you.
Other Types of Wills
There are some other, less common, types of wills that you may come across.
- Holographic Wills – holographic wills are hand-written documents. The criteria for a handwritten will to be considered valid can vary from state to state. It may also be subject to the complexity of the estate and the disposition of the court officials. It is always better to have your will professionally prepared and filed by an attorney.
- Oral Wills – also called “nuncupative wills”, an oral will is one that is spoken rather than written down. Oral wills are not typically valid in the State of California. If someone is in an accident and instructs the division of their assets from the deathbed, for example, this should not be considered legally binding.
Legal Wills in California
For a will to be legal in California, it must meet certain criteria. There are three forms of will legally recognized by the Superior Court of California, and these are:
- Holographic Wills (sometimes) – many times handwritten wills are vulnerable to attack in court. Holographic wills tend to include wording that is unclear, contradictory to legal precedent, or irrelevant. Sometimes hand-written wills are only signed only by their writer, who doesn’t realize that having witnesses sign on to the will makes it easier to prove validity in a court of law. These problems can create all sorts of uncertainties and vulnerabilities at court. For a handwritten will to be valid in California, it usually requires the handwriting to be verified by at least one witness.
- Statutory Wills – in California, a special type of will can be created using a pre-printed form. These statutory wills can be thought of as an “extra simple” version of a simple will, and they can streamline the process of creating valid legal instructions for the division of your assets. The form doesn’t leave a lot of room for customization, so a statutory will is usually inadequate for larger or more complex estates.
- Attested Wills – the recommended method of creating a will in any state—an attested will refers to any will prepared by a professional attorney.
Contact Attorney Paul V. L. Campo for Estate Planning Assistance
With over 30 years of experience in the world of family law, attorney Paul V. L. Campo is prepared to handle even the toughest cases. His team has a history of success in defending clients and their assets. We’re prepared to help you take on any probate court matters you need, making sure your family is well-positioned for the future. Contact a wills attorney today to discuss your case.