When you die, your assets can be distributed in a variety of ways. If there is a named beneficiary, the asset will be distributed to that named person or persons. If there is a joint owner on the title of the asset, and that person survives you, then the asset will pass to that surviving owner, by operation of law. If an asset does not have a named beneficiary and does not have a surviving joint owner on the title, its distribution can be controlled by a will.

A will is a legal document in which you give certain directions to be carried out after your death. For example, you may direct the distribution of your assets (your money and property), and give your choice of guardians for your children. It becomes irrevocable when you die.

In your will, you can name:

  • Your beneficiaries. You may name beneficiaries (family members, friends, spouse, domestic partner or charitable organizations, for example) to receive your assets according to the instructions in your will. You may list specific gifts, such as jewelry or a certain sum of money, to certain beneficiaries, and you should direct what should be done with all remaining assets (any assets that your will does not dispose of by specific gift). You can also indicate how assets will be distributed if one or more of your beneficiaries dies before you do.
    If you have young beneficiaries, under the age of 25, you could establish a custodian for his or her share and designate at what age, anywhere between 18-25, the assets would be distributed to the beneficiary.
  • A guardian for your minor children. You may nominate a person to be responsible for your child’s personal care if you and your spouse die before the child turns 18. You may also name a guardian—who may or may not be the same person—to be responsible for managing any assets given to the child, until he or she is 18 years old. You can give guidance to your guardian regarding the raising of your children and/or the use of the assets on behalf of the child.
  • An executor. You should nominate a person or institution to collect and manage your assets, pay any debts, expenses and taxes that might be due, and then, with the court’s approval, distribute your assets to your beneficiaries according to the instructions in your will. Depending on your wish, you can require your executor to post a bond. Your executor serves a very important role and has significant responsibilities. It can be a time-consuming job. You should choose your executor carefully.

Whether a will is the appropriate choice for you is based on a variety of factors. We can help you identify your goals and wishes and match your priorities to the estate plan that is right for you. Contact us today for a no cost consultation.

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Sheri and Joe Hoffman / California Certified Law Specialists

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