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Common Questions

Common Questions: Estate Planning

Let a Los Angeles County estate planning attorney provide you with the answers you need!

What is a last will & testament?

A last will & testament, sometimes called a "will," is a document that has no power or legal effect until the testator (person making the will) dies. A will is an expression of an individual's wishes with regard to the distribution of his or her property upon his or her death. If a will needs to be changed, a codicil (amendment to a will) can be prepared or the entire will can be redone.

It is possible to have a handwritten will, known as a holographic will. In order for it to be valid, a holographic will must be entirely in the handwriting of the testator. It should be dated and it should be clear from reading it that it is an attempt to make a testamentary distribution of one's property (effective upon death).

If a will is not holographic, then it must follow all the formalities that the law requires. For a formal will to be legal, it is required to be typed, dated and signed by the two witnesses present. Once properly executed, it can be considered as valid. In California, a will cannot be notarized. By speaking with our Whittier estate planning attorney, you can discuss the options available to you!

When should you update your last will & testament or living trust?

A last will & testament or living trust should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis, at least once a year. We often recommend that clients consider reviewing their estate plan at the beginning of each year.

When you are reviewing your will or trust, consider the following:

  • Your specific bequests
  • Your residuary beneficiaries
  • Your choices for executor / trustee and their successors
  • Any property acquired since the last review of your estate plan

Other events that should trigger a review of estate planning documents include:

  • Birth, adoption, or death of a child
  • Death of a spouse or key figure in estate plan
  • When there is a major change in the tax law
  • When the settlor/testator moves to a new state or out of the country
  • When anyone named in the estate plan marries, divorces or is separated from a spouse
  • Significant changes in the needs, situations, or requirements of any testator, settlor, or beneficiary

What are the responsibilities of an executor?

Within a last will & testament, an executor is appointed by the creator of the will, also known as the testator. The executor is responsible for managing the affairs of the testator once they pass away. This task is a 'fiduciary duty' in which they are expected to act in the highest regard to the estate's beneficiaries and creditors best interests. If you have been appointed as an executor, we can help you through the process.

As an executor, you are responsible for the following:

  • Managing the overall affairs of the testator's estate.
  • Following the certain set of instructions within the will.
  • Keeping a record of the estate finances and the decisions you make.
  • Filing the will and deciding if the probate court needs to be involved.
  • Getting a taxpayer ID number from the IRS and setting up a bank account for the estate.
  • Managing the assets of the deceased and make sure they are distributed properly.
  • Handling tasks, such as notifying the creditors and beneficiaries, ending leasing contracts, etc.

While the task of an executor is an honor and a burden, there is no need to go through the process alone. Our firm wants to help you understand the legal processes involved and get you started in the right direction.

What is the difference between a will and a living trust?

As an individual, you may be interested in creating a will or a trust. The only problem is that you are not sure about what their differences are. In general, wills and trusts are legal documents that are both important when it comes to estate planning.

In a last will & testament:

  • The person creating the will is known as the testator.
  • The person left to manage the will is the executor.
  • The beneficiaries inherit the assets.
  • It becomes active once you pass away.
  • It is filed through the probate court and becomes a public matter.
  • It includes your estate, as well as specific instructions (e.g. such as guardians)

In a living trust:

  • The person creating the trust is known as the grantor, settlor or trustor.
  • The person left to manage the trust is the trustee.
  • The grantor can serve as the trustee until they have passes away.
  • The beneficiaries inherit the assets.
  • Created while you are alive, instead of after you pass away.
  • Does not have to go through the probate court and can be kept a private matter.
  • Includes your personal assets that must be personally transferred into the trust.
  • May help in reducing certain estate taxes.

These are just a couple of questions brought up in regards to estate planning. Contact Mary E. Mullin, Attorney at Law to speak with our attorney for any other questions you have!

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